The Invitation of Wide Open Spaces

When trouble surrounded me, I cried out to the Eternal; He answered me and brought me to a wide, open space.   Psalm 118:5-6 The Voice 

We finally took down our Christmas tree. We left it up much later this year than is usual for us. We were savouring the lights in the early mornings and evenings. Our rabbit loved to sit under it. So we lingered at the tree a little longer.

But this weekend it was time for it to come down. I took off all the decorations. My husband and our oldest son dismantled it. (Too many allergies for a real tree, sadly.) Then my husband cleaned up not only the mess from the tree (yes fake ones have needles that fall off too!) but the whole room too. He managed to clear up in an hour what I haven’t been able to do in a week.  (I KNOW!)

My point?  This morning, I am enjoying some space.

Photo on 2016-01-11 at 10.33 AM #2

The Christmas tree is beautiful but it takes up some prized real estate in the house. After it’s down, the house always seems to expand.

It’s not just the house that is feeling roomy. As I look at the weeks ahead, my calendar is looking rather empty. I had to take some breathing room and I said no to some regular commitments.

It’s a good feeling to have space. To be able to exhale. To take stock. To rest. There is something freeing about having space to move, to think and to be.

I came across this verse from Psalm 118 this morning. I have always found it interesting that God not only answered the writer but took him to a wide, open space. Why? The psalmist says God had answered him. Does that mean that the answer was He took him to an open space? He was rescued by being taken away?

Or does it mean something else?

That in the open, when you have space, things can suddenly become clear? Chaos fades.

When clarity comes, you can see. Things you missed in the claustrophobia of busy, of deadlines, of to do. Clarity brings into focus what is important, what was being blocked by the frenzy and the panic of the rush. The walls that close in as we try to do more, as we try to control.  As we give in to fear.

In a wide open space you can see God. Because He fills it but there’s nothing claustrophobic about Him. A wide open space will let you see see yourself in relationship to Him. What does it look like? How far away are you from Him? How close?

IMG_0482

The next verse, the Psalmist says, The Eternal is with me, so I will not be afraid of anything. If God is on my side, how can anyone hurt me?
Maybe being brought to the wide open space, he could see that God was indeed right beside him so he could be brave. With a God so big that he fills the world with His presence, what was there to be afraid of? Maybe the psalmist saw that in the wide open space.

I could be totally wrong. I’m not a biblical scholar. I’m fascinated by wide open spaces.  I like them.  A.Lot.

Besides opening our eyes to the presence of God, a wide open space can do a few other useful things for us.

 

Wide open spaces invites deep cleansing breaths. Which clears the fog and cobwebs.

Wide open spaces entices one to lie down and rest. To gaze at the sky. To bring your body to stillness.

IMG_3708

Wide open spaces also inspires creativity. After the rest, comes art. A wide open space is a dance floor, and it calls for some dancing! Or skipping. Running. It lets imagination and play run wild.

Wide open spaces suggest an emptying of what is not needed and a filling of what is.

Wide open spaces are a wooing from the Eternal to draw close and see Him in the open. Like we never have before. To see Him as our Defender. Our friend. As our one and only God. As Creator. As Lover.

I look at my wide open calendar spaces. They have the feel of an invitation. To come. To see. To experience. To get to know Him as He fills in the blanks.

What about you?  Do you have any wide open spaces?  Or do you need to make some room so you can have some space?  What do you see in those wide open spaces?

TURNING BACK: Finding What I Thought I’d Lost

The year ended, leaving me, with a surprise. I know it’s now the new year and we are supposed to be looking forward but before I do, I need to TURN BACK to the old year for a minute. I need to process something I wasn’t expecting.

I found Christmas this year. I thought it was lost to me. It never really felt like Christmas. For you too? (What does Christmas feel like, really? Why can’t it change from year to year?) There was no snow. The boys were wearing hoodies not winter jackets. It was grey every day.

