Preparing for Lent

Lent3Normally on Shrove Tuesday, my husband and I would be excited to head to church for the annual Pancake Supper.
This year, we’re in a new town, and I’m attending a new church. There won’t be pancakes–my husband’s favorite food–and the already frigid temperature will be dropping into the teens.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I loathe winter. I grew up in Massachusetts, and I was the kids that hated sledding and hot chocolate. I loved the few months of summer with heat and long days, which is why I moved South. Continue reading

The Power of Prayer

In the wake of a shooting in Texas church a few months ago, the quote above was being passed around social media. The only thing I find more disturbing than the quote itself is the fact that I’ve seen it shared on the pages of Christians.
First, why would anyone assume that because they were in church that they were automatically faithful Christians who prayed often? How many of us know people who show up at church on Sunday but aren’t faithful or prayerful and don’t live the principles of the Gospel? Church membership doesn’t always mean someone is living a Christian life.
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My Cursillo Experience

TEC1For me, Tennessee Episcopal Cursillo #73 produced the kind of radical transformation Christians hope for but are often too scared to really expect.  For my non-Episcopalian friends, Cursillo is a short course in Christian leadership.  You arrive on Thursday evening and spend the next three days listening to and discussing talks from clergy and lay leaders.  Every day, you celebrate the Eucharist, sing praise hymns, and pray together.  You are immersed in the love of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
When I went up the mountain for Cursillo, I was an empty shell.  I had achieved everything I set out to achieve, but I was unsatisfied.  I was the youth minister at my church but felt distanced from God.  I had a wonderful husband and home but felt alone.
The person who came down that mountain was not the same woman.  I came down the mountain connected to God in tangible ways and felt his presence in everything around me.  I wanted to surround myself with people doing God’s work in the work and live my life more intentionally.  I realized on that mountain that I had been living my life according to the expectations of others rather the plan God had for me.
The Holy Spirit guided that weekend, and the transformation that followed.  Since that weekend, every aspect of my life has experienced radical transformation.  My marriage has deepened and strengthened.  My husband has retired.  I have a different job.  I live in a different place.  I attend a different church.  Most importantly, my heart is filled with gratitude and joy.
TEC3What I found on that mountain could only be found in prayer in a place surrounded by people who understood that when Christians gather together, God shows up and miracles happen.  Maybe not burning bush kinds of miracles, but certainly life-altering miracles that open hearts and minds, changing lives.  I experienced the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth and left determined to bring that where ever I went.  I experienced the joy of doing God’s will and left determined to do God’s work in the world.
In addition to the major changes, my day-today life has experienced radical transformation.  I work every day to remain focused solely on what’s in front of me.   At the end of the day, I review my Bullet Journal to make a to-do list for tomorrow.  I review that list in the morning, but during the day, I only look at the list when I’ve completed the task at hand.  I don’t focus on the future or the past but instead only on the present.
I begin and end every day with prayer.  It is literally the first and last thing I do.  I also make time for prayer and Bible study at various points during the day to help keep my focus on what matters.
I’m still a work in progress, as is my life.  I have bad days where it’s all I can do to get through the day, where my faith is non-existent.  But the main focus of my life is God, which offers rewards so much greater than anything we could imagine for ourselves and sustains us even when we can’t sustain ourselves.
Have you ever experienced radical transformation?

Be Careful What You Pray For

Part if the vision of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee is that we are “Open… to the power of God. When we gather, we expect God to show up, and to do mighty things in our midst.”  The same applies when we pray.  We expect God to hear us and to respond when we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We believe in the miracles, and we believe in the power of prayer.  That’s an amazing thing.  To know that God is good and working in this world for the good plans he has for you.
BUT…  I personally sometimes forget that the response to my prayers will be in God’s time and God’s way.  I have learned to pray for peace and understanding rather than a specific outcome.  I have learned to stop fighting God’s will, because his plan is always better than man.  I just can’t seem to remember that doing all of that means I may be in for very different ride than the one I set out on.  This year has been a compelling example of that.
I began this year with a plan, a plan to accomplish things at work, at home, and at church.  I also began this year with a deep uneasiness in my soul.  I knew I was not where God intended me to be, but I also didn’t know where that was or how to get there.  Everything in my life was wonderful and yet not.  Something didn’t fit, but I didn’t know what it was.  It was like wearing an expensive, beautiful outfit that fits and everyone else loves, but in your gut, you just don’t like it, because it isn’t you.
Prayer2As I approached Lent, I prayed and prayed for direction. I have always used Lent as a time to complete a service project or give something up that would help move me in a better direction in my life.  It’s usually an obvious choice.  But this year, everything was good.  My life was in a good place and moving in a good direction.  This year, I didn’t have a clue, so I prayed.  Over and over again, I asked God to show me the way and give me the strength to follow it.  Over and over again I prayed, “Whatever your will, can you help me find it.”
My answer came on Shrove Tuesday.  God said, give up everything and follow me.  So we did.
Thankfully, that didn’t include our four-legged family members, who are as much a part of the family as the two-legged members.  But it did include a lot of things I had never expected to part with.  Things like all my dresses.  They all went to Goodwill, because there just isn’t room in our temporary home.  Many of my books, all of our DVDs, pots, pans, clothes, coats, furniture.  Stuff.  Gone.  Given up to follow the path God laid out before us.
Here we are in the weeks following Pentecost still praying for direction and courage to follow.  Living in a temporary home still searching for a permanent one.  I’m at a new church on an unknown path.  I’m slowly seeing places to serve and to use my gifts for the Glory of God, but I won’t lie…  It is a long and scary path, and I have no idea where we will end up.  But I have faith, faith that God is good, and his plans for us are good.  So we wait and we listen.
The morale of the story?  Be careful what you pray for.  God is listening.  God hears you.  If you ask, he will answer.  If you pray, be prepared for what will follow.  It may not be what you expect.  It will be good as God is good, but it may take strength and courage to have faith during the journey.  Be careful that you’re prepared for your prayers to be answered in God’s way and in God’s time.

