Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

Putting it Out There

I recently caught an episode of Ellen where the youtube sketch team from Australian, SketchShe got the chance to perform a live version of their viral video – a lipsync of Bohemian Rhapsody in a car. It was cute. But what caught my attention was a portion of Ellen’s interview with them where one of the girls mention that five years prior she had written in her journal, on her bucket list, that she wanted to be on the Ellen show.

Bucket lists became all the rage after Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman’s movie of the same name. But I think that it’s more than a passing fancy. There is something to writing down our wildest dreams and desires.

  1. It forces us to articulate what we want. One of the toughest questions we can be asked is, “What do you want?” It’s the question Jesus always asked those who approached him. He could see their heart, he knew. But they had to ask for it. Giving voice to what is inside of our hearts and minds helps to make them real. Through it we become vulnerable to what matters to us most.
  2. It helps us move into a new reality. I think that we often live in denial or in distraction of what we want the most. We pretend it doesn’t matter. We convince ourselves we can live without it. We don’t think its important enough. We decide others are more important. Our reasons may be noble, out of fear, survival or disappointment.
  3. Accomplishing or experiencing just one of our dreams is the gateway to a better life. It takes hope to belief which builds our faith in ourselves and in God. Proverbs says that a hope deferred makes the heart sick, but the tree of life is a longing fulfilled. Sometimes through life experience our hope died because it never materialized. There are some dreams we have to let go of and embrace something new.

    But often these dreams are just the beginning. They are the biggest we can see for ourselves in the moment but once we accomplish them it opens our world to something even greater. I think it is also a matter of getting in touch with our true selves. These desires represent our authentic selves. The person we dream of being. The types of experiences that will propel into the life we want. Now we can see why we have to get them out into the open.

Bill Johnson, senior leader at Bethel Redding says, “Words create worlds.” There is power in what we speak it out loud. At my church we call that declaring. We declare God’s word. We declare Scripture. We declare our promises. Because that is how we get it into and out of our hearts and into existence.When God created the world he declared. He said, “Let there be light.” We are made in his image. He gave us dominion over the earth. Jesus death gave us the keys to life. So we have the power of that resurrection inside of us, so what can’t we do?

What do we have to do? We have to make the decision to partner with what He wants to do in and through ourselves. Are we in alignment and agreement with who He says that we are? He celebrates us. He likes us. He wants us to become our authentic selves. I believe when we do, it’s an act of worship.

So it behooves us to be honest, first with ourselves. What do we want in our heart of hearts? Many times the answer is surprising. What if money were no object? What if everyone you loved was taken care of? What if you were all of the sudden enough, because HE is enough and we are completely loved?

It all starts with our relationship with God and knowing who we are in Him. He will illuminate to us how he sees us and who he created us to be. Then we can be in touch with our true hearts desire. To know Him is to know ourselves and our true hearts desires. He put them there. Of course he wants them to come to life.

So what do you want?

Start dreaming. Start writing. Start declaring.

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Finding Center

She was a princess and duchess. She lived in the palace with the Queen of England. She had her prince. She had a fairytale life.

Sarah Margaret Ferguson seemed to have it all. But she lost it and for the past 15 years she’s known more for scandal than being royal – topless photos, a divorce from her prince, ballooning and shrinking weight, amassing large amounts of debt, and trying to sell access to her former husband, Prince Andrew.

How could that happen? How could someone squander away their royalty, be so gullible, lost and seemingly crazy? It doesn’t make sense.

Read the rest of this entry

Doodling a Connection to God

I recently came across a great article on Kyria about a new way to pray. By doodling, coloring, and painting.

I’ve long believed that art is a fantastic way to express worship I just didn’t know how I could participate. I suck at painting and drawing. I want to be able to show my emotions, experiences, prayers and desires in living color. I have amazing landscapes and pictures in my mind. However, getting them out onto a paper is impossible. I can barely draw stick figures. I am in perpetual awe of people who can express themselves through art.

Over the past few years my photography has become a way for me to connect God. When I’m out taking photos I feel like I have a different perspective and one of my favorite subjects is nature. My favorite lens is the macro. I love getting down to the nitty gritty examining everything up close. I suppose that reveals a lot about my nature as well. I am an analytical, nitty gritty kind of person.

Yet there is something about the ability to create your art with your own hands, through your imagination, creating something from nothing. I believe that just as God is a creator, so are we. He gave us that gift so we can connect with him.  I love color and to color. I get excited with a new box of crayons. A few years ago I met a friend through my blog that introduced me to a new form of art, mixed media. She is amazing. Her art includes drawing, painting, photos, cards and so many other pieces that she brilliantly pulls together to create something so beautiful and unique. I am in perpetual awe of what she can do.

One time I even won a contest on her blog and received a pack of materials to use to create my own works of “art.” I sat and looked at the pieces and had no idea what to do. It was anything but spiritual a better metaphor would be constipation. I just couldn’t express anything. So all of the beautiful pieces remain just that, pieces in a box, mocking me. I have a longing in my soul to be creative and to connect with God in that way. I think it could be powerful and liberating, but why can’t I do it?

