God holds God’s breath

Here’s a suggestion about keeping your daily devotions fresh. Read the scripture in a Bible version different than your usual one. This is how a favorite Psalm recently gave me some encouragement.

In my regular old NRSV Psalm 5:3 reads:

Oh Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch.

It’s a very sweet reminder; regularly present my needs to God and then stand back and watch God handle the situation.

But the other morning I read Psalm 5 from the Jerusalem Bible, and I noticed a different emphasis:

I say this prayer to you, Yahweh, for at daybreak you listen for my voice; and at dawn I hold myself in readiness for you, I watch for you.

“…for at daybreak you listen for my voice.” God doesn’t just hear your case, God actually is eager to hear the words you will speak; almost holding his breath in anticipation of receiving you and your prayers. Yahweh is not indifferent toward you; like a parent listening for the sound of her child awakening in the morning, God stands at the door of your heart waiting for an invitation to enter.

Your response is to “hold yourself in readiness.” The NRSV sounds rather passive, “I watch.” This translation  suggests an alertness, a readiness to spring into action, an anticipation that God will act and you need to be good to go.

Such a mutuality. God, eager to listen; you eager to respond. Yay, God! and Yay, You!

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Why I’ll never be a super blogger

“You need a memorable tag line,” adamantly declared one presenter. Another concurred, “You need to have your elevator pitch ready.”

I naively attended a national Christian writer’s conference expecting instruction on honing my craft. Instead, I learned what I needed to do to become a “super blogger.” I didn’t really want to be a super blogger, but they knew better than me, they were published and recognized authors. The world needed my voice, they preached, and how could it find me unless my blog gained an impressive platform, with thousands of followers. So I diligently set out to write a sentence or two that communicated who I was, what I write, why I write it and to whom I write that was deliverable in the time it would take to ride an elevator to the second floor.

And got nowhere. All my attempts, which were many, felt canned, cramped, inauthentic. I gave up on it and contented myself with my narrow, but deep influence on the 150 or so followers who had found me.

Until one day while trolling through facebook I came across a video someone had posted. (Sorry I cannot give credit to the post-er, or the video itself. I’ve tried to find it since with no luck.) The video was of a business consultant who worked with companies and organizations helping them motivate and increase their employees productivity and morale. “Don’t ask a person what they do, that will give you the flat, specific, boring details of their work situation. Instead ask them why they do what they do. This question engages their cherished dreams, their most valued hopes and most important relationships.”

So I asked myself, Debby, why do you write what you write? The answer descended like the fire at Pentecost. “I wake up every morning eager to hear God’s voice of love and then share it through my life, my writings and my words.” Bingo! I still smile when I repeat that phrase. It’s an answer to all the demands of an elevator pitch and beyond that gives me energy, focus and informs not only my writing but all the actions of life. It is my monk’s rule!

I almost live a monastic life. My husband and I recently moved from a 900 sq foot condominium in the heart of San Francisco, to a two acre farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. I wake each morning and eagerly await God’s voice of love. I encounter it in the quiet of our home before anyone else is awake. The scripture I read and the songs I sing, alternately whisper or shout “God is here, God sees, God cares, God needs you.” My journal pages capture the heartbeat of God’s love and I often share it with the world through my blog. My dogs greet me with great affection, presumptuously finding their way onto the center of my lap. What wonderful reminders of the welcome that awaits me in the lap of my loving God. My husband joins me and we enjoy companionable coffee, share our plans for the day and I recall the companionship of the Trinity.  The constant changing of my garden teaches me almost all of what I need to understand about the spiritual life.

Trained in the Ignatian mode of Spiritual Direction, I am particularly fond of Imaginative prayer, putting myself in the gospel story, becoming one of or interacting with the characters. Such a prayer practice evokes deep and often hidden beauty and wounds within my soul. Once while praying with the gospel account of Jesus preaching to the crowds while standing on Peter and Andrew’s fishing boat, I was prompted to “be the boat.”

I felt such humble gratitude that Jesus would use me as his platform for speaking of God’s love. I basked in the joy of that privilege for quite some time. And when Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men, and they then left their boats and followed him, such an anger erupted within me. “What, you’re going to leave me behind.” I never knew there was such pride hidden within my heart. This prayer shed light upon it and allowed me to welcome my need to be needed into the loving and healing presence of God. I can now more easily rejoice in God’s creative use of all kinds of people and things to communicate his great love for the world. Me included!

My parish may be small, but I am its pastor. And the more I let myself be loved, the more loving I become. It’s my life’s journey.  It is how I am a monk in the world.

With you on the journey,

Debby Bellingham

(This was first published on the website: Abbey of the Arts)

Advent Retreat update

Sadly, I have to report that the Advent retreat, scheduled for December 2nd will not be happening. (sad face). But if you would like to receive the Advent devotional that you would have received at the retreat, please sign up for it below.

