Emmanuel, God With Us

Emmanuel
I have been listening to a song on repeat over the last couple of weeks. It is called I Shall Not Want by Audrey Assad.  It is beautiful and profound and you can watch the video here.  Here are the lyrics I can’t seem to get out of my head:

“From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God”

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Jesus has been dealing with my heart for several years about Christmas and the way we celebrate.  When I came across this blog post by Jen Hatmaker a couple of years ago, I both rejoiced and wept, thrilled that someone put into words what I felt in the depths of my spirit.

I am weary of the culture of more.  I am weary of the culture of excess.  I am weary of materialism and greed and un-gratefulness.  I am weary of mile long Christmas lists and unappreciative children.  My heart grieves at the excess all around me compared to the desperate needs of my own brothers and sisters who know me by name in Cuba.  I am saddened by the overabundance of holiday parties and food when the orphan I sponsored in Uganda died, most likely of hunger.  My heart is heavy and yet I know there is a better way.

My heart is whispering this prayer to my Savior…… I shall not want.

When I find myself scouring Pinterest for ideas to make my house more beautiful and my tree even more festive,

I shall not want.

When I try to give my children a memorable Christmas by purchasing toys instead of celebrating the blessed birth,

I shall not want.

When I pack my schedule full of activities and parties, trying to capture our society’s definition of a successful holiday,

I shall not want.

You see, in the 23rd Psalm, the first verse goes hand in hand.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.

When I allow him to be my shepherd and guide, what could my heart possibly desire?  Emmanuel has come.  God is with us and we already have all that we need.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.  For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This is what it is all about.  I will rejoice and be glad that the new morning has dawned.  In my moments of sorrow, Emmanuel, God with us.  In my moments of loneliness, Emmanuel, God with us.  In my moments of greed, Emmanuel, God with us.  God is here and he alone is what I need.

As the song so beautifully says, “When I taste your goodness, I shall not want.”

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What I DO want this holiday season?

I want a home full of daily scripture readings leading up to the celebration of the blessed birth.

I want moments of meditation with the family, sensing the sacredness of the celebration.

I want to bless others the way I have been blessed in abundance.

I want to give and serve and love.

I want to cry and feel peace flood my soul when we sing about the Silent Night.

I want to gather together and sing out the praises of Jesus, God himself wrapped in flesh.

I want to sit and partake of the bread and the wine in remembrance of Emmanuel, God With Us.

And so I pray.

When I taste your goodness, I shall not want all of the things.  I shall want you and you alone.

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What are you doing this year to keep the celebration sacred?  I would love your feedback!

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We Are Gathering

wearegathering

We open our homes and we open our hearts.

Come in to my messy house and into my messy life.  You are welcome.

We serve lots of food on big platters or right out of the slow cookers.  We fill our plates and nourish one another with more than just food.  We find a seat wherever one is available or make our own place right on the floor.

I know about your job, you know about mine.  We often know the needs to pray for without being asked or told.  We make our struggles and our humanity known.  You bear my burdens, I bear yours.

We gather before dawn, music soft and lights low.  We pray in the quietness of early morning, watching the sun rise together, before the world is awake.  Scripture pierces the darkness between us, breaking down barriers, both challenging us and equipping us for the day ahead.

We ask each other’s children the questions that matter to them.  We listen intently to the answers and watch their faces light up.  We listen as they struggle through the scripture reading, watch them receive the offerings with joy and overlook the noise they sometimes make.  We love them all.  It takes a village, after all, and everything is worth it when we see them raise their hands to the One we all love or sing out a song of praise.

We discipline them, teach them kingdom principles, mediate arguments.  We pour the Word of God into their little hearts and minds.  We teach them songs to help them remember the important things.  We ask them a million questions and reward them in a million ways when we see that what matters is sinking in.  We love them all.

We open our Bibles and expose our ideas about what we read.  We look at one another while we speak, ready to grow from the insight offered.  You challenge me, I challenge you.  We call each other out for making excuses or diluting what that Word actually says.  His words matter most and we don’t let each other forget it.

We cook meals for one other in times of joy and grief.  We plant trees of remembrance together.  We cry when one hurts, delight when one has joy.  We celebrate victories and raises and babies.  We hold those babies as if they are our own, speaking silent prayers of blessing over them.

We meet the needs when we see one struggling.  We write a check or buy the groceries or babysit the kids.  We cook the dinner or make the encouraging phone call or send the scripture via text.  We show up on the doorstep, ready to intercede on behalf of one another.

We pass the wine and the bread and do it all in remembrance of the One who paid it all for us.  We close our eyes in repentance.  We see the tears fall sometimes and we don’t judge.  We understand the love of a Savior and are moved equally in varying ways.  We are thankful, all of us together.

We raise our hands and sing out the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We clap and move and the kids join in and we are a new body of believers, worshiping their Maker as one.  We  tell each other of the goodness of the Lord with gladness.

We listen intently to our elders and honor them always.

We pass out food to the hungry.  We dig our hands into the earth, planting seeds in the ground and planting the seed in our community.  We embrace teenage moms as if they were our little sisters, and fight over who gets to hold their babies.  We give until it hurts to take care of the orphans, the homeless, the church planters and the ones reaching out to make disciples.

We have our struggles and our selfish moments and our glaring shortcomings.  We have a long way to go. We are not perfect and we proclaim that loudly and without hesitation.  But we are part of His body, and we understand how significant that is.  We understand the honor of serving alongside one another and through it all, we love.  We love past the failures and through the trials.  We love old and young, meek and bold, quiet and loud.  We love the only way we know how, allowing the God of love to flow through us, transforming us all the while.

We are gathering and we are Gathering.

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Dear Juan

Juan
Dear Juan,

I find myself praying for you in the mornings before the sun rises.  I whisper your name and pray for blessing, encouragement and provision.  Mostly, though, I pray for God to put a new song in your heart.  I remember those early mornings when your face was the first thing we saw at our door….. face beaming in the already hot, tropical sunlight.  You were aglow, knowing you were loved because God had given you a new song in the early morning hours.  And so I pray for new songs, whispered by the breath of God, come alive with your gift of music.

You played for me, entertained us for hours with your gift.  I loved making beautiful harmonies with the melodies you sang out.  You filled our house away from home with music, life and laughter.

You became my teacher.  I couldn’t ever quite grasp the Cuban rhythms or phraseology of some of your songs… but you taught me of simplistic faith.  Stripped of luxuries, comforts, conveniences and companionship, you were a shining beacon of simple faith.  You showed me what it means to follow Jesus without baggage and with total abandon.

You became my friend.  You took such care of our family, always putting us first.  You asked for nothing in return.  I crave the meals you made for us….. your meals taste like Cuba to me.  Mostly, though, I miss the hours spent around the table, talking and praying, playing and laughing.  Those were holy moments.

You became my brother.  You were the form of the body of Christ at her best…. laying aside all self-interest and loving me, your sister in Christ, as yourself and more.  I never doubted you would lay down your life for me, not even in the beginning.  I don’t know the exact moment we became family.  Maybe it was my life-altering moment on the roof?   But I feel that you are my brother with every fiber of my being.  My brother.  My brother.  My brother.  What more fitting a label than that?

I miss you.  We all do.  Our family talks of you often.  We wonder what you’re doing, who you’re with, whether you have food and money for transportation.  But I know down to my core that wherever you are…. whatever miles you are walking on long dusty roads to serve…… I know that you are not alone.  I know your Savior walks with you, and I know he is giving you songs.

I only wish I were there to hear you sing them.

Your sister in Christ,

Rachael

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Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

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Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Dear Dad, Letter 2

A Gathering of Links XVII

links

I hope you are all in the midst of a fantastic week. I haven’t been posting as much around here. Life has been busy but in a good way. We are knee-deep in church planting, which involves meetings, lots of prayer, small groups, teaching lots of kids, cooking, hospitality, planning music, teaching…. on and on and on and on it goes. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. The people on this journey with me are Jesus people (see link below) and I’m having the time of my life.

I have also been taking some time to think and pray about the direction I want to take my blog. I have enjoyed every step of the journey in blogging, and have come to some conclusions along the way. First, I can’t worry about numbers. Whether I have ten readers or 10,000, I want to have quality content reflective of who I am. Also, while the “fun” posts about decorating and fashion may get lots of hits, that’s not my primary goal here. I will post fun things like that from time to time, but my primary goal is to share my spiritual experiences and hopefully offer some encouragement to my readers along the way. If you have any advice for me about what you would like to see more or less of around here, I’m happy to hear it!

Now let’s get to it! Here are my favorite links from the past several weeks. They are fantastic, so take some time to check them out!

Spiritual Inspiration:

Sarah Bessey with In which I am among the Spanish oaks again

From A Deeper Story, Your Story is Worth Finishing.  Amen.

Also from A Deeper Story, an open letter to my proud heart.

From A Deeper Church, Missional Anxieties.

Also from A Deeper Church, The Jesus People.  I have people like this and thank God for them.

From Winn Collier, The Grace of the Short Life.

At A Deeper Family, The Language of Lament.

Food Love:

Design Mom gives us the recipe for the perfect wing.

Marriage and Parenting:

From Narrow Paths to Higher Places, Letters to My Daughter:  On True Love.

From Sarah Bessey, In which I can’t help myself.  This inspired me to take a look at the wonder of my daughters.

Friendship:

From the wild love, a poem is still.  If you aren’t reading Hilary’s writing, I would highly recommend checking it out.

For Fun:

At A Beautiful Mess, An Abstract Painting Anyone Can Make and this adorable guest room cart.

From Jen Hatmaker, Hope for Spicy Families.  Hilarious.

 

Also, my friend Jen at Girl in the Garage is celebrating her one-year blogging anniversary!  Congrats to you!  I love her blog and seeing all the amazing transformations she so masterfully accomplishes!  You inspire me, Jen!

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That’s it for me today.  What have you been reading lately?  Any great blogs or books?  I’m always open to suggestions!  Be blessed!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

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A Gathering of Prayer Methods

FivePrayerMethods2

Last week I posted about Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern in our prayer time.  This is the model I use most often in my personal prayer time, but I have been studying various other types of prayer in the past few weeks.  I turned to the Bible first and foremost.

