Fasting, Stillness and Celebrations

For the most part I love social media. I think it’s a great avenue to connect, learn and grow….along with sharing pictures with friends. I have made friends just from online communities that I spend time with IRL, and I have found ways to decorate and cook as well. Recently though, I was having a bit of a chaotic mind and heart that I was frankly compartmentalizing and distracting with social media.

For the first few days of November I took a fast from it all. My head and my heart craved the quietness, the space, the stillness. It was nine days of finding a heart that needed to breathe, a mind needing to settle. Honestly I needed to learn to pare down and shut down, to listen more to my self and the call to my heart from God.

heads and heartsIf I am honest with you all, it was difficult the first couple of days when it got quiet. I’d want to go to the phone for distraction, but as the days grew on I realized my dependency on noise to fill the quiet was not healthy. For me, it’s become a noise-filled culture that my head and my heart really can’t quite come to terms with living in 24/7. Even more so, as I have spent time in prayer and reading and just being still I have come to find it’s allowed me time to reflect on the seasons I have been in over the last few years and hear more from God on the one I am finding myself in.

As I was reading the last bit of my study of Esther this morning, I couldn’t help but realize that we’ve subbed out reflection and stillness, in remembering God in our midst and at our defense for quick snippets of Scripture and posted prayer requests for the masses. (I am just as guilty y’all) We quickly jump to the very next thing without sitting in the moment of God’s provision, His timing, His beauty. We can celebrate God’s great strength and faithfulness in our circumstances, but how good are we at marking them for remembrance in our own hearts and lives? How well are we doing at tuning our minds and hearts to see His providing, His rescue and His defense in our lives every single day? I’m really good at knowing what’s going on in my HOA group online, but not so much about God’s working in my heart if I’m not careful.

As I read deeper about Purim, first marked in those pages of Esther, I found that often we forget the faithfulness of the God we love and serve. We move on to the next project, next task, next circumstance without celebrating the goodness of a God Who intervenes, who wants all things to turn out for good in us, who asks for our attention and who absolutely deserves all our devotion.

For me, it’s about tuning out more of the noise and tuning my head and my heart to stillness and quiet, to reflection and celebration of God’s unwavering faithfulness in my  lives of others. That means fasts from social media, choosing time alone, and recognizing the ways in which He provides daily.

When Your Full Name is Used

In our neighborhood, every kid that lived there, all six of us, could tell you what the full name of the only other girl was. This was because she was four years younger than the rest of us, and often getting into trouble with us older kids when she shouldn’t be. Inevitably her mom would yell her full name from the front porch, and we all knew she was in for it. We’d turn to her and say, “Your mom wants you!” Not her brother, not any of us, but her. Still to this day, I can hear her mom clear as a bell yelling her name, and us all laughing out of relief because it wasn’t us getting called back home.

When I look through Isaiah 43-45 I cannot help but think of God calling His people, by their full known name back to Him. Back to Him that loves but disciplines, back to Him because they have turned and gone their own way. He’s calling their name because they alone are known by that name, He has given it to them. They ran from Him though, to be called by something else-servant. They went to be called idol worshiper and rebel. They went after their own things, making their own plans and way, only to realize that the people they’d sought to be a part of were not who they should have believed in, who they should have followed after.

Sound familiar?

Ever hear your name called out by God?

Oh, just me? Okay good. He calls our names, our full known names by Him alone to remind us of whose we are. Who we belong to ultimately and where it is we belong-in Him. Not in idol worship, not as a part of another culture or context. I am His. So clearly in Isaiah we are reminded, just as the Israelites were of this.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.”

He not only tells us at the start of Isaiah 43 that we are His, and He is calling us back by our names, but that we shouldn’t fear Him. We shouldn’t fear in a false and cowering way because He’s redeemed us. He’s gone before us and given Himself for us, but not for the junk we have run after but so that we could be in relationship with Him, living for Him and obediently living out His will.

We are known and we belong to Him. We often forget that until we find Him calling us back home, our full names being used across the heavens. Then we remember Whose we are, what we are made for and how we are to fully live.

