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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What I Gather About Priorities

priorities

I was having one of those months.  Even though my calendar told me there was enough time to fulfill my commitments, my body and spirit were telling me otherwise.

All good things.

When I can help, I want to help.  It’s hard for me to come up with excuses to get out of doing things that matter.  It is in my nature to jump in and give my all, especially when it is for a good cause.

And yet…

My spirit wasn’t at rest.  I was feeling unsettled, foggy, tense.  My muscles were aching, my temper was short and I felt resentment creeping up in me.

My heart was crying out to God for an answer, for help, for a life boat.

(Enter the still, small voice of a gentle Savior)

So I sat down and made a priority list.  I have never done this in my life.  I have had a vague internal list of priorities in my head, but never anything concrete… never anything I could point to and say “No.  I can’t do that.  See?  It’s not on my list.”

I kept my list to ten items.  Of course, these ten items have sub-categories, so really my list is a lot longer than ten, but setting the limit at ten things made me feel sane again.  What made my list?  Here they are:

1. My relationship with God

2. My Marriage

3. My Family

4. Serving Others

5. Gathering

6. Missions

7. Myself

8. My Blog

9. Young Lives

10. Work

Let me make it really clear… ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT TO ME.  The things that aren’t so important to me didn’t make the list (unless they are a sub-category).  This list is a work in progress, and I am asking God for help in any edits I make.  During this process I have learned a few things.

1.  My current lifestyle doesn’t match up to my priorities list.  My relationship with God may be number one on my list, but there are days when God gets only the leftovers of my time and energy, if He gets anything at all.  I may say that my family is more important than my church, but when I go days without spending quality time with my kids because of church commitments, something is wrong.  This current list may not reflect where I am currently am, but it gives me a guideline to follow for where I want to end up.

2.  Numbering my priorities gives me power.  Mostly, it gives me power to say no.  If something isn’t on my list, unless it is really important, I’m not investing my time into it.  Of course, my priority list must be in alignment with scripture and how I feel God leading me.  If I make my blog number one on my list and say no to other things, I need God to hit me over the head with something.  My priorities must align with His.

3.  A priority list helps me get organized.  Even though I was busy all the time before I made my list, I didn’t really understand just how much I was committed to.  Putting it on paper was my wake-up call to get my life organized.  I made some changes on my calendar, made a decision to eliminate some distractions, and got busy.

I’m really thankful God led me to take a step back and examine my life.  I never want to get so busy that I can’t rest in His presence.  I never want to be doing so many  good things that I forget why I’m doing them.  I never want to have a mile long to-do list and in turn see the most important things suffer.  My prayer is for God to help me keep my priorities in check and always be in alignment with His purpose for me.

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What about you?  Do you have a priority list?  Do you have a hard time saying no?  Do you see that your priorities are not in alignment with the Word of God?  What steps have you or can you take to get your priorities in check?  I would love your feedback!

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A Gathering of Prayer Methods

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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!

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Using The Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

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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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I Gather a Prayer for Ruby

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This baby.  Even minutes after delivery, she was perfect and beautiful, round and healthy (as you can see).  God only knows how many prayers were prayed for her during the last nine months…. and now she is here, making everyone giddy with joy and excitement.

A few months ago, when I began to pray for direction for my prayer for Ruby, I felt directed to the life and ministry of Samuel.  As I began to study and write the prayer, I felt the Holy Spirit moving right here at my computer.  I love the Massingale family dearly and believe in their ministry and role in the Kingdom of God.  I already know that Ruby is going to be a tremendous blessing to their family, an asset to their ministry team, and a force in the Kingdom of God.

This is my prayer for little Ruby.  I love you already.

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Dear Ruby,

May the prayers prayed for you be answered (I Samuel 1:20)

May you dwell in the presence of the Lord forever (I Samuel 1:22)

May you be on lend to the Lord as long as you live (I Samuel 1:28)

May you minister before the Lord from a young age  (I Samuel 2:18)

May you grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and also with man (I Samuel 2:26)

May the Lord call to you until you answer (I Samuel 3)

May you dwell in the right place, waiting on the Lord to speak (I Samuel 3:9)

May you hear when the Lord speaks (I Samuel 3:10)

May none of your words fall to the ground (I Samuel 3:19)

May you be established as a prophetess of the Lord (I Samuel 3:20)

