Archive of ‘The High Calling’ category

Begin. One Word. A Team Monica Update

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BeginAgain
“Always we begin again.”–St. Benedict

I bought the beautiful hardback book “Every Day Sacred: A Woman’s Journey Home” by Sue Bender in January, 1996 at a Walden Books at the Valley Mall in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The simple rendering of the empty red bowl on the cover drew me in. My life was out of control. I was lost in my faith. Nothing seemed sacred anymore. As I flipped through the pages I saw lots of white space, rudimentary illustrations sketched in black and only a few words. I realize now that my life word, Dayenu, was being planted way back then. In Sue’s introduction she spoke of a begging bowl,

“All I knew about a begging bowl was that each day a monk goes out with an empty bowl in his hands. Whatever is placed in the bowl will be his nourishment for the day.

I didn’t know if I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl, or all three, but I trusted the words and the images completely.

At that moment I felt most like the empty bowl, waiting to be filled.”

BeggingBowl

Sue’s book became a treasure I’ve carried with me everywhere. There were more than a few times I could fit everything I owned into my powder blue two door Chevy Cavalier marked with the Grateful Dead dancing bears sticker on the back windshield. Somehow my Bible and this book were never lost in the fray of my vagabond life.

If you visit my home you will see little bowls everywhere. Some are sitting empty. Some hold a rock and a feather, a small cross or piece of sea glass. They are not all displayed at once. I rotate them in my decor. They tell a kind of story. In late November, 2003, the night before my brother Neculai died, I painted a rather large bowl at a pottery studio with my mom. I scratched the date and my initials on the bottom. It’s now a deeply emotional space. I brought it out on my kitchen counter the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday that will always be tempered by sudden loss. Every time I’ve passed it since returning from Danica’s surgery in Baltimore I get a lump in my throat. I knew my word for 2017 was somewhere in the hollow of the simple blue glaze.

Since my own complicated fusion in October I’ve been the monk begging, the empty bowl waiting to be filled and the sacrifice filling the bowl for someone else.

I first heard the poem “The Singing Bowl” by Malcolm Guite at the opening of The High Calling retreat at Laity Lodge in November, 2014. I scribbled down the words in my blank Moleskine. Later that night in the silence of my room I read them over again and again. Each stanza was emptying my heart for every sacred thing I would receive in that hallowed place. There was no internet access in our rooms. I desperately wanted to google Malcolm and find his work. Sitting quietly with the scrawled letters in my own handwriting was gift. Before every session that weekend I opened my green notebook and read them again. Waiting at the San Antonio airport a few days later, finally with Wi-Fi, I found his book of poetry by the same title and ordered it.

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

My word for 2017:
BEGIN.

DesertSun

God made a way for me to take a solitary trip to Tucson last week. It was something I’d prayed for and desperately needed. In this world of constant sharing I wanted to keep it quietly tucked inside my hurting heart. It was everything I’d hoped and more. After spiritual famine and astigmatism I could taste and see good again. Tuesday morning I sat at the airport waiting to return home with absolutely no pain. Zero. No headache. No neck pain. No joint pain. No cardiac symptoms. No burning and stabbing needles in my feet. No mast cell attacks sitting near people with all kinds of scents. I was well. I filled my journal pages with gratitude for the body and spirit healing. I wrote about the things I long to do in this new year, specifically a dream I’ve had for some time to host a retreat for young zebra women in Arizona. I want to offer them respite from their medical lives, encouragement in community together and a few days of knowing there is a beautiful place where they could feel some better. I made important contacts and explored locations moving the idea into real planning. I was hopeful and excited.

ZonaMKS

My travel home included flights from Tucson to Chicago and then on to Akron/Canton. A little over two hours into the first flight the captain alerted us there were extreme storms around Chicago and no flights were being allowed to land so we would hang out at a high elevation circling above Nebraska and Iowa and hope things improved. An hour later he let us know we would have a very uncomfortable landing in Milwaukee through turbulent weather. It was during this descent and pressure change I experienced an ice pick pain in the right side of my head, loss of hearing in my right ear and fluid leaking from it. We sat on the plane in Milwaukee waiting for some kind of small window in the Doppler radar to make it into Chicago. Almost all of us on a large packed flight were making connections there. Suddenly we were ascending quickly and descending again through lightning and pouring rain at O’Hare. The airport was in total chaos. Every passenger needed to be booked on new flights for the next day. I stumbled off the jet way and began to cry.

