A Gathering of Bible Study Methods

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I was a young teenager the night my parents came into the guest room.  Our company was staying in my room, so I was moved to the guest room for a few days.  I don’t know why they came in or why I pretended to be asleep, but I heard them proudly comment about the open Bible on the nightstand next to my bed.

I grew up believing it was important to read the Bible every day, and so being the good little pastor’s daughter I was, that’s what I tried to do.  Many nights I would read one scripture, filling my quota for the day.  Other times I would read a chapter or two.  While I realize that kind of Bible reading was simply a chore to be accomplished, I am so thankful for parents and a church who instilled in me the desire to read God’s word.  I am thankful for that, because down the road reading the Bible turned from being  a drudgery into being a delight.

Today, my Bible study is somewhat sporatic.  I read nearly every day, but how deep I get into study depends on many factors, including my mood, the time I have, how hungry I feel for God’s Word, and how interesting the material I am studying is to me at the moment.  I was blessed to be exposed to several great study methods at my last church, and have picked up a few study methods on my own.  I want to share those with you.

1.  Journaling  – For this method, I would highly recommend Jen Hatmaker’s book, A Modern Girls’ Guide to Bible Study.  She gives lots of great tips and gets the reader motivated and equipped to dive in, all while being hilarious and relating to her readers.  I love journaling in general, so this method works well for me.  Armed with a great study Bible, and anything from commentaries to dictionaries to history books… this method allows me to study at my own pace, researching and journaling the historical context and cross references.  It also allows me to journal how a specific verse or passage makes me feel and how I can apply it to my life.  I have formally been through the book of James and Ephesians using this method, and have informally journaled through other passages and scriptures.  If you love to journal, give this method a try.

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2.  Read Through the Bible in a Year -  I have started and failed this method many times!  This is not my preferred method of study, because typically you are reading quickly through a large quantity of scriptures each day.  I like to reflect when I read, and I often find myself hurrying through the day’s reading just to get it done.  However, I have committed to reading through my Bible this year using the Bible in One Year app for my iPhone, and so far… I love it.  The app makes it so easy, giving me a selection from the Old Testament, the New Testament and either Psalms or Proverbs each day.  Yes, I need to supplement my daily readings with in-depth study, but I am excited to see my daily progress, reading the Bible as one whole story.  I know I can make it!!

3.  Small Group Bible Study - Our home small group has been working our way through the Chronological Guide to the Bible for over a year now!  Each week we read and discuss whatever happens next chronologically.  It has taken a lot of time, but I love that everyone in our groups is reading through the same part of the Bible at the same time.  I gain so much knowledge from the insights of others.  There is also a Chronological Study Bible that goes along with the book.  I don’t have the study Bible, but some people do, and seem to like it.  We are only in Ezekiel, so this has been a huge undertaking.  It will be exciting at the end to say we have basically discussed the entire Bible!

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4. The Message – Last fall, I realized that I had to be more intentional about teaching and training my children about the Bible.  I had too often skirted my responsibility in that area and hoped the church would take up the slack.  I hadn’t quite decided the approach to take, so one night, I picked up The Message Bible and began reading Matthew 1:1 with my 8-year-old.  What happened surprised even me-of-little-faith.  She was intrigued.  I was intrigued.  The language is simple and easy for her to understand.  The Message reads as a story and Ava ate it up!  When we have our Bible time, I stop to ask questions.  I let her ask as many questions as she has.  We talk about Biblical history and the meanings behind the words of Jesus.  She is like a sponge, soaking up all the goodness and power of the life of Jesus.  I am learning as well, and feel I am doing my job, pouring my Biblical knowledge into my child.  Now… if only we could be a little more consistent (such is the story of my life!).  If you have school-age children, I encourage you to quiet down, sit down with your kids, and simply read The Message with them.   I think you will be amazed how the life and words of Jesus come to life.