May the Lord reveal himself to you by his word (I Samuel 3:21)

May your life and words lead people to return to the Lord will all their hearts, put away foreign gods, direct their hearts to the Lord, and serve him only. (I Samuel 7:3)

May you never cease to cry out to God for others (I Samuel 7:8)

May the Lord answer when you cry out (I Samuel 7:9)

May you set up memorials when the Lord helps you (I Samuel 7:12)

May you always build an altar to the Lord (I Samuel 7:17)

May you see clearly with spiritual eyes (I Samuel 9:19)

May the hearts of people be changed after an encounter with you (I Samuel 10:9)

May you never defraud, oppress or take anything from those you are sent to serve (I Samuel 12:5)

May your words and your life say to people, “Do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.” (I Samuel 12:20-24)

May you not judge on appearance, but see the heart as God sees the heart (I Samuel 16:7)

May you, through faith, conquer kingdoms, enforce justice, obtain promises, stop the mouths of lions, quench the power of fire, escape the edge of the sword, be made strong in weakness, be mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:33-34)

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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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I Gather a Prayer for Zion

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Our friends and neighbors, Norma and Fidelis, just had a beautiful baby boy.  His name is Zion.  My new practice is to write a prayer for any baby born to a friend of mine.  I base the prayer off of a name or something felt in prayer.  In this instance, my prayer is based off of Zion’s name.  And I have to tell you, I felt the power of God so strongly as I researched scripture for this prayer.  I can’t wait to see what ministry this precious baby boy turns out to have in the kingdom of God.  So, Zion Jude, this is the prayer I gathered for you.

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May you be a holy foundation from which others may rise up (Psalms 2:6)

May the Lord forever sit enthroned upon your heart (Psalms 9:11)

May you always rejoice in the salvation of the Lord and recount all of his praises (Psalms 9:14)

May the salvation of many be birthed out of your ministry (Psalms 14:7)

May your life and ministry always be a support to other believers (Psalms 20:2)

May the great king dwell in your heart and bring joy to all the earth (Psalms 48:2)

May you always be glad (Psalms 48:11)

May God always shine forth out of you, the perfection of beauty (Psalms 50:2)

May the vows you make to God always be performed (Psalms 65:1)

May God’s residence be established in you (Psalms 76:2)

May God always choose you and love you (Psalms 78:68)

May you hear the judgments of God and be glad (Psalms 97:8)

May you forever declare the name of the Lord and his praise (Psalms 102:21)

May you trust in the Lord and not be moved (Psalms 125:1)

May you be glad in your maker and rejoice in your king (Psalms 149:2)

May the word of the Lord and the law be proclaimed from your mouth (Isaiah 2:3)

May you shout and sing for joy, recognizing the Holy One of Israel is in your midst (Isaiah 12:6)

May the fear of the Lord be your treasure (Isaiah 33:6)

May the voice of the Lord roar from you, that the heavens and the earth quake (Joel 3:16)

And finally, Zion…..

GO ON UP TO A HIGH MOUNTAIN, O ZION, HERALD OF GOOD NEWS; LIFT IT UP, FEAR NOT; SAY TO THE CITIES OF JUDAH, “BEHOLD YOUR GOD! BEHOLD THE LORD COMES WITH MIGHT, AND HIS ARM RULES FOR HIM; BEHOLD, HIS REWARD IS WITH HIM, AND HIS RECOMPENSE BEFORE HIM. HE WILL TEND HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD; HE WILL GATHER THE LAMBS IN HIS ARMS; HE WILL CARRY THEM IN HIS BOSOM, AND GENTLY LEAD THOSE THAT ARE WITH YOUNG.” (Isaiah 40:9-11)

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

 

Gathering Strength from Psalm 42

IMG_2846 As a deer pants for flowing streams,

so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise,

a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down,

O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;

therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep

at the roar of your waterfalls;

all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,

and at night his song is with me,

a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock:

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As with a deadly wound in my bones,

my adversaries taunt me,

while they say to me all the day long,

“Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down,

O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God;

for I shall again praise him,

my salvation and my God.

Psalms 42

Yesterday before I heard the news from Boston, I was sitting on my front porch reading the Bible.  I came to Psalms 42 and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the words and the presence of God.  I couldn’t take my eyes off this psalm.  It brought comfort and strength.

