How I Sense Your Embrace Through Your Creation

Awakened to the light radiating into my face,

the enveloping warmth spreads

reminding me of your abiding presence

Spring winds breathe on my skin

lulling me to sleep

whispering that you remain awake

The aroma of freshly cut grass lingers

surrounding me with the smell of your beauty

a fragrance bearing witness to your hand

Everywhere I go, Oh God, you embrace me

through all that your hands have made

affirming that you neither sleep nor slumber

You are ever over and around me.

This post is written for the Five Minute Writing Community prompt “Embrace”. Come join the fun http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/

 

 

 

How a “Good Thing” Can Be a Stumbling Block

Would you call your closest friend Satan?  No doubt that friends can have disagreements sometimes.  It happens.  But calling someone you consider to be your confidant, advocate and support system, the name of a  being whose only mission is to destroy seems harsh.  Especially, if the context involves your friend seemingly making known a desire that they wish for your well being.  Why on Earth would you be so angry over that interaction?

In fact, an eyewitness would most likely accuse you of overreacting.  (Do you need more sleep? Is something bothering you?)

So goes the pondering on this passage found in Matthew 16: 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Wow! Really?

Jesus invited Peter to be his friend and mentoree.  HE invited Peter into relationship. They ate together, prayed together, shared together.  They literally did life together.

I couldn’t imagine imitating Jesus in that way. And yet…we are called to imitate him.

I’ve learned that I need to do just what he did. And more often.  Because Jesus tuned his ears to hear the voice of his Father among the many voices calling out to him. His first priority was following the will of God.  Not his disciples. Not the crowds. Not his family.

The irony is that many of those voices represented good things: healing, listening, friendship.  Yet, none represented the BEST thing.  The BEST thing was the plan that God was laying out for him.  But Peter was not ready for what that plan entailed.  Who can blame him?  Of course he doesn’t want to hear that a death sentence awaits.  The implications of Jesus’ death are many-the most personal one being that it would leave Peter without this person who has transformed his life on Earth.  But it isn’t about Peter.  And it isn’t about all the ways Jesus could fulfill people’s needs.  It’s about being in tune with the will of his Father.

Jesus’ exhortation most certainly sent a chill to Peter  But it was truth.  Peter’s plea to Jesus represented a path that was contrary to the one that Jesus knew  he was to walk. One would be afire with the Glory of God and the other would lead away.

Satan will try hard to distract us from listening to God’s voice. Some of those distractions come in the form of “good things”: other people’s expectations, the myriad of ministry opportunities luring us, the desire to do good.

But sometimes you get a gut feeling that the path you’re on is not where God wants you treading.   It’s that inner voice that you ignore because the way you are investing your time and resources appears to be productive.

But that “peace that passes all understanding” isn’t there.

In the last year, I’ve come to realize what happens when I don’t really listen to the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. It’s so easy to dig in and be consumed by “callings” to areas that use my skills and gifts. Being drawn to people is always a temptation of mine. But when I jump in without listening; without praying,  I feel tired and frustrated.  And, in a sense, those “good” things become my “Peter.”  They are stumbling blocks.

What is God’s purpose for you right now?  In this season of your life?  What is the “BEST” way that Jesus can be seen at work in your life? What must you give up to embrace it?

 

 

 

How the Roots of a Childhood Friendship Produced Fruit After Forty Years

I spied her as I entered the cafe area of the bookstore; thankful for her patience as she waited for my arrival. While heading toward our agreed upon meeting spot, I had taken a wrong turn (in my own hometown!) Hastily and frantically, I corrected the error and prayed that my friend would not grow impatient in her waiting.

This anticipated coffee date was no routine gathering between two women. It was an encounter of two childhood friends after forty years of life’s detours leading us to different paths. After my family picked up from our neighboring house and planted ourselves in the alternate jr. high district, our friendship withered.  Truthfully, those tween years often stretch relationships. Identities shift, new interests emerge. Perhaps we had begun that transition also. Although together again in high school, new friendships had bloomed; creating different horizons for us.

Thoughts of my friend entered my mind intermittently during those forty years. Joyful memories of long hot summer days playing games, swimming, sleepovers; at times living in a world created by the imaginations of innocent minds. What was she doing now? Where does she live? Does she have kids?

Two years ago, we reconnected on social media. Truly a blessing, yet, a bit daunting. How do you pour out forty years of a life online?

Since social media provided a glimpse into our lives, our common interests were revealed. Leaning toward a taste for coffee beverages, finding refuge in books, and rooting our lives in Jesus led to a decision-to meet at a Christian bookstore the next time I made the trip home.

So on that day, after my frantic journey, I spied her. Surreal. The embrace affirmed our roots remained deep; despite the lost connection. And we talked….for hours. Stories exchanged  of  walking in deserts, stung by thorns, feeling parched and, yet, blessed by the beauty of redemption and restoration blooming in other seasons.

One never knows the ways God moves through us as we wander in and out of each other’s lives. But what we do know is that in some way fruit is produced. Even if it takes forty years to see the abundance.

