tuning in

I read an interesting article yesterday, and the author talked about her experiences with a self-imposed 1 year shopping ban. What really caught my attention though, was her discovery of extra time each morning when she stopped the emails she regularly received from different stores and shopping sites. She went on to explain how she now uses that time to journal, read and pray.

Well, that got me thinking about how I spend my early morning time on my days off from work. Typically, as I’m enjoying my morning coffee there’s a morning news show on in the background. Most of the time I’m not really watching, but that sound is always there and obviously a portion of my brain is tuned in, because I will stop whatever I’m doing to watch a segment if the intro catches my attention.

So yesterday, I intentionally turned off the tv, and instead quietly worked in one of my adult coloring books. (Sorry grandkids, no Avengers or Hello Kitty in these!) I was a bit worried, because I have an ongoing, low level of ringing in my ears and I was afraid the absence of external white noise (the tv) would make my internal white noise too distracting. I’m happy to say that the parts of my brain that were engaged in selecting the colors, deciding where to use them and the physical act of coloring were enough to keep the part of my brain that registers the internal white noise occupied enough that I could ignore it.

And as I lost myself in the picture unfolding under my hand – rather than in some random news story – I relaxed, and was able to open myself to God’s whispers. I found inspiration in the picture, the colors, the colored pencils themselves. I even found inspiration in the sound of the pencils as they forever changed the page in that book.

I realized then, that I too often tune into this world, which means I’m tuning out God. What else have I missed while I was focused on that external white noise? What messages from God have I tuned out? What messages from family and friends? What opportunities to share love and compassion have I ignored, have I tuned out, while I was tuning in to things that really don’t matter? It’s not just the tv, though for me that’s a big culprit. It’s the word games on my phone, the solitaire games on the computer… Who could I have prayed for if I hadn’t played that game of solitaire? Who might I have contacted with a quick message of love and support when I opened my phone if I had tapped on text messages rather than a word game?

I know that God is always calling to me, offering inspiration for ways to share God’s love. I pray that now that I’ve taken this first step, I can stay tuned in to the Good News of God, rather than the world’s news that draws me away from God. And not just for 1 year, but for all the days of my life.

sharing the love

“I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will consistently speak of all His glories and grace. I will boast of all His kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise The Lord together, and exalt His name. For I cried to Him and He answered me! He freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:1-4 The Living Bible

This verse was part of the reading for my morning devotion today, and wow did it hit home. After my experience the last few days, it was the perfect verse and a reminder that it’s important to share these stories.

I’ve been feeling stressed and unfortunately my reaction to stress is to overeat. I know it’s not healthy, I know it’s not wise, I know in a way it denies my claim of faith – that I can rely on God to help me through anything and everything. But I felt powerless to stop. And finally two days ago as I was driving to work I reached my limit. I cried out to God, literally. People passing me may have thought I was crazy. I spent a good ten minutes talking out loud to God. I asked Him to help me understand why I couldn’t seem to rely on Him, instead turning to food for comfort. I reminded God, and myself, that I had asked Him to fill the God-shaped hole inside me. And that when He answered my prayer my life had changed drastically. I asked God to help me remember how much He loved me and wanted only the best for me. I offered Him my worries and my fears and by His grace I was able to leave them there. That day, the urge to eat just for the sake of eating was less and I felt encouraged.

Then yesterday as I was driving to work I realized I had left my phone at home. My first instinct was to proceed on to work as I don’t really need it, but then I thought about my mom. When she needs me, she always calls my cellphone. I decided to go back home to get my phone. I couldn’t leave her without a way to reach me, even if it meant I would be late for work. As I turned toward home, I felt the stress settle back around me. And that is when God helped me recognize the heart of my issue. I am my mother’s main support now. I’m glad to be able to help and do what I can for her, but I can’t do everything she needs, or even everything I might wish I could. And in that moment I realized that was my problem. I feel guilty for not doing more. My stress comes from feeling like I am failing my mother. But I give what I can, and I vowed in that moment to remember that God is there with me – and with my mother – and I do not need to do it all. I felt the stress begin to lift and as I rounded a curve in the road, God gave me the exclamation point to His reminder. The truck coming toward me had a sign below it’s license plate with one simple word – Jesus.

The rest of the day, my appetite was back to normal. I was comforted that my focus was back where it belonged and my stress was under control. God had heard my plea and answered me. He understood my fear and loved me even when I doubted His presence.

So now, you can see why the Psalm I read this morning prompted this post. I had to speak of God’s love and mercy and share how He is always near and ready to hear when we call..

banana bread

Sift together: 1 3/4 cups flour, 2 1/4 teaspoons double acting baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend until creamy: 1/3 cup shortening, 2/3 cup sugar. Beat in: 1-2 eggs and 1 – 1 1/4 cups mashed banana… Who would have thought that a batch of banana bread could have brought along insight to the way I should try to live my life? But that’s what happened this morning.