Today I want to briefly share five other methods of prayer that I like to use.  I hesitate to say “method” in the same sentence as the word “prayer” because I don’t think it’s necessary to have a formula to talk to God.  At the same time, I like to search scripture to see how others have connected to God in their prayers throughout church history.

I recognize that this isn’t a complete list.  This is just a launching point for me and hopefully will motivate someone to think of prayer in a different way.

1.  Intercession

I Timothy 2:1:  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people.”

Intercession is defined as the action of intervening on behalf of another.

When we intercede, we stand in the gap for someone who isn’t able to pray for themselves or when God simply calls us to pray for someone with a pressing need.  Jesus was the ultimate intercessor when he stood in our place on the cross.

Isaiah 53:12:  ….because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

In my experience with intercession, I will feel a sudden, urgent burden to pray for a certain person or situation.  Sometimes it happens during my normal prayer time, but it has also happened in the middle of the night or as I go about my day.  I simply can’t shake the feeling and stop what I’m doing to pray until I feel a release from God.  Sometimes I don’t even know what to say in this time of prayer, which is in line with Paul’s words in Romans 8:26:

For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

I have learned from experience that when I feel God is calling me to intercede for someone, it is important to stop and respond to the call.  You never know what difference your prayers may make.

2.  Meditation

I think many Christians overlook this very Biblical form of prayer as not to associate ourselves with many other religions that focus on meditation.  In my opinion, we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the practice of meditation.  Meditation is mentioned throughout scripture and is especially prevalent in the book of Psalms.  David was called a man after Gods’ own heart and spent much time meditating on the greatness of God.  Perhaps we will understand the heart of God more clearly if we too spend time pondering his greatness and beauty.

In my personal experience, meditation is also important because it forces me to close my mouth and listen.  What kind of relationship do we have with God if we are the ones doing all of the talking?  Psalms 46:10 says… be still and know that I am God.  I think there is a level of knowing God that comes only in stillness.

I always have a journal handy during my quiet times of prayer in case I feel God speaking something to my heart.  I love to read back through my journal and see how God spoke something through scripture or through the Holy Spirit when I needed it most.

3.  Common Prayers

Common prayers are very new to me.  As a Pentecostal, common prayers weren’t part of my particular church culture.  My step-father told me, however, that in his Apostolic Bible college, they often prayed common prayers.  They are basically prayers that can be read together by a group of people.

I find common prayers particularly beautiful and meaningful, knowing that millions of Christians have prayed the same words, based primarily in scripture, for hundreds of years.  There are many resources out there for common prayers.  I have taken several of them and altered them slightly for my own personal use.  If you would like a copy of the morning, midday, evening and night-time prayers I use, please e-mail me at rachael@wearegathering.org or comment below.  I will be happy to send you a copy.

4.  Lament

Jim Wilson from the Soul Shaping Bible study defines lament as “inviting God into your sorrow and experiencing His presence in the depths of your pain.”

I don’t think God expects us to come into his presence in prayer and ignore or try to hide our pain.  God wants transparency and can be with us in even the darkest times.  I encourage you to further study the spiritual discipline of lament.  It has transformed my prayer life.  Studying lament has shown me what my heart already knew…. that the times I have felt closest to God were the times I was suffering the most.

If you want to see examples of lament in the Bible, check out Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his crucifixion, the book of Lamentations, Job or Psalms.

5. Praying Scripture

Hebrews 4:12 tells us The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Some of the most powerful experiences I have in prayer are when I take scripture and use it to pray for myself, others, or specific situations.  We can claim promises from scripture, speak blessings, exercise our authority over the enemy, and encourage ourselves when we pray scripture.

Many times when I am praying, I feel led to read a certain passage of scripture.  I will then pray about the application of that scripture to my own life, my family, my church or the church body as a whole.  There are so many online resources for praying scripture.  I will recommend a few:

http://www.kenboa.org/text_resources/free_articles/5399  This is a huge collection of scriptures to pray, divided by category.

http://www.circleofmoms.com/christian-mommies/scriptures-to-pray-over-your-children-259246  From Mom Circle, this is a fantastic list of scriptures to pray over your children.

http://www.memverse.com/ This is a free online tool to help memorize the scriptures of your choice.  What better way to pray scripture than to memorize them!

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I know this was a long post, but I had a lot of information to share!  Do you utilize any of these prayer methods in your prayer time?  What other types of prayer do you use?  I would love your feedback!

(Follow Rachael Gathers HERE!)

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Using The Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Lord's-Prayer

When I reflect on my life and progression as a follower of Jesus, few things show such marked growth as my prayer life.  I don’t say that to impress you, let me assure you.  My prayer life has highs and lows, lulls and progressions, and even shallowness and depth.

My parents taught me to pray by example.  They were a praying set.  One of my fondest memories of my dad is hearing him in the prayer room before church, praying in Spanish.  Now I often do the same.  My early prayers were typically selfish and short, but I imagine God was pleased that I was talking to him at all.  As I grew up, I prayed for longer periods of time, with a bit more consistency and more on the behalf of others.

In my teenage years, I heard a message on using The Lord’s Prayer as a pattern in our prayer lives.  My prayers have never been the same.

Just think about it, the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Jesus himself responds and says, “pray like this.”  Whatever follows the “like this” is pretty important in my book.  Jesus wasn’t asking us to recite word for word the prayer time after time.   He was giving us an important glimpse into the spiritual realm and how we should be spending our time in communication with God.

Here is my very brief take on using the Lord’s prayer as a pattern. (You can see Matthew 6 and Luke 11 to read the prayer in context.)  There is a lot of information on this topic in books and online if you’d like to know more.  I also have a printable guide to stick into your Bible.  If you’re interested, e-mail me at rachael@wearegathering.org

Our Father in heaven

We recognize we are talking to our heavenly father who loves us and wants what is best for us.

We acknowledge this and thank him.

Hallowed be your name

A time for worship and praise.

His name deserves to be glorified.

We enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

We align ourselves with the plan and purpose of God.

Not my will but yours be done.

Pray for God’s kingdom to come to our lives, our church, & our world.

We desire to glorify God by making disciples of all nations.

Give us this day our daily bread

A time to bring our requests before God.

Recognize he knows what we need before we even ask.

Our requests should align with the plan of God.

And forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors

Acknowledge any bitterness or anger we are harboring.

Forgive the person and pray for them.

Only then do we repent and ask for forgiveness.

We turn away from our sin toward God.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

Pray for the enemy to have no place in our lives.

Pray for God to empower us to walk in righteousness and holiness.

(Doxology) For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen.

We can end our prayer with worship and praise.

We ask all in the name of Jesus.

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There are a few components of the Lord’s prayer that are important to notice.  First, notice the pronouns.  Jesus used “our” and “us” instead of “my” and “me.”  We should not be selfish in our prayers!  Including others in every component of our prayer time allows others to benefit from our prayers.  I often pray on behalf of my family, my community, my church and the global church.

As I have matured a bit in my prayer life, I have recognized that most of this pattern in the Lord’s prayer is devoted to getting my heart right.  I used to spend so much time praying for my list of wants and needs.  Now, I spend the majority of my time in repentance, acknowledging that God is Lord of my life, and aligning my life with HIS purpose and will.  When I take the time to get my heart aligned with the plan of God, my requests naturally are in alignment with his will.  When I am in a flow of the Spirit during my prayer time, I don’t necessarily have to spend an hour giving God my list of requests.  I simply speak them in faith, believing that God knows what I need before I even ask.

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There are certainly other forms of prayer, some of which I will cover in a post next week.  However, the Lord’s Prayer is what I come back to time after time in my prayer life.  I pepper in meditation, journaling, intercession, common prayers, and praying Scripture, but the majority of my prayer time follows this simple yet profound pattern.  Who, after all, is more qualified to teach us to pray than Jesus himself?

What about you?  Do you use the Lord’s Prayer as a pattern during your prayer time?  What other forms of prayer do you practice?  I would love your feedback!

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A Gathering of Links XVI

links It’s that time again! I have been saving up all of my favorite links to share with you, and as usual, some of them are fantastic. But first… some updates on life in the Rennard house…..

Our church, Gathering, has had morning prayer every day this week from 6-7. It has been so amazing to gather with friends and pray while we watch the sun rise. I think I have always known in the back of my mind how powerful consistent early morning prayer can be, but this is the first time I have experienced it in such a profound way. Sitting in my living room, surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ, ushering in a new day with prayer and consecration felt sacred and holy.

I started back to work at the preschool last week. Isabel goes with me and LOVES her class. I love being able to peek in her room and see her interacting with the other kids. Ava has had a great first three weeks and joined the school choir. Her passion seems to be music, and this excites me. After years of struggling through violin practices and lessons, she has turned a corner and can MAKE MUSIC! Violin is a difficult instrument and she still has a long way to go, but as my mom says, “Once they realize they can make music, everything changes.” We are over a month into our wheat-free diet and going strong. Here is some first day of school cuteness for you:

firstday firstday2 Let’s get to some links! My most popular post from the last two weeks is: Dear Dad, Letter 1.

That doesn’t include my posts that gets lots of hits from Pinterest.  These are:

A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

My favorite links, in no particular order:

Spiritual Inspiration:

From A Deeper Story, There Are No Trophies Here

11 of the Greatest Hymns in Church History at (in)Courage.  This is really cool.

On Truth, Specks, and the Blinding Goodness of  God at Narrow Paths to Higher Places

Over at Rachel Held Evans, What Would Jesus Do (With His Enemy)?

In Which I Will Become More Undignified from Sarah Bessey

At A Holy Experience, When You’re Ready to Wear Who You Really Are

You don’t hate me.  You hate my brand.  From Rachel Held Evans

From Tim Brister, From Strangers to Missionaries:  A Neighborhood Strategy for Mission

Food Love:

Broccoli Slaw at Smitten Kitchen

At A Beautiful Mess, It’s Smoothie Time!

How to be a Great Dinner Party Guest from Shauna Niequist.

Marriage and Parenting:

In Which I Beg Barbie’s Pardon from Sarah Bessey.

