Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 40: On our way...

Yay!!! We made it!!!

Today is the final day of our season of praying and fasting, and that's a cause for celebration. Some of us might not FEEL like celebrating at all: perhaps we're discouraged, or haven't seen any real movement in the area we've been praying about. But here's an important spiritual principle: Our emotions are not the truth. They don't get to decide what has and hasn't happened as the result of our prayers...unless we let them. They are not the governing force--God is. That, I think, is worth celebrating.

Here's how God's answers to prayers have mostly looked for me in the past: I pray and pray and pray and pray. Then I get distracted by life, maybe direct my attentions and prayers elsewhere for a season or two, then maybe circle back to pray for that first thing a few times more. And then a day comes, one that started out like any other day, when everything changes. And then it just seems so obvious that of course God heard my prayers, and of course He had a good plan all along. But still, even though I've seen this happen time and time again, it's tough to feel like I'm on a journey toward His answers when it feels like I'm standing still.

The last chapter of Ecclesiastes looks like a grim one if you read it quickly, with lots of talk of aging and the meaningless of life. But as I prayed about it last night, asking God "How can we end on that note?" and wondering if you'd notice if we just skipped it, He showed me another side to the story, to our story. Yes, it's true: most of the things we run around doing in life are meaningless: changing the oil in the car, washing laundry that will only get dirty again, deciding what to have for dinner. Who cares? But there's a bigger picture here, if we choose to play at a bigger level.

God reminded me of some observations my friend Jeff, a pastor in Minneapolis, shared on our friend Dave's website, about the things he sees in our reaction to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. He grew up in a conservative home and so has the interesting perspective of looking at both of these lives from the end back, rather than as people he’d “known” all his life. What struck him was how we loved both Farrah and Michael, even as their lives were complicated and textured:

“Perhaps there is something important about faith in all this,” he says. “We look at Jackson and Fawcett and we see ourselves- yes, we are flawed. Yes, there are things about us that are deeply embarrassing. There are responses in us, sexual or otherwise, that at times we'd rather not admit to. And yet we are capable of courage, beauty, love, and compassion, even in the midst of our flaws. And, perhaps, this insistence is something of the reflection of the Divine within us. We will not be owned by our flaws, by our mistakes, or our personal demons. We are made for something larger, something better, something infinite. There is an almost messianic streak in some of Jackson's music- heal the world, we are the world, we don't want to be alone. I wonder if some of that resonates in everyone.”

I think Jeff is onto something. We don't have to be owned by our flaws, mistakes, or personal demons. And we don't have to overcome them before God will bless and use us. As we finish this season of investing in God's plan with our prayers and fasting, let's not be limited by what we can see in front of us right (or inside of us) now. Let's not be limited by what we feel. Let's look to God and ask him to connect us with the courage, beauty, love, and compassion he created us to live out...and for the ability to see it while it's happening!

I couldn't sleep last night, so I grabbed this book off the shelf to quiet my churning mind. I thought I'd read it before but I hadn't, because it's not at all what I thought. It's essentially a field guide to a happy life, where every single day is filled with joy. I can't imagine that quite yet, but if Brother Lawrence pulled it off back in the 1600s, hobbling around his monastery doing dishes, than it must be possible. I'm going to reach for it, starting today. So if you're looking for next steps now that the 40 days are over, grab a copy of this book and join me.

THANK YOU for being part of this season with me, for joining in and cheering each other on, and for believing God's big promises. Here's to keeping our arms and our hearts open in the days to come, ready to receive everything He has for us.

Amen :)

Day 39: Ready to go (really, this time!)

Two things from Ecclesiastes caught my eye today--practical suggestions I'm trying to figure out how to implement.

First, from chapter 10:
"If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success."

Second, from chapter 11:
"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.... Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."

The first passage seems like an invitation to sharpen our ax, so to speak (because a skilled woodcutter starts there, before he ever approaches a hunk of wood). And this makes sense--I'm a better writer, here as I finish my book and it's crunch time, than I was a year ago when I was just drifting back into writing. I'd gotten out of the habit, my ax was dull, so it took a ridiculous amount of fortitude for me to tap out a blog post, let alone a chapter. Now, even as I look longingly toward next week's vacation, I'm hoping I'll remember this when I get back, sharpen my ax, and sit right back down to work on my next project, so I can rely on skill instead of just strength. I wonder if we don't all have areas in our lives (different ones, at different times) that need sharpening before they can work optimally?

Where are you working with a dull ax, relying on strength instead of skill to get the job done?

The second passage invites us to diversify, rather than putting all our eggs in one basket. Social media experts are abuzz with this advice these days, suggesting that anyone with a message should shout it from as many online rooftops as time allows, because none of us know which ones will catch on. Entrepreneurial advisors suggest the same thing, touting the benefits of having multiple streams of income, so if one fails, we can pick up with another.

I like this idea--it seems like a more interesting approach to life. But I get caught up in the concern that I'll diversify my way right past what I'm supposed to be focusing on--that I'll never succeed because my efforts are too divided. I even feel this with prayer sometimes, like praying for many things dilutes the impact of the prayers that matter the most. I'm not saying that God works that way, but inside, that's how it sometimes feels.

Are you too focused? Too spread out? Or just right? (Sounds like Goldilocks!)

I think the answer to this for those of us who are off balance is to ask Jesus for help. One of the benefits he offers, when we invite him over for coffee and ask him to direct our lives, is that the Holy Spirit will live inside of us, helping us make good decisions. So we can ask, "God, where does my ax need sharpening?" and expect to receive an answer. We can ask, "God, how should I spend my time/how should I diversify?" and He will tell us.

The tough part, sometimes, is to act on the answers we receive. Especially if they're counterintuitive (or not what we wanted to hear). Life is about choices. We can make a choice to follow Jesus, which is great. But the greatness of it is, I think, directly related to how we handle the what comes after that, how freely we choose to follow when he says, "Here we go..."

This is why Around The Sun is my favorite song. It captures that sense of excitement and fear, as God takes us somewhere we can't get to on our own. But (and how seldom do we think about this part?) for Him to take us, we have to be willing to go.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Day 38: Better than Nothing?

"Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do." -Ecclesiastes 9

Sounds good, right? But am I the only one who finds it tough to make an entire life out of eat, drink & be merry? Does anyone else ever get frustrated or disappointed or heartbroken? What do we do then?

This has been my dilemma for the past week as I write. I'm wrestling with a chapter about how I've dodged and avoided this question for the past three years as certain areas of my life didn't work out the way I'd hoped, and certain prayers remained unanswered. I've tried various approaches--believing without question the idea that "God is always good;" or trying to accept that even if He's something beyond just "good" (because that seems a little simplistic to me, like a bigger term is probably necessary) that He has some sort of plan going on that I'll be glad about someday, even if that someday isn't until after I die.

I've failed at these attempts. Miserably. And that has left me scrambling for a way to end this chapter with something other than the idea that maybe we can't count on God. That's not the book my publisher expects me to write...but more importantly, it's not what I believe. It's just what I'm experiencing right now, which is--let's be frank--a bummer.

I mentioned yesterday that I'm reading a book that's helping me wade through some of the messier aspects of real-life faith. It's called Is God to Blame? In it, theologian Greg Boyd suggests that there are two ways of looking at how God's will plays out on earth:

The first, the one he is writing to dispel, is called The Blueprint Model. According to The Blueprint Model, God chooses everything that does and does not happen here on earth according to his divine plan. So even when our lives take a sad or tragic turn, we're to take comfort in the notion that it's part of this big plan. Boyd is not a fan of this, arguing (and I won't go into all of it here, but will recommend that you read the book) that it's inconsistent with what God tells us about himself in the Bible, particularly in terms of what we see revealed in Jesus.

