God, Wait a Minute While I Turn Down My Life!

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For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5

When I started this spiritual discernment fast two weeks ago, I did not know what to expect. I thought, “How hard can it be–turning off my audiobooks from 6am to 6pm daily? It’s only silence; Right?!!” As it turned out, turning off audiobooks during the day is changing something in me. I don’t know what yet, but I can tell you that I notice noise more. I live on a busy street; lots of traffic, even at night. When I stopped turning on my audiobooks first thing in the morning, playing them all day, and falling asleep at night still listening; I could now hear the traffic and it was suddenly loud in the new silence. I could not fall asleep easily for the first few days of my spiritual fast. Even the ticking of my clock seemed to get louder and louder competing with the traffic for dominance. Rather than silence, I was bombarded with sounds and noise.

But, after about a week, I began to notice the noise less and pay attention to the silence. The traffic and ticking became background sounds. I began to read myself to sleep and fall asleep in the silence of my mind; in the peace of my spirit. Rather than wrapping my mind around an audiobook, I began to listen in the silence. “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:10. I had begun to turn off the noise I used to fill up my life so I could begin to hear God calling–quietly. Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Buddhist monk 82FF1328-5F92-4711-82A1-B00F3549C468_4_5005_cand activist writes in his book, Silence: The Power of Silence in a World Full of Noise, “The basic condition for us to be able to hear the call of beauty and respond to it is silence. If we don’t have silence in ourselves–if our mind, our body , are full of noise–then we can’t hear beauty’s call.” (p3) I would replace “beauty” with “God” and you may prefer “beauty”. I would say it’s true for both. We need to have “silence in ourselves” and one way to begin is to turn off some of the noise we bring into our lives.

After two weeks I can’t say I have any answers. I really don’t have the questions. I only have my plea: Speak Lord. I have turned off my noise. I am listening. What’s important now is not having the answers, but to have the space to listen, to have an open spirit, to have a mind at peace–in the silence.

Rachel Naomi Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal, adds, “Understanding often requires a retreat into inner stillness, a movement away from frustration toward an expectant listening, an openness to understanding paired with a willingness to go without understanding until you have become ready to receive it.” (p107)

Next: Who are your people? Nehemiah rebuilds with others.

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Silence: Listening for God

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For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5

Over the past week I have lived with silence. Not only have I stopped playing video games until 2-3am (I know–don’t judge!); but, during this four week fast I am living with silence from 6am to 6pm, which is taking me out of my comfort zone. (BTW, only three weeks to go–okay, I’ve gotten through only one week–seems longer.) Over the past few years, I have listened to audiobooks–often. I start playing an audiobook when I wake up in the morning, play when I’m driving, and then fall asleep with an audiobook playing in my ear with a timer set to cut off after 30 minutes. Except for my devotional time in the morning and my prayer time in the evening, most of my day I have something playing in my ear–even when I’m working. I borrow my audiobooks from the library, Overdrive, so there is no expense and I have access to thousands. Pure joy!

However, when my Pastor, Rev. Romonica Malone-Wardley, preached on Nehemiah and spoke of his fasting and praying to get direction from God to start his mission of rebuilding; I knew I wanted to begin a new spiritual discipline for clarity on starting my next mission. I needed to have a way to deepen my relationship with God as I listen for my next step in my life. I am at a time of transition in my life and I want to take some time to discern God’s abundant will for what is next. After praying and fasting for what he wanted  Nehemiah found favor with the King, his boss, who gave him everything he needed to proceed with his mission, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. (Nehemiah 1:4,11). Nehemiah heard God and responded to what God “had put on his heart” (2:12) And he was successful in his mission.

I, too, want to listen for what God puts on my heart. During this time of discernment, like Nehemiah, there are specific prayers I want answered. At this point I don’t know exactly where to go to find the answers, but I’m in no hurry to figure it out myself. I am willing to wait for God’s timing then when it’s time to ask I will find favor and have clarity.

d82f0ce5-c1bb-4342-ac70-f18775d64c5d-1It’s not a magic trick. When I left my job years ago I knew I wanted to go to graduate school to work on my PhD. I didn’t know how I would pay for it, where I would enroll, or what type of program. I explored different programs, but without any clear next step, I moved home to Detroit from Nashville and waited and prayed. Months later, I received a letter from Vanderbilt, where I had completed my Master’s in Theology, offering me a Dean’s Fellowship–a full ride, plus a monthly stipend. Not magic, but a miracle. God answered my prayers and gave me success.

