Keeping my eyes open to glimpses of God

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What 10 Months of Waiting Can Do

One theme has stood out to me in 2011: waiting. For the first time in my life, God allowed me to experience an extended time of waiting with no clue of what he had in store for me at the end. It was different from waiting a week for something to go on sale or waiting two weeks for the next paycheck. That kind of waiting involves little mystery about the outcome: I will buy the item I waited for and we'll pay the bill when the money is deposited. It is waiting for something we expect. It is simply delayed gratification.

It's much more difficult to wait for long periods of time for an unknown destination or answer to prayer. Instead of delayed gratification and discipline to stay calm and wait the prescribed amount of time, waiting for the unknown requires a heavy dose of trust in God as we push out the doubt that creeps in, force ourselves to wait instead of make our own way, and deal with the hurt, bitterness, and frustration when we've waited longer than we would have liked. We must keep reminding ourselves that God does want what’s good for us and that he will answer our prayers—even if the answers look nothing like we expected.

The theme of waiting seems especially appropriate during Advent as we learn again how to wait on God. In an entirely new way, I am able to understand Sarah (Genesis 16). Usually when I read the story of Sarah (or Sarai) telling her husband Abraham (or Abram) to conceive a child with Hagar, I have felt shocked and amazed. Why would she tell her husband to be with someone else? Why can't she simply wait for God to deliver on his promise? Now, though, I understand how beautiful the idea of making our own way can appear. When we've waited and done all that we feel God is asking us to do, we begin to get tired of waiting. We assume that if he really were going to deliver, he would have done so by now, and we begin to plot how we can make things happen in our own power. Until this year of waiting, I never understood how someone could get to that point. But now I do.

What I've learned in all this waiting, though, is that the blessing comes not only when we reach the destination, but also as we journey—in the work that God does in our lives while we're waiting. As we wait on him, we get a true picture of our hearts and souls. We learn just how little we trust God and how human we truly are. And we learn that God's way isn't a prescription (take this pill, do that dance, and everything you want will come true). Instead, it's a journey—and the best gift is God's presence along the way.

As I approach 2012, I'm more comfortable waiting—at least a little more comfortable. And I'm (even just a little) more trustful of God's timing. Got turned down? Must not be God's will. Plans didn't pan out? Must not be his timing. I'm learning to take a deep breath, put it all in perspective, and choose to trust God as he walks by my side. This is the blessing of waiting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just a Few Moments

Every time I hear that song "Better is One Day in Your Courts" I always think, "Hmm, only one day?" I've always thought that one day just isn't enough. I would want more. I've thought about it in a need-to-have-it kind of way.

Today, though, that song struck me anew. I've been in a bit of a spiritual funk lately. I'm thinking about God, and I'm praying from time-to-time, but I'm just not feeling that closeness that I usually do. And, I realize it's my fault. As I've gotten busier with work and schoolwork and joining a new small group, the first thing to go has been my intentional time with God--journaling, reading, praying, singing. It drifted slowly away, piece by piece, until it was nearly non-existent.

Yesterday, I felt anxious all day. I was making snap judgments in my head, and getting irritated with people a little too quickly. Now, I am pretty tired. I have been a little sleep deprived this week. But, I knew the real cause was something else--my lack of intimate time with God.

So I took some time last night (honestly about 10 or 15 minutes) and I read just one chapter out of 2 Corinthians. I sat and pondered the verses, asking God what his message for me might be. I feel he pointed out to me the verse about being a fragile clay jar holding the amazing light of God--that I am so fragile and capable of nothing on my own, and it is only his light and power within me that allows me to do anything right or well. I felt such relief with that reminder. I am weak, but God, you're not, and you use vessels like me to do your work. Thank you, Lord.

This morning I awoke refreshed and feeling much more myself than I have in a long time. And that song came to mind. "Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere." I get it now. Just a few moments spent in intimacy with God has changed the rest of my week. Just a few moments with God was the best part of my entire day. Just a few moments with God is so amazing and sustaining, that all else pales in comparison. No, strike that; it all but disappears in comparison.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

When, Lord?