Worst End of Summer Mom Ever from Jen Hatmaker.  So funny.

How Mothers Are Made from Lisa-Jo Baker

From Addie Zierman, For the One Who Married Young

Home Love:

From Design Mom’s Living With Kids series, Living With Kids:  Emily Hart.  I love this home.

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So there you have it!  Grab a cup of coffee, sit outside on a summer afternoon and read some of these posts for inspiration.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!  Have a great weekend!

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A Gathering of Links XV

links

I haven’t posted my favorite links for several weeks, so all of my favorites have been piling up. I hope you are able to take some time to read through some of these. I love them all, but I have put a * next to my very favorites in case you only have time to read a few.

Spiritual Inspiration:

Labels at A Deeper Story.

*From A Holy Experience, How to be Beautiful and Have a Beautiful Home Life.

At A Deeper Story, On Peace.

In Which I Climb a Metaphor from Sarah Bessey.

At A Deeper Story, Meet the Racists.

Just do yourself and read this over at A Holy Experience.

At A Deeper Story, The Day I Ate 6 Cheese Buns.

The Church:

Sunday Night Church by Jen Hatmaker.

*At A Deeper Church:  Church Words:  Preach.

From Rachael Held Evans, Why I Can’t Stay Angry.

Doing it Wrong at A Deeper Church.

Parenting:

A look at Girl Drama from A Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Food Love:

Simply the Best from Pioneer Woman.

Book Love:

*31 Noted Authors Pick Their Favorite Books at Real Simple.

Twaddle-free Books for Young Children from A Simple Mom.

Summer Survival:

*I can totally relate to An Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Summer from Narrow Paths to Higher Places.

Rachael Gathers:

My own most read post over the last month or so was I Gather a Prayer for Ruby.

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What about you?  Have you read anything funny, inspirational or informational lately?  I’d love you to comment with your favorite links!  Have a fantastic week!

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What I Gather About Worship

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(Image Source)

Some of my earliest memories involve my child-like attempts at worship.  I have to believe the times I stood in front of our small church as a little girl and sang my heart out for Jesus must have been pleasing to God.  I imagine God feeling the way I feel when Isabel looks lovingly at me and tells me she loves me.

As with most spiritual disciplines, growth was necessary in my view and practice of worship.  For a very long time I had a very narrow view of what it meant to worship God.  That mindset involved showing up on Sunday and singing several songs with hands raised or while clapping.

Of course, I know that corporate worship is important and vital in our Christian walk.  We see examples throughout the Bible of God’s people coming together, unified for the purpose of exalting the one true God.  As a singer and worship leader myself, there is nothing quite like gathering with a group of people with one unified purpose in mind:  to bring glory to God.  We celebrate victories in song, proclaim joyfully the great God we serve, and rededicate ourselves as the unified body of Christ to his purpose.

Yet over the last five or six years, I have prayed, studied and sought after a greater understanding of worship.  There have been some key moments that have led me to the understanding I currently have.  I will share three with you today.

1.  My Life is a Vapor

Psalms 141 is a beautiful psalm of David.  In verse 2, we see the concept of our prayers going up before the Lord as incense and our lifted hands as a sacrifice before the Lord.  When I think about my life, I imagine a continual vapor rising up before the Lord.  Whether or not that vapor is pleasing to him depends on whether I am seeking to worship and honor God in my words and actions.  When I pray without ceasing, a pleasing vapor rises to the Lord.  When I take time out of my day to lift my hands in surrender, a pleasing aroma ascends to God.  When I demonstrate the love God has shown to me to others and carry out my purpose in the Kingdom, the vapor rises and is worship to the Lord.

2.  Freely, Wholeheartedly and Without Hesitation

I will never forget the Sunday these words came to me.  I was in the midst of a powerful time of worship and these three words came to my mind.  I have been forever changed.  To me, these three words represent the what, how and when of worship.  The “what” is freely.  Worship is giving everything.  I withhold nothing from an all-powerful God.  I am not guarded before a risen King.

Wholeheartedly is the “how” of worship.  The manner in which I worship much reflect the greatness of the God I worship.  Whatever I do, whether in my everyday life or in a church worship service, must be done with all of my heart.  I cannot be lukewarm in worship of a Savior who reigns as Lord of all.

Without hesitation is the “when” of worship.  I worship every time I am aware of the greatness of God, without pause.  If I see a glorious sunset, I don’t hesitate to thank and praise the God who created it.  When singing a song addressing the glory of God, I don’t hesitate to raise my hands in surrender to the God of which I sing.  When I see an opportunity to glorify God through my actions, I can’t hesitate to act in the moment.  When I have an opportunity to serve, I must decrease that he may increase…. without hesitation.

When my worship only takes place in a two-hour window on Sunday, it is shallow.  Some of my most profound times of worship have been in my kitchen or alone in my bedroom or beholding the grandeur of God’s creation.  A lifestyle of worship is a daily recognition and celebration of the greatness of God.  If we all lived this way every day, just imagine the depth and celebration that would take place when we do gather to worship together!

3.  Let Worship Be the Fuel for Mission’s Flame

These are the words of a profound Matt Redman song.

“Let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame.  

We’re going with a passion for your name.

We’re going for we care about your praise.

Send us out.

Let worship be the heart of mission’s aim.

To see the nations recognize your fame.

‘Til every tribe and tongue voices your praise.

Send us out.”

I first listened to the lyrics of this song while living in Cuba.  As you can imagine, it had tremendous significance to me at that point in my life.  The lyrics say it all.

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I am sad to admit that while I continually feel the call to be a true worshiper, I often ignore the call.  One of my favorite passages about worship talks about worshiping God in spirit and in truth, then goes on to say:

“the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)

I imagine God looking down on his creation, seeking those whose life is a sweet-smelling vapor of worship… those who are worshiping freely, wholeheartedly and without hesitation…. those who carry out the Great Commission because they want to see every tribe and tongue proclaiming his glory…..

And I don’t want his gaze to pass me by and look to another.  When he is seeking worshipers, I want to be found proclaiming the glory and greatness of the God who called me out of darkness and into his marvelous light.  I want my actions to be worship to the Most High.  I want to be found rejoicing at the beauty and excellence of his creation.  I want to be found with words of thanksgiving and adoration on my lips.

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Have you worshiped God in some way today?  Have you marveled at his creation or had a grateful heart for the change he has made in your life?  Have you lifted your hands to him in surrender?  Will you sing out songs of praise to him?  When he is seeking for worshipers, will you be found among them?  My prayer today is one of repentance for the times I have failed and a re-dedication to be found among those worshiping in spirit and in truth.

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Gathering to Heal

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Sometimes all the pieces fall right into place.

Gathering was looking for opportunities to serve our community.  I saw a status update on Facebook about an organization called Young Lives.  I contacted the regional director who put me in touch with the Young Life director here in Noblesville.  He was fantastically energetic and passionate about reaching Noblesville students.  He told me more about Young Lives, their branch that tries to connect with and serve teenage moms.  We began to pray about getting involved.  Women from Gathering wanted to get on board.  We prayed and God put the right leader into place.  And now, only a handful of months later, we are starting a Young Lives club in Noblesville High School.

Like I said, sometimes God puts all the necessary pieces into place.

Each summer, pregnant teens or teenage moms involved with Young Lives have the opportunity to go to camp for a week.  The camp needed volunteers  to administer spa treatments for their spa day.  We were assured no experience was necessary, so I hopped in a car with Chellee and Tasha and drove nearly four hours to Michigan.

It isn’t very often I’m surrounded by so many selfless, caring, generous people.  I didn’t take it for granted.  We had lots of fun and laughed until we cried, but I was keenly aware that those people surrounding me were wholeheartedly about the Father’s business.  Theirs is the work of the Kingdom.  Many lead a weekly club for pregnant and teenage moms.  They are a constant, trusted friend in the lives of girls who face challenges and hurdles that would be hard for anyone to overcome.  These volunteers are the ones who pour their lives out to reach “the least of these”, demonstrating selfless love and always, always point these girls to a compassionate Savior.

And yet, I was so moved by the joy on the faces of these volunteers.  They give and give, but their reward is from above.  They have a joy that only Jesus can offer.  Their reward?  The satisfaction that comes ONLY with spending a life to bring glory to God and lead others to Him.  I could see how their love and commitment to these girls, combined with the work of the Holy Spirit is like a healing salve on deep wounds that these girls have endured.

And the girls?

Beautiful, each and every one, because they are loved and chosen by a King.  They come from all backgrounds, races, socioeconomic statuses, and cities.  They carry the weight of the world on their young shoulders, but for one week, they are free.  They bring their babies and their pregnant bellies, and are loved and pampered.  They laugh and play, make new friends, and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  I was able to talk with girls who were full of enthusiasm and hope, on their way to the healing that comes with that good news of Jesus Christ.

I am moved, recognizing that these girls chose life for their babies, when so many in their shoes have chosen abortion.  And I recognize the honor and privilege to serve God by serving girls who have made a selfless, loving choice when they could have chosen death.

I recognize that it was an honor to sit for hours, giving facials to girls who chose to take care of their babies instead of abandoning or aborting them.  What an honor to pamper the girls who sacrifice their youth and freedoms to take care of their precious children.

I recognize it is an honor to be part of an organization that shows Christ’s love in this way.  I am humbled and know deep down that this is the work of the Kingdom.  What more rewarding life could their be?

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Please pray for me and for the other women who are starting Young Lives at Noblesville High School.  We are praying for God to lead and guide us in this venture, and to teach us to serve in a selfless, Christ-like manner.  We want to provide love and support for girls in need of healing and hope.  We want to point them to Jesus in our word and deed.

Also, if you don’t know much about Young Life, I would highly recommend checking out their website.  They need volunteers from the community to keep things running smoothly and are always in need of donations to cover their expenses.  You can also learn more about Young Lives here.

If you live in the Noblesville area, you can contact the Noblesville Young Life director, Michael Redding, at michaelredding.younglife@gmail.com for more information.

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It has been quiet around here.  I am slowing down my pace in July, trying to spend more of my time with my girls before school starts.  I will get back to my normal posting pace this fall!  Thanks for understanding!

