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As we were leaving for Cleveland for my dad’s surgery, I was more than a little anxious. I’m sure you are all shocked.

I put on Pandora, hoping for a distraction to ease my worry, and one of the first songs to come on was They Mercy My God, a hymn written in the late 1700s by John Stocker. It’s been a favorite of mine for nearly ten years now, and Sandra McCracken’s version is haunting and lovely – and that’s what that came through my speakers as we were entering the Interstate for the five-hour ride.

I started sniffling with a couple stifled tears going down my face, and that quickly progressed to a facial-distorting, snotty, full-out ugly cry. Evan didn’t say anything except to ask if I was ok. This was only about the fifth breakdown I’d had in the past few weeks over the impending surgery (or – in my mind – impending doom!), so I’m sure he just thought I was scared and worried and upset, but the truth was, I was none of those things.

I was utterly thankful.

It’s no secret that well before starting this house church I was struggling to take what I know about God and translate that to knowing God, and fortunately – on occasion – I am reminded that all is not lost. This was one of those occasions. From the first banjo pluck until the last Hallelujah, I felt nothing but fully immersed in the love of the Father, and could utter nothing but “Thank You” in return. There wasn’t peace in the sense that I thought everything would be ok (my anxiety is too far gone to allow any such rational thought), no comfort of any material sort, but for just those few minutes I knew God was there, right along with me, no matter the outcome. And I was able to whisper thanks, no matter the outcome.

You all know my dad is home and slowly recovering, and while he’s not entirely out of the woods yet, the surgery went better than expected. On top of that, he has a renewed sense of faith, and just last week my brother made the decision to restart his walk with God after years of a non-existant faith.

I certainly don’t feel God near me each minute, or each day, even. But occasionally he breaks through this crowded heart of mine and is able to remind me that he loves me in spite of myself. He loves us all in spite of ourselves, and my prayer for this upcoming year is that we know this truth. At least on occasion, but that we know it to our core.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).


Just Breathe

This past week after working on Mandy’s writing assignment, I was thinking more about one of my words – breathe. As many of you know I tend to become easily overwhelmed. Just the night before had been lying in bed, trying unsuccessfully to sleep while working through all the things on my to-do list, and remembering all the things I hadn’t remembered to put on my to-do list. So I kept reminding myself to slow my breathing.

I remember from my counseling classes that deep breathing exercises were one of the most effective ways to prevent an oncoming panic attack. It works more quickly than medication, can be used at any time or place, and is a great tool for dealing with anxiety. Of course these exercises need to be practiced when you’re not just about to have a panic attack to be effective (much like the spiritual disciplines, as we have learned, are to be practiced regularly for when we really need to use them).

So what is it about breathing – and paying attention to how we breathe – that is so therapeutic? I think the answer is more than just physiological.

“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” – Genesis 2:7

We’ve also considered that when Moses asks God’s name in the scene with the burning bush, God’s reply in the Hebrew were the letters YOD, HAY, VAV, and HAY, which have been surmised to be the sound of breathing. (Read more about that here, or watch the excerpt from Nooma, Breathe.) That, perhaps, while we’re even breathing, we are speaking God’s name, whispering praises without even knowing it.

Even the etymology of the word inspire comes from a word that means, “blow into,” or breathe in.  Consider that whenever you have an idea, an inkling, a hunch for good – that it could be that God is breathing his Spirit into us.

Is it any wonder, then, that the single best way to quickly combat anxiety is with simply become aware of and slowing our breathing? Taking deep breaths? Sucking in the life-giving spirit of the living God who literally gave us our first breath and each breath following and knowing that you have no choice but to whisper a praise in spite of yourself.

Transfiguration

Last night, I heeded Jared’s call for solitude. God had much to say while I sat in the darkness of my mother’s sun room. In radiant flashes of white, the sky lit up over and over as a thunderstorm raged. The flashes were blinding, and I figured that’s the color Jesus must have been after he was transfigured on a mountain top. I turned my face away, understanding my unworthiness to even have a glimpse of His presence. And that reminded me of Evan’s comments, how grappling with our utter depravity, while painful, is the only way we grow into the transformed believers Jesus intends us to be.