Later, after hearing about the tragedy in Boston, I re-read it and it brought strength again.  Sometimes I have nothing to say, because the Word of God says it all.  I hope someone finds peace and strength in this passage.  Join me in praying for those impacted by the tragedy in Boston yesterday.

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Gathering In Close

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When I was 19 and in college, I started working at a preschool at a church in Indianapolis.  I have worked there off and on ever since.  My boss and co-workers are great.  They have been flexible with the birth of both of my girls and our travel to Cuba, hiring me whenever I need a job and they have an opening, and letting my sub when they don’t have an opening and I need some extra money.  They have graciously let me take both of my girls to their preschool program for free while I work.  It’s a job made in heaven for this mom.

Currently I work two days a week.  I leave with Isabel about 7:15, before Ava wakes up for school.  Jimmie gets Ava on the bus, then I am home by the time she gets off the bus at 3:45.  It has been a pretty good system for us.

Recently, though, Ava has been complaining about me going to work.  Many nights throughout the past eight months we have dealt with supposed stomach-aches, tears, and guilt-trips.  Our typical conversation has gone something like this:

Ava:  Are you working tomorrow?

Me:  Yes, Ava, I work every Monday and Thursday.  You know that.

Ava:  I don’t WANT you to go to work tomorrow!

Me:  Ava, you know Daddy will be here with you in the morning.  I already laid out your clothes.  He will get you on the bus.  It will all be fine.

Ava:  But I don’t WANT Daddy to get me on the bus.  I want YOU to get me on the bus.

So the conversation goes.  This has been a little unusual for Ava, considering she has always been a Daddy’s girl and most days would choose her dad in a flash!  I have tried to comfort her, reminding her that many kids don’t have the luxury of having parents home to get them on OR off the bus.  I have talked to her about what a blessing my job is to our family and how good it is for Isabel to go to school, just like she was able to go to that preschool.  I have prayed with her, hugged her extra tight.  I have tried waking her up before I leave for work, just to say goodbye.  I have tried sending her morning texts before I clock in at work.  I have even talked to her on the phone before she gets on the bus.  None of it worked.  The complaining had been getting worse and worse.

Fast forward to this past Monday.  She begged me to wake her up before I left for work.  When I did, she opened her eyes, looked at me, and started sobbing.  I eased her back to sleep.  That night at the dinner table, we had a discussion.  It went something like this:

Me:  Ava, we really need to talk about how you react to me going to work.  I feel like you are trying to make me feel really guilty and I don’t understand why.

Ava:  (tearing up)  I just want you home in the morning.

Me:  Ava, Daddy is always here with you.  We never leave you alone.  I just don’t understand.

Jimmie:  (thank God for Jimmie)  Ava, does it bother you that Mommy isn’t close to your school during the day?

Ava cried, nodding her head.  Thanks to Jimmie’s probing question, the reality of what she was feeling hit me hard.  I work 35 minutes away.  Jimmie works 45 minutes away.  Ava has been worried all this time that if something happened at school, Mom and Dad wouldn’t be close.

We went on to have a conversation about what would happen in an emergency.  We eased her fears by letting her know we both always have our cellphones and that our neighbor and friend Tasha is almost always home during the day.  She relaxed and didn’t say anything about me going to work on Thursday.

As I have thought this week about Ava’s internal struggle, I have had great empathy for her feelings.  I have recognized a similar longing inside of me.  It has been a prayer, a stirring in my soul for as long as I can remember.  I have cried it out.  I have worried about it, whispered it as a prayer in the middle of the night.  It has been the plea of my heart and will continue to be as long as I live.  It is the cry of a vulnerable child to a loving parent.

God, just let me know that you are close.

Lord, no matter what path you have placed me upon, let me feel your presence near. 

Be close enough that I may hear your still, small voice.

Be present in my life, that I may see your beauty in the many moments of my day.

When I cry, send comfort.

When I am broken, mend the pieces of my life.

When I find myself in the mire, lift me out with your ever-present hand.

When I call upon your name, come to my rescue as only you can.

Jesus, just let me know that you are near.

“It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  (Deuteronomy 31:8)

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46:1)

Have any of you had any similar experiences with your children?  Can you relate to my prayers?  Do you feel God near?  Do you worry when you don’t feel him close or can you rest in knowing he is there whether you feel him or not?  I would love your feedback!

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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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