Miss any posts?  Here are the most recent:

Gathering Ideas for a Shabby-Chic Bedroom

A Gathering of Books:  June 2013

A Gathering Under the Trees

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A Gathering of Links XIV

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First of all, I want to say thank you to all of my new readers and subscribers!  Welcome to Rachael Gathers.  I am so grateful for those of you who take time out of your week to visit my little corner of the Internet.  My goal is to gather ideas and experiences for our journey in the Kingdom of God.  I hope that will include spiritual inspiration, parenting and marriage encouragement, and fun ideas for making a house a home!

Each week or two I feature my Gathering of Links post.  I am an avid blog reader, so I take my favorite links from the recent week or two and feature them conveniently listed in one blog post.  It is my little gift to those of you who don’t have time to sift through the blogosphere daily like I do and link you up to my favorite posts.  I also include a little glimpse into what’s happening in the Rennard house.

Summer is in full swing at the Rennard house!  We have spent a couple of glorious days at the pool at my mom’s house.  Isabel isn’t a big fan of the pool yet, but we are working on it!  We celebrated Jimmie’s birthday and Father’s Day within one week!  Ava just left for a 10 day trip with my mom and stepfather.  The house is already eerily quiet.

This is my favorite photo from the last couple of weeks.  It captures Isabel, mid-spin.

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Ah, to be three again!

My most popular link lately was Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower.  Thanks for all of the likes and shares!  I had more hits on the day I posted this than any post in RG history!

Now, let’s get to it!  This may be my favorite gathering of links yet!  There is SO MUCH great material here.  I hope you grab a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea, sit back, relax and enjoy some of these awesome links.

Spiritual Inspiration:

From A Deeper Church, Watching Our Language.  Discipleship is important…. so is friendship.

From A Deeper Story, Everything Must Go.  Yes and AMEN!  This rings to true in my life.  I am learning to let go of stuff….

Sex and the Path of Holiness at Rachel Held Evans.

From A Holy Experience, Why You Are Where You Are:  For Such a Time as Now.  Also, her post A Letter to the North American Church: Because It Is Time is so powerful.

The Perfect Shade of Greige from Jamie the very worst missionary.  This spoke to me.

From A Deeper Story, When It’s Time to Throw Out All of the Good Answers.

Parenting:

From A Holy Experience, a powerful look into what it means to show grace to our children.  What All Mamas (and us) Need to Thrive This Summer.

From Narrow Paths to Higher Places, A Mother’s Faith.  An all too familiar account of miscarriage, mourning and the questions that come along the way.  Moved me to tears, remembering my own pain.  Also, check out her series on Empowering Parents to Prevent Abuse.  All of it is great.  This link is to part 3.

From Lisa-Jo Baker, When Your Temper Scares You – some suggestions for defusing.

A hilarious look at Surviving Summer from Jen Hatmaker.

At A Deeper Family, I Don’t Want My Daughter to Hate Me.

Love and Marriage:

Over at Sarah Bessey, In Which [Love Looks Like] Spinning Our Own Yarn.  My dear goodness, this is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Food Love:

Red Pepper Shrimp Scampi from A Beautiful Mess.  I love all of these things.. how could I not love this recipe?

Watermelon Pico de Gallo from Pioneer Woman.  Yum.

House Love:

Part of Design Mom’s series, Living With Kids.  I love this home so much, I could move in  tomorrow.

Book Love:

From A Modern Mrs. Darcy, Reading is better when it’s done wine tasting style.  I love this concept.

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Whew.  That’s a lot of links!  Please let me know what your favorites are from my list, or point me in the direction of some of your favorite blogs and/or posts from the past few weeks!  Maybe I will feature one next week!

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Missed any posts?  Here are some of the latest:

What I Gather About Friends Without Fathers

What I Gather About Movement

Also, you can get e-mail updates of new posts by clicking HERE!  Have a great weekend!

What I Gather About Movement

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(Image source)

The sun shines down on this open prairie.  The tall grass sways gently in the warm summer wind.

Our movements are slow.  Slower than my fast-paced mind wants to handle and slower than my hurried feet are used to walking.

He stands in front.  I am keenly aware of his presence, rightfully at the head.  We travel behind, dutifully, a line of obedient followers…. followers in every sense of the word.

He walks deliberately.  The placement of each footstep is carefully orchestrated.

I feel the pressure of the choice we must make with each passing moment.  Will we stay in step with him?

Or…

Will we cave into our innate desire to push ahead?

The thought crosses my mind that we all could make a faster path.  We could pass in front, going ahead of him.  We could make a new path to the right or the left.  None of us want to go back, but some moments even going backwards entices me more than the painstaking pace we walk now.

The words pass through my mind…. the kind of words I have learned not to ignore….. the words that speak life and light and direction…..

Alert to his movements.

We must be alert to his movements.  We must carefully and deliberately place our feet only in the steps he has already made ahead of us.

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To be alert to his movements, my senses must be heightened.  I must keep my eyes on him.  There are so many distractions in every direction.  My gaze must be fixed on him.

I must listen.  Perhaps he will give directions for navigating this terrain.  Perhaps I will miss his still, small voice if my ears are tuned to the noise and chaos surrounding me.

I must be patient.  He knows the pace I can handle, the pace that will cause me  to arrive at my destination at the proper time.  I must not go ahead, to the right or left, or especially backwards.  Perhaps a time will come to run.  Right now, I walk.

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Lord, let me be alert to your movements.  Where you lead, I will follow.  Let my pace be in perfect time with your footsteps ahead.  May my eyes be fixed on you and my ears tuned to your voice.  When you stop, I will stop.  When you give the directions to run, I will sprint with all that is within me.  When you warn of a stumbling block in my path, I will avoid it.  I have nothing to fear.  With the help of your Spirit inside of me, I will follow your directions and follow your lead.  No other path interests me.  No other leader will earn my trusting gaze.  No pace is too slow or too fast if you are before me.

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Don’t let me go a single step without your presence.  I am alert to your movements.

For love, I follow.

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. (Psalms 5:8)

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When was the last time you felt specific direction from God in regard to your movements?  Have you ever felt God asking you to speed up or slow down?  To look to Him for direction on your journey?

Love to all and have a blessed weekend!

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Missed any recent posts?  Here are the most popular from the last month?

A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

Gathering Self-Control

What I Gather About Accusations

Subscribe to Rachael Gathers HERE

 

 

A Gathering of Links XIII

It is Monday and my links for you are late!  I know you will enjoy them equally, late or not!

But first…. Our weekend was busy with garden work, church, and a violin rehearsal and recital for Ava!  We were so proud of her.  She played beautifully from memorization.  All of the years of practicing and all of the money spent on lessons seemed worth it in that moment.  She is starting to make music with her instrument and her progress is a beautiful thing to witness.

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Her teacher has been a tremendous blessing to our family.  Ava has grown so much in her love for violin, willingness to practice, and overall sound of her playing.

Now, let’s get to it!  Here are my favorite links from the past week!

First of all, my most popular post from the last week was What I Gather About Accusations.  My approach in dealing with offenses has changed since I read this story differently.  Thank you to everyone for sharing the link to the post and for your feedback.  Hearing your feedback makes blogging worthwhile!

Spiritual Inspiration:

Sarah Bessey, In which you’re a pioneer.  On that note, why not check out the song Pionner by Rick Pino.  It moves me to tears every time I hear it.

At See Preston Blog, When I have made altars of sand in want of stone.  Beautiful and challenging.

From Nish Weiseth, A note for those in the valley.

Book Love:

From Simple Mom, What I’m reading this summer.

From Sarah Bessey, In which I have a (not so) serious problem.  I can so relate to this.

For Moms:

Playing from Sarah Markley.  This resonated with me.  I need to loosen up and play more.

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I just finished my first book on my summer reading list!  At the end of June, I will review the books I have read for all of you Rachael Gathers readers who love to read books!

I also want to say a huge THANK YOU to the very thoughtful Rachael Gathers reader who sent all three Call the Midwife books!  I won’t mention you by name, but please know that was such a happy surprise for me!  It really made my day.

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While I am thanking readers, I also got a really cool surprise in the mail a couple of months ago!  This little handmade purse (which Ava has claimed as her own!) was knitted with red yarn and recycled Target bags!  How cool is that idea?  I had never heard of this idea and was quite impressed at the ingenuity.

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I’m convinced I have the best readers anywhere, not just because two of you surprised me, but because so many of you inspire, challenge and encourage me.  Thank you!

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Miss any posts?

A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

What I Gather About Accusations

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What I Gather About Accusations

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Last week I was reading the story in John 8 about the woman caught in the act of adultery.  Most of you know the story…. a woman is caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees.  They are ready to stone her, as the law dictated, but first want to use this as an opportunity to trap Jesus.

It is a moving account of the wisdom, love and compassion of our Savior.  He delivers an incredibly powerful line…

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  

One by one, the accusers walk away, no doubt in a state of self-reflection.

The woman is saved.  Jesus to the rescue.  When I read this story, I am always reminded the price I deserved to pay for my sin.  I am reminded of a Savior who stepped in as the unblemished sacrifice, taking on my sin and the sin of the world.  Jesus to the rescue….

Yet as I was reading this story last week, I began to think of the accusers in the story.  These Pharisees and scribes in the story always get a bad rep, and rightfully so.  They were judgmental and had every intention of stoning the woman, while also wanting to trap Jesus.

And yet….

The simple act of bringing the accused to Jesus saved this woman’s life.

Were their motives wrong?  Yes.  Was their attitude bad?  Yes.  Were they judgmental?  Absolutely.  Did they have compassion?  No.

And yet….

The simple act of bringing the accused to Jesus saved this woman’s life.

She was guilty, no doubt.  The Bible clearly states she was caught in the act of adultery.  Her guilt was not up for debate.  As only Jesus can do, he showed them that just as she was caught in the act of adultery, they were also caught in the act of judgement.  Their guilt was apparently not up for debate, either.  We hear no arguments from the Pharisees and scribes when Jesus delivers his line to the crowd.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Both parties guilty.  One party walks away with her life.

