They moved on from Succoth and then camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. God went ahead of them in a Pillar of Cloud during the day to guide them on the way, and at night in a Pillar of Fire to give them light; thus they could travel both day and night. The Pillar of Cloud by day and the Pillar of Fire by night never left the people. (Exodus 13:20-22)
I have no sense of direction. GPS is a godsend. But sometimes, even technology can mislead me. Yesterday, I drove to a women’s conference. Unfortunately, where I normally park was under construction so I quickly pulled into a restaurant parking lot and opened my app for cheap parking. I found a place and proceeded to navigate to it.
The problem was that a series of unfortunate events led to confusion: the gps voice was not audible, it was pitch dark, and I was surrounded by city traffic. Feeling lost and frustrated, I repeatedly drove around the area; glancing at the glowing map radiating from my phone. I trusted in the gps, no matter how many times I drove around the block.
In retrospect, I ask myself why I pledge loyalty to my GPS but call out God when I feel a lack of direction. Certainly, pillars of clouds or fire don’t settle over me. However, I have the the Holy Spirit all around and inside of me.
I find myself not too different from the Israelites. They, too, gravitated toward worshipping man made “gods.” God not only visibly settled over them and helped them navigate their next steps but had shown himself to be capable of intervening for his people in the most miraculous of ways. Yet, they still struggled with trust.
May I hide these words in my heart:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways obey him. Then he will make your paths smooth and straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
In her book, The Louder Song, Aubrey Sampson tackles a biblical practice that seems to have disappeared in contemporary faith culture: lament. Despite the fact that lament is woven through scripture (most blatantly in the Psalms and in Lamentations, it does not make a common appearance in personal or corporate liturgies. Sampson writes,”I am learning that powerful people do not know how to lament. They’re used to being able to affect a situation, leveraging their power for their own benefit or someone else’s. People in control don’t need lament because lament is for the helpless, the weak-those who have no advocate or way forward but for the mercy of God.” Lament points us to God. Simply, we need it.
Sampson not only takes the reader through the process of understanding the practice of lament but shares her own experiences with it through telling her own story of grief. She points out that lament allows us to sit in our pain and yet yearn for God’s ability to fill it with his “very good.” As the title implies, “God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it.”
The book is arranged in three sections: How, Yet, and With. Each theme pertains to the form of a prayer of lament. In addition, she introduces the four different expressions of lament as found in scripture and unpacks them. They find themselves woven through the personal stories shared throughout the book. Each chapter ends with a prayer of lament written by an assortment of ancient and contemporary writers.
As Sampson points out, there are more prayers of lament than prayers of praise in the Bible. That fact reminds us that we find good company in others who also acknowledged their posture of helplessness. For too long, I felt guilty feeling frustration, confusion, resentment, and even anger at God’s allowance of painful situations,both personal and in the world. I found hope and affirmation in her words.
Recognizing the purpose and significance of lament is essential as we seek restoration. The soul finds refuge in God’s character while also laying our grief before him. Lament opens us up to God’s character. Perhaps it’s time to embrace lament as a common practice as individuals and as the church. People are longing for Shalom. Aubrey’s book offers a path toward finding it.
Sometimes building bridges isn’t the solution. Crossing them is.
I stand in this sacred space. This is no longer video footage. Standing before me, lies a bridge meant to connect but symbolizes division, hatred, death. I struggle to breathe in the filthy air that pollutes humanity. Its toxicity flows deep into my lungs as I begin walking forward.
But I exhale. Releasing the fumes and breathe in the air of those I walk near. They are here in spirit. The silence of this somber walk is infused with the shouting of those on the other side. Those who refuse to let go of powers that oppress and kill. Evil stares us in the face.
My feet walk in their steps. I carry their energy in my being. Heavy legs, deep breaths. My body feels theirs ; resilient bodies move toward harm in order to claim restoration for themselves. Even if it means brokenness in the process. God’s Kingdom needs repair as it unfolds on this earthly one. And we all need to find our bridges.
I vow to continue to walk forward as they did. Because sometimes we need to cross bridges and confront evil face to face. I am determined to be a bridge crosser.
If only God would circle the right answer with a big black sharpie…
But, as we are all too well aware, that’s not how it works. Thankfully The Next Right Thing offers wisdom to navigate hard places. Emily P. Freeman’s book helps us answer the never ending challenging question which we encounter daily: What’s the right thing? Following the success of her podcast of the same title, this book is a lifesaver.
Emily writes, “What these next chapters will do for you, I hope, if you take action, is create space within your soul and on your schedule for you to remember who you are, where you live, and why it matters. In turn, you will learn to name the unnamed things within you, and discern with God what your next right thing could be.” She reminds us that making decisions doesn’t come through a one step process. It involves whole body listening to how the Holy Spirit is speaking into our lives.
