Pruning the Good

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At the end of each growing season, the vinedresser prunes the branches that were most productive during the season. Rather than have them sap the energy from next season’s fruit by growing the branch, they will cut the branch back drastically. Even though it has been highly productive, perhaps even because it was highly productive, it will be pruned. When the new growing season starts all the energy stored up in the vine is able to find its way to the new fruit rather than the old branch.

When I read this I had an “ah-ha” moment. Finally something made a bit of sense about the last year and a half. You see, while I wasn’t altogether surprised by my move to Chicago, it wasn’t one I was quite ready for. I felt like I still had so much more to do where I was. Not only that but I had people around me that I was able pour into and who poured into me. I had family, impact, and many plans.

Yet God very clearly moved me to the city. I’ve loved living here, don’t get me wrong. As I’ve often mentioned, Chicago is the first place that I’ve truly felt at home. Granted most of that had to do with my internal peace and healing, but still there is something about this city that makes me come alive. The people, the food, the energy, the lake, the opportunities, the diversity, the brokenness, the beauty that arises even out of the worst situations are all things I’ve found in Chicago. This is where I know I’m suppose to be.

Still I feel like my right arm has been cut off. Outside of a small group of people, I’m not involved in the lives of others as I once was. I no longer do life with people who I could call up at a moments notice, who worked side by side with me in my neighborhood, who I was able to disciple and pour into, who discipled and poured into me. For the first year, I attributed it to moving, getting established in my new work and world, and the reality of proximity. But I think there is something more at work. I have a sense that in this second year, there is something that will come out of the pruning of the good.

Rather than bemoan the fact that I’m no longer tightly connected to the people I love so much, I need to see what is right here. Who and what is God raising up in my life right now? What is God about in this moment? If I focus on then and there, here and now will be lost, as will what is to come. I either trust God and let him prune where he sees fit, or I don’t trust him at all. There is no other choice.

God prunes the good for a good reason. Prune away, Master Vinedresser, prune away!

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Adjusting

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This last week the supervisory staff of The Salvation Army Family & Community Services met for two days to flesh out the goals in our strategic plan. The issue of change was the theme: how we engage change as individuals and how we, as an agency, were moving into change. We came away with a unified, collaborative plan to move the work forward over the next year or two. It was exhausting but well worth the time away from the office.

This Saturday morning as I sit in the silence I begin to think about the season that I am in. As a backdrop to the retreat we used the verses from Ecclesiastes on change: “for everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Those words resound in my heart today as a harbinger of my new reality. As one for whom change is a way of life, I’m not exactly scared but I am curious.

When I fell the other week, I felt alone and broken. My weakness was not something that I enjoyed in any way, shape or form. Yet even in the midst of that pain and weakness, I realized my initial reaction of being alone was brought on by habit rather than reality. In the past I had been alone, for so many reasons. But that is no longer the case. Yes, I live alone and am not really a fan, but I have people who are present and active in my life. I am known and accepted. I am loved and wanted. These are all new realities for me. I am in a new time of life that for all its awesome beauty is a bit of a transition for me. I can no longer define life in the same manner as before. I need a new vocabulary.

I am having to navigate my way into what so many people consider normal, yet for me is as foreign as the land of Oz. The color is heightened; the companionship is unusual and unexpected but welcome; and the adventures are thrilling yet terrifying. Like the Tin Man, Scarecrow, or Lion I am having a hard time embracing what has been mine all along. Yet I am. I am embracing this belonging, even as my head spins.

There is a time for everything. Now is the time to belong, to embrace, to be known and to know.

This could take some adjusting.

Kairos – A Time to Change

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Kairos indicates a pivotal time in life, outside of simple chronological time. Kairos signals a game changing event is poised to happen. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, “The time (kairos) is come! The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe.”

In “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, the kairos moment is integral to the discipleship process because it is in these moments that God is trying to get our attention. We use those moments to hear God (repent/change) and then do what he says (belief). It sounds simple, but often we get stuck trying to know what God is really saying. Even if we do have people actively helping us to discern these things (and most people do not), knowing what God is really saying can be a challenge.