The Struggle is Real

Do you have those moments where you just know that it’s God talking through a friend specifically to you about something buried deep that you keep pushing back down?

No? Just me.

Oh well good.

Recently with a friend, who did not know what I had been killing and burying repeatedly within me, they brought up the struggle of the flesh with obedience to God’s prompting. I thought it interesting because I wasn’t prepared for that wallop at the time, since I myself had spent the better part of two weeks avoiding dealing with this rising notion of disobedience because of the flesh whispering the very thing it knew would get me, what others would think.

real

Most of the time I am good at really not minding what is thought of me, but the grooves of my old self, an approval addict to the very core, found some footing in my heart as I sought to be obedient in what I still feel is God prompting me on about discipleship and women’s ministry. Then this verse came up when listening to a sermon first thing today and I knew it. I knew exactly what the flesh was after and the struggle I had not been fighting but just burying to avoid.

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. -Romans 7:15 (HCSB)

I was right back in my approval mode of life, looking alot like the habits of my old self and wondering what people would think of me if I asked, if I stepped out in obedience. I didn’t realize it in the moment, or over the course of the last few weeks but I knew for certain this morning that I was pursuing the things which I hate-old habits. A life that I had crucified to the cross because I was already approved, loved and adored by the One who went to the cross for me. Who took it all on Himself so that I would not have to worry about such things but live in the abundant approval of the King of the world.

But just because that approval addiction has been nailed to the cross doesn’t mean it still doesn’t wiggle off, limping and broken to come right back to me in the moments when the flesh wants to remind me of what I used to be, habits I left a solid tread mark for in my old self. I didn’t need a CSI team to tell me where those tracks led, but somehow I was willingly off the path that the Spirit had been leading, all too quickly simply out of the worry of approval.

Y’all, let me be the example to tell you that you cannot be living in obedience with God, walking in step with the Spirit and not expect your habits of old self to attempt to distract you. Because they do. They want you off that path, even with the lie as the pastor pointed out this morning, “that you’ll get back in step and on that path later.”

The struggle is truly real, not with our old selves but with those habits that wore deep paths within us from that prior life…ones that are often easier to find than the step in front of us that is with the Spirit. Maybe like me, you needed to hear today that even when we believe we are in step with the Spirit that our habits can distract us, can pull us into an old way that feels comforting and familiar but is blatantly disobedient to where we are supposed to be, where we are called to be by God. But we have the choice to recognize it, to see the old path and know that the outcome leads to death and hurt. So we can then choose repentance, obedience and placing that foot back on the path with the Spirit leading. Back in tune with “the desire to what is good” and knowing “there is no ability to do it” on our own. (Romans 7:18(b) HCSB)

Where is it today that you need to  step out of that habit of your former self to boldly step in the path with the Spirit? To choose obedience and the power of God in you rather than the flesh that reminds you of your old self?

The struggle is hard, but the continual sin of fleshly habits is real. And eternally tethered.

Calling in the Unknown

What does vision and calling look like? What about the mission of your life?

For years I have wrestled with these questions, thinking about predetermined paths and expectations that were just never voiced. Once you are on a path, you have a logically laid out means of pursuing that path and you STAY.ON.IT.

A couple of years ago that mindset changed for me, first with Jon Acuff’s Do Over, where he said you can have a different path, one where you lived into what you felt drawn to rather than the one you had prepared for. But you gotta do the work, you gotta put in the hustle. (There’s alot more to that book, and I highly encourage you to grab it if this is resonating in the least with you).

The calling I had at 25 has changed, pursuits and interests have pushed me to consider options I had not seen before…and now a decade later I wrestle with letting that calling go and accepting the heart cry of obedience.

But what does that look like? 

Exactly the question I have spent months wrestling with. I need the template, the design and the future all mapped out to what that looks like for me. What it means to live fully into obedience in calling.

The scary thing is that there’s not a template, there’s no simple or easy map to lay out before me. My limited knowledge self wants that, but the obedient child of God knows that I don’t get that. Yes I get resources and tips, I research and prepare, but also know that stepping into an unknown is incredibly scary and racked with doubt. I have given excuses and ultimatums to God about what He’s been pressing in on me about…because I wanted the map all to myself. I want easy and comfortable, immediate affirmation and success.

