Stillness — the action of finding God

Be Still. God knows I heard this often as a child.  I remember one time my mom promising me a new doll if I would just sit still for ten minutes.  When you are a kid, ten minutes is an impossibility, a lifetime, a duration that exists in fairytales along with “happily ever after.”

Stillness remains a challenge for me.  By far, the hardest part of writing is getting myself to sit down.  I reheat my coffee, let the dog out, tell the cats they are pretty, stuff my face with white cheddar popcorn, nibble chocolate, check email, Facebook, scoop kitty litter, and reheat curdled coffee again.  Then, I sit, twitch, and fidget for a bit before I succumb to the stillness that begets words. It’s like an exorcism.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I am part of a group of women at my church who will be hosting a retreat this month, and we chose this as our theme.  It’s not a message we hear often, and it is certainly counter to what society encourages. Stillness is a renegade concept, a weapon that destroys the inauthentic notions of life.  I associate it more with someone like Yoda in a galaxy far, far away than I do anyone on our planet.

Our world teaches us our value is tied to busyness.  Go faster, be efficient, do more, be more, make more, and have more.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t be still.  Don’t stop and smell the roses.  Get them in the ground and check it off your list. Or better yet, pay someone to do it.  Your time is too valuable.  You need to be producing.

The message is clear, if you are still, the world will pass you by.  You will be considered slovenly.   You will miss out.  You will fail to measure up. You might as well be a concrete statue for pigeons to stoop (and poop) on.

When we believe these messages, eventually our motion spins out of control.  We lose touch with who we are called to be, the things we enjoy, and who matters most. We get lost and dizzy from all our spinning.  And tired.  So many of us are tired.

Last year for Lent, I challenged myself to spend ten minutes a day in stillness with God.  I was terrified.  I didn’t want to commit to such an endeavor and not honor it.  Usually, the things we need most are the hardest to do, the least appealing, and met by the most resistance.  But I decided to be brave and embrace the stillness that always eluded me.

And you know what?  I didn’t turn green like Yoda or get soiled by pigeons.  I didn’t even feel like demons were being dispelled from my body like I do when I sit to write.  I didn’t miss a single day of my commitment.

Contrary to what we may think about motion, the real action begins with stillness.  I was more calm, aware of myself, closer to God, and felt a genuine sense of peace.  It was so much more of an intentional way to pray.  I even read scripture before I started my timer so I felt more deliberate about my conversation with God.

I continued my habit for a while after Lent and then slowly traded the stillness for the unregulated motion that’s so much easier to fall into.  Like a child, I resist.  But I know that stillness waits for me, wants for me, and will embrace me anytime I am willing to surrender to its calm.

And the reward for stillness is far greater than a new toy.  It is a chance to sit with the knowing that is God.

Want more to help you on your Lenten journey read this.  

Prayer and a Prostitute Ministry

I was reminded of the power of prayer by some of the people who need it the most.  I often travel on a portion of highway littered with seedy motels, drug dealers, and prostitutes.  It’s been that way as long as I can remember. My oldest son knows it as the road where we have the drug talk, again.

It’s easy to witness the devastation of drugs on that stretch of highway. Women of all ages, who I could easily portray with vivid and acute adjectives, I describe with only one word: hollow. They are a shell of who they are meant to be. Their eyes are large and blank. Despite their feigned hospitality, their desperation is obvious. The essence of their existence is missing, despite the sway of their bodies. Hollow.

And it feels wrong to just drive by.

But I do, just like everybody else. Well, almost everybody. A few years ago, I wrote an article for the newspaper about an organization called Grace Ministry of Helping Hands, a non-profit that helps women in the grips of drug addiction, alcoholism, and prostitution. Every two weeks volunteers minister to these women, bringing them toiletries, offering them a way out, and if they are not quite ready to leave their brokenness behind, planting an incorruptible seed that is the redemption of Christ.