5. Inductive Bible Study – Dear readers, I have saved my favorite for last.  I was introduced to Kay Arthur and her inductive method of Bible study at my last church and I am so grateful!  I skipped the how-to book that teaches the method and jumped right in to a study of Ezra, learning as I went along.  This is the kind of study for me, my friends!  I am talking about colored pencils, color-coding repetitive words, color-coded keys of keywords… I am talking about 30 minutes (at least), six days a week, diving into the Word of God, making lists and charts and let me just say, IT IS SO MUCH FUN!  Of course, not everyone likes it.  The homework-style, follow-these-instructions-exactly appeals to my personality and my need for order.  Plus, at the end, I felt such a sense of accomplishment, feeling like an expert in whatever book I was studying. I am amazed at what Kay Arthur’s guides bring out in scripture that I may never have seen without her help.  She has guides for nearly every book of the Bible.  I would start with Matthew.  I am in the middle of it now, and it has been amazing.

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These are some study methods that have worked well for me, but of course there are so many other options!  I do have one word of advice, a lesson that I learned the hard way.  Don’t let your study be a chore.  Give yourself a break if you go through a season when you don’t crack your Bible.  Let go of the guilt and turn to God.  Find delight in Him.  I go through seasons of Bible study, but when I hunger and thirst for God, when I long for His presence in my life, the Bible study naturally follows.  So no guilt.  Just turn to Jesus and see what happens!

What about you?  What methods of Bible study are your favorites?  Have you tried any of the methods I have mentioned?  I would love to hear your experiences!  Do any of these methods sound like something you may try?

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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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What I Gather About Layers, Life and Spring

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It should be expected, where I live.  First day of spring and all I see is grey, all I feel is cold.  But something about this season is different.  I need the sun.  I need to feel warmth on my skin and the sun on my face.  I need to smell the grass mixed with dew when I wake.  I need to breathe warmth into my lungs and know life is on the way.

I ask, “Why the cold?”

I want all of the layers peeled back.  I need to see what’s left there, underneath the layers, after this long, dark and ever-so-cold winter.  The winter of ice and snow and storms that made me want to hibernate, head buried in a warm blanket and never come out.  Is there heat left in me?  Is the fire out?  Is there still flesh under these layers?  Am I calloused beyond recognition?

Are my protective layers ready to be shed?  Will I survive without them?

Dear God, tell me you have been doing something underneath it all.  Am I a frozen wasteland, too damaged by environment and the elements to see a resurrection of sorts?

Then the thought enters my mind… could it be?  Have those elements… that ice, that snow that felt so bitterly cold against my flesh and bone… so cold I thought I’d never survive it…. have those very same elements become my water supply underneath the surface?  Have those cold waters melted into this soil of my heart, of my life?

I can’t escape the hope, the feeling in my gut that under all the layers…. as I peel them back, slowly but deliberately, I will find something fertile, something green.  I expect tender spouts, starter plants of a new variety.

All things new?  That sounds familiar.  Something beautiful?   I have heard that somewhere.

Yes, I expect life and growth and green.  I suspect seed has taken root and sprouted, ready to grow and thrive, with help from the spring rain, sun and warmth… with help from the giver of life.

After all, this is the season of hope and anticipation.

People thought all hope had been lost, didn’t they?  In that cold, dark season of the grave, when the sky darkened and lovers of you wept for loss and death and darkness.

Yet something stirred, something green and new.  Something that looked, sounded and even smelled of life surfacing once again… and the world was never the same.

What I Gather About Comparison

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I have heard this quote numerous times throughout my life and hadn’t really considered it until fairly recently.  During a trip to Cuba, my husband preached a message about comparing ourselves with one another based on 2 Corinthians 10.  It was such an eye-opening sermon.  I realize now that this is an area of weakness for me.

I am competitive, goal-oriented and persistent.  I tell myself that I have a realistic perception of my strengths and weaknesses (doesn’t everybody?).  Basically, I want to be the best, and I know when I’m not.  I find myself comparing Rachael to the kind of people who I am sure you would find amusing.  Let me just give you some examples.

Funny Rachael

I am not funny and I know this.  Yet, somehow I have this idea in the back of my head that buried somewhere deep down is a comedian, that I SHOULD be funny.I have a handful of friends who should be comedians by profession.  On that rare occasion when I make any of those friends laugh, I am caught so off guard that I literally have to take a moment, rewind, and figure out WHAT IN THE WORLD JUST HAPPENED?  I am no comedian, but there are times I want to be like those people who are.

Singer Rachael

I’ve been singing since I was old enough to carry a microphone and carry a tune.  School concerts, college choirs, solos at church, camps, conferences, in my car, in my kitchen.  You name it.  I love it and I realize I have a decent voice.  But let me assure you, I am my own worst critic.  Instead of comparing myself to the worship leader down the road, I compare myself to Mariah Carey.  Or Kari Jobe.  Or any other professional out there who is better than me.