In place of The Blueprint Model, Boyd suggests The Warfare Model: the idea that in addition to God, there are human and evil factors that go into how life on earth plays out; that for every plan God has, Satan wants to thwart that plan and will do everything in his power to do so (including tempting us into making choices that lead us away from God).

So say, for example, you're praying for a husband. The Bible seems clear that this is God's will for most of us (see Genesis, or the the Apostle Paul's concession that every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband). Satan hates marriage, because it is, the Bible suggests, a foretaste of heaven. So he schemes. He brings men who are okay, but not great. He brings guys who seem great, but aren't into God. He points to the fact that we haven't had a date in 15 years and suggests, "You're so old now...God must want you to be single forever..." And in this, we make choices. Some of them (at least if you're me) bad choices, choices that take me away from my belief in God's best: to date the guy I'm not that into because he's better than nothing, or the guy who's not into God because, hey! maybe I'm the key to his spiritual development! Or to give up, lose hope, try to move on with my life and pretend I'm not angry, confused, and heartbroken.

We live in a spiritual battle zone, Boyd argues. And if we don't know and acknowledge this, it's awfully tough to fight. How do we fight?

We pray. We believe. We line our words up with what God says, instead of what we see. And we make smart, prayerful choices, even when they're hard.

That's our job, one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time. Today, do these three things, in whatever segment of time you can pull off. I'm told it has cumulative power :)

(And fasting counts, too! We'll be fasting through to the end of Friday, then breaking our fast on Saturday morning. Yay!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Day 37: Words to live by

Hi All! How was your weekend? Mine was largely spent in front of the laptop, but at least my office has windows. The sun was shining, fluffy clouds rolled could have been much worse :)

I woke up this morning thinking about our personal commandments idea from last week. Here's what I've come up with so far. They're not rules exactly...just things I've noticed that make my life work better when I remember them:

1. Smile
2. Pray first, argue later
3. Eat, drink & be glad...don't go through my days in a frantic, numb rush. Notice when something tastes good or quenches my thirst, and be happy even when it doesn't make sense.
4. Don't fret, it leads only to evil
5. Guard my careful what I listen to, watch, believe.
6. Guard my tongue...keep things positive, lined up with what God says about my circumstances (rather than what my circumstances might indicate about God)
7. Live by the Spirit...without God guiding me, I'm sunk
8. Believe (as singer Brooke Fraser says, "To believe is to begin...")
9. Remember Luke 18:27 "What is impossible with men is possible with God."
10. Floss

We're a little behind in our Ecclesiastes reading, but I'm going to apply #4 here and decide that that's okay :) Here's a link to three chapters to catch us up.

"When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future."

Interesting, right? I just started a book a friend recommended called Is God to Blame? that deals with questions around making sense of bad times in light of our faith in a loving God. More on that tomorrow.

For now--what are your commandments? Anything you can share?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 33: Field Trip!

Happy Independence Day weekend everyone! In honor of summer, and the very brilliant idea that is the long weekend, I thought we'd take a little field trip beyond our 40 Days blog world, and check out how someone else is shepherding her ducks into a row. (I feel like Mr. Rodgers, right before he boards the little train that takes us into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe...)

Today, we're going to visit my friend Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen runs one of my favorite blogs, called The Happiness Project. On THP, she has gathered the most interesting, diverse, and unexpected collection of information on the subject of happiness that I've ever seen. I love her approach: not everything will be for everyone, but she casts her net far and wide and then lets us step up to this buffet of options to choose what we'd like to try.

One thing I'd like to try is her idea of creating your own commandments. These aren't meant to be an alternative to the ten God provided, but rather a personal supplement, sort of like the little kid bumpers at the bowling alley or training wheels on a bike--reminders of who we are and what matters to us that keep us from falling over. The point of commandments is that you don't violate them--or when you find that happening, you do a gut check, figure out why, and recalibrate. That intrigues me. I suspect that I already have personal commandments that I live by, but it seems worthwhile to think for a bit about what they are.

This weekend, check out Gretchen's site. Take note of what catches your attention and come back and tell us about it. Tell Gretchen, too--introduce yourself and say hello. You can even congratulate her on her book, which comes out at the end of this year.

Our field trip dovetails interestingly with today's chapter from Ecclesiastes, which tells us how when God enables us to enjoy our lives, it's a gift. One of the hallmarks of this gift is that we "seldom reflect on the days of [our lives] because God keeps us occupied with gladness of heart."

Gladness of heart sounds an awful lot like happiness. So I wonder if perhaps our ultimate Happiness Project might be to ask God to give us what King Solomon calls "satisfaction with our lot in life"? I don't mean that we force ourselves to settle--just the opposite, actually. I mean that we ask for the supernatural peace that allows us to enjoy where we are on the way to wherever God is taking us. That's my prayer for today :)

Have a wonderful weekend!!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 32: Envy = Motivation?

"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Today, I charged into our chapter of King Solomon's wise musings ready to hop up on my favorite soap box, chant my "life is not meant to be lived alone!" refrain, and encourage all of you who are praying for a husband to keep on keeping on, because I think God is with us in this particular dream. I even had a nice little illustrative story I was going to trot out, about the benefits of determination, perseverance, and not giving up (tennis player Venus Williams and all the times she's been on the brink of defeat with the whole world watching, and somehow she digs deep inside herself and fights back, usually winning the tournament, in case you're wondering. I was going to tie it into the fact that she's never really alone out there--that unlike most players, her sister and the rest of her family are on the court with her. I think that sort of teamwork is exactly what God intends).

But before I reached my favorite line, the one about how "two are better than one" and "a cord of three strands is not easily broken," I was stopped in my tracks by the line at the top of the page. Envy as our primary motivating force? That sounds so grim! And yet so true...

Right now, I'm busting my hump to finish revising/editing my manuscript for my second book. It's been an absolute bear to write, truth be told. It's due in to my editor, in final form, a week from tomorrow. I'd stop to throw up because I'm so panicked, but that would only waste time. Yesterday, I typed so long, my fingers got an odd tingling at the tips that sort of freaked me out.

But why?

Don't get me wrong--I'm not against hard work, or going above and beyond to honor our obligations. Part of me enjoys cruch time, because it's when my most creative juices flow. But if I take a nanosecond to consider WHY I'm working so hard, King Solomon's point really resonates. I love it when an author I admire has a whole array of books for me to read. I love when someone pushes themselves to think about a variety of life's slices (and then pushes even harder to capture those thoughts on paper). I look at writers from the past like Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis and see how much they wrote, in so many different genres, and I want to do the same. I want to push myself, to take up some room on the shelf. But wanting it isn't enough. Bookstores and libraries don't just give you that space--you have to earn it. So that's what I'm trying to do. But is envy mixed in there as a primary motivating force? Absolutely. I'm not sure what to do with that, but it's worth thinking over.

We typically think about envy as inherently bad. I think it's even one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But can it ever be good? Can it spur us on to greater things than we might otherwise attempt? (Granted, this falls apart if our envy includes NOT wanting the other person to have the thing in question--that gets pretty ugly. But what if their having it simply stirs up in us the desire to have or accomplish something similar ourselves?)

When I first started coming to church, I openly envied some of the couples I saw there. (And yes, I could ditch the word "envy" and replace it with something more socially acceptable, like "admire," but that would be a total lie.) At a certain point, I made the connection that to get where they were, perhaps I should do what they were doing. This lead to a pretty radical restructuring of my life. Tough, but worth it.

Think for a moment about the thing you're working hardest on right now--mentally, physically, spiritually. It might be a project a work, a friendship you're trying to save, getting into shape...
What's your motivation? Don't judge it, just think it over, maybe talk it over with God.

Let me know how it goes :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Day 31: Big Eyes & God's Timing: It's Alright

"Me and Ryan G. can make the best of things, almost anywhere, and it seems to me a metaphor for life: We go from town to town and make the best of what's around. And it's alright..."