What I have found is that God uses our deepest emotions to get our attention. When I feel dis-ease or anxious, I know that God is trying to alert me to something off or broken. He is wanting to move me out of that dis-ease and into peace and power to do his will. So often though we prefer to stay in the known angst rather than move forward into the unknown journey God has prepared. Perhaps we realize that we will be required to change. Perhaps we know that everything that once was will be no more. We cling to the old, the broken, the painful because we simply cannot imagine something better for us, not really. We may sigh and daydream about “if only” but when it comes down to it we do not want to leave our baggage behind.

Yet once we take the step to hear what God is saying to us and actively begin to do what he says, the freedom we sense ahead of us beckons ever more loudly. It doesn’t mean, however, that the road will be straight or simple. Obstacles are bound to be in the way, and the journey will be intentionally difficult. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, we may go through the “valley of the shadow of death” far longer than we ever expected. The purpose in that journey is to rid ourselves of old habits of belief and toxic behavior that keep us from realizing the whole of what God has for us. If God were to short-circuit that journey, provide a short cut around Mt. Sinai, we will enter the new land with old idolatry and a sense of self-sufficiency, rather than worship of the One True God and a healthy dependence upon God and an inter-dependence with God’s people.

As we move further in our journey the kairos moments are less like the 10 plagues of Egypt (huge, painful, catalytic, unmistakable) and more like the cloud that gently steers our steps or the fire that lights our way. All along the way we must make choices to rid ourselves of the past and tighten our hold upon our trust in God. Sometimes we need to camp out for a while, taking in the new territory and the new reality of life. Sometimes we move with lightning speed to our promised land.

If God is prompting you through deep emotion or external pressure (usually they work together), then observe what is going on, reflect on it and discuss it with someone else. What are you believing that is a lie? Rather than looking at what others have done and blame them, look at what is being triggered within you. That is the place to start. But do not just end with the discussion. Make a plan, be held accountable to the plan and then do it. Maybe the plan works, maybe you need to make another one, but at least you are doing something about it.*

What kairos is God using to speak to you? What is God saying? And what are you going to do about it?

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* The Learning Circle is the first piece of the discipleship process as outlined by Breen’s book. A kairos moment occurs which should be followed up by observation, reflection, discussion (initiating change); then progressing to creating a plan, being held accountable, and finally acting on the plan (walking out belief).

Learning Circle Graphic

Change

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This morning I am thinking about change and how so many people are afraid of it, even outright hostile to it. I once wanted, even needed, predictability. I liked to plan things out. Way out. Part of this was the way my mind finds patterns in all things. I see structures and patterns in people, numbers, indeed all of life. The other part was the unconscious knowledge that life was not what it seemed.

Many years on from those days, the predictability that I once craved is satiated by my relationships with God and others. Not that those are static and unchanging, but that they are firm and faithful. Indeed I expect these relationships to change, to grow, to become stronger and more powerful over time. If they did not, they would not be as firm and faithful.

If we ignore the fact that things and people change, we will forever be disappointed. Cute children grow up to become awkward teenagers and then beautiful adults. An once beautiful spouse ages, creating wrinkles and crinkles in the oddest of places. Beauty and strength flee. People we love die and leave this world, which too often feels like they have left us (or God took them) with malicious intent. Nothing is ever the same as what it was.

We can either focus on what was, or we can embrace what is and what will be. It is our choice. We can watch the world as spectators or we can become participants in what God is doing.

To me change is a good thing. I fully embrace the fact that people and situations change. I think our fear of change comes from a belief that life will only get worse. Yet what I have found is that while things may get worse for a time, there is joy and health on the other side. If change did not occur, then we would still be crawling bugs unable to fly and bring beauty to the world.

I embrace change in myself because it means I’m alive. I embrace change in others, because it means they are living their lives to the full. I embrace change in my life with God because it means he is not done with me.

Convincing people of the need for change, now that is a whole other discussion.

Name Change

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What's In A NameAround the western world, most but not all, women change their names upon marriage. Some are ecstatic over this event. Others find themselves unsure of who they are anymore. Once an unthinking task, remembering to sign the right name proves difficult. Yet with time the new name becomes her own. The name forms a part of her identity and her life.