Lately, we have been checking out different churches online and looking specifically at their statements of faith to see which ones might line up well with our beliefs. I have to admit, I am more than a little concerned with how few churches near us allow women to hold the leadership roles. One church’s statement actually included a disclaimer of sorts that said while they are not totally liberal in their stand, there are a lot of churches much more conservative. Is being lukewarm somehow supposed to comfort me? Are they somehow better because they put up all sorts of red tape around women limiting where and when and to whom they can minister and teach, but at least they allow it sometimes? And since when is it liberal to simply include both genders as Jesus (and Scripture) models?

Although we do not have children yet, it breaks my heart to think that I could be raising a daughter (or a son, for that matter) in this world where some people interpret Scripture in a way that diminishes half the human race and says they’re not as important. It’s a stark reminder that Satan still tells lies, and he still has a lot of control here on earth.

Carolyn Custis James, one of my favorite authors, has plenty to challenge us with on this topic. James has not only written several books that tease out these misconceptions, but also started Synergy, an organization that is promoting correct relationships between men and women in the church. How can we be so far off on this topic? And why are so many Christian women content with this unbiblical treatment? When will the church claim the other half of humankind? When will we teach our daughters that they are equals in God’s kingdom? When will we teach our sons their desperate need for their sisters in Christ? When will women be able to fully live out their God-given callings, despite not having the “proper equipment?”

And, really, it’s so much bigger than our area – it’s global. When will girls all over the world be equally prized as people made in God’s image? When will they be treated as whole humans instead of sex toys? When will they be allowed to live instead of being aborted simply because they’re girls? When will they be seen as people instead of possessions?

I feel the burden to affirm and validate women all over the world – to lift them up as deeply loved, fully valued, and equally capable, to proclaim that neither gender should be subordinate to the other, and to draw our attention to this deep evil that still pulses throughout the world.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Doubting His Timing

It's been nearly a decade since I began following Christ, but if there's one lesson that my head fully knows yet has not made it to my heart, it's that I need to fully trust God's timing. There is no reason that I continue to doubt, besides my human nature, that is. Time after time I have felt frustrated waiting for God's timing, wanting to move ahead, complaining to God that I truly knew best, only to have everything work out so much better than I could have planned myself.

There was the time I was frustrated waiting to hear about where I would attend college, disappointed that my first choice didn't pull through, only to attend EIU where I was part of the most influential ministry of my life thus far. Then there was waiting to see what job I would have after college, feeling like the clock was ticking, wanting to send out resumes, only to find a great job was just waiting for me at my home church.

Most recently I have been waiting, wondering what job God had for me next. I have to admit, I've been more than frustrated. I've gotten angry with God, spent time crying, and devoted time to submitting resume after resume - even if I didn't feel they were a very good fit for me. The frustration only grew as job after job either didn't call me back (the response from 75% of the places I applied for) or sent letters of regret weeks later. It's been nearly 10 months since I first felt the nudge from God to begin moving on, and it was beginning to feel more than helpless. Not only that, my current position was ending fast. Soon enough I would be without a job instead of leaving on my own terms. How could God want that for me?

A shift happened, though, when my husband Jim and I sat down to talk about what might be next for me. I expressed my frustration (which he already knew all about) and the feeling that time was running out. On top of that, we're currently feeling the crunch financially since my job has been paying me less for the last 5 months. In the midst of my near freak out, my husband was calm and stated that God would provide just as He has in the past.

It was his calm response that called me to reaffirm my trust in God's timing. God had told me it was time to move on. It must be time. Even if I didn't know what was coming next. I decided I needed to officially resign from my job. With that decision fresh in my mind, I felt empowered to act, empowered to look once again at job listings without feeling frustrated and desparate.

Lo and behold, on one of the first sites I visited a position caught my eye. An internship posted just two days earlier. Responsibilities including proofing, editing, and writing resources for churches and Christians in general. Better yet, I was already familiar with the company. I already used several of their resources in my ministry and my personal life. Could it be? A position I was not only qualified for, but also passionate about? I applied immediately.

