Most Important Lesson

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

Pay attention because I’m about to share with you the most important lesson you’ll learn in your life of discipleship. This truth is the foundation upon which you must build your life. Are you ready? Here you go – This life is a gift. A gift. Do not pass over this lesson quickly, thinking you already know it or thinking it is too simple to give much attention. I know you, you desire a life radically different from the one you have previously lived, you long for a mind made new, more readily thinking God’s thoughts; you yearn for a heart shaped by mercy and justice; that offers kind and trustworthy actions that bring glory to your Lord. The life of a faithful follower of Jesus is possible only because God gives it to you. You cannot “white knuckle” yourself into transformation. The Jesus-likeness you desire happens when you make yourself available to receive God’s grace.


Think of your heart like a balloon, empty of any ego or drive for perfection, ready to receive a breath that will fill it and give it shape. God’s love is the breath that will inflate your soul. As God’s love and character are poured into your heart, your life will take the form for which you were created. Your life will become like Jesus. Your part in this process is to remain receptive to this inpouring.


This life is a gift—what a profound thought. You cannot earn this life, you do not merit it. You receive it. All gifts proceed from the resources of the giver. Your God is rich in mercy and kindness and gives life to you in abundance. You need only want it and then be willing to set aside your pride and your belief that you need to do something to deserve it. This belief forces you to perform in order to be worthy of God’s love or to protect God’s reputation. It’s outcome is the opposite of what you desire. It separates you from God. Duty performed, not fueled by affection, displeases God. Nothing but love and desire for God and an awareness of your need of God are required of you.

Any duty you perform, not fueled by affection for God, displeases God.

DB


I’m not saying there is no effort on your part. There is, it is not easy to receive this gift. The hard work you must do is to slay your pride and deny yourself as a god in your life. This work requires vigilance and a great faith; even these, though, are gifts of God’s grace if you are willing to receive them. Your effort is to remain receptive out of your love response to God and to realize that apart from God’s grace, you can do nothing.


You are saved by grace, yes. But you also live by grace. Your every breath is God’s gift to you. You remain alive because God is continuing to prepare you for eternity, training you in worship and equipping you for reigning with him. Each day you live in dependence on God’s gifts of life and love for you, you are being shaped into the likeness of Jesus; day by day, changed in character and actions until the day comes when you shall see him and when you see him, you will be like him.


Remember your childhood and the intense longing you had for that special toy you wanted for Christmas? Remember how you were convinced that without it under the Christmas tree your life would be empty and miserable. Remember how that desire caused you to beg your parents for it? Caused you to attempt to modify your behavior so that you’d more likely be in a position to receive it? (“He knows if you’ve been naughty or nice…”)


Even now, desire the life of a faithful disciple as much as you wanted that toy; beg your heavenly parent for it, dispose yourself to receive it, and trust that it will be yours. God is waiting for you to ask and is eager to respond.


With you on the journey,
Debby

Learning Life

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

You’ve decided that Jesus is the one you from whom you want to learn life. Good choice! Like any other skill or object you’ve determined to master, life must be learned. Life learned? This may seem contrary, but it is true. Life, ultimate life, must be studied and practiced. You were given biological life by the grace of God, and you were taught how to handle this gift by the influence of your parents and culture. Of course, your own temperament played a part in how these lessons were incorporated and interpreted, but for the most part, you were passive in this process, you received and responded.


But now you are becoming your own agent of choice. You are wise enough to go to the source. You asked the creator of life to teach you how to live. You have much to unlearn and much to learn about this life you are seeking. God will be a faithful teacher. Jesus is your model, your instructor, and your friend.


In the past, you looked to tutors who were less faithful and true. Parents who, although they loved you the best they were able, did not love you perfectly and placed expectations on you that squelched your spirit. You learned to hide your true life. The church, intended to train you in the love and freedom that is yours as a beloved child of God, instead taught you the life of a slave, filled with shame and rules that must be obeyed out of fear, you learned to hate your true life. Relationships, meant to provide the experience of intimacy, acceptance, and mutual respect, instead convinced you that only perfection in body and personality could be desired and honored. Knowing your own imperfection and finding flaws in the other, fostered the fear of rejection, you learned to wear a mask to conceal your true life.