Today's part of Ecclesiastes is about timing. God's, not ours. (It's a good one, and encouraging in a unique sort of way--if you don't usually read the passages, this is worth the extra click to check out). King Solomon talks about pulling back to see the big picture, and how even with our best human effort, we can't possibly see how God is fitting pieces together over the broad span of time and space. During our lifetimes here on earth, he suggests, we'll never understand. But we'll keep trying. Why? Because God has "set eternity in the hearts of men." That line captivates me. It describes how and why we're caught in this tension of seeing the beauty around us and yet still always longing for something more.

C.S. Lewis put it well when he said, "“If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." But for now, we're in this world, longing for things. What do we do about that?

I think Ryanhood has a great starting place. It sounds glib, but it's not, not really. We could do worse than to go from town to town and make the best of what's around. This looks different for each of us, of course. During some seasons of life we go from office cube to office cube, or grocery store to post office running errands, or doctor's visit to treatment center. But with God, we can make the best of what's around. We can ask Him to give us eyes to see, to expand our awareness of His big picture.

Doing this, for me at least, is like flossing or working out. Every single time I've tried it, it's been a spectacular improvement, making me wonder, "Why did I ever stop?" (the question that has no answer). The truth is, it doesn't matter why we stop, just that we start up again.

Today, let's go from town to town and make the best of what's around. And when you see part of that "best," drop a comment so we can notice, too.

My first "best" this morning? Opening Ecclesiastes (with a little bit of dread, expecting another meditation on meaninglessness) and seeing this encouragment about how God's got a time for everything. Nice surprise :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 30: A New Way to Roll

I spend a good part of my life chasing down little things I think will bring me some sort of satisfaction. This morning, for example, I'm already thinking about the book I ordered from the library: when I'll have time to pick it up, when I'll have time to read it. Little stuff like that can occupy my mind for a bizarre amount of time, sort of like a hamster running on a wheel to get its exercise. The effort isn't necessary, but it feels like it is. It feels like it takes me somewhere, even if that feeling is a total lie.

Which makes me think of this:

What if the fine people at Kia Motors are right? What if there's a new way to roll?

King Solomon describes his experience with the old way in today's chapter. His take is pretty much, "I thought these things would make my life worthwhile. Not so much..."

Reading one commentary on this chapter, I found some wise words on how to apply it to our lives (because I had no idea--I mean, spiritually speaking, how do we get off the wheel to nowhere and into the sporty red car?) One of my favorite speakers suggests that perhaps it's about the peace God gives us in certain things, and letting that guide us as we take inventory of the things we spend our time on:

"Realizing you cannot do everything, then deciding with God's help what you can and cannot do, will make you more effective at the things you are supposed to do and will greatly increase the level of peace in your life. Peace equals power; without it you will stay frustrated and weak. As you evaluate how you are spending your time and what you are doing with your life, use this simple rule: if you have peace about it, keep doing it. If you do not have peace about it, stop. Hearing yourself complain about [something] on a regular basis indicates that you need to make an adjustment."

Interesting to think about. Solomon's point, I think, is that we chase endlessly after the things we think HAVE to do to succeed, to survive, to be satisfied. Mostly, we're wrong, and we don't end up where we think we will. Today, let's give God some room to prune things out of our lives and to adjust our perspective. Let's ask him for the keys to the car He created us to drive, and His map for where to go :)

What's one thing in your life that you have peace about?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 29: Everything is Meaningless?

I'm supposed to be taking a sabbath today, but so far I've blown it completely (both bathrooms cleaned, 3 loads of laundry & counting...) What's funny about this (when you ignore the whole disregarding God thing, which isn't funny at all) is that when I prayed this morning about where we should go next in the Bible, God led me to Ecclesiastes. Which is essentially a book about how we spend our lives flitting about doing this and that (cleaning sinks, washing towels), thinking it will make a difference, never pausing to realized that in the big picture, it really doesn't.

In my Bible, there's a note I wrote at the front of Ecclesiastes that says, "A response to the general messiness of human experience." That sounds like a good thing to explore, given where most of us are now in this spiritual adventure.

Read Ecclesiastes 1. Consider: What do you spend time doing that's meaningless? (And by meaningless, I don't mean fun, or how you relax, or guilty pleasures like Top Chef marathons on Sunday afternoons...I mean stuff that you don't like doing that you make yourself do before you can relax and spend time with God).

What do you think?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day 27: Selah and...

I'm thinking of two things this morning, as we get ready to take Steve's parents on a tour of wine country (well, three things, actually...I'm also praying for sun!)

The first is the word "Selah." It pops up in the Psalms quite often. It's a tough word to translate from the Hebrew, but it means something to the effect of "stop and listen," or "let those with eyes see and with ears hear." It indicates a pause, a time of reflection. And perhaps an openness to something God might want to impart to us from the words we've just read or heard.

Psalm 111 isn't one that specifically suggests a Selah moment, but I took one this morning. It seemed called for. The words about all God has done and all He's doing, along with this pithy maxim: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding." That seemed worth thinking about. My concept of fearing the Lord is different than some, perhaps. I've never worried that God was going to strike me down if I disobeyed, but rather that I'd miss out--on His guidance, His plan for my life, the things He created me for. So I try to begin my decisions with Him, allowing that my "understanding" of a situation might need some adjusting :)

As I was selah-ing, I thought of this from the prophet Habakkuk:
"Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay."

If God gives you a vision, write it down. I was surprised recently, as I read through an old journal trying to figure out a chronology of something for my book, to see how many things I'd forgotten, things I'd prayed for that have happened since then. Now granted, several things I wrote down worked out in ENTIRELY different ways than what I expected. But every single time, God's way has been better.

Stop. Listen. Write down the vision. (Then pray for a sunny afternoon for my vistiting in-laws!!!) :)

Need music to write to? Here you go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 26: Good News

Good stuff happens today as we finish Luke's account of the Jesus adventure. Just when all hope was lost...Hope shows up on the road and walks a few miles with two guys, then pops into a dinner party to see if anyone will recognize Him. Jesus, recently killed, is now alive.


Here's what amazes me about this: These guys--the apostles--witness this miracle. Spiritually, everything has changed. Because of Jesus' death, now anyone can approach God freely, without an intermediary, without fear. That's rather astounding.

But yet on some level, it wasn't like the circumstances of the daily lives of these guys looked all that different. They'd witnessed something supernatural, but not everyone saw it, or would believe them. What do you do with that?

I think this is a tension many of us live with, this sense that something big is going on, that God is working in our lives, but we don't have any outward evidence to point to, and often our best guess at how things will play out ends up being totally off-base. We search for signs, for proof, for evidence we can point to to prove that Jesus is working, changing us and how things will go from this point on. But proof is elusive.

It seems important that the main thing Jesus told his followers at this juncture was WAIT: "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." His resurrection was the beginning of the story, Jesus suggested, not the end. God had more in store for His people, power they'd need to take the journey God had planned for them.

This power, you might recall from our look at Acts last year, was God's Holy Spirit. Not only could we now communicate directly with God, but God would come and live inside of us, guiding us, interceding for us, and being with us every day.

At the beginning of our 40 Days, I shared about how I've been singing Ryanhood's AROUND THE SUN all spring. I have this sense that God is taking me somewhere I can't get on my own. But I'll need to stay closely in touch with Him, I'll need all the help I can get. And I'll need to remember that Jesus is alive, and that Jesus=hope.

Anyone else get that same feeling?

"Ready to go? Honey let's begin...we'll try to see by the light of the sun and tell it like it is."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 25: Trade-in

Today's reading is grim. Betrayal, lies, torture, death. Imagine watching your hope die, right there in front of you. The people following Jesus had expected things to go very differently if he was going to save them. This was the day that hope died.

