Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Waiting on the Lord

Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Today, Pastor Shawn said we need to wait actively on God: "Do only what God tells you to do... gives you permission to do... has anointed you to do." Later this afternoon, Meredith Andrews came on the radio, telling the story that her song "Soar" was born after God had walked with her through a dark valley and it was waiting on Him that eventually allowed her to "rise up on wings as eagles."
One of my favorite verses, reinforced, explained, and emphasized twice in one day. God knows our needs! I am learning to seek God's will in His Word, and to prayerfully wait on Him to meet me at my point of Faith. Teach me, Lord, to wait!

"Prayer is not just about the answer; it's also about glorifying God in the process of waiting for the answer" (Weems, Awakening). As a teacher, this reminds me of how we spend years and years preparing our students for graduation - their official send-off into "the real world." To them, the years seem very long. Teachers, on the other hand, can see both into our students pasts and into their futures. In the same way, God allows us, as we walk with Him, to grow as we become equipped, preparing for His very real answers to our prayers. Our loving God wants to spend time with us, getting us ready for His answers that will come: "Let your patience grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" (James 1:4).

The answers to our prayers may not come when we expect them, or when, in our mortal short-sightedness, we would like to see them answered, but God's timing is perfect. Our path is to walk with Him, thanking God for His process in us, and trusting in Him. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Releasing Guilt and Shame

At 42 years of age, I've made many more than my share of mistakes in life. Big ones, too. I can completely explain everything I've done, every choice I have made, from an academic, intellectual, psychological standpoint. But in reality, the culmination of my sins has resulted in nothing but deep-seated guilt and shame.

Only recently have I begun to release some of that to God. Yes, I knew I was forgiven. Yes, I knew Jesus covered my sins. But I still saw myself as the foolish, guilty, faithless one. I lived in a fear that, as soon as anyone really knew me, they'd put on their "holier than thou" and judge me for my past. I grew up in a church where perfection was the name of the game, and I had certainly fallen far from that.

In his book Awakening, Stovall Weems addresses this. He points out, in italics even, "If you aren't firmly grounded in an understanding of grace and the New Covenant, guilt and shame will take the joy -and therefore the strength- from your relationship with God." When I read that, the words guilt and shame stuck out like neon signs. They were the burdens I bore. And here I was reading that because I didn't have a real understanding of the power of God's grace, it was affecting my potential as a mature follower of Christ. Cognitively, I knew all of this, yet my sins still hung over my mind and my spirit. I had strived to forgive those from my past, and I did; but I couldn't forgive myself.

Later in the same chapter, Weems more clearly explains the New Covenant we have under Christ: "the plan was for a relationship in which we could be declared righteous based not on our behavior but on God's love for us... where we could stand perfected before God, not because of what we do or don't do, but because of his goodness in Christ." It started to sink in. I am perfect before God. Not just forgiven. Not just fallen and picked back up. Not just renewed, though I was certainly all of those things. I am perfect. Perfect because God made it so through his Son Jesus Christ. I can stand blameless of all of my mistakes, all of my sins, because Jesus took them upon himself:

"[God] identified every sin that you and I and everyone who's ever lived or ever will live will commit from the time of birth to death. God called all of these into remembrance. He executed His full wrath, His full punishment, His full displeasure, His full disappointment, His full judgement, and His full condemnation for these sins on His own Son. Only someone as righteous and holy as Jesus could stand in the gap for us, and He did it obediently" (Weems).

Those words in bold are what did if for me. There was release in the realization that God wasn't just passively forgiving me, that it wasn't just "you're my child, and I love you, so it's ok now" in some Prodigal Son-type acceptance of my waywardness. No, there was a price for my sins. There was a dire consequence. Because of my sins, God was angry, displeased with me, disappointed in me. There was punishment exacted, and judgement, and condemnation for my sins. But I wasn't the one who had to pay that price. I couldn't. Jesus, in his perfection and love, was the literal lamb on the altar who was sacrificed for my wrongdoings.  The awful price was paid by my loving Savior as he hung, bleeding and dying and sad, on the cross for me.

That image of Christ on the cross became somehow new to me in this moment. The fact that those were my sins he was dying for, because God had called my sins into his remembrance, caused me to see that I really, truly am forgiven. I am perfect. I can stand before God because Jesus did that for me. 