Parents who, although they loved you the best they were able, did not love you perfectly and placed expectations on you that squelched your spirit. You learned to hide your true life.

DB

You looked to these teachers to give you life, but they delivered death. Each death-dealing “lesson” you learned, each disappointment you suffered created a wall that surrounded your true self and separated you from the source of life, God’s love. But God’s love was not content with this divide, so the trinity conspired to break down this wall of separation.


The flesh and blood of Jesus eliminated this barrier and you have been brought near to the God of life. God’s grace has returned you to the place of a student, ready and eager to learn. And now Jesus will teach you. Forget what lies behind and attempt to maintain the posture of a little child who is learning things for the first time…

With you on the journey,

Debby

Intention

Biography of a Soul…notes to a seeker.

Like St. Teresa of Avila, whose Abbess instructed her to write her Autobiography of a Soul, creating a map to follow toward the heart of God, I offer a Biography of a Soul, notes to encourage and equip your heart to seek God’s heart.

Like Screwtape to Wormwood, I make practical suggestions about how to continue toward God’s good will. Read on, won’t you?

Mary Cassatt, The Two Sisters, Public Domain

My dear Seeker,

You have asked me to give you some guidance about your walk with Jesus. I think your intention is to be better able, as it has been said, to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly, with each passing day.

First of all, let me remind you of how this desire brings your Lord the greatest delight. When God looks out over the world God created God’s eyes take in innumerable sights and activities that must grieve God’s heart – war, greed, death, loneliness – sadnesses beyond our measure. But imagine how the Father heart of God must rejoice when he looks at you and sees his daughter wanting nothing better than to love and obey him to the best of her ability. And what she lacks in ability, she trusts that God’s Spirit will supply. You and your desire to love God and love God’s world is a bright spot in the cosmos now. Do not minimize the impact of your desire. It is a big deal.

Do you find it hard to imagine that you, little you, can bring delight to God? The reason for this is that you forget who you are. I remind you that you are God’s beloved child. You’re a parent, think back and remember the joy that filled your heart when your son would take comfort from no one but you? When your daughter would follow you around the kitchen imitating your actions? When your company alone was their preferred companion? Remember this joy and magnify it at least by 1000 to get a glimpse of how your God feels toward you. Dear one, try to remain God’s beloved child.

Also, please remember that your desire to know God on a more intimate level is not your idea! It originated in God’s own heart. You are just responding. When you were created, God planted a kind of homing device in your soul. You know yourself well enough to know that there has always been an urge for a greater and grander life. This urge is God’s strategy to drive you to seek God. Nothing else will satisfy. Only God can settle you and convince you that your life is important. You have been “hooked” by the great fisherman and you are being reeled in. The difference is that you have been caught in order to provide you a feast, not to be a feast! God is so eager to share God’s life with you. Let yourself be grateful that the magnet heart of God is calling you home.

Notice thus far, how frequently you are called to remember or are reminded of some truth about God and about you. Remembering is essential for your faithful walk with Jesus. Remembering brings to mind something from your past, allowing yourself to reexperience the event, the thought, or the emotion. To remember is to keep truth alive. To remember causes you to once again own reality. Take time in your regular prayer to recall truths you learned from the heart of God; take them from the shelf of your mind and sit with them, feel their import, let them hydrate the dry places of your soul. Few things in life are as enjoyable and bonding as friends sitting together remembering their common history. God wants to do this with you. If you faithfully remember such truths as God’s tenderness toward you, or the joy of obedience, or the comfort of Jesus, or the available power of the Holy Spirit, you will be able to live faithfully in the present. Remembering will wake your soul to the very presence of the Trinity. And in the presence of the Holy God of absolute Love, you will say yes to the life of a disciple of Jesus. If you remember well and often, you will live well and delight God.