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The accusers in this Biblical account didn’t want this woman’s life to be spared.  They wanted her to pay and were ready to execute both judgement and punishment.  And yet….

The simple act of bringing the accused to Jesus saved this woman’s life.

What would happen if we brought our accusations to Jesus?  First.  Before pronouncing guilt, before executing judgement or punishment, what if we brought the accusations before a compassionate Savior?

If these accusers had taken Jesus out of this equation, the woman surely would have been stoned to death.

I fear that when we take Jesus out of the equation in dealing with offenses, we risk harming the accused…. killing someone’s reputation, harming their ministry, wounding their Spirit, denying them of the unmerited favor a Savior has to offer.

Perhaps their guilt is undeniable.  Perhaps they were caught in the act of sin, slander, gossip, backbiting, adultery, lust, lying, cheating.  Perhaps they truly caused harm to you or someone you love.

Even so, our accusations should never be taken before the court of public opinion if they haven’t first been brought to Jesus.

I am so quick to bring my accusations before my peers.

Did you hear what SHE did?

Did you know he said that?

Guess what they did to me now?

Can you believe they are actually DOING that?

We all know what happens when we bring our accusations before Jesus.  Perhaps that knowledge is what keeps us from doing it.  We want a GUILTY VERDICT AND SENTENCING.  And when we choose to bring our accusations before Jesus (bad motives or not), we tend to hear the gentle words of a loving Savior.

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.”

Jesus causes us to look inward, recognizing it is hypocrisy to judge someone else when our own hearts are darkened with sin.

Maybe, just maybe….

The simple act of bringing the accused to Jesus in prayer will save a person’s reputation, our relationship with them, their ministry, their self-esteem, and their access to unmerited favor.

Perhaps we will be changed for the better as well, with our own self-reflection bringing an opportunity to show grace and walk in a perpetual state of forgiveness and love.

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Do you tend to take your accusations to Jesus first in prayer?  Do you have the tendency, as I do, to complain about offenses to a spouse or friend first?

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***Note:  I recognize that sometimes offenses must be dealt with.  Jesus gives us guidelines in Matthew 18:15-17.  I am not denying that at times, offences and sin must be addressed.  I am only advocating bringing the offenses to Jesus in prayer first and foremost.

 

A Gathering of Links X

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I haven’t compiled a link list for a couple of weeks, so today you are getting the best of the best!

Thanks to all of you, my top posts from the last few weeks were…..

Langstons Gather

What I Gather about $5,200 and Braces and

What I Gather about Chelsea

I really love being able to share my heart and experiences with all of you, and I especially love the feedback I get from my posts.

Now, for the best of the best.

Spiritual Inspiration:

From Rachel Held Evans - Is God’s Presence Limited to Scripture? and Ask a Pentecostal

From Jen Hatmaker at A Deeper Story – Wherever it Rises

From Nish Weiseth – A Personal Revival

When Our Exceptions Cannot Be Our Rules at See Preston Blog

Friendship:

At A Deeper Story – The Friendship Divorce

Love and Marriage:

A must-read from Sarah Bessey.

Parenting:

You Are Not My Work of Art at A Deeper Story.

From  A Bowl Full of Lemons – Snack Ideas for Summer

I’m also excited to share a couple of books I’m currently reading.

Follow Me by David Platt.  If you haven’t read David Platt’s books, I would highly recommend them to you.  Also, find some of his sermons online!  He is a passionate and dynamic speaker.

I recently heard of Jonathan Martin and ordered his new book, Prototype.  There is also a lot of buzz about one of his recent sermons.  I am halfway through the sermon and now understand what all the buzz is about.  You can listen to his sermon, Obscurity, here along with many other sermons.

I will leave you with some of my favorite Instagrams from the last few weeks.

(Subscribe to Rachael Gathers HERE)

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Langstons Gather

I spent last week in New Jersey with my cousins who pastor a pretty awesome inner-city church.  They started it about ten years ago with little outside support and the help of only one nephew.  The church is growing and thriving now, with over 250 in weekly attendance.  I love receiving updates from Tanya about how many were in service or how many were baptized.  My intention was to write a blog about how fantastic Tapestry Church is.  I have been there a few times, and love the authenticity of the people and the pulse I sense.  It tells me the church is alive and tuned in to the presence of God and the purpose of God.  They have a great team of leaders working with them, supporting and inspiring the Langstons and devoting themselves to the mission and vision of the church.

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Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

But that is all I’m going to say about Tapestry Church.  That is another post for another day.  Instead, I am going to brag about Tony and Tanya…. because sometimes you just have to give honor where honor is due.  Sometimes when you are moved and challenged by someone doing the work of the kingdom, you have to say so.  This is me saying so.

This is how the Langstons gather.

1.  The Langstons gather people together in their home.  I have never met anyone with an open-door policy like that of the Langstons.  Their home is the hub for meetings, dinners, social activities and weddings.  They have hosted countless services, prayer meetings, counseling sessions and leadership meetings.  Their furniture, refrigerator and carpet pay the toll.  They have had NINE people live in their spare room in the last ten years (including my niece currently).  Their neighbors drop by and are welcomed.  Young people from the church show up and are greeted with open arms.  And you know what?  I have never heard them complain about it.

I long for this type of community.  Here in the suburbs, it seems like a miracle if I can get to know the names of my neighbors.  Yet the Langstons have shared the love and gospel of Jesus with countless neighbors and a large number of their church members have come from their genuine connections with these very neighbors.

2.  The Langstons gather ideas, knowledge and experiences.  My brain spins when I am around them.  They are constantly discussing how to improve their effectiveness.  They have a mission and they gather every possible resource to help them accomplish that mission.  They attend conferences, read books, listen to sermons and push one another to grow as leaders.  Tony and Tanya have been successful in seeing their church grow by many standards, but they are not satisfied.  They celebrate the growth, but are always quick to say how far they have to go, how many they have to reach.

3.  The Langstons gather people to Jesus.  I am so moved by their genuine love for people.  Tony and Tanya aren’t doing this exhausting work to make money, build an impressive church or gather accolades from their Christian counterparts.  They are in it because they desire to gather people UNTO Jesus.  Their mission field is saturated with real people who have real, heartbreaking stories.  The people they gather tell stories of abuse, drug-addiction, prostitution, violence, divorce, abandonment, depression and hopelessness.

Yet because of the persistence, compassion and love the Langstons have for their city, and by the faithfulness and power of God, these stories have turned into lives full of hope, healing, restoration, deliverance, peace, unity, commitment and freedom in Christ Jesus.
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Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

Their job is messy.  Many of the people they love and reach have issues I may never witness in my privileged suburb.  It is often a thankless job.  It is a job that faces much scrutiny and criticism from the Christian world.  Their methods are questioned.  Their dedication and commitment to doctrine are questioned.  Their job is all-consuming and never-ending.

This is the work of Jesus, my friends.  They are carrying a heavy cross to walk this path with Jesus.  When I see their ministry, I see the Great Commission being carried out with grace, compassion and an abiding love.  And while their job isn’t easy by any means, it is rewarding.

They are seeing lives transformed by the power of God.  They are experiencing tangible, sustained growth.  They live with an authentic community of believers.  They are seeing their purpose fulfilled.  They are reaching a FIRST-GENERATION of disciples.

Their passion is exhausting, yet I am inspired.  I feel like I received a holy gift last week.  I saw a glimpse into the lives of people who are truly gathering people to Jesus.  I am changed by it and I thank you, Tony and Tanya, for your unyielding commitment to the purpose God has laid before you.  I thank you for being a shining example to me of what it means to spend a life for the cause of Christ.

Gathering My Thoughts on Man in 8D

I have been absent from the blog world for over a week now and have MISSED IT!  I drove my niece to New Jersey and spent the week getting her settled in her new home.  You will hear more about my trip when I have more time, but for now, I want to share with you a letter to the man I sat next to on my flight home.  Do you ever have a simple interaction with someone and leave feeling you somehow had an interaction with Jesus?  That happened to me on the plane and I wanted to share my experience with you.

Dear Man in 8D,

I must admit that I smirked at your visor.  Who wears visors anymore, anyway?  It made me smile.  You were all distinguished looking, all business in your khakis, pressed dress shirt, well-groomed hair…. then… visor.

You make the customary small talk.  “Travels going well today?” or something of the sort.

I see you, 8D.

Maybe you are tired from your long business trip, but you help me with my bags, smile genuinely and ask where I am headed.

“You like Francis Chan?” you ask when you see his name on my book.

I see you, 8D, the way you perk up, the way the light turns on when you have an open door to talk about your faith.

8D, you travel the world.  You seem to have an important job and money, but I see Jesus in your eyes.

I see Jesus in your eyes when you tell me about the sunrise over Jerusalem.  How you only had a few hours, but you rented that car, watched the sun shine its light over the city that changed our destinies.  I see how moved you were at that holy place, that sacred moment.

You seem important, 8D, but you humbly tell me about serving on the board at an inner-city mission.

I see you, 8D.

I see you when we talk of Cuba and you tell me, ever so concerned, about your friend’s daughter.  How she struggles, how she is going to Barbados on a mission and I see your hope that she will return forever changed.

You ask what I do and you respond something about “important work.’  We both work at things.

We both know which of those things are the important ones, 8D.

You tell me about Tim Keller, an author who changed your life.  I see your hunger.  I see that you are a seeker.

As the plane descends, I look out in wonder at such beauty.

I see you., 8D.

You help me with my bag again and wish me safe travels.  I wish you safe travels, too, and I like to think we both mean it in a way that goes beyond our journeys today on this plane.

I see you, 8D.

I see you and I am reminded that you are my brother.  I am reminded that you and I are just two in a kingdom full of 8Ds or 8Fs.  I forget sometimes, but you remind me that people everywhere are going through their lives, doing their best to help others with their bags, lighten the loads of others…. follow Jesus.  Thank you for that reminder, 8D.  I needed it today.

Sincerely,

Woman in 8F

What I Gather About $5,200 and Braces

I am ruined.

I think that phrase probably merits an explanation, so here goes.