So my thoughts meandered back to House Church earlier that day. The spirit was most definitely present at House Church yesterday. All of our hearts were yearning for transformation, for God, and they were yearning together. I could feel it. When our hearts yearn collectively, all at once, for the Presence, for Holiness, for Transformation, I can’t help but think God shows up with power.

Honestly, my faith is weak. It really is. But days like yesterday strengthen me. It struck me yesterday, at a very specific moment, that I had joy and peace all of a sudden. Chase has shared today that he felt the same way. I was messing around on Evan’s guitar, Jared and Greg were doing something ridiculous with Sydney’s baby dolls (no it wasn’t inappropriate), Evan, Chase, and Brenton were telling stories, Mason was crawling all over Chase, Asher was playing with trains, and the girls were huddled around the table laughing loudly. B.J. and Amy were missed, but we held them up in conversation often, eager to hear about Wayne County cemetary meetings and rendezvous with old friends. Jeremy was missed, but we know he’s really with us, and we prayed for his safe return soon. Events like this happen all the time, but the joy and peace that I experienced with these events yesterday was a result of the learning, praying, and meditating that had occurred just before while we were praying and studying together. Spiritual disciplines help us see the world anew, through God’s reality. What once was a ho-hum day becomes a spirit-filled, full-life moment.

After the solitude I had last night, my glimpse of the transfiguration colored sky, I awoke this morning with a quiet hope that my faith is strengthening again. Waking up, I felt like today was a new day and not just another day. But this new found hope did not happen spontaneously. It was the result of engaging in the disciplines the night before while in solitude. Spiritual disciplines help us see the world anew, through God’s reality. What once was another morning is now a prayer of praise, a church service of sorts, joy for the miracle a new daylight.  

Though it was the second time I read the book, Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines has again had a profound impact on me. It thrills me to think that we will be walking together in openness, adventure, and reflection through a renewed effort to engage in the disciplines and thus transform ourselves, slowly, slowly, slowly, then all of a sudden, into new creations. And I truly thank God that I stumbled across this little House Church, even though I feel unworthy of it too.

I close with several four star passages from Willard: “The astonishing human power to use what is beyond ourselves is the main clue to who and what we are.”

“As an ineffable mystery, the House Church shall learn in its own experience who He is.” And we shall “eat of the hidden manna.”

O Ye Of…

Recently, a man I know was found out in a tangled mess of deception and lies. His family is in shambles as a result. Knowing a bit of his character, when I was told by a family member that he had recently accepted Christ, my immediate response was to roll my eyes and scrunch up my face in disgust, and think, “How convenient.”

I’m not sure what that reaction says more about – the man’s character or my (lack of) faith.

My reaction was exactly the same as many of his family members (namely, suspicion), and it is possible that is a last-ditch effort by him to patch back together something for those he has hurt.  Yet I wondered if in reality my faith was so faint that I was as suspicious that God would use these less-than-ideal circumstances to redeem this man’s heart. I mean, isn’t that exactly how God rescued Paul? Isn’t the scripture chock full of shady characters being won over by an overwhelming grace? And if my day-to-day life doesn’t appear changed — I mean, if I’m not seeing God work out my lack of patience or anxiety, which I deem “minor” sins — then how can I expect God to change the heart of someone who had done such “major” offenses.

Perhaps his decision was a convenient Hail Mary, but that’s not for me to judge. I am afraid my reaction had more to do with my desire to see God rescue me from these everyday offenses, and my lack of faith that this is possible.

God, help me.

‘I Want to See Jesus’

Part of our task this week was to try to figure out/think about what it looks like to be in love with Jesus. So, this week I keep asking myself, “What does it really mean to be in love with Jesus?” In doing so, I’m also trying to differentiate “loving Jesus” and “being in love with Jesus.” Several things have come and gone from my mind, but one girl’s life continues to resonate with me. I know it’s dangerous to put people on pedestals, but I really think this girl has it figured out. Does this mean she doesn’t screw up? Absolutely not. However, I wouldn’t mind if my life and daily mindset looked a lot more like hers. 

