Joy’s Secret

Thank you, Ann Voskamp.  Much of what I am about to write about has been shown to me by God through you.  Your words–in book and blog–have not only given me this new ability to see, but have also freed me in my writing, helping me fully embrace my style of thought and giving me permission to let them out on paper.  In a world where there are few mentors, I spend time with mine through books and blogs.  You have been a big one in 2011, and God-willing, undoubtedly will be in 2012.  


Every Christmas seems to come like a train that doesn’t really stop or slow but blows through town.  Before one can really take in the wonder of it all, it is gone… leaving behind a trail of torn wrapping paper, crusted pie plates and greatly altered account balances.  Of course the joys of time spent with family, of a day purposely set apart to celebrate Christ, of gifts given and gotten are all part of its glorious wake too–and my heart always sings rich.  Still, every year I ponder ways I can do it differently, savor it all just a little more, be more prepared–not for the gift giving that we all tend to get frantic about, but for the Christ child Himself.  Immanuel.

Holy, fierce, awesome God.

With us.  Broken, late, tainted, forgetful, messy us.

Each year I long to find new ways I can give to Him, delight Him, show Him my love on his birthday.

This year I found the secret to slowing down the train.  This year, I didn’t watch it whizz by like a bullet, but I myself was on the train, looking out at the landscape… and the speed was slow and I could see each light, each expression on face, desire in eye.  

I could see the details vibrant.

I think it probably happened earlier, but I know starting on at least December 1st, I was looking for Him.  For God with us.  You know the loveliest part?  I found Him in some of my messiest places.  When house is strewn with a thousand little toys and socks and dirty dishes, and kids run wild, and dinner time is approaching fast and I open fridge to wilted lettuce and tupperware of leftovers from who-knows-when, and my soul enemy says, “Here is Stress, take it, put it on and wear it thick.”  And he shoves it in my face and I have to push back hard, but I do, and instead I sing.

This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.

And my kids smile and sing with me.  Stress tucks tail and runs, Peace begins to rise and my eyes see… and I can see beyond wilted lettuce and see that all is really SO well.  All. Is. Well.

“If your eyes are light, your whole body will be light.  If your eyes are dark, your whole body will be dark.”  I remember Jesus’s words and know again, it is all in the seeing.  But how do I really see?  How can I make my eyes light?

One secret I’ve found, the secret that slowed down the Christmas train, the secret that unlocked my vision and showed me the everywhere grace, the secret that is changing my life… eucharisteo.  The giving of thanks.  All times, all circumstances, always.

Even in the deepest grieving.

Because grieving and thanksgiving are not counterparts, they’re not mutually exclusive.  Some of my most profound and sacred moments were in the deep wailing, tears pooling on carpet, body convulsing… and He would gather me in comforting arms and whisper sweet, “I know child, I know.  Now lift your hands and praise Me.”  And hands would raise shaky to sky and I would praise while grieving and the heavens would MOVE.  Psalm 50 experienced.

The giving of thanks.  This is how I prepared my heart for God with us this year.  This is how I slowed my moments and began to see every beautiful detail of life.  This is how the whole month of December was Christmas to me, and how even now in the January aftermath I still feel like Christmas is here.  Christ is in my heart, He has come and He remains.  And I can see Him still in my moments, even hard, fierce moments.  I can see Him in the elderly neighbors that fill my neighborhood, the lonely widows and in our homeless friends.  I see Him in the unlovely, the undesirable, the destitute.  But I see Him in the rich and proud, too.  The comfortable.  He is waiting, and He beckons us to love Him by loving these.  And I am excited as I wake out of bed and ask, “Jesus, where can I find you today?”  And I set out to love on Him.

And I am content and Joy is my companion.

“Humbleness and Humanity”

We watched The Nativity movie last night with Isaac. It’s a live-action retelling of the birth of Jesus, beginning with Zacharias’s revelation in the temple and ending with the flight to Eqypt. Although there were some intense moments in the movie, I’m glad Isaac got a chance to see it–until now all the depictions of Bible people he’s seen have been cartoons or drawings. I hope that the realism of the movie makes the authenticity of this story all the more real to him.

I’m separated from the Bible stories by thousands of years, thousands of miles and a world of cultural differences. There’s so much I don’t know. The film shows things I wouldn’t have thought of: like Joseph’s dirty hands and bloodied feet as he and Mary made their long journey to Bethlehem.

