Day 20 of truth telling: I don’t know how to pray

IMG_6506Today my truth is:

I don’t know that I know how to pray. I often wonder if the words I say are words that move God or if they are simply words that float around, landing no where. I pray daily. I pray hourly. I believe in prayer. I believe it is a great mystery. I believe that God cares. But I am not sure if prayer is really as much about moving the heart of God as much as it is about having my heart moved.

When asked what the work of the Lord is, Jesus answered, “To believe in the one who was sent.” That seems like odd work. It seems, in words, that it’s not that much work at all. Work has more to do with what I can accomplish and what I can do with my hands or how I spend my time or even preaching, teaching, and going into all the world. Isn’t that the work?

But Jesus’ answer was not, go into all the world, His answer was to believe.

In the years since reading this passage and coming to believe it is true, the work of prayer has become more about belief and changing my belief than it’s come about begging. Prayer has become a place where I do the work of belief. I pray so much, begging God to move that eventually I come to a place of deep belief that God is good. How that happens I do not know, nor do I understand. It seems a bit crazy that unanswered prayers would actually lead to deeper belief, but that is what has happened.

My prayers have become places of deep confession of unbelief and desperate cries of belief. Belief is work and it is life changing.

Prayer is a mystery and it is a mystery in which I’m so thankful to participate. For I know… that this work of wrestling to belief is actually changing me and is causing me to live differently. Belief is active. It is a full contact sport. It is not a matter of the mind alone. No, belief is the movement of complete trust. Belief is the man with the withered hand stretching out his hand, the blind man going to the pool to wash his eyes, the lame man picking up his mat to walk. Belief is the active movement of total agreement that God is capable of the impossible and has accomplished it in me or in any given circumstance.

It is the work of belief that tears of grief are met with the hand of God and the next step of obedience is taken. Yes, I don’t know how to pray, but I’m learning to believe. I think, somewhere in the belief I am able to pray and in that place Jesus connects me to the Father and He hears my prayers.

Day 17 of telling my truth: Hope grew from unanswered prayer

UnknownToday my truth is:

Breathe out. How in the world was I to process the fact that I had my first relationship, in my adult life and that, that relationship was layered with impossibility, faith and was mixed with issues highly uncomfortable, even controversial for most in my world. What would my parents say if they were to know that I had a boyfriend who identified gay? What about my mentors? Friends?

I laid in bed the night he told me his story and asked me to be his girlfriend and asked the Lord to reveal himself. What do you have to say Jesus? Why would you give me this story? Self-pity, angst, hopelessness, frustration, questions and very few answers whirled in my mind like the tornado that first brought Dorothy to Oz.

I had a boyfriend. Joy.

My boyfriend was gay. Confusion. Sadness. Frustration. Questions. Dependence.

To what would I hold?

I asked Jesus how I was to pray and where I was to find my hope. I felt Him say, “Cari you are not to place your hope in this relationship or in the dream of Matthew wanting you in the way you want a man to want you. You are to place your hope in me alone.” I remember sitting there and saying aloud, “God I trust you. You are the One in whom I place all of my hope. May I be obedient in this relationship.” Tears streamed down my face. The reality of my situation felt like too much and God felt incredibly close.

As the weeks and months unfolded I came to live into the reality of those words. Matthew and I wrestled with questions. He told his story of begging the Lord to rescue him. He told of the groups he had joined to “cure” him. He spoke to the isolation, loneliness, rejection and hatred he had experienced. He spoke of his wrestling with God because how could a God who loved him, not answer this prayer. I asked how could God not bring the healing I felt was that for which he most longed. (These questions were close and intimate for him. His wrestling and mine were and are different. I bring up these questions because these became my questions. We engaged these questions quite differently. Where and how these questions were answered, again led us to different places. I am only telling my side of the story, for his story is not mine to tell.)

I learned as I was invited deeper and deeper into the reality of his struggle with sexual identity and Jesus. I too wrestled with Jesus. How come you don’t just take it away? How come you simply don’t come down and deliver him and give him what he wanted? These questions became mine. I begged the Lord for a particular outcome and felt heart ache and confusion over the fact that God wouldn’t answer how I thought most beneficial. I eventually had to ask the Lord to show me how to pray for I did not know what was right or good. I felt short sighted and lost as to what was best. Where was God in this?

