Retreat

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This October is a retreat month. I’m not retreating from life, but retreating to recapture and redefine life. Yet these retreats have been hit or miss, sporadic and unconventional. I started the month praying, “God, what would you have me know or experience by the end of the month?” The only response that came to mind was a prayer to remember who I am, God’s daughter.

Two weeks into the month I disappeared for 24 hours. I had hoped it would be 48 hours hidden away among the prairie grasses, talking trees, and babbling brook. But it was just 24 hours that allowed me to reconnect with the stars and my art. I even got a glorious fire. Surely that escape provided the answer to my question, “God, what would you have me know or experience by the end of the month?” Sadly, no, it did not answer my question. Just the gentle prayer, “Help me remember who I am, your daughter.” And a word to meditate on, “Courage.”

And now the last week of the month is here. Once again I have taken time to retreat from the noise, as least as best I can. I have absented myself from Facebook for the week. Well, mostly. A shooting outside my office on Monday was detailed, and articles that I find worthwhile have been shared. Yet I have restrained from checking and filling the void with the noise of Facebook posts. Rather than looking outside myself, I am forced to look inside. It’s what I wanted, what I’ve longed for all month, but now that I’m looking I find the inside is a little cluttered.

The clutter is my old habits of thought and emotion. I find myself tripping over things that no longer have any use or validity. Whether or not I actively purged them from my life previously or not, I’m now seeing them as something unfitting for my life. The house has changed, the layout is different, yet the same old custom pieces from the old place are here. They don’t fit. They stick out, disrupt the flow of space, and simply look wrong in this new setting. Other pieces have been moved in to fill the gaps, but now the old pieces are ill-suited. They must go.

I’m not a big fan of clutter. This might surprise you if you saw the paper on my desk – at work and at home – or the piles of books that line my bedside, yet those have purpose and flow. Some times the piles are bigger, some times they are non-existent. It is “stuff” that I am constantly purging. If I don’t use it, need it, or love it, I lose it. It is now time to lose some soul furniture that I no longer use, need or love.

It is time to immerse myself in the new world of belonging, engagement and kinship. I need to deepen my understanding and experience of what it means to be God’s daughter. I need to learn a new language of inclusion (of myself) and embracing. I need to know what it means to have the courage required to move beyond “just” healing and reconciliation and into growth, expansion and joy.

Jesus Hid

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“When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.” This sentence from John 12 sticks with me this morning. Jesus, after speaking of glory and light and his own death, found it necessary to be alone, away from crowds and people.To me this shows how truly human he was. I see myself in this action, and feel strengthened by knowing Jesus had that same need for solitude though with a much greater weight to bear.

We know Jesus spent time alone praying, and I’m sure he prayed this time, but the feeling is different. The need was personal, not outward. The choice was not in which disciples to choose or in receiving renewal to continue the mission. Rather it was about him and the Father glorifying each other and Jesus finding the strength to push forward, assuming our guilt and shame, taking our place of judgment.

I believe Jesus was overwhelmed by the events to come. Knowing that this was the culmination of his earthly life and that all of human history hinged on his next steps, I believe Jesus mourned for what he was giving up, namely his holiness and his purity. Not that he lost either, but that he surrendered them for our sake. He took on all our sin, becoming sin for us. To a Holy God sin was abhorrent, untouchable. Which is exactly why Jesus had to be the one to take it on. Only a Holy God could turn darkness into light. Only a Holy God could bear the condemnation resulting from his own holiness.

In this moment of hiding away from the crowds the human and the divine are fully revealed. Abhorrence for the sin to come is met by the pending pain of torture. Separation from God is separation from himself. The mental, emotional, physical and spiritual anguish is fully felt by Jesus in these moments. Here is where he battles for humanity. Here is where the real decision is made.

Jesus in these last public moments spoke of glory, light and his death. Then he retreated away from the crowds. His remaining time was to be spent with his closest friends and the one who would betray him. The time was fast approaching when the Son of Man would be glorified in order that the Father would be glorified. Such glory came with an incredible price.

Promise of Joy

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A couple of weeks ago I was able to take part in a prayer retreat with a local church. Part of the retreat involved a time of listening prayer where a group of people pray for you, listening to God and any word of encouragement he would have for you. Since these folks were complete strangers to me, I was astounded at the accuracy and meaningful words that they heard from God on my behalf.