During different scenes, I swelled with emotion inside–and even teared up a couple times. Those key moments that touched me all have something in common: humbleness and humanity.

When Mary and Joseph are resting beside a campfire in the middle of their long voyage to Bethlehem, she asks him about his dream.

“The angel told me the child in you had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and I should not be afraid,” Joseph said.

“Are you afraid?” she asked.

“Yes!” He said, “are you?”

“Yes!” Mary answered.

Later he said, “I wonder if I’ll even be able to teach him anything.” Mary gave him a sympathetic smile and they returned soberly to their thoughts.

Mary’s labor was painful and agonizing, she trashed and writhed, cried and groaned with pain. And when the baby was born he let out a loud squall and started wailing like newborns do. The scene is not serene or lovely–it is gritty and sweaty and cold.

When the shepherds arrived, they were led by an old man with a worn face and a shaggy beard. He plopped right in front of Mary and Joseph, didn’t say a word, and reached out his hand toward the baby. He looked like one of the old homeless men I see walking around, and the hungry way he reached to touch the baby made me think of an addict grabbing for a fix. His ancient hand shook with desire as he reached out, hovered, then drew back, unsure. Mary looked at him and said, “He is for all mankind.”

As the magi approach and see the scene, they seem taken aback by the squalor of the stable. After a silence, one says, “The greatest of kings born into the most humble of places. God made into flesh.”

It’s been over two years since I listened to a message by Derek Prince called “The Grace of Yielding” and began to understand the spiritual principle of humility. The principle is that as we intentionally humble ourselves, God will lift us up.

I believe that intentionally humbling ourselves as we seek the Lord is the safest place we can be. In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer says it thus, “Whoever defends himself will have himself for his defence, he will have no other; but let him come defenseless before the Lord and he will have for his defender no less than God Himself.”

Jesus yielded himself to God and man over and over during his time on earth, beginning with his humble birth and ending with his death. May God give me–and you–the grace to do the same.

Why Steps And Bits?

Earlier this spring our front porch was surrounded by overgrown bushes and weeds.  I remember how it overwhelmed me.  With little ones, multiple daily house chores, an infant organization that needed constant attention, an inbox in the several hundreds, my biweekly training courses in inner healing, and other ministries and relationships that needed to be maintained, gardening (as much as I love it) was struggling to find a place on my ever-increasing to-do list.  Especially when it seemed so much needed to be done, and many days needed to be devoted to it.  
I liken it to when you have a friend you care about that you haven’t talked to in a long time, and you know you need to call her to catch up, but it’s hard to find the right moment because you know that particular conversation will need several hours.  So you don’t.  And more time passes, and now more hours are needed, and now it seems impossible to fit it in.  The urgency of the hour swallows up the moments where important things can (and should) take place.  
It was on a run that I felt God whispering, “It’s the steps, it is all in the steps.”  Step by step, bit by bit.  The lie so embedded on my conscious was exposed:  It’s all too much, you don’t have time, it will take forever, it’s impossible, there’s no sense in trying.  Truth, like long awaited rain, doused my senses and stirred me awake.  
I took ten minutes the next day to pull some weeds.  It was all I had.  But I did it, small as it seemed.  The next day I took 15 to trim the bushes surrounding my house.  Throughout the week, I kept pulling weeds here and there, until one day I smiled as I went outside and realized they were gone.  I transferred some day lilies from a friend’s garden.  I bought some phlox and planted it.  Before long I had a garden with hydrangeas, black-eyed Susans, daisies, lavandar, verbena, creeping jenny and Rose of Sharon.  That expanded to include mint, basil, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, strawberries, peppers, onions and two blueberry bushes.  I can’t say it’s all doing good, and believe me, many days I am not on top of it–at all–but I’ve come a long way from the weeds earlier this spring.  And it was all in steps.   
I’ve tried to make a habit of calling my long-distance friends, even if I only have ten minutes.  I let them know how long I can talk and tell them I’d rather call when I can instead of waiting for that huge chunk of time that never comes.  
This idea of steps and bits I’ve realized is the key to reaching our heart dreams and desires.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  But if we will believe that the five minutes we spend taking a step or planting a seed (even when it feels like nothing is happening, like nothing is changing) matter, then we’ll surely soon find ourselves living in the fruit of those moments.  We’ll look about and see we’ve nearly reached the summit, and our goals will have gone from floating around in our minds to being realized in our hands. 