OR, if you would like to receive the advent devotional, even if you weren’t able to make the retreat, sign up below.

With you on the journey,

Debby

The time I said “screw you” to God

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Jesus wants us to enter discipleship with our eyes wide open. He splashes water on the face of the overzealous one; he startles awake the one who is stuck in the past; and today he drives home the point about our need for intentionality when we choose to follow him. Read on….

Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61,62

Some equivocate about their discipleship. One foot in – the other out. Jesus calls us to a unity of purpose, an undivided heart and loyalty. Just before Jesus had these three encounters with would-be followers, the scripture records: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51 Other translations read, “he resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He turned his face, his body, his steps toward the fate that awaited him there. He would not turn aside from his commitment to obedience and living out his life’s prayer, “Thy will be done.”

Someone who knows about farming told me the way to make the best use of your farmland and to use every possible acre to grow your desired crop was to make your rows straight and square. He said the way to do this was to start on one end of your field, pick a spot on the opposite end and then keep staring at that spot as you start moving toward it with your plough or your tractor. Keep your eye fixed on the one spot, because if you get distracted and look away, you will end up with a crooked row.

I never thought my self an equivocator. I came to Christ at seventeen and remember a spirit of gratitude that my love for him and, more importantly, his for me held my rows straight. I watched my fellow Christian girlfriends throw the Lord over for a guy and I prayed God would not let me abandon my faith because of my desire for a boyfriend. (I must admit there was some judgement on my part going on.)

My rows remained relatively straight as I went to wedding after wedding, watched my girlfriends get married and start families. These women were still my friends, but they were busy with their new lifestyle and there wasn’t a lot of room for a single. So I made new friends and watched them marry. Same story unfolded. It was getting harder and harder to make new friends.

That’s when he came along. Handsome, fun, came from a great family, and was attracted to me. My rows began to go a little crooked. 

It began innocently enough, I agreed to go out with him so I could “share the Lord with him.” One date led to the next and within three months I told God to screw it. I had always wanted an intimate relationship with a man, God had never given me one, so I would get it on my own. Sure, he wasn’t a believer, and in my gut I knew I was settling for less than I truly wanted, but at least he was real, I could talk to him and hug him. So, take that God!

Ah but God wasn’t willing to let me go so easily.

The very weekend I told my boyfriend about my decision to let our relationship move to the next level of intimacy, I found him in the corner of the bar where we had gone with friends making out with another woman!

I stormed out of the bar and was more angry with God than with him. “Damn you, God. You won’t give me what I want and won’t let me get it on my own.” 

My row had a big crooked curve in it now.

It took years for me to process my anger toward God. The humiliating and confusing experience I had when I found my boyfriend in that compromising position has been redeemed by God’s grace. In retrospect, I feel God was spreading a net to catch me as I attempted spiritual suicide. And I am grateful for the rescue. 

The farmer’s straight rows and God’s dramatic intervention in my romantic life demonstrate how serious Jesus is about intentional discipleship. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. Keep moving toward him, do not be distracted from our destination and our end. If we get distracted, or look back, we will lose our way, get off track. Our rows will be crooked and our harvest less plentiful.

The second sentence of my rule provides hope for such a life: “This mentored life is possible because God’s good and just love has been given to you in Jesus Christ.”

It is God’s gift to us, we receive and learn to live it, trusting God’s faithfulness, his forgiveness, his love and his power to teach us well.

With you on the journey,

Debby

Following Jesus requires you to grow up

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We’re talking about responses to Jesus’ invitation to follow him into the Kingdom Life. Surprisingly, he discourages the over-eager one, and today, he admonishes and invites the overly responsible one. Check it out.

To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Luke 9:39,40

This guy sounds like he’s doing the right thing, right? being the responsible child, taking care of the family duties. After all, it is in the law, “honor your father and mother.” But Jesus will not take second place in the affections or loyalties of anyone who wants to follow him. His must be the primary voice to which one listens.

Following Jesus requires you to grow up.

When I was asked to be a pastor at our church in San Francisco, I was proud and terrified. Neither responses were very pastor-ly. Proud, because my heart’s desire to be seen as useful for the kingdom was validated, (honestly, though this pride was ego-driven); and terrified because I was sure I wasn’t good enough for the role and naming me as pastor would bring shame to our church.

The word I received from the Spirit as I prayed over the call was that it was time to “put aside childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 The fear-based need to be seen as valuable, and the shame that convinced me I was not, were emotional reactions born of childhood wounds. My old beliefs about myself, and about how I needed to relate to the world threatened to keep me locked in fear and death; and closed the door on my offering any gift to the world.