The next day I was a little giddy thinking about the possibility of the position. What would it be like? Who might I meet? What projects might I get to work on? At the same time, I knew better than to get too excited about a job I applied for - I had fallen into that frustrating spot way too many times. This time, though, I felt excited about the possibility of the position, yet was fully content if I didn't get the position because I trusted God's timing.

And that's when it happened. I got an interview. And then the position. And then I started almost immediately. And I love my job. I absolutely love it.

And I had the audacity to question God's timing. Ha!

I officially resigned from my job (which felt wonderful!), but that also means that I am now bringing in no money except what I bring in through my personal business. But I'm trusting in God, knowing that He will provide just as He has time and time again before.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Patterns

I love summer! I've started this new pattern in the mornings, unless it's raining, of course. After feeding our puppy, I let him into our backyard, take my prayer devotional book (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals), a cup of coffee, and sit down at our patio table. While my puppy occupies himself chasing flies, running around, and even chasing his own tail, I get in some sweet, undisturbed moments of prayer and reflection.

The beauty of this new practice lies in the fact that it fits seamlessly into my existing schedule, and the fact that it allows me to enjoy God's presence while in his creation. Spending time regularly in his presence at the beginning of my day has done so much for my life already. The consistency of the schedule gives me something to look forward to as well prevents me from forgetting. Addtionally, this is shaping up to be a month of some pretty major transitions, and spending this time with him is helping me make sense of it all and sort it out. It has also brought a peace during this time despite the uncertainty and waiting.

During my morning reading time, I recently came across a great verse that has encouraged me to keep on in this new pattern: "For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God's power." - 1 Corinthians 4:20 I know that I am not perfect, and I will forget to spend time with God, but the more time I spend with him, the more I will be able to live by his power and not just be a lot of talk.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week

It's hard to believe that Easter is already this Sunday! I'm not sure if it has been my school work that has kept me busy, or my job search, or just life in general, but 2011 is flying by!

One of the books I had the privilege of reading during this semester is Julian of Norwich's work Revelations of Divine Love. Julian lived in the 14th century and experienced several visions about God and faith while she was deathly ill. She came through that sickness and devoted her life to reflecting on the visions and their meanings. In the end, her main message is that God loves us more deeply and more intimately than we can know, and it is because of this deep love that Jesus was willing to endure all that He did on earth, even willingly dying on the cross for us. Julian even writes that she believes Jesus would do it again if necessary.

This week I've been reflecting on Holy Week and on Julian's writings. If we truly reflect on the events of Holy Week from the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, to the betrayal, to Jesus being found guilty, to his beatings and ultimately his death, to the amazing resurrection and joy of Easter, we experience a full range of emotions.

Celebration. Conviction. Sadness. Despair. Hopelessness. Hatred. Despise. Fear. Shock. Disbelief. Joy. Gratitude. Hope.

The story is graphic, terrible, and most certainly not G-rated. But then it makes a 180 and it's more joyful than anything we've ever encountered before. And it's for our joy and for God's joy as we are able to come before him again, and for our salvation - from the effects of sin and from ourselves, that Jesus willingly endured the graphic terror of his last days. All out of his deep love for us.

When we reflect on Easter, many times our minds are focused on the next age, when Jesus returns and his kingdom is fully realized, but I'm encouraged to remember that Jesus endured out of his current love for us, too. Not just for that future hope of being able to spend eternity with him, but for the joy of spending life with him now as well. Jesus has ushered in his kingdom, and we have the opportunity to help make that kingdom a reality by living full lives, filled with the overflowing love that He has for us in the present. We don't need to wait for eternity to begin living in the kingdom with Jesus. As we live the kingdom lives that Jesus died in order to give us, being his hands and feet in the here and now, we can look ahead with hope that one day when He returns, the kingdom we are currently helping to usher in will be fully realized.

Happy Easter! May you be blessed as you reflect on Christ's deep love for you, and may you have the courage and strength to pass that love on to others.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Negative Talk

Isn't it amazing how negatively we can think without even meaning to? It's so natural that it's hardly noticeable. I'm usually a pretty positive and confident person, but there are times that I simply have a stream of negative thoughts flowing through my mind.