But it's not the end of the story. We're on chapter 23. There's still one more chapter.

I wonder if that might be worth reflecting on today, in areas where our hope has died? Just because our plan for how things should work out fails--a relationship falls apart, we lose the job, something we were sure would happen never does--that doesn't mean God doesn't have another plan in progress.

There are two places in my life right now where I was quite sure I knew what would happen next, what the trip from A to B would look like. Neither are at all on track to work out they way I'd hoped. When I'm honest, that really bums me out. I have a choice: I can watch those dreams die, believing that God has a "chapter 24" for me. Or I can watch those dreams die and wait to die myself. Neither, perhaps, is how I would have ordered things. But maybe--as we'll see tomorrow--God has something altogether bigger, better, and more powerful in mind than what I'd settle for.

It seems worth considering.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 24: The All Day Pray

"I'm living by will--tapping the well--claiming the miracle--asking for help..." (Ryanhood, STOPLESS)

Nice job not giving up, everybody! And kudos to Abby for sharing the cool ways God is answering her prayers--I'm so encouraged! These sort of "praise reports" are, in my experience, vital to sustaining a life of prayer. They help us focus on what God is doing, rather than on what he He hasn't yet done.

So here's another: Steve's parents are coming out to visit us this week. We're excited, both because they're cool and because it's our first time hosting guests in our new place. Weeks ago, we went out one Saturday to buy a futon to put down in the basement for us to sleep on while they're here, thinking it would be $200-250. It was almost TRIPLE that price (when did futons become fine furniture???), which sent us staggering out of the store. We gave up, not knowing what else to do, and were a little discouraged by the prospect of long cold nights on our leaky air mattress. Then, like one of those "Duh! I could have had a V-8!" moments, it occurred to me: I could pray. "God," I asked, "could you bring us a futon for $100?" Because truthfully, that was all I wanted to spend. I felt ridiculous praying for cheap bedding, but I had nothing to lose. In the days that followed, we scouted Craig's List, we asked around: nothing. Then our friend Moses said, "I know someone with a futon they might sell...for $100." Yay God :)

This prompted me to say to Steve last night (for approximately the 9,000th time) "Wow, we should ask God when we need things--even little things. I think He likes to answer." (Yes, these are the sorts of deep theological conversations we have at our house.) I don't think God is a vending machine. But I do think He's a good father. He likes to be included in our lives, and He knows that our lives are filled with needs and wants and hopes, both big and small.

Today, I'm going to practice asking God for everything and anything--parking spaces, writing help, a good hair day, protection for the cute bunny hopping around in our yard (I'm a little worried about the passing turkey vultures...) Again, not to try to manipulate Him, or to get stuff, but to include Him in my thoughts in a more all-inclusive way. In the past, I've fallen into the trap of thinking that to "Practice the Presence of God" I had to banish my practical, mundane thoughts. Now I wonder if it's just the opposite, if that's where God wants most to be invited? The Apostle Paul talked about how we're to take every thought captive to Christ...I don't think he meant just the holy & pious ones. For me, a major "stronghold" is the lie that I have to figure things out on my own, or make them work myself. Historically, that hasn't worked so well.

Today's All Day Pray doesn't tie in directly to today's chapter from Luke, except for this: Jesus, right before his betrayal, warns his disciples repeatedly, "Pray that you will not be tempted." This is wise advice for us. Let's apply it.

And chime in to let us know how it goes for you, inviting God into every thought!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Day 23: Back into Blue

Have you noticed that things don't tend to go the way we think they will? Even good things, as they play out in real time, take twists and turns we don't see coming. I'm thinking about that this morning, the word "mystery" echoing over and over in my mind. The reality of our relationship with God is that much of it is a mystery. We're not entirely sure how things work, but we do our best. And I think this is mirrored in our human relationships (despite our odd conviction that with enough psychoanalysis/contemplation of our inner child/comparison of our Myers-Briggs types and sun signs we can figure out what makes things tick). Mystery is everywhere, and we're never sure what's coming next.

One of my favorite songs ever is Ryanhood's BACK INTO BLUE. When I emailed the guys, asking about the behind the scenes stuff on their album, this was one of the songs I was most curious about, because if you know them at all, the song is a little curious. When I first heard it, I was pretty sure this was a love song by Ryan, for his wife Abby. But it's sung by...Cameron.

Here's what Ryan told me about what went into getting that song on the album:

"This is a love song for Abby. Three weeks after getting married, Cameron and I went away on what was then our longest tour. It was really hard for our fledgling relationship. So lyrically, it's about having to be apart from someone you love, and longing to be together. A prominent radio music director heard a demo of this song, and LOVED it. He couldn't wait to for us to record a proper version of it so he could start spinning it. However, when we began the recording process, our record producer felt differently, and he clearly did not care for the song. At some point along the way he learned it was written for my wife, so he felt like he had to record it so as not to offend me. We had the strange hurdle of recording a song with someone who made it fairly clear that he wasn't into it. Ultimately, this led to the song being re-written about 15 times in an effort to gain his approval. We changed the melody about a dozen times. We wrote a bridge. We changed the key. And then changed it back. We even went back and forth on which one of us should sing the lead on it. At one point during this re-writing process, I felt so frustrated that I requested we scrap the song altogether. It was frustrating that a simple, beautiful little love song to my wife would be made into such an ordeal. Like coming home with flowers, but getting into a fight at the front door before you could even hand them over. But eventually, the flowers did reach their intended recipient, which is you, and everyone else who hears it. And amazingly, when I hear it, it sounds like the essence and fragrance is still there."

Intense stuff. How often does that happen in life--the road that looks so straight & easy turns out be riddled with potholes and roadblocks we never saw coming, tempting us to give up? (While meanwhile, something we spent hours stressing and fretting about goes off without a hitch...)

Today's chapter in Luke is filled with these potholes. Jesus' followers thought he was going to be a reigning king to save them, and instead he starts spouting off all this weird stuff about the coming end of the world. I would have been a disaster if I'd been with Jesus when this happened. I like my spiritual leaders upbeat & optimistic. But now, thousands of years later, we have the benefit of knowing the whole story: that this road has quite a few twists & turns left, but where it ends up is well worth hanging in there to ride it out.

Today, let's not give up. On our song, our prayers, our hope. A special note for those of you praying for husbands: listen to BACK INTO BLUE, and ask God to help you recognize when the man he sends loves you like that (and not to settle for anything less!)

And as a spiritual exercise, drop a note in the comments section, writing "I'm not giving up!"
I have a friend who always says, "Maybe tomorrow I'll give up. I leave myself that option. But not today..."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Day 22: And We're Back!

Hello! I am so sorry to have disappeared over the weekend...I was back in Cambridge for a good friend's wedding and I thought I'd be able to post from my phone. But it was not to be. The ironic thing was that the post I had in mind was about skipping a day on our fast. Here's why:

Saturday marked the halfway point of our 40 Day spiritual adventure, and I know for myself--especially in seasons where fasting is going well--I can get caught up in my own "power" and lose sight of God. I lose focus on the actual spiritual transaction here, the mystery of it all, and grow oddly convinced that it's my willpower forcing God's hand. In those moments, I actually believe that if I keep doing/not doing X, then God HAS to give me what I'm praying for. That's not how it works. In our fasting and prayers, we're partnering with God, not making Him do something. It's kind of important to keep that straight. So I'd planned to suggest that on Saturday, we purposely blow it, just to break any sense we might have that our perfection is the key to the connection we seek from God.

One might say I lead by example then, completely failing to post! :)

Here's what I've learned to do when I blow it (which is often, so this is a handy tip to have): I ask, "Will you forgive me?" So, my wonderful blog friends, I'm asking: Will you forgive me?

Okay, on to today! Our Luke chapter is a complicated one. Here's the "big question," I think: What is our cornerstone? What are we building on?