You see, some are reluctant to follow Jesus because they are caught up with the things of death. We all have habits, ways of thinking, behaviors, addictions that breed death, not life. Yet these are precious to us, and we attempt to negotiate with Jesus about how we want to handle or process them. Jesus will have none of this. “Leave the dead things behind. Follow me, I want to use you to announce life, to bring my presence to the world.”

Jesus invites you into discipleship and into partnering with him in his mission to proclaim the kingdom of God. Do you resist because you are too attentive to the things in you that are dead, and of your old life? habitual ways of thinking about yourself, learned from childhood wounds; assumptions about your lack of competence; a conviction that you have nothing to offer of value? These are deadly lies. Do you give them too much homage? Like a Buddhist who sets up a home shrine to honor her dead ancestors, do you give allegiance to things that are dead and buried with Christ in your baptism?  With God’s help and the new life of Christ in you, choose to let these dead things remain dead.

We’ll explore a third response next time. See you then!

With you on the journey,
Debby

Advent Retreat Scheduled for my East Coast Friends

Advent Retreat

Christmas is for the world.

Advent is for Christians.

Christmas reminds the world that there is hope.

Advent reminds Christians that we carry the hope within us.

Why should I participate?
Before the holiday season ramps up, join Debby Bellingham at Wind Hill Farm, for a few hours of giving yourself the space to do what you long to/need to do, but your busy schedule may not allow. During our one day retreat we will spend some time with God, asking God to make our lives a dwelling place for the new born hope of the world.

In pondering Advent, we consider that the world is dark and needs light, and that we are dark and need light. We prepare our hearts to be the birthplace of the Child Christ, the one who brings light to our lives and through us light to our world.

Space is limited. Register by Nov. 29, 2017

Contact Debby Bellingham to register at 415 992-1087 or debbybellingham@gmail.com

When: December 2, 2017

Where: Wind Hill Farm 246 Willow Tree Road, Milton, NY

Time: 9am-3pm

Other: Lunch will be provided (let me know if you have any food issues)

Foxes and their holes

Foxes and their holes

Jesus invites us to follow him and we respond. Here’s a look at one type of response.jean-blackmer-38927

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

This guy is so enthusiastic about following Jesus. He’s ready to give follower-ship all he’s got. He’s eager, quick and ready to make a promise and a commitment. Jesus, though, requires a realistic assessment of self and of one’s words. The young, the naive, the quick or emotional words of commitment and promise need to be awakened to what will be required in this relationship. It will not be easy, enthusiasm will not soften the rock you will have as your pillow. Jesus wants us to be open-eyed about the cost of this discipleship.

How many hearts are broken because an emotional promise was made that could not be kept once the fire of attraction died down?

Working as a youth ministries intern at my church is how I supported myself in college. My slightly older co-worker Mark and his wife Charlotte took a liking to me and invited me into their circle of affection. They were cool and they chose me. I felt pretty cool. 

One day they announced to me, rather casually I thought, that they had decided to love me unconditionally and then began to pour words of affirmation upon me. After this announcement, they would seek me out, their only objective was to tell me they loved me. 

This should make me happy, right? But it didn’t, instead It freaked me out. I felt smothered by their attention and began to withdraw. Where I used to be warm and receptive, I was now cool and elusive. I wasn’t purposefully pouring water on the flame of their love, I was just wounded and not able to handle such loving demonstrations. 

Not surprisingly, their love cooled. In retrospect, I give them a huge break, they were probably 24 years old, very good intended and very human. But when they let my reactions to their movements toward me modify the way they acted toward me, I became more convinced of the false truth I feared; I was not worthy of love. Their eager but faltering attempt to love as Christ loved, solidified my self-hatred. 

What if they would have just loved me?

I certainly am not without fault. After months of praying for the faltering marriage of a friend, I remembered Jesus’ explanation to his disciples that sometimes a situation needed more just just prayer, it needed prayer combined with fasting to be effective. So I earnestly promised my friend I would fast and pray for the healing of his marriage. Well, I didn’t. As Jesus said, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Their marriage ended. And I felt slightly responsible about its demise.

Peter was one of those quick to declare guys. After the last supper, he promised he would follow Jesus wherever Jesus went, even lay down his life for him. Jesus knew him so well, Jesus knew Peter wouldn’t keep his promise. Jesus told him the truth about his fickle nature (Peter would deny Jesus three times before breakfast); and yet loved him to the end and beyond.

We need to own our desire and our lack; let our hearts be moved with zeal to follow Jesus and yet be acquainted with our inability to do it well. Jesus will not be surprised by our shortcomings. He prays for us and welcomes our attempts. When we fail, we fall, and with each failure, let us fall into the arms of God’s grace and begin again, wiser and more humbly.

Let the hot flame of love burn low, so its embers can sustain the heat necessary for warmth and provision.

Next time another possible response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. See you then!