Of course, I should not be surprised, but any time people actively seek God and hear from him, it feels truly supernatural. Yet God wants us to hear from him daily and to take his words to heart. Too often, though, we want to treat such things like a crystal ball where our fortune is told. God does not reveal our lives in such a manner, and he is never to be treated like a magician performing tricks to please us. What God is wanting to do is reveal our true identity to us, the identity he sees when he looks at us. He is wanting to free us from the identity that restricts us from becoming who he made us to be.

Among the four people praying for me, there was a theme that each of them picked up on. Rest. Joy. Delight. Refresh. Out of which flows power and sure steps. Let me reiterate, these people had no idea who I was or even how I came to be at this retreat. They didn’t know about the years in the mobile home park. They didn’t know of the pain of my past. They didn’t know of God’s open doors in Chicago. So when they pray about this being a time of rest and play, they didn’t know how desperately rest was needed. When they prayed about healing from years of pain, and receiving power and love from Jesus, they didn’t know about my heartaches and heart breaks. When they prayed about delighting in God and from that coming sure steps, they didn’t know that I had so often operated out of a sense of compulsion that pushed delight and joy aside trying to forge the path I believe God placed me on, where I was the one to make things happen not God. When they prayed about letting God refresh me even as I gave to others, they didn’t know how much I had poured out yet not taking adequate time to refill.

So when God spoke about rest, joy, delight, refreshment, and even play, I knew it was him speaking. He knows me so well. He knows that I will try to take control even when I know not to. He knows that I’ve been doing so well in not taking control, yet I needed the reminder to stay the course, to take a break, to be refreshed by him. I needed these reminders at just this time.

This prayer retreat brought back memories of another time, in 2010 just as I was venturing into Wauconda, when people prayed for me in a similar, though extended, fashion. As I remembered and then re-read the notes, I was astounded to hear the same themes. God was wanting to bring freedom from the past, to bring joy and delight in the present. Not only that, but God’s view of me was of delight and joy. Through the years in Wauconda, God brought that all about. Wauconda was the time when God said, “It ends here. Pain from the past and suffering from not knowing who I made you to be ends here.” Through a lengthy process detailed in this blog, God brought a solitary tree into a place of growth, reproduction, and community.

Since I moved to Chicago, I have had a year of amazing joy and freedom. Fun, delight, and joy flow unimpeded, aside from a few hiccups. God dealt with the hiccups, because he knew that only in delighting in him will my steps be sure. From the joy of being his daughter, called by his name, and embraced as a dearly loved one will come the opportunities for discipleship and justice, the things that stir God’s heart and mine. I do not need to strive for them, only for God. I do not need to conjure up opportunity, God will provide them in the right time and place just as he did in bringing me to the city. My job is to delight in him. That’s all.

During another part of the prayer retreat, they talked about the name God gives us. Sometimes God changes our name to indicate the person he is making us to be. In my case, God simply needed to remind me of the name given to me at birth. I don’t know my parents’ story in naming me, but I know God’s. God reminded me that my middle name is Joy. Joy is God’s promise to me. Joy is also who I am.

Delight

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DelightDelight yourself.
I can do all things.
All these things will be added to you.
He will give you the desires of your heart.
Ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.

These verses are very familiar to most Christians. They are wonderful promises we can claim, relying on them to see us through our hard times. They are so encouraging.

What? Something is missing? That’s not how the verses go? Oh. You mean – “delight yourself IN THE LORD then he’ll give you the desires of your heart.” So does that mean that it is only THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me that I can do all things? Or that I must SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM AND RIGHTEOUSNESS then all these things will be added? I suppose that also means “IF YOU REMAIN IN ME AND MY WORDS REMAIN IN YOU” is a condition to “ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you”?

The truth is we treat these verses and many more as promises without conditions. We focus on the I rather than Christ in Philippians 4:13. We emphasis our own delight and our own desires in Psalm 37:4. And we only see how our prayers will be answered rather than understand that the answers come from a position of abiding in Christ as John 15:7 tells us. We forget it also says that apart from Christ we can do nothing.

Each of these verses has come to mind over the last few days. I’ve been particularly struck by what it means to “delight in the Lord.” When we are delighted in something or someone, it is a well of joy that bubbles up from our soul. We get a giddy feeling at the mere mention of the object of our delight. We smile, we laugh, we might even giggle. So how often do we giggle at the thought of God? Do we show that same kind of delight for God that we do for our children, grandchildren, pet, favorite hobby or food?