When we build, the cornerstone is the first block we lay down, the one that sets the entire foundation. I heard a sermon on this that talked about how carefully builders of old chose the cornerstone. Today, now that construction tends to be more automated and haphazard (and he was describing both literal houses and spiritual ones) we don't think so much about what we build on, and we pay the price for that down the road. Hearing this made me think of a neighborhood I once lived in where new houses were tipping over and sinking into the ground because the builder hadn't made sure they were properly sited.

Some of us might say that our cornerstone is Jesus (especially if we were raised in a church where we learned that this was a good thing to say). But our lives suggest otherwise. Let's be honest: there is huge pressure to build our life on our career aspirations, pleasing our parents, assuaging our low-self esteem, keeping up a pretty facade...the list goes on and on. Right now, I'm hugely tempted to make my cornerstone my writing, and this manuscript I'm wrestling with, trying to finish it by the deadline. And my house is tipping and sinking...

It doesn't do any good to feel bad about this, because feeling bad typically leads to guilt, not change. Jesus wants to be the cornerstone of our lives, the one we build on. Which means that most of us have some demolition to do so that we can start over and get things set up in a way that will work...and last.

Talk to God today. Ask Him, "What is my cornerstone?" and "What should I do about that?" Then do what He suggests!

I'm always amazed by His answers to these questions :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 19: All In

Today is Steve and my five-year anniversary. As many of you know, this 40 Days of Faith blog traces back to a season where I prayed and fasted, asking Jesus to send me a husband. I was new to faith then, so when my pastor asked, "What do you want Jesus to do for you?" I went for broke. I hadn't been around long enough to have my hope beaten back by delayed answers (or people who say we should all just give up). And while Jesus didn't bring Steve to my front door within the proscribed time period (wouldn't that be incredible if that was how He worked?) eventually, He came through.

I'm always amazed at how easily I remember the smallest nice thing another person does for me--a compliment, opening a door, help finding my car in a big parking lot--and how quickly I forget God's answers to my prayers. In my life, God is the only relationship where I demand he reestablish His trustworthiness on a daily basis. That's embarrassing (not to mention way off track from what He calls me to) because no one--and no One--has proven their care, concern, and power for me more than God. Jesus said that he came to seek and save that which was lost, and I all but had LOST! tattooed across my forehead. Found, I've discovered, is a lot better, but I have to make a point to remember that :)

Today's passage may sound familiar, as Jesus revisits a theme: to those who have, more will be given. I have some faith for the things I'm praying for right now, but let's be honest: it's more of a mustard seed than a giant oak. But I want to invest that seed today to see how it grows. Like the first servant, I'm going to take a risk and bet everything on God coming through. I'm going "all in" as my friend Dominic would say, acting as if God will come through rather than planning a life where he won't. Today, I won't have a contingency plan.

Anyone want to join me?

(After I wrote this post, I found myself reading Psalm 105 and 106, realizing that they're great blueprints for remembering all God has done for us. I wonder how much each of our faiths might be strengthened by writing our own version of these prayers, laying out the myriad ways God has come through in our lives? If you like projects, this is a great one--and something you can look back on for years to come. Let me know how it goes!)

Day 18: Fast Fail

If you follow Twitter, you know that there's a way to categorize posts to connect them to a larger theme. One of those themes is called "FAIL," when you post about something you've seen or done that failed to meet it's objective. For example, you might tweet, "Gulped down three shots of expresso then fell sound asleep at my desk. #CoffeeFAIL"

This week, I could Twitter about my #FastFAIL over and over again. This is the absolute worst I've ever done on a fast. Part of my problem is that this fast is different than what I'm used to, in that I'm not giving up something so much as reorienting my time. In a nutshell, I'm fasting from laziness and wasting time by committing to an hour of prayer every day. When I'm faithful to this, it's astounding, even on days when I start out slow and the first twenty minutes feel like they're dragging on forever as I wonder what to say and how to drag my mind back from the million and one places it wants to wander. By the end, I'm always feeling like this was the best time investment imaginable.

But some days (like yesterday, and the day before) there just isn't an hour. Which is a complete cop-out, because there's always an hour. But I have to choose to find it, to put my commitment to God above something else I have to/want to do. #FastFAIL

Here's what I forget: I'm on this type of fast because time management is a struggle for me. I'm doing this because I need help with it--God's help. I'm failing in large part because I feel so bad about not doing it that I don't God for the help I need. Spiritually speaking, this is a fast track down a dead end road.

In Luke 18, Jesus talks about this--how we need to be persistent in our prayers, we need to ask for the help we need. I'm always struck by the conversation he has with the blind beggar. You'd think, seeing that the man was blind, Jesus would just heal him as he passed by and be on his way. But he stopped and asked the man, "What do you want me to do for you?" which tells me that there's an interactive component to receiving from God. It brings me back to that Ryanhood lyric we looked at a couple days ago: It's me on my knees with my face to the floor, learning how it feels to be rich when I feel poor... When we ask for his help, Jesus reorients us, showing us the tiny path from where we are to where we want to be. We feel like we don't have what it takes because we don't. But that's not the end of the story.

What do you want Jesus to do for you? He's asking. Let's tell him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 17: Nitty Gritty

It's Day 17! I always feel happy when I see that number, but I'm not sure why. So I'm oddly optimistic as I type here today, even though we're going to talk about one of the hardest spiritual demands Jesus places on us. (I guess it's because I know that as hard as this can be, it's also one of the things that has brought the most miraculous results in my life.)

Today's reading jumps right in and talks about forgiveness.

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

That's usually what I need to say, when face-to-face with the need to forgive. I love forgiveness in theory, when no one has hurt me recently and I'm in some conversation tossing about spiritual maxims like so many bits of lettuce in a salad. But when I've been wronged (or I remember something from the past that I thought I'd forgotten) I don't want to forgive. I want to seethe. I want to wallow in my righteous indignation. I want to tell other people what has happened to me so they can add their seething and righteous indignation to my growing puddle of Whoa Is Me. I want revenge.

Jesus is not into this at all. He says:
1. Forgive.
2. Repeat as necessary.

Don't worry: he doesn't call us to be doormats--as a friend of mine once pointed out, there's nothing in this passage that says we have to do lunch with people who've hurt us (which means it's okay to hit "ignore" when some awful guy from the past tries to friend you on Facebook). But we have to forgive, all the time. Not for them, but for us.

Have you ever met someone who hasn't forgiven, and lives in that seething, damaged place? Someone who, before telling you their full name or what they do for a living, regales you with the full story of their awful breakup, terrible childhood, and/or chronic struggle not to give up on life? These are all cries for help. I've been there. The radical thing about Jesus is that he doesn't perpetuate the lie that more talking is what will help us in this state. He brings the spiritual truth: that forgiveness will set us free, AND the spiritual power to help us forgive.

Spiritual Truth + Spiritual Power. That's quite an offer.

Here's what Jesus told his disciples:
If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.

In other words, we don't need huge confidence in our ability to forgive (because when you're in that moment, such confidence is nearly impossible). We just need a tiny seed of faith: that Jesus' promise is true, his power is real, and that he'll help us if we ask. We plant that seed when we say, "I choose to forgive X for Y. Jesus, please help me. I release them... Jesus please release me..." This is how we say to our unforgiveness, "You can't stay here. I'm uprooting you and throwing you into the sea..."

That sets us free.

Try it today. Take a few quiet moments (and I'm using the word "take" deliberately here...the time won't present itself; we have to take it) and ask God to show you anyplace where you're holding on to unforgiveness. Then pray the prayer above, choosing to forgive, whether you "feel" it or not (The great news is that our emotions are not the barometer of whether or not this is a good idea, or whether or not it's working.) Then if bad thoughts come up afterwards, or tomorrow, or next week, simply say, "I've forgiven X for Y, in Jesus' name. That's the end of it..." and move on.

