Archive | September, 2016

The Practice of Quieting Our Hearts

Quiet is something the soul craves and the mind rejects. Getting quiet grinds against our nature, doesn’t it?

Not that long ago, I found myself in a season of quiet. At first, I resisted what God was doing inside me. I felt empty. Hollowed out. All I wanted to do was go on with my life. Leave everything as is.  But deep down, I knew that wasn’t an option.

My life lacked quiet, and it was crushing my soul.

When this season of quiet began, I was in the middle of reading Myquillyn Smith’s The Nesting Place, a wonderful guide to making a house a home. (If you’re not a reader, this book is a must-have just for the gorgeous pictures inside!)

About three pages into Chapter 9—appropriately titled, “One Room at a Time”—Myquillyn claims that quieting a room is one of her favorite things to do.  I’ve always pictured my heart as a series of different rooms, so this whole quieting process sparked my curiosity.

To quiet a room, follow these two basic steps:

1. Find a holding area.

“Find a holding area near the room but out of the way enough so you can stack or stuff there for a day or so without driving everyone in your house insane or scaring the dog.”

2. Remove everything.

“Remove everything that isn’t a rug, piece of furniture, lamp, or somehow attached to the wall (drapes and wall art can stay). Take out all the little junk on your tables, mantel, and ottomans; the baskets of magazines; the picture frames; the papers; the bills; the clay owls your daughter made. Remove the throw pillows and the blankets and the stack of puzzles and books. Take out the plants and candles and toys and everything else. Now you should have a quieter room.”

As I read Myquillyn’s simple instructions on quieting a space, I found myself wishing it were as simple as quieting my heart.  It isn’t. But during that season, God taught me what quiet is and isn’t, how quiet feels, and why quiet is good for my soul.

Quiet space

Quieting our hearts is intentional surrender.

Quieting is the opposite of striving. God begins the work within us, but we have to cooperate. God helped me evaluate all I had allowed into my heart. He showed me what needed to be removed, what needed to stay, and what needed to be rearranged. Being honest about what’s in our hearts isn’t always easy, but it’s the first step towards freedom.

One by one, God began to remove all the things with which I had adorned my heart in an effort to make myself look better. The idea of a holding area reminded me that even though I felt empty, God wasn’t finished. His quieting would rid me of fear and shame and anger and myself, so that He could fill me with peace and passion and purpose, and most importantly, Himself.

Quieting our hearts is revealing.

“Quieting a space” allows us to see what is underneath all the stuff. When we quiet our hearts, we’re uncovering. Coming out of hiding. This takes time, and it can feel very uncomfortable. Quieting our hearts reveals when we’re relying on our own effort instead of Jesus.

Many of us are afraid of quiet. We fear no one will like what’s underneath—or worse, that God won’t love us without all the effort we believe it takes to approach Him. But it’s His love that quiets us, and His love can never be earned. Our effort only gets in the way of receiving His gift.

Quieting our hearts is an intimate blessing.

God eventually began to fill my heart again. He repositioned only what was good for me and what helped me glorify Him. He showed me what was really there underneath all the effort. That’s where real beauty is found. Underneath. In a quiet heart without any unnecessary junk, I found this: I am fearfully and wonderfully made. So are you.

Jesus loves you. He loves the real you, not the try-hard you. He loves the you that you sometimes don’t. Jesus loved you long before you knew Him. Long before you loved Him. Jesus loved you first. Trust that His love is enough and experience the blessing of a quiet heart.

Quieting our hearts isn’t just a one-time thing. We’ll need to let God clear the space of our hearts over and over again throughout this life. It will require intentionality. It might even feel uncomfortable; surrender usually does. But it will always be a blessing to have Him quiet us with His love.

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” Psalm 131:1-3

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

3

{HER STORY} 02: Redefining Adventure

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Two and a half weeks before she heard her doctor say the words, “You’re in remission,” I listened to my mom tell her story. I would have never called her journey through cancer an adventure, but God is redefining adventure for me.

This is her story.