I've been noticing lately this is especially true while I'm working out and testing my physical limits. Last summer I ran quite a bit and completed two 5k races. I'm a slow runner . . . more of a jogger, but I was proud of my accomplishments. In just a little more than two weeks the next 5k race I am planning to run is taking place. The problem is that it's been cold in Chicagoland, and I'm a fair weather runner. So, I've been trying to get out this week and take advantage of the 40 degree weather. Boy am I out of shape! I set out to run a mile straight at a quick pace the other morning . . . I didn't even make it half way before taking a walking break. I did finish that mile - running over half of it at least. But that's not what I had set out to do, so instead of celebrating what my body had been able to do, I was frustrated that I had failed at my goal. The negative thoughts starting prancing through my brain - Maybe I'm just not a runner; I'll never be in shape in time for the race; I'm not strong enough for this.

All these thoughts are, of course, with no regard to the fact that I haven't run since October - since before I had gallbladder surgery.

Those thoughts came out again tonight at yoga. It was by far the most difficult class I've been to. We were working on arms and shoulders, doing tons of shoulder openers (stretches), planks, downward facing dog, handstand, and shoulderstand. I was exhausted and sore after the warm up alone. And then the thoughts came: I can't hold this plank any longer! Can't he see that I'm shaking? There's no way I can do this anymore!

But guess what? I could hold that plank. I shook uncontrollably, but I stayed put. And I did finish the practice - and the teacher even used me as an example for shoulderstand!

God has created and given me a body able to do more than I can even imagine. Instead of letting those negative thoughts flow through me next time, I'm going to concentrate on what my body is able to do and start there. And, I'm going to believe that I can do more than I think I can.

Our bodies are an amazing creation!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Breathe In, Breathe Out

"Every truth without exception - and whoever may utter it - is from the Holy Spirit."
- Thomas Aquinas, a 13th Century Christian

I am continually amazed with the places I learn profound truth from God. There have been sermons that have caught my breath and pierced my heart. But, more usual is God teaching me a lesson using the mundaneness of life, the objects and people I daily come into contact with, and small whispers during activity. And the great thing is that God is able to do that. He is bigger than our structures and relatinships and "stuff," and we can encounter his truth in so many places. If we believe God is the source of all truth, then whenever and wherever we encounter it, we can trust it's from God.

Recently I was at my weekly yoga class and the teacher shared this wisdom: we must regularly meet with the Divine and rest there, breathing in the good things like love, acceptance, compassion, patience etc., and breathe out what we've gained from the world: hate, bigotry, anger, disappointment, etc. Then, when we've done this, we'll be able to return to our communities - our family, friends, coworkers, the people we do life with, and we can breathe in the hate, anger, depression, bigotry, etc. and breathe out onto them the love, acceptance, patience, and more that we've gained by plugging into the Divine. And then, the process starts over again.

As I heard this wisdom, I immediately applied it to God - meeting daily with him to breathe in his goodness so that I can turn around and breathe that goodness out on the world. I thought it was such beautiful imagery and it parallels what we're told to do in the Bible: Love God, connect with him regularly, grow a deep relationship with him, and let the overflow of that relationship (love, patience, compassion, acceptance . . .) spill over into our other relationships. Likewise, the imagery of the vine comes up. Only when we're connected to the Vine daily, soaking up "nutrients," will we be able to live the lives God calls us to live.

So, today I'm focusing on breathing in God's love and breathing that out on the world wherever I go.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Owl Bag!

Isn't this a great bag featuring owls??? It makes me happy and reminds me to keep my eyes open to God's presence. Plus, it makes me feel creative. Scrapbooking paper in this print would be fabulous!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Jasmine Blossom

It was a sunny, but very cold day in January when I went to Trader Joe's. I walked through the automatic sliding door into the slightly warmer store and found myself surrounded by flowers. The bouquets of bright pink and soft yellow and deep red brought a smile to my face. I love having flowers in our home. The daily sight of life and beauty is enough to quicken my heart and enliven my spirit. Fresh flowers bring me cheer, and I love picking out a beautiful bunch and taking them home. I usually display them proudly on our dinner table in an antique vase from my grandma.