One would think after 10 years of life lived I would know better than that. None of that comes immediately, or even before you step out into the unknown…and it may never come. So the human self makes the excuse, stays in the comfortable and keeps in line.

So living out a mission, a calling, a vision simply reflects who you are trusting, who you are obedient to, and how you prepare yourself each step of the way. It doesn’t look like the person next to you who is pursuing their dream, nor the person who has the platform you respect and admire. It looks like you…stepping out and pursuing what you feel is your calling now, in the hard and the ugly. In the days you simply just don’t want to and the days you really need to. It means pushing aside excuses and sometimes living in the doubt of it all for a time. It means both no schedule and freedom, and boundaries with a regimented plan.

This newness and shininess has long since worn-off, but the calling? Yep, still there. It’s still burning deep and leaving me hopeful and buoyant in expectation. But not the expectation of anything beyond simple rejoicing of obedience.

There are days ahead where counts and assessments will come, where the need will wane and I will wonder once again if this truly a calling and wonder what it all looks like lived out. Answers may come, but if they don’t I know that fully and completely that it’s not about what I get out of it, but what I give away.

All of it.

Every single bit.

The goodness of a calling, a mission of life is that it’s not to benefit me. and that’s the absolute beauty of it all. It’s never about me, ever.

 

 

Here I Am

“Mom!”

“I’m over here!”

You’ll hear that a lot in grocery stores, shopping malls and the like, especially this time of year. I know I even still yell it on occasion when I’m with my mom someplace. That universal cry of “MOM!” in a crowd and inevitably that mom will know it’s their kid, even at 35. 

In Genesis, Abraham hears God call his name, notonce  but twice. This often means urgency and need for attention. You see, Abraham had a knife lifted above his only son, following in the command of God to sacrifice him. God called to him, not out of a need to know where he was but to gain his attention at this pivotal point. Abraham’s response?

Here I am

It wasn’t as if God didn’t know where he was, searching all over the mountainside He’d guided him to for this event. The response by Abraham gave such distinct clarity to his obedience to God. He was right there, right there where God had called him to be, even when he might have wondered why or even in the hurt of the impending loss of his son. He was very present to the moment of obedience. 

God doesn’t have to search for us, that’s not what he was doing here, and it’s not what we see done throughout Scripture when these responses have been given. In reading I was doing I found that over the course of the Old Testament Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, and obviously Abraham all responded with “here I am,” when called by the voice of God. “When used in conversation with God, it’s an obedient response that always seems to have monumental consequences.” Trace the stories of those men from their response and you can tangibly see that presence to God’s call leads to some pretty major events. 

Even in Isaiah 58, as he prophesies, we see even God respond with this exact phrasing of presence in the midst of or hurting, He responds with healing and salvation. We see Him move into that space for us and let us know we are not along in it. But He also desires that response from us when called. He knows where we are, so when He’s calling out to us, it’s for our response of obedience. 

“Here I am,” means I am present to what You have me in and I am willing to accept it with You. It’s not a response of doing it alone or reluctance. It may mean laying aside the dream or desire you are clinging to, much like Abraham had been with his beloved son Isaac. While the Lord God stepped into his obedience and saved him from death, obedience often looks at whatever we’ve  been clinging to as the thing that needs to die, or at the very least lain down in order to have open hands of receiving the better thing He wants to give us-Himself. The cost of it can often be much, but what blessing in obedience we reap is far greater. 

It makes me wonder, and hone in on whether I am making myself available and present to Him. Whether I am responding with “Here I am” or attempting to dodge what I know He is asking of me in the present. When I am available and present to Him, He always is available to me. 

Do The Thing.

Tap.

Scroll, Scroll, Scroll.

Tap.

Scroll, Like, (Ugh, why would you put that out there?), Scroll, Scroll. LOVE.

Tap.

I think the majority of you can ascertain what that is describing, as we all seem to tap and scroll, like and judge on our phones these days.