Too often we think only of the desires of our heart being fulfilled, not in delighting in God. Yet as I’ve found, when I truly delight in God, my desires aren’t even a thought. I am so enraptured by God’s love for me as his daughter that whatever my desires are they pale in comparison to my delight in God. Does that mean my desires don’t matter to God? Of course not. What it means is that the right perspective is set for my desires to be fulfilled. It means that my abiding with Christ, as in John 15, is what will direct my requests from God. It means that my priority is on the kingdom of God and his righteousness rather than on all the things I need to live this life. It is from God’s perspective and power that all these blessings happen, not mine.

I can do nothing apart from Christ which means I can do all things through Christ. Understanding that and the power those words contain changes everything.

Everything.

Summer 2012 Prayer Requests

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God is doing so much through the mission here in my neighborhood! Yet nothing can happen apart from dedicated prayer and intercession. No relationships, no redemption, no reconciliation is possible without that. Pray with me as God stirs the hearts and lives of people in Wauconda and Woodland Village.

  • Our missional community is gathering each Wednesday for a meal in the mobile home park. Pray that we continue to establish, build and deepen relationships among my neighbors.
  • “Experiencing the Sent Life,” a summer mission program, kicks off June 20 with 4-6 teens from Wauconda and the surrounding area. I will introduce students to core missional principles, provide practical experience in mission, and encourage their “missional imagination.” Pray God burns a heart for himself and for mission in these students’ lives, using them to further his kingdom here and now.
  • In July, the ETSL team and others from Fusion Church will have a Backyard Summer Club for the kids in Woodland Village. Our goal is to build relationships with kids and their parents, as well as help reorient students to learning in time for school. Pray God helps us meet that goal and then some.
  • In August YBS, our youth discipleship group, will be heading to Wisconsin for camping and a time of spiritual formation. Pray all are able to go and that God meets them in a new way. Pray the leaders are sensitive to the Spirit.
  • God has been giving me many opportunities to speak at churches about the mission, as well as to preach from God’s word. Pray that God stirs the “missional imagination” of the people in the churches, so that they can envision how and where God would have them step out in mission.
  • Pray with me as I lead a discipleship group of women. God has brought tremendous transformation in each of their lives in just four months of meeting. Pray that I lead with character and skill, moving them forward in discipleship. These women are such a blessing to me!
  • Lastly, pray that I have the finances to continue the mission. I am at a critical juncture in my ability to do what God has called me to do. I’m grateful that overall support has increased but it not yet sufficient, especially in light of my need to reduce hours with clients. Pray I do what God would have me do and that I am faithful to the call.

Thank you for praying for me, the mission and these requests.

“I know the plans…”

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This Saturday ended as I expected but not quite in the way expected. The day itself was not as I planned, yet ultimately God had his say.

A couple of days ago when I was biking with a friend I mentioned how I didn’t feel like I had clarity about my life right now. Yes, I’m praying. No, I haven’t felt uneasy. I simply had not gotten clarity, so I told him that I felt a good prayer session was needed, something to break through. I knew that Saturday there was a prayer and intercessory concert sponsored by students from IHOP (International House of Prayer). My hope was to go into it fueled up rather than depleted, as I had been feeling.

Yet the day was nothing like I’d planned. I’d begun making lists of the events and things to be done each day since my life has gotten so full. Unfortunately Saturday turned into a “re-boot” day. I felt so drained and in need of rest that I did absolutely nothing on my list, including going to the prayer meeting. Thankfully, God is not restricted to time or place.

As the day wore on, the burden to pray increased. As the Spirit of God moved, I prayed even as I watched the clock tick. Even now as I write, the Spirit won’t let me go. What he is wanting to say or do, I am not quite sure, but he is at work. I am compelled to pray.

Many people adopt a life verse from the Bible for their own. I never have. I have some favorites that keep me centered and focused. John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11 are particularly meaningful. Yet no life verse. As I was feeling God impress on me something yet unknown, I heard a snippet of a verse. “I know the plans I have for you…” from Jeremiah 29:11. Many people use this verse as their own. I never have. I see the verse in the context that it was written – to the Jews condemned to exile because of their disobedience. For them it is a promise in the midst of failure that God has not forgotten them and would restore them to their land. I never confuse myself in the mix. I would not be so audacious to suppose it.