Bless you guys as we dig into this tough work. It's challenging, but worth it.
Let me know how it goes!

Here's to a great Day 17 :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 16: Tending A Piece of Our Dream

Today's chapter of Luke is complicated, covering a pretty big swath of life situations. I thought I'd pull out one section and see if we can't unpack it a bit.

Jesus offers these provocative words about how we should (as The Sopranos might say) "handle our business": "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?"

Interesting, right? This suggests that whatever our big dreams are, we've been given small facets of them already where we can build the skills we need and learn to make smart choices. I think of this as God's way of keeping me from getting in over my head.

My favorite example of this is my dog (known in the blogsphere as THAT DOG, due to a certain incident with the bathroom trashcan right around the time I started blogging). When I got her thirteen years ago, I was the least likely candidate for pet ownership on the planet. I was totally self-involved, and not doing a particularly good job at that. I could barely keep myself fed, walked & watered. But she was cute (and I was impulsive) and just like that, I had a dog. (Members of my family immediately started discussions about who would take her when I failed). But what do you know--I rose to the occaision. And I learned something HUGE: that I had what it took to put her interests and needs ahead of mine. That's come in pretty handy in almost every relationship, job or friendship I've had since.

Where in your life have you been trusted with a piece of your dream?

An important note for anyone who tends towards seeing passages like the one above as an opportunity to feel horrendously bad about yourself, assume your prayers haven't been answered because you're a miserable failure of a human being, and vow to do better (and as I read the comments, I suspect this might be more than a few of us): DON'T.

There are some areas, for all of us, where we're doing a great job. Find them. Think about them. Thank God for them. And there will always be areas where we wish we could do better. For those, we can skip the thinking about them part, because let's face it: if we knew how to fix ourselves, we'd have done it already. Let's take these things straight to God and say, "Help!?!" Then do our best to follow his suggestions. I often pray to be trustworthy with what I have, be it clothes that need to be washed or a book that needs to be written. We can't do it on our own. But the good news is, we don't have to :)

Need a laugh today? Check out Ryanhood singing this song for Ellen DeGeneres, asking her to teach them to dance. I love the line, "I don't know how to get to where I want to be, I don't know what we're missing but I'm starting to think, that you could teach us, maybe you could teach us..." Then they promise to wear sweater vests, which I'd definitely tune in for :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 15: Pulling back, taking in the big picture

"I forget who I am. Would you lend me a hand? I'm not myself..." -Ryanhood

I'm thinking about perspective this morning, and how easy it is to spend our lives focused in on tiny details. I get obsessed with how certain pieces of my little puzzle are/aren't fitting together, because that seems like the responsible thing to do. Isn't it my job to do everything I can to get it all to fit, to make my life work?

Yesterday, out of the blue, it occurred to me that it's been a long time--days, maybe even weeks--since I pulled back to look at the whole puzzle. Because of this, I've lost track of how much progress I've made in certain areas because I'm so honed in on one or two pieces that aren't fitting.

A few months ago I was talking to a friend who was afraid her big career dreams would never come true. She was new to the promises in the Bible, and ran headlong into that wall that says (insistently and with great authority): Those aren't for you. Don't get your hopes up. It will never happen...

I HATE that wall. Just because a prayer's not answered now does not mean the answer is no. It might be no. It might be not yet. Or it might be, hold on--something better is on the way.

God's timing makes hindsight. Looking back, I'm usually glad things worked out His way, rather than mine. The tough part is remembering that feeling and applying it forward, to the prayers I'm still praying (when I'm wondering where God is and when He'll be back from vacation.)

"Give God 5 years," I told my friend. "See what He does..." I don't think it reassured her, and I wasn't suggesting we give God firm time lines and demand He adhere to them. But giving Him time and space to work in our lives is helpful: not to God, but to us. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Well, I guess I can't give hasn't been 5 years yet." John Wimber, one of the founders of the church I'm a part of, used to say, "Don't talk to me about how God doesn't use your prayers to heal people until you've been at it awhile. Pray for 500 people, then we'll talk..."

Not all of my prayers have been answered within a 5 year time frame (the statute of limitations just ran on one of them) I see God working in so many places, bringing answers and miracles and joy...I'd be nuts not to sign on for another 5 year extension. But I can only see that when I take a minute (or a week) to focus on the big picture, how life is different, and how I'm different than I used to be.

Today's reading is three stories of celebration over lost things that are found. Jesus talks about a sheep that wandered off, a coin that got misplaced, and a son that takes off for fun and adventure only to fall on his face. There are many points here, but the one that might help us most today is this: Jesus is on a rescue mission. We're lost. We might have wandered off course without knowing it (the sheep), we might have no idea (the coin), or we might have told God we've had enough of His boring plan and stormed out to take on the world on our own (the son). Or we might be the older brother who stayed home and did everything right and now feels furious that someone less deserving gets the party. No matter what our personal story, Jesus says, "Here I've come to save the day!!!" (like Mighty Mouse, only better, because he's real. ) Let's let him.

In the meantime, today, let's practice taking in the big picture. When we see how far God has brought us, it's a lot easier to imagine that we're going somewhere :)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 13 & 14: Sit by the kitchen & Sow seeds

Today's reading starts out on a grim note: the first section is called "Repent or Perish," which is then followed by the story of a low-producing fig tree that's in danger of being chopped up into firewood. Not very Up With People, I have to say.

What do we do with passages like this, the ones that don't have Jesus smiling benevolently while patting a small child's head? Me, I tend to skip them, or pretend those passages are for other know, the less spiritual ones, the ones who just don't get it. Then I go smugly about my day feeling proud of myself, quite sure I'm on the narrow path with a fig tree in full bloom.

I think this is part of the reason Jesus includes so many parables, all seemingly pointing in the same direction: we don't understand them all. So he makes a point one way, and then another, waiting for us to catch on. It's like he's saying, "Yo, Trish: YOU don't get it. Pay attention!" (Okay, Jesus probably never said "Yo," but you get my point...)

Here's where I caught on: in Chapter 14 (tomorrow's reading) Jesus gives some practical advice about etiquette and avoiding embarrassment: “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That makes sense to me. When I sit at a table, I'm always thinking: "Who do I want to be next to/across from? Who will be fun to talk to? How do I make sure I don't end up next to the guy who's always trying to get people to join his multi-level marketing scheme?" Jesus says, essentially, "Just sit down. Take the spot no one else will want--the one by the bathroom, on the table corner, in the little kid's chair with the wobbly leg." When we do this, he says, God will invite us to a higher place. Just another piece of counter-intuitive advice on life in the Kingdom of God. But after a few years of trying it out, I can say (in the words of 12 Step Programs everywhere): It works if you work it.

Here's an idea on how to work it. I just read this book. It ends on a really charming note, suggesting that we sow seeds like farmers: not knowing exactly what will happen or when, but trusting God to make something of it. The author named six seeds each of us can sow daily in this spirit:

1. Silence
2. Prayer
3. Love
4. Friendship
5. Fasting
6. Hospitality

I'm going to give that a try. It feels counter-intuitive, as left to my own devices, lean in the opposite direction of almost every one of these. I close my eyes and draw the blinds on the outside world. So today, I'll sow some seeds.

Want to join in? How about this: a 3-for-1 deal! Drop a note in the comments this weekend, letting us know you're here, and say something encouraging to the rest of us. It can be long or short, unique or straightforward. That will count as 3 seeds (love, friendship, hospitality) for a just few short seconds of effort.