 Living in the New Covenant means that we as believers can rest in the goodness of God because "our entire relationship with God and the power that comes with it" can only be experienced this way. Guilt and shame aren't part of the New Covenant we have under Christ. Even though that was my past, it isn't my present, and it isn't my future. I'm looking forward to the things God has for me and the way He will work His perfect will through me as I follow Him, free of the heaviness of guilt and shame, as I mature in my walk with Him.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

God Will Meet You Where You Are

"Any spiritual awakening always starts from a place of fresh surrender to God. And through our surrender, God fills us again with His presence through the power of the Holy Spirit." - Awakening, Weems

This world can bog us down. I have loved my God for as long as I can remember, but I have to admit my "walk" with Him has been sporadic, at best. I have had many moments of spiritual "excitement" in my life, but if I'm honest, and I try to be, I haven't sustained a true spiritual awakening. Weems points out, "We often believe surrender is a one-time decision, but it is a practice we must regularly engage in." There has always been a longing in my heart, an aching, a knowing that there must be something more.
Total surrender... that's the something more. Giving all of myself to Him, so that He can be my All. In the past, I've think I've tried to keep parts of my life for myself so as to not bother God with them. I had my spiritual life, my professional life, my free time... I'd let Him in my family life, of course, but I had really compartmentalized Him: "Here, God, here's your area. Don't worry yourself with this other stuff." How short-sighted of me. What a pathetically tiny perspective I have held. How small I have tried to make God at some points in my life.
I want to live a life of Total Surrender. It's all His now. I have nothing to hide, nothing to hold for myself, nothing that isn't His. I am ready for His Word, ready for His voice, and ready for His direction to tell me where to go. I'm ready to live Romans 12:2 - "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
So be it, Lord.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Taking Refuge

Psalm 2:12 "...Blessed are all who take refuge in Him."
I'm not good at taking refuge. I'm strong-willed, a "strong woman," a professional... isn't it the weak who need refuge? As I read Psalm 2:1 & 2, I am reminded that I don't always have to be the strong one. Because when I'm honest with myself, there are plenty of times of closeted weakness, sometimes down-on-my-knees weakness, when the whole world seems dark and I cannot help but wonder "why, God?", yet I strive to maintain that image of one-who-has-it-all-together.
The Bible tells me I don't have to put up that facade. David reminds me, in these verses, to "Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling." I am expected to "Kiss the Son... lest [I] be destroyed in [my] way...," to take refuge in my Lord and Savior, and there, in His safe haven, I will be "Blessed." Don't we want blessedness over a false front any day?
I need to stop trying to depend solely upon myself, and I need to start handing more over to God. Where my weakness is, there God's strength will shine.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to find the Road Less Travelled

There are those who want to make a plan and stick to it, and those who look for the road less traveled. Personally, I've always been a fan of Robert Frost.
A hot Italian sun beat down the July afternoon with righteousness. Jonathan and I had meandered half aimlessly among hidden alleys and sudden public squares with a whimsical checklist of temples, fountains, and piazzas: The Pantheon, Fontana de Trevi, Piazza Navona. If we found them, good. If not, we were all the better for an adventurous exploration of Rome's ancient streets. Miles we trekked. Sticky, happy, and not a little achy in the feet and legs, we decided, after the requisite photos and a video of the teeming masses that swarmed the concrete steps and brick streets of the Trevi Fountain, to mosey our way back to Stazione Termini to catch the train to our lovely B&B.
Heading in the general direction of the station, we pulled out the map like a couple of tourists, attempting to decipher the straightest path that would save our sore soles. Taking couple of turns, we headed up a familiar alley only to happen upon a set of stairs we had definitely not passed before.

