Remembering that God Beats GPS

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.
In all your ways obey him.
    Then he will make your paths smooth and straight. (
Proverbs 3:5-6)

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Book Review: The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament

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.

What a Road Trip With My Son Taught Me

We must keep watch for those sacred moments with our kids.

My youngest son and I took a quick road trip to Michigan. The destination was my hometown. Although we have navigated this course more times than I can count, this trip was different. My son drove the whole way.

We are thick in the midst of driving hours for him to receive his license. He’s ready to invest in those hours of practice. Me? Not so much. Learning to drive indicates another mile marker of independence. For parents, those places mean an adjustment emotionally and logistically. Movement toward maturity involves change in relationships with others. That can be an uncomfortable place in which to sit when you are one of the “others.”

Originally I intended to sit in the driver’s seat. Because that’s what I have been conditioned to do. And as much as I don’t always relish my role as a chauffer, I have become a creature of habit. But my son asked if he could drive on this trip. Really? The whole way? Hesitantly, I took my place in the passenger seat. It’s where I belonged but it didn’t feel comfortable.

But yielding control has its benefits. God provides in unexpected ways.

The trip was not without some bumps in the road (literally and figuratively). He’s still learning. It would have been much more efficient (and I could have argued “safer”) if I drove. But that’s not how parenting works. If I had never allowed my son to walk, he would not have developed his muscles in his legs or made neural connections in his brain. Parents live the paradox of being protectors and liberators at the same time. And that can be an uncomfortable place in which to sit.

What I recognized was that this place, these moments were sacred opportunities. In the midst of the quandaries of figuring out how to navigate our relatinship,God had provided a sanctuary today. We talked about school,the afterlife, and mysteries listened to podcasts. We even ate inside (gasp!) at McDonalds because he didn’t want eating interfering with driving.

I recognize this is my last round of big “liberation” moments with my kids. He graduates next year. My last child will be on his own. These moments are precious. I’ve tried to take advantage of impromptu opportunities in the car before. You’d think I would learn. Today, I will savor the gift we were given and pray that I keep watch for the next one.

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What I Learn From Others’ Stories About Waiting

Lord, my longings are sitting in plain sight,
    my groans an old story to you. ..
(Psalm 38:9)

Waiting is not for the faint of heart. Human nature gravitates toward immediate gratification. The longing to see, touch, or feel that for which we desire permeates the heart and flows through our limbs.

At times, I find myself morphing into the character Veruca Salt from the book/movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” After realizing she didn’t get the golden goose, she melodically whines, “Don’t care how, I want it now!”

Craving idols of gold is nothing new. The Israelites knew a bit about that. My idols may not be made of gold but they originate from the same human problem: impatience.

I find myself in the company of others whose struggles are revealed in scripture:

The Israelites waited for a home

Abraham and Sarah waited for a child (and the promise of a multitude of progeny)

Joseph waited for liberation

Esther waited for the right time

Mary waited for the birth of her child and the manifestation of who she carried.

What I do, God, is wait for you,
    wait for my Lord, my God—you will answer!
(Psalm 38:15)

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I Vow to be a Bridge Crosser

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.

How about you?

Book Review: The Next Right Thing

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.

Together Yet Apart: Celebrating Healing Moments in the Relationship Between Mother and Daughter

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.

All Shall be Well: a Book Review

“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.

How Our Ebenezers Share Our Story

Several years ago, my family instituted an ancient practice: creating Ebenezers. We needed physical reminders that God is with us. Always. Remembering our past gives us hope for the future.

It’s not exactly a well known practice although it should become one again. “Ebenezer’s” claim to fame is a word found in the hymn, “Come Though Fount of Every Blessing.” The reference comes from 1 Samuel 7:12 in which Israel defeated the Philistines. In gratitude for God’s intervention in the battle, Samuel held up a stone calling it “Ebenezer” (God helped us.)

Much of our life as a family involves seasons of pain and struggle followed by seasons of provision and restoration. Creating markers to remember the ways God’s hand moved in our lives points us to God’s character.

We find ourselves in good company.

“The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, 21 saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,[b] which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” Joshua 4:19-24.

So we write the names and dates of specific events in which we experienced God’s goodness, glory, deliverance, or simply presence on the stones or create them into a sculpture representing them. . Because it goes without saying that at some point our voices will strain as we cry out for God’s help. And the testimony of the stones will speak words of hope to us. We will remember again that God sees us. Hears us. Shows up. Always.

Tell me about your ebenezers.

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Why I’m Thankful for a God of all Seasons

It caught my eye as I stepped off my porch. A small orange dried leaf laying alone on the ground.

It’s sight summoned up a whirlwind of emotions. While I embrace some parts of fall, I adore summer. Seeing that orange leaf signaled to me that fall is back. I scanned around quickly gauging the color scheme of the trees. Green seemed to appear as the majority of hues on my landscape palette. But tinges of orange edged the shapes of the trees.

Cozy, candle lit evenings, pumpkin flavor, and hot apple cider bring me delight. But the change to a cold, dark landscape does not. Truthfully, winters sting my body and soul. I relish sun and warm air kissing my skin. However, God has called me to this midwest climate for now and I can look for God’s glory in its midst.

Glimpsing at that lone leaf reminded me that there is comfort in the order of seasons. They point to a God who has created a stunningly beautiful, mysterious and orderly universe that synchronizes to breathe life into all creation. This season of in-between serves to remind me that I need seasons. All of them.

An orange leaf on a balmy August morning tells me that fall is around the corner-but not yet. I can prepare for what’s coming because I’ve been there before and I know that, despite my disliking for cooler weather, God’s provision is taking place-for the earth and for me. It’s not always an easy lesson. Recognizing that the universe does not revolve around me needs to be spoken into my life in various ways-including a lone orange leaf.

But, I am grateful that God’s holiness intersects my our world. And in the midst, speaks to me through a leaf.

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