Advent was non-existent in our house. I didn’t decorate other than a few table decorations because we were having the staff over one night. The tree went up because the boys expected one (rightly so). But other than that, I opened a few boxes and closed them up again. I didn’t have the energy or spirit. I didn’t even set up our nativity scene, something I usually love.

So I fully expected nothing from Christmas. I hadn’t done my duty to prepare. Because it fully depends on our doing to experience Christmas, right? To wonder at the Christ child’s birth, we have to do advent readings. Attend church. That’s what we’re told, maybe not in words.

To feel Christmasy, the house must be cleaned and decorated to the nines. Our freezers must be loaded with baking and treats. We pressure ourselves every year.

IMG_2229
These didn’t happen this year! This photo is a year old at least!

 

It’s not just Christmas, either. Easter is starting to feel the same. It’s becoming something else to do rather than experience. We’ve messed it up. It all depends solely on us. All.Of.It. We think.

If we don’t participate, we tell ourselves, then we don’t deserve to see Jesus. That’s how I thought deep down although I probably wouldn’t have admitted it. I’m not saying that baking and decorating and Advent are bad. But what about grace? The outside glitter is okay but if it becomes the idol of Christmas then we need to TURN AWAY from it.

My TURNING AWAY this Christmas was rebelling against the status quo and being too exhausted to bother with it all. I’m weary of doing and chasing. I just said no to it all.

Saying no was the best gift I could’ve given myself. In the empty spaces that not baking, decorating, going and doing left behind, those spaces were filled with quiet, rest, and peace.

I thought I wouldn’t see Jesus this Christmas because I hadn’t done my part. After all, I had said no to Him. Rather, I had said no to the imposter that says to worship him I have to work hard to know him, I have to chase but never catch him. (Lynne Hybels in her book, Nice Girls Don’t Change the World, first clued me into this imposter.) I thought I had lost Christmas.

But the real Jesus, showed up in the quiet, in the rest and most of all, in the peacefulness of our home. I didn’t recognize him at first because I’ve been too focused on the imposter and the lies he’s been whispering. I believed all I deserved was a lump of coal. Naughty girl.

As I TURN BACK to the last couple of weeks, I see the presence of Jesus in our home and our lives. I was thinking about another problem one day and God showed me that sometimes when we think He is far from us, He’s actually sitting right beside us. Sometimes He waits for us to TURN TO Him. Other times He TURNS TO us first. And still others, He just sits with us. But in all of these situations, He is near. He is loving us. Even when we think He has abandoned us.

IMG_0161

That’s what I see, when I TURN BACK to Christmas 2015. I see wisps of his presence in the boys’ laughter and twinkling eyes. I see Him in the rest, against all odds, both my husband and I experienced. I see Him in the funny things Whiskers, our pet dwarf rabbit, does. I see Him in late night movies and chicken wings. And so much more.

IMG_2365

The emptiness brought fullness. The stopping instead of doing, brought focus. It all brought me face-to-face with the real Jesus. The true gift. Unexpected. Undeserved.

My desire In 2016, is to TURN TO the real Jesus. I won’t be doing anything else. The days of earning, striving, and chasing are over. (Although I know I will have to remind myself again and again about this. These lies have been ingrained in my DNA if feels like.)

TURN TO the real Jesus. And then, I’ll wait for Him to show Himself.

What It Means to Live BRAVE

The other night I was watching one of those made for tv holiday movies that causes my husband’s eyes to roll and the words “chick flick” hangs in the air. I’ll admit, they are a weakness for me. Occasionally though, they surprise you.

In the movie, The Christmas Gift there was this awesome line. The heroine, a reporter for a weekly magazine was getting some wise advice from her boss. He told her to think differently. “Don’t just think outside the box. Destroy the box.” (Or something close to that.)

Those words smacked me between the eyes. What does it mean to destroy the box? What does that even look like? I can’t stop thinking about it.
I also can’t believe that it’s December and my year of BRAVE is coming to a close. It wasn’t what I expected.