With each new surgery I’ve been increasingly afraid to do things alone. I had to work through this doubt before I committed to the Arizona trip. I’ve felt more and more of myself being swallowed by disability. I’ve found myself resenting my broken body as an enemy instead of caring for it as a temple of the Holy Spirit. I used to be a seasoned solo traveler. In the past I’d have been frustrated by the inconvenience of an unplanned night in Chicago, but I would have jumped on the Marriott app and found a room, hailed a taxi and adjusted my sails. Instead, I felt like a lost and injured child. It wasn’t just the circumstances upsetting me. I was instantly questioning my theology and belief in everything I’d just been grateful for. Thousands of people were being affected by the weather. Of course God was doing things providentially in many hearts and lives through this maddening detour. My myopic view left me sobbing in a wheelchair by the baggage claim holding the howling shunt side of my head in my hands.

The first time I ever spoke of the desire to host a zebra retreat was with my friend Christy who lives just outside Chicago. I knew her from Chiari and EDS support groups on Facebook for several years before she went out of her way on a particularly difficult day of her own tests and appointments in Maryland to visit me during a long and lonely hospitalization for my initial AE/PANS/PANDAS treatment. We are kindred. Since meeting three years ago we have written many #pentopaper cards and notes and letters, emailed, texted and talked on the phone. Both our lives are impossibly knotted. We’ve longed to see one another again face to face, but it’s never happened. Tuesday night I texted her without hesitation, and she jumped at the strange and stressful opportunity to show me hospitality. She arranged for a car to pick me up and came out to the driveway to greet the mess that I was with an umbrella and a smile. It was late. Her husband and girls were in bed. She was reeling from a challenging and emotional week away for invasive diagnostic tests in Georgia. Everything about me showing up in the middle of the night was inconvenient. Sitting across the table in her warm and cozy kitchen with a cup of hot tea sharing hearts for hours…falling into the most comfortable guest bed with silky linens and perfectly plump pillows…waking to her beautiful face shining Jesus the next morning was God giving me a glimpse of His purpose for this detour in my life.

Since returning home Wednesday afternoon I’ve continued to experience intense intracranial pressure. Other symptoms that accompany this pain are also constant. My amazing miracle VP brain shunt is not working properly. Tomorrow my dad will drive me to Charlottesville, Virginia for a Monday scan and appointment with the University of Virginia vascular neurosurgeon who placed my shunt last April. I am undone. I begged God for a year without surgery. It was difficult to leave my family for the time in Arizona. Leaving them tomorrow is crushing. We are so close to Danica’s trip back to Baltimore to see her fusion and meet with her neurosurgeon. I don’t understand.

The rule of St. Benedict, “Always we begin again,” reminds me of fresh starts in Jesus. It invites a trust for my daily bread and the strength and Grace to move through time and space with exactly what is given to me. It encourages me in my Dayenu life of always enough. Chronic illness and daily suffering have a way of emptying over and over. Rising each morning asking God what He wants to do through this brokenness is a part of healing but never being healed. I am a beggar, aware of my need and completely dependent on His love. My life is an offering.

I can’t tell you what new thing He is doing in this pain, but I believe. I have to believe.

“‘Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end. Because I am God, your personal God, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you’…This is what God says,…’Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.'”–Isaiah 43:1-3, 18-19, The Message

This is my heart song tonight. Soli Deo Gloria.

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Personal Retreat as Spiritual Discipline

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“But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”–Isaiah 49:14-16

Hands

It was January, 2011, and my first resolution was to discipline myself to make time alone. My Danica had been through two major brain surgeries and a fusion that kept her in a body brace and a wheelchair. Our journey began in May, 2009, when her little eighteen month old neck went crooked. Every moment of my life became about finding her diagnosis, taking her to therapy, seeking treatment, scheduling surgery, fighting for resources, keeping her safe and soothing her pain. I was with her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have always been one of those people who needs regular periods of being alone to be okay. The constant input of my children, my husband, friends, family, the internet, TV, social media and my blog swirl together and muffle the cry of my soul to be still and know God. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I hear the catch phrases about putting myself on the list and taking care of me first so I’m there for others. This all seems to point to selfishness of some kind, and I’m pretty steeped in the martyr life by this point. While working through Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook I have come to realize the desire of my heart to retreat and be near God is not rooted in selfishness at all. It is a necessary spiritual exercise to strengthen my faith and remind me who I am in Christ. I am not just a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend . . . I am a child of God.

Adele writes in her chapter on Solitude,

Solitude opens a space where we can bring our empty and compulsive selves to God. And no matter how well we ‘do’ silence, God is there to accept, receive, and love us. In solitude we see how little we embrace our true identity in Christ. And we find the truth of who we are in Christ. We are the beloved, and God is pleased with us. This identity is given; it is not earned. Many other voices pull at us, seeking to own and name us, but in solitude we learn what it is to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the world.

My identity was slowly stripped away from me in new ways when I became even more ill than my girl. I couldn’t work in gainful employment. I couldn’t care for my children without help. I couldn’t be a true helpmate to my husband. I couldn’t participate in corporate worship. I couldn’t be a good sister or daughter or friend. When I woke up from my first brain surgery and fusion without the vice grip on the back of my neck one of my first thoughts was, “Who am I going to be if God chooses to remove this thorn in the flesh for good?” The answer is simple. I am a child of God. This identity never changed because of my ability to perform any duties. I am His beloved. There is no guilt here. There is no shame. I don’t have to produce anything or be recognized by anyone else. My name is written on His hands!

I left my family last Saturday. I checked into a local hotel for forty-eight hours. No one besides my husband and girls knew I was there. No one needed me. The world was moving on without my thought or action. I didn’t turn the TV on. I didn’t listen to music. I was very still. I inhaled and exhaled prayer like air. This is one of many times since New Year’s 2011 I have packed my bags and gone away to be alone with God.

In practicing personal retreat I am reminded I am “Preapproved.” I realize how much God delights in my drawing near to Him. The verses above are my dad’s “go to” verses when he visits the sick and people headed into surgery. Dan and I joke he needs to find some new material for repeat customers like us who seem to find someone in our family on a stretcher in a hospital several times a year. The truth is I find great comfort in these words. God paints a picture we can all understand and relate to. Tonight I kissed my fingers and touched the picture of my girls and I. Beside it is the sweetest picture my Danica Jean drew of her and I. I was thinking about how impossible it would be for me to ever forget my children. I breathe them no matter what else I am doing. This is how God feels about me but perfectly. I ran to get a Sharpie and wrote my name on my hand. No matter what I do it’s there. He never forgets me. Not just my name but my likeness. I am never off His mind or away from His sight or out of His care.

I trace the scars in the hands of my Savior and see my name embedded there.

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Drain it. Kingdom Giving. Kingdom Living

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Money

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give [to others and to charity]. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditures on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.–C.S. Lewis

It’s a recurring theme over the past few years and telling the specific stories never gets any easier. No matter how many times I try I can’t seem to write about them eloquently. I want to tell them again and again, because they all point to God and His faithfulness. The acts of “charity” to our family have given us the very manna to stay alive and move forward each day. I want to show my gratitude without using the same overused words. I want to give God ALL the glory, and in my weakness I don’t really know how to shine all this on Him.

This is one of my favorite stories of generosity and provision.

The week before we headed to Maryland for my first brain surgery and fusion we had scraped together enough for a fifth of the down payment my surgeon was asking for through my parents and several other gifts. We had several hundred dollars in our checking account for gas and food while we were gone. I had this crazy peace God was going to come through for us. The week wore on, and I began to pack my bags and get a little nervous. I knew our support system was worn thin from the past couple of years and a woman who always had a headache and could barely walk but looked fine for all intents and purposes was not the most engaging fundraising idea especially compared to Danica’s adorable face.

I was in bed in my oh so dark bedroom curled up in a ball with the weight of the world crushing my brain, head and neck. I wondered if I would even make it to my surgery date. This sounds dramatic unless you really understand how dangerous my situation was. My dad opened the door at the top of the stairs and threw down a letter. It was from a girl who lives in Virginia who I used to work with. I had only met her twice because I telecommuted states away. Over the past months she had begun to faithfully pray for me and encourage me through facebook and email. I opened the card and a check folded in half fell out. I read the note first. She wrote how she couldn’t sleep because she was praying about a way her family could help us. She said in the night she heard God tell her clearly to “DRAIN IT.” She obeyed. I looked at the check. It was a strange number. I found out later it was every penny this family had in their checking account. It was just shy of what we needed to pay the entire deposit. I was shaking. How in the world could someone give like this? This family was not wealthy. This friend works from home with two small children just to make ends meet. I immediately knew God was completely behind my surgery. He had funded it through the most unlikely of places.