God would remind me, “Cari, your hope is to be in me and my character, not in the fulfillment of a wish.” I thought through the stories of others who have begged Jesus for various things and not had their prayers answered. I thought of Jesus, who he himself begged the Father, if there be another way please let this cup pass from me and then said, “but not my will but yours.” I wrestled with matters of belief. I questioned how I should pray. I begged, cried, wrestled and quite honestly yelled at Jesus.

Jesus became so real to me in those days. In my questioning, in the felt silence, in the moaning and weeping Jesus grew in me a great hope. He grew in me an understanding that hope and the fulfillment of wishes were actually quite different things. He used these months with Matthew to separate circumstance from hope. Hope became the lens through which I was to view each day. I clung to Jesus with great hope like the survivor of a boating accident clinging to her life preserver in the middle of the open seas.

March 20th came. We had had a series of very difficult conversations. There was a heaviness and though we had made it five months, to the day, the reality of our situation ended up weighing heavy upon Matthew (and me, though I didn’t want to recognize it). He decided it was time to end our relationship. In the midst of the conversation he said something to the effect of, “Cari, the one thing that is most difficult for me is that I have destroyed your hope.” He finished the thought with some other words, but I didn’t hear them. Matthew had ended a relationship, but my hope was in no way threatened. In fact, my hope was strong.

I remember that I smiled, maybe even laughed, I know I did internally, but don’t quite know if I did aloud or not. (You know how memories get cloudy around emotional situations.) I looked at him and said with confidence, “You have done nothing to my hope, for my hope was never in you. My hope has always remained in the Lord. In fact, the Lord told me I was to never put my hope in you, but place it only in Jesus and his character. I did just that and I continue to know great hope.”

As I look back on my relationship with Matthew, this realization is one of the gifts I was given. I was given the gift of hope. I was given the reality of what happens when I place my hope not in the fulfillment of a wish, but in the character of the One who holds my wishes. I was and still am thankful. This is the kind of hope that breathes life in the the most impossible of circumstances. This kind of hope is what comes from belief in the midst of impossible. This kind of hope comes from persevering through darkness and felt suffering and growing in character. This kind of hope is the hope that is found in fairy tales, where ultimate good is known as one believes that his or her ultimate good is held by someone or something who only desires their good.

Today, I have hope. It is a hope that is strong and it is a hope that grew out of stepping into the color of the impossible and watching as God, who is good, developed in me a deep and intimate understanding of His desire for my good.

Day 13 of truth telling: Make believe memorial services

in-remembrance-sign-2Today my truth is:

The gymnasium filled with people. It was the only place big enough to hold the numbers of people gathered to celebrate the life of this particular individual. The floor of the gymnasium was covered so not to be tainted by the heels of those who walked the floor. The mood was somber, yet joyful. The scent was a mixture of a high school basketball team and the smell of women’s perfume.

People would greet, hug and exchange stories. And, they would give each other that look. You know, the look you give another when you both know all is not right, but you smile anyway. Others were silent. Others cried.

The service started with music, grand overtures making poignant statements of adoration and belief. The pastor took the stage and invited those most precious to tell stories. Their voices filled the room evoking laughter and tears. Memories were shared along with sentiments of all this person had meant. Encouragements and edifications echoed. Words the individual longed to hear while alive, only spoken now that they were no more. Ironic really. The life that gathered all these people was one that often wondered if her life made a difference.

This service was the confirmation that she was seen. It evidenced the fact that her life counted and that she was loved, but it was an after thought.

This memorial, my own.

A scene that played out in my mind over and over again through out high school and college. I often day dreamed of my own funeral, not because I wanted to be dead, but because I wanted to know that I was seen.

Being seen is a longing most women, I’d venture to say all women, hold. Being seen is at the core, the greatest place to be and the lack of being seen is a fear that ravages the hearts and imaginations of women.

It is a fear that this woman holds.