I love their mission – the grittiness of it, the discipleship, the message of hope, and, more than anything, the mere acknowledgement of these outcast women. Just their willingness to see them as children of God instead of sexual objects, addicts, and throwaways is so incredibly Christ-like and beautiful.

Not far from that highway, I recently saw a woman slouched at the entrance of the post office. She was frail as if pounds were shed along with her dignity, and there wasn’t much left of either. I walked passed her and avoided eye contact. Of course, I didn’t feel like I had much dignity for my cowardly inaction. It bothered me to walk by her and do nothing just as it does to drive by those women on the highway.

It’s hard to know what to do. If I give money, it will likely be spent on drugs. I didn’t have any food to offer her, assuming it even appealed to her in her waif-like state. I couldn’t take her home with me, because my husband would have a fit, and I really wouldn’t know what to do with her when I got her there.

I kept thinking, “What can I do? What can I do?” And then I remembered, prayer. I can always pray. So I did, all the way home.

Later that evening, I got an email that Grace Ministries was helping a former prostitute and drug addict set up her new apartment. They were looking for household items. It felt like such an answer to my prayer. I donated some towels and a gift card to a grocery store. I knew it wouldn’t specifically help the lady I saw at the post office, but it would help someone in a similar situation.  I trust that God will reach that other woman, too.

It was such a gift to be reminded that there is always hope and there are more than addicts, dealers, and prostitutes that walk that stretch of highway.   There are disciples of grace, reminding us that the constancy of God’s mercy is a path available to us all. “Come, follow me” (Mathew 4:19, NRSV).

 

Have you ever felt like you wanted to help someone, but you weren’t sure how?  What do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation?  Please share your experiences in the comment section.  These issues are complicated and there is so much we can learn from each other. This is also about an answered prayer.   To read more on prayer: http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/

To learn more about the work of Grace Ministry of Helping Hands visit their website at http://graceministriesjax.org

Self-acceptance blooms

Self-acceptance blooms

I repotted a plant this week, which became a lesson in self-acceptance.  Midway through, I could tell the flower was tilting, so I pulled the whole thing out, hollowed the dirt, carefully centered it, and filled the gaps with the black magic of Miracle Gro. Since it was still leaning, I added soil to the other side hoping its weight would tilt it vertically.

When I finished, I had a pretty plant in a pretty pot lurching asymmetrically like a staggering drunk.

Despite my efforts, it was crooked. This could be a metaphor for everything in my life, but it’s not. Well, maybe it is, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about self-acceptance.

My husband replanted the flower for me, and it looks lovely, nothing like the botanical version of the leaning tower of Pisa that it did when I planted it.

I have come to accept that there are many things that I don’t do well. So much so that I often find myself saying, “That’s not my gift to the world.”

Most of the time I’m okay with my lack of gifts, but the crooked plant bothered me. I love to work in the yard, to frequent garden centers, propagate succulents, and ask my husband to move heavy pots from place to place on the patio. So it frustrates me that I couldn’t do this well. My husband doesn’t even like yard work, yet it’s nothing for him to plant a flower upright. It seems kind of unfair.

Things that always appear easy for other people often felt hard for me. This always made me feel a little defective like maybe I should have a diagnosis, or my mother should finally admit she dropped me on my head as an infant.

Still, I realize that my focus shouldn’t be on what my gifts are not, but on self-acceptance.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our deficiencies and forget all of the things that we do well. We forget that God made us for a purpose and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with what’s on Pinterest. Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with what we want to be good at.  He just wants us to love him and others. This doesn’t require a complicated skill set, and I don’t think it’s something we could ever do wrong.

By distracting ourselves with that we are not, we lose sight of who we are, which is always going to be beautiful to God despite our inherent imperfection. This is the mercy of his love.

The most important thing I have learned is that God loves me regardless of anything I do or don’t do. He doesn’t measure my worth by what gets crossed off my to do list or what attributes the world might value. So much energy is spent trying to prove we are enough, we are worthy, and we have value. But we don’t have to prove anything to God.