IMG_2302

What I presumed God had in mind for me when He gave me that word was really only the tip of the iceberg. That’s what you get for thinking you understand how God thinks or works! I thought He wanted me to tackle community and my aversion to it. Being a pastor’s wife and my aversion to it. What I’ve discovered: they are just symptoms of something else that really needed to be dealt with. It’s been a bit of a smackdown, I have to admit. Not necessarily in a bad way and me resisting at every step hasn’t helped.

I thought being brave and facing my fears would be all chest puffing and feeling good about myself. Sometimes being brave is that but for the most part, being willing to be brave and courageous is painful. Staring down fear, hate, unforgiveness, pride, lies and evil to name a few, is not even remotely fun. Or glamorous. It’s messy, dirty and exhausting. So no, Brave has not turned out quite like I thought.

It’s still good. Why? Because although I sometimes think I am alone in this, I am not. With the Almighty beside me, I can be brave. Why do we doubt that?

As I think about being Brave, my thoughts turn back to that line from the movie. “Destroy the box.” I’m thinking being brave destroys the box. God is a destroyer of boxes. With His help, we can attack the box, break it down and then begin to live and grow out from there. His abundance overflows once the walls are down.

Here’s a little review of what I’ve learned about being brave this year and tearing down those boxes. Each act is step towards freedom and healing, moments to be celebrated.

Being BRAVE is not a one time journey. It’s a daily one, like a commute. Each day we have to make that decision to be brave. To be bold. That takes a whole lot of courage!

Being BRAVE is getting out of bed each morning when we’d rather hide under the covers. For some, this is a major victory each day.

Being BRAVE is making the choice to love even when it hurts so much we think it’s going to kill us.

Being BRAVE is opening ourselves to the scary. To go to that place we don’t want to even acknowledge exists. The place where doubts reside. Questions claw to be heard. Memories hurt. Instead of burying them deep, we courageously face them down.

Being BRAVE is owning our mistakes. Saying you’re sorry. And then moving on.

Being BRAVE is choosing to go with truth rather than feelings. The truth never changes but our feelings do.

Being BRAVE is getting up after losing a fight. Choosing to stay in the ring and fight for all it’s worth.

Being BRAVE is following God wherever it takes you, even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when you’re scared out of your wits. It’s leaning into the adventure rather than the fear.

Being BRAVE is being humble. Letting go of pride. Of being right. Of having the last word. Being okay with that.

Being BRAVE is being able to ask for help and receive it when it’s offered. Read that somewhere this week. So true.

These are just a few examples of what being brave is to me. There are so many more. There are many people who live brave everyday. I’m more aware of them now. I’m inspired by them.

We think being brave is a solitary thing. We see it in movies. The lone soldier who saves the world. It’s not. Being brave is made up of many people. We may be the ones fighting but like Moses, there are people who are holding our arms up. Moses prayed, Joshua fought and Aaron and Hur held Moses arms up. (Exodus 17:12) It takes a village to be courageous.

It takes an open heart that accepts not just the love of those around us but the love of our heavenly Dad. Who loves us so much we are written on the palms of his hands. See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins. Isaiah 49:16 NLT

So often we are suspicious of it. We think we don’t deserve it. We don’t know what to do with it. We can’t fathom it. But really all we have to do is accept it. In that one courageous act, the box is stomped on. Not just destroyed but decimated. The enemy is driven back and his power has no hold on us. Because we are His Beloved. So we can be BRAVE.

My friend Carrie Guse, who also happens to be our Worship Director at Bethany, wrote a song called Brave.  With her permission I have included it here.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do singing it at church!  Be Brave friends!

Telling the Truth

“Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before the governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it….All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matt 10:17, 18, 22

Today I was reading Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge. It was a chapter called Disruptive Honesty, about Jesus being a truth teller. He brought up the Matthew 10 passage.

