Thoughts from Women’s Retreat

I struggle with being confident that I know God’s will for me. I don’t think this is a unique problem to have; I believe many of us struggle with the knowing part. I find that I get stuck in a holding pattern with God, not because I don’t trust Him, but because I don’t trust myself to know what He wants from me. To use the acronym that Andrew mentioned in a sermon recently, my ORT (obedience response time) can be embarrassingly long.

A friend and I attended a women’s retreat this weekend in New Hampshire. During the Saturday morning session, the attendees were asked to jot down some areas of life in which we felt inadequate. I wrote “knowing God’s will for me” as an area that I definitely felt a lack. The day continued and I didn’t think too much more of it. My friend and I went into the nearest town to do some shopping and took naps. Being located a remote area, the camp is an environment with forced ‘unplugging’ from all of life’s distractions; there is no internet, cell, and TV service for anyone except those fortunate enough to be able to stand atop a certain rock at a moment when the skies are a particular quality to allow the faintest connection to the outside world via cell phone. I was one of the people who neither knew the rock, nor chose to attempt to find it. Hence, I was left to read my Oswald Chambers, the Bible, Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul, journal, pray or nap in my down time. Things could be worse! I recall taking time that afternoon to reflect on my desire to know God’s will for me, and I simply prayed that He would help me be assured of it.

At the opening of the evening session, one representative of each church present was asked to stand and tell the group from which church they came. It was at that time that I saw her for the first time; a woman standing on the outside edge of the row of chairs on the opposite side of the room from me, looking very small and very alone. She announced that she was from a familiar church, one at which two dear friends serve in leadership. I told my friend that we should go over at break and say hello to her since she was all by herself and since I am friends with her pastor and his wife. As soon as we had an opportunity, we went to her. She and I connected immediately, and not on a surface level, but on a soul-piercing, heart wrenchingly similar life story level that was remarkable. And we knew this within about 2 minutes because it just poured out of both of us in a way that caused us to look at each other with such deep identification and love and unity that our eyes were as big as saucers as tears streamed down our faces. We talked until the room had emptied out of the 80 or so other women there and we were nearly alone.

That night, I was falling asleep thanking God for His love for my new friend, and praying that He would be a palpable presence for her in her confusion and distress. The next morning, while walking to breakfast, my path intersected with another woman who knows and loves my new friend. She said that she had been praying that God would connect our lone friend with someone at the retreat, and she thanked me for being sensitive to God’s leading in that. I was dumbstruck. It resounded in my heart and soul that I had known and obeyed my Savior’s will by seeing a need and responding. It was the “gap” that Pastor Choco and my own husband have been reminding me to “step into” in obedience to God. And I saw the way that my reduced ORT had served my Lord by allowing me to truly be the feet that bring good news to the brokenhearted and the downtrodden. I repeatedly marveled at God’s answer to my own prayer by showing me that I know His will, and that I can walk boldly knowing that when I seek to do His will, it is a path that is ever before me.

Those events acted as a springboard of obedience to His leading. The next day, during a prayer service, I was playing with my bracelet. It is made of Haitian clay formed into beautiful burnt red beads. As I rolled the beads in my fingers, I knew I needed to give it away to my new friend as a reminder of the God who sees her anguish and sits with her in her pain. I quietly went to her and knelt beside her chair, the same one she sat in when I met her the previous day. I placed the bracelet in her palm and asked if she knew of the Jewish practice of memorializing God’s faithfulness with stacking stones atop others. She nodded that she did. I said that these little stones stacked together in a circle would be a reminder that God sees her, and knows every care. I hope those stone to be a constant reminder to her of God’s faithfulness and that they benefit her in daily life, but what they represent to me is something just as profound. I am able to know that God’s will is not unknown to me, and that when I respond to a situation in love and compassion, because Christ is in me and the Holy Spirit teaches me all wisdom and understanding of God’s will, I can know that I know my God’s perfect and pleasing will. What a blessing to have my God and Savior be so marvelously attentive to my own insecurities that He uses me to His glory in order to encourage me. It is humbling and exalting simultaneously, in a way that only God can orchestrate.

Advent Week 2: Prepare the Way!

This school year has been a doozy. While I normally keep a pretty clean house, and like to live a clutter-free life as much as possible, the parsonage has gotten quite out of hand over the last 5-6 months. This is perpetuated not only by our extreme busyness, but also by the fact that we have not regularly been having people over. No weekly book club or Bible study in the living room means that I will forsake cleaning in order to study or just relax for a bit.  However, if you are anything like me, whenever guests come over, you always gather the troops and ensure that the house is picked up and presentable.  Floors get mopped, cobwebs are removed, toilets are scrubbed, clean towels are hung.  In our house, this is never truer than when my mother is the guest who is arriving.

Having been trained to clean house by a woman whose cleaning prowess knows no rival, the very thought of my mother’s arrival can cause me to experience homemaker anxiety for months. When she is scheduled to come, the cleaning begins weeks in advance, with all necessary tasks carefully outlined on a list so that each item is checked off as it is completed. Furniture is moved and vacuumed, glass is polished, lightbulbs are dusted, the closets are emptied, cleaned, and restocked, bedsheet corners are sharp and crisp. . . it is an all out military exercise. Lord help me if my mother ever just “popped by” as a surprise. I’m sure I would faint dead away if I was not completely prepared for her arrival.

As we look toward the 2nd Sunday of Advent, I am reminded of the teaching of John the Baptizer when he proclaimed to all of Jerusalem: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him” (Luke 3.4).  John was the human herald of Messiah’s earthly ministry. But hold up just a tick!  The message “prepare the way for the Lord” goes back way, way, way before that!