A few months ago we took Ava to the orthodontist for a free consultation, knowing braces were in her future.  Sure enough, we were told Ava has a particularly serious lack of space in her mouth, not to mention a major cross-bite.  The cost for an expander and two years of braces?  $5,200.

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I am ruined because in the months since realizing we would spend $5,200 on braces, my brain has been thinking of all the things we could do with $5,200.

We could buy a church in Cuba.

We could sponsor 12.38 orphans in Uganda for a year.

We could sponsor one orphan in Uganda for 12 years.

We could help our friends in Cuba improve their home, or just buy them a new one.

We could pay for a family we know to get caught up on their house payment and not lose their home.

We could buy 346 chairs for churches in Cuba in need of seating.

We could surprise my cousin’s church in Jersey City with an offering.

We could buy a couple mopeds for pastors in Cuba without transportation.

I could give an offering to a friend wanting to adopt.

My friends, I am ruined.

It has been a process getting to this place of ruin.  My dad was always generous with his money, supporting missionaries all over the world.  I have seen poverty in Cuba.  I know how $5,200 can bless a Cuban church.  I have talked to my friend Linda about the starvation of kids in Uganda.  I gave up shopping for a year.  The Holy Spirit nudges me nearly every time I find myself thinking I “need” something.  I am ruined.

On top of all of that, I am uncomfortable with the societal pressure to look perfect.  I don’t want to send the message to Ava that she isn’t good enough, that her appearance is so important to us that we will spend more money than we spend on practically anything on “fixing” it.

And yet… I don’t want her to go through life judged negatively because of a not-perfect smile.  Girls and especially teenage girls in the U.S. face enough pressure as it is.  I certainly don’t want to contribute to what will surely be feelings of inadequacy in her teenage years by not getting her braces.

Then I think of Sarai, Ava’s friend in Cuba.  She is one month older than Ava and just as precious to God and almost as precious to me.  I think of what Sarai worries about.  Sarai deals with an empty belly when her parents are low on money.  Sarai has a lymphatic problem in her leg which causes it to swell 2-3 times the normal size.  Sarai rarely has shoes that are comfortable for her to wear on her long walk to and from school.  Should Sarai have a severe toothache, her tooth would most likely be pulled.  She has no hope of a perfectly straight, gleaming white smile.  Yet Sarai is happy, content, loved and secure.  Sarai loves and is loved by God.  For Sarai, perhaps that is enough.

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Yes, I am ruined, but I don’t want to be any other way.  I never want to go back to my calloused indifference.  I never want to go back to thinking that where my money goes doesn’t represent where my heart is.  It matters how our family spends $5,200, and at the end of the day, I have to give an account to God in prayer for the kind of steward I am.  If I want to be held accountable for every dollar I spend, I certainly must be held accountable for spending 5,200 of them.  Ava has her braces, but the money was not spent lightly.

Oh, I recognize the risk I take saying this out loud.  It is a risk because I am setting myself up to be judged.  Every new outfit, every car, every home, every purchase I make has the potential to be judged by those around me.  Yes, this makes me uncomfortable.  But surely I must recognize that God sees every purchase I make, whether you do or not.  His opinion matters and let me just say it, matters more than yours.

I am ruined and that is because children are dying of starvation.  I am ruined because all people do not have access to clean water and medical treatment.  I am ruined because my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer.  I am ruined because people are dying without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  I am ruined because people in my own city are going to bed hungry.  I am ruined because someone I know may lose their home.  I am ruined because a friend lost their job and doesn’t know how they will pay their bills.  I am ruined because the gospel message has not been preached to every tribe and tongue.

And ruined I will remain.

What about you?  Have you had any experiences that have left you more aware of how you spend your money?  What process do you go through when spending large amounts of money?  Is prayer involved?  What is the most rewarding thing you have done with your money?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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A (Re)Gathering of Faith

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At a time when I should have been praying about petty fights with friends or asking God for a pony, I was interceding for my dad’s life.

As hard as I try, I can’t seem to remember pre-cancer days. I have scattered memories of short-lived remission days. Mostly, though, I remember the days of cancer. Lymphoma was an integral part of my childhood vocabulary, along with chemotherapy, radiation and phrases like “two months to live.”

And oh, the prayers.

Maybe there was a night here and there when I didn’t pray for healing and health for my dad, but I don’t remember those carefree nights. In the forefront of my mind are the nights of pleading and begging, with a voice or in a whisper, with dry sleepy eyes or with the tears of a child.

There are so many stories to tell of those nights. Stories of angels in my room or the closeness I felt to my comforter. Stories of loneliness and fear, intermingled with stories of faith and hope.

But the story in my heart today is the story of the after. The story of a prayer unanswered and a father buried along with the faith of his daughter.

 

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My brother became the pastor of the church when Dad died. A revival had been scheduled before his death and it was decided to move forward with the special guest speaker. Evangelist S. was a friend of my father, of our family and of our church. My guess is that in the midst of church-wide grief, the leadership was desperate for healing and hope. So he came. And this 16-year-old was there.

It was surreal walking into those church doors those first few months. I saw Dad everywhere. The church building was my preferred context in which to place my dad (beats a hospital any day) and the building of that church had been his life’s work. Yet, in I walked, sitting as though I hadn’t been shaken to my core.

That minister preached a masterpiece of a sermon. He remains the most captivating storyteller I have ever heard. As was customary for this particular minister, he began to pray for people after his sermon. I am Pentecostal, and it is not uncommon for Pentecostal preachers to call someone out for prayer in front of the congregation. He asked if anyone was sick and began laying hands on people to pray for them.

I don’t quite know how to describe how I felt in those moments. Just try to imagine with me….

*16 years old
*Father was just buried
*9 year battle with cancer
*Thousands of prayers for healing
*Sitting in father’s church
*Minister praying for the sick

A flood of grief enveloped me. A cloud of sadness rested on me. An anger burned inside me.

And then it happened. A kid from our youth group had raised his hand, saying he was sick with a cold and had a terrible sore throat. Evangelist S. called my name, staring me down with penetrating eyes. Our conversation went a little something like this:

S: Rachael, stand up.
(I stood, tears already flowing)
S. Rachael, do you believe God is a healer?
(My world is shaking under my feet. I don’t know what I know. I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know. I want to scream. I want to run. I sob)
Rachael: (through broken sobs) Yes.
S: Rachael, do you believe God can heal Alex RIGHT NOW?
Rachael: Yes.
S: Rachael, I want you to step out of your seat, lay your hands on Alex and pray for healing.

I know what some of you are thinking. I have thought it myself. What Evangelist S. did could have been considered cruel. He could have inflicted further damage on an already broken girl.

And yet….

I stepped out, laid my hands on Alex and prayed. I prayed for healing and Alex said his pain vanished immediately.

Evangelist S. is one of my heroes. Yes, what he did that night could have been cruel. But that is where the HOLY SPIRIT comes into play.  Imagine with me for a moment what he must have felt in that moment, when the Holy Spirit led him to call me out, a girl he knew and loved in a deep ocean of fresh grief.  Imagine what faith and trust he must have had in God to obey in that moment.

The reality is that I was at a crossroads that night. I was on the verge of losing faith. My father died and I felt something had died in me. My father was buried and I felt my former life had been buried with him.

But hear me now….

My father had been resurrected to be with Jesus and I had to experience a resurrection.  I was confronted with the most basic and yet the most important of all questions….

Do you believe God is who he says he is?

The question was posed and I answered from the deepest, truest place of my being.

Yes, God is healer.  Yes, I believe.

My journey didn’t end that night.  I continued to deal with overwhelming grief and still have days when grief overcomes me.  But from that night forward, I knew what I knew.

I know God loves.  I know God heals.  I know God is worthy of my trust.  I know God is who he says he is.  I know it today.  I have never forgotten.

Evangelist S., I thank you for listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.  I thank you because it was a pivotal moment in my life and I took a step in the direction of faith and have never looked back.  I thank God for his abundant love, reaching out to me at my point of desperation…. posing the most difficult yet most essential question of my life.  My answer was, is and will continue to be a resounding “YES!”

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Me, with my Dad, not long before his death.

Much Love,

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Gathering Smiles (Guest Post by Linda Burke)

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(Linda at Hope Refuge School in Uganda)

I want to introduce you to a very special woman in my life, Linda Burke.  I grew up being close friends with Linda’s daughter, but as time passed I developed a special friendship with Linda as well.  My friendship with Linda has been a blessing from God.  I have learned that true friendship crosses age barriers.  Beyond that, I look to Linda as an example of dedication and passion for God’s children.  She has traveled with us to Cuba several times, and I have witnessed her compassion and love for the poor firsthand.

More recently, Linda has traveled to India with a dental team, cleaning teeth and doing dental work  in impoverished villages.  She has most recently stepped into the call of God, finding sponsors for starving orphans in Uganda.  I have witnessed her eyes well up with tears on numerous occasions while talking about the burden God has placed on her to help these children.  She is a mother figure to them all.  She spends her own money traveling every year to run the Helping Hands project and devotes countless hours to seeing it grow and run smoothly.  I have lost count of how many orphans she personally sponsors.  Please take a moment to read her story and consider sponsoring an orphan yourself.

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My first trip to Uganda was in July, 2011.  Since that first trip my life has forever changed.  My heart was captured by 1,100 children at the orphanages in Kachamo and Kenkebu.  This October will be my 5th trip and each time I am grieved by the poor living conditions, non-existent health care and lack of food.  In spite of these conditions, when we arrive at the orphanage we are met with singing, waving of branches and big smiles.  A thousand faces looking up at you with those beautiful smiles, putting their hand in yours wanting to be your friend.  It doesn’t matter that their shirt is threadbare or their stomachs empty, they always have a big smile on their face.  As they gather around you, hundreds of hands are reaching towards you, wanting your attention, wanting a hug, wanting to be loved.

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Before I leave for home I try to gather all these smiles so when I close my eyes I can see their beautiful, smiling faces.  Gathering their smiles keeps me from being overwhelmed by the despair these children experience.  The needs are so great and you feel that you can never do enough.  It is also difficult when you are told that some of the children you met on a previous visit have died from disease and hunger.