Knowing this makes it a little easier to embrace and share my gifts with the world even if there are still many days that I struggle with identifying any. My gifts may not include planting a flower upright, yet miraculously I still grow towards the light.

After all, even a crooked flower can bloom.

 

I realize I need to start thinking more about what my gifts are to the world.  At first, all I came up with was making banana bread but before I knew it had added rescuing cats, reuniting dogs with their owners, being a good friend, loving my family, a few more things that had to do with cats, teaching Children’s liturgy, writing, and dancing to “I Will Survive.”  

What are your gifts?  Please share!  Sharing is a gift!  Also, if you liked this post, you may want to check out: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-need-in-your-life-right-now/

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Mass Shooting: Finding Light

Man on the boat

There is so much information about the mass shooting in Texas.  I read one news article about how 8 people in a single family were killed during the Texas shooting at First Baptist Church. It said that one of the child-victims had won an award at the 4-H Club the day before. It was just a small detail. The article didn’t even identify the gender of the child.

This morning I was in a particularly good mood and for some reason this made me think of that child. I thought how happy she must have been to win an award. I imagined the light it must have brought to her face despite the forthcoming darkness that would reign from a hail of bullets the very next day. I thought of her mother, who was also killed, and all the busying mothers do on Saturdays. I imagined her pride and joy in her child’s accomplishment, along with all the ordinary things she did that day.

It seemed strange to associate my happy mood with any aspect of this tragedy – even if it was an event that preceded it. But such are the times we live in when our hearts are expected to endure such unfathomable evil and unimaginable suffering when they were meant for love and mercy. It makes everything feel a little wonky and wayward.

After all, how are we supposed to reconcile this? Do we just move on in our busyness? Do we lose ourselves in sorrow? Do we harden our hearts and seek the sinister? Do we blame, criticize, and cajole to push our politics and preferences in an attempt to bring ‘good’ from this tragedy?

Likely, the response for many includes some version of the above.

I didn’t intend to write about it. There is no need to belabor this tragedy by pouring out a litany of raw emotion. Most of us share the same horror, grief, and feelings of helplessness.

Lamenting on how horrific it is, exploring the magnitude of loss and grief, mental illness and gun control, and politics and policies feels cliché. It’s not that these things don’t matter or that the time isn’t right for such discussions. But somehow, all of that feels like a distraction. It takes the humanity out of it.

Our humanity is made to love, create families, cherish children, respect life, and worship God. By all accounts, the victims of this mass shooting seemed to be embracing the best of our humanity.

That’s what I want to remember.

I don’t want to dwell on the evil that must exist to execute such devastation. I don’t think I could ever understand it. It’s an aberration of what we were created for and an abomination that calls into question the evolution of our collective humanity.

I was in a happy mood today.

I don’t say that with any irreverence to this tragedy, but because it made me think of it. It made me think of that child, her family, and how they spent their last full day on earth. They died a dark, undeserved death but they lived the light of humanity reminding us of simple Saturdays, sacred Sundays, and legacies of love that outlive the notoriety of a mass shooting and the hype of such horrors.

For all of us trying to live the best of our creation, that light shines on. Certainly, that makes me happy.

If you are willing to share how you intend to let your light shine as a legacy to those who died while representing the best of our humanity, please comment below.  We could all use a little extra happiness right now.  

If you need a little hope, this might help: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/19/heaven-is-for-re…-is-for-miracles/

To read more on the family killed: https://www.today.com/news/3-generations-holcombe-family-killed-texas-church-shooting-t118500

 

 

Success: Try again

Try, try, again.  That’s what they say it takes to achieve success.  Today, those of you who are subscribed to my website got some wonky-worded post from me that I did not write, nor send. I apologize for that. It was titled “Stress’ Important Causes in Family Life” and I thought it would have been more appropriate if it read: “The Computer: spawned by Satan and serious source of stress for a certain writer.”