As we discussed in last week’s meditation, the Old Testament is filled with information about the coming Messiah. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of years before the Christ child was born in Bethlehem, God was telling us to get ready for His arrival. We could spend hours going over the Old Testament prophecies about Christ’s coming, but let’s focus on what God did in those last few months on earth before Jesus was born. Let’s zoom in on the Scripture that tells us about the virgin Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant at the same time as Mary.  Elizabeth’s child, John, was born just before Jesus. Even before Elizabeth became pregnant, an angel announced to her husband that their child would be named John and that he had a very specific assignment.

 Read Luke 1.5-25, and also Luke 1.57-80, and Luke 3.1-20

God was “preparing the way” for the Messiah well in advance of his arrival. Without the anxiety that I experience in anticipation of my mother’s visit, God set out a plan to ensure that the world was as prepared as possible for the arrival of the Son. It is beautiful to me that God provided a prophet within Jesus’ lifetime to preach of His coming ministry long before he began. John was preaching that the Savior was coming, and he was baptizing those people who repented of their sins. In a sense, John was the person who was cleaning the house; preparing for the arrival of Messiah.

John’s life was set apart to prepare the house for Jesus’ arrival. His entire life was spent focused on this single purpose.

We too, are to be preparing a place for Christ in our lives. All too often, our relationship with Jesus seems to be relegated to an hour and a half on Sunday morning, maybe a quick prayer if we find ourselves worried or in need of something, and if we’re really lucky, we’ll incorporate a little worship music, a bit of Scripture, or something else spiritual into our day. But mostly, many of us tend to not give much thought to preparing our day FOR GOD.  What part of our lives we give to God is often whatever happens to cross our minds in the moment, but it is rarely something for which we prepare ourselves.  Said another way, our relationship with God rarely contains sacred and set-apart time when we spend time alone with Him, seeking His will for us that day.

As we meditate on John’s message, “Prepare the way for the Lord!” this week, consider these thoughts and questions, and come up with a plan to incorporate purposeful, sacred time with your Savior into your daily life.

  1.  As we “prepare the way for the Lord” this Christmas season, what does Christ’s incarnation mean to you personally?
  2. Do you relate to your Savior as both God and Brother? As King and the Lamb who bore your sins? As both all powerful and lowly? As both eternal, and the One who died to give you life? Remembering the significance He has in our eternal lives can help us with ongoing gratitude and humility, which in turn helps us to give Him proper place in our daily lives.
  3. Do you let life’s busyness get in the way of having sacred time with the Jesus each day?
  4. Are you willing to make time each day to have sacred time that is reserved exclusively for reading Scripture, prayer, and listening for the Lord’s leading?
    • If so, write out a plan – prepare yourself for the Lord by scheduling time each day that is reserved exclusively for you and Him.
    • Some of us benefit from having a person we are accountable to as we begin developing a new habit. Perhaps you would consider partnering with another person who would also like to have sacred time each day. Together you can help each other be accountable for preparing the way for this new practice.
    • Do you have children in the house? Beginning a sacred time habit with them is precious and biblical. Find a bedtime story to read from the Bible each night, or begin dinner with a Bible reading and prayer, then spend time talking about the Scripture while you eat. Modeling spiritual life is an important part of being an adults or parent in a child’s life.

Mother’s Day musings

I called my Mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. My brother and sister-in-law were there with my sweet nieces, Mara and Decklyn. The phone was passed all around so I got to talk to everyone for a few minutes. I love every one of my family members – my Poppa, Mom, Marion, Shelly, and the girls, but there is just something about those little girls that makes my heart well up with some other kind of love. It’s a love that takes joy in the little tinkling sound of Decklyn’s sweet little child voice, in the maturity and humor in Mara’s too-old-for-her-britches little girl voice. When I hear them say, “Hi Aunt Daylene!” and “I love you, Aunt Daylene,” I just go all squishy inside and want to hug them right through the phone.

I love the development of Skype -it really has changed how my family talks to each other. We all live in different cities – my parents in Topeka, Marion, Shelly and the girls in Columbia, Mo., and of course Andrew and me in Boston. I have lived away from home for about 22 years now and in all those years, I don’t recall Poppa calling me once. However, now that he can Skype me, I hear from him at least a couple of times each month. It’s fantastic! Also, when I talk to the girls, I get to see their faces, and they love to show me their new dance moves and gymnastic ability in the form of cartwheels and such. It has helped me a lot since they are growing up out of my sight so much of the time.

If I were to ever return to the mid-west, it would be in order to be around my nieces. I love them simply, and fully – it’s a weird sensation. I’m not a fan of kids, generally, but these kids are something altogether different. I adore them. My heart feels full and satisfied after I’ve talked to them or spent time with them. It must be just a glimmer of the love that moms have for their children. I see how Shelly loves her girls and I think, that is so far beyond what I have experienced, and yet, I feel like my love for my nieces sometimes could overtake my whole being. I feel ferociously protective of them, and unwaveringly dedicated to seeing them become all they want to be.

A mother’s love – I get what people mean when they say there is nothing like it. If an aunt’s love is only a taste of it, a mother’s love is all-consuming and incredibly powerful. I love the image the Bible gives us of a mother’s love. When a mother is a good mother, she cares for her child adoringly, and yet disciplines him so that he grows to respect her and honors her. God uses the image of a mother’s love to demonstrate how great His concern and love for His people is in Isaiah:

Isa 49:13-16 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.

God loves us so much that even if a mother, the ultimate picture of a nurturing parent, could forget the infant she is nursing, God could never forget us. He is so committed to us that He has engraved us on His palms – a permanent reminder of the children he created and adores. If my love for Mara and Decklyn is just a taste of the love Shelly has for them, then Shelly’s love for her daughters is only a taste of the love God has for them.

Happy Mother’s Day to you. I hope it can serve as a reminder of God’s perfect love for you.