Since that first trip God placed such a burden on my heart for these children and a desire to make a difference in their lives.  The large number of children is overwhelming.  Where do you start?  My friend Rachael made it easy.  She told me to start with 50.  So that is what we did!  On my next visit we took photos of 50 children and began getting sponsors for them.  We called the program “Helping Hands.”  The program is growing thanks to God’s direction and the help of many friends!  We currently  have 80 sponsors!  Our goal for this year was 100 but by faith I believe we will surpass that goal.  Our desire is to have sponsors for all 1,100 children.

In October we will be returning to Uganda to begin helping with some of the basic medical needs of the children.  Thanks to the many sponsors, we are making a difference one child at a time!

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If you are moved by Linda’s story, please visit our SPONSOR AN ORPHAN page.  The program is run through Live the Way, an official not-for-profit.  Your donations are tax exempt as a charitable contribution.  You can comment on this blog or e-mail me at rachael@wearegathering.org.  Just let me know which child you want to sponsor and we will get your packet and photo mailed to you this week.  Let’s join together and make this happen!

For further reading on Hope Refuge Schools, please refer to the following links:

What I Gather from the Death of Namuda

Gathering Hope

Live the Way

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A Good Friday Gathering

One of my favorite moments in the life of Jesus is the Last Supper.  I am amazed reading about the conversations, the washing of the disciples’ feet, the broken bread and wine poured out.  This year was the first week in my life that I ever reflected each day of Holy Week on the last week of Jesus’ life. It was profound and moving and I am so thankful for the friends, bloggers and scripture that led me to such reflection.

In our Noblesville Gathering, we have so many leaders who weekly open their homes, prepare and study to facilitate small groups or teach, cook for the masses and give sacrificially.  I wanted to do something special for those leaders this Easter season, and the idea for a Good Friday communion dinner was born.

I enlisted the help of my mom with the food and got busy with the preparations.  I found various white dishes at Goodwill, ironed tablecloths, bought and arranged simple flowers, made simple place cards, arranged a variety of white candles and made a few sides and a salad.  It was an act of love for many of those who serve alongside my family week in and week out.

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I watched as Jimmie prepared the unleavened bread.  I felt like I was witnessing a holy moment, the loving preparation of the bread to be broken in honor of Jesus and his broken body.

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We ate our salads and Jimmie began to talk about the significance of the bread and the wine.  He described how we “do this in remembrance of Him” in a way that is more than just mimicking the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper.  We pour ourselves out for others the way the blood of Jesus was poured out for all humanity.  Our bodies are broken and sacrificed for others the way that the body of Jesus was broken and bruised.  This is honoring the meaning behind the Last Supper beyond eating bread and drinking wine.  This is what we do in remembrance of Jesus.

We passed the wine and grape juice.  We passed the unleavened bread, breaking a piece off and passing it along.  We prayed.  We cried.  We drank the wine and ate the bread, both remembering Calvary and committing to serve the lost, broken, lonely and hurting.

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My grandmother was to my left, my mom to her left.  My daughter was to my right, sitting between mom and dad.  Four generations together, three of them women who have loved Jesus, served others and dedicated themselves to the cause of Christ… one who is learning to do the same.  As I cried and prayed, drank and ate, she did the same.  My arm held her close.  She heard my prayers, felt my tears on her hair.  It was beautiful and powerful and holy.  It was what remembering is all about and I will not forget.

As we finished, my mom and I brought out the meal.  We passed plates, served each other heaping spoonfuls of beef and noodles, mashed potatoes, corn and rolls.  We laughed and talked, a community breaking bread for a common purpose.

After we cleared plates, while we were still sitting at the table, my dear friend Heidi began to pass around small pieces of black fabric.  She reminded us of the scripture of the veil of the temple being rent, top to bottom when Christ died.  She told us many believe that veil was three inches thick and possibly 30×60 feet.  She talked about the priests of the Old Testament being the only ones to have access to the presence of God.  She reminded us that while we often may feel far from God, the veil has been rent and we have access to him.  She reminded us that even when God is quiet, he is with us.  She asked that we pray and that when we felt led, we tear our fabric, representing our barrier from God being destroyed.  She asked that we keep those two pieces in our Bibles as a reminder of our access to God.

The room grew loud with the prayers.  I sobbed, wanting to break down into a puddle on the floor, while also wanting to shout victoriously.  Such is the message of the cross.  I had chills and felt the power of God when I began to hear the sound… the loud sound of that fabric being torn at our table.

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I am so thankful for all of those who came and participated in an evening that was such a blessing to my family.  I am thankful for friends, not only the ones who were at that dinner, but all of them, who live their lives with me…. who love me unconditionally… who stretch me and support me…. who are figuring it out with me…. who love Jesus passionately with me…. who give sacrificially with me…. who aren’t afraid to remember….. and most importantly, who aren’t afraid to take up their cross and do this in remembrance of me.

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A Gathering of Cuba Photos

The months I spent living in Cuba were some of the best of my life.  Someday I hope to share more about our life in Cuba.  Today, though, I want to share some photos of the time I spent in Cuba in November of 2012.  In all of my trips to Cuba, I had never stayed with our close friends.  Pastor Lorenzo, his wife Zulema and their four children are like family to me and I really wanted the opportunity to spend some time with them, experiencing their everyday lives.  So, our family stayed in Havana for a week for the national convention and various business.  Jimmie left with the girls, and I stayed four extra days just to be able to spend time in their home.  These are the photos from the time I spent there.  I hope you enjoy these insights into Cuban life and take time to read the captions!

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This was taken a couple of days before Jimmie took the girls home.  Jimmie is with Dani, our pastor friend who also serves as a translator when we need one.  He has a machete and a coconut in his hand.  He had just cut it down from the tree behind them and used the machete to chop off the shell.  IMG_1288

I can’t remember the name of this man.  He is a neighbor of Lorenzo and Zulema and attends their church.  He uses their property to house his goats.  One of the goats belongs to Zulema as well.  Every morning he showed up at about 7 a.m. to take care of the goats and help Lorenzo with his work around the house.  At some point during the day, he left with four goats in hand to take them on a walk through the busy streets of their barrio.  It was quite a sight!

I love this photo for so many reasons.  He looks so Cuban to me.  Goats are hilarious creatures to me in general.  There are underwear hanging from the clothesline for all to see.  My towel that I used all week is hanging to dry on the right.  They also have YHVH = Jesus painted on their rusty pen for the animals.  As we always say, “Estámos en Cuba!”

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Meet Zulema.  I love this photo of her.  She has her broom made from dried-out, fallen limbs.  Each morning after the kids left for school, she brushed the leaves and debris off of her “patio.”  Her patio is the dirt you see behind her. IMG_1291

These are two beautiful and special children, Abdias and Sarai.  A generous pastor from North Carolina gave a laptop to Pastor Lorenzo.  The kids love playing games on it and spend a lot of their free time doing just that.   IMG_1292

Zulema is at work in her kitchen here.  The water is frequently shut off, so you never really know if water will come out of that faucet when you turn it on.  The bucket behind her stores water for such occasions.  Here she is rinsing rice before cooking it. IMG_1295

One of the reasons I love Cuba is because it is so GREEN!  The tropical climate makes for beautiful foliage and gorgeous flowers.  Here you see some plants Zulema planted to beautify their patio.  The bench on the left is very sad.  They utilize everything, though, and won’t throw it away.  Also notice the rocker in the background.   Over half of the plastic is gone on the seat of the chair.  Let me just tell you, it is not a comfortable seat! IMG_1300

Lorenzo has quite a bit of land.  He has had some help getting the tools and seed necessary to farm a little.  When I was there, they were just getting started.  He had some help from two men from his church.  I love this photo.  Cuban farmers work.  I don’t know of a more exhausting job than farming in the tropical sun.  I admire them so much.  They hope to grow enough food to share with hungry church members and some to sell, as well. IMG_1309

Here Lorenzo is showing me how he cuts off the bottom portion under the banana bunch so that all of the water and nutrients go to the developing bunch.  I had never really seen a banana tree and found this fascinating. IMG_1312

Lorenzo is explaining his plans for their land. IMG_1313

The goat-herder helps on the farm.  Here he is spraying pesticides of some sort.  I’m going to pretend they are organic.  One day he invited me to his apartment.  We arrived and he had some kind of drink for me.  It tasted like a dreamscicle.  It basically was, made with goat’s milk.   IMG_1316

Beautiful!  There are so many varieties of bananas in Cuba, I absolutely cannot keep track.  One thing I do know?  You cook the green ones, you eat the small yellow ones.  You haven’t truly tasted a banana until you’ve tasted one of those yellow beauties in the back. IMG_1321

This is a portion of the inside of their house.  I took this photo mainly to show the electrical situation going on in their home.  Yikes!  Thankfully Lorenzo knows what he is doing with electricity.  I did purchase some electrical boxes and light switches for them during my stay.  IMG_1329

Tomatoes with vinegar, oil and salt.  Enough said. IMG_1340

I’m not sure I could love these people any more.  Even though they have so little, they bless me so tremendously.  They offer their love freely and without expectation.  They welcome me as one of their own family members.  My only sadness is that they are so far away. IMG_1343

Zulema, the beauty that she is, standing outside of their home. IMG_1344

Lorenzo, locking up the house. IMG_1345

If you’d like to read more about what I learned from my time in Cuba, please check out my post Cuba Gathers.  I hope these photos give you a glimpse into the everyday life of some of Cuba’s finest people.  What do you think after looking at these photos?  Would you want to stay somewhere like this?  Have you ever visited a place drastically different from your home?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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What I Gather About Women of Valor

Sarah Bessey is hosting a synchroblog in honor of International Women’s Day this Friday, March 8th.  Read here for her post on Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives.

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I love the idea of celebrating the women who have helped give me spiritual life along the way.  May I always pay respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:7).  There are countless women who have poured themselves into me, supported me, encouraged me.  These women have been my friends, my family, my mentors, my inspiration.  They have taught me by example, spoken words of life, prophesied, transmitted spiritual wisdom and giftings.  They have defended me, stood in the gap for me, cried out to God on my behalf.  They have rejoiced in my joy, wept with me in my grief.  They have given spiritual life time and time again.  For that I honor them now.