The context is Jesus preparing his disciples for their first foray into the mission field. Eldredge sarcastically writes, “Well this is quite a motivational speech.” It’s not. If there were any hedging about going, they’d probably quit right then. Eldredge goes on to write, (and this is what got me) “But maybe this is just what they needed to hear. Consider the alternative – what if he told them, ‘Everything is going to be fine. Just love, and everyone will love you.’ Then when reality hit and they found themselves bitterly hated and persecuted, they would feel betrayed.” (p. 74)

IMG_1789

I underlined that last bit in my book. Why didn’t someone point this passage out to me when I married a pastor? When he graduated from seminary? I’ve read this scripture many times but never once did I think of it in terms of a commissioning speech. It’s not something speakers talk about when they are addressing seminary grads. But they should. Instead they say, “God will bless you.” “God’s preparing you for something special.” “It’s so wonderful that you are entering full-time ministry.” It’s nice to hear. Sometimes it’s true. Unfortunately the other side of the coin, what Jesus was warning his disciples about, is rarely mentioned.

Anyhow, it would have been helpful to have this knowledge waaaaay before now. As a young wife who happened to marry someone going into full-time ministry, I would have appreciated the warning before my husband graduated. To be on your guard. That hardships are coming, It’s a when, not an if. It’s not a message I ever received being a young pastor’s wife. It should have been. Instead conflict in the church and ministry, is hushed or ignored completely.

Maybe people are afraid we’ll run the other way, I’m not sure. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Many pastors’ wives want to talk about it. Being told the truth is way better than being told lies. It takes courage to tell the truth.  Walking into reality prepared is empowering. Stumbling along in a fantasy world, constantly asking yourself what went wrong, is not. Feeling betrayed is the worst feeling. Eldredge is right, the disciples would have come back feeling betrayed if Jesus had told them everything was going to be great. I know the feeling.

IMG_1868

There are many in full time ministry who are feeling they’ve been sold out, right about now. As well as the many lay people who volunteer their time and talents to these ministries. Why? Because if the leadership of churches and ministries are blindsided by conflict and hate, then how can they prepare their own people for it? They can’t. So everyone suffers. Leaders burn out. Marriages fall apart. People leave churches. They turn away from God.

IMG_2783

I’m not blaming anyone. People meant well. They wanted to encourage us. But in the translation, the wrong message was sent. So I feel it is important to add the warning to the encouragement. Jesus always had the right touch when He spoke truth, says Eldredge. We need to do the same with our young seminary grads and their spouses. Especially their spouses. Truth spoken with encouragement and a lot of love can better prepare the leadership for the future. Instead of sending them into some fantasy that gets shot to bits in the first few years of ministry.

If I could go back, this is what I’d tell myself:

“Be on your guard.” This goes not just for leadership but everyone who lives Jesus out in their lives. You will be targeted by the enemy and men and women. So get ready for it.

God is merciful. He doesn’t abandon us. He does redeem. Maybe not like we’d thought or like. God is concerned about your heart. He will do what He needs to do until we shine like gold. Until the rough is smooth. Open your heart to it all.

Ministry is hard most days. It can suck the life out of you if you look to the right or left. If you don’t guard your heart, soul, mind and family.

Ministry doesn’t define me. Or you.  It’s not who we are. It does not make us special. It’s simply something God has called my husband and me to do.

The bad apples make the real thing that much sweeter. Those fellow labourers who love Jesus and obey Him, are like a balm to the soul. They are reflections of the One we serve and a reminder of why we do what we do.

How Easter Changed Everything

Today as I drove my kids and my husband to school and work, it rained and was grey and dull.  My spirit felt gray and dull too.  Where was all the glory from Easter?  It appeared that it had faded into the recesses as the world took over once again.

Easter Changes Everything.  That was the title of our production at church this weekend.  But does it really?  Because it seems that on the Tuesday after Easter, everything is still the same.  Everything still falls flat.  Every day seems the same.  How is there hope in that?