So I’m excited about spiritual doodling. Doodling I can do. I have been a life-long doodler. It’s how I concentrate. In meetings at work people knew I was paying attention if I was drawing squiggles on my paper. It was how I stayed present and focused. If I didn’t I was daydreaming. Through college the margins of all my notes are full of  doodles of trees, flowers, squiggles, and initials. Maybe that’s why I love gel pens, they glide so effortlessly across the page as I color in my streams of consciousness.

There is no pressure in a doodle. No one is going to see it but me. No one is going to judge it. I don’t have to be perfect. What I create doesn’t have to be perfect. Aaah. Perfectionism. My former line of work, marketing, is creative yet what you produce has to sell a product. The rational side of my brain argues that the marketing work isn’t personal, it’s work. But the work is my creation. The copy, art direction, and ideas are mine. They are an expression of me, how I think, how I see the world. When they are rejected I feel rejected. I don’t have a thick skin. It often feels too risky to me to be 100% open.

Let the “art” be a free-flowing prayer that no one ever has to see (hidden between you and God). – Miller

I like it! I can do that! I went and retrieved my crayons and colors pencils from storage along with an empty journal. I’m ready. I think. Luckily Miller includes some opening exercises to stimulate expression.

ACTIVITY 1: Take a few moments to draw a picture of your spiritual journey. Perhaps you may want to use a poster board for this. Consider the following questions: What color is my faith journey? Has the path been straight, upward moving, or circuitous? Where am I on the path? Where is God, my family, my friends? What does the environment of my faith path look like?

ACTIVITY 2: Consider negative components of your life (rejection, disregard, disconnection, death to dreams). Draw an image of the way God could turn the negativity into something good (rejection to acceptance, disconnect to connection, loss to growth). As you create, consider: What does it look like for God to work all things for good in my life? What shape, what colors, what space is needed for God’s transformative redeeming work?

These are the two I’m going to start with. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if I can stick with it. Generally I get stuck and give up. Will this work help me to connect with God or just be another exercise in futility and frustration?

Miller also offers a word of caution that might help: As we explore, remember that the value is in connecting with the Creator, not in the creative experience alone. It’s not about me and what I can produce, it’s about the connection that is created. This isn’t a work that is validated only in as much as it serves as a vehicle for communication between me and God. The doodling makes me brain slow down so I can stay in the moment and stay connected to what he is showing or telling me. It will be divine doodling.

Officially Shutting Up

This last week I have been trying to be more diligent about “getting quiet” before the Lord. That sounds lofty and spiritual but basically it means I have been just trying to shut up and listen.

I realized that when “praying” I am the annoying child that just won’t shut up. I keep talking and talking and talking. Amazing how I never run out of things to say, or maybe just whine and complain about. I am not the most gracious or grateful of children sometimes.

I sit and my mind whirls. How do you hear God? Now that’s a big question. A few years ago I read Dallas Willard’s take on the idea, in his book aptly named, Hearing God.  While contending that there are no formulas Willard believes that we can have a conversational relationship with God.

Willard reminds us that we have to start with very basic belief – that God still speaks today and he speaks to us individually. Once we reaffirm that belief we can begin the journey of “hearing” as we live a life in God’s will to notice the still small voice.  In I Kings 19:11-13 Elijah was in desperate need to hear from God. He was in a cave hiding from Jezebel, who wanted him dead.

” The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

There is lots to be learned in that passage but what stands out first is that God wasn’t found in the storm, earthquake or fire, but instead in the gentle whisper. You can’t hear until you get still.

I suck at being still. I want God to be loud, obnoxious and obvious. I’d like God to come in an email, text, a tweet or write me something on my facebook wall. But nope, he’s old-fashioned he wants our presence, the face-to-face conversation. Why is that so hard?

Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, says that you have to order your life for God’s voice. We have to make room, allow for the still, small voice to break into our clutter and busyness. Her spiritual director told her she was like a jar of river water all stirred up and she needed to stop and let the sediment settle.

I love that imagery. I got some sediment and it is a swirlin’

What’s your sediment? Mine is figuring out what’s next in my life, finding a job, paying my bills while I don’t have job,  managing family drama, remembering who I am, holding onto my faith, remembering who God is, staying sane, not being a victim and finding joy.

She suggests setting aside time everyday, even if its just 10 minutes to sit and be still before God.

It’s an invitation to be still and sith the the longings of our heart, soul and mind. We have to let go of control, busyness, distractions and fear. We have to let ourself succomb to the desperation.

Oh now that is interesting. I hate the anxiety that builds in my soul when I don’t have a plan or the answers. I will do anything to avoid it. Trying to self-soothe in the middle of these situations get me in trouble. Barton says that we need to stay with the feelings of desperation and let it do its good work. “Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we’re looking for.”