To my mother, who has been my lifelong example of grace, wisdom and service.  No woman, no human being has taught me more.

To my grandmothers, one a fierce and fearless missionary, the other a gentle and enduring lover of Jesus.

To Chelsea, who brings joy and asks hard questions, the kind that make me run to my Savior for answers.

To the FAC spiritual giants, Judy Oliver, Jula Crider, Jamie Ball, Amy Beck, Sherri Palmer, Maria Kleiman, Billie Riley.  Mindy Whipple, I see Jesus in her eyes.  Shelly, a mentor despite her youth.  And Linda, who has believed in me, spoken encouragement and stood by my side in the most trying of times.  Who would I be without the influence of these women of valor?

I honor my friends along the way.  We learned together, made mistakes together, grew together.  And I will never forget.  Leah, Tania, Jodie, Mindy (quite a road we have walked!), Shanda, Whitney, Heather, Pashen, Haley, Erica… so many more.

The worship leaders I have never met…. they make me want to lock myself in a room alone with Jesus.  Darlene Zschech, Brook Fraser, Crystal Lewis, Ginny Owens, Kari Jobe, Kim Walker…so many more. I thank them.

The bloggers who get me on my knees and into scripture, searching for truth, searching for Jesus.  Sarah BesseyKathy EscobarJen Hatmaker, Ann Voskamp, Jennie Allen.

To those women of the faith who I admire mostly from afar.  Vickie Oliver, her ministry changed me, set a fire inside me.  Her words were like salve on an open wound of grief.  Dorothy Roca, Kim Sciscoe, Deborah Tisdale (who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself), Faythe Gill, Judith St.Clair.  God bless them for their lives spent for Him.

Women of Gathering… Tasha, the Proverbs friend who loves at all times… turned sister in times of adversity (17:17).  Sara, whose faith astounds me and is my motherly role-model.  Heidi, whose prophetic voice calls me to the deep places.  Chellee, Andrea, Nichole, Beth, Norma, Marty.  My co-laborers, my heart is full to be on this journey with these women of valor, my friends.

Estrella of Cuba, she died as a Christian should die, with joy and anticipation of the future.  Just as she lived.  Zulema of Cuba… no-one has loved me as fiercely.  She lives and breathes Jesus.

The ones to whom I am accountable… Tanya, a warrior.  Her strength makes me strong.  Her passion is infectious.  Lori, she sees me so clearly and speaks so honestly.  What would I do without her voice, the scriptures she speaks in the moment they are needed most.

So, in celebration of International Women’s Day, I honor these women.  I pray that God reward them for their investment into me and into His kingdom.  My only hope is I am able to do the same for someone else and that women of this caliber come along to help birth my girls in the Spirit.

Finally, for two things I ask your forgiveness.  First, forgive me if I forgot your name.  I know there are people I left out and rest assured, I thank God for you and the oversight wasn’t intentional in the least.  Second, please forgive me for all of the incomplete sentences in this post :)  I was in a flow and sentence structure didn’t seem to matter.

How about you?  Who are your spiritual midwives?  Who deserves to be honored in your life as a woman of valor?  I would love to hear about it and feel free to link up with Sarah’s synchroblog as well!

 

Cuba Gathers

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I learned the hard way just how much Cuba gathers.  During our time in Cuba, I didn’t experience the traditional culture shock.  I embraced the new and different food with open heart and mouth.  I adored the simplistic lifestyle.  Lack of technology was the breath of fresh air I desperately needed after years of technology overload.  The absence of my native language was exhilarating.  It fueled my desire to perfect Spanish and was a beautiful cadence in my ears.

The gathering of Cubans was the biggest culture shock for me.  Cuban life revolves around gathering, but their idea of gathering is above and beyond anything I had ever witnessed.  Need some examples?  I have plenty.

Hundreds of people gathering in groups on any given street, chatting and laughing.

Neighbors gathering on the front porch of someone’s house, sipping cafe.

Church members gathering nearly every night for some type of activity.

Kids gathering on the streets or in an open field, playing futbol.

The friendly gathering at the bus stops.

The routine gathering of people just stopping by for a visit.

On our first three-month stay as appointed missionaries to Cuba, I was on gathering overload.  Did they really want me to be in 90 degree conference center ALL DAY for a conference?  Was it REALLY okay for pastors and leaders to stop by our home WHENEVER THEY WANTED?  Was it necessary to sit around and chat for an hour after Bible study on a weeknight and not get home until 11?  I’m sad to say that my heart was closed up to this type of gathering.  I wanted gathering to take place on my terms, in a way I understood, in a way I could maintain my comfort level.

Of course, this is major missionary fail.  My grandfather, a career missionary, gave me one piece of advice.

Don’t try to change them, Rachael.

I thought he was talking about the way they did church.  Turns out, I was resisting the way Cubans gather…. selflessly, whole-heartedly, without hesitation, lovingly, joyfully…

I can’t pinpoint when I started to open myself up to this Cuban lifestyle of gathering.  Perhaps it was watching our pastor friend Juan come by to check on us EVERY DAY.  He cooked for us.  He showed us where to buy our food at the best prices.  He was our bodyguard, even when we didn’t need one.  He sat in our home, filling it with the sound of guitar and voice, singing for us the songs God had given him in the middle of the night.

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Perhaps it was the literal interpretation of greeting each other with a holy kiss, those moments when young and old, male and female kissed my cheek simply wanting to display their love for their sister in Christ.

Perhaps it was the day I went into a home where no-one should live, let alone two beautiful children, obviously hungry.  Perhaps it was the moment that little girl brought me bread.  Perhaps it was the way she gobbled it up after I had taken an obligatory bite and then passed it on to her.

Perhaps it was the four days I spent in the home of my sister in Christ with her husband and four children.  Perhaps it was seeing how they open their home EVERY DAY to anyone and everyone who needs prayer, support, food…. in spite of their obvious need for food for themselves.  Perhaps it was the way they gathered together for a church service inside their ever-so-mosest home… and yet I felt the presence of God sweep over us in a way I had never quite experienced.

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I still struggle to carry this practice of gathering into my life here in Indiana.  It is hard when neighbors pull into their garages, not to be seen again until morning.  It is hard when my schedule and my needs seem to always become the priority.  It is hard when I close my heart, not wanting to be exposed and raw, especially after the rejection I have felt from doing just that.  It is hard when our culture tells us “church” happens on Sunday or Bible study night.  Lots of circumstances, ideals and selfish desires make this lifestyle of gathering hard.  Yet I have determined after my time in Cuba that it is worth fighting for.  The beauty of this lifestyle of community pulls at my heart and I can’t help but remember that Jesus gathered.  He gathered with thousands, with 12, with one at times.  He opened himself up to ridicule and judgement, even death, in order to show forth his extravagant love and gather us to Him.  Cuba gathers.  Jesus gathered and still gathers.  Therefore, Rachael gathers… or at least is learning to gather.

What gatherings are the most meaningful to you?  Where in your life do you experience community?  Do you struggle opening your home to others?  Do you long for this lifestyle of community or resist it?  I would love to get a conversation started!

What I Gather About Understanding God

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Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words (Daniel 10:12)

Each week we open our home for a gathering of friends sharing food and participating in Bible study.  This past week as we discussed the book of Daniel, we began to contemplate what it was about Daniel that made him the one chosen by God for such an extraordinary purpose.  I was led to Daniel 10:12 and was elated to find an answer to our question, although inevitably one question leads to more questions when studying God’s word.  Could it be that Daniel’s desire to understand the things of God, combined with his posture of humility were the elements that attracted God to Daniel?  (see my friend Mindy’s beautiful post about humility here)

Since this discussion on Thursday, God has been reminding me of some lessons He spoke to my heart several years back.  While I in no way believe that we can ever understand the depth, magnitude and complexities of God, I do believe that He is searching for people who desire to understand Him more.  I believe He wants to reveal Himself to us in profound, life-altering ways.  He has mercifully done this for me time after time.

In my early twenties I was dealing with some residual grief due to the loss of my father at 16.  I remember one day praying, or rather casting blame on God for taking my dad away from me too soon.  From somewhere deep within, I heard words along these lines….

How will you know Me as comforter if you do not grieve?

Woah.  I put that on the back-burner, not sure I could handle the implication of that statement.  As I walked on this journey a little longer with God, I found Him asking me similar questions.

How will you know Me as Provider if you never have to trust?

How will you know Me as Peace-speaker if you never face turmoil?

Then came the big one.

Would you know Me as Father the way you do if your earthly father still lived?

As far back as I remember I have said the prayer….. “God, I want to know You.”  I have whispered it in the dead of the night.  I have cried it out through sobs of broken-ness. I have shouted it in desperation.  I have sung it out with all that is within me.  I have declared it with joyful expectation.

Could it be that all along God has heard my prayer and has responded by revealing Himself through trials?  Could it be that I must be willing to endure, endure, endure before I will ever truly begin to grasp the greatness of God?  To truly understand Him as healer, must I face sickness?  Sure, I may believe He can heal.  I may have faith and know that is an aspect of His character.  But isn’t it revealed to me in a deeper way when He heals me or someone close to me?  To understand Him as Savior, don’t I need salvation?  To understand Him as Light, I surely must face darkness.

Looking at my life in this light lessens the fear of the unknown.  It gives purpose to the pain.  For what better reward is there than knowing Him more?  Can any of us ever be a Daniel without seeking to understand?  Can I ever fulfill my purpose in His kingdom if I don’t have a posture of humility, ready and willing to endure what comes my way…. knowing it may lead me even a little closer to Jesus?  God, I want to know You.  I want to know You as healer, deliverer, provider, savior, strength, light, comforter, guide, peace-speaker, FATHER… even if that desire takes me on a road of tests and trials.  Perhaps that road will be the very path that leads me to becoming an instrument like Daniel, through which Your glory is revealed to the nations.  Even if it doesn’t, knowing You a little more is enough reason to walk that road.

What about you?  Has there been a time in your life God has revealed Himself in a powerful way as a result of difficulty?  Would you trade that experience?  In what other ways do you seek to understand God?  As always I would love to get a conversation started with you!