Spiritual Direction, Formation and Care

COME…prayerfully discover and discern God’s faithful presence in all areas of life.

LEARN…freely grow more dependent on God through spiritual practices.

REST…simply take time to experience the depths of God’s gentle grace.

 

From where will our help come?

Whenever I come across questions in Scripture, I at least pause to notice if an answer is forthcoming. The first verse of Psalm 121 has both a statement and a question that I have been trying to answer over the past few days.

I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come?

When I lift my eyes toward the hills to the east, I really do see hills, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range to be exact. And when I assess the view of both my physical and spiritual landscape, by faith I trust in help’s arrival because God who made the heavens and the earth also made me. In all honesty, with the Lord’s help, I am equipped and empowered to face life’s challenges.

My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

The Lord keeps me from stumbling because at any given moment the Lord is aware of what I need in order to live freely in God’s kingdom. The Lord is the stabilizing force of my life, my Guardian, my Protector. The Lord steers me away from of becoming entrapped in the evils of blaming others and shaming myself.

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

I am trying to be more intentional about paying attention to how God is helping me throughout the day. Then at the end of the day I am setting aside time to notice how the Lord has been present in my comings and goings.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

Reflecting on all the little ways God has helped me, led me to the following conclusions:

• When I have been worried and bewildered, the Lord has brought clarification.

• When I have felt isolated, I have been compelled by the Holy Spirit to seek comfort in the Lord’s sufficient grace and mercy.

• When I have been overwhelmed with regret, I have felt flooded by the Lord’s forgiveness and reassurances that all things are being worked for good.

• When I have yearned for normalcy, I have discovered calm in the rhythm of surrendering my anxiety to the Lord.

• And when I have been grieved to the point of hopelessness, the Holy Spirit has lifted my eyes to beyond what I can ask or imagine.

How has the Lord kept watch over your comings and goings? How are you being invited to ask for God’s help? If you were to reflect on the ways God has helped you in the last hour, yesterday, in the past year, to what conclusions would you come?

If I were the psalmist, I would have concluded Psalm 121 with the last verse of Psalm 124. I am not, but as the writer, I can let verse 8 be my final words.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Tagged

“Easter is still coming!”

“Easter is coming!” Words of encouragement, I wrote this in my last blog. Today is the Monday after Easter. And I wonder if Easter is still coming.

We did not gather and fellowship for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday nor Easter Sunday. On these days we virtually gathered to commemorate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. I am starting to really miss corporate worship. I ask myself if will Easter really happen when we celebrate being with our brothers and sisters in Christ again, even as we mourn what and who we have lost in these past weeks.

Historically, we will be in good company if we take this view as we keep waiting. Early Christ followers believed Christ’s resurrection was to be remembered not just once a year but each time they worshiped together.

Let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s Day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days of the week. ~Ignatius, Bishop to the church in Antioch, 1027AD

Sunday is still a day set apart from all the rest. Whether worshiping at home or at church, Sunday is a resurrection-day inviting us to let our sorrows and joys co-mingle with the good news that Christ has risen indeed! In a sense, Easter is really just a week away. And Easter is still coming!

Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy. ~Psalm 99:9

Overwhelmingly Loved

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; and through the rivers,
they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
~Isaiah 43:1-2

For two days I have made attempts to write something about our current reality. I deleted words, sentences, and paragraphs until I finally felt so overwhelmed I decided to write about feeling overwhelmed.

I am overwhelmingly humbled by the reality that at this moment in time, I am no different from those I walk past at a distance, fellow citizens of our nation, or people on the other side of the globe. No one is immune from this virus. We are all in this together which is comforting in a unique way.

Because it’s Lent, I am overwhelmingly compelled to recognize that I am not immune from sin either. I want to blame. I am ever so quick to think I know what others should or should not be doing. I am annoyed that my daily life has been constrained. I am frustrated with myself for being so afraid. I fight my instinct to horde resources.

I was under the illusion that I am more giving and kind. And I was almost certain I have more faith than I can muster at two-o’clock in the morning when I am most prone to panic. I am still waking up to the reality of living with uncertainty.

In my most despairing moments, I ask God to tell me what is ahead or at least when the end will come. God’s response came from the prophet Isaiah. Our current circumstance is not too overwhelming for God. We are passing through murky waters and walking through frantic fires. But God has redeemed us and is redeeming us in his time. Easter will come.

As always, the Lord who created and formed us invites us to draw near. We have such good news to fearlessly share with others. We are overwhelmingly loved by the Lord who graciously calls each of us by name.

If my words have ministered to you in any way please pass this along. I am not on social media but rely on you to help me encourage others.

