Author Archives: jillsweet

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.

IMG_3561 2

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

AC776F38-40DA-4A49-AA99-C09CDD5097C0

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.

Staying With God

When I don’t want anxiety to be my first response, I try to imagine myself taking the advice of desert father, Abba Moses. “Go to your cell and it will teach you everything.” In other words, sit in the anxiety with God until the Holy Spirit guides your first response.

Of course this is easier said than done because it requires waiting on God. This kind of waiting is more like staying with. Imagine staying with God until patience and kindness rule your heart rather than irrational jealousies, boastings and pride.

It is not easy to stay. It is taxing to wrestle with my shadow side, especially when I am so tempted to execute any one of the exit strategies my heart, soul, and mind formulate. And it is challenging to know if I have stayed long enough. When is it time to leave the cell? Unless we ask, we won’t truly know.

Recently, I started a conversation with God about whether or not I had stayed and loved well throughout a tough ministry assignment. When I heard God’s thought and not my judgment, I knew I had.  “You did love well because you faithfully stayed with me.” As I considered these words, I realized I had wrestled with God and let him win.

I had a choice; we have a choice. If we leave too soon, chances are we will discover ourselves back in the same or a similar cell. By staying, we receive the wisdom and strength to love beyond our cells and our anxieties.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
~1Corinthians 13:4 (NIV)

Valued for Who We Are

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips. ~Proverbs 27:2

I do not preach often. But when I do, it is stressful simply because it is not part of the rhythm of my week or even month. Writing is my pulpit which means I tend to transform what I have written into a spoken sermon. Sometimes it is as simple as restructuring and other times it becomes a new construction project. Regardless, after the writing there is still the delivery, which I am not as confident with as I am of the words I have written.

So when it all comes together and I feel good about it, I confess I want to know if others feel the same. But more than that I want the praise of others. So even though I do not praise myself overtly, I can embark on a covert operation, hoping to hear the praises of others.

I wonder if the wisdom behind this proverb has to do with letting my heart hear what my ears do not. Can my heart hear praise my ears do not? For instance, recently, I went to lunch with a friend after I had preached. I was a little surprised when we sat down and she asked, “So how did you feel about it?” I replied, “Good.” And that was the end of the discussion.

Driving home I thought about our limited conversation and realized it was a gift. It helped me let go of the morning and return to reality so to speak. It reinforced that, to my friend, who I am is more important than what I do. This had been one of my intentions in the first place. While writing, I decided to bring who I am into the pulpit with me and not who I think others want me to be.

Perhaps that is why I felt good about the sermon. There was a joy and freedom in my preaching I had never fully experienced. Several days later, I received a call from a member of the congregation. She called to thank me for preaching. She did not mention the content; she was grateful I had been invited to preach.

When I waited for my heart to hear what my ears could not, I heard the praise my soul really needed most. May our hearts hear today what our ears cannot. May we know we are valued for who we are, not what we do!

Hearing Ears and Seeing Eyes

The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.
~Proverbs 20:12

In the span of two weeks, I have seen buffalo herds and a young brown bear while driving through Yellowstone National Park and have heard the roar of the ocean and the laughter of children playing on the beach in Northern California. I am so thankful God gave me hearing ears and seeing eyes.

As I go from adventure to adventure with my husband and we navigate miscommunications over directions, I am aware that seeing and hearing make getting lost harder and traveling easier. Ultimately, we find our way because God has equipped us to with eyes and ears that we can use to our advantage.

Eyesight and hearing heighten our ability to communicate with our Creator. Personally, I can think of no greater advantage than to behold the beauty of God’s created order and to perceive the sound of God’s voice. And I am learning to trust that the eyes and ears he has given me are for things beyond the earthly realm. True wisdom comes from seeing what the eyes cannot and hearing what the ears cannot as God reveals through the Spirit.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined,
 what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
~1Corinthians 2:9-10

May the eyes and ears of your heart and mine be captivated by what we see and hear all around us, but also by what we cannot yet image.

Easter Praise!

The heavens belong to the Lord,
but he has given the earth to all humanity.

The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
for they have gone into the silence of the grave.

But we can praise the Lord
 both now and forever!
Praise the Lord!    ~Psalm 115:16-18

In this week after Easter, I have been reflecting one of the last sentences in Trevor Hudson’s book Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days.*

We are indeed Easter people living in a Good Friday world.

I mentioned this to someone who agreed but said the Good Friday world can be a hard place to dwell. And it is. The deadening silence and absence of praise on Good Friday can seem to permeate our days. However, in God’s world where death is conquered, but’s are possible. But Easter people can praise the Lord not just on Easter but both now and forever.

May the words of this doxology, permeate our hearts and produce praises for the Lord who has given us this earth and made us Easter people. Amen and amen!

*Published by Upper Room Books in Nashville, TN copyright 2015

Halfway through Lent

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord,
    or declare all his praise?
Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
~Psalm 106:1-3

Today is the twentieth day, the halfway point, of Lent. I am thankful for time to reflect on the transforming grace of God’s goodness and steadfast love. I am thankful for opportunities to declare the mighty deeds of the Lord. I am most grateful for the mightiest of all God’s deeds. The Cross…the Empty Tomb…Easter!

Easter is halfway here. For the next twenty days, may we continue to reflect on ways to observe justice and do righteousness. Moreover, may we remember how truly blessed we are to be people who are transformed each new by grace.