I’ve mentioned her before, but to give you some background info, she went to Uganda right after high school. After spending some time there, she felt called to stay. She ended up starting a nonprofit, Amazima Ministries, which operates a sponsorship program for 400 orphans, providing them with 3 meals a day, education, school supplies, medical care and spiritual encouragement. Amazima also provides food, medical care and Bible study to people in their community. Oh, she’s also “Mama” to 14 little girls. I think she’s currently a whopping 21 years old.

So, as I was thinking about what it means to be in love with Jesus, Katie posts the following blog. To me, she radiates love for Jesus. She gives up comfort for pain and security for the unknown. She’s running toward her Savior with reckless abandon. She’s in love.

“Jesus! Mama, baby Jesus! I want to see! I want to see Jesus!,” shrieks my littlest darling.

How can I refuse? I lift her, for what seems like the hundredth time this morning, to the manger scene on the living room bookshelf. She gazes in wonder, oohs and ahs, gingerly fingering the cornhusk baby in his twig and banana fiber trough.

“Jesus, Mama,” she whispers.

And so, the nativity scene that once was packed away each year after Christmas remains on the bookshelf still, because my darling baby, in all her wondrous excitement reminds me daily of who I want to be, the kind of life I want to live.

A wide-eyed, expectant child, gazing in wonder on a beautiful Savior.

In the middle of a broken, sin-crushed world, my soul cries out, “I want to see! I want to see Jesus!”

I want to see Jesus.

My darling Karimojong sister Maria, who is battling severe, gripping alcoholism, and her sweet baby are living with us still. People wonder, even gasp, that I would let her join us at our table. Isn’t she a poor example? Why would I subject my girls to that?

I want to see Jesus.

Newborn baby Noah snuggles to my chest as his mother lays dying in a hospital bed. He cried through the night and I feed him and kiss his pink toes and pray over his little life. Why do I do it? Don’t I have my hands full enough already?

I want to see Jesus.

Zulaika, her severely malnourished baby and her 8 year old daughter move into our home while we teach Zulaika how to care for her children and find her a job so she can continue to do so. They have lice. They do not bathe. Fear creeps up the back of my throat and I wonder, what if all my children get sick? But we have taken in sick people before, and each time He hedges us in protection. People ask, do I feel that I am being responsible?

I want to see Jesus.

Jane and her birth mom spend the weekend in our guest room. I figure if I cannot parent this my daughter, the least I can do is teach her mother about our Savior, invest time in their lives, pray over them while we love them. My heart breaks in two as her high pitched, breathy giggle once more fills my home and the pain threatens to paralyze me, but I won’t let it.

I want to see Jesus.

Strangers eat at our table, bathe in our showers, sleep in our beds, share our everything. And I fleetingly wonder if it wouldn’t be better for my girls if I maintained some semblance of normal, but He shows me that HIS definition of family is not at all limited by my own.

I want to see Jesus.

I want to see Jesus and if I don’t step out, how can He come in? If I don’t give all of myself, my home, even my family, how will He be magnified?

Do I want my children to be safe? Absolutely. Do I want them to have a “normal” family dinner sometimes and be healthy and not be subject to the rage of an alcoholic or the hurt of friends dying and siblings leaving? Of course. But more than that I want to take a cue from my baby girl.

I want to whisper to them excitedly each morning, “Look, Jesus.”

I want them to see Jesus. In my life. In my actions. Lifted High. Magnified. In our neighbors, no matter how sick or dirty. In our home.

I want the best for my children, I do. And I believe with all my heart what is best is for them to have a mother – a crazy mother even – wide-eyed in wonder, recklessly chasing after her Savior.

More of Him. We want to see Jesus.

