July 27, 2010

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God: Days 3-6

I don't want my faith to look like the tree on the right. Do you?
I thought when I posted my last blog entry on a Friday afternoon in the summer I'd hear crickets. Surprisingly I didn't. It seems I'm not the only one in a funk. 

While "misery loves company" I'm happily surprised that so many of you said you, too, were going to join me on my journey: Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God.

Here's how I've experienced God in recent days:

Day 3: Friday, July 16
Lord, I'm humbled that you used my writing today to touch others. Thank you for helping me rearrange my thoughts from a spirit of complaining and grumbling to one of searching. I saw your presence in the many comments my friends posted on my blog. I saw you in the way you link us together not just in the really great times or the really awful times, but in the in-between times too. We are better together

Day 4: Saturday, July 17
Father God, I drew the short straw and had to get up early to run Mom's taxi. You know I'm not an early riser. Thank you for nudging me to not go back to bed, but to put on my sneakers and join the club of EMEs (early morning exercisers) instead. As Tess and I walked briskly in the only window of tolerable temperatures today, I felt your presence in my beating heart, in the blessed shade you provided, in the fellow EMEs I passed...and especially in the praise music I sang along to on my iPod. How awesome it was to worship with you in this way.

Day 5: Sunday, July 18
Lord, I saw you this morning in the leisurely breakfast with my husband...in the pressed-coffee, the easy conversation and the freshly-baked scones (aka, the bread of life). Thank you for this time to just be and to be together. 
     Thank you for safely bringing home the group of teens and grownups from Bahamas mission trip and for their great experience there. I saw you shining brightly in their stories—your glory reflected in their eyes and their smiles. Through their comments: "It was unbelievable...It was life-changing...I am so charged up and revived...it was the best trip ever...I can't stop talking about it," I saw your transforming Spirit at work. I thank you for this witness and that you are an up-close God who is alive and active in the lives of His people.

Day 6: Monday, July 19
Awesome Creator, wow! What a wonderful day. The oppressive humidity is gone, the temperature are so much cooler and the sunlight shines clear and bright. How could I not experience you and soak in your presence on such a marvelous day...such a welcome and unexpected relief from the past weeks. Just opening the windows and breathing in the air revives my spirit. 

What surprises me about this exercise is that my thinking is actually changing. I'm not "all better" or shouting from the mountaintops, but in less than a week my mind really is looking for God in each day. I'm more aware and mindful. And I'm looking in less and looking out more. 

Are you with me on this journey? How have you experienced God in these past days?

July 23, 2010

Enough already... Snap out of it!

I’m in a funk.

Maybe it’s because I can’t get a grasp on the chaotic schedule of the summer and it’s making me a little nuts. Whoever waxed nostalgic about the “lazy, hazy days of summer” was obviously under the age of 18, living at the beach and unemployed. With my kids’ drop offs and pick ups starting at 7:40 a.m., Mom’s taxi is “on call” all day—to and from the pool for swim team, the high school for theater camp and friends’ houses. I’m happy my kids are involved in wonderful things, but every day brings a new agenda. I struggle with time management on a good day so tossing about in an ocean of scheduling uncertainty has turned my brain into scrambled eggs.

Maybe I’m off-kilter because I’m not a huge fan of summer…at least not twelve weeks of it. I like the rhythm of my school-year days. Given my choice, I’d nip six weeks off this season and add the excess to fall and spring. Or I’d fill up the entire summer with non-stop travel and mission trips. During this in-between time I feel the loss of connections as Bible studies, activities and even friendships (my mom friends are pretty much in the same boat as I am) get put on hold until fall.

I’m adrift in a sea of ennui. An ugliness is creeping into my soul. It’s leaking into my spiritual life too. I feel blah—disconnected from God, from quiet time, from worship. I confess the vibrancy of my faith so often follows my emotions and circumstances. Of course I see this is where the real problem (and solution) lies.

Honestly, right about now I want to smack myself and yell, “Enough already, snap out of it!” (You might be thinking similar thoughts. I wouldn’t hold it against you.) I know I can’t really change my circumstances. And I know I can't fix this on my own. But I can't spend the rest of the summer with my head down waiting for time to pass.

"Coincidentally," a solution came to me the other day while reading a friend’s blog—deliberately seeking God every day for an entire month. It struck me as brilliantly spot on. 

So, for the next 30 days (give or take) I’m going to lift my head up and intentionally seek God in my day-to-day. I want to keep my eyes and ears open to see, hear and experience the Almighty in the quiet, the hidden and the ordinary. I’m going to look for those in-between moments where I get a glimpse of His holiness and my spirit stirs in recognition. I pray the attitude of my heart follows.

I started two days ago and you know what? God’s not so far away after all. I’m seeing Him and experiencing Him in ways I’d missed before. My goal is to record here daily how I’m experiencing our marvelous Creator, Savior, Redeemer and Bread of Life. I hope that in these small revelations you’ll get a glimpse of Him too.