Yes, eternal life is our hope.  I believe that and I am not minimizing that or the cross in any way, don’t get me wrong.  How do we work out that hope in the present?  Because I believe life here on earth while we wait for our home in heaven is not meant to be spent merely as a waiting room.  Jesus told us that He had come to give us not just life but abundant life.

After dropping everyone off at their destinations, I drove to meet a friend for breakfast.  I am still starved for relationships in this new city.  I rarely speak or talk to many people throughout the week.  Being an introvert, I can do this for weeks on end.  Until I can’t.  Meeting up a with friend today, breathed life into my depressing, same old, same old Tuesday.  Girls just need to chat it up every now and then.  That’s how God made us, even us introverts.  And it was good!  We spoke, we listened, we encouraged each other.   As I left the restaurant, suddenly the day didn’t seem so grey.  Loneliness I didn’t even know I was feeling was blown away, like dust off a table.  A seed of hope sprang to life.

We were created for relationship.  With God.  With others.  It will always fill some void in us.  It was one of the things that Jesus prayed for his disciples the night he was betrayed.  It always blows my mind that Jesus took the time to pray for his disciples and believers that night.   Throughout that prayer, Jesus speaks a lot about “being one as He and His Father are one.” (John 17)  He prays for protection.  He calls them His own.  It is a constant stream from the Father, to the Son to His Followers.  It is about relationship.  Good and healthy relationships build up, encourage, inspire and make us better.  They bring fullness to our lives.

Our relationship with God can be that too.  We no longer have to go through a priest or sacrifice animals.  We can go right to Him.  Read our bibles, pray, watch for Him as He works in the world.  As He shows Himself.  May we have eyes that see and ears to hear.

Our relationship with Him can bring fullness to our lives.  Easter changed that.

When Jesus showed himself to his disciples, he said, “Peace be with you!”  My study bible says that his greeting may have been said to calm their fears.  Remember they had all deserted Him on the Friday before.  We are all deserters at some point.  But His forgiveness is just a prayer away.  Nothing can ever separate us from His love for us.  If God sent His Son to die for us, do you think there is anything that can stand between us?  The cost alone of sending your one and only son, had to be worth it.  We were worth it.  It was complete.  No loopholes.  Nothing can separate us from His love, except ourselves.  Our choice.

Even on the worst days, the hope of His love for us can give us the handhold to hang on.  To hang in there.  Easter changed that.

Finally Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and all believers after He went back to Heaven.  This still applies to us today.  The Spirit is our guide.  It is through the power of the Spirit that we do the work that God has for us.  We rise above the world and get glimpses of the Kingdom in our everyday lives.  The hope of this gives us life.  Gives us reasons to persevere even on depressing, rainy Tuesdays.  Easter changed that.

As the world gets back to business and the Easter holiday fades away as just one more holiday, I want my mantra to be, “Easter changed that for me.”  I pray the hope and glory of Easter shines through ever new day for you and for me.

If I Lived 2000 Years Ago….

It’s Holy Week which is the week leading up to Easter.  Growing up in a mainstream church, we never really talked about Holy Week.  At least I don’t’ remember doing so.  When I went to a different church while I was in university I was introduced to Holy Week.  How the whole week is an important journey to the fulfillment of God’s plan for His people.

The week leading to Jesus’ death on the cross was quite some week.  It wasn’t a quiet week by any means.  It started out with a bang on Palm Sunday.  Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem while people praised Him and laid palm branches for the donkey to ride on.  These people would be crying for his death by crucifixion at the end of the week.  It was a week like no other.

I have often wondered over the years if I had been alive then, whose side would I have chosen?  Would I have let fear of change, keep me from seeing the truth, like most of the chief priests and religious leaders?  Would the idea of keeping things the way we’ve always done them, have blinded me from Who was Truth, Who was changing things because they needed to change or else we would die?