 

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing prompt. Come join us! http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/

Where is the safest place?

Untitled design (13) Sometimes life doesn’t make sense. The reality of living in a world of brokenness washes over us on a daily basis. Yet, I think we are still caught off guard by it……and sometimes the depth of that brokenness challenges us.

In November 2015, a story appeared on various news outlets regarding the tragic murder of a young woman in her home. Amanda Blackburn, wife and new mother, (her son isn’t yet one years old) was simply in the midst of her daily routines when an intruder broke into the home. Her husband of a couple of years, came home from the gym to find his beloved soulmate dying. Somehow, in the midst of their everyday tasks, in the refuge of their home, the life they knew was shattered.

I know this scenario is not exceptional. Sadly, the random taking of a life happens everyday, all over the world. People lose children, spouses, parents, friends unexpectedly everyday. Sometimes, the events are preventable. Sometimes they are not. Yet, because the we cannot fathom the pain endured by those affected, and because we know that we could easily find ourselves in their place one day, the gut reaction is to find reason.  We grasp for control. We tell ourselves that if we can explain the incident away, then we can remove ourselves from “that place” of vulnerability.

As I read comments to the articles on Amanda’s murder, I noticed a thread in one of the discussions. Perhaps this young vibrant couple should have done their research before relocating from South Carolina to Indianapolis? Unfortunately, sin happens everywhere. And when you are a follower of Christ, you cannot go anywhere that will assure you of safety. And that’s the rub. Jesus never made safety a prerequisite for following him. The Blackburns knew that: which is why they moved to Indianapolis. The Blackburns left their beloved church in the south to follow God’s leading to begin a new church in Indianapolis. According to the church’s website, “Davey and Amanda Blackburn moved to Indianapolis in January of 2012 with a dream and a calling to start a life-giving church that would connect with people who normally wouldn’t connect with church. (http://resonateindianapolis.com/our-story/).” 

At a conference I attended, Rev. Raleigh Washington shared about his personal experience regarding the costs of following Christ. He and his family moved to Chicago to plant a church. The neighborhood to which they moved was one depicted by poverty and oppression. Violence, unfortunately, occurred on a daily basis. One day, his son was physically assaulted by another student as he got off the school bus. Friends of the family questioned Raleigh and his decision to move to a “dangerous” place. His response is etched in my heart and my mind. “My friends,” he said, “the most dangerous place to live is outside the will of God.”

That truth is uncomfortable. It’s no wonder Jonah jumped out of the boat. He feared going to a dangerous place. Which, by human accounts, it was. Have you researched the Ninevites? But this life isn’t about us. It’s about God and a bigger picture that involves us.

Several years ago, my husband was offered an opportunity to work in Florida. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity. He even would have traveled to the Bahamas occasionally. Our child was a toddler. What could possibly be wrong with this offer? We were ready to jump on it. But first, we committed to praying and seeking God’s blessing on this new move. And you know what? It didn’t happen. So we prayed some more. And we still didn’t sense God’s blessing. We had to acknowledge that, for us, Sarasota was a dangerous place to live. Not because of criminal activity. But because it was outside of God’s will.

Not all dangerous places look the same

So, let’s pray for the Blackburns.  Their lives have been changed forever.  Her family and friends are experiencing brokenness in its most intense Earthly form. But evil does not have the last word.  Amanda may not be here on Earth.  The expectations her husband held for how they would serve God together may have changed, but God’s revelation and purposes have not. This is the place to which they were called to live.  And because of that, it is anything but a dangerous place.

“Trust in the Lord  with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  (proverbs 3:5-6)

 

 

 

Why I Long to Run With Abandon to My God

Arms stretched wide; a posture of surrender and vulnerability forthcoming.

Not in front to push away or self protect

Legs moving forward as in autopilot; I can barely feel the soles of my feet beating the pavement

At times, my toes nearly skim the surface of the ground beneath me

My face drips with the very water that sustains my life

Sweat and tears blur that which I run toward

but my feet know the way

I run into the embrace of the one who abandons not.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” Psalm 91:4

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deut. 33:27

“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Isaiah 66:13

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:8

This is what I long for.

To abandon

the  voices of deceit; whispering of unforgivable guilt

the beasts; threatening to keep me in fear of treading the path set before me

the temptation to head down the path which promises reward for my impatience

I long to let the embrace of my Creator remain memorized in every tendon and muscle

For my God never abandons me.

This post is written for the Five Minute Friday Writing Community.  Come join the fun! http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/

 

 

How a “Cranky Man” Opened My Eyes to Divine Interruptions

His presence in the doorway, caught me off guard.  Normally, I observed him shuffling up and down the hallway with his walker. ”  During my visits to my grandmother’s room in this assisted living facility, this elderly man and I routinely passed each other. Often, his facial expression spoke of anger and his sharp outbursts to others to “Move out of my way!” convinced me that avoidance might be best. In fact, he was known in my head as “cranky man.”