Be Stirred My Soul

Today I drew a picture with my son.  As I picked through the freshly sharpened colored pencils, I thought of a picture in my mind and set out to draw it best I could.  I am not an artist (as much as I have openly wished it so) but I determined to put my best hand forward.  I took my time.  Instead of hurrying through the moment with my son to get on to my ever-urgent tasks, I steadied, I breathed, I imagined.

I was a girl, before me a vast sky of possibility, staring back as a daring and promising blank page.

I wish I could say I drew-and-colored something glorious.  In truth it was quite simple, childlike even, but it represented hope and beauty to my parched, hurried soul.

They say you need to nourish your body, spirit and soul.  I realized over the last five years I have gone in and out of seasons of discipline with the first two.  I’ve feasted on words of Life and let heavenly melodies wash over my longing spirit.  I’ve gone on long runs and gulped juiced carrots, and I’ve felt my body sing.  But my soul… sure, I’ve read good books and every now and then have sat still to gaze at the radiant moon.  But there’s this part of my soul that longs to create, and honestly since becoming a momma that part of me has become increasingly subdued.  It was never intentional.  It just pretty much happened.

I don’t blame it on my kids–in fact I know a lot of mommas that have become even more resourceful and creative, it seems, the more kids they have.  I don’t know why it has been different for me.  I guess I just realized late that I had to do it on purpose if it was going to happen at all.  But I haven’t realized it too late.  It’s never too late.

I hope this blog, and my decision to be intentional with it, will be the beginning of many more stirrings of soul.

She Still Sings To Me

Oh Africa, how I wish I could get lost in you.

No tangles of this western proper life,
cords of instant friends on a bright screen,
and loneliness

Africa, take me to your arms of vibrant colors,
the solace and awe of your dusks,
the rooster’s call of a new day…
no beeping, no snoozing, no sleeping.
Alive and awake.

Sister land, why do you call me so?
Why do you draw me in?
White American girl, yet you call
with every beat of drum,
every child laugh and cry,
big sad eyes.
I long to embrace you.

Africa, are all of my dreams of you true?
Free to be still–
still enough to love, to sit, to stare, to smile.
Rice, dirt and a flowy skirt.

A child’s smile that sends my heart flying,
to hold a baby dying,
and love…
and love
til poured out
and filled up again.

Africa, I still hear your song.

Found In Prayer Room

 “If God has called you to be truly like Jesus, he will draw you into a life of crucifixion and humility, and put on you demands of obedience that sometimes will not allow you to follow other Christians. In many ways He will seem to let other good people do things He will not let you do.

Other Christians, and even ministers, who seem very religious and useful may push themselves, pull strings and work schemes to carry out their plans, but you cannot do these things, and if you attempt them, you will meet with such failure and rebuke from the Lord as to make you sorely penitent.

Others can brag about themselves, about their work, about their success, about their writings, but the Holy Spirit will not allow you to do such things; and if you begin bragging, He will lead you into some deep mortification that will make you despise yourself and all your good works.

Others will be allowed to succeed in making great sums of money, or having a legacy left to them, or in having luxuries, but God may only supply you daily, because He wants you to have something far better than gold–a helpless dependence on Him–that He may have the privilege of providing your needs daily out of the unseen treasury.
The Lord may let others be honored and keep you hidden away in obscurity, because He wants to produce some choice, fragrant fruit for His coming glory, which can only be produced in the shade.
God will let others be great, but keep you small. He will let others do a work for Him, and get the credit for it, but He will make you work and toil without knowing how much you are doing. And then to make your work still more precious, He will let others get the credit for the work which you have done, and this will make your reward ten times greater when Jesus comes.
The Holy Spirit will put a strict watch on you, with jealous love, and rebuke you for little words and feelings or for wasted time, which other Christians never seem distressed over.
So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign who has a right to do as He pleases with His own, and needs not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you.

God will take you at your word; and if you absolutely sell yourself to be His slave, He will wrap you up in a jealous love, and let other people say and do many things you cannot do or say.

Settle it forever, that you to deal directly with the Holy Spirit, and that He is to have the privilege of tying your tongue, or chaining your hand, or closing your eyes in ways that others are not disciplined.
Now, when you are so possessed with the living God that you are, in your secret heart, pleased and delighted over this peculiar, personal, private, jealous guardianship and management of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will have found vestibule of heaven.”

Gideon Media Arts Conference & Film Festival

Last week I attended this conference and left amazed at God’s gift to me through it. Going to Gideon wasn’t anywhere on my horizon, but when I felt a stirring inside as my friend Cheryl told me about it, I knew I needed to be open. Within weeks I was financially sponsored, and dear friends offered to watch my spirited toddler so I could attend. So it was set; I headed a few hours toward Asheville, not sure what to expect. Immediately, what stood out most was the caliber of spiritual passion among the folks there, and the genuine encouragement. It didn’t matter if you had published 40 books or just had an idea brewing around inside, most everyone I met took you seriously. It was so life-breathing. I pretty much devoured every film offered, though it meant late nights (around 1am) and early mornings (between 6 and 7am) for this pregnant girl… with very little down time in between. Worth every drop of sleep missed. Stand outs: T.C. Jonstone’s and James Kirk-Johnson’s documentary “Hearing Everett” (which I will blog about later), Andre van Heerden’s “Saving God,” R. Keith Harris’ “Harvest” and, to my surprise (I usually don’t go for anything scary, but this film was amazing), The Daws brothers’ “Dangerous Calling.” Many other great ones as well, but these spoke to me particularly. As for the faculty, let me just say Torry Martin is a champion. So many comedians use humor as a shield and a shell, masking whatever is real underneath, but Torry was one of the most genuine, surrendered souls I met. Eric Highland made me cry a few times with his passionate exhortations. Eric Wilson (accomplished novelist but you would never know by meeting him) impressed me with his down-to-earth lack of pretense. I could go on and on. Let me just say, if you’re interested in media arts in any capacity, check this thing out for next year. I hope to see you there.

My Review: Girl Meets God

3 out of 5 stars

I had a hard time deciding between the rating “liked it” and “really liked it.” I did very much enjoy this book, so raw… at times familiar and at other times so unfamiliar and unique that you feel like you’re staring. I was captivated by the way she shared Judaism, with all of its observances and culture and study. I loved learning the Hebrew terms and the meaning behind the holidays. I loved, of course, too her tale of Christ wooing her, and all the after effects that would come in the wake of her conversion. She doesn’t shy away from showing us her “not-so-sanctified-and-tidy side.” If I were to see her, I would just want to say, “Thank you for sharing with me.”

Glass Full

No matter how much is still to be done, no matter how long or overwhelming the list, no matter how daunting the tasks or how pressing the challenge, I refuse to back down. And while we’re on this subject… no matter how much water the cup still needs to be full, no matter how brown the grass can sometimes seem, no matter how dirty the house, or leaky the roof, or tired my body… I refuse to be without joy. The truth is, the grass IS green. The cup IS filled. We are blessed, incredibly. Each of us can find things to rejoice about: I and mine are healthy; we have a home; we have jobs, friends, family, transportation, resources at our fingertips. I am clothed and fed. I will not be negative. I am content, and full of joy. My heart rejoices!

Do Not Despise the Little Things

“We have the idea that God is going to do some exceptional thing, that He is preparing and fitting us for some extraordinary thing by and by, but as we go on in grace we find that God is glorifying Himself here and now, in the present minute. If we have God’s say-so behind us, the most amazing strength comes, and we learn to sing in the ordinary days and ways.” – Oswald Chambers

I am learning to sing in the ordinary days and ways. God is not so much concerned with my circumstances and He is with my substance. How is my heart in the here and now? Does my heart glorify Him? Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You fools… you think it is the gift that makes the altar sacred. Don’t you know that it is the altar that makes the gift sacred?” He showed me that the altar represents my heart. The gift that I give–what I do or what I speak–doesn’t matter so much as the condition of my heart behind the giving.

So for me it means, I can be doing dishes, or changing diapers, or folding laundry… and if my heart is glorifying my God… and singing His praises… and doing these things with joy because everything I do I do unto Him… then my gift is sacred. Just as sacred as if I were preaching to thousands or working on a missions field.

I am learning so much about how my God loves the little things. He looks for our faithfulness and our integrity in the little things. He wants to be glorified in the present moment. He wants us to realize that each moment counts… that we truly are surrounded by witnesses watching how we act and respond to everything life brings our way.

We must not despise the little things. I am coming to really believe our biggest tests, our biggest measurements are done through the little things. And it is the little things… that lead the way to the bigger things…