Steep and narrow, the stairs receded up to a point like a perspective drawing, and the American in me stopped to photograph the quaint and picturesque image before moving on. Looking at the map again, I continued up the alley.
     "Wanna go this way?" asked Jonathan from behind me.
     Not really... I thought, as I looked at the stairs and felt my feet pulse. "Do you want to?" Dumb question.
     "If you want to..." my considerate son hoped. I stepped up.
Tiny, shuttered windows on my left led into a row of apartments.On the right, only yellowish, stuccoed walls. The well-manicured steps were austere, and their tight steepness reflected what it might be like to live in such close quarters with so many people. We stepped and stepped, slower now... occasionally commenting on a plant or the black radio sitting snugly in a windowsill.
     We made it to the top and, like kings of the hill, surveyed our path to victory, then turned to see where the stairs around the corner led: right back down to the street off of which we had turned into the alley. We blinked at each other and laughed.
     Retracing our climb (it was more leisurely going back down), we continued onto the path we had started, eventually passing emasculated statues (thanks to some popes who apparently didn't appreciate culture), Il Vittoriano (the "wedding cake" building), and Colosseo to reach the now-familiar stazione whose subway system would shuttle us back "home."
     It's the simple things, sometimes, that invoke the greatest inspiration or create the most cherished memories. Yes, I will always remember our visit to the Coliseum, touring the Palatine Hill, and meditating in the Sistine Chapel. None of these are to be discounted. It was my son's spontaneous suggestion that we see where the stairs go, however, that became the theme of our trip: exploration, discovery, and wonder.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Transcendent Peace

 I trekked silently, as admonished by signs, and reflectively, as prompted by the atmosphere of the Eremo delle Carceri. These were the paths and woods where Saint Francis of Assisi once lived and mediated. The naturalist in me was piqued by the deep spirituality of the forest; it was as if I was one of the Saint's followers, and I could easily see myself as one who would retreat to this Hermitage to abide and pray. I paused and sat, humbled, on an outcropping, careful to remain safely back from the steep embankment in front of me. In pure and simple awe, I took in the wonder around me, bathed in transcendent peace.

This forest, four kilometers outside of the Italian hill-town of Assisi, has remained unchanged for centuries. The "Emero," or Hermitage of Saint Francis, is a small retreat deep in a gorge of Monte Subasio in Umbria. It was in the 13th century when Francis of Assisi, like other monks before and after him, came here to grow in Spirit. The cave where he slept is near where I sat, now protected from zealous visitors by an iron barrier. 

Chattering birds carried on, singing and flying about their business as if the small cadres of humans hiking the forest trails did not exist, perhaps accustomed to the many pilgrims who came to walk in the footsteps of that renowned Pilgrim before them. Trees, whose species were unknown to me but which looked remarkably like those in the hill-towns of Southern Missouri, stretched toward the sky, oddly creating a sense that the Earth and the Trees and the Sky were one. Signs posted here and there reminded visitors that this is a place of prayer and silence; it must be the nature of those who would come here to willingly comply; my reverie remained undisturbed. 

What is it about the natural world that draws me to it? Perhaps, like Francis, I find God's Creation a source of renewal and strength. When I can open my eyes and behold nothing but the work of the One who makes all things new, my Spirit fills up and I am consumed by a change in me. I am at peace. I am kinder. I am happy. And it strikes me that, sadly, I don't feel peaceful, kind, or happy much of the rest of the time. 

In American society, we have created the motif of the Annual Vacation. This trip to Italy was a variety of that: the Once in a Lifetime Vacation. What I learned at the Eremo, however, in studying the life and hermitage of Saint Francis, was that we all need to retreat at times - and not just once a year. We all need renewal. We all need to draw strength from our Creator. Perhaps this is why I am drawn to nature. It is there that I find the wellspring of those resources that, in my work as a wife, mother, and teacher, I strive to give into the lives of others I work with. 

Sitting on the stone outcropping, taking in the Umbrian forest around me, the part of me that felt desperate to stay at the Eremo forever was soothed by the clear similarities between the Italian mountain forest and those woods I have in my home state, both at nearby Watkin's Mill, a national park, and even greater in similarity, the Ozark Mountains, just a few hours' drive away. Even my own back yard is growing with trees and gardens I have planted as I have worked to connect with the peace I find in nature. The transcendental spirit that spoke to my heart and mind as I sat in Saint Francis's woods encouraged me to take greater and more frequent advantage of those hermitages I have so close to home; even though I was separated by oceans and centuries from the life of that man of God known for his serenity and oneness with nature, the characteristics of his legacy I so admire and long for, those of peace, tranquility, and connection with my God, are quite literally right in my own back yard.