The trouble with having fresh flowers, though, is eventually they die. The petals fall off and the water turns a terrible color and a new, less pleasant odor begins to emanate from the flowers. Most people, I would imagine, would throw away the flowers long before this point, but I always fail to do so. I don't really like to admit their death. I don't like to think about how the beautiful, colorful arrangement I picked out last week will sit rotting in our compost bin this week.

And this was my dilemma as I stood in the midst of the bouquets at Trader Joe's. I wanted so badly to have the cheering effect of the flowers in my home, yet I wasn't sure I could face the death of them in a week. You see, it was a particularly difficult January. First of all, I realized a few years ago that January is a hard month for me. The lack of sunlight really messes with me. I become especially tired, somewhat depressed, and even my personality seems to change a bit and become even more introspective than normal. I was facing more than the normal seasonal symptoms, though. Additionally, my 20+-hour-a-week job was recently cut to 10 hours (with a matching cut in pay), and to make matters worse, I have been especially frustrated at work. I have applied for several jobs to no avail, and while I am just about finished with my Master's degree, the not-quite-finished status still means I am not quite qualified for most jobs I want. On this particular day, I was dealing with a situation at work where I'd just been informed that at least one person had been greatly offended by my most recent sermon. It's amazing how much even that one rejection can hurt regardless of how many compliments I may have gotten the day before.

So there I stood, wanting, and needing, so badly to be cheered up, yet afraid to bring anything else that might feel like death into my life. It was then that I turned around and spotted a potted Jasmine plant. It was bright green and looked so lively as it climbed up a small ladder in the pot. It had crisp, white buds all over just waiting to bloom. I decided on a whim that this plant would be so much better than a bouquet. Not only would it bring beauty, but it also shouldn't die in a week. Just a few days earlier I had also learned about the power of Jasmine to lift spirits due to the essential oils in the plant. I knew that's exactly what I needed.

I took the plant home and placed it prominently on the dinner table. Each day I looked at it, wondering if it had grown and when the tiny buds would blossom. I read the care instructions very carefully, and I watered it religiously. Still, there were no blooms. I comforted myself by reasoning that it was pretty even without the blossoms. Weeks went by and I kept watching and waiting.

One night I came home after a particularly long week of work. I was frustrated, even angry. My weekly yoga class didn't even seem to make a dent in my mood. I was doubting my capabilities. "God, why am I even at this job? Why can't I find something else? Why am I in yet another difficult situation?"

I went to bed early, hoping to sleep away some of the stress.

The next morning I woke up stiff and sore and still emotionally exhausted. I walked downstairs, made a cup of coffee, and sat down at the table to write out a list for the day. It was at that moment I smelled it. It was faint but distinct over the smell of my morning coffee. It was Jasmine. I looked up, half wondering where the scent was coming from. A single bud had bloomed and it was emitting a heavenly scent.

My eyes welled up with tears. "It bloomed!" I shouted to myself in disbelief. I stood and stared at the bloom for quite a while, amazed that at least one thing in my life was blooming and not falling apart or dying. My eyes had welled at the beauty for sure, but also at the realization of God's presence and provision. Even in this difficult time, I was his, and He was guiding and providing for me, even in unexpected ways. Despite my seeming failures, God still saw me as precious and perfect and as his daughter. I was just as important to him in this time of trial as I was in the joyous times where everything seemed to be working. Just knowing that God was still with me and for me filled me with new understanding of his love for me and a new view of what it means to be resting in his palm.

The Jasmine had also started to bloom on January 28th, as if God was reminding me that the end of January was just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My First Post

I love to write. I love to see God in my everyday happenings and journal about what I've seen and what it means for my life. I love to read and listen to people's stories and see what resonates with my soul. I try my best to live with purpose, to live with openness to new possibility, and to live with an eye open for what God is doing in me and in the world around me. And that's what this blog is about.

I love to share with others what I'm learning and figuring out and what I'm seeing God do. Who knows? Maybe it could be a book someday.

I chose the title "Owl Eye Vision" because this year I have become especially fascinated with owls and the wisdom and all-seeing capabilities they symbolize. I hope to gain better and better spiritual vision allowing me to see God each and every day and to learn from those encounters. And I'll be sharing them here with you. Thanks for reading. : )