The Table

bread wineEver since last Sunday I have not been able to get a certain image out of my head.

At Adullam, where we now attend their church gathering, we take communion every Sunday.  This time has quickly become my favorite and most anticipated part of the day and often even my week.  I can’t explain it here, but it is a beautiful and pure experience unequaled by most moments I have grafted into my weeks.  I wish you could be there.

Anyway, last week I was in the long line with the family, waiting to get my piece of bread and wine.  Our good friends, Jenna and Roy and their lovely girls were behind us.  It was sweet and I was smiling already, just taking everything in-watching families and singles and ladies with dogs 🙂 go to the Table, pray together, experience moments of peace and love only offered by the Lord .  And as I stood there I was captured by this little baby girl.  She was obviously the first child of a young couple in front – maybe 10 months old.  It was a brief second of a moment that spoke so much to my soul as her mom and dad took their bread dipped in the juice and turned to go back to their seats.  Almost instantly the baby grabbed the bread from her dad’s hand and stuffed it in her own mouth.  Dad didn’t have a chance!  And they all just grinned as they walked away from the Table.

The Table. . .for so many of us, hasn’t the Table become just another religious experience?  Whether we go there weekly, quarterly or just at Christmas and Easter, hasn’t it become more like a religious “rule” than a pure, humbling and life giving experience open to anyone who would wish to receive it?

A baby “taking communion.”  Wouldn’t some call that sacrilegious?  She hasn’t been “saved.”  She hasn’t been baptized.  She certainly isn’t a member of the 501c3 organization.

Judas taking communion with Jesus just before he sold him out for a bag full of money.  Wouldn’t that count as extreme sacrilege?

And yet, Jesus invited Judas to the table. . . knowing it all, didn’t he?

Who are we to think we deserve to go to the Lord’s Table and that someone else does not?  Aren’t we just like Judas?

I happen to think that sweet baby girl belongs at the table and I actually wish my heart felt the intensity that she did to jerk that bread and juice from the Father and devour it with a big grin on my face like her.   That would be pure presence with the Creator.  I think that is what he meant when he said “do this in remembrance of me”…to come like a little child, junk and all and devour Life, no pretense or strings attached.  No rules of who’s in and who’s out.  Only a desire to get one step closer to the Father.

This stage of life is making me more and more sacrilegious.

Kevin calls it “deconstruction” of a past belief system. . .a religious belief system.

Talk about upside down!  That is me.

I am more cynical of religion and “church” – not The Church.  (I’m not saying I’m proud of that, but it’s true.)

Yet I think I feel much closer to the heart of Jesus than ever before.

For the first time ever I am taking a look at so many things the “church” has taught me and realizing, “hey, I actually can’t find that in the Bible.”  “And actually, what I find in the Bible I don’t really see in the ‘church.’ ”  It’s weird, this journey I am on.

I mean, you tell me what you do with this. . .

 James 1:22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Do you just read it and nod your head at what good teaching that is?

Do you analyze the heck out of it until you free yourself from every responsibility those words hold, choosing to believe God didn’t mean that literally for you?  Then you don’t have to deal with it?

Or do you believe God spoke exactly what he intended and that he’s a dude that means what he says?  The religion God accepts isn’t proper Communion, church attendance, lifting our hands when we sing or potlucking together.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.  And if I read it and believe it then I have no choice but to respond.  And in response to this scripture and so many more that the Spirit is confronting me with , I might look a bit sacrilegious.

But I’m pretty sure Jesus was the most sacrilegious of us all. . .dining with tax collectors instead of the preacher guy. . .partying and making wine at a wedding (yes, it says wine and not juice!). . .throwing tables around at the Temple, sitting with a woman at the well he should have never been seen with, healing on the Sabbath.  So, I’ll be in good company. 🙂

Why do we make such big deals out of the rules of religion WE have created?  All the while dismissing Jesus’ heart?

As Francis Chan says, I just really want my life to be written into The Book. . .not a set of religiousness that looks nothing like Him.

. . . . . .me stepping off my soapbox now. . .  . .  🙂

 

When Fervency = Silence

it-is-well-music-wall-art2My Lesson in Learning to Cry Out to the Lord. . .

In all past circumstances I have recorded in my life’s spiritual memory, crying out to the Lord has looked something like this…circumstance/need/question arises = seek the Lord = answer from the Lord (whether I liked answer or not) = acceptance = movement = understanding.

And it has always seemed that he has been fairly expedient in his direction once the Spirit actually got me to a place of seeking.  Answers and direction given from the Lord have often caused me to exercise my faith muscles and grow my understanding of who he is as Provider, Comforter, my Strength, etc.  And the more I practiced listening, trusting and following, the more confident I grew in our relationship and my “sync” with the Spirit, if you want to call it that.

But what do you do when all of a sudden the above equation doesn’t factor out like it’s “supposed” to?  What happens when God changes the equation?  That’s what I’ve been living for the last year and a half.

This equation is much more complicated for my brain to comprehend.

I’ve never experienced a silent God.

And yet,  for much too long for my own comfort, my personal prayer fervency towards every significant thing I have cried out towards in the recent  months is still equaling nothing but silence…and I don’t like it one single bit! (Hopefully some day I will be able to share with you these very specific prayers, but not yet)

But here’s what I do know. . .

It is well.

Most days those heart wrenching prayers and longings don’t feel well.  My gut feels sick at it’s very depth.  God’s silence seems more than I can bare.  And yet, it is well.

And maybe that’s the greatest lesson in the silence.

Today, Fervency = silence = a deeper craving for the Lord to break through = a depth of faith and belief I have ever known = a deeper search than I have ever had to persist in = a greater perspective on the call I’ve been given and a more defined understanding of who I am = exhaustion = renewal = more fervency… and the whole cycle repeating itself over and over again.

Some day He will choose to break through the silence.

Many, many things I do not understand about God’s way of doing things.  It’s rarely the way I would choose.

It is well.

Happy New Year, Vietnam!

tet3One of my Bucket List wishes is to be in Hanoi on Tet.  Tet celebrations start today, so Happy New Year to all on my friends celebrating. . .Tan and family, Binh, Trang, Andrew and Sammy, Sa and family, Thao, Huong, Hanh, Tra, Pink, Diep, Bic and so many more. . .  May the year of the snake be full of joy and goodness!

Quick history lesson on Tet: (it’s pretty fascinating…we Americans have no idea how to really celebrate – enjoy!)

Tet Nguyen Dan, the Vietnamese New Year, follows the same calendar that governs Chinese New Year celebrations worldwide. So on the same day the world celebrates Chinese New Year, the Vietnamese celebrate Tet.

The Vietnamese consider Tet to be the year’s most important festival. Family members gather in their hometowns, traveling from across the country (or the world) to spend the Tet holidays in each other’s company.

Tet and the Kitchen God Tet Nguyen Dan translates literally to “the first morning of the first day of the new year”. Long before Tet, Vietnamese try to get rid of any “bad fortune” by cleaning their homes, buying new clothes, resolving disputes, and