When a person, male or female, becomes a Christian, it is a process of changing one’s identity. No longer is he just “John Doe.” He is, in fact, “John Son of God-Doe.” He belongs to a new family. He has a new identity. Just like the bride who changes her name, so does the new believer change his name.

New family. New name. New identity. Yet on the outside everything seems pretty much the same. Same hair. Same eyes. Same taste in food. Just like the bride, it takes time to make adjustments for the new life. We may not need to remember how to sign our name, but we may need to think through some of our other actions. Not because the other actions were inherently bad or wrong, though they may be, but because we see them from a different angle. We see them through the eyes of a bride, of a family member, of a person who bears God’s name.

When we weren’t part of God’s family, when we did not bear his name, we had one agenda: get what would please us. Our own needs and desires drove us. Food. Shelter. Water. Sexual impulses. Ambition. Love. To then have each of these desires put under the ownership of God means that some changes will happen. Our tastes will change. Our ambitions will alter. Our vision will be corrected. Some things will happen without significant conscious effort; other things will need hard work and discipline to change.  We never really know which it will take, but we can be assured both will be required.

One thing that does happen when we come to bear God’s name, there is a strength and confidence implanted by simply being His. As human beings made in the image of God, we are imbued with value from conception. As his children, that value is infused with radiance and glory that only comes from God’s presence in us. An image bearer becomes a Name bearer. The light within shines bright, though our worth and value are just as precious as before.

It is this light within that then guides our steps. It is this light that breaks through the dark corners of our formerly sinful life and creates beauty out of ugliness. It is this light that inspires us to reach out to those still in darkness. It is this light that defines our identity.

The question we need to ask ourselves then is how brightly is our light shining? Are we owning our identity as God’s children? Without that ownership, our ability to live out our identity as God’s children will be sorely diminished. It is time to know – truly KNOW – who we are and live it.

We need to change our name.

Grief, Loss, Powerlessness

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With an edge of panic in her voice, my friend said, “No! Don’t!”

This was in response to the desire I had been fighting to make something happen in regards to mission and my livelihood. My heart was telling me, Let God make the next move, but my mind was pressuring me to do something. You have to do something, anything! No one is going to do it for you. It’s all up to you.

Of course this is how my life has been since I can remember. I would only get something if I decided to get it. My nature and (lack of) nurture both feed that bias. It is also reinforced by American culture that idolizes self-sufficiency and initiative.

God isn’t wanting to keep me from action per se. He is wanting me to be sensitive to his leading so that the smallest nudge from him would put me into action. Too often in the past God has had to use a spur on me rather than just a pull on the bit. In order to feel that nudge, I need to learn to listen only to him.

This is no easy task for anyone. For me, I’m wired to make things happened. It is part of who I am. God is trying to direct that impulse for his use, though. Once there I’m confident God will do some amazing things. Not because of me but because of his reign (or rein) in my life. I feel like this is so close.

So what do I do in the meantime as I wait for God’s prompting? I need to explore my grief, loss and feelings of powerlessness. At least this is what my prophetic friend has counseled me toward. So far, in her directions, she has not been wrong, and I’ve needed her insight to clear away the noise of my life. I have no reason not to follow her counsel now.

It’s an intriguing thing to consider my grief, loss and powerlessness. They are not things that are fun to think about nor are they things that make for happy days. I’ve already been writing about my story, so I know how exhausting it is to pull up the emotions of 10 years ago. For that is when I start my story.

10 years ago at exactly this time of year the watershed moments of my life began. Over the course of four months, starting September 2002, I lost my church, my home, my baby, my husband and finally my mother in early January 2003. The grief of that time is still real even if this 10 year anniversary does not fill me with dread as one would suppose. This assignment of exploring my grief, loss and powerlessness may change that, however.

As I’ve been writing the point of grief that has pricked me most, so far, is the loss of my baby. I will admit that I thank God that my child does not have my former husband as a father in this world. The confusion and turmoil he represents by his life would be very hard to manage. But still I grieve that I have no child. My heart breaks that I’m not allowed to raise and love my little girl. I always think my baby was a girl with long, curly red hair, my nose and deep brown eyes. She would be nine years old now.

