All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay

9 Prayers to Squelch Pandemic Panic (aka, anti-anxiety prayers)

A few weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place, I knew I needed a different kind of spiritual discipline, one that focused my creative writing on Scripture God could use to lift me out of the sudden onset of anxiety. I began searching God’s Word for promises related to anxiety and fear, and what I needed most, peace.

From there, I wrote short prayers following the tradition of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during King Henry VIII’s reign of England and author of the first Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: an address for God, a characteristic of God, a request, an intention, and the name of Jesus. While I used a traditional form, I also personalized it in ways Cranmer couldn’t have imagined.

Listening to God through the Bible and then listening for what my heart wanted to say in response has helped me channel my energy into making something meaningful. Praying these prayers resets my anxious mind, centering my focus on God’s presence here and now. I pray they’ll also share some peace with you. Please feel free to share with friends who might want to pray along with you!

Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

My Rescuer, always listening and quick to respond, rescue me now. Lift me up to new, safe heights so that I may bellow your praises. In the name of Jesus Christ I sing, Amen.

Psalm 94:18-19 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

Loving God, though I fall, you never fail; you extend comfort when anxiety topples me. I’m slipping, Lord! Catch me in your strong arms of love and hold me so tight that, instead of fear, I am squeezed by joy in your presence. In Jesus’ name I squeak love, Amen.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Creator God, who sculpted my heart and knows me inside and out, excavate the junk I can’t, or won’t, admit. Take my hand and direct me in better ways to better days with you by my side forever. In your Son’s name I pray, Amen.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Lord my God, you who have been with me since before the beginning and will be for eternity, dress me in your strength, your courage, your nearness, so that I am prepared for the adventures of brave living each day. In the name of your Son who is the Way, Amen.

Matthew 6:25-27, 32b-34 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? …your heavenly Father knows [what] you need… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Provider God, who feeds the birds and cares even more for me, give me what I need for body and soul. Set my eyes so firmly on your kingdom and plant my feet so firmly in today that my faith in you motivates my every step. Thank you, Jesus, Amen.

John 14:1, 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faithful Savior with arms full of offered peace, sprinkle your sparkly glitter dust of peace over the messy glue of my heart to create a down-to-earth and still frame-worthy work of art entitled “Confident Belief.” In your name I pray, Jesus, Amen.

John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Hey Jesus, my Comforter, the world is in trouble and I feel stuck in the world. Wrap me up in your peace and show me how you are overcoming so that I can move forward into this braveheart life. I pray in your name, Jesus, Amen.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Jesus Christ, my near and gentle Lord, fill my mouth with rejoicing and drench me in peace so that your gentleness, rather than my anxiety, becomes evident to everyone I meet. I rejoice in you, Jesus, Amen.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Servant Savior, who loved us fully by showing us how to be humble, I am tossing all my anxiety at you like a sack of dirty laundry–I don’t want it, please take it. Thank you for gently loving me, for cleaning up my messes and holding me tight. Humbly your child prays to you, Jesus, Amen.

Cover image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

Lent 2020: I Pray…

“Did you know that God is always listening to you? Did you know that God can hear the quietest whisper deep inside your heart, even before you’ve started to say it? Because God knows exactly what you need even before you ask him…. So when you pray, pray in your normal voice, just like when you’re talking to someone you love very much.”

Well, that’s really great news, Jesus, because we hear so much bad news. The world, our lives, have filled up with so much uncertainty that we don’t always know what to say. We don’t always know what to think or how to feel or even what to do next.

I’m so grateful that God is always listening. I’m grateful that He knows the quietest whisper deep in my heart. I am grateful that He knows what I need, because I’m not always very good at knowing what I need.

Jesus, I pray for all those who are sick; comfort them and their loved ones. I pray for those who serve the sick. Thank you for the helpers. Keep them well so they can continue helping. I pray for those who feel anxious. I pray for those who have lost jobs. I pray for those who are working from home, especially if they’re also caring for little ones. I pray for parents who are suddenly cast in the role of school teacher. I pray for students who feel the weight of isolation, doing their best to learn using new formats. I pray for the bored and confused children cooped up at home instead of playing on playgrounds. I pray for the scientists working on cures, and I pray for world leaders to be wise in their recommendations.

I pray for peace. I pray for unity. I pray for the whole world to feel your presence. I pray for your Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love to reach every person and fill up every heart.

Amen.

 

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Lent 2020: We Need Him a Lot

…the people God uses don’t have to know a lot of things, or have a lot of things–they just have to need him a lot.
Jesus called out to them, “Let’s go!”

My creative collaborator and I created a day-by-day prayer card to guide our church and unify our prayers during Lent. Of course we had no idea how the world would change from the time we created it to its actual season of use. I’ve been struck repeatedly at how God directed the choice of prayer prompts to specific days. For example, our first week of shelter-in-place included praying for patience, trust, hope, joy, love, and faith; the second week began with perseverance and also included kindness, humility, and flexibility—all qualities we need heaping doses of these days.

I tucked the prayer card into my Jesus Storybook Bible as a bookmark/prayer reminder. Today while I read, I couldn’t help hearing my working-from-home pastor-husband on a call discussing the numbers of people in our church and community who need help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how our church is preparing to mobilize in response. The conversation moved on to our local and global mission partners struggling to meet the needs of those they serve, and who quite sadly may be unable to continue by the time the pandemic has run its course.

Today’s prayer prompt is to pray for those who need help…

Jesus, we all need help. We all need you a lot, now more than ever. Help the helpers, Lord, and be extra-especially present to all those who need help in body and soul. Amen.

Now come on, helpers. Let’s go do what we can do!

During Lent 2020, I’m reading and reflecting on The Jesus Storybook Bible. If you don’t already have it, I highly recommend it. You can purchase it here. Please note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

A Daily Prayer

Faith comes easily to me. For as long as I can remember, I have believed down to my toes that God loves me, Jesus died for me, and the Spirit guides me.

And yet. As an emotionally-driven individual, my attitudes and actions may tell a different story. Too often, I don’t act like I believe a loving God cares about my life and the world I inhabit.

Life is good, and hard. Life is beautiful, and brutal. As Glennon Doyle puts it, Life is brutiful. Faith—trusting that we’re not alone or left to our own sometimes pitiful resources—helps.

But it’s easier declared than lived on the daily.

Of course I try. Yet as I think of seasons in life where we have faced significant challenges—illnesses and injuries, job stress which increased financial stress, losses of one sort or another—I know I prayed, and still what I felt smacked more of grief than hope. (Interestingly, I also recall several people telling me during one of those difficult seasons that I glowed with hope; God is good).

During desperate times, faith can be hard-scrabble, tooth-and-nail dug deep.

When one son vomited for weeks on end, repeat every few months for years, missing school and eluding (for a long while) diagnosis. When another son suffered a severe concussion that not only affected his abilities but changed his personality, again for too long. When help seems unavailable and despair unavoidable, then what?

That’s when I turn to one of my favorite biblical prayers:

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

God knows I believe, but I need to grow in asking Him to help me believe all the time, in life’s common nonsense and torrential storms alike. Pray with me?

Dig deeper…

Connect
Share about a recent power-full experience.

Study
Read Mark 9:14-29.
Describe the scene Jesus returns to (vv14-20).
What do you think the disciples and teachers might have argued about (vv14-16)? How might their argument have affected the disciples’ ability to help the child?
How does the crowd respond to seeing Jesus (v15)? How does the spirit respond (v20)?
Who do you think Jesus intends to include in His rebuke of the “unbelieving generation” (v19)?
Put the father’s interaction with Jesus in your own words (vv17-24).
Read Mark 3:14-15 and Mark 6:7, 12-13. Since the disciples have received from Jesus power to cast out spirits and have done so previously, what else might be going on (vv28-29)?

Live
What can we learn from this story about belief, prayer and power?
How do you hang on to faith in desperate circumstances?
How can others’ faith or doubt affect your own belief?
If you can, share about a time when you experienced Jesus’ power.
What might change in your life if you daily/regularly prayed the father’s prayer?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to increase your belief.

Family Share Questions
Use these questions to reflect on Mark 9:14-29 individually and with your family.
When you think of someone “powerful,” who comes to mind?
How does Jesus help the boy and his father?
Ask God to help you believe.

 

 

 

Live Lent (2018)

Mom Down!

I’ve been sick for two weeks now. What began as a lousy cold–power through, Mom, as most moms do–and I thought I had and was mostly on the mend–became a painful ear infection and virus v2. Six days on antibiotics and I still have pain and no hearing on my left side. Bleh!

Thankfully, I have a loving family determined to carry on around me, caring for me as they go. Guy bought lovely red tulips to bring me cheer and took care of all the kid-duties I couldn’t manage. Q13 offered to refill my water bottle, among other simple tasks. As John says, they have loved me in truth through their actions: “…let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18).

Meanwhile, Lent began this past Wednesday. Lent, that church season during which Jesus’ followers traditionally give up or take on something to more closely identify with the suffering our Lord endured for our sake.

Give up…dessert? alcohol? social media?
Take on…a new form of service? more/different forms of prayer?

I googled Lent and came across this fantastic New York Times article reporting that the Church of England has asked their parishioners to give up plastics in order to better steward God’s creation. As an animal-loving vegetarian environmentalist, mostly for stewardship reasons, I ❤ this so much! They’ve even created a daily calendar of actions one could take to limit plastic consumption…which I plan to print out and work towards.

Research shows the best way to create a new habit is to change one thing at a time, and to stick with it for at least three weeks. So during Lent, we have an opportunity to create two new God-honoring habits, or really dial down on one. Even week by week small actions will make a difference, in our lives and the world.

January 2017 I began keeping a Gratitude Journal, and in January 2018 I recommitted to it. I also recommitted to what should be my ongoing practice of reading the Bible daily; in mid-February I can say that the combination of daily Bible reading + gratitude has brought me new joy.

So here we are at Lent, a new opportunity to create lifestyle changes that will identify us as Jesus’ followers.

In my job as Church Communication Director and based on our sermon series in 1 John, I created a list of twelve things one might do during Lent.

12 Things to Do During Lent
based on 1 John 3:11-5:21
February 14-March 31, 2018

  1. Repair a broken relationship.
  2. Donate goods, money and time to charity.
  3. Set aside regular time to rest in His presence (i.e., read the Bible, pray, worship, sit quietly with the God who loves you).
  4. Do intentional loving acts for those who wouldn’t expect it.
  5. Since Jesus Christ came in the flesh, do something to honor your God-given body (i.e., exercise, eat healthy, soak in a hot tub, get a massage)…and pray!
  6. Search the Bible for passages about the Holy Spirit and spend time getting to know His voice.
  7. Memorize and meditate on 1 John 4:7-12.
  8. Pray for a hard-to-love person in your life and ask God to change your heart.
  9. Read the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and ask God what He wants you to do to faithfully keep His commandments.
  10. Read a book to grow your belief in Jesus as the Son of God.
  11. Pray with bold confidence, for yourself and for others, according to God’s will.
  12. Ask God to identify and cut out sin in your life.

With little energy to do much else, I joined a Facebook group: 40 Bags in 40 Days. Created by a woman who follows a Lenten discipline (though that’s not required), the idea is to declutter our households and donate to charity. Which fits well with #2. So far, I’ve attacked some bathroom and refrigerator drawers (much of which went in the trash), and plan to keep at it.

As with any day, any season, I cannot yet predict how this Lenten season will pan out. I pray that God will grow me in new ways, teach me new things, ingrain in me new ways of being that honor Him and mark me as His follower.

What will you do?

Walk in Love
Week 7: Love One Another
1 John 3:11-18

Connect
If you’re married, reflect on highlights from your wedding day. If you’re not married, reflect on a time you knew you were well loved.

Study
Read aloud 1 John 3:11-18.
Compare 1 John 3:11 to 1 John 1:1, 5. What does love for others have to do with God’s light?
Contrast the negative example of Cain’s relationship with his brother Abel to Jesus’ positive example of love.
Compare vv13-15 with Matthew 5:21-22, then explain John’s equations: hate=death and love=life.
How might sharing your possessions be an example of laying down your life (vv16-17)?
Can someone speak lovingly but not in truth? Can someone act lovingly but not in truth? How is it different to love “with actions and in truth” (v18)?

Live
How do you know if you love someone? If someone loves you?
How could you handle well a religious disagreement that brought about hostility?
Without breaking confidentiality, what have you done to intentionally act lovingly towards someone who was hard for you to love? Did it change the relationship and if so, how?
How might material possessions get in the way of one’s spiritual life?
What would it look like for a church to be generous with Christ’s love? What can you do, personally and as a Community Group, to more generously share Christ’s love?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God’s love will overflow your life.

Seasonal Recreation

How did you play when you were young? And how do you play now? I used to swim and bike for what seemed like days on end. I took art classes, played piano, and read. These days I hike or run or practice yoga. I write, play at art, and have an ever-growing stack of to-read books. It’s good to allow ourselves to grow in play, to try new things, to let go of things that don’t satisfy the same creative curiosities we once followed like rabbit trails. So long as we continue to take time for soul care, engaging in creation and recreation and play so that we can be transformed. We need to set aside time for activities that dust off our souls. You know what to do. Now go do it.

re:create recess #12: Danielle Humphreys

There have been a couple of times recently in which my recreation inspired creativity which led to transformation in me. Recreation, or ‘play,’ in this season of life looks different from when I was younger. In college, I remember being part of “Rec Sports” where recreation looked like playing intramural soccer or taking a fencing class. Being in Santa Barbara, it also meant a fair amount of time at the beach! I also used to read and do artsy-craftsy things, and it’s not that I don’t enjoy these anymore, but recreation now looks a lot like planting seeds and watching them grow into a garden. It also looks like getting out in nature or going someplace new, or listening to music. These are the things that take me out of my head and clear the dust off my soul; where space is created to dream, to feel, to hear and respond.

One such experience was on a hike at the Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. It was a beautiful Spring day, one of the first in the midst of what seemed like a never-ending wet winter. My friend and I planned to travel together and then spend time apart for soul care as we hiked the vast swath of land at the Abbey. Reaching the vista point, I sat and pondered a shrine there to the Virgin Mary. It reminded me of growing up Catholic and how honored she is in that faith tradition, especially compared to evangelical faith streams where it seems she’s only thought of at Advent and Christmas. I began journaling that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was also a fellow traveler in this world and is one among the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding me (Hebrews 12:1). She is also a fellow mother, fellow disciple and fellow sister. She went before me and cheers me on as I run the race before me. Her model of surrender, faith, trust and patience became new to me in that moment. Looking out at the surrounding towns and landscape, I decided to take out my small watercolor set and paint what I saw. I didn’t paint Mary, but imagined her sitting with me. My understanding of Mary had been re-created.

I also find that listening to certain worship music draws me close to the heart of God and gives permission for my soul to feel and experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. Like I mentioned, the Pacific Northwest winter was a brutal one, even for the Oregon natives around me! One day it was finally dry enough to put the garden in so I carved out space to get all the plants in the soil. The song in my earbuds as I worked was “Bitter/Sweet” by Amanda Cook. The lyrics are simple and repeat. “You make all things new…You turn the bitter into sweet…You turn the winter into spring…You make all things new…”

I found myself praying this to be true as I planted summer squash. I prayed for spring for my friends, for our church and for myself. As I mounded hills of soil around each plant, I prayed for God to be the foundation that supports us, for our roots to grow down deep into the soil of God’s love for us (Ephesians 3:17, NLT) for fruit, and for protection around tender plants, and tender us.

Another time, I ended a long day by listening to worship songs. As the words, melody and truth washed over me, I began to have a conversation with God. I prayed about needing to know God was with me, because I sensed that the Spirit was asking me to be prepared for something new, which made me feel scared. I imagined myself and my family being taken to the unknowns of outer space. The conversation I was having with God started to come out in pictures, so I started drawing them in a small notebook. This became a sacred moment, one that transformed me from a place that felt dizzying and uncertain to one of intimacy and trust in the goodness, faithfulness and nearness of God.

Later this week, I am doing something really out of the box for me (in this stage of my life) and going on a backpacking adventure in the mountains with a group of women I don’t know beyond the friend who invited me! The homebody in me was pulling out cookies from the oven when I got a call from the group and learned that we would be ascending 7,000 feet, and that our gear included both a helmet and an ice ax. What have I gotten myself into?! Recreation via adventure! Blowing dust off of a weary soul. Being surprised by the creativity that springs forth on the journey. Stars and glaciers and the beauty of British Columbia. New soul sisters and pilgrims on the journey. And for certain, there will be re-creation and transformation. I can.not.wait.

Danielle is a native Bay Area gal, (still) adjusting to life in Oregon, married to Matt and mom to 3 kiddos and 1 dog. She has a B.A. in Aquatic Biology, an M.A. in Theology (Fuller), and enjoys conversations about church, community, Jesus, and gardening. She is also a lover of good food, music, creativity, and outer space. She is the Associate Director of Family Ministries at Trinity Covenant Church where her husband Matt is also on staff as a Pastor.

Thankful Thursday – Every Breath I Take

The last few weeks have cycled through deep soul excavation, self-reflection, confession and forgiveness, and difficult, honest conversations. These weeks have been hard, tearful, and also so good, resulting in helpful new insights. Growth can be hard work.

One of the healthier ways I’ve managed all the feelings has been to get active. Moving my body has helped shut down my ruminating mind. But movement comes with its own risks. I went for a two-hour seaside walk in the wrong shoes and developed a blister on the ball of each foot the size of a 50-cent piece–ouch! And last weekend I took a wrong step during a run that strained something in my ankle and has had me limping since.

Last week I patted myself on the back–six out of six days I either practiced yoga or ran. This week not so much. This week I’m a lame stress ball, one that should bounce but instead lands with a thud.

My yogi friend suggested her chair class, which enables deeper stretches since you don’t also have to support your own weight. I rearranged activities to make it at noon today, grateful to have an opportunity to move safely without pain.

Little did I know how grateful I would be…

Confirmation #1: Written on the studio whiteboard: “Today’s Intention: Gratitude”
Confirmation #2: Yogi-friend said, “Everything happens for a purpose. If you weren’t injured, you might not be here right now…”
Confirmation #3: The only other class participant? Also a pastor’s wife, also dealing with an injury.

At that point, I just started laughing. Clearly, God put me where I needed to be!

Honestly, I would have preferred to move hard, to sweat, to get my blood pumping. I’m not good at stretching and, left to myself, I don’t take nearly enough time to do it properly. Still, it’s good, helpful, necessary.

For this near-private lesson, our yogi had created a routine and playlist just for us. She asked different questions, not “What is your foundation?” but “WHO is your foundation?” The music also took us beyond our bodies and focused our minds. Two gimpy pastors’ wives and our yogi-sister shared an hour of stretching, breathing, and praying. We shared yoga worship.

I breathe, but I need reminders to breathe deeply.
I move, but I benefit from reminders to move intentionally.
I pray, but I stretched differently into this hour of focused, physically-expressive prayer.

I entered the studio slump-shouldered. I exited with shoulders back, a smile on my face. I received this shared yoga experience as a gift, and I am indeed grateful!

Doesn’t yoga frog make you want to smile?

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Advent Week 2 -The Promise of a King

In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel announces the divinely-appointed births of two world-changing babies. First he tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to John the Baptist. Next he tells Mary that she will give birth to the King, the long-awaited Messiah.

Zechariah and Mary both respond with a question.

Zechariah: “How can I be sure of this?”
Mary: “How will this be…?”

Similar, but subtly different. Zechariah’s question carries doubt, whereas Mary asks for clarification: This will be, but how?, she might have said.

Too often, my questions sound more like Zechariah’s than Mary’s. Doubt first, trust later.

To both Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid…” That might just mean they had a darned good reason to be afraid! I wish I were more like Mary, meek, humble, accepting. But God made me in a different, fierier furnace and, as much as I love Him, I’m stubborn and seem to need to wrestle with Him first. I’m also a big scaredy cat. Most days I am content to be a spectator, to cheer others on from the sidelines. I don’t crave fast-paced action. I like comfort.

I’m pretty convinced, however, that God doesn’t intend for our lives to be too comfortable. When we’re comfortable, we rely on ourselves; discomfort pushes us into God’s arms. Five years ago God shook up my comfort: He gave our family the opportunity to participate in a Thanksgiving break mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

I love to travel, but travel and mission trips are not synonymous. Previous mission trips had convinced me that some of us get to send money, pray, and cheer others on. I felt fine with that role. Until God called me.

Do not be afraid? Right!

I thought money would be a deal-breaker. God provided.

I like to be well-prepared, but mission trips don’t work that way. “Flexibility” is key. Unfortunately, I rediscovered that when I’m stressed I can be a cranky control freak.

But the overriding fear was: How could I be a participant and a parent? Teen would be fine–he craves adventure–but Tween is a homebody, content in his pj’s and his own company for days on end. At the time he was 7 years old, and he didn’t even like easy vacations.

God and I had an ongoing conversation about all this for months. One early morning, after sleeplessly tossing through the night, I told Guy I couldn’t do it. I had time to go for a walk by myself and started to pray, when God cut me off. He said: “Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (from Joshua 1:9). I don’t typically think in Bible verses, so I recognized this verse in my head as God’s word to me. I could go to the DR because God would be with me.

I told God I wouldn’t be the obstacle, however, I was open to God throwing up obstacles. He leveled them. I thought we might miss the passport deadline. Instead, we got two appointments in one day on the very day we called, early enough that we didn’t need to expedite, and then the passports arrived in one week.

Another time I tried to duck out the back gate of a team work day. I didn’t feel like good company and I didn’t know how to help. But our team leader just happened to be in the driveway, looking for me. I burst into tears. Talk about humiliating, but God turned it into an opportunity to provide the support I needed to once again say yes to the trip and to God.

I pleaded, “Hey, God, you’ve got the wrong person! I have all sorts of excuses why this just won’t work for me. Do you want to think this through and get back to me? I’m sure there’s plenty I can do for you right here…” And still, God was patient. He got me there in the end, with a powerful sense of His presence and encouragement along the way.

John Ortberg wrote, “The antidote to fear is the presence of God. In him we are courageous.”

The evening of our first full day in the DR I jotted some notes in my journal. I started with “Where I’ve seen God so far…” The list isn’t short! It includes things like
*an unexpected nap
*meeting the child we’ve sponsored for years face-to-face in his home
*and one of my all-time favorite worship experiences: Tween’s little body wasn’t feeling great after the long trip, so we sat outside church. The congregation sang in Spanish, “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord.” He recognized the song, so we sang along in English. Those words—open the eyes of my heart, Lord, I want to see you—echoed what I had asked people to pray for me, that I would see God.dr-nikaury

All those prayers worked, because Tween and I had the best trip! Young as he was, he saw himself as an important member of the team. During our meetings we shared SMOGs, “small moments of grace.” God’s grace was everywhere, and we took time to notice and celebrate it together. Tween shared at least one SMOG at every meeting.

Another of my fears: would I be able to do anything worthwhile? To make myself laugh and keep a good attitude, I pretended my tasks were challenges on The Amazing Race. I helped sort the 2,000 pounds of donations our team brought with us; weighed and measured kids at Anija (school); led Christmas craft projects; and peeled countless potatoes and apples for 2 huge Thanksgiving meals.dr-thxgiving

More importantly, I shared coffee and conversation with house mothers at The Ark (orphanage); played and laughed and hugged lots of new friends; and shared conversation and worship with teammates. The goal on The Amazing Race is to be the first team across the finish line and win $1 million dollars. My goal was to see God and serve Him in whatever way He asked. I’m pretty sure I won.

God doesn’t always call you to something you’re good at, but simply to something you can do. I didn’t expect to be good at something, so I simply made myself available. That was enough. We heard repeatedly that God doesn’t care about how much or little you have; He cares about your heart. The Big Question is always the same: Do I trust God?

This trip changed me, and it changed our family. Both kids made friends and did their jobs. They grew in faith and even encouraged each other. We each saw one another with new eyes as we served together. This trip gave us the courage and preparation to spend 10 weeks of Guy’s sabbatical in Costa Rica. We were prepared for crazy motorcycle drivers, humidity and bugs, and having to think so hard to understand the language. We were ready to look for and share SMOGs, to see God everywhere.dr-friends

Do not be afraid… If you believe our good God has set an open door before you, then you should walk through it. Saying yes makes it easier to say yes again. The opposite is also true: saying no makes it easier to say no again—and, honestly, that scares me more than saying yes.

One week five years ago still has significant impact on my willingness to trust God. I may keep arguing with Him along the way, and yet I can’t wait to see what else He has in store!

Week 2 – The Promise of a King
December 4-10

Read and light two candles (purple): The first candle represents the promise of joy. The second candle represents the promise of a King.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Read: In old age Elizabeth miraculously conceived her promised joy, her son John. The angel Gabriel delivered a similar promise to her young cousin Mary: she, too, will miraculously conceive a baby. But whereas John will prepare the way, Mary’s baby Jesus will be the everlasting King, the Son of God. With Mary, we trust the promise because no word from God will ever fail.

Pray: We are the Lord’s servants. May your word to us be fulfilled. We wait and pray in the name of Jesus our coming King, Amen.

Monday Deuteronomy 31:8 How can God’s presence comfort you in discouragement?
Tuesday Psalm 5:1-3 What difference does it make that your King hears your cries and requests?
Wednesday Matthew 6:9-10 What might God’s kingdom look like on earth today?
Thursday Hebrews 1:1-3 How do you learn to hear the Son’s voice?
Friday 2 Timothy 3:16-17 What has God said to you through His Word recently?
Saturday 1 John 5:20 What does it mean to you to have eternal life with the Son of God?

 

create.

Today’s guest post writer has been a thoughtful and generous friend for close to ten years. We have been in Bible studies and women’s groups together and, crucial to my professional life, she makes beautiful the words I write/edit for our church publications. I deeply admire her creative talents and the way she intertwines prayer with life, work, creativity and play. One quick example: she gave me an unexpected Christmas gift of glamorous nail polish with a note that said, “Let your nail polish dry and pray!”

Create Challenge #10: Nancy Ingersoll

Create is such a vague term. It can refer to something tangible, an environment or a mindset. However, all three of these tend to work in tandem to have the best results.

Creativity can be contagious. If you set yourself up in an environment that feeds creativity, it will increase exponentially. By entering a space that has everything you need to execute your creative act, your attitude will welcome creative juices to flow and productivity will increase.

This will look completely different for different people. For some, it will be a kitchen stocked with ingredients and equipment. Others will need a flat surface to spread out or a place to set up tools so you can indulge your creative outlet spontaneously, while others will need a tote bag of supplies ready to throw over their shoulder as they venture outside.

Many will require a space with great lighting, and personal preferences will vary from those who want quiet to those who need a constant rattle from music. The key is to understand what feeds your creativity and then discover ways to adapt so that when you are not in that ideal environment, your creativity can continue to live.

Once you have a creative act you really enjoy, intertwine it with other areas of your life. My latest creative pastime is hand lettering. I have made it a part of my spiritual discipline by hand lettering prayers, Bible verses and parts of Bible verses. This has made my lettering skills better since I have been practicing them more, and deepened my time with the Bible as I have spent more time thinking about what stood out to me from a passage before I set my pen to paper.

Since I am on a crowded, bumpy commuter train about three hours each week, I have adapted this less than optimal environment into a time of mental preparation. I use commute time to reflect and sometimes scribble a note or two down, so that when I return to the space I have created – with a flat surface, lights, inspiration hung on the walls, and all my supplies waiting for me – I have the right mindset. If you want a peek at what happens in this space, hop over to my instagram account, where I have been posting a few of my creations each week.ningersoll instagram

As we become a more environmentally conscious society, I want to challenge you to make an effort to think of at least one thing you can do in your creative practice to reuse something. For the writers out there, it might mean figuring out how the double-sided print function on your printer works. For the cooks and gardeners, try re-growing something from your food scraps, like the bottoms of green onions.

One thing I do in my effort to be environmentally mindful is to repurpose parts of some of the packaging I come across. My last purse came with a cute little cardstock pocket to hold the manufacturer’s details and it is now attached to the inside of my Bible to hold prayers I scribble down on index cards. As luck would have it, the index cards fit perfect without a need to cut a special paper size. I just painted a little blob to make a rose and added a leaf in acrylic paint to cover the logo before using standard white glue to attach it.Ningersoll Bible

Romans 12:6 reminds us, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”  It is up to us to develop these gifts and use these gifts, so be creative and expand the ways you use your talents. After all, Maya Angelou explained that “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Ningersoll family

Nancy is a California native with an affinity for typography. Professionally, she is both a teacher and a practicing artist. She teaches a high school Advanced Placement Photography class, hence the instagram name, and does freelance design work in addition to creating her own artwork, most of which recently have been hand lettered faith-based pieces. She and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area; they have launched two kids through the UC system, one recent graduate and one still in school.

Instagram: @thephotocottage
Shop: www.nancy-ingersoll.pixels.com
Luggage: www.ugobags.com/art-and-fashion/nancy-ingersoll