So on this particular day, I was startled when I spied him pausing in the doorway of my grandmother’s room. The door had been left open to the main hallway because my mother, sister, and I were cleaning out her room. A few hours earlier, we had laid her to rest. Her death brought an end to a deterioration of her health; culminating in a recent diagnosis of bone cancer. It was a day full of emotion, pondering and celebration. As we focused on going through the items during what was already a long day, “cranky man” wandered in to ask how things were going.  I must admit that two thoughts came into my mind upon his greeting: 1) “It’s the cranky man who tells us to be quiet” 2) “I just want to finish”.

Ironically (and I’m convinced divinely appointed), my young son came running in the room which caused the conversation to turn to the energy of a 10 year old.  Being polite, I asked our visitor where he grew up.  To my surprise, he answered, “Chicago.”  Well, of course, that drew me in. On top of that, he had been a pastor. Who knew that we shared two common elements in our stories?  For the next hour, I was engaged in conversation with this man who I merely knew as my grandma’s neighbor.

I listened as Bob (no longer the “cranky man”) shared the most amazing story of his childhood. Placed in an orphanage as an infant, he was later  adopted by a couple. His parents, both followers of Christ, added two more sons through adoption. As Bob told his story, his eyes conveyed the love he had for his father; a man whose life radiated Jesus.

Bob’s father was a physician and felt a tug to leave a potentially comfortable place in life to a small town in Illinois. The size of the town wasn’t an issue of adjustment. However, it didn’t believe in medicine! Despite the very real possibility of being ostracized from their new neighbors, moving plans proceeded. As a young boy, Bob wondered how the family would be treated. Would people befriend them?

Perhaps church would provide a place of welcome and refuge for this family of five. Boldly, they made their way to worship one Sunday. What would happen if anyone knew of his father’s occupation? Bob fearfully waited for reaction…..A man suddenly stood up; pointing at Bob’s father.  News travels fast in small towns. The rumors of a physician coming to the town had been realized. The man; recognized. A demand to leave followed.  Apparently, the perception of medicine was correlated to evil. Firmly, and bravely, this physician responded that his family was staying.

To three young boys, one had to wonder if they perceived that action as a blessing or a curse.

However, in telling me the story, his eyes lit up as he shared the courage his father showed in choosing to  stay despite the church praying for him to leave. What would give his parents the courage to make such a choice? Where are they finding peace in this tension?

What Bob so powerfully witnessed was the hand of God moving beneath the scenes. This physician brought healing to wounds of the flesh but also restoration to wounds of the soul. The knees of three young boys ached from their nightly prayer routine. Patients names were added to other list. Sometimes, the prayers lasted an hour. Despite the admonition to keep the information confidential, the manifestation of the hand of God appeared before their eyes.

The transformation that took place in that town as a result of his father’s legacy continues to reap fruit. In fact, with tears in his eyes, Bob recounted the day his father died suddenly. The entire town shut down for the funeral.

The conversation morphed into lighter substance. We laughed about his rebellious antics which resulted in being kicked out of a prominent Christian college. We agreed that we would meet up again. How could I not? I longed to be blessed more from his gleanings!

In one hour, Bob let me into his soul.

How many other times have I tuned out such an encounter? What more of God’s character and works would I know if I learned to open my eyes and my ears to the nudges of the Holy Spirit?  What blessings do we miss when we don’t tread in the places resided by the “least of these?”

I would have never imagined that the most profound moment of that day would come after my Grandma’s funeral.  God is Good.

Finding Joy in Your Repurposing

fan

For my husband and I, our first years of marriage involved living simply. Truthfully, the small apartment in which we resided seemed cozy. Our furnishings consisted of the necessities, and often times, played multiple purposes.

One hot Summer day, with sweat dripping and no air conditioning, I sought out our fan. Except, I couldn’t find it. In our small home consisting of two bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, and living room, the fan appeared no where. Both of us scanned each room. Nope.

And did I mention it was sprayed purple?

And then……we spotted it! Why we didn’t we see it before? 

Our fan had been repurposed as an endtable-next to our bed.

Our lives resemble that fan (although you may not be sprayed purple). Different seasons alter our purposes. Student, mother, wife, caregiver, employee…..

Wherever God deems to use us is an ordained purpose. However, our perspective does not always align with our Creator’s.  We are lured by the applause and validation by cultural standards of purpose. How can the sleep deprived state of a new mother caring for one share the same valued purpose as your former polished corporate self? Can you find fulfillment in overnight stocking at Target when you once pastored a church?(I did) Can the Holy spirit move in your fragile flesh with the same power that was made manifest in a previously energized healthy body?

In what way does God want to use you to proclaim that He is at work? Changing diapers? Caring for an ailing relative? Making a difference in your workplace? Serving in a greater capacity in your community or church? Wherever God places you, that is your title for a season. 

We can consider ourselves blessed. Because God has been in the business of redeeming and repurposing since the beginning. Although our actual names may not change, we find a common sisterhood in Esther (girl to queen), Sarah (barren woman to mother of a nation), Ruth (widow to new bride).

God’s promise to Israel extends to us as well:

The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
3You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” Isaiah 62:2-3

(This post is written for the Five Minute Friday writing prompt. Come join the fun! http://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/)