Then we wait to see what God does with them :)

In the harmonica-infused words of my favorite band, We could be what we want to see...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 12: Third Watch

The hardest time for me when I'm hoping and praying for something new is the part of the day between the end of work and bedtime. There's this weird collision of heartbreak and hope that happens between 4pm and lights-out, and I go from gut-wrenching exhaustion (4-7pm) to enervated fear of ending yet another day without seeing more progress (7:01-midnight). During this time, not surprisingly, I rarely think about God. I'm too caught up in my own drama, convinced that if I just focus more or work more or (and this makes no sense at all) distract myself with some random TV show more, I'll turn around and POOF! there my answer will be! I'm like a little kid trying to make her way to Christmas morning.

Not surprisingly, the Bible suggests that it doesn't have to be this hard. Yes, there are huge times of waiting (the whole system of farmers planting seeds in the spring and not knowing what they'll harvest until fall teaches us that) but God is with us in those times. If we tune in, He'll tell us things and show us what He's doing. That's pretty cool, if you think about it.

The second type of silent prayer I mentioned earlier this week is Watching--asking God, "What are you doing in the world around me?" and then waiting to hear what He says. Yesterday in Luke we read Jesus' encouragement that we ask, seek, and knock on the door of what God has for us. The Amplified translation of this passage hits the point home that this is a process rather than a one time thing, saying: "everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives, and he who seeks and keeps on seeking finds, and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door will be opened." I think that part of this ask/seek/knock process is pausing between rounds to ask God to open our eyes to what He's doing.

In my book I shared the story of what this looked like for my friend Amy when she and I were praying for husbands: how she suddenly had the urge to dress more like a girl, get her toenails painted, and swap out her backpack for a purse. She also felt like God told her, "Clean your room." On the outside, this didn't seem directly related to Mr. Right appearing on bended knee with a diamond, but God told her that these things were connected. So she got a cute purse, a mani/pedi, and spent one long weekend sorting through the belongings strewn around her apartment. She felt like she was part of what God was doing in her life, even though on the surface it made absolutely no sense at all. There's a peace to that feeling--a sense of connection with God--that is entirely worth the effort of calming down/turning off the TV for five minutes to see what God might want to say to us.

Today's reading in Luke 12 contains some warnings about how we live, and an encouragment that this sort of connection with God is important: "Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."

We can't always see the kingdom we've been given. I think it's okay to ask for help. When we do, God picks us up and points our eyes in the right direction...kind of like a parent lifting a toddler at the aquarium, pointing to the place the penguin will pop up out of the water so she doesn't miss it. With God's help, we won't miss our penguin :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 11: The New Normal

I've been thinking this week about how easy it is for us to change. We might not like it, but we do it all the time. Most of us are remarkably adaptable when we have to be. So even though we talk about fearing and/or hating change, we somehow manage: we switch from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter. We watch Conan O'Brien instead of Jay Leno, or Desperate Housewives when Friends goes off the air. We sip Cabernet at an art installation while dating Mr. Creative, then toss down a beer and Cracker Jacks watching the Mets with Mr. Athlete. Flexibility allows us to experience life, and keeps us from getting stuck. My ballet teacher used to say that strength protects you when you fall, while flexibility protects you when you move. I think there's something to that.

How can we be flexible in creating more room in our lives for God? I think the silence thing I mentioned earlier this week might be a great place to start. This book I'm reading talks about three types of prayerful silence: waiting, watching, and listening. One of the quotes in the chapter about waiting caught my attention: "The one fact we forget is that the saints of old were capable of spiritual silence simply because they had not contracted our modern habit of ceaseless talk in their ordinary life. Their days were days of silence, relieved by periods of conversation, while ours are a wilderness of talk with a rare oasis of silence." The source of this quote? D.L. Moody...who died in 1899. Imagine what he'd say about our "wilderness of talk" today?

I don't know about you, but I like the occasional oasis. Today, let's create one. Let's read Luke 11, where Jesus teaches his apostles how to pray, with what's come to be known as The Lord's Prayer. Then 5 minutes of silence: focus on Jesus, and just hang out. No need to talk, just be and see how it goes. Afterward, if you need inspiration, revisit this video. It makes me cry, every single time...In a good way!

This is the stuff that helps me dream of a new normal :)

Day 10: The Buddy System

I'd planned on blogging about being silent today. I had it all shaped out in my mind, with pithy quotes and deep truisms about the value of shutting our mouths and focusing on God. Then my friend Pascha called and reminded me that what I need isn't always what I've got planned.

Here's the thing: My attempts at silence had not worked so well for me today. My mind woke up churning through this, that, and the other thing: fears, worries, to-do lists...not to mention Facebook, Twitter, and the pile of emails I haven't responded to yet because I'm waiting for that elusive moment where I have both endless time AND brilliant responsive words. UGH. I tried silence. I failed. Then I felt bad about myself and thought, "Who am I to tell anyone how to relate to God???" It was quite gross, the little mud pile I'd dug myself into.

Then Pascha called. "How are you?" she asked, and we were off to the races... Talking to her reminded me of the value of having a few people in our lives we can blurt to. People who understand that when you do this sort of gut-spill, only about 15% of it is real stuff to be addresssed, the rest is just mud that needs to be hosed off. I blurted, she blurted...then we talked and prayed about what was really going on. Fifty seven minutes later, we both felt like new, happier, more hopeful girls, equipped to handle the little patches of life God has given us to look after. Now, I feel like I can do the silence thing, focusing on God. I'm out of the puddle.

Yay for the buddy system :)

Based on this, I thought I'd throw out a challenge: Do you have a buddy? Someone you can be candid with about how you're doing, where you're struggling, and what God is talking to you about?

If yes, CALL THEM today. If no, PRAY and ask God to put someone who fits this description into your life, then keep your eyes open. Leave a comment below, saying either "Calling!" or "Praying!" so we can cheer each other on.

Luke 10 is all about the buddy sure to check it out.

And here's a video of SOMETHING MORE that fits the theme perfectly, especially the intro conversation. (It's not on the album but it's so fantastic.)

Happy Wednesday :)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 9: We will all run out of sugar

"We will all run out of bread. And we will all run out of sugar. And we will all run out of wine, that's fine. Cause it will all come back in time... and it will all be alright."

Okay, I'm pretty sure the Ryanhood guys mean something deep and metaphorical with this line, but for me it's literal. I run out of everything food related (my inexplicable aversion to grocery shopping may be part of the problem) and now that we live a million miles from the nearest store, nourishment is more about cobbling a few odd things together three times a day than partaking of genius gourmet feasts.

I like to think that it's like camping :)

If I'm not paying attention, I run out of stuff spiritually, too. As with food, I can coast along feeling and looking okay for quite awhile between meals, surviving on accumulated great moments with God (the ones that inspire me to believe that I can jump high and run fast and have an impossibly super-great life). But then, suddenly, the "alright" is gone, and I'm a wreck. It's like the moment when you realize your blood sugar is way too low and someone needs to roll you a donut NOW...there are times when my spirit crashes and immediate attention is required.

Not that this is happening today--this morning, I'm just (literally) out of bread and sugar--but it's a good to think about ahead of time, because in those low moments, I tend to mistake my spiritual dips for spiritual crises. It's important to know the difference between "I'm hungry" and "I'm wasting away."

I mentioned a few days ago that I'm really liking this book on prayer. In it, I've found three ways of praying that I've never thought of before in quite this way: waiting, watching, and listening. It's mortifying to admit this, but it's been a giant relief to be able to shut up during prayer time, and see what God has to say. And it's helping me stay stocked up. I've come to think of these times as "What to do in a spiritual emergency," a slogan, sort of like the fire safety warning we learned in kindergarten. But instead of Stop, Drop & Roll, it's Wait, Watch & Listen. (I guess you could do both together, which would make for a rather unique afternoon...)

We'll talk about these more over the next few days.