I am quite honored to share with you the thoughts the Holy Spirit gives me about walking with Jesus. I am not an expert on the topic. In fact, I am a feeble guide. And yet you have asked, so I trust that somehow our Lord will use my life and my words to lead you into the Kingdom. Join me now in prayer. 

Holy Spirit, you who bring to our mind all that Jesus taught, you who bring illumination to our hearts, come now with your power and your testimony. Reveal through these printed words the vision of a life of a disciple who is learning to live and love like Jesus. Make these words alive, may they teach, encourage and equip. We engage with them as one of your tools to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, for the glory of God.  in whose name we pray.  Amen.

With you on the journey,

Debby

My Mournful Selves are Welcomed

A fierce mouse with a tiny, but sharp sword came home with me last night (from MSK*). His name is anger though he’s not full of rage. He’s just an irritant, that won’t let my soul settle. Poke—uncertainly about treatment. Poke—don’t know what to eat. Poke—damn, cancer continues on; how long? Poke, poke, poke.

I woke this morning with my head on sorrow’s shoulder. She was a green, alien creature, with duck-like webbed feet and hands. I lay quietly in her surrounding arms. It felt comforting. I could relax.

Falling asleep again, I dreamt of a foster boy, returned to my care after his rejecting forever parents didn’t want him. It broke me. Ripped from my heart was the hope that good will reign, my body fell to a heap as I wept tears of anguish. 

And now, the Psalmist asks,  “Why must I walk around mournfully because of the oppression of my enemies?”  —Psalm 43

Why must I walk around mournfully because of the oppression of my enemies?

Here’s why

These mournful feelings are why—the anger, the sorrow, the brokenheartedness. They accompany me as I sit in prayer. I picture them. The comforting alien carrying the heap of a broken heart on a litter in her arms with the fierce mouse, teeth bared, placing his paw on the alien’s back offering solidarity and strength. 

Together, we ask for your light and truth to lead us to your holy hill, your dwelling place. (v3) 

I raise my head and see, the brilliance of your light shining through the truth of your cross. Your light welcomes my united, mournful, and desperate self.  

To enter your dwelling place, my companions and I shape ourselves into the form of a cross. Like a square peg in a square hole, the whole of myself must conform and fit into truth—Yes, Injustices exist, tears flow, hearts shatter. But, the cross changes their shape. 

My mournful selves transmogrify into trinkets on a charm bracelet. Your light shimmers off of anger’s sword, like gleaming gold, it glistens in sorrow’s moist tears like little diamonds, and broken heart’s litter becomes a square of woven cashmere.  

I approach your altar, place the bracelet upon it, bow, and wait. 

God’s voice: “Do not be cast down, my precious one. I hold your life within my home. Remember to hope in me. I promise praise shall rule and you shall rise with joy.” (v5)

With you on the journey, 

Debby

*MSK is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Treatment Center.

The Official vs. the Bleeding woman

The official bowed low, the woman snuck up from behind.

The official begged Jesus to touch his daughter. The woman wanted to touch Jesus herself.

The official’s daughter was dead, and dead is dead. The woman was alive, but her constant bleeding was leaking the life out of her.

Jesus walked after the official. Jesus stopped and turned to the woman. 

The official asked on behalf of his daughter. The woman didn’t ask at all but heard Jesus call her, “Daughter.”

Jesus took the official’s daughter by the hand. To the woman, Jesus spoke the word courage.

Where am I dead? Where is life leaking out?

There are parts of my heart’s desire that I can boldly, without hesitation, and in the company of others ask of Jesus. Places that are dead and need Jesus’ touch. Generally acceptable requests for touches of healing and mercy. 

And there are parts of my heart that I hide because I am ashamed. I know only Jesus can heal them, but I cannot bring myself to admit them in public. That would be too embarrassing. 