I don’t know about you but my sediment needs some seriously radical solutions. I have no idea. I have no earthly way to wade my way through. Even thinking about it stirs the pot.

The rest of Barton’s book is about learning how to be still before God. I recommend it. The basic idea is to find a sacred space where you can sit and wait for God to speak. It’s not about an activity or a purpose beyond a conversation with God. We have to make ourselves available. We want God available to us but are we available to him?

[We need to]Run into God’s arms and give [ourself] to his embrace but we are carrying too much baggage and don’t know where to put it, sometimes we just need to write it all down and put it into an envelope marked TRUST, which is an act of giving it to God.

It’s about trust. How much do I really trust God? Another topic for another post.

I have tried this week to spend time focusing on God. He has been gracious with me and been very present. I can feel him speaking to me through the Bible, books I’m reading, sermons, songs and even a movie.

I’m still not great at being quiet, but I’m learning. I have taken to swimming for prayer. The monotnous rhythm and motion of gliding through the water lap after lap helps calm my mind. Every lap I pray and listen. I’m not an expert swimmer or an expert prayer-er. But it helps. I like the woosh of the water, it drowns out my own thoughts. Every turn reminds me to refocus.

I’ve found that after five days of wooshing and turning I look forward to my time in the water with God. I feel more focused, refreshed and able to face my problems. I still don’t have answers. All the sediment is still there but I’m learning to let go of more of it.

What’s wrong with being a Martha?

I am aptly named Martha. I am a doer just like the one in the bible. But why does Jesus chastise her? Why would he condemn serving? What does he really want from her, and us?

As much as I hate my given name, Martha, I embody its biblical reference of a task-oriented, get-it-done kind of person. I generally am the one in the background organizing, planning and DOING.

In church we have been taught for years (from Luke 1o) that being a Martha is a bad thing. Don’t be like her. You should be more like Mary. The one that sat at the feet of Jesus and listened when Martha was working. You can even read books learning how to be more like Mary.

But what’s wrong with being goal oriented, organized, and focused. I cannot completely divorce myself from my first-born, natural leader self to shirk duties, forego an obvious need and leave something undone. I wouldn’t be able to be present with the task at hand knowing I was not fulfilling my obligations and duties. It is just who I am. It is how God made me, if you want to get all churchy about it.

So what really was Martha’s sin? Didn’t Jesus and the guests need to eat? Why was Mary really rewarded and made the bastion of all womankind for being a slacker? That theology does not compute with me.

Jesus has discussed this concept before with the disciples about the woman who broke the perfume bottle on his feet. (John 12) The disciples chastised her for wasting the perfume, which she could have sold and donated the money to the poor. But Jesus said (Marti translation) you will always have the poor but me, not so much.

Yeah, I know the perfume foreshadowed his death and burial. But it says more about what God wants from us, something I’m not always good at – relationship.

I don’t think Jesus was chastising  the disciples for wanting to take care of the poor. Just like I don’t think Jesus was rebuking Martha for being herself.  Both of those tasks are important and good.

Many times Jesus tells us to take care of the poor, the widows and orphans. Martha, well she was the original hostess with the mostess. Think of her culture, her work was expected, but what Jesus drew issue with was that she never stopped. If you think about it Jesus was throwing culture out the window by celebrating women being in the room. He was giving them a place in the conversation and movement.

Jesus wanted Martha to be present. He wanted her to hear him. I know in my life I complain that Jesus isn’t speaking. He isn’t clear. But is it really that I’m not listening? Is there too much noise? Am I distracted? Am I too focused on tasks? Probably. I rarely slow down. My mind is constantly moving.

God has a way of getting our attention. Because he wants us to just BE with him. How in the world do you do that? I think in some regards that has been part of my journey and story for the past 2 and a half years. In my former life I was a doer. I was in two small groups, lead two support groups, and volunteered for several organizations. It’s all good stuff but at the end of the day I was exhausted, not recharged. I was needed but after a while I had nothing left to give.

The spiritual discipline of silence or noticing God is one I first heard of in grad school. As I’ve struggled these last six months, most specifically, with what’s next in my life I realize that my ears weren’t attuned to really hearing God.  So that’s what I’m working on, listening.

It’s hard to do there is so much clutter in my brain. While my lifestyle has been drastically simplified my mind is a scary space. There is a lot going on in there. I tend to even opt for activities in this area. I’ll do a bible study. I’ll go to worship night. I”m at church on Sunday. Again, all of these things are good, but not that point.

It’s about silence, centeredness, and a space of being able to really commune with God. I have done mini-silent retreats and it took me half the time to just unwind. I even went to a “silent” movie in 2007, no it wasn’t a Charlie Chaplin flix. It was a rare glimpse into a silent order of monks hidden away in the mountains in Europe. It took me over two hours to settle into the movie.

So I’m working on it. I’m trying to be more focused. Of course my first thought is to study about it, figure out how to do it. I have about four (unread) books on it in my library. But I’m trying to keep it simple. Much to come on this, I’m sure.