Would I have been one who praised him on Sunday, pulling down palm branches to lay at his feet, only to find myself scoffing and mocking a mere five days later?  Yelling “Crucify Him!” with a mob.  Would I have thought we had “won” because He died on a cross?

Would I have realized the truth after He died, and tore my clothes in grief?  The realization that He was indeed, King of Jews, had come too late.

Or would I have been one of His followers?  Would I have gone out to the seaside or wilderness while He taught?  Would I have traded in the laws of religion for His message of truth and love and forgiveness?  A new way.

Maybe I would have been one of the women who followed Him and His Twelve, supporting them out of my own pockets?  Providing for their needs and sitting at His feet, soaking in every word?

Would I have scattered and hid, once Jesus was arrested?  Would I have given up hope that He was the One?  Or would my relationship with Him be rooted deep enough to stand this test?  Would I have known Him well enough to not lose sight of who He was and where He was from?  If I faltered like Peter, would I have known that He loved me so much, that I could run back to him, repentant and forgiven.

Would I have gone out to Golgotha?  Would I have watched them raise Him up on a cross, bloodied and beaten beyond recognition?  Would I have been angry?  Sick?  Filled with sorrow and grief?

And after it was over, would I have gone with other followers and holed up in someone’s house, speechless with grief and horror?  Later, having to hash it out with others, trying to make sense of the senseless?  Where would I find myself that Holy Week had I been alive?

I know what I would hope I would have done.  Where I would have been.  Whose side I would have chosen? I also know how easily it is to give in to pressure and be swayed.  How easy mockery and scoffing roll off these lips.  How fear can make me act irrationally, doing things I never would have thought possible.

I wonder about these things because they can just as easily apply today.  The way we live, what we say, what we believe; it all comes down to whether we believe He is the One and Only Son of God or not.

Is my relationship with Jesus deep enough to withstand fear, lies, mockery and persecution?  Do I know Him well enough to stand firm even when all else fails?  If today, I was transported back to Holy Week, where would I be and who would I be standing beside?  What about you?

The Whisper of Hope When It All Seems Black

IMG_0418

There are days, seasons where it seems that the darkness outweighs the light.  A good friend and I have been talking over the last couple of days.  She said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  She’s right but it doesn’t make the world any less crazy, scary.  Hard to understand.

Sickness, war, cancer, death, to name a few, all crowd in, vying for our attention.  They’ve got mine these last few weeks.  Even the weather is making people wonder what is going on.  I watched a documentary on climate change the other night and I felt frightened for the world and for my kids’ future world.  It wasn’t even news to me.  I like to keep a close eye on the weather and climate change because the fact that the world is warming up is of great concern to me.  I hate hot.  I hate summer.

Doom and gloom.  With a late spring we are still waiting for, the world seems dirty, tired and just plain mean.  It’s hard to feel grateful.  I just want to go back to bed and pull the covers up.

Maybe while I’m lying there, I will think about some of the things that I’ve been reading about in Ephesians, and Colossians during the LentChallenge.  A theme that has been running through these epistles like an overflowing river.  Whispering hope.  Amidst all the distractions, it caught my attention.  The words IN CHRIST and the idea of Christ filling things.  Let me give you just a few examples I’ve come across:

Ephesians 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms, with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through his blood….

Ephesians 1:13 And you also were included in Christ

Ephesians 4: 5-6 One Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe.

Colossians 1:17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.

Colossians 3:11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  (emphasis added)

Those are just a few I’ve picked out.  If there was a focal point of the whole earth and everything in it, it would lead right back to Jesus.  In Him we are saved, we are blessed, we are redeemed.  He is in charge of all because he created it all.  All things – every thing that is assaulting you and me today, either good or bad – bow to Him.  He is before it and He is holding all things together.  He is all and in all and we can never get away from Him because He won’t let us go.  He’s got hands big enough to hold us.  To hold the world.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Psalm 139:7-10