Both needs are legitimate. Whether to his face or behind his back, what matters is coming to Jesus for the touch that heals. 

I ask, Where am I dead? Where is life leaking out? 

It’s easy and important to go public when asking for relief from something that has happened to me, when I am a victim, such as my cancer. In this, I am asking for intervention, a separation from the death that has invaded. It had nothing to do with my character or choices.

Not so easy to bring publicly the healing I need that results from my own leaking blood, the death choices I make that drains the life out of me. An example is my preference for isolation versus community, born of a desire to satisfy my appetite for particular foods, drinks, or mindless activity. It’s embarrassing to admit I’d rather go home, put on my lounge pants, eat pizza and drink wine than share an evening with friends. 

Let those questions reverberate within….

A guidebook for devotions

Many of you remember and some of you purchased, (thank you by the way) the book my friend, Dick and I wrote, The Quiet Time Scrapbook. We sold them all out! So we made a few revisions and changed the title and if you weren’t able to buy the original, now’s your chance to buy the revised edition.

guidebook cover jpeg

It is now titled Guidebook for Personal Devotions and you can look at a sample by clicking the link below.

Guidebook sample

The cost is $24.99, plus shipping (Within the US: $3.99 for the first copy plus $.50 for each additional copy). Sales tax will be applied to NY customers.

Payment: By check or card (via a secure Square.com invoice we’ll provide).

We’ll ship to the address you provide once your payment has been received. Click above to see a sample and then let us know how many you want to order!

 

 

Does your Quiet Time need a jump start?

scrapbook front coverDo you ever struggle with your personal devotions (aka quiet times), family devotions, or small group worship times? Maybe you don’t know what to do. Maybe they have become dry or uninspiring. This scrapbook is here to help breathe new life into your time with God. It is chock full of fresh and creative ideas to reenergize and refresh personal or group devotions. From the brand new Christian and young child to the life-long saint, there are ideas and exercises for every level of experience with God. Co-written by a pastor and a spiritual director/retreat leader, it provides practical wisdom and resources as well as deep spiritual insight. From classical spiritual disciplines to the latest creative ideas, here are just a sampling of the 52 entries found inside:
-imaginative prayer
-writing a psalm (or poem to God)
-Bible videos
-art prayer
-multi-sensory reflection
-breath prayer
-contemplating creation
-journaling
-solitude
-listening to Scripture

The cost is $25, plus shipping (within the US) and tax, payable by check or paypal. We’ll mail to the address you give us. Click below to see a sample and then let us know how many you want to order!

Scrapbook Sample

 

The God of the one who says “I got this, God”

Who is Jacob’s God?

The God of the one who has taken advantage of others to benefit herself.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.(Genesis 25:30,31)

Jacob’s God understands a person’s belief that it is up to her to take care of herself. Surviving and/or thriving is her only goal. By hook or by crook, she’ll do what she can to attempt to accomplish her agenda, keeping herself and her tribe safe and in power.

In this situation we find Jacob doing his thing, boiling a pot of soup. He’s not preferred by his father, he doesn’t know how to hunt and fish, but boy does he know how to cook! And so he does. He was the original “foodie.” I can picture the scene. Jacob’s choosing only the finest, most unique ingredients to make his lentil soup appealing to all the senses. He takes great pride in his ability to produce the perfect meal in both presentation and taste.

His oaf of a brother stumbles in, dirty from the hunt; he’s been so occupied with the stalking of game, that he forgot to eat and now he’s starving. He lives in the moment, he believes that unless he eats NOW he will die. His appetite is so strong that he is willing to sell his birthright for a cup of soup.

I doubt he was really on the edge of death and Jacob did too. I imagine Jacob had witnessed a similar scene many times throughout his life. Esau, the impulsive, hot-headed, now-or-never guy, wanting what he wanted and wanting it now.

This time, though, Jacob has a plan.