Be Still and Know

This week, I’m feeling a bit uninspired and a bit unmotivated.  It’s not that I am less passionate or discouraged.  Instead, I’m feeling the need to be still and listen.  I’m still knocking out my to-do list every day, but I’m keeping my lists focused on what must be done rather than my usual Gung-ho list worthy of Wonder Woman.
I have several important decisions coming in the next few weeks, and I feel compelled to spend some time in prayer and meditation to discern God’s plan for me.  Since I’m not feeling compelled to work on other things, I thought I would share with you the tools I’m using for that prayer and mediation.
I happily admit that I too have been sucked into the adult coloring craze.  Art has always been a great outlet for me to express myself.  I sometime paint (badly!) or draw.  I find that artistic tasks calm and focus me.  I thoroughly suck at them, but I also find them fulfilling.  Coloring helps me relax. When I’m facing major life decisions, it’s easy to stress and to freak out. Coloring helps quell that anxiety and leaves me feeling more open to hear God’s call.
In addition, music has always been a big part of my life.  Thankfully, one I don’t suck at!  My husband and I have spent many hours over the last 15 years making music together or sharing music.  Music is also a primary way we both worship.  For me, music can help me pray, meditate, or praise, depending on the song and my mood.  The two songs below have been helping me work through the decisions I’m facing, which are interrelated and will affect not only the path of my life but my family as well. The first reminds me to be still and quiet, so I can hear God.  The second reminds me that my prayers should only be to help me discern God’s will and not to beg God to make my will happen.
I am most certainly at a crossroads.  I have faith that if I am able to discern and to submit to God’s will for me, I will live abundantly.  I know God plans for my happiness and renewal through his son my Savior Jesus Christ.  I pray that I can be still and know.
What struggles are you facing?  What tools do you use to keep the faith?

Preparing the Way

More and more, I pull back from the traditional American Christmas. We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years. I used to let the kids pick out the tree and make all our decorations. When they stopped being interested, I stopped decorating. I no longer make a Christmas card list and diligently send out all my cards by the second Sunday in Advent. I no longer make a list of everyone I need to shop for and/or bake for.
Instead, I have been focused throughout the year on letting the people I love know that they matter to me. I don’t wait for a holiday to send a card or a gift. Every day is a day for Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love, and the 4 weeks before Christmas have truly become a celebration of Advent.
In my daily email from dotMagis, I found a lovely reminder of what Advent is:

Advent DoorWhereas the spirit of Lent is penitential, Advent has a gentler way of getting us ready for the Lord. A friend once described it as a time when God tenderly breaks through all of our defenses. Advent is a time of slow surrender to the Lord.
My family and I enjoy hiking, and for longer trips, I like clearly marked trails. A compass and a good map are handy, too. But our Advent journeys are much more like going “off road.” In Advent, God is inviting us to explore the interior forest of our own hearts with God: places that are light, and shadowy and dark spots, sweet smelling pine beds and thorny thickets. It’s a season to deepen intimacy with the Lord by allowing him to walk with us into all of our interior spaces.

Author Marina McCoy perfectly summarizes the journey I make each Advent. Every year, I work on deepening my connection to God, which inevitably deepens my connection with the people in my life in the coming year. I do that by focusing time each day on contemplating where I am and where God is taking me. There are days when I spend time writing reflectively, sorting through my feelings and through what is God’s will and what is my own. Other days, I read from my Ignatian Book of Days and sit in contemplative silence. Some days result in an action item; others result in waiting. The goal is always the same–break down the barriers that keep me from a deep personal relationship with God.

We’re having a door decorating contest at work. I’m no artist, so I’m not in it to win it! But I did take the opportunity to share the messages of Advent. As I decorated the door, I read the Advent prayers and spent some thinking about Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

  • How do I experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life?
  • How often do I pray for those Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love?
  • What do I do in my day life to be an instrument of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the world around me?
  • How do experiencing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love bring me closer to God?

PeaceWhen I think about where my life was 5 years ago or a year ago or even 6 months ago, I know that I have purposefully made choices that have increased the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in my life. I am certainly a work in progress, but I have made a considerable difference in my quality of living. I’ve gone from high stress working environments to a high-performing but intentionally fun, low-stress working environment. I have eliminated toxic relationships. I have improved and deepened the remaining relationships. The majority of my time is devoted to those things that bring me closer to God. Hope and Peace have certainly become constants in my life.

What I’m praying for most this Advent is to open my heart to greater Love and to learn how to experience Joy more fully. I still struggle with both. At the moment, I am actively focused on loving more fully, reaching out to those I love, and taking every opportunity I have to connect with others. As an introvert, I find this very challenging, but as I pray for guidance, I am finding that even an introvert can find ways to reach out to others.
What are you experiencing this Advent season? What do you need most in your life?