While I no longer fantasize about make believe memorial services, I do want to know my life counts. I want to know I matter in the lives of others. I want to know that I am seen and loved. I do not long for this because I lack being seen, I long for this because I am human. I long to be seen because I have an enemy who constantly taunts me with the idea that my life doesn’t matter. Many days I recognize the lie, but too many days I get swept up by it and live to be seen and approved of by man. This is the secret I’ve kept and is the place where I’ve needed Jesus to meet me in the cobwebs and speak truth into the darkness of the unspoken.

The truth Jesus has brought me, when I’m haunted by this particular secret, is that I am seen and known by a Good and Glorious King, who is my Father. He not only sees me, He loves me. El Roi, is a name for God found in the Old Testament. The name literally means, the God who sees. This God is the same God whose name is also love. 

My longing to be seen was placed with in me, by the one whose name is (to paraphrase) I see you.

Today, my truth is that I long to be seen. Today my truth is also that I am.

As you read, I pray that you are reminded that you too are seen. You are known. Your life has substance. When you are tempted to imagine inflated encouragements and make believe memorial services, I pray that you know the truth that your life matters. I pray that you will receive the gift given to you by a God who sees you and loves you.I pray that as you are seen and loved by God, that you will see and love others around you.  

Go in peace.

Day 9 of telling the truth:

IMG_8224Today my truth is:

It is absolutely lovely outside and I am having a difficult time focusing on the writing before me. I ache for the spring time. I have been in winter for too long. Living again in a place where the seasons are pronounced has given me the opportunity to live in rhythm with nature.

I begin to long, as the earth, when the flowers begin to peak through the ground. There is an emerging, a breaking out that is so pronounced I see the hints of green and my soul actually rejoices. LIFE. I breathe out.

I am ready to walk in Life and Light in a new way.

It is good.

Today’s post is going to be short, because, in truth, I’m going to go enjoy the outdoors, instead of write about it.

What do the changes in the season awaken within you?

Take a moment to listen to this song today. It is what I’ve been listening to as I’ve been writing. I am thankful for the invitations found in the words. Just As I am by Andrew Peterson

 

Life Over Rainbows

Rainbows-rainbows-16556428-500-375I look out my window. The earth resides under a blanket of gray. The color of the day seems to be muted with white and smokey tones. The evergreen trees are bleak as if they too have taken on the mood of the sky. It is quiet on the surface, but I can almost sense the battle between the dark and the light as the sun fights to shine through the clouds.

There is a war. It is a war for light. It is a war for color. It is a war that has been raging since the beginning of time. It is a war that is invisible to the human eye, but known by every human heart. It is a war that rages against us, every second of every day. It is a war between hate and love. A war between truth and fiction. A war between darkness and light. A war between good and evil. A war where the enemy is seeking to kill, steal and destroy and the hero fights for life, that is abundant and good.

The gray sky today echoes of a world asleep while the battle rages.

I look out my window at school buses driving by, neighboring homes sitting as both a refuge or a place to hide the mess that lies within. Cars drive by, I hear the sound of workmen and the occasional plane flying overhead and my mind if filled with images of people with hearts and minds being lulled by the gray and wonder if they taste life. Do they know that there is an assault on their heart and mind? Do people realize that there is more to the story?

As I reflect, I recall scenes from The Wizard of Oz. The artistic directors beautifully told the story of those who were asleep. The entire first segment of the film, shot in black and white, portrays a sleeping world.  It appears most have agreed that this reality is all there is and have forgotten how to dream of more. A young girl, full of life enters the scene. Her ache for more is felt as young Dorothy sings about life over rainbows. I’m curious, if she knew the battle that awaited her beyond the rainbow would  she have wanted to enter that story?

Can you feel the tension?

Gray. It is a place of tension. It is a place of ignorance. It is a place of longing, loneliness and complacency. It is a place where dreams are dismissed, miracles don’t happen and talk of such is discouraged.

Gray is the land on which most have made their home .

Gray feels safe and secure, its muted tones don’t seem to bother anyone and in fact, most have been deceived into thinking gray is all there will ever be.

For one living in gray the idea of more can almost feel too much.

I catch my breath as I type. More is too much. More is so much. More is what life looks like. More is not safe, nor is it comfortable. More involves dying to live. More involves fighting, rather than sitting. More involves deep belief and roots that are entrenched in the life giver’s soil. More involves choosing to admit that there is a battle and choosing to pick up a sword and fight for what is good. More involves eyes that are open, hearts that are vulnerable and a willingness to experience great pain to also experience great joy. More is the place where love lives. More is where heart ache is allowed. More is risk’s home and where impossible things are no longer seemed as foolish.  More is the place where light enters the darkness. Where being a victim isn’t an option, because the color has shown you your truest identity and you will fight to overcome. More is a place  of royalty. More is a place of tragedy, comedy and fairytale. More… well, it’s just that. It is more. It is what life looks like over rainbows.

Jesus declares that He is the author of more. He invites us to belief in Him and to live lives in response to this belief. He asks us to travel with Him over rainbows, into life that is abundant. Is his way safe? Oh no it is not safe. More is rarely safe. But His way, it is good.

I will choose to wear color today, to be light, to speak truth, to share of fair tales and to believe in the more Jesus has promised. What color blankets your life’s story? Do you hear an invitation into more?  Are you complacent, believing more can’t be for you and so you’ve resigned to gray? What holds you back from traveling over rainbows?

What truths do Jesus or his followers share about a life of more? Share some of those thoughts, verses or concepts and lets encourage one another all the more! as we see the day approaching.

Be blessed. Step into color and taste the more of Jesus.

 

 

Cliff Jumping and obedience

IMG_7906In the past few days I have thought often about the story of Mary as she was met by the angel and told she would give birth to a son. I have closed my eyes, imagined Mary and the angel and wondered what the scene was like as it unfolded. I play out the events of that moment as though I were vision casting a scene for a movie. The scene unfolds like this:

Mary, played by an innocent, and yet curiously strong woman, is hanging laundry. She is feeling a sense of gratitude for the life she’s been given and is day dreaming about her upcoming wedding to Joseph. As she hangs a dress on the line, suddenly she is overwhelmed by a light that is incredibly white. The light surrounds her and she sees the outline of a figure in the light. She trembles. What is this? What is happening? The figure speaks her name, “Mary” The mention of her name causes chills to run down her spine and she steps back. The figure didn’t stop at her name, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary hits her knees and shields her face.

The figure speaks, ” Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus He will be great and will be called the Son of the MOst High. The God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

These words were just as confusing as frightening. Mary stands up and steps towards the figure in the light. “How can this be? For I am a virgin?”

The figure explains all that is to happen and Mary is filled with peace, belief, and strength. She knows her Lord. She believes He is God and He is good. There is no waiting or debating, there is only a response, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” With that the figure leaves and the light that surrounded her washes over her enveloping her with peace, grace, fortitude and awe.

What is this great mystery? I imagine Mary whispers to her self as she jumps in obedience.

The mystery of obedience does not make sense to the world. The mystery of the Kingdom story is beautiful and powerful, but it goes against human logic an understanding.

I know the reality of beautifully mysterious invitations and it is not mine to question the invitation or the task, but to simply respond with, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word be fulfilled.”

I must be honest, the words I am the Lord’s servant do not come without fear. Obedience is not a task for the weak. Obedience involves, leaning into the character of God and leaping in faith, knowing not with my eyes, but with my belief that I will be caught.

This summer I went to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. As my friend and I stood at the edge of the over 400ft cliff, I was filled with fear and awe. Over and over and over in my mind I would imagine me running and jumping off of the cliff. I’d shutter with fear. Finally I asked Jesus, why do I keep playing this over and over in my mind. Why will this not go away? As I asked, I felt a nudge in my spirit to pay attention to what happens after I jump. I played the scene through. I once again imagined me running and jumping off the cliff. Immediately, after the jump was made a hand caught me and carried me to the shore below. I cried at the beauty of the picture. I was not jumping into death, I was jumping in obedience and God would meet me and carry me where he wanted me to go.