The birthright carried the honor of the family, the wealth and authority of the Father was passed on to the firstborn son. With such an inheritance a man was insured respect and possessions. The other children had no such guarantee.

Jacob wanted the birthright and took advantage of his brother’s temperament and hunger to gain it.

Jacob was blatant with his plan to take care of himself. I am usually not that obvious. I don’t cheat anyone out of their inheritance, but I do rush to beat the other shopper to the empty check out line at the grocery store. Me first, I’m important, my needs are paramount, my time is more valuable than yours. You, well, you can get in line. This taking care of self is so subtle and so insidious, it is rarely called out for what it is: a lack of trust.

We live in fear, it is hard to trust that we will be provided for, that we will be valued or accepted, that we will be satisfied or pleased.

We live from a scarcity mentality. Will there be enough to go around? Better make sure I get my share (and then some). We are the Israelites hoarding manna, the rich man building a new barn to store all his excess goods. We guard against tomorrow.

There is some wisdom in such preparation, of course. But the line is fine between wisdom and fear. Are we trusting in the value of our stock portfolio to insure our safe and secure future? Or do we remember there are no guarantees apart from God’s promise to transform us into the image of Jesus. And God will use all situations to bring about this promise. Our lack and our supply are equally capable tools in the hands of God to shape us.

For me, one of the ways the fear-based greed comes into play is in the area of food; it is not just energy to fuel my physical well-being, food must entertain me, occupy me, or comfort me. My day is ordered around trying to guarantee my palate’s satisfaction. I’m planning my lunch as I eat my breakfast. This is a very subtle way a God-given good, gets twisted into a temptation to take care of myself.

Things such as God’s presence, the company of friends, wisely spending my money, caring for my long-term health are sometimes not as important to me as making sure I can eat what I want. It’s up to me to insure my satisfaction. Sorry God.

Maybe you have areas of your life like this? Places where it’s not obvious that you are undermining God’s promise to provide for you, but you are covertly insuring your agenda. Or maybe your fear is more in-your-face, such as a health crises or threatened financial setback. Either way, we need the help of Jacob’s God. The one who stays near, who reminds us that all will be well, whose words tell us we are more important than the sparrow, that we are destined for perfection and union. Let us cling to Jacob’s God in the face of our fear.

Read about the God of the Screw Up

The God of the unappreciated

Who is Jacob’s God?

The God of the one who isn’t preferred in life by his Father or significant authority.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilled hunter, a man of the fields while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. (Genesis 25:28).

Jacob’s God is the one who comes to your aid in situations where you feel overlooked or unappreciated. The places where your skill set doesn’t match the demands of the role or the preference of the one in authority; where you feel invisible or dismissed because your gifts or temperament do not align with the dominant culture.

Jacob’s God is the Rebekah who sees who you are and appreciates your talents even when the world doesn’t; the God who reminds you of your distinct value and promotes the expression of your gifts.

My whole life I have suffered under a a sense of shame, convinced I had nothing of value to offer the world. But at the same time blaming the world for not appreciating who I was. I orchestrated a move to a new high school in the middle of my senior year. I knew if I could start fresh in a different school, I’d be seen by my new friends as the cool, awesome girl I was. My old friends just didn’t recognize the gem they had in me.

It was okay for a few weeks, and then I began to run into the old me, the insecure me, the me I thought I had left behind. There was grace in this discovery though, for it moved me to seek a love that never is disappointed in me, the love of God given in Jesus.

Much later in my life I woke from a sweet dream given to me by the Holy Spirit, I am sure. It was a transformative moment in my life. The Lord spoke to my spirit and told me, “Debby, you are a treasure hidden in a field. Not everyone will appreciate the value that you bring, but some will. There will be those who stumble upon the gifts you offer and will be forever grateful for you. I value you, and have made you and have placed you exactly in the right place and at the right time.”

This word from God’s heart of love has kept me over the years, especially as I have offered my writing to the world. Not everyone gets my voice, but there are those who do so I must remain faithful to God’s call on me.