What she’s doing is wildly courageous. Where my struggle comes in is how do I live that out in the United States? Would I love to be doing what she’s doing? Yes. But I’m here in the United States where it’s really, really easy to be a Christian (or really, really hard, depending on how you look at it). She’s in a country where there’s immense poverty and ample opportunity to spread the gospel. Am I just being blind to opportunities surrounding me?  Am I just too stubborn to give up luxuries in my life and see what Jesus does when I truly live sacrificially? It’s easy to look at her and see that she’s in love with Jesus. What would it take for people to look at me and declare, “That girl is in love with Jesus!”

Slow Growth

A week or two ago, as I was putting Mason to bed, we were talking about why it is important for him to eat good, healthy food. I explained that it helps him grow big and strong. He replied, “But when I eat something I don’t grow bigger!” I had to explain to him that growth is slow, and sometimes we have to look back over a year or two to be able to see any difference. I asked him if he remembered seeing his baby pictures, explained that was just a couple years ago, and told him to look at how much he had grown. I explained he had been growing big and strong all along, and that while you can’t see a difference from one day to the next, over time it makes a big difference.

As I finished this biology lesson with my almost-four year old, I felt God tugging a little on my heart as if maybe the lesson was for me. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am a bit impatient. I think this is probably a flaw of our generation, but when I am dissatisfied with something (case in point here: my spiritual life) I want it fixed, and I want it done now. Everybody likes a good conversion story. Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus is bold, dramatic, and immediate. But we just as often see characters in scripture whose journey was more gradual, more messy, more like mine, honestly.

All throughout the Gospels Peter comes across as a bumbling Clark Griswold sort of guy – lovable but a bit clueless. But by the time he wrote 1 and 2 Peter several decades after Christs’ death and resurrection, it’s obvious a great change had been made in the quantity and quality of his faith. Even in the Psalms of King David, when read chronologically, we can see his inch-by-inch transformation from arrogant, self-gratifying, and disobedient to a humble, gracious old man.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote the following:

    Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
    We are quite naturally impatient in everything
    to reach the end without delay.
    We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way
    to something unknown,
    something new.
    Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
    by passing through some stages of instability
    and that may take a very long time. 

    And so I think it is with you.
    Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
    Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
    Do not try to force them on
    as though you could be today what time
    — that is to say, grace —
    and circumstances
    acting on your own good will
    will make you tomorrow.
    Only God could say what this new Spirit
    gradually forming in you will be.

    Give our Lord the benefit of believing
    that his hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
    in suspense and incomplete.
    Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
    our loving vine-dresser.

    Amen.

Given that Jesus frequently used parables related to agriculture, referring to himself as the Vine and of the Father as the Gardener, I think it wise we remember that growth does not, and should not, happen with immediacy. For infants – yes. This is true both physical and spiritually. But the more mature we become, often the more slowly growth – on average – occurs. If I look back at last week, or even last month, and cannot see change, I will not be discouraged this year. If I look back over the last two, five or ten years and do not see growth, then I think we should all be concerned.

Could we be doing “more” (whatever that means for you)? Absolutely. Should we strive to follow Christ to the best of our abilities? Of course. As we start this journey together again in 2011, let’s agree to encourage one another in our journey. Hold one another accountable. Pick up the spiritual disciplines we all know are the key to slow growth that we all desire. And remember to:

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.

Family.

Mostly, I’m feeling lonely for our blog. Last Sunday (sans Brit ,Jared and Brandon) you guys heard me rank everyone for funniest,best eyes, most likely to be an FBI agent, etc. I want to let you know why I love you now… For real you are all like family now. And that is a loaded statement for me. It takes me a long time to even call someone a friend, but you are like family.

So, while I was doing silly rankings, I’ve been thinking about you guys this week-and here are some things I think about you. I’m doing this in alphabetical order by first name because, well I like to.

YOU ARE…

Amy- listener, helper

Brandon- humble, thinker

Brittany- brave, loyal

B.J- accepting, strong

Evan- giving, providing

Greg- protecting, intelligent

Jared- truthful, hard working

Jeremy- wise, friendly

Kelli- grower (not stagnant, ambitious in relationships, life, etc-get it? I couldn’t think of one word…), thoughtful