Praying Circles. Coming Full Circle at Laity

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“Don’t let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can. Draw the circle. Don’t let who you are not keep you from being who you are. YOU ARE A CIRCLE MAKER.”–Mark Batterson

Ebenezer

The Circle Maker. Praying Circles Around your Greatest Dreams and Biggest Failures. By Mark Batterson

I read this book once before. It made an impact, but I shelved it away under good stuff not applicable to me right now. Maybe it was my heart at the time or maybe it was because I could barely walk and would pass out on my knees so praying had to come in a less literal way. More likely it was because I was raised to be afraid of asking too much of God. Sure, in Acts He did some crazy awesome stuff and the Holy Spirit was spreading like wildfire. Now, not so much. Stay calm. Stay in your seat. Bow your head and very gingerly approach His throne.

It was before Danica’s miracle was realized. It was during a time I spoke about Hope and healing but in the deepest part of my mind and heart believed the intense suffering and loss we were walking was His will for my family and I. I didn’t think I needed to pray my way out of it. I just needed to pray to be more submissive in it.

Thankfully I had a bunch of circle warriors around me. People were up on their feet and down on their knees begging God to bring healing to my daughter and I. They were so believing in God’s power to do this thing they invested in our lives financially in a way I’ve never heard of before. They sacrificed to feed us, clothe us, give us shelter, pay for medicine, pay for gas and hotels and brain surgeries. When they couldn’t give anymore they asked their friends and family to give. One friend even drained their bank account because she wrestled with God all night about what He wanted their family to do for ours. This is crazy, right?

My sister Rochelle is one of my best circle stories. She would stay up nights begging God for salvation from the pain. She wrote ridiculous letters to people asking them to give us a place to live when my parent’s basement was making me so sick and the dark room I laid in was slowly killing what little light I had left in my heart. She came for surgeries when arranging her life to do so was short of impossible. She called me every day and talked me through hours of weeping. She listened to my despair when no one else could. She was the only one I could say out loud to, “It hurts so bad I want to die.” She didn’t flinch. She prayed.

I brought this book back out a few months ago, along with a journal I had started to make prayer circles in. I had some big praying to do for people I love. As I read back through Mark’s stories and what he calls “back stories” of the huge things he asked of God and the ways God said “No” to make room for the many ways He said “YES” I reevaluated my prayer life. Everything looked different because I had experienced first hand this kind of power.

Prayer is a tricky thing for people who believe God is sovereign, which I do. If God has every single thing planned out already then just throwing out, “According to Your will,” should do the trick in most cases, right? No. Not at all. Here’s the number one reason why. God has made really BIG promises in His Word. When we fail to circle those promises and pray for them we also forfeit the miracles. They may still happen, but because we didn’t ask, the answers are often lost in some other explanation or not recognized at all.

I love how Mark’s book talks a lot about financial prayers. Money was needed for His new ministry in Washington DC. He prayed specific prayers about these needs. He talked about them. He made the need known in many cases. Then he walked around and around these prayers in literal steps of faith until God provided. Sometimes it was the provision of taking something away to make room for something bigger and more God honoring. Oh, how we have lived this truth. He also talks about resisting the temptation to manufacture your own answer. I think my sister was definitely at that point when she was calling people and asking for a free house for us. I still love she was that brave. In one of Mark’s stories about a generous gift given their church the givers said, “We’re giving this gift because you have vision beyond your resources.” In this same spirit we have been given gifts that were seen not just by us but by the givers as LIFE. It was a currency of living and breathing. They trusted us because we kept telling our story and making our needs known. They trusted God because they were prompted by the Holy Spirit and backed up their giving with really big prayers. As our provision grew so did our faith and our willingness to tell anyone who would listen about what God was doing. Many have watched this from the sidelines in awe.

Have you ordered this book yet???

My copy is underlined, page flagged and tear stained. I am getting somewhere with all this. Mark uses lots of Biblical examples from the Old Testament as he weaves through his own story. I’m super close with Moses for many reasons. I was just up in the gaps with him the other day. After the complaining people were tired of manna Moses went back to God. I’m sure he was ashamed and embarrassed they were grumbling again. I’m sure he felt like God had done His best work with this bread from heaven that showed up outside every day. Just enough. God asks Moses this, “Is there a limit to my power?”

“The obvious answer to that question is no, God is omnipotent, which means by definition, there is nothing God cannot do. Yet many of us pray as if our problems are bigger than God. so let me remind you of this high-octane truth that should fuel your faith: God is infinitely bigger than your biggest problem or your biggest dream. . . Our biggest problem is our small view of God.”

It was only this year, after a staggeringly generous gift loosened the vice grip of hourly panic about how our family would not only survive but continue to fight, I began to ask God in earnest for healing for myself. I could ask others to pray for me all day long, but I did not ask God for myself. It was only then God began to open up understanding about how no matter how much neurosurgery I had or what pressure we removed from my brain, I was fundamentally sick ALL THE TIME. It was also in this new treatment He resurrected the original call to write “Gauntlet with a Gift.” (Please don’t freak out about the word “call.” I can see some of you coming unloose. Simmer down.)

I began to pray in circles. My sister Rochelle needed a circle around her son and their family. My sister Alecia needed a circle around her own health and their family. My dearest childhood friend has cancer for the fifth time. Ohhhh, that’s a big circle. I started to draw more and more circles. I got more specific in my prayers. I asked bigger things, because I’ve seen him do HUGE things. There is no limit to His power!

When I arrived at Laity, now almost two weeks ago, I was swimming in a sea of circles. It was all private. I began using the term when I would talk to people and add them to my book, but I didn’t share too much of the changes going on in my heart. I would write their names and their family’s names and their specific needs in circles. It felt like something HUGE shifted in my praying and also my faith. Still, I was alone in this.

I was “fresh off the boat” when I crossed the Frio into the canyon. I was like an awkward first timer. It was certainly another lifetime since I’d been at a spiritual retreat. I think I have lost much of my “Christianese” in all my time away from community. In a way I’m glad for this. Still, I don’t quite know how to act when surrounded physically by the body of Christ. So, imagine my surprise when at dinner Friday night, with a strained vocal cord I quietly shared my story to a beautiful woman sitting next to me. She was moved. I’m not sure how it happened but suddenly I was surrounded by women, and they were literally circling me in prayer. Every one of them prayed specific prayers over my healing, my purpose at the retreat, the story I have to tell and God getting the glory. I was blown away. They prayed right through the clanging bell calling us into our evening session. I opened my eyes to question them. One said, “Oh this is more important!”

We went outside after the prayers ended and one of the women shining with Jesus pulled me aside and shared this passage from Isaiah 38 with me. If you don’t know about King Hezekiah you need to run and check his story out. At the beginning of the chapter it says he was “ill to the point of death.” God told him to get his house in order because he would die. He would not recover. I’m pretty sure if God sent me a real life prophet that said I was going to die I would make some funeral plans, hug my husband and girls and submit to it as God’s will. Hezekiah did something different. He turned his face toward the wall and as he wept bitterly he prayed, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.”

Guess what? His prayer changed God’s mind. Here’s that tricky sovereignty thing again. If Hezekiah hadn’t prayed this prayer would God have taken his life then? Did God plan for this prayer to open Hezekiah’s eyes all along so He would get the glory?

Listen to these beautiful words penned by Hezekiah himself after his illness and recovery:

I said, “In the prime of my life
must I go through the gates of death
and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself
in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on my fellow man,
or be with those who now dwell in this world.
Like a shepherd’s tent my house
has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life,
and he has cut me off from the loom;
day and night you made an end of me.
I waited patiently till dawn,
but like a lion he broke all my bones;
day and night you made an end of me.
I cried like a swift or thrush,
I moaned like a mourning dove.
My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens.
I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!”
But what can I say?
He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this.
I will walk humbly all my years
because of this anguish of my soul.
Lord, by such things people live;
and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health
and let me live.
Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.

In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
The living, the living—they praise you,
as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
about your faithfulness.
The Lord will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the Lord.

How I have studied through Isaiah twice in my life and never grabbed on to these verses before I will never understand except God had this circle intervention planned long ago, and His word became ALIVE in this setting, in this time, for a purpose I could not have lived until now.

I will tell this story hundreds of times I’m sure, because it was just one of the gentle ways God meant for me to enter back into real community as I am made more well. I wouldn’t have trusted this in a church setting. God knew this about me.

There’s another amazing story coming soon about the circle I drew around my book, and the stunning way God began to answer in the Texas Hill Country, but I will save that for another day.

Do you believe there is no limit to God’s power? If so, how should this change your prayer life? I’d encourage you to sift through your Bible for the larger than life stories of answered prayers and then look around. He is the same God. Nothing has changed. He is still doing BIG things for our good and His glory. Let’s pray some circles together!

(Thanks to Tim Miller for taking this stunning photograph of the Ebenezer I built Friday afternoon and to Cindee Re for the gift of the cross. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” As I write tonight I have horrible intracranial pressure building. I write these believing words in a broken body made up of glitches in my DNA strands that scream in the face of long lasting relief from my pain. The difference is I am asking. I’m asking BIG. I need to be well enough to finish this book. Will you ask this for me as you pray?)

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Giving Tuesday . . . A Big Box Giveaway

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“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.”–Dale Evans Rogers

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It’s no secret, following close behind words of affirmation, giving gifts is my love language.

I often think of those who may not have someone shopping for them during this season. Maybe it is a single mom who is scraping together enough to buy her children a little something that will never compete with the other parent’s gift giving ability. Her children are small, her friends are few, her parent’s gone or estranged, and there is no Christmas magic waiting for her beneath the tree.

I think of the married mom who manages the budget. She tells her husband there is nothing extra for him to shop for her. She still squeezes out enough to surprise him, but she sacrifices to keep the bills paid and not to add debt to their already difficult finances. (This is me!)

Or the woman whose husband is just a little clueless. No matter how she hints she’d like something else, a small kitchen appliance or, even worse, a Victoria’s Secret bag appears beneath the tree.

Maybe it is a single woman with no husband or children spending the day far from family because it is too expensive to travel or she must work. She wakes Christmas morning alone with maybe a few gifts mailed from home.

If you are a guy reading this maybe you have no idea how to pull together a surprise Christmas for your wife or girlfriend, and you could be the hero this year!

I want you to think of someone in your life who could use a Christmas surprise.

For Giving Tuesday I am mailing a box of some of my favorite things to you or a friend you nominate. Included is a beautiful milk glass vase from BHLDN. There is a grown up coloring book and a set of metallic coloring pens I loved so much when my friend Sarah sent them to me I ordered another set off Amazon just for this giveaway. There is a Smash book and extras along with a copy of my favorite magazine, Darling. If you can bear to cut it up after you enjoy it, this magazine is perfect for collaging in your Smash book. (I will have a post in January about collage as art. If you’ve never done it you must.) There is my favorite mint EOS lip balm and cuddly “Life is Good” socks. There is a Kelly Rae Roberts photo album and cloth banner. There are a few more goodies not pictured so they remain true surprises. Also not pictured is a special piece of my own Kelly Rae Roberts art. I will give you a peek tomorrow.

To enter:

1. Comment on this post by nominating someone you would love this package to go to. Share a little bit about why they would be so thrilled to receive a box of love. Just using their first name is fine. If your nomination is chosen I will contact you for their address.

2. Share this giveaway with your friends in hopes they will nominate you!

3. If you already know you are probably getting a small appliance go ahead and nominate yourself!

This is my last giveaway this year. The winner is chosen with a nifty random app and will be chosen midnight Friday so I can get this box in the mail. Let’s have some fun!

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. . . Added today as promised, the beautiful and very meaningful piece of Kelly Rae Roberts art that will be included in my Big box giveaway. When Danica had surgery she called me mama bird, and I called her baby bird. God called us both to be fearless in many things. I love reading the comments so far! Share with your friends. This giveaway is open until Friday at midnight.

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Welcome. Another Laity Reflection

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“The essence of hospitality is a heart open to God, with room prepared for the Guestness of the Holy Spirit, that welcomes the presence of Christ. This is what we share with those to whom we open our doors. We give them Him.”–Karen Burton Mains

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From the minute I arrived at Laity Lodge I felt room prepared. Yes, there was a literal room waiting for me, but the spirit of every aspect of this place whispered, “Welcome. You will meet Him here.”

I loved how during the first evening, Tim, one of the Laity employees, briefly explained the kind of hospitality we would experience in our days there. Always beautiful pottered mugs and hot coffee and tea waiting for us in the reception area of the dining hall. Always fruit and snacks waiting. If we needed or wanted anything at all, just ask. After a clanging bell was rung, the most lovely and healthy meals were served family style. We gathered around a table of strangers and friends who were in reality brothers and sisters from the same Father.

I was perhaps one of the attendees who was most on the fringe. Never once did I feel left out of the group. Just the opposite, I experienced open arms, listening ears and sincere hearts. I use the phrase, “To know and be known by you” frequently in my close friendships. I did not coin this term. It comes from Parker Palmer’s To Know as We Are Known where he describes hospitality as a “way of receiving each other, our struggles, our newborn ideas with openness and care. It means creating an ethos in which the community of truth can form.”

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One of the things I was most anxious about in deciding to attend The High Calling retreat was sharing a room with someone I did not know. I arrived in an earlier group and settled into my space before my roommate arrived. Since deciding to attend I had prayed about who God would choose to share my space. I thoughtfully made a little tote bag of gifts to leave on their bed. Gifts. My love language. I haven’t shared a room with a stranger since college, and even then I did not do it well. When the door opened this beautiful woman came in, and her face seemed disappointed, even sad. She had come to the retreat thinking she was rooming with someone else. Someone she knew. Someone who was more important. Someone who had a large blog following and a published book. Someone who she could learn from and grow from because of knowing her. Who in the world is Monica Snyder from Uniontown, Ohio? I greeted her and told her I had been praying for her. She answered, “Oh, I haven’t!” We began to laugh. She explained how this room change turned her idea of what the retreat would be upside down. We hugged. I’m not sure who welcomed who, but it was comfortable and easy from that moment on. We told a little of our stories, a place I think everyone should start. How can I be with you if I know nothing about you? We headed out to dinner, and she welcomed me at “her” table and introduced me to the many she already knew. I silently exhaled. There was room for me. Caryn and I became very close during our time together. Except for my older sister, Rochelle, I can’t remember such late nights of sharing and laughing and “Oh, one more thing and then we HAVE to go to sleep.” I believe we will be lifelong friends and know God planned the room switcheroo for reasons we can’t even understand just yet. I am grateful for the willingness of this precious woman’s heart to open a space where our truth could meet.

I’m thinking about welcome as we begin Advent. Our Savior’s story begins with Mary making room in her heart and rearranging all notions about what her life would look like to welcome God made man into her womb. As Mary and Joseph traveled the night her labor pains began to come steady and strong they we told there was ” . . . no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Eugene Peterson wrote a beautiful poem about “Hospitality” from a small volume of his work titled Holy Luck. I love how he takes us from welcoming Jesus, something we think we would all heartily agree to do, to opening our hearts and homes to others who are broken angels unaware; to those who are Christ people in their messy state. Long after they are gone your sacrifice of welcome may become the story that saves and even raises you from the deadness into life.

Benedict taught us well: Receive
Each guest as Christ. The bell rings, the door
Opens. Some unexpected, and some, yes,
Unwelcome. Our guest book spills out photos.

Christ abused. Christ the fool,
Christ sullen, Christ laughing,
Christ angry, Christ envious,
Christ bewildered, Christ on crutches.

Like Gospel writers of old we pray
And reminisce over left behind guest signs–
A bra, a sock, a scribbled thank you–

And let them grow into stories. Sometimes
It takes an unhurried while. Then,
There it is: absences become Presence. Resurrection.

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Come Lord Jesus

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“Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!'”–Henri Nouwen

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I’ve been toiling over several posts; half written drafts telling stories of my trip to Laity. I’m trying to mine the riches and words are failing me. I am changed in a way a few days would not normally morph a person into someone else. The profound nature of God’s work in me is not something I can tell lightly. I am quietly holding these things in my heart. Much like Mary I am answering, “Be it unto me according to your word.”

I was thrown back into daily life with my Danica getting the tummy flu the Monday night I returned home. She missed school Tuesday and Wednesday, time I would have reflected and written more. I began to feel sick Wednesday and am really not well even now. I have a cough that racks my EDS body and makes a sharp knife like feeling behind my left eye. We had a lovely Thanksgiving at my parent’s home but did not push to decorate that evening. For some reason our traditions are feeling less necessary as the girls get older. We are all willing to relax into this Advent season. We finished decorating our tree today and will begin our candle lighting tonight and readings from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.

More than ever before our little family is not wanting for any one thing. We still sit in ashes in many ways financially and face a new year of immediate appointments that mean deductibles and trips and scans. We have purposed in our hearts to face these hard challenges in January, but for this month we will celebrate the gifts we already have and the one and only gift we really need, our God made man. Tonight we begin following the star, seeking the light and crying out, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Our journey will be quiet, soft and slow.

On repeat.

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Finding a Gap. Entering Laity

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“The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes and latitudes so dazzlingly spare and clean that the spirit can discover itself like a once-blind man unbound. The gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fiords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock—more than a maple—universe.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (This blog is not even a month old and I’m quoting Annie again. I won’t apologize.)

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It was seven days ago I woke at 4 am and drove myself in the bitterly cold and snowy dark to our little airport. I fly alone frequently for medical appointments and in my former life all the time for work, but this was entirely different. Always described as courageous and independent some might not consider this trip to Texas a big deal for me, but it was. My territory has expanded as large as the world through my old blog and facebook connections with people who walk similar roads of pain. My real world has slowly shrunk to my bed, my sofa and the medical professionals who through necessity have become my primary social circle.

I have read The High Calling regularly for a long time. I believe whatever we are asked to do in life is ministry when approached with the heart of Jesus. Their thoughtful posts by many authors give me concrete questions for reflection and soul searching in my own struggle for wanting to be more of a participant in the Kingdom of God.

I know for sure it is a tragedy so many of God’s children are living their lives on autopilot. They experience flashes of inspiration quickly drowned out by the endless monotony of the day to day. It leaves one empty and floating. The stay at home mother, the day laborer, the IT professional and the CFO filter side by side into the pews on Sunday and hopefully hear some exposition of God’s word with a morsel of practical application at the end. They leave. The people in full time ministry scratch their heads at the lukewarm response. In the same bewilderment most of the people drive home to let the dog out, make lunch, watch a football game and as evening approaches begin to feel an angst about the return to work. Plain old work. They pray for an average of seven minutes a day. If they are studying the Bible at all it is fast food packaging with a verse or two attached. Let’s grab our God and go. A Pinterest post with a pretty picture grabs their eye. Oh, there are nice words there too about being strong. Have courage. Trust. Hope. Yes, this is good. Now, back to my email and off to the meeting. The baby needs fed again, and there are no more clean towels. What will we eat tonight? What will I wear tomorrow? Should I buy something I don’t need on the way home so I feel like my work is producing something tangible?

I lived this life for many years.

I’ve been dancing around my call to write “Gauntlet with a Gift” for over a year now. At one point I will admit I considered myself in direct disobedience to God by not moving forward after a brief discussion with my neurosurgeon last summer. It was after I missed the Refine retreat in the spring and was hospitalized for twelve days in Maryland for plasmapheresis, God brought a messenger from Chicago to my room of desperation. She told me I had to write this story. She knew me from facebook and Team Danica. She came knowing nothing about the original call or my fits and starts with outlining the book. I finally took this seriously. Remember my rule for how God guides us? Providence. Provision. Gift.

I began to obey by opening up the hard beginnings of the story. It was much more than just about Danica or myself or our family. I continued to feel the need to find an opportunity to join a community of writers for encouragement and inspiration. I had been a lone ranger for a very long time. The readership of Team Danica grew out of an organic following of people who loved our family. Besides posting on facebook I did not market my blog, but you did. Even though I had a background in marketing, advertising and public relations including an employee who worked under me directly responsible for search engine optimization I did nothing to grow my place in this way either. Still, people from near and very far found us through Google searches including the names of our disorders. It turns out not many people were writing about them when all this began and certainly not someone willing to say the hard things like “HELP!” I never wanted to have links or ads or even change my simple blogger profile. It was my little space to bear my heart. I was humbled and grateful so many wanted to walk along side, continue reading, praying and supporting us.

I already told the Storyline debacle in an earlier post. I had forgotten I applied in the summer on a whim for a scholarship to “The High Calling” retreat. I don’t know what made me think I was even the right demographic to attend, but I had desperately dreamed of visiting Laity one day. An email awarding me the scholarship sent on July 6th had gone to spam. A second email sent on October 6th asked me if I was planning to use the money or it would need to be reallocated. This was happening the same time Shauna Neiquist said Storyline was mine. I thought God was pulling a double whammy, in my face, “Girl, get up and do this thing NOW!”

I wasn’t supposed to go to Chicago. I see God’s hand so clearly in closing that door. I had another surgery on October 22nd and returned home to recover with my heart yearning for retreat and recovery. I dallied around with the book more. I bought my tickets to Texas. I ended Team Danica; four years of story, heart cries and miracles to begin anew here. I decided to write a post from a prompt on The High Calling, and they decided to feature it. I thought it was the least I could do before heading to Laity. One link up gave me some cred, right?

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You know the verse about exceeding, abundantly above all you could ask or think? As our little group met up at the airport in San Antonio and headed on the two hour drive to Laity I was in awe. I thrive on new landscapes. I had been to the city before but never the Texas Hill Country. I was smitten. As we entered the 2,000 acre property we had to literally drive in the Frio river to get to Laity. I knew I was entering a sacred place. The rain and cloudy skies from the airport were gone and the sun was seeking me out as I checked in and found my room. I set out to explore and found myself forgetting to breathe. I knew I was ordained to be there. All my anxiety about the new people and unfamiliar situations faded away. My fear about who my roommate would be subsided. I came to the experience with no expectations. I realize now I was perhaps one of the few people there who didn’t have some kind of relationship with the organization, one another, a blogging or book venture or a desire to establish one of these things during the time there.

I came to see just a glimpse of the backside of God in a gap.

What He gave me was much more.

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My face is still shining.

(I will be writing for the next few days about details from the retreat, sharing photos and talking about why I’ve been practicing personal retreat as a spiritual discipline for most of my life. Consider Jesus words to His disciples in Mark 6:31, “Then because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”)

Spiritual disciplines are means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. It means somewhere youre not occupied and you’re certainly not preoccupied. It means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned on or counted on.–Henri Nouwen

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Unwrapping the Greatest Gift . . . an Advent giveaway

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“If you don’t come to Christmas through Christ’s family tree and you come into the Christmas story just at the Christmas tree–this is hard, to understand the meaning of His coming.” –Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas

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I found Ann’s blog A Holy Experience in 2008. Her writing brought me daily to the foot of the cross in a way I never had before. In 2010, a Christmas season following Danica’s major brain surgery and fusion and of very little in things to give but so much in Grace to receive, we began celebrating Advent as a family every day of December instead of just weekly on Sunday. This included reading Scripture, singing songs and lighting candles on Caleb’s beautiful hand made wooden “Cradle to the Cross” wreath. I would use a collection of books to bring together our nights of worship.

Last year I was changed by Ann’s daily adult devotional The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. I began going through the book with a friend. It convicted and encouraged me in my slow expectant journey to Bethlehem. I especially loved the questions at the end of each chapter prompting thoughtful heart searching and reflection. I gifted at least ten copies, including giving it to my girl’s teachers at the beginning of December. Giving gifts early has become a tradition for me to eliminate the rushed frenzy of thoughtless buying and enable our home and hearts to quietly focus and rest in the Advent season.

I ordered the new family style book as soon as it was released. When Danica opened the beautiful pages she immediately began reading, and her excitement grew to see we would start our journey this year in the Garden of Eden and follow it all the way to the incarnation of our Savior. No more hanging out all month at the stable and the cradle. We come to understand the intricate details of God’s plan to save us through Biblical narratives winding through several thousand years; exploring the lives of men and women who are much like you and I. Ann writes in her devotional book,

The coming of Christ was right through families of messed up monarchs and battling brothers, through affairs and adultery and more than a feud or two, through skeletons in closets and cheaters at tables . . . And Jesus claims exactly those who are wondering and wounded and worn out as His. He grafts you into His line and His story and His heart, and He gives you His name, His lineage, His righteousness. He graces you with plain grace. Is there a greater Gift you could want or need or have?

The illustrations are lovely. The suggested activities for application provide the opportunity for the stories to become real Jesus living. There is also a link to download The Jesse Tree ornaments or you will be delighted to know Dayspring is also offering a full set of ready to use ornaments to purchase. I know this book will become cemented in our family’s Christmas worship for years to come. Throughout the month of December I will be writing frequently about the long slow journey of expectation. I hope you will find still moments to join me here and also carve out space for you and your own family to quiet the noise of the world’s twisted shout of the celebration of our Savior’s birth.

How do you or your family observe Advent? Is this something new to you? What could you do this year to make Christmas a more spiritual holiday for yourself and your family?

I am giving away a copy of Ann’s special book this week. To enter answer one or all of the questions above in the comment section here on the blog and share this post on facebook with a friend or family member whose adrenaline is already rising in the sea of Black Friday ads, lists of wanting, parties and pastries. I will randomly choose a winner on Thanksgiving night so I can priority ship and have it to you by the evening of December 1.

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Thorn in the Flesh

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I have been in the Texas hill country at Laity Lodge for The High Calling Retreat since Thursday. There is a marinating of soul needed before I can write more about this sacred experience.

Marilyn McEntyre encouraged us yesterday to cultivate a litany. I struggled and eventually put the pen and paper away and went to bed. This morning I entered the mostly empty and quiet main room in the lodge for worship. A humble and striking presentation of the Lord’s Table was waiting. Morning light slanted across the canyon illuminating simple pottery holding the sacraments.

I opened my Moleskin, and these words poured from my heart to the page.

I stood at a minimal wood pulpit and read:

I forget
Calculating a one to ten scale
Pain
Always five or more
Thorn in the flesh

I wail
Hiding in my locked room
Fear
Never going to escape
Thorn in the flesh

I fake
Entering the day with a smile
Obligation
Pretense of hopeful trust
Thorn in the flesh

I push
Dragging snapping bones forward
Wounded
Betraying my body to serve my man and girls
Thorn in the flesh

I retreat
Leaving behind the lonely place
Anxious
Breathing life in community and affirmation
Thorn in the flesh

I remember
Kneeling before the rugged cross
Redeemed
Believing His body and blood are for me
Thorn in the flesh

I expect
Lifting body, mind and soul
Healed
Knowing I am made eternally well by His
Thorn in the flesh

(I did not punctuate my words in any way while writing and wanted to share it here in the raw form.)

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Playdates with God. And another giveaway

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“What if man could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging, divine, . . . the man becoming, in communion, the friend of God, himself immortal; . . . would that be a life to disregard?” –Plato

Playdates

Every year I choose a word. For a lover of language this is a difficult task. The green leaves I love begin to turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange as they loosen their grip on their life source and float to the ground. The light dims as days get shorter and cold winds blow in. I dig deep and bury heart cries of musty yearnings mixed together like a bag of bulbs never knowing what will bloom. Covered by cold earth and first snows my winter sadness always sets in. I anticipate the journey of Advent, but I long for the afterbirth, the new life that grows from the stump of Jesse’s root. I really need the Cross and the Resurrection. I need the Hope of a God who is making all things new. I ask God to show me what I should choose to shape my entire coming year around.

My word for 2014 is “PLAY”.

In May of 2009 Danica’s neck went crooked. Our lives were turned inside out and upside down. I stopped playing. Every single effort of my spirit, mind and body was for saving her and holding our family together. I worked to continue to provide day and night. In between I was driving this little girl to every doctor, specialist and therapist I could. Dan worked the 3-11 pm shift so I could try to work online in the mornings. I was alone with the girls at night. After I would get my little Delaney tucked in I would sit outside Danica’s door while she screamed in pain. My prayers were a strange and sometimes sinful bargaining with God. I would give Him anything if He would just help her. I barely ate. I couldn’t sleep. When I finished my programming list work, and she had finally cried herself to sleep, I became obsessed with internet research and making connections with anyone who might help us.

Our bodies can only withstand this level of stress for certain periods of time. They will eventually break. I found a counselor early, before we even knew what Chiari was, and she drew me a picture of my brain. She showed me simply how there are two bowls there. One is what empties us; work, stress, illness and toxic relationships mixed in with basic things we may lack like shelter, food, clothing and security. The other bowl holds good things in whatever form we most need; the basic things I mentioned above but also rest, relaxation, loving relationships and yes, PLAY.

We were created by a God who loves to give us good things. He created us to experience pleasure. Rest was so important to Him He actually made it a rule to live by and dedicated one day out of seven to it. He asks us to be like children in many ways. He wants our hearts and minds free in such a way we do not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear but choose the better part instead. We are back to the Catechism I shared in an earlier post. God wants us to spend quality time enjoying Him and glorifying Him forever.

I began 2014 determined to restore some kind of good to the almost empty bowl in my brain. After a revision of my brain shunt in February I was blessed to take a trip to Tucson. It was an amazing week of retreat and rest but also of play in every way. I wore my talisman of play the entire time. (Lisa Leonard makes the most beautiful hand stamped jewelry perfect for your word of the year.) I read spirit filling books. I laid by the pool with my face in the sun. I hiked into the Sonoran hills. I bird watched. I took lovely photos of tiny dessert details. I had a spa treatment. I fed my body healthy meals. I spent two full days of my trip with my dear sister-in-law, a relationship that sustains me. I sat on the patio every single night to watch the sun set over the mountains and the starts and city lights appear. Each evening, along with the other guests there, I drank a shot of tequila and toasted new friends around a fire that burned late into the mountain chill. It was everything I needed and wanted it to be. I was also well for the first time in years. I had the week I’d begged God for. Just seven days of feeling no pain and remembering what real life could be like. He graciously gave this to me. My only regret was my husband and girls could not see me like this.

When I returned home I began to look for ways to begin again doing things I enjoy. I made more art. I planted a perennial garden. I threw a fun outdoor party with all my friends. I went to a concert. I went shopping with a friend to putz for vintage treasures. I listened to music and watched movies I’d missed in those lost years. I was able to just be with my husband and girls, and this was the best play of all; having a relationship with them outside my bed, outside of pain, outside of sickness. Mixed in all this was some intensive plasma treatment and hospitalization, IVIG infusions with home health, Meningitis, more plasmapheresis and another surgery, but I had filled up the good bowl enough to make it through. Play saved me.

Several months ago Laura Boggess published a book titled Playdates with God. I have read it through twice now. It is all marked up and page flagged. The book is a beautiful journey through her own longing to make deliberate time in her serious and busy life to just BE with God in the purest form possible here on earth. How do we even begin this without some kind of intention turned into practice? Could we start small? Could we carve out just one hour a week for our hearts to pursue enjoying God and practicing play? Would the ritual grow to become a sturdy thread in the fabric of our lives?

Laura points us to Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf’s examination of Sabbath in Every Good Endeavor. They share three main tenants of God’s gift of rest and play. The Sabbath is a celebration of our design. It is a declaration of our freedom, and it is an act of trust. Laura writes, “To be free to live as we were designed to –with the confidence afforded by trust that our Divine Parent will work out all the details for our provision—this is the beauty of Sabbath. . . Time with God. Alone, Just the two of you. This is how intimacy develops. This is how we grow the trust necessary to come to God as a little child.”

I met a dear friend for coffee on Saturday. Her heart was sad about how life is sweeping her away. Day after day of sameness turning into weeks, making months and then suddenly you see a year of life gone without much joy at all. How does this happen? I encouraged her to put first things first every single day and then start small. You can do this too. Carve out one hour a week and make it holy. Let your husband know and your children know this is an appointment with God. It’s not your quiet time or your prayer time or your Bible study. Those are the first things. This is an hour you will do something you love. You will open your eyes and your heart like a child to remember what brings you joy. This is your chief end. Glorify God. Enjoy God. Make a playdate with God.

Tomorrow morning I am heading to Laity Lodge in the hill country of Texas for The High Calling retreat. I will be beautifully out of touch from this “world” and in fellowship with saints and my God in a hallowed place.

While I’m gone think about how you would you choose to spend your first playdate with God? Share in the comments here. When I return I will randomly choose a winner of my “PLAY” chalkboard banner I have treasured this year and a copy of Laura’s book “Playdates with God.” To be entered you need to subscribe to the site on the right side of the homepage, comment on this post and share socially by clicking the links below. Keep your eyes open. You will SEE Him. Ordinary miracles are His specialty!

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The Snow Child and “Ordinary” Miracles

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“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

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It’s no secret I’m not really a lover of snow. I suffer from Intracranial Hypertension, and I can predict snow before Doppler radar because of an intense pressure headache that grows from the feeling of numb fullness to a skull crushing my brain. My second brain shunt, now almost a year old, helps some. The grey skies hurt my heart and cold almost paralyzes my body. All this makes me wonder why God has me living here in Northeast Ohio.

There is still a wonder in the first snow of each year. It began falling last night as I put Twixie out for the last time before bed. Just like a child I stood in awe of the flakes falling on my eyelashes and face. I reached out to catch one and the second it touched my fleshy warmth it was gone.

Several years ago I gifted my mom with the book The Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrect. It is a stunning coffee table book with micro photographs of individual snowflakes. Not knowing I deeply desired the book for myself, my friend, Janet, gave me one for Christmas last year. There is also a smaller gift edition available. Never before had I seen or begun to understand the intricate DNA of every single crystal miracle. We all hear the adage, “There are no two alike.” I finally believed.

I’ve been keeping my eyes wide open for “ordinary” miracles. Somewhere between real life and fairy tales there is a snow child in us all. The beauty and the ugly of our stories make up remarkable narratives about the detailed design our God is revealing in each one of us. Many times these lessons are fleeting and only our for a moment. Look around you today. What may seem cold and wet and slightly inconvenient is also a gift. What other wonders are we taking for granted because we cannot slow to see?

“You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had begun to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.”― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

(If you haven’t read the novel The Snow Child you must! It is truly an adult fairy tale you will not be able to put down. It will shape you and stay with forever.)

And this. Sarah McLachlan singing “Ordinary Miracle.” Way back when Team Danica started I had this song play every time you opened the site. I’m listening to it on repeat today. Enjoy.

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Harvesting Quiet Gifts of Good

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“And none will hear the postman’s knock without a quickening of the heart.  For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?”–W.H. Auden

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I grew up in a family entrenched in ministry.  I saw shepherding and serving as difficult and thankless.  My parents often burned-out on doing good but never pulled back for times of real respite.  The older I became the more I resented their focus on other people while my siblings and I floundered around spiritually.

My mom cross stitched Galatians 6:9 as a Christmas gift to hang in my dad’s office.  “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”  How could they be so committed when the Church was such a mess?  When I was fifteen there was an ugly split.  I watched over a decade of their lives burn into a pile of rubble.  I ran as far as possible from God and His people as I could.

It took relocating and many years before the smoldering cleared, and my parents were brave enough to return to demanding positions of ministry.  My mom is an elementary principal of a large Christian school.  The hearts and lives of the children and their families are what she breathes.  My dad is an education and missions pastor at a local church.  Almost every waking minute of their lives at least six days a week are committed to serving others.  I can’t wait to see the heavenly harvest from their life work.

I never wanted to be like them.  I talked about this with my counselor many times.  I sporadically returned to the Church and resisted almost every opportunity to be real hands and feet.  I slowly began to serve in ways like taking meals to others, watching their children and joining in small Bible study and fellowship, but it was hard, and it frightened me.  Focusing outside my own heart and the hearts of my family and risking being an active part of the body of Christ seemed too far to stretch after all I’d seen.

Read the rest of this post over at The High Calling.

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