The world may not appreciate your unique set of skills and temperaments, but there are Rebekahs who do. God sends you love and appreciation in the ones who value your uniqueness. Let their esteem and support be enough. Often times the preferences of authority promotes the individuals who satisfy their selfish or blind partialities.

Listen to Jacob’s God, let the whisper of love and value give you strength to believe your visibility and viability. Be bold and trust that love.

Seriously, who is your Rebekah? To whom are you Rebekah-like? I’d love to hear from you. With you on the journey, Debby

The God of the Screw-up

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob.” (Ps 146:5)

Many times God self references as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of the faith. And often in the scriptures, when people describe the God they serve this is the title they use. But there are many times when God is known simply as the God of Jacob. I particularly like this shortcut to connection with God.

Why? Because Jacob was a screw up, sure he became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but even that accomplishment was more by God’s gracious redemption than Jacob’s faithful obedience. The God of Jacob is my God, the God whose help I need because more often than not, I’ve screwed something up and made a hot mess of things.

Like Jacob I find myself in situations where I need divine intervention. Maybe the situation is the result of my own willful actions, or maybe I allow myself to be talked into something because I’m too insecure to say no, or there are those moments when I am the victim of someone’s else’s screw up. Whatever the source of the trouble, I need God’s help. I need the God of Jacob.

During this series, we’ll look at Jacob and the situations in which he found himself, the ones he orchestrated or was coerced into; and then we’ll consider how God helped him in these very real, very relatable circumstances and/or relationships.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Who is Jacob’s God?

The God of the ones who need help being born (Genesis 25:26).

In the womb, Jacob grabbed his brother’s heel and was pulled into life. He arrived on the coattails of his bigger, stronger sibling.

Jacob’s God is the one who comes to help you when you don’t have the power to engage in life; when you feel you don’t exist or wish you didn’t. This is the God of the depressed; the one who feels defeated before she even begins; the one who fears that he will not be valued unless he is connected to one with more power or influence or charisma.

While in college I applied for a job to be a youth ministries intern at my church. Of all the job interviews I’ve had over the course of my life this is the one interview where I remember the question I was asked and my exact response. I almost cringe at the memory.

“What are your career ambitions? What do you hope to do with your life upon your graduation from college?”

“I want to be a Pastor’s wife.”

Step inside my 20 year old brain and understand why I answered in such a manner.

I knew I had the gift and the ability to open the scriptures in ways that were insightful; my studies made the Bible accessible and applicable to life. But I didn’t believe I had the right to offer these insights to others nor the ability to communicate them effectively. I believed I needed a husband to whom I could feed my ideas and then he could use his power to preach them. I felt I had to be the woman behind the man, the one who he depended upon for inspiration. I had no right to exist as a voice for God.

This wasn’t necessarily about male/female roles, it was more about my sense of self. I remember doing what I could to escape being noticed, while at the same time longing to be seen. Developmentally, I was a toddler, fearfully peeking out from behind my parent’s back, wanting to engage with the world, but without the strength and skills to pull it off.

I needed the God of Jacob.

Jacob’s God is the midwife that catches you as you are birthed, who says, “You do exist, you may need help to emerge but help is available. Be not ashamed that you are weak in body or character. Jacob’s God hasn’t forgotten you. Jacob’s God will nurse you and tenderly strengthen you for the life prepared for you.”

God provided me with “bigger, stronger siblings” to pull me into the life he had planned for me; friends who called out the truth in me, a husband who cheered my voice, a pastor who believed in me and let me practice my gifts.

Call on Jacob’s God, let this holy brother and mother be your power and nurture. You have been born, your life is intended, cling to the God who makes a way for your life to emerge.

***

Some of what’s coming up in future posts: I know you’ll relate to some of these topics.

The God of the one who isn’t preferred in life by his Father or significant authority.

The God of the one who has taken advantage of others to benefit herself.