Through weaving personal stories of decision making from her own life, she connects with the reader. She isn’t just sharing wisdom about a process; she has lived it. And is still learning. One of my favorite chapters is titled “Pick what you like.” Much of the problem with making choices is that we suffer from “decision fatigue.” Daily, we are surrounded by an abundance of options from which we make selections. From the most mundane to the most life changing. What cereal should I buy? Which bunch of bananas is the most ripe? What book should I read?Which doctor should I see? What should I do with my life? Gleaning from a situation in which she was discerning what plants to purchase at a nursery, her advice is that sometimes we have to “pick what we like” and see how it grows.
Emily emphasizes the importance of seeking God’s voice in all aspects of discernment. Clarity involves reflecting how we come to the point of making a choice. What has God been bringing to mind? Are there recognizable patterns when you think about the past few months? (Emily calls them arrows). Where I am investing my time that isn’t life giving? How do I see myself as God created me? As we cultivate habits of listening for God’s voice, clarity develops.
I cannot count how many times I have found myself repeating Emily’s words as I seek clarity. The wisdom shared through the chapters, prayers and reflection questions have blessed me in recent months. If only I had a photographic memory to absorb it all. I highly recommend “The Next Right Thing” as a permanent fixture on your shelf or nightstand (or under the couch in my case). You will find it’s pages looking worn quickly but that’s the sign that it is a good book.
Our eyes meet somewhere in the middle of the lake between us. She swam farther out than I. She strives to make her own way through the water as well as feigns embarrassment at the pink floatie on which I am perched. Even in this place we have come together, she desires independence. Yet, we keep an eye on each other from a distance. My nineteen year old daughter and I have ventured to one of our favorite places in southwest Michigan. Together, yet apart.
Restoration looks a lot of different ways. As the sun lowers on this hot warm afternoon, I find contentment in the waters of renewal. I bob up and down to the unpredictable rhythm of the waves, She finds refreshment in the water washing over her shoulders. We catch each other’s eyes for a moment. Enough to communicate that we see each other and that we are safe. As much as I would love to have her splashing near me, It’s not where we are quite yet. It will come. Today we are together yet apart.
Today I embrace the together moments. I do not take them for granted because life has not unfolded as I expected. Pain and struggle seeped into our bond and strained the connection between us. A lot of life has taken place since I first introduced her to the beach. Learning to navigate that space has, at times,been gut wrenchingly painful. Unexpected forces created unwelcomed waves that threatened to push us under and apart. Yet, we both held on for waters of restoration. Individually and together. I longed for us to bask in waters that breathed life into our relationship, not sucked us down. Together yet mostly apart.
Today we connect. We stop at the general store in town to browse and purchase road trip items: candy, snacks, beachtown themed apparel. And one pink floatie which garners rolled eyes yet muffled giggles of affirmation. We smell candles, make mental lists for “next time,” and stop for ice cream on the stroll toward the beach.
The water brings refreshment not only to our bodies but our bond as mother and daughter. I want to hold this memory with every part of my being and remember every taste, smell, and touch. This day celebrates how far we’ve come. We are together yet apart. However, I will receive this truth with gratitude because this in- between is as it should be today.
“The Gardener entreats us to step into the world he made and walk with him, to receive from his hand the daily bread our bodies, minds and hearts so deeply crave.” writes Catherine McNeil in her new book, “All Shall Be Well” However, as the author points out, we are missing the way the garden should be speaking into our lives. We tend to look at all our human made structures and goods to parch our thirsty souls. How do we awaken our senses to all that God has provided for us? In a beautiful writing style which lifts up our calendar seasons as seasons of the soul, she offers insight which points us in the right direction.
Seeking the Gardener
Starting with the image of the Gardener meticulously and lovingly creating and caring for his garden, she reminds us of the intimacy between Creator and creation. As the author points out, “Adam and Eve fell into trouble when they adopted the habit of of talking about God rather than to him.” As a result, the tendency of looking for provision from other sources began. God longs for intimacy with us yet remains sovereign. Within that mystery, we can find him if we seek him. And that means looking for God’s character through all that has been created. God never stops speaking. Are we listening?
God of the Seasons
“All Shall Be well” encourages us to be vulnerable before God who loves us unconditionally. To not be afraid of asking hard questions and finding refuge in the midst of uncomfortable seasons. The book is laid out according to the four seasons beginning with Spring and then subdivided into chapters speaking into specific aspects of them. Each chapter focuses on a character quality that reflects God’s image. For example, “winter” includes chapters on snow:rest, wilderness:dependence and salt:endurance. Weaving personal stories through reflection and insight, McNeil’s words are as beautiful as the topic. In addition, at the end of each chapter are questions for the reader to ponder which help with action steps.
All Shall be Well
The title of this book is fitting for such a time as this. Julian of Norwich a fourteenth century mystic who pronounced “All will be well” for anxious souls living in troubling times. We live in such moments. Lots of loud voices, nonstop news updates and polarizing relationships tempt us to wonder where God’s presence is in all of it. Yet, as we are reminded in the book, God has not moved. Our senses must be awakened again to seeing, hearing, and feeling him all around us. When everything else appears to be changing, it is comforting to remember where we can find refuge.
I pinch myself as I feel my feet on the new terrain. The reality of literally walking on the ground of a land across the globe feels surreal. Though I will live in Sweden as an exchange student in college lasted for only three months, the experience will transform me for a lifetime.