Her Story: Redefining Adventure

My mom describes her childhood as a time of searching. She finally found what she was chasing after at the age of fifteen. She always loved God, but one day someone explained to her how Jesus loved and died for her. That someone was my dad. Life didn’t become safer or more certain after that, but it certainly became more adventurous.

Just after she turned thirty-one, my mom flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, three little ones in tow. She and my dad joined a team called Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Terrified, she laid in bed the night before they left begging God to intervene and change their assignment.  Everything seemed so scary and uncertain. In the end, God said no. He knew she would one day recognize this adventure as one of His very best gifts.

Her story is teaching me that adventure requires both courage and vulnerability.

Dave and Ruth's Wedding Day

Dave and Ruth 2008

My mom will tell you that her time in Africa was the most joyful and peaceful time of her entire life. She found joy in all God was teaching her and peace in how He provided for our family. Yet she also recalls the difficulty and the struggle. A season of suffering preceded the season of joy. Life in Africa was full of difficult decisions, inevitable risk, isolating realties, and unforeseen adjustments.

My six-year-old eyes could only see the adventure while living in Kenya. Yet when my mom received her cancer diagnosis almost a year ago, my thirty-six-year-old eyes couldn’t see adventure at all. Our family gathered together and begged God to intervene and change this impossible diagnosis. Though three decades separate these two narratives, God has woven them together in the most intricate and beautiful way.

Sometimes, we discover adventure when we aren’t even looking for it.

I remember the avocado tree in front of our flat in Nairobi where most of my own childhood adventure took place. Mom would ask my younger brother to climb high up into the thick branches to pluck an avocado for supper. We played all day long underneath its shade. It was so much more than a tree; it was an adventure waiting to be explored.

Banana trees lined the view out back, where our clothes hung with pegs on a line. My youngest brother—who learned Swahili right along with English—loved to launch their red petals down the drainage ditch. He sat hunched over watching little red speedboats chase their own daring adventure.

Twice a year we took the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. Dad built elaborate sand castles all day long, with intricate towers and a working moat. Mom helped us spot shells hidden in the sand.

In the midst of  beauty and simplicity were the realities of loss and uncertainty.

Nairobi, Kenya 1988

Getting lost was a prerequisite to finding our way. My parents had to grieve the loss of their old community before they found a new one. Family was redefined as an entire ocean separated loved ones.

God gave my Mom many opportunities to trust Him. The matatu that took me to school each day—about forty-five minutes away—drove right past the coffee plantation that saddled up next to the campus grounds.

I grew to anticipate the evenly spaced rows of coffee plants. My world was small and seemingly predictable. The trip never seemed that long when I was six years old. Mom whispered prayers of protection as she kissed me good-bye each morning. As a mother of two six-year-olds, I now have an entirely new perspective of the trust my mom must have possessed.

At a stop light once, a man reached into our car and tried to grab the gold chain right off Mom’s neck. Instinctively, she rolled up her window as he yanked his hand out through the tiny slit at the top. He stretched her chain about two inches, but it never broke. She kept right on wearing that gold chain that held a pendant in the shape of Africa.

She, too, was stretched but not broken.

Sometimes, God invites us into adventure so that we discover our need for Him. My mom’s specific cancer and circumstances prevented her from being in large groups of people for the duration of her treatment. For an extrovert who thrives among people, this was extremely difficult and costly for her, but God provided in such unexpected and loving ways.

Ruth and Chocolate July 2016Just as God blessed our family with a special community in a foreign country, He provided this year as well. Mom has embraced a new kind of community during her battle with cancer. She’s had more one-on-one conversations this past year than in the last ten. An overwhelmingly warm online community emerged as well to support and rally behind her as she shared prayer requests and updates.

I remember struggling to understand the beautiful hymns sung in Swahili on Sunday mornings as a kid. Mom used to tell me that God didn’t care whether I knew the words or not; she said He only looked at my heart. I’ve noticed how having cancer has compelled my mom to discover brand new ways to worship God.

Adventure draws us into deeper communion with God.

Some days, weak and in pain, all she could do was cry out to God from her living room couch. She struggled most of the time just to come up with the words, but her inability to worship with words of clarity enhanced the humble posture of her heart.