Living with silence is more of a discipline for me than fasting from food from 6am to 6pm. I easily forget to eat when I am busy or having fun. However, I have begun to use audiobooks as a way of distracting myself from thoughts running through my head. Silence has a way of clearing out distractions, noise, and the voices competing for my attention. In silence I hear my thoughts, pay attention to my yearnings, and have the opportunity to hear God. Knowing who the murderer is in my favorite audiobook mystery will not get me closer to living an abundant life. But, listening for God will open doors to abundance, peace, and joy that can’t be shut.

Next: Silence as a Spiritual Discipline

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Fasting–The Power of Prayer

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So I prayed to the God of heaven. . . . And the king granted me what I asked,                             for the good hand of my God was upon me. Nehemiah 2:4, 8

Years ago a prophet spoke into my life and one of the things she said is that my prayers would be answered. At the time I believed it meant that my prayers for others would be answered. Since that time I have kept a prayer journal–some years more consistently than others. Now, I pray everyday when my alarm sounds at 8pm. If you are reading this, I am praying for you. I pray for people I see in stores, walking by, or someone who has shared their story with me though I will never see them again. I believe in prayer and if you are in my life, you are in my prayers.

However, in all that praying, I often neglect to pray for myself. The Prophet Nehemiah had a mission and a purpose that was bigger than himself. (Nehemiah 1) He prayed a big, bold prayer for his mission. God had put “in his heart” to return to Jerusalem and as governor, rebuild his home and his people. (2:12) Considering both were in ruins and broken; that was a huge “But, God” mission. He needed something from the King in order to accomplish his mission. He prayed for courage to approach the King and that the King would answer his request. God gave him what he asked for. I’m praying to know what to ask for in my own life. As my Pastor, Rev. Romonica Malone-Wardley, said in her sermon, quoting Samuel, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”BC874A17-487C-46E5-AB05-926BEA7EE838_1_102_o

I have seen people in my life have their big, audacious prayers answered. God answers big and bold prayers; not just little prayers. During this time of fasting and prayer–of silence and seeking–I am listening to hear what big, bold, audacious mission God has placed in my heart. I am looking for God to “make it plain”. I am listening for God to direct me to the people who can help me. That’s what these four weeks are about: discerning or acting upon that bold and audacious mission that God has placed on my and your hearts.

God has something big, bold, and audacious for you and me. If our mission doesn’t scare us, it’s not big enough. Add yourself to your prayer journal (see below for some suggestions for beginning your own). Let’s continue in prayer–bold and audacious. We’ll need it for where God is taking us.

Next: Day 3: The Power of Silence

How to Start a Prayer Journal. Debbie Przybylski.2C12E385-189C-4434-BD4C-8E3489D3D5B3

Prayer journaling is a way to dialogue with God daily, so that we can remember what and how God is speaking to us. Here are some key ways to do it:

Begin to write – There are so many ways you can journal. God will give you creativity. Some examples are prayers, poetry, your dreams, goals, burdens, delights, joys, Scripture, songs, letters, or whatever God is saying to you.

Journal regularly but not out of duty – You may journal daily, weekly, or as often as you like. It is really up to you. It is important not to look at prayer journaling as a heavy burden or a duty. It’s a friend and will help you in life rather than weigh you down with another responsibility.

Record prayer requests and date them – You can look back at how God answered your prayers. This will build your faith in prayer. It will also remind you of requests that need more intercession.

Record God’s answers to your prayers – My husband recorded the dates of answered prayer while living overseas, and he saw how faithfully God answered his prayer requests. It is a testimony of God’s goodness.

Watch for the progress you are making in your spiritual life – I always look back in my prayer journals and see how I develop spiritually from year to year. It helps me so much to see spiritual progress in my life and how God is working.

Write out what God is saying to you – This is important so that you can look at your journal during the quiet seasons in your spiritual life. Ask yourself, “How is God personally revealing Himself to me?”

Write out key Bible verses that speak to you during times of prayer – God will guide and help you in important times of decision-making by using Scripture.

Prayer journaling will help you to see real growth in your life because you are bringing to God the things that concern you. Through journaling, you will see your life more clearly through God’s eyes. He has so much to say when we give Him time and seek His face. It’s important to write it down and not miss out on the wisdom He wants to share with us.