Thirty-ish Days of Experiencing God
Here’s how I saw God today:

Day 1: Wednesday 7/21
Lord, today I saw You in an email from a friend—in her wise words and compassionate heart. I know you’ve brought this person into my life to speak truth and encouragement. Thank you for her friendship and for all the amazing Christian brothers and sisters you’ve blessed me with.

I also saw You in Bible study tonight…in talk of You as our hiding place…in Your names— Jehovah Jireh, Yahweh, El Shaddai …in the beautiful words of our closing prayers. Thank you for this study (and my sisters in it) that are manna all year, but especially right now in the drought of summer.

Day 2: Thursday 7/22
Father God, I saw you today while Connor and I walked home from his swim practice. Even though he wasn’t happy about walking all the way home, You used this time for us to talk and just enjoy each other's company.

I experienced your nearness this evening while listening to the missionary visiting from Haiti. I felt the love you’ve put in my heart for these people flame up. I felt your hand pressing me to continue to help them. Where I see an overwhelmingly hopeless situation, you reminded me of the impact of loving one person at a time. 

How have you experienced God today?

July 19, 2010

Can I Take a Shower Now?

I thought I knew "dirty." Yesterday I learned I had no idea.

Picture a mud puddle. Now make it a hundred times wider. And ten times deeper. Now add mud mountains and mud-filled gulleys. Got it?

Now picture 4,550 normally sane, sanitary (at least I'm assuming they were) men, women and children muddling through this mucky morass—voluntarily. And oh, did I mention... strategically place military men to assure no one runs through it. Listen for them shouting, "Why are you running? Get down on your belly!"  "You, in the red shirt—get down on your belly!" "Ma'am, yeah you. Get down on your belly!" Now picture everyone dropping to their knees, sliding on their bellies and crawling through it! Ugh!

The result? See for yourself.

This 10K and 5K military-style obstacle course event also offered an abbreviated version for kids. Our son was one of the 400 "Adventure Kids" who participated. They ran up hills and down, crawled under netting, scrambled over hay bales and ended at the pièce de résistance—the mud pit. Kids from four to thirteen mucked through the mire just like the grownups.

Here's our little guy going through it...

He liked doing the race but quickly discovered he didn't like being that filthy. "I feel like I'm going to throw up. Can I take a shower now?"

I don't think my son has ever asked, let alone practically begged, to take a shower. He's perfectly content to live with accumulated sweat, grime and dirt. Only when mud-saturated did the need become overwhelming.

This entire event may make you shudder with disgust or giggle with glee. You may want run as far away as possible or sign up for the next one. Regardless, one fact remains. Mud happens.

And sooner or later we all get dirty.

This got me thinking about what the Bible has to say about mud.

Generally mud is not well regarded in Scripture. It's a place of punishment (Job 30:19). It's the consequence of being vanquished (2 Samuel 22:43). It's something to be rescued out of (Psalm 40:2). It's what the wicked stir up as they toss about like ocean waves (Isaiah 57:20). Mud was associated with evil, punishment and human suffering. Apparently the ancients didn't have as much fun playing in the stuff as we do.

But in the New Testament Jesus gives us a new view of mud—as an ingredient to healing. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encounter a blind man. Jesus ignores the why's and who's of their questions about the reason for the man's blindness and sets to work. He gathers dust from the ground, spits on it and makes mud. Then Jesus puts the mudcakes on the blind man's eyes. Miraculously after the man washes his eyes in a nearby pool, he can see. (John 9:1-12)

Now, I haven't found any commentary that specifically analyzes the mud so I might be off-base, but I'm  wondering about the mud's significance. Is it a visual reminder of the man's infirmity? Is it a metaphor for our suffering or spiritual blindness? Can our "mud" in Jesus' hands actually be a good thing?

As we sit in our clean houses, wearing clean clothes on clean bodies (at least relatively...I haven't showered yet today), it's hard to see that we're unclean, let alone filthy. But, our dirt usually resides far beneath the surface.

Maybe you're drenched in the shame of addiction, abuse or abortion. Caught in a quagmire of worthlessness, loneliness or despair. Muddling in bitterness, unforgiveness or anger. Drowning in self-sufficiency, pride or ego.Stuck in complacency, comfort or questions.

Look at the mud-covered runners in the pictures above. What covers you?

I need this snapshot right now. I need this mental picture of my own brokenness and sinful, but also of the hope of restoration. I'm not sure why I continually go back to the mucky morass from which I've been rescued and wallow around in it, but I do. I'm covered in it and I'm a mess. I feel like my son, realizing how desperately I need a shower.

How thankful I am that our God is alive and active in our lives. That He uses the mud in our lives to reveal His glory. And that He will "wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin...and I will be whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:2,7)

I wish I could say the same thing for my son's muddy clothes—washed four times and still far from clean!

July 13, 2010

Can't You Just Carry Me?!