It took me awhile before I could finally find a few words to call this friend. I was even more blessed by her back story to the giving. She shared her own fear of not having enough and God’s work in her life to put her treasure where she says her heart belongs. She talked about how she had telephoned her husband the morning after her prayer, and he too had to commit this huge gift to the Lord before the check she had already written could go in the mail. (Ladies, can you imagine calling your husband and telling him God told you in the night to empty your checking account?) She told me how over the last two quarters they had paid all their credit card debt off by careful spending and holding back some tithe. When the card balances were at zero they didn’t up their tithe. She later realized what they sent us was almost exactly the amount they had kept back. God already had this provision planned long before either of us knew we would be part of it.

God says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

I’ve had nine surgeries since that extravagant gift in 2011. God has always provided just enough through the kindness and generosity of many who have come along side us in this journey.

I will never look at tithing the same way again.
This is Kingdom giving.
This is Kingdom living.
Soli Deo gloria.

Photography by Cindee Snider Re. Used with permission.

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Learning and Healing in Relationship

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“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” –Wendell Berry

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One of the most remarkable and constant threads in our family’s walk through suffering is the amount of love and support we have received from others. This began with just a few local friends. It bloomed and grew to span all the way across the United States and the world. We have been wrapped in a network of love much larger than our geographical location could provide because of the power of story and the internet.

Early in our journey we had a home bound and wheelchair bound child with a year ahead of us in restrictive healing. I was a very sick mom in and out of the operating room with a very long road of surgeries and treatments ahead of me. Church was impossible. Book club was impossible. Participation in the charity groups who had loved us was impossible. I received countless cards and letters and emails but very few phone calls or actual visits. People naturally felt uncomfortable talking about their next planned vacation, big home improvement project, new shoes or even silly little gossip around a family that was literally just trying to survive the day. I understood this. Over time it caused an aching desire to participate in real face to face relationships and not just those behind a keyboard and screen.

We need community. This same girl who has always in some way loved being alone was drawn into this scary place of sharing in the blogosphere. It connected my family and me with people near and far we never would have known without technology. It brought many of the prayers and much of the provision we desperately needed. In all the good growing from the blog the lack of meeting and knowing face to face brought a hollow understanding of how God intended us to see our ultimate need for Him. In the flesh is where the work and the reward of relationships are really cultivated. Tim Keller wrote in his book King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, “If this world was made by a triune God, relationships of love are what life is really all about.” The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a continual reminder we are not soul freelancers. We need corporate worship. We need to physically be with the Body. We need to understand our brokenness is shared in some way by the whole.

In November I attended The High Calling retreat in the Texas hill country. It was a stretch for me in every possible way to join a group of people for an entire weekend in this intimate setting. I’d been begging God to restore some kind of community in my life. This was my answer. Everything God had given me, shown me and blessed me with needed the breath of life that could only come from opening my heart and being with people again. It was in this place my story began to take its’ final shape and became ready to be told beginning to end. I needed to come together with others to make my healing viable. I needed to taste the fruit that only comes by taking the risk of letting people into my life through the door of my heart to remind me how to do fellowship, friendship and love.

I am fumbling through this new found realization. As I have periods of being more well I need to relearn life from others. I need real relationship. I promise you I will be the strange lady who bursts into tears at the most inopportune times. I will not be good at small talk for a while. You will be surprised how quickly I want to talk about heart matters and soul issues. You will need to remind me to not be so serious. You may have to ask me to quit talking about the minutiae of neurosurgery and science of autoimmune illness. You will need to share your joys with me, because I DO care about your beach trip or your new countertop. I really do. I want to hear about the conversation you had with your kids in the car or your latest and greatest crockpot recipe. It will take some time and some effort, but I need you to heal.

It is authentic knowing and being known that points to the life sustaining relationship I have been given by Grace with Jesus Christ. Real bones and real flesh given in sacrifice for me encourage me to live and love more like He did in relationship. I need to finally get comfortable wearing the sign that calls me out as the poor and the brokenhearted. I need to surrender in the most uncomfortable places where I believe He does His greatest healing. Adele Calhoun sums it up beautifully in her chapter on community in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us:

My life has been shaped by men and women who loved me and handed me something of God in their very human lives. Their spiritual practices were woven into the fabric of their lives on the loom of relationships–both with God and with me. They had no halos. They told me the truth about the good, the bad and the ugly while passing on the lore of the spiritual disciplines they had traversed. I believe this is the way spiritual disciplines are to be learned. We are to learn them in relationships.

Has technology slowly siphoned your participation in face to face relationships? Do you use the availability of media for worship and teaching as a replacement of gathering together with a community of believers on a regular basis? What is one way you could tangibly reach out and touch someone today?

Photography by Cindee Snider Re. Used with permission.

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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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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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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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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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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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