Left Turns and Following the Way of Love

And if I have prophetic powers,

and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,

but do not have love, I am nothing.

~1Corinthians 13:2

Today is Valentine’s Day and I feel compelled to consider whether or not I am following the way of love.

Recently I needed to be in the Bay Area by 9am on a Monday morning. Knowing I would would get caught in commuter traffic, I was in my car by 5:15am. My Map App showed that the most familiar route was longer than an alternate route due to an accident. So I decided to trust the way what I did not know as well.

Following this route, the right way required making left after left turn. This was so counterintuitive. I was going south in order to drive faster while heading north and then west. How could this be faster than going a little north and then straight west as I normally do? I kept doubting whether I really following the right way.

As I drove in the dark, I thought for verse two of 1Corinthians 13. The way of love is not about making familiar right turns based on my religious power and prayers, or on my own interpretation of Scripture and knowledge of who God is. Moreover, my conjuring up miraculous signs of faith will not prove me to be more loving.

I made the left turns trusting I was following the right way. In my spiritual life that means humbly praying the way God wants me to pray. It entails trusting that God is at work in the lives of those I love in ways I cannot fathom. And it requires believing God will help me love beyond what feels possible!

Today more than ever, I want to be more than nothing. I want to be the someone Paul challenges me to be throughout 1 Corinthians 13. No matter how counterintuitive it feels at the moment, may our hearts make the right and left turns, required to faithfully follow the way of love.

Rise up, Walk

It is hard to believe that we have now walked through the first thirty days of January. How have these days been for you? What has the beginning of your journey through a new decade been like for you?

In Genesis 13 after God instructs Abraham and Lot to go their separate ways, God says to Abraham:

Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land,

for I will give it to you. ~Genesis 13:17

This admonition to rise up, walk is an invitation to look at the landscape of our lives and live in the reality that life with God is both a physical and spiritual journey. When we do, we notice that the real journey is an inward discovery of God’s good graces.

The following is a list of ways to prayerfully rise us, walk:

• Express gratitude to God.

• Let go of worries, hurts, resentments, jealousies, and comparisons that hinder hearing from God.

• Refocus ofte on God through worship and Scripture passages such as Psalm 84:11:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.

No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.

• Notice any plans, purposes, or prayers God puts before you.

Is there a recent teaching or conversation God brings to mind?

• Keep pace with God not the culture.

• Continue to look and listen for God’s promptings and whispers.

• Receive what God wants to give:

Hope, healing, wisdom, reassurances, a new sense of purpose, freedom…love.

• Praise God for the blessing of the physical and spiritual journey.

• Take time to journal meaningful moments with God.

• Persevere in prayer.

Lord, help us receive your expansive grace in the days and months ahead.

Inner Healing

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

    and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

    and he will make straight your paths.

Be not wise in your own eyes;

    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your flesh

    and refreshment to your bones.

~Proverbs 3:5-8

A few days before Thanksgiving, I was slicing red peppers with anxious fingers, an ill-suited knife, and recently trimmed fingernails. It was a recipe for disaster that required a trip to Urgent Care to clean and bandage the wound properly. When the nurse removed my flimsy bandages, we discovered that more of the tip my thumb was missing than originally thought.

While soaking my thumb in cleansing solution, I joked with the doctor and nurse about being the first of many culinary mishap patients that week. They agreed and I was gladly relieved of kitchen duties for the week as my thumb began to heal.

During the first few nights, I was unpleasantly surprised by excruciating throbbing underneath the layers of gauze. How could one little cut be more painful than a migraine headache? But that pain convicted me of the need to carefully follow the doctors advice and use the one-eighth inch flap of tissue as a protective covering over the exposed flesh for as long as possible.

Carefully tending to the wound became part of my daily routine. Eventually, it dawned on me that keeping the original piece of flesh in place and a bandage of some sort on it, allowed new layers of skin to grow back one at a time. Healing was slowly happening from within.

The same is true for the soul. Prayer is the “urgent care” we go to when we find ourselves leaning on our own understanding and relying on our wisdom rather than the Lord’s. Healing and refreshment occur when our daily routine includes the inner work of trusting, acknowledging, and turning toward God.

As a spiritual director, I know the Lord is more concerned with our inward state than outward status. And as I listen to my directees and recognize the physical, emotional, and spiritual courage required to maintain a healthy fear of the Lord, I wonder if I possess their courage. In the past year, I have intentionally sought to turn away from the evils of anxiety and resentment. I have sought inward healing in order possess outward resiliency.

One day during Advent, I no longer put gauze or a bandage on my thumb. The piece of dead tissue came off on its own as the doctor said it would. There are healthy layers of skin covering the wound now. However, the nerves on the tip of my thumb are not the same and I feel a little sting when my thumb touches something.