While I have been working on revamping this website, I was not quite ready to post. So, today’s snafu felt a bit like being shoved off the high dive when I’m terribly afraid of heights and have no business being on a high dive. The upside of this is that it has forced me to take this plunge.

I suppose all I have to do now is follow Dory’s advice from the movie, Finding Nemo. “Just keep swimming…just keep swimming”

Seems simple enough. Still, since I am not too brave, I hope you will stay with me to ensure I stay afloat.

***

I was never a success at diving. It just seemed scary to jump head first into water with so many important things to remember: legs together, arms straight, knees bent, head down, mouth closed, and of course, the paramount plunge into oxygen-less water.

That’s what I feel like today – somewhere between tentative and terrified to dive back into writing on this website. I quit using this space a few years ago. Partly because it seemed like I was treading water. My readership had plateaued. I had completed my year doing works of mercy, which is what the site was designed for, and I felt kind of directionless in the depths of the deep blue. Besides, sharing personal stories sometimes made me feel as exposed as a pale, middle-aged woman in a bikini.

Shriveled like a prune, I felt like it was time for me to get out.

Since then, I wrote a book on works of mercy, and currently am looking for a publisher. I recently came close to signing with a Catholic one. It was one of the most exciting and enjoyable experiences I have had both professionally and, personally. But after months of working closely on edits, it was decided that I needed a bigger marketing platform for them to reconsider publishing.

I had floated on hope, and being told no, felt like an unwelcome dunking — water up the nose, hair clumping awkwardly to the face, and sputtering gasps for air as I tried to right myself despite the humiliation.

But here I am, breathing again.

Regardless of success om this publishing journey, I recognize the role of social media in today’s society. It’s a swirl of currents and controversy. It’s swift like rapids and can be used to drag people under or build others up.

It can also be an effective and vital means of communication, and even community. With that in mind, I stand, one toe in the water trying to convince myself that it won’t be too cold, ready to create a space where differences aren’t demonized, faith is not fodder, mercy is more important than money, and God isn’t rhetoric, but real.

That seems less like a dive and more like a warm, safe place to swim ashore. I hope you will join me.

 

Is there a challenge you are trying to overcome in your own life?  You may like to read this: http://mercymatters.net/2014/09/04/one-word-you-nee…r-life-right-now/

Heaven is for real; Earth is for miracles

You know that big spread in the high school yearbook where the senior superlatives tout the “most attractive,” “most athletic,” “best all around,” etc.?  Well, heaven knows I didn’t get one.

Instead, I was on another page in our yearbook where there were more non-traditional, dubious superlatives assigned. Some were “Eddie Haskell Award,” “Biggest Flirt,” “Most Likely to Burn Down the School,” and “Could Give the Best Dirty Look.”

The one picked for me was “Most Gullible.”

I like to think it was a fancy way of calling me nice. Or, maybe someone just told me that is what it meant and I believed them.

In any case, I have not bought any swamp land, taken any wooden nickels or sent any money to Nigeria, so I think I am doing okay.

Still, when the book, Heaven is for Real came out and I learned the story of Todd Burpo’s son, Colton, who went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy, I believed it.

I believe in God, in miracles and in heaven, so to me none of it is too far-fetched.

Miracles are all around us. I think we just get kind of numb to them. We go to the beach and we forget to marvel at the vastness of the ocean teeming with exotic life. Someone has a baby and we may think to make a casserole, but we don’t stop and think how absolutely phenomenal it is that a man and a woman can create life.

But Colton went to heaven. Heaven.

The Burpo family gave a talk at a nearby church tonight and my family and I attended. I didn’t go as a skeptic, but as a believer.

Burpo talked about how angry he was with God when he thought he was going to lose his son. I loved that he went to God with his anger. I think our inclination is to turn away from God when we feel such rage.

As Burpo tells it, while he was raging on God, his son Colton was sitting in Jesus’s lap. I thought that was such a poignant image to think about. When we feel angry, ignored or betrayed by God, it rarely occurs to us that He is indeed with us, embracing us. We are always in His care.