Sifting the dry ingredients together didn’t seem to make much difference. They started out looking the same and the end result didn’t seem much different, until I took a closer look. Then I could see there was space added to the ingredients, it seemed lighter. Kind of the way my days can be if I break up my routines and allow more space for time with God.

Then came the sugar and the shortening. Very different in appearance and consistency. At first glance you wouldn’t think that they could be incorporated. And when I started to mix them together with the hand mixer, they were next to each other but not really combined. And that’s the way it seems when I take a step to be closer to God. I may start praying in a new way, and it’s a part of my day, but it’s something I have to make an effort to remember to do. And just as the sugar and shortening begin to combine and the texture of the mixture changes the longer I use the mixer, the longer I practice the new way of praying the more it becomes part of my day. And eventually the sugar and shortening become a new thing, and so do I once the new practice is completely incorporated.

But that’s not the end. This creamy white substance changes as the eggs are added. And then again as the mashed bananas are added. Just as my life continues to change as I grow in my prayer practices. Now as I look, the batter is nothing like it was at the beginning and neither is my life. In the batter, everything is mixed so completely it’s hard to differentiate the individual ingredients. So too with my life.

Then I need to add the dry ingredients. Because the batter as it is, will not become banana bread without the flour and the leavening agents. And neither will my life be complete if I leave it as is.

These ingredients need to be handled differently though. I can’t just dump them in like I did the wet ingredients. I need to add the dry ingredients a little at a time, just like I need to work to incorporate a more difficult faith practice. And when I start up the mixer, I need to start slowly. (We all know what happens if you turn the mixer on high with the dry ingredients sitting on the top of the batter!) Gradually, gently, bit by bit, like the flour mixture, a new faith practice is blended into the life that was already changed by the addition of the first faith practice. And life, like the batter, will never be the same.

Then comes the oven – 350 degrees for approximately one hour. The batter will remain batter, unless it is baked. And my new faith practices? Unless they are tested by the heat of my everyday life, they remain only practices, not the habits I need them to become if I am to live a changed life.

The recipe says I can add additional things, like lemon zest or nuts or dried apricots. I don’t usually add those things, because they’re not my taste. Sometimes I substitute 1/4 cup of wheat germ for a 1/4 cup of the flour. So it is with faith practices. Not every type is to everyone’s taste. And sometimes you might do something a little different, even if you don’t do it every day.

And in the end, if I have followed the recipe, measured correctly and mixed as I should, those seemingly random ingredients will be banana bread. And my life, if I am diligent and add the “ingredients” needed for a life of faith, will rise like the banana bread and be able to give nourishment. And hopefully, not just to me.

(Thank you Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition, for the banana bread recipe that has pleased and nourished my family for over 35 years!)

a.c.t.s.

Adoration… Contrition… Thanksgiving… Supplication…
I was introduced to this approach to prayer several years ago. I love the simplicity. It helps me remember that my prayers don’t need special words, don’t have to be fancy.
Adoration: a way for me to recognize and praise God’s greatness.
Contrition: acknowledging my mistakes, the wrong things I have done, and the right things that I have failed to do.
Thanksgiving: expressing my appreciation for God’s boundless love and gracious gifts.
Supplication: asking for God’s help – for others and for myself.
Or as I tried to explain it to my grandson: “God is great”, “I’m sorry”, “thank You” and “please help”. 🙂
The other day at work, I took a moment to pray. It was a busy morning in a crazy week – not just crazy at work, but at home and at church too. I started an ACTS prayer and had no problem with the adoration. Yet when it came to the contrition, I got stuck.
You see, I realized at that moment that I had been failing to trust God. I truly believe the saying “if God brings you to it, God will bring you through it”, but my stress over decisions I had made and things I needed to do showed me my lack of trust. I know that the things I am currently doing are a true call of God. And I know that, after prayerful listening, I am being called to new things. So if I know that God has brought me to this place and these tasks, why was I worrying about how I would accomplish them? After some time and reflection, I came to realize that it was because I had stopped looking at God and was focusing instead on the tasks. And like Peter, when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the water, I was floundering. I felt like I was the one who had to do all the things ahead of me. I lost sight of the fact that God is the one that would be doing the work, I was only to be the hands, the feet, the voice, that people would see, and hear, and feel.
I’m a bit ashamed at how slowly I come to this realization, but now that I have, I am able to complete that prayer…
“Merciful God, You are the source of all I need. Forgive my lack of trust, forgive my attempts to take on Your role. I am grateful that You have brought me to this time and this place. Strengthen me and guide me as I follow the path You alone have called me to. I love You!!!
Amen…

bring them home

On my way home from my daughter’s this afternoon I experienced a new (at least new for me) way of praying. I was listening to the song “Bring Him Home” from the musical Les Mis, written by Claude-Michel Schonberg. This song has always spoken to me, and for some reason, I felt pulled to play the song over and over on my 30 minute ride. Since I was alone in the car I felt free to sing along (often quite loudly, but I had the windows closed, so I wasn’t worried about torturing anyone around me with my singing!) and today, I heard in the words of the song words to an unspoken prayer of my heart.
In my church, we are dealing with the effects of too few people to do too many jobs. And whether this is an effect of the falling numbers of families with children and youth, or the cause, our Christian Education program is struggling. This is certainly not because of a lack of effort on the part of a group of dedicated volunteers. Their perseverance and willingness to give their hearts and time for the children and youth is truly a blessing. But we seem to be at a crossroads, and this is the basis of that unspoken prayer. Where, and how, are we to go? What am I, as an individual, being called to do with my God-given gifts?
I was about halfway home when I realized that I was praying with/through the song. And as I continued to listen to “Bring Him Home”, I heard the answer to at least part of my prayer. When I take the song and apply it to all the children and youth of my church, rather than just the young man Marius that Jean Valjean is singing about, I hear the direction I am seeking.
I’d like to share what I heard through the simple yet powerful words of Claude-Michel Schonberg…
“God on high, hear my prayer. In my need, You have always been there.”  
I couldn’t agree more. God has always been there for me, even when I didn’t know I needed God.
“He is young, he’s afraid…” 
Even with my years, and the wisdom I’ve  gained from many struggles, there are times when I am afraid because of things going on in our world today. I can only imagine how much harder it is for the children and youth.
Let him rest, heaven blessed. Bring him home…”
How will the children know that God is their fortress, their hiding place in times of trouble, if no one will tell them? How can they begin to understand the blessing of having Jesus as their close, personal friend and the Holy Spirit as their constant companion and guide, if no one shares their own experiences with them? And if they don’t know those things, how can they rest, how can they come home?
“The summers die, one by one. How soon they fly, on and on. And I am old, and will be gone.”
There is no way to know how long I, or any of us, have on this earth. Time passes so quickly, each day that I hesitate to speak of my love of God, the joy and blessing I receive from my friendship with Jesus, the security and peace from the Holy Spirit, could be one less day for the children and youth to know that joy and blessing.
“You can take, You can give, let him be, let him live. If I die, let me die, let him live…”
If giving more of my time can help the children and youth come to know God, can help them understand more fully that they are truly beloved children of God, then let me die. Die to the time I spend on the computer or waste watching TV. Let me die, so that they can live. Live in true relationship with God.
“Bring him home, bring him home…”
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Not standing in their way isn’t enough. I, no, all of us that know and love God, need to do our part to share God with the children in our lives. Because that is the only way we can bring them home, home to God.

one small thing

We are called to share our time – to share God’s love, to offer His comfort and peace.

“The smallest things can change our lives –

one hand reaching out to another…

one prayer whispered in faith…

one moment that shines in His presence.”

Anonymous

One small thing, one prayer, one moment. Not everything, not all our time. Each small act can have a profound effect when done with love. What one small thing can you do today?

an unexpected struggle

I am facing a struggle that has caught me by surprise…
As I write this, I should be in church, yet I find it so hard to put on my coat and go. Even though a dear friend is doing the service and, being familiar with her deep and abiding faith, I know it will be an inspiring service, I’m still at home.
The reason I’m surprised is because two of the absolute truths in my life are that I know God is with me at all times, and that being part of a community of believers is one of the best things we can do to support and further our personal faith journeys.
That’s why I don’t really even understand how I came to this point.
In the aftermath of my loved one’s accident, I literally didn’t have time to go to church, as doing what I needed to do for her healing and recovery were a priority. I knew God was with me every step of the way. The calmness and comfort I felt, the patience and energy I received are my proof that I was not alone. And I know that my church was praying for my loved one, reaching out to her with cards, calls and visits. The speed of healing and the quality of life she has had during her recovery are confirmation to both of us that the support of our church family is invaluable.
For myself, I can honestly say I would not be the Christian I am, would not be where I am in my own faith journey, would not even have had the courage to start this blog if it wasn’t for the people I have met and come to know, respect and love in my church. They have shared their own faith stories – both the good and bad times, they have encouraged me to explore my faith and supported me as I have reached out to share my own faith story. Each, in their own way, is a part of my faith journey. How could I not want to be with them, to worship and share our love of God? How could I not want to be with them to celebrate my loved one’s healing and recovery?
So here I sit, feeling closer to God than I ever have before. Closer even than the day Jesus reached out and took my hands and asked me to release my past and accept Him as my Savior.
But at the same time I feel this strange disconnect from my church…
All I know is I will work to maintain my connections within my church family. I will continue to nurture my faith thru my studies to become a Spiritual Director, my daily devotions and Bible readings. And I will rest in God as I wait for the answers to my questions.