Have you ever noticed how much of trying to follow Jesus is negotiating the tension between things that seem, on the surface, contradictory? We see that today. We're talking about staying stocked up, and yet we see Jesus, in today's Luke chapter, sending out his disciples to try "doing the stuff" on their own. He tells them NOT to stock up, not to take any extra supplies with them, but to trust they'll be provided for along the way. Kind of interesting to think about places in our lives where we can do this, places where God says, "Trust me...I've got it covered" and we have to make a conscious choice rather or not we believe Him.

I'm not sure there's a universal answer to when to stock up and when to travel light and trust; I think the answers are unique, situational, and personal. Wait, Watch & Listen seems like a fun way to tap in.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Day 8: Yay Team

Good Morning! I am glad to be awake, as I had crazy funky nightmares last night--a girl chasing me around trying to choke me with a rope, and then a middle-aged insurance salesman guy who was stalking me as I played mini-golf with my sister. UGH.

The 8th chapter of Luke talks about crazy funky evil things, and how Jesus got rid of them in a rather decisive manner (and now that I'm living in the country, it seems like I should be able to find a herd of pigs somewhere close by...)

This whole good vs. evil thing was new to me when I first opened the Bible. Before then, I'd read and believed various spiritual teachings that claimed "Only the love is real." Which sounds nice...until you have a nightmare, or scream at someone you love without meaning to, or watch the evening news. Then all those movies about good guys vs. bad guys seem to be onto something important.

I was watching the video of AROUND THE SUN this morning because it helps me recalibrate to happy and hopeful. And I started thinking about how, when we ask God to change our lives, to take us someplace we can't get to on our own, we (okay, maybe just I) forget that there will be a JOURNEY involved from here to there. Chances are we won't just teleport. And journeys have rough spots: flat tires, creepy creatures in the road, tolls we're not sure we can pay. I should confess that I usually HATE the endless "it's a journey" language that tends to accompany spiritual talk, but sometimes, it's just TRUE...

My point? There will be nightmares, and obstacles, and crazy funky evil things that tempt us to think nothing will ever work out. But in this 40 Days, we're asking GOD to move us...because we can't do it on our own. So as part of that, we have to ask, "Jesus, can you help me here?" and stand back to see what happens. This is a partnership we've entered into, not a solo venture. There are benefits to partnership.

If you haven't clicked on the video link yet, go back and do so. Watch how, in the beginning of the song, Ryan walks over and adjusts the tuning on Cameron's guitar. It's a great picture of how teamwork can work when we're playing out of tune. Sometimes it's big and dramatic with pigs flying into the sea; other times it's a friend taking a small step our way to help us recalibrate. As some corporate guru once said, "Teamwork Makes the Dream Work!"

Here's to sweet dreams this week :)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day 6: Zonked

Sorry for the late post today...both my flights back from Maine last night were delayed, and I landed back here in Ithaca waaaaay past my usual bedtime. I'm off to a slow start this morning!

As I was lying in bed earlier feeling completely guilty for not having this post up already (and yet knowing full well I had not a single coherent thought to share and wouldn't for quite some time) it occurred to me, for a brief moment, that I could just blow the whole thing off. It was a fleeting thought, but an interesting one. Because as much as we tell ourselves as adults we can't quit things, we can't give up, we do so all the time. We abandon hobbies and fitness programs and self-help books (by the caseload). Sometimes with good reason. I'm not against quitting, but I think it's interesting how we make these sorts of decisions. Even more so when the thing we're quitting is a relationship--with a friend, a love interest, the blogsphere....

I'm not so good at this second kind of quitting, which means I have to be honest about who I am and what's going on with me, even if it reveals that I'm not the fabu, totally together superhero that I'd like you to think I am. Even if it means I sign on and say, "I'm zonked..."

Ryanhood's NOTHIN' BUT THE REAL THING hits right at the heart of this. I LOVE this video: the guys are warming up the crowd for the headliners--I think this was the Kelly Clarkson/Jay-Z concert--and winning them over. Which takes an incredible blend of skill, humor, and humility I hope someday to acquire. It's HARD to stand up in front of a bunch of people and convince them you're worth listening to. And yet if you have something to say, you don't have a choice (except, of course, to quit, and who wants that?) THIS, my friends, is what it looks like in real time to fight for a dream:

So I try to be see-through, let you see me through
The armor that I wear and the way that I wear my hair
See what's waiting underneath...
It's me on my knees with my face to the floor
learning what it means to be rich when I feel poor

That's me today. Often, actually. But what I'm learning as I grow up is that this is a good thing, not a bad one. The facade of perfect Trish I mentioned yesterday was a debacle: not much fun, a mediocre friend, always terrified someone would realize the truth...that I had no idea on earth what I was doing or what my next step would be. I was the embodiment of a quote I once heard about how The world is full of people vying for the spotlight who have no idea what they'd say if they had our attention.

What would you say if you had the world's attention?

Not many of us think of admiting, "it's me on my knees with my face to the floor..." but there's a beautiful truth in that. People who see this, and then share the wisdom they find down there? Those are the folks I want to know. Because if you're in the public eye for more than a nano-second, the truth comes out (as we see on the cover of tabloids every week). The Ryanhood guys are right: Nothing but the real thing will do.

Luke 6 offers us some pictures of what it looks like to be rich when we feel poor: abundance, healing, and a "it's so crazy it just might work" new outlook on what matters and how we should re-order our lives. I'll also post the link to Luke 7 for tomorrow (like last year, I'll only be posting once on the weekends to make sure I'm synched up with God's rule that we take a day of rest...if something is in the 10 Commandments, I try to make it a priority!) which continues these same themes.

Thanks for letting me be real. It's not easy, but it's so much better than quitting!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 5: What's Your Story?

My sister and I tag-teamed bedtime with my 5 year old niece last night, each of us imagining a chunk of a story, round-robin style. My sister and I are pretty creative, but my niece ran circles around us, creating a walrus named Alberforth who ate only salad. I won't bog you down with the full story of Alberforth's sad tale, except to say he exploded somewhere over South Dakota. (Neither Meg nor I saw that coming...)

This got me thinking about the stories we tell when we're older than five, when we reach that age where we're aware of our self image and start taking steps to mold it. Suddenly, every day is fraught with decisions: how much to reveal about ourselves, what light to shine on where we've been, how to "spin" where we're going (or our lack of progress in any discernible direction). For me, this sort of story telling has always led to bad things, my facade blowing up in my face like Alberforth. And yet even though I know this, it's hard not to repeat.

Before we started the 40 Days, I asked the Ryanhood guys for some "behind the music" information about their songs. One of the ones that seems really honest and brave to me is MATURE, which starts out, "Sometimes mature just means over my head and I don't really know what I'm saying..." Ryan emailed that this came to him one night as he was listing to some music, thinking about life on tour:

"Pretty soon I had a song about my desperate need to impress people," he said, "and how over time, especially on long tours, this desperation starts to change Cameron and me. We place our "worth" in the number of people who clap, and the number of CDs we sell at the end of the show. We begin to morph our personalities on stage into whatever gets the biggest reaction. "Sometimes I lie a consecutive time while I stare in the eyes of a stranger". We lose ourselves. And the problem is, at the end of show, while people may seem to really like us, it might not really be 'us' they were watching."

I've done that. I do that. It's so hard, when you think people expect something of you, to resist the urge to figure out what that is and try to become it. We all have this desperate need to impress people, and an equally desperate conviction that who we are isn't enough to get the job done. It's sad, and astonishing, and right at the heart of what Jesus can help us change.

In Luke 5, we see Him do this for a bunch of different people: a leper, a paralytic...people with legitimate public image challenges. And then Jesus comes along and changes everything. Imagine what He can do for the rest of us? Imagine what He can do for you? What would it look like for us to be ourselves--only "Jesus enhanced" (as my husband calls it)--instead of the version of "us" we cook up trying to impress everyone?