When God invites us, it often feels like jumping off a cliff or perchance even like a virgin being told she would give birth to a child. Invitations to obedience are not for the faint of heart. But, obedience… I must tell you, is the place where fairytales become reality. It is the place where the Kingdom comes. It is the place where the divine is seen and the glory of God is given to sight.

As I write, I am invited into this type of obedience. The initial invitation was given and I was overrun by fear. The voice of the Lord met me, “Cari, do not be afraid. I am the God of Abraham. I am the God of Jacob. I am for your good. I do not invite you so that you will be overcome, but so that you will overcome. I do not hand you into the hands of your enemies, I hand your enemies into your hands. I do not invite you to taste death only to live in its sting, no I invite you to die so that you may live. I do not invite you to jump so that you are destroyed, I invite you to jump so that I can move you. Trust not in your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge me and I will make your path straight. Be still, and know that I am God.”

As I am reminded of the character of the One inviting me to jump, I am thankful. My fear turns into expectation and my hope remains not in the fulfillment of a wish, but in the character of the One who holds all things.

Today, where ever you are. In the face of whatever invitation is before you…. cling not to the outcome, but the one who holds it. Do not be afraid, for God, who is good, will lead you and you will not be destroyed.

Resilience

IMG_5611I walked upstairs and to my horror the bulbs that had grown into beautiful blooms had toppled over. Their beauty had seemingly given way to brokenness which, for that moment felt irredeemable. I texted my friend who had given them to me and he asked if they could be salvaged. I tended to them. I cut off stems, I leaned them against something stronger to hold them up right, I watered them and placed them near a window so they might receive light. Later in the day I revisited my blooms and noticed they could once again stand on their own.

I wrote my friend telling him that they were salvaged. *whew

I later wrote telling him I wanted to find the metaphor in it all. Our conversation went a little like this:

Me: My crazy metaphor seeking mind has been like, “what does this mean??” Then I tell my brain to be quiet.

My friend: Ha ha yes I knew you would seek the metaphor in it!

Me: Perchance the blooms became prideful thinking they were all that… With their tall stems and beautiful flowers and their heads grew too big for theirs britches and they had to fall ???

I’ll keep working on it….

My Friend: Rohr (Richard Rohr) would say life is a constant cycle of destruction and renewal…the growing and vibrant object has reached its peak and is now entering its cycle of deterioration. Leaves falling

Me: Crap…. This plant and I have been identifying with each other…. This prophetic plant is revealing  that I’m going to experience death…  Today that makes me angry

(Some sassy banter)

Me: Good thing they sprang up again…

My Friend: Ah ha! Resilience is your metaphor!
Me: Resurrection, restoration, redemption, resilience!!!!

Thanks for giving me a better metaphor.

Before this conversation I was overwhelmed. (No, I was not overwhelmed because of my plant. I was overwhelmed by fear and sadness about various situations in life. Daily I experience various invitations to trust and on this day, those invitations were less than welcome.) I found myself questioning God. I found myself in a spiral of doubt. I was grabbing hold of lies being thrown at me and quickly became burdened by their weight.

I needed truth. I needed to be reminded of my identity as a Daughter of the Most High. I was looking for truth in this plant that has offered me so much insight as it’s grown. Working out the metaphor with my friend, led to a quick dose of truth.

When he spoke the words, “Ah ha! Resilience is your metaphor,”  it was as though an agreement was made deep with in me. I understood truth in the word.  I took hold of it and it drew me up out of the pit and aligned me with my identity as a child of God, an overcomer, one who can stand up against darkness, for the light of the world lives with in me.

The words with which I make agreement matter and they guide my beliefs about God, self and others.

I’m thankful that God gives us, that He gives me, what I need as I seek to live out my identity as a daughter of a good King.

Bulbs that teach, people who speak, strength on which to hold, truth to which I cling, light and water to grow and His constant presence as the author and perfecter of faith. What I place my faith in matters. Who I place my faith in is crucial. What words I use to guide me and the ideas and beliefs to which I cling lead to death or life, darkness or light.

I have continued to have peace as I’ve held to the metaphor of resilience and place my trust in the one who has already overcome the world.

Where do you need hope? Where is your invitation to trust? In what and whom are you placing your hope, trust and heart?