I am choosing to receive this sensitivity as a Christmas gift and a reminder to use right tools in the kitchen and to let the Lord help me stay on right, resilient paths. In the new year…in the new decade…may our outward actions and attitudes mirror the deeper inner healing the Lord is doing in our lives.

Replenish

Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. … And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.” ~Ezekiel 47:1-8

Prophets like Ezekiel are not always easy to understand, and it is not always easy to understand how God replenishes souls either. Our home sits above the Stanislaus River so I am able watch the flow of water change throughout the year. During this Replenish series I have paid more attention to the river and have given thanks for the many ways I experience God’s renewal in my soul and ministry.

Sometimes there is a correlation between God’s replenishing and a spiritual practice like fasting or prayer or worship or reading God’s word. In some seasons, souls are replenished by a steady life-giving flow of God’s Presence. However, during other seasons, souls feel as brittle as a dried up fall leaf and thirst for God’s presence.

If you have been wondering how God will replenish your soul, I encourage you to keep paying attention. God led the prophet Ezekiel along the bank of the river, and God is leading you to fresh waters. And as you watch and wait, God will, in a way most meaningful to you, come and reveal to you what is happening in your soul. God is always at work in our lives.

Today I am thankful that as a spiritual director I joyfully witness God at work in individual’s lives. But I am also grateful that collectively our stories create a flow of replenishing water that brings healing to others. Just as God showed Ezekiel refreshing water flowing from the threshold of the temple, may our stories continually reveal a fresh, healing flow of God’s goodness and mercy.

Have Love…Have Understanding

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. ~1Corinthians 13:1

Recently, I chose to accept the unexpected. On the shuttle to the airport, I got the text saying my flight had been canceled due to weather in Chicago. I’ve traveled enough to know it is wise to keep moving forward despite delays. So I went to the ticket agent and asked about my options. He found my reservation and clicked his mouse from screen to screen. Finally, he spoke the obvious: there were too many people and too few flights.

I responded with understanding. And when he apologized for the weather, I remarked that I fully understood the weather was out of his control and that I appreciated his assistance. After being booked on the same flight the next day, I thanked him and started to collect my things. But before I left, he handed me a $50 voucher to be used on air travel within the next year. I was stunned because airlines are not obligated to reimburse due to weather delays. He said it was for being so understanding.

I thanked him again and left to call the hotel where I had been staying. They said I could have my same room and gladly sent the shuttle back to pick me up. While waiting, I thought about this first verse from 1Corinthians 13, which is often skipped over to get to the list of what love is and is not. But this verse also indicates what love is and is not. Love is a language of mutual respect and understanding, and love is not a language of dissent and misunderstanding.

Obviously, I was thrilled with the $50 voucher, but there was a larger take away for me. In choosing to accept the unexpected I was choosing to not be a noisy gong and clanging symbol at the counter! I was choosing to not treat the agent poorly. I was choosing to be a “have love” person…rather than a “have not love” person.

I hope the next time I need to accept the unexpected I can again be a “have understanding” person rather than a “have not understanding” person.

Just above the Morning

In the top left corner of the picture below is a sliver of the moon. In the past few days, I have wrestled with and wrote about my original sighting of this sunrise with a larger than life “smile” hanging just above the morning.

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Just Above the Morning

The moon sat
silently alone, smiling
anticipating its certain
exodus.

Below I sat
prayerfully still, watching
infinite grace’s full
disclosure.

With us, hope sits
quietly too, composing
the promised arrival of
dawns new day.

In the days ahead, may the God of hope fill you and I with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope.* Amen and Amen!

*Romans 15:13

Looking Straight Ahead

Walk straight—live well and be saved;
a devious life is a doomed life.
~ Proverbs 28:18

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Because we live in California, almost year round my husband and I can walk as the sun is rising each morning. We have discovered that logging 5,000 steps in the morning is a good start to our day and to living well physically. Recently, I noticed I was in the habit of looking down at my feet instead of looking straight ahead which is a wiser way to walk. Looking ahead is better for my posture, for paying attention to cars, and for noticing obstacles in the road.

Recently, I looked up and straight ahead saw the rising sun between the trees. It was a reminder that walking with the light of God’s love before me saves me from heartache throughout my day. Trusting in my own thoughts and feelings leads to self destruction, but traveling with Jesus leads to a greater self awareness of my need to trust God’s life giving presence.

There is great wisdom in walking with the Lord set before us. The apostle Peter wrote about it.

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in…It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.
~1 Peter 1:18-21 (MSG)

May you and I walk looking straight ahead to the future we have in God.