Mom Rachael

I frequently compare myself to those moms who get up at 5 a.m. just to prepare a hearty breakfast for their kids and have a 30 minute devotion before school.  I compare myself to crafty mom, home-school mom, patient mom, mom of 5, athletic mom, chef mom, spiritual giant mom, birthday party mom… you name the type, at times I think I should be all of those moms wrapped into one package.

Writer Rachael

I have always enjoyed writing.  I excelled in writing sociological papers in college, probably because my writing is so straight-forward and lacks flourish.  Yet when I sit down with a Barbara Kingsolver book, I want to weep at my moron-self, incapable of painting a vivid picture with the most beautiful strand of words.  When I read the poetic Sarah Bessey, I want to give up on blogging all together.  When I read David Platt, I grieve that I can’t express my passion the way he does.  Give up, I say.

Spiritual Rachael

My Dad wrote me a letter before he died.  In it, he named a few women who are spiritual giants of the faith.  He told me to be one of those women.  I know his intentions were good, and I must say that his life and ministry lit a fire in me that has never died.  Yet often I compare myself to these women… the women who travel the country speaking at conferences.  I compare myself to the missionary you hear about who prayed and saw someone raised from the dead.  I compare myself to the women who get up to pray and study every morning without fail.

Physical Rachael

I would love to report to you, dear reader, that I am above this type of comparison.  While I have improved greatly, I still find myself looking in the mirror some days, unhappy with everything I see.  Frizzy hair, freckles, 25 extra pounds, flat nose, crooked teeth, boring clothes.  I see those women who weigh nothing running down the street in their workout clothes and kick myself for not having more discipline.  I get on the scale, hoping to have lost just one more pound so I can look just a little more like the images that bombard my mind of the “perfect woman.”

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Even now, writing all of this so honestly, so openly, saddens me greatly.  I think Teddy Roosevelt was onto something.  What possible chance do I have at joy when I compare myself to someone who IS NOT ME?  After all, I can never be anyone other than the person God made me.  Sure, I can grow, set goals and reach them, push myself, have more discipline… but at the end of the day I am Rachael.  I’m pretty sure Rachael needs to shut up and stop listening to what Rachael says about Rachael.  Rachael needs to start listening to what God says about her.  What might that be?  I love what David had to say about God’s view of him:

You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God. (From Psalms 139)

I am his creation.  He delights in me.  He saw enough value in me to pay the ultimate price…. just so I could know him.  He calls me friend.  He wants to walk with me, faults and all, in the cool of the day.  He knows my name.  He has the hairs on my head numbered.  He loves me just as I am.

And who are these people I’m comparing myself to, anyway?  Do I truly know any of them?  I guarantee that if I got to know them, I would realize that each and every one of them has struggles and shortcomings just like I do.  Do we realize that when we compare ourselves to someone, we are comparing ourselves to an idolized persona?  We are comparing ourselves to the voice, not the human.  We are comparing ourselves to the body, not that heart.  We are comparing ourselves to the works, not the soul.  We compare ourselves to some kind of facade.  We are trying to become more like someone rather than becoming more of ourselves in Christ Jesus.  He is the one we look to for the answers to who we are and who we are to become.  I want to be wrapped up, tied up and tangled up in Jesus, joyfully drawing strength and self-worth from the fact that I am loved by the King.

Do you struggle with comparison?  Does comparison rob you of your joy?  In what areas of your life do you find yourself comparing?  Please speak up so I know I’m not alone!

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Gathering Delight

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Bedtime. Let me set the scene for you.  Dinner is over.  Hopefully dishes are done.  There may or may not have been arguments about a certain 9-year-old practicing violin.  There may or may not have been screaming about a certain 3-year-old not wanting to get out of the bath.  Homework is done, sometimes after much complaining.  Mom is tired.  Dad just wants to sit down.  After bathroom trips, teeth-brushing, picking out clothes for the next day, another bathroom trip, and searching for the perfect stuffed animal or book for the night, we tuck them in, say prayers or play our thank-you-God game, and lights are out.  Okay, okay.  There may or may not be a threat about what will happen if either of those girls gets up.