The loss seems clear, yet I know that God has more to uncover. I feel the loss of a mom who was never a mom, a dad who is now present but wasn’t when I was a child, a family that doesn’t speak. In order to heal, it is important to see things as they truly are, talk about them and move forward. Without that, healing will be denied. So I speak of things my family doesn’t or won’t. I allow myself to feel how I feel about situations, knowing that others might feel differently. We need to process our loss in order to regain ourselves.

I do not like being powerless. It is the one thing I have fought my entire life, starting with a vow I made when I was four years old. Relinquishing power and control is not something I like to do, but I am currently embracing my powerlessness so that God can effect the right change in me. In the past I have fought that powerlessness. I am, after all, a fighter by nature. Yet still there are times when we are truly powerless. I was powerless to keep my husband from leaving. I was powerless to keep my baby. I was powerless in keeping my mom from dying. Did I fight? Yes. Did my fight change anything? Yes. It changed me. It honed my desires and my priorities. I knew what was most important in life, yet in the end I lost all of it anyway. I was powerless to keep it.

Now, as I wait on God, I embrace my powerlessness. I embrace the fact that any door I knock on will be the door God puts before me. It isn’t a weakening feeling. It is a feeling of ultimate power because God, the author and creator of the universe, is the one making things happen. It is his supreme power that is at work. I trust that. His power is and always will be greater than mine. Since I am his child, that power becomes mine as well. So by embracing my human powerlessness, I open the door for God’s ultimate power.

Grief, loss and powerlessness are only doorways to healing, restoration and immense power when given over to God. Those are doors well worth waiting for.

Extremes

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My life is one of extremes. I have another Crazy, Busy, Awesome Week ahead. Actually, it’s more like two or three…or…well, my next day off is too far out for me to identify. I’ll have fun and see God move as part of my work, but ultimately it will be work that does require a rest.

I am rested right now, but that is only because I slept for nearly two days straight. This was not by choice, however. When I get sick, it manifests itself in exhaustion. I know the difference between the normal tiredness of having a full life and the utter exhaustion that comes when I fall ill. Last Tuesday I felt a twinge of that exhaustion and I groaned. It does me no good to fight it. It only lasts longer if I do. I believe it is residual from when I had a sleep disorder in my 20s. Then I would be up for 18 hours and sleep for 2. It was a vicious cycle that destroyed my immune system and took me out of all but the most necessary things of life. God healed me through the help of a competent sleep doctor and, as I call it, a rebooting of my system. Even now I struggle with some issues of sleep, but I also know how to manage those common-to-all-women challenges.

This exhaustion is different from that. When the exhaustion first hits, my initial reaction is to push through it. Yet, as I said, this simply undermines the recovery process. Few people understand it. I hardly do myself. But once it runs its course, my energy is restored. I liken the effect to someone letting all the air out of a balloon. It comes suddenly and it empties completely. Kind of like most cell phone batteries. And like a battery, it takes time to recharge. It is when I’m fully recharged that I see how truly ill I was.

In this exhaustion, my emotional defenses are low. I feel all the negative aspects of my personality and situation. Every painful thought I might ever have is magnified. Satan really likes to mess with me then. Fortunately, I’m wise to his ways and don’t give in. I speak truth to combat the lies. I have also learned to refrain from speaking to a wide audience or making decisions during these times. I do, however, learn a lot about where I am when all the filters are removed. I get a glimpse at the next area God is wanting to work on. This blog has seen more than a few post-exhaustion entries.

So my life swings between weeks of continual and diverse activity to days of forced, unscheduled and unredemptive rest. In the next week I have a ton of accounting to do (due to my trip and my exhaustion-illness), to catch up with the teens of YBS and the young women in my discipleship group, a kick off of our summer Wednesday Community meals, a Love INC SW board retreat, a kick-off to summer cook out for teens, to prepare for a teaching on my work at a church for next Sunday, the actual teaching, and then it starts all over again. Throw in a few meetings with people, preparation for events, strategic planning, raising and training up leaders, and you have my life.

It’s not how I want it. I was able to eliminate one (much-loved) engagement for the summer. But those things that take me further away are the things that pay the rent. I get tired just thinking about it, but such is the way things are for now. For now. I know these things will and must change. In the mean time, I’ll be blessed by God’s rest and the unexpected delights of his presence. That is my hope and my salvation.