 

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Fasting: Our Path to Spiritual Discernment

 

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. . .and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4b

Sunday, our Pastor of Blueridge United Methodist Church, Romonica Malone-Wardley, preached from Nehemiah and, in her usual fashion, left me challenged and inspired to live abundantly as God intends. In this first chapter of the book of Nehemiah, the prophet is saddened when he hears news that his home, Jerusalem, was in ruins and needed major repairs on its walls and gate. Nehemiah was in exile serving as cupbearer to the King Artaxerxes of Babylon. So Nehemiah fasted and prayed that God would hear him and give him favor when he approached King for permission to undertake his mission–restoring the walls of Jerusalem–what God had put on his heart to do. (chapter 2:12)

I am not clear from these first two chapters of Nehemiah if he knew what to do before he fasted and prayed, but he certainly had the courage and the words to approach the King after his days of fasting and prayer. I believe the fasting and prayers gave him the focus and fearlessness to take action. I believe God gave him favor with the King, others who supported his mission, and the persistence to keep going until his mission was complete.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline that is used by some to lose weight or as part of a particular diet trend. The story of Nehemiah and the power he gained after fasting led me to decide to undertake four weeks of fasting and dedicated prayer. I, too, have a mission. Just as Nehemiah became clear about his mission after he fasted, I believe I will know what my next project, assignment, service opportunity will be after my four weeks of fasting.

I have some ideas, but I need Divine guidance before I act. This is a new way of being for me. I typically grab a thought, before it has a chance to be fully formed in my brain, and carry out the action. Then, in hindsight, I recognize there were many limitations to that thought. But, I’m already hurtling off the cliff towards the ground.

So, like Nehemiah, like Esther (“I and my attendants will fast. . . .” Esther 5:16) before her mission of approaching the King on behalf of her people, and like others who sought courage, guidance, and favor through prayer and fasting; I am spending the next four weeks fasting and praying for discernment on how to approach my next mission.

Join me if you are also thinking of what to do next in your life, or career, or for more clarity to continue what you are currently doing. If you want to hear God’s voice, let’s quiet ourselves and focus on our inner hunger–not if lunch should be fried chicken or sushi.

This fast is focused on what we take into our spirits, not what we take into our bodies. The plan:

  1. Eat simply–eat enough to be nourished, but be relaxed around eating. I plan to make simple meals: eggs, easy salads, one bowl meals; no sweets. (how to fight sugar cravings!)9862C44C-561E-40D1-89AF-00048EC5ACD1
  2. Take a break from the complicated–if some people create stress, reduce your time with them. If you don’t really like jogging; walk or practice yoga.
  3. Seek opportunities for joy–read good books or watch relaxing movies. I plan to stop playing video games (addictive), listening to audiobooks (distracting), and spend more time in silence and in peaceful outdoor settings. But, you do you. Just seek joy.
  4. Listen for God–pray daily at a certain time. My alarm is set for 8pm. I pray for about 10 min, then sit quietly for about five. Or I pray for five and sit quietly for 10 minutes. Allow these four weeks to be relaxed and stress-free. We are seeking to hear God, not execute battle plans. Journal your thoughts if that brings you peace. Open yourself to the wonder and mystery of listening for God.

I have completed a Daniel Fast. All of us in the community were focused on what to eat and what not to eat. So much focus was on food that the serenity of the spiritual connection to God was easily lost. This is an Esther Fast. I imagine Esther needed time to reflect, but because she took her girls with her, she probably spent time in fellowship and joyful conversation. Her fast was not about food, but about growing in faith.

Certainly eating less food is important, but only because eating less will give us more time to seek  God through prayer, silence, and embracing joy. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, . . .This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10.

Next: What has God put on your heart to do?

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Sunrise—The Hope of the Resurrection

 

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So the women [“Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” v1] hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8

Today, April 2, 2018, is celebrated in some settings as Easter Monday, the day after Easter Sunday. Though it has no official role in Holy Week, it may be observed as a day of rest and when my daughter attended a Catholic high school, they were out of school in observance of Easter Monday.

I’m mentioning Easter Monday because though I did not post on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, I wanted to complete my Holy Week reflections even if it meant posting on the day after. Also, this scripture found in Matthew about the two Marys being “afraid, yet filled with joy” after learning of Jesus’ resurrection is how I feel sometimes after hearing some good news. Afraid that it may be too good, too wonderful, too perfect to be true; yet unable to stop the feelings of joyful hope.

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had arrived at dawn, at sunrise, looking for the crucified Jesus. They  hoped he was not dead, but not really believing his word that he would rise from the dead. So, they went to the tomb at sunrise waiting to see if the Son had indeed risen from the dead.

This is the Easter season. Yesterday, I like many others were joyful and celebrating the Resurrected Lord. It was a glorious day. I cooked and we had guests. The food was good the fellowship was even better. We attended the 6:00am Sunrise service at our church and had a wonderful celebration, but by evening after all the good festivities I was exhausted and fell into bed.

But, today on Easter Monday I am like the two Marys, I want some proof that something has been resurrected in my life. I woke up anticipating a new day and trusting God’s promises that when I wait on the Lord, I will have renewed strength (Isaiah 40:31); that my desires will be satisfied with good things (Psalm 103:5); that even when I am perplexed, I will not be in despair (2 Corinthians 4:8). On this Easter Monday I need to be reminded of God’s promises and the hope of the resurrection.

I’m on my way to a friend’s mother’s funeral. Another friend lost her mother last week. But, because I know my Redeemer lives I can offer comfort to them in their loss. I am

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My sister, Barbara, as a youth and my Mother dressed for Easter.

familiar with that pain because my mother died in 2012, but I also know that joy does come in the morning (Psalm 30:5)—after many sunrises and until then, Jesus did not leave us comfortless (John 14:16). Jesus left us the Holy Spirit so we would have peace, in spite of the circumstances.

On this Easter Monday, take that joy you experienced yesterday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection into your week. Live the joy and hope of the Resurrection each day with the reminder from one of my favorite Easter songs, He Lives:

In all the world around me I see His loving care
And though my heart grows weary I never will despair
I know that He is leading, through all the stormy blast
The day of His appearing will come at last
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart (emphasis mine)
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From A Distance

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But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. Luke 23:49

It is Good Friday. Jesus is crucified. The people who knew Jesus stood at a distance and watched the mocking, the hazing, the physical and emotional abuse. They also watched him breathe his last breath–from a distance.  Were they watching from a distance because they were afraid? That would make sense; those who opposed him were powerful. Did they stand at a distance because they did not know what to say to their friend, their loved one, their leader who was now just another person crucified by the Romans? Or did they feel that somehow he deserved what he got. Maybe, if he had only been less visible, drew fewer crowds, less—hmm, maybe less of a visionary; then, maybe “they” would have left him alone and he would not be hanging from the cross. Or did they watch from a distance because they felt hopeless, helpless, and not equipped to speak out on his behalf? I have probably felt all of these feelings when I have stood at a distance, watching while people I knew faced adversity. On this Good Friday, I think about times I have stood back and watched. 

Just this week I have stood and watched, feeling helpless, at unexpected events. I had planned for several weeks to write a mentor of mine and let her know how much I appreciate that she gave me the opportunity to write for her newspaper for several years. I told her at the time how much I valued her having confidence in me by giving me a platform for my health and faith column. But, I wanted to let her know that years later, she remains very special to me. Just as I “found the time” and prepared to write her a note, I learned she had died. I was left holding words in my heart that I wish I could have said to her. The distance from my thoughts to my actions was too great. I did not take the steps to close the gap and reach out to her–before it was too late. 

Also, this week a friend’s mother died. I replied with a text message–from a distance. I know. When did this happen that we express our condolences with a text message??!! No covered dish taken by her home with a card filled with a few bucks; not even a phone call. A text message–from a distance. 

Then, a friend became the center of a situation that will change many people’s lives forever, including his. I was immediately sad for him; yet felt helpless, not sure what to do. I tend to hang back not wanting to intrude on people’s privacy. But, recently I was let go from a position on the word of some students. The administration used the language of “budget cuts” but,  all those who were standing at a distance knew what was behind my being relieved of duties. I was silenced because who can defend herself against budget cuts. I did not mind losing the position (I was probably a bit much for them anyway) as much as I was hurt by no one reaching out to me. They did not have to say they agreed with either of us, only that they wished me the best or they knew I had done my best. The silence hurt more than anything. So, I could not let my fear of intruding stop me from reaching out to my friend. I reached out–he reached back. I’m glad I let him know he’s not alone. I can’t fix it. I can’t make it go away. But, I’m happy I was able to offer my love and friendship–Regardless. I’m glad I wasn’t silent because to me, silence feels like lack of support. 

images-1It is Good Friday. The 40 days of reflection and repentance that is the Lenten Season ends with Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. On this day, Jesus was surrounded by friends and followers, but they stand at a distance; watching. In just this one week I have been one of the ones watching from a distance and I have also taken the courage to reach out and close the gap between thinking and taking action. I can tell you that taking the risk to reach out and connect makes a difference. I don’t have to feel regret, wishing I had reached out sooner or in a more personal way. It wasn’t over for Jesus as he hung on the cross and it’s not over for me or for you. Bridge the gap to connect with someone who needs to hear from you. As Diana Ross sings, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand; make this world a better place if you can.” 

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Riddles, Service, & Doris Day

After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:5

 

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Question: What do these three things, Riddles, Service and Doris Day have in common?

Answer: They are how my sister, Barbara, keeps her joy. 

When you have a stressful life what do you do to keep your joy and wellbeing? I don’t mean when you can’t get a nail or hair appointment and you tell your friend, “Girl, I’m so stressed—my stylist is all booked!!” I mean the daily stress of making ends meet or having a chronically ill child or parent or even living with a chronic illness yourself. I’m also talking about the stress that comes from working in a stressful occupation, like being a police officer. How do you wake up every morning already knowing what kind of day it’s going to be, but also knowing that this is your life and you take the bitter with the sweet? 

My sister, Barbara (known as Barb), is the middle child in our family and has always been the peacemaker. I remember her covering for me when I lost the washing money (sorry, Barb). She was my mother’s reliable child who could be counted on to take care of the task without backtalk (me) or charming her way out of it (my baby sister). Calm, caring, and concerned about others are words that describe my sister Barb. I had also thought of her younger self as meek (sorry Barb). I remember her telling me that when she began working for the police department as a clerk, the detectives would scare her with homicide photos . It was funny to them, but the stuff of nightmares to her. 

fullsizeoutput_e34Imagine my surprise when she said she was joining the police force. I was very impressed and proud; but as I said, surprised! She did not like to even look at the photos of homicide victims, I could not imagine how she would deal with seeing the real thing. But, she did it and has not looked back. How does my so-called meek and mild little sister deal with being on the police force and managing— well, criminals, over the years. She has had her ways of staying sane and joyful during her over 30 years on the police force. You may be as surprised as I am at how easy it is to live joyfully—even when life may bring challenges.

When is the last time you kicked back and watched a fun movie? My sister often watches Doris Day movies to relax and be taken away to a land of happy endings and predictable outcomes. Norman Cousins, in his ground-breaking book, Anatomy of an Illness, watched funny movies as part of his recovery from a “crippling and irreversible disease”. Happy movies that make you laugh have the added benefit of increasing your wellness. Think about adding movies with a happy ending to your downtime. In the words of  the Serenity Prayer  “change the things I can”. Watch happy stuff and pass on watching/reading the unhappy news feeds (me) for a few hours.

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Another way she keeps her mind and spirit renewed is by serving others. Service is one way she shows love. Today is Maundy Thursday, the first of the three days leading to Jesus’ Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Maundy Thursday is associated with Jesus’ Last Supper and his act of servanthood when he washes his disciples’ feet. On that night, Jesus tells his disciples to love each other as he loves them. Barb not only “serves and protects” as a sergeant on the police force, but she and my other sister, Ava, show love by serving people who have a visual impairment. Each month they host the ministry called VIPs (visually impaired persons), prepare the meals and serve them with dedication and love. People may not want you to wash their feet (though a foot massage is usually welcome), but you can show love in other ways. Maybe with a simple book of riddles.

Barb, also known as Auntie Barbara, on a visit to my nephew and his wife’s house had a chance to use one of her other super powers: telling jokes. It had been several months since she last saw our nephew and his family and was surprised when the younger of their two children, who is four, asked Auntie Barbara if she had any “Auntie jokes”? At first she had no idea what he meant, but he was able to tell her one of her “jokes” and she then remembered the riddles they had enjoyed on her last visit. So, she was ready. The family spent the next two hours taking turns guessing the answers to her riddles and trying to see who could get the most correct answers. She told me they laughed and laughed at the “corny” riddles. A family evening spent without cell phones, no technology, no Netflix–just together finding joy in each other and a book of corny riddles. How cool is that??!!

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For once, I am not preaching or trying to make a point. Not really 🙂 I just want you to consider ways to get through the day when the days are tough or maybe just when one more thing becomes “a bit much” .  You don’t have to take that trip to Paris (though that is on my joy list) to find joy. You don’t have to stay discouraged when life comes at you fast and you feel alone. You don’t have to have the perfect hair, nails, or relationships to experience joy, love, and wellbeing. Just keep it simple and fun: watch Doris Day movies,  serve others, and take delight in an evening spent with family and a corny riddle book. 

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