Currently Isabel is in a stage where she is testing my bedtime limits.  She shares a room with Ava, so many nights she keeps Ava up for an hour or more.  She sings, talks, gets up, hits Ava, tickles Ava, climbs into bed with Ava.  Now that she is potty-trained, she comes in our room, having to go potty.  Again.  She slams the closet door, plays with her toys.  She makes messes, then opens and closes her bedroom door just to see if we are outside.  She.  Tests.  My.  Patience.

Ava knows that Mom has enough drama at bedtime and is usually pretty good about staying in her bed.  She knows getting out of bed means grounding from her Kindle.

I hope I have set the stage adequately for the happenings of Thursday night past.  This particular night we tried to get the girls in bed early because Ava had ISTEP testing the next morning.  I had told Ava that the next day I would not be home when she got off the bus and she would walk to Tasha’s house.  She was nervous about it, but we talked it though.  Tasha’s house is only a block or two away and Ava walks and rides her bike there from time to time.

About 30 minutes later, Ava was in our room.  I didn’t look up.  I didn’t want to lose my temper or get into a discussion.  It had been settled.  Ava would go to Tasha’s.  Jimmie walked her back in her room and was in there for a long time.  When he came back in our room, the discussion went something like this.

Jimmie:  Ava is sobbing.  She wants to see you.  She is nervous about tomorrow.

Rachael:  She has walked to her house before.  She goes to Kristi’s house, that is even farther.  She is being dramatic.

Jimmie:  She said she had a dream that someone kidnapped her by the park.  She is scared.

Rachael: (still relatively unmoved) Jimmie, she is just looking for reasons not to go to sleep.  This isn’t a big deal at all.

Jimmie:  RACHAEL, YOUR DAUGHTER IS IN HER BEDROOM.  SOBBING.  TERRIFIED.  SHE WANTS TO TALK TO HER MOM.

I believe that often when Jimmie raises his voice, it is the Holy Spirit speaking through him.

I walk into the room.  My baby is looking up at me, tears streaming down her face.  She reaches up, wraps her arms around me and holds on for dear life.  She is scared.  I finally come to my senses.  I speak soothing words.  I make other arrangements.  We make up.  I hold her, hug her.  I speak of Jesus as our protector.  I speak of fear and how it has no place in us when we know Jesus.  I pray over her.  I stroke her hair and watch her in wonder as she sleeps easily, comforted by my words and her Jesus.  I am so overwhelmed with love for this child, I think I may burst.

I hear the voice, somewhere deep inside, speaking truth I have avoided.  This is your child.  Take delight in her.  She is wondrous.  She is not an inconvenience, she is a delight.  Find joy in her.  Speak gently.  Show her grace.  Be a soft place to fall.  I delight in you, my child.  Now delight in her.  Your child.

I don’t know when it happened.  I always have moments of delight in Ava.  She is so smart and confident.  She is caring and strong.  She leads, she loves.  She has PASSION.  My head knows this, but for a while now I have been so consumed with myself, my problems  and my struggles that my heart wasn’t in it.  It may have been that way for a week.  Maybe a month.  I pray it wasn’t longer than that.  I was so grateful that God woke me up Thursday past.  It is easy for me to take delight in the 3-year-old who hugs mama all the time, says the cutest things, cuddles and kisses.  I thank Jesus that He reminded me that I must wonder at Ava.  She is a glorious gift.  If I look, I can see Jesus in her.  I can see the beauty of creation.  I can see His love in the way she loves.  I am delighting in her again.

He delights in me, after all.  The Bible tells me so.  Even when I fall terribly short as a mom.  Even though I am willful and resistant to His prompting.  Even if I get up when I’m supposed to stay put.  Even though I make messes.  Even if I pretend I need something when He has given me everything I need to rest.  Even when I talk when He wants me to be quiet and still.  Even if I slam doors He has opened so I can see the light.  Even if I annoy and hinder my brothers and sisters on this journey with me.  Even if I’m afraid when there is nothing to fear.  Even if I cry even though He has assured me everything will be okay.  In spite of myself, He delights in me after all.

Do you delight in your children?  Do you ever consider that God takes delight in you?  What obstacles keep you from delighting in your children?  I would love to hear that I’m not alone in this struggle!  This wasn’t a mom-moment I am proud of, but I thank God for the lesson that followed.

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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!