Yet God spoke that word to me. It was the second time in as many months that I felt him impress this upon me. And it isn’t for any great and mighty plans that I know of, just the fact that HE has plans and HE is in control. I need that right now. I need to know God is in control. It isn’t a life verse, but it is a verse that God has imprinted on my life at this time. I need to know that HE has a plan for all this.

I’ve spent over 30 years with a sense that God had something for me to do or be. Actually, since the time I was 4 years old, and long before I was a believer, I felt something stirring. Over the course of life and bearing the burdens of this fallen world, I lost a bit of that sense. God renewed it in the last three years in remarkable ways, but something elusive is still out of reach.

Tonight I prayed for my family. Not the family I know (though I do pray for them) but for the family I don’t yet know. I don’t know how or when, but God wants me to be part of a family. I have children, especially teens, waiting for me to love. When I posted on Facebook recently that I couldn’t shake the desire one day to be a grandmother, despite not wanting to give birth at my age, friends jumped all over it. They loved the idea. I still have that crazy idea, but the feasibility of it either by formal adoption, informal adoption, or marriage is remote right now. Yet the idea persists. So I pray for my family. I do see it as a complete family – father and mother and kids – yet I have no idea where it will come from.

I’ve never considered myself very maternal or domestic. Thankfully babies and little kids no longer scare me, but I’m still reserved with people of all ages sometimes. This reserve is something I hope to break down in the next few months. I think it scares me to love another as openly and completely as I know I’m capable of. I simply know that somewhere is my child or children. Yet I’m not obsessed with it. I won’t go nuts if it actually doesn’t happen, but the compulsion right now is real. I can’t shake it.

Tonight I felt that compulsion to pray for my family yet to be, as well as for my life as a whole. It could be that this feeling for family is simply part of the process and journey. I don’t know. But I do know that in my praying I heard God say, “I know the plans….” I will keep praying for the clarity I need and the desires he has placed in my heart. The fact that God is so much at work, even when I don’t know what that work is, amazes and awes me. He has a plan and I am humbled.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD….

Outdoor Space: A Prayer Request

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This February has taught me one thing (among a few others) about this mission: I need to find a space in the flow of life in my neighborhood. It has been clear from the beginning of my time here in the mobile home park, my neighbors live very insulated and isolated lives. Many people in the larger Wauconda community hardly know Woodland Village is here, so my neighbors are relegated to their own corner of town. Yet they themselves stay very much apart, even from each other. I guess that isn’t terribly different from most neighborhoods these days, but being a self-contained neighborhood with little interaction with each other and the greater world is unhealthy and spiritually bankrupt. I need to break into that isolation and insulation in a non-threatening, life-giving way.

My idea is simple. I want to create an urban garden outside my front door. My barn apartment is centrally located. Everyone drives by it or stops to get their mail there daily. But it is ugly. White pealing paint mars the exterior and concrete spreads from it in all directions. I do feel very much like I’m in an urban area, despite being in a barn. I want to put flowers and possibly vegetables in pots along the sidewalk and on the area right behind my car which is marked off by bent poles protecting an old well.  Sounds like a simple idea, but I need favor from the manager and the owners. I definitely need favor because I also want to find a plot of land in the neighborhood for a community garden.

The ethos of the management and (possibly) the owners is to let things go until they absolutely need to be repaired. This ethos is shared by many of my neighbors. It creates a vicious cycle of living from crisis to crisis. For my neighbors it is often due to a lack of funds to handle normal maintenance. While I won’t be asking anything of the management or owners that would seem to impinge on this ethos (all the work and materials would be supplied by me and my cohorts), I want to have freedom to make this garden a thing of beauty for the entire community. I want to put a couple of chairs out there for my enjoyment and for people to stop by and sit. My concern stems from this ethos as well as the push back I’ve had in a rigidity to some old ways of doing things and rules.

So please pray that I have favor for both my urban garden as well as the community garden. Pray that the manager does not say no before asking the owners, but that she sees the benefit to the property. Pray that the owners (a group of lawyers) sees the benefit in community development. Pray that this will help build relationships between myself, my neighbors, the community and the owners. Pray that donations for materials comes through. Pray for the plan and layout of the space.

I hope to create an oasis in the midst of this place open for all to stop and take a breath.

Here are some more before (current) pictures. The need is clear.