My mom’s “thankful journal” from the past year is evidence that we can always find a reason to thank God.  Scattered throughout the pages are names of friends, family members, strangers she met in Walmart, people she sat beside during chemotherapy, doctors and nurses who cared for her. Rain is tucked in here and there, and pancakes, too. Half a dozen times she wrote the word new. New places, new friends, new beginnings. A new assignment.

Even in the midst of loss, newness emerges.

The entries that stirred something deep within me were the ones she wrote about God. As I read each one, I realized that my mom’s adventure has given her so many opportunities to gaze into the face of God.

God never changes even if I do / God’s great love for me in spite of my tremendous sin / God created all things and sent Jesus so that we can all be redeemed and restored / God’s promise to be with me and go before me / the vastness of God / the tenderness of God / God’s timing / God’s voice

My mom possesses a peace I don’t recognize in myself. She has experienced how God is God even when health fails and safety slips away. Pain and beauty, suffering and growth, loss and gain—all have defined her adventure.

She would’ve never chosen this adventure, but she recognizes God’s gifts hidden within.

Ruth May 2016Adventure isn’t just traveling the globe or sky-diving out over a breath-taking view. Adventure is entering places of risk and potential danger. It’s thanking God for every glimpse of goodness today without being sure about tomorrow.

Adventure might be moving to a foreign country or receiving a cancer diagnosis. It could be not knowing how someone will respond to your story, but telling it anyway.

Every adventure also requires a certain level of loss; we must lose what we think we need in order to gain something we’ve never experienced. Sometimes, it’s safety and certainty. Sometimes, it’s our comfort.

Not every adventure involves the same risk, but each one requires our willingness to experience loss for the sake of God’s greater purpose. Being open to His will in our lives means we trust Him more than we fear the unknown. This is where courage and vulnerability unite.

Our greatest struggle has the potential to become our greatest adventure.

God created us to embrace the uncertainty, the unexpectedness, the risk and possible danger of pursuing Him. There is no control in adventure, only wonder and awe.

Mom said something that day she told me her story, and I’ll never forget her words. She said, “All I had left was God, and He is all that I need.” Her story would not be the same without His story. The greatest adventure of her life has been pursuing the One who pursued her first.

The word advent tucks itself neatly inside the word adventure. Advent means “coming into view.” It means to wait expectantly. Advent is the beginning of adventure. It marks the arrival of Jesus, who died our death, then rose three days later. It reminds us that He came and will come again, but in between those two comings is this precious opportunity to enter into adventure with Him.

Every adventure—filled with mystery, uncertainty, and beauty—poses a brand new opportunity to wait expectantly for Jesus to reveal Himself to us.

What adventure is Jesus calling you to discover today?

Kelly

4

What I’m Reading (and not reading) This Fall

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

It’s taken me years to learn how to abandon a book and not feel guilty.

Usually, the reason I put a book down isn’t because the author and I have different views. I think reading books from a variety of authors gives me a better perspective. It doesn’t change my view; it actually deepens my beliefs, because it challenges me to think deeply about why I believe what I believe.

Sometimes, it’s just not the right season, but most of the time, I’m just not in the author’s audience, so I struggle to I relate. And it’s ok to move on.

Today I’m sharing six books I love. Two others didn’t make the list, because I didn’t finish reading either one of them. Though there’s no guarantee that you’re going to love these as much as I did, I think there’s always value in sharing what you love with someone else—especially when it comes to good reads.

So without any strings attached, here’s what I’m reading this fall:

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

{Christian Living}

Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me, by Alexandra Kuykendall

Alexandra Kuykendall devoted nine months to this experiment deeply rooted in finding joy in her current season. She focused on a different aspect of her life for an entire month and kept a journal of what worked, what didn’t, and what she learned in the process.

In the preface she lays the ground rules: “In this experiment we’re going to hang out in the element that is. Not what we could be, should be, or wish were true about our lives, but what actually is…. Because God gave us each one unique life. Meant to be lived out in our actual situations.”

The chapter on passion spoke most of all to me. Something shifted inside me as I underlined these words: “I balance the belief that God has made me for both mothering and whatever that passion might be, with the ‘do what only you can do’ decision-making grid…. I can do my best to make plans, but truly, if I was made to do something I must figure out a way to do that something now, even if a little at a time.”

I love Alexandra Kuykendall’s realistic approach in not implementing all the things all the time. Loving My Actual Life inspired me to make a list of my own experiments I want to explore, because it just seems so intriguing.

{Spiritual Growth}

Unashamed, by Christine Caine

The lavish grace Christine has for herself as she tells her story stood out to me immediately in Unashamed. She explains how renewing our minds involves replacing our thoughts (as well as the enemy’s lies) with God’s thoughts.

When I look back at certain seasons of my life, the thoughts and attitudes I have towards myself are often filled with judgment, frustration, and embarrassment. Christine’s way of telling all the parts of her story through a redeemed perspective reminds me that God has only ever looked on me with love.

He loved me at my very worst—that’s the essence of the good news.

For the past year, I’ve been meeting with a group of girls. Woven throughout every one of our stories is this common thread: we believe Jesus came to free us. As I read Christine’s story about her journey to freedom these words sprung right off the page: “Freedom comes when we see ourselves as God sees us!”

{Self-Help: Creativity}

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown unpacks essential guideposts for whole-hearted living. She believes cultivating things like authenticity, a resilient spirit, creativity, play, and meaningful work involves letting go of something else. For example, to implement rest, Brené says we must let go of productivity as self-worth.

To further explain this theory, Brené and her husband made a list of practical things that make their family work. They asked themselves a simple question: “When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?” Sleep, healthy food, meaningful work, family and close friends made up their “ingredients for joy and meaning.” They discovered that the things they were working toward did nothing in terms of making their lives fuller.

I got curious about how my own joy and meaning list would compare with my to-do list and my to-accomplish list. This simple exercise brought a sense of calm and much needed refreshment to my very busy season with little ones. I learned that I, too, am living my dream in ways I hadn’t even considered.

{Memoir}

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home, by Amber C. Haines

This book was an important one for me. Amber Haines put into words everything I have felt my whole life. She helped me understand my longing to fit in and find belonging. I never would have defined these cravings as homesickness.

She is honest when she describes the church as the place she felt least at home.

“I wanted intimacy and belonging with the people of God but still had trouble reaching out because I saw in us all a deep dissatisfaction. I was chief among the dissatisfied, and reaching out to the dissatisfied church didn’t make sense….

She was beginning to see the church as “the kingdom of the dissatisfied powerless.”

Wild in the Hollow helped me navigate my own unrealistic expectations of community. I recognize how the constant desires for community, intimacy, and relationship can become an unhealthy searching for satisfaction outside of Jesus.

God used this book to rekindle my love for the Church—the same Church I’ve held responsible for hurting certain people in my life, the same Church full of broken people who need Jesus, the same Church God calls His beloved Bride.

{Spirituality}

Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor

When God draws us into darkness, it is unique to what He wants to teach us. Yet the ache felt our hearts is similar. Darkness can be uncertainty or silence. It can be a debilitating affliction- physical, emotional, or spiritual. Darkness can be isolating and terrifying.

But darkness is often a catalyst for growth.

In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor eloquently describes how she has grappled with this mystery. She points out that God spoke from darkness, one that is both “dangerous and divine.”

We all possess this inherent fear of the dark, but Learning to Walk in the Dark encouraged me to consider my own view of dark emotions, like grief, fear, and despair. Through her research, Barbara concludes that there really are no dark emotions. She says we just have “unskillful ways of coping with emotions we cannot bear.”

Learning to Walk in the Dark has helped me lean into the discomfort of the dark. I am beginning to see that when I acknowledge the dark, I rely more heavily on God. The more I lean into Him, the more I discover how much I don’t know. And that’s right where I need to be for Him to teach me something new.

{Historical Fiction}

The Muse, by Jessie Burton

In this fascinating historical novel, two different stories unfold simultaneously—one set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the other told by a Trinidadian immigrant living in England in the late-1960s. The waves made by one painting, and its secret, are felt in a new, yet not so different, era.

These stories remind me of the interconnectedness of all our stories. Sometimes we’re linked together in very obvious ways and sometimes in hidden, mysterious ways.

These overarching questions swirled throughout my mind as I read The Muse: What makes an artist an artist? How does the response to the art impact the identity of the artist? Is art ever separate from the artist? Is there ever such a thing as a whole story?

As an artist as well as a woman, I recognized the familiar undertones of society defining what women can and cannot be. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses in this generation. The Muse depicts this struggle. On every page, I thought of the Artist of all who created every one of us to be artists. Whether we embrace our creativity or not, we were all designed to create—in our own time and in our own unique way.

fall good reads

What are you reading this fall? When do you decide to set a book aside, or do you feel obligated to finish every one you start? I’d love to hear from you…

Kelly

 

 

0

Level-Hearted: The Truth About Relying on Self Effort

I’ve always viewed my faith as a series of mountaintop experiences and valley moments. Sometimes, it feels a lot like a roller coaster. I’ve always thought this was normal. Maybe you have, too?

The mountaintop invokes a feeling of nearness to God. It’s when I hear His voice clearly, and I feel in-sync with Him. Lots of self-effort coupled with long stretches of time with God characterize a mountaintop experience.

When I walk through the valley, God feels far away and distant. He seems silent, and I feel out of whack spiritually. Yet, I’ve come to know His character best in the valley. Here, I’ve suffered and struggled and confessed and repented and realized that my own effort will never save me. Even so, the valley I avoid at all costs.

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament starts in John 4 as Jesus travels through Samaria to pursue one woman. Jesus takes the long, scenic route just to have a conversation with a woman so hopelessly lost she doesn’t even know it.

This story has completely leveled everything I thought I understood about faith.

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. (John 4:5-6)

Soon a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Until now, I’ve never considered the significance of this story’s setting. Jesus sits down and waits for this woman at a well, located in the valley between two mountains, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.

As she approaches Jesus, He initiates a conversation. He offers a gift. Speaking truth and love, without a hint of condemnation, Jesus reveals Himself to her rather than waiting for her to open up to Him. Jesus already knows her. He knows about the five husbands she would’ve never mentioned.

She’s from the town Sychar, which means “drunken.” Here, this woman has tried to quench her thirst with relationship after relationship only to remain parched, dry, and lacking. I can just picture Jesus sitting at that well waiting for her in the valley of deep, deep suffering.

Sychar also means “falsehood.” I wonder if any of her motivation or searching or chasing all the wrong things has been based on lies. I know mine has. Jesus came to save this woman and forever quench her thirst. He came to rescue her, and He came to rescue us, too.

Sometimes, rescuing looks a lot like shattering lies with Truth.

In the middle of their conversation about her many relationships, the woman brings up the mountains in the background.

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)

The Jews believed that God was to be worshiped in Jerusalem while the Samaritans built an altar on Mount Gerizim. This very personal, very uncomfortable conversation perhaps compels her to randomly start talking about mountains. But, even if her words are just a clever distraction, Jesus already knows where they are heading. He tells the woman that everything about worship as she knows it is about to change.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

Jesus died our death and made a way for us to enter into a relationship with Him. And He leveled every mountain and every valley in the process. He changed the way we worship and initiated a new era in which no one has to travel up a mountain to be in the Presence of God.

No effort nor emotional experience is required to enter His Presence. Only faith in Jesus. I struggle at times with the simplicity of it. When I complicate things, I miss the beauty of a gift I could never earn.

Striving towards the mountaintop reveals our desire to contribute rather than receive.

Maybe the Samaritan woman brings up the mountains, because she so badly wants to know the “right” way to worship. I’m like that.  Tell me how to do it right, and I will. I’ll work and strive and give it every bit of my effort. But Jesus assures her—and all of us—that neither effort nor being right could ever qualify us to receive His love.

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25-26)

I love so many things about this story, but what I love most is how Jesus seeks the Samaritan woman. Jesus pursues her. He initiates the conversation that changes her life. Jesus does all of the work. She only needs to respond. It’s my favorite part of the story because it’s part of my story and your story, too.

May His love completely level the landscape of your soul.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

0

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

UA-75750908-1