Burpo, a pastor, spoke about his struggle with faith when he was confronted with his son’s account of heaven. Perhaps, that was what was hardest for me to grasp.

I had no trouble believing, why did he?

But then I think of what it is like before the book, the New York Times Best Seller’s lists, the movie, all of which validated the possibility of this miracle. I thought of the clarity of Colton’s claims, some of which go against traditional church teachings such as animals being in heaven. I thought of Burpo putting his career and reputation on the line to stand up to such an incredulous notion that a child that never even died went to heaven — not came from heaven, but went to heaven; sat on Jesus’s lap; saw the sister who was never born; hung out with some angels and then came back to this reality which is not nearly as pleasant, but that we are all more comfortable believing.

And, I understood his doubt and was left in awe of his faith to work past those doubts, to take the risks that he did and to share his miracle with the world.

One of my most favorite things that I heard Burpo say though was that his son was not special. I believe him. I listened to Colton speak and I listened to him sing. I think he is a great kid. But so are my kids and so are yours and so are the ones in Africa, China and Timbuktu.

I believe in an extraordinary God and I believe in the ordinariness of His people in the sense that none of us are without sin. I believe in equality and although it is lacking on earth, I believe that God loves us all passionately and individually – but not one more than the other. I do not believe that He has favorites. I do not believe He gives out superlatives.

Colton experienced a miracle, and I bet you have too. We need to remember to look for the miracles in our lives because they remind us of God’s enduring love. They strengthen our faith and help us get through times of doubt.

His miracles are never ordinary, but I dare say they are often. Whether they get shared with the world or not, whether you believe in them is up to you.

As for me, “Most Gullible, Class of 1990,” I choose to believe.

If you have experienced a miracle in your life, please share it in the comment section. If you believe in miracles, please share this post with someone. Praying for miracles today and the openness, the willingness to notice them.  To read more about being closer to God: http://mercymatters.net/2018/02/06/stillness-finding-god/ and to read more of the Burpo story https://www.heavenlive.org/

Bucket List or not?

My son asked me the other night if I had a bucket list. This struck me as funny at first.

After all, he’s eight– what the heck does he know about a bucket list?  He doesn’t even have all his teeth.  I am 40 and don’t think much about them.  Of course, I saw the movie and understand the expression, but I can’t say I ever bothered to make one.

Partly because when I make grocery lists, I inevitably leave them on the kitchen counter and when I get home I find they are only useful for checking off the items I forgot to buy at the store. I am not sure what happens if you lose your bucket list. Do you forget what’s so important for you to see or do, the way I forget to buy Q-tips? Read more

Leaping for the Liebster Award!

liebster

I admit I am not used to winning awards.  Sometimes if I am having a really bad parenting day I will give myself the Worst Parent in the World award.  Other than that, the last time I can remember getting an award was in high school when I got Most Improved in PE II.  Really, I did. It felt like a back-handed compliment to go with that back-hand serve I knew nothing about — a dubious honor memorialized with a certificate. Read more

Simbang Gabi and Memories

My first experince with Simbang Gabi started like this: Mama tomato and Daddy tomato are walking along the road (presumably to shop for a new topsy-turvy for their growing family), when they notice that Baby tomato is quite far behind (probably from admiring the cute cherry tomatoes they passed.) Daddy tomato yells to Baby tomato, “Ketchup!!”topsy-turvy_enl

Get it?  Like Catch Up — ketchup?!

I didn’t get it at first because I am kind of slow (like Baby tomato).  Once my husband explained it to me though, I thought it was funny.  Of course, I added the part about the topsy-turvy and the cherry tomatoes to spice it up a little bit – salsa anyone?

The priest used the tomato joke to explain a tradition in the Filipino community that includes a Novena to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in anticipation of Christmas, called Simbang Gabi.  It is nine days of going to mass and then celebrating after with food, traditional dance, and songs. The last day of the Novena falls on Christmas Eve. Read more