Thirty-two years later, I find myself repeatedly connecting to the culture that became my brief home. It shapes my politics, my worldviews, my lifestyle, and my theology. But it wasn’t comfortable at first. Oh, the anticipation of adventure, a first plane ride (nineteen hours!), the quest for independence as a young adult and the wonder of landing in new soil fueled a racing rhythm in my heart. But, truthfully, those elements became a backdrop for the most profound changes that took place.
I was no longer in a comfortable place. It wasn’t familiar. I didn’t know my place in the social/political scene. How was I viewed as an American? Living in community with others who do not share any part of your country’s influential narrative, puts you in a vulnerable place.
But it’s a good place. A humbling place. I am dependent on someone else to show me the ropes. For everything. How do I find transportation? What if I can’t speak the language right (which happened and if the people that I addressed were laughing inside, they didn’t show it), We’re eating WHAT for breakfast? What’s the expected routine? In the midst of that rhythm of exchange between learner and teacher, a connection takes place. One that puts a face to the “them” who are not American. I recognize my only identity is as another human created in God’s image. Nothing else.
It is a blessing to share life, if even briefly, with those who live a world away. Yes, there are differences. But we need to be exposed to them. We need to hear diverse voices speaking into our lives. Because God created a vast world and a mosaic of people reflecting the Imago Dei. And one small perspective of our world does not give us a glimpse of the expansive character of God.
One thing can become both life giving and life draining depending on how we see it.
Summer is my favorite season. I long for the more relaxed schedule, the warmth of the air kissing my skin, and opportunities to engage with the beauty of vibrantly colored landscape dotting views. Living in the Great Lakes region, leaves one restless in those midwinter months. The long, cold, often icy days of hunkering down inside leave me holding on to a vision of sunny, carefree moments. The countdown to summer begins in March.
Yet, every May, I find myself tempted to cram as much into my summer months as possible. I justify it by recognizing that the busy schedules of the school year and the inclement weather make it hard to fit in excursions, connections with friends, and bucket list items.
But recently, I have learned to listen to God speak into the liturgy of my life. I haven’t felt renewed. In fact, I sometimes feel obligated to obey an agenda set by me that isn’t completely life giving. Why?
I have been convicted that many of the spaces that become filled in my days are a result of the little voice in my head that yearns for identity in my self induced “should” list rather than in my Creator. The items on my agenda are things that, in themselves, are life giving. But are they life giving to me right now?
Emily P. Freeman’s words in her book, “The Next Right Thing,” spoke into my struggle: “If you feel more like a robot with a to-do list in your hand than an artist with wonder in your eyes, stop. Close your eyes, open one hand in your lap, and put the other in your heart, and ask yourself, What am I longing for in this moment? What is life giving?”
So, this summer will look different for me. My goals have changed. As tempting as it is to fill my schedule with “shoulds,” I am leaving space. It’s a sign of surrender. It means things may get left “undone.” Connecting with some of my friends will have to wait. But I’m learning to be at peace with that and rest in God’s presence rather than my own. The path to renewal means recognizing when I need to move out of my own way.
This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
“It is well with my soul It is well, It is well with my soul”
As I sing along with the virtual choir in my head, I pause.Is it though? Is it really well with my soul?
I am reminded of the Jewish word Shalom. Longing for Shalom goes beyond desiring peace for self or neighbor. ““Shalom” is taken from the root word shalam, which means, “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It speaks of completeness, fullness, or a type of wholeness that encourages you to give back — to generously re-pay something in some way.” (https://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/)
I ponder on the state of my heart. Why do I feel restless?
Am I holding a grudge?
Am I resisting the grace poured over me?
Am I seeking security on a platform of privilege rather than in the the footsteps of Christ?
Am I allowing Jesus to touch the wounded parts of me?
Have I embraced the mercies that are “new every morning?”
Do I fear the path God has placed in front of me?
Am I surrendering that which I can’t or don’t need to control?
Am I asking for help where needed?
Is unrecognized grief residing within?
Am I in need of connection with others?
The road to wellness begins with naming that which prevents the attainment of Shalom.
Perhaps, the liturgy of my life would do well to incorporate a daily wellness check. How about you? This post was written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community. Come join us! https://fiveminutefriday.com/
At times, the most extravagant beauty is found in simplicity. The brilliance radiated by a single firefly. The intricate, colorful design adorning one tropical fish. A single rose. “Simple” allows one to hone in and marvel at the craftsmanship.
My thoughts of simple beauty and nature naturally gravitate to memories of my husband’s grandfather Elmer. No middle name. Just Elmer. He was a quiet man with an unassuming presence. His favorite attire consisted of a t-shirt and jeans. Inside resided a large heart and a giant faith. He found blessing in his Creator, whose hand shaped his purposes as well as the bounty of fruitful things that dot our surrounding landscape. Gardening was his passion. Summers brought a harvest from a large garden and the surrounding rose bushes that framed it. Read more here: https://redbudwritersguild.com/simple-beauty-planted-a-lasting-legacy/