We see people doing amazing things, putting themselves out there and jumping at opportunities. We see people out having fun, pursuing dreams, and everyone seems to be in a happier place than us. Am I right?

Lately for me, I have used social media as a means of procrastination. I have read posts, looked through photos, found streams of hashtags all in the name of research for my writing. But not much writing has been going on. Instead it’s a whole lot of scrolling and a whole lot of unproductivity. It’s lost time and momentum, and instead supplanted a whole lot of self-doubt and questions.

I wouldn’t say I have become jealous or envious of others’ pursuits as several years ago I prayed through that as I saw others advancing and decided to celebrate them over feeling left out or rejected in any way. (I’m mature, I know)

No for me, it’s getting bogged down in the distraction of it all. In the taking a break to clear the mind and finding myself flipping through four forms of social media I have at the ready of my finger tips. Trust me when I say I do love it, it has connected me with people and broadened my perspective on certain things, discovering new ideas and thoughts that I wouldn’t have been challenged to see.

But y’all, it’s my excuse these days. I use it when I should be fighting through writer’s block, when I should be digging into His Word, when I should be sitting in the quiet stillness of life. This isn’t a proclamation of social media fast (you all can stop that at any time because it’s okay to just do it). It’s a call to accountability, that I need to do the thing I am called to do instead of choosing distraction.

you-must-do-the-thing-resized

Distractions are so good, they feed our selves in such ways that bring us delight in the moment, a reprieve from the hard/difficult/uncomfortable/quiet. I am chief of these in pursuing y’all. I even said last night to my friend that I watch entirely too much television, and then commenced to starting the next show on my DVR. Instead of writing. Instead of taking time to dig into Scripture that God has put on my heart. Instead of praying for that friend who came to mind earlier in the day. Instead of cultivating relationships in and around my life.

Maybe you’re like me and seeking out distractions from dealing with life, a call that has gotten to be difficult, loneliness in the midst of a season of quiet, expectations unmet or unrealized…a place where God isn’t providing how you expected or how you defined. It’s gotten hard or quiet and you just want to be distracted by the noise of the world-good intentioned, but still distracting.

For me, I have to do the thing. Not what my flesh desires but what I know deep within, obedience. Obedience to the thing that is greater than what I desire in social media, television, inherently good things…to the Lord in this moment, just now…for today. It’s not easy, nor will I get it right 100% of the time, but for just this moment when I’d rather reach for my phone or remote, I go empty-handed to Him. To His call. To His Word. To time spent with Him.

Walk A Mile

img_9895It was supposed to be one mile up and one mile back. On concrete stairs, in the cool of the morning. Yes, the incline was steep but it wasn’t something I hadn’t encountered before in hiking in the Smokies or beyond.

I hadn’t expected the heart talk, the overwhelming sense of God in our midst and the whispers of peace that kept flooding over me. We were a group of four women, three visitors and Nicole walking this walk so many Catholics have for penance. We were there to see and talk with Nicole, spend time with her and hear more about this city her family loves, the people and their desire to pursue Christ in the midst of so much darkness.

Of the week we spent in Italy I have so much to process and ruminate on, so much that God spoke into, revealed and called me to conviction on. But these precious hours on Thursday morning spent walking (and huffing and sweating) up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca was the stone of remembrance I’ll place on this trip.

That talk and that walk point me directly to these verses in Ephesians (which were talked about this last week coincidentally)…

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (The Message)

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We walked a road for a short time hearing how God called Nicole’s family to travel this specific one. It also reminded me of the road He’s called me to travel. It’s not one sitting on my hands, just as Paul’s words are translated. It’s not one that is distracted by the view or the people passing by on their own travels. It’s about the one I am walking, the one He purposed specifically for me, unique to my gifts and talents He has blessedly given me.

The mile may be long, it may be far more arduous and heartrending than I had expected, but it’s one that I wish to be steady in climbing and alert for the time I am on it, obedient to the path He has called me to walk (and sometimes run) even when I am tired, out of breath and straining against my own will and lack of strength.