Today marks my first appearance on Internet Cafe Devotions. I've been a fan of the Cafe since I started blogging and am thrilled to now be part of their devotion team. I'll be serving up my usual fare over there about once a month. I hope you stop by the Cafe and savor their delectable inspirational offerings.

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21, NIV)

I love adventures.

This spring my husband and I backpacked from the North Rim to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on a four-day trip. To make life easier, we selected a company to outfit and lead us. They took care of everything—gear, itinerary, permits and food. Best of all they provided us with Jeremy, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.

Jeremy and I in the Grand Canyon
From our first steps into the Canyon to our last steps out of it, we followed Jeremy. When he said, “Go,” we went. We didn’t plan our day or worry what we’d eat or where we’d rest. He took us on side hikes to waterfalls and caves only insiders know about. He prepared delicious meals. He entertained us with Indian lore. And he even bandaged my blistered feet.

We trusted his guidance and relied on him to keep us safe from the myriad Canyon dangers like heat stroke, dehydration, flash floods and poisonous snakes. (During our trip at least twelve people were emergency air-evacuated out of the canyon for physical reasons.)

While our four days in the Canyon were indeed difficult—I had the aching muscles and injured feet to prove it—the trip was far much more enjoyable and enriching because we had Jeremy. Did I mention he even did the dishes?!   Read more...

July 6, 2010

A Holy Temple, Built Together

We’re back! Loads of smelly laundry have been done. Stories have been shared. And sleep has been caught up on (sort of). The overwhelming question asked is “How was it?”

Overall our trip to the Dominican Republic was extremely successful. We persevered through rain, sickness, lack of sleep and extremely difficult work conditions to exceed construction expectations. Concrete block walls rise as testimony to that fact! The vision of a church/school/medical clinic is taking shap♠e. 
After five days on the work site, our progress is remarkable.

Jellyfish welt. Ouch!
Remember the challenges I wrote about previously? Well, they continued. During our beautiful, sunny afternoon at the beach, we came under attack. Swimmer after swimmer ran from the surf, wincing in pain as welts developed on injured arms, legs, feet and torsos. We quickly identified the unseen sea monsters—an infestation of jellyfish staked their claim and made their mark (literally) on our one afternoon of leisure. But we didn't let them ruin our day. We just resorted to beach walks, shell collecting, domino playing, ball throwing and plain old relaxing.

Even a brief trip to the mercado for shopping was impeded by incredible traffic and an exploding bus tire. As we all stood on the side of the road during the repair we were treated to a rain shower.

I won’t even go into the issues I had with my hair!

Yet, even though we had few of the comforts of home and were dealt one challenge after another, the spirits of our group remained high. There was little grumbling and complaining. Where people could have quit in resignation or staged a coup, they persevered day in and day out. In fact, most folks are already planning to return next year!

Everyone on the trip has special images that stick in their minds—visual experiences collected like treasures we'll revisit time and again. Here are a few of my favorites:
Despite a steady downpour, the American and
Dominican kids gathered to sing some songs. 

  • Watching the kids, especially my daughter, build relationships, engage and come alive. They all sparkled and I know this experience marked them forever. One little boy said, “This trip is even better than going to Disney World!”
  • While I didn't love digging trenches with pick axes and shovels in the blazing sun, I loved working with the Dominicans on the site— working with mecla and a plana to build walls, bending rebar and making columns, and climbing on top of walls to pour concreto. I'll miss Chi Chi, Andres, Ed, Israel, Nelson, Lucman and the others.
Dave and I worked hard to finish our "windows"
  • Enjoying our afternoon café con leche—despite the fact I was nearing heat stroke on several days.
  • Witnessing the church in action. While we built a physical structure with cement blocks and concrete, we became the Church as Jesus intended—each of us living stones, built upon one another and cemented together by the Holy Spirit.
  • Saying our tearful goodbyes and seeing how much of an impact ten days had on everyone.
    Singing with the kids at VBS in the park.
  • Coming home and appreciating simple conveniences like clean tap water, being able to flush toilet paper and drivers who follow traffic rules. Certainly all our houses are luxurious mansions by Dominican standards.
This was my third mission trip to the island of Hispaniola in less than a year. My first trip to the DR and my trip to Haiti were truly life-changing, mountaintop experiences. I confess I expected more of the same this time and struggled with feeling disconnected and disappointed when that didn't happen.  

Somehow I ended up being
one of the dirtiest every day!

While I might not have the giddy emotions of past mission trips, I realize emotions are a fickle friend. God's timing may not be my timing, but it's always perfect. There's no telling the good He has done and will continue to do in me personally, in my children, in each of our team members and in our Dominican brothers and sisters.

On church this past Sunday I was thrilled to reunite with my fellow missionaries, all of us wearing our official red t-shirts. As we shared stories with our church family, I was so proud to be part of this amazing group who stepped out in faith, rose above the challenges and became the hands and feet of Jesus. Seeing this experience with fresh eyes was the reminder I needed (one I need all too frequently)—it's not about me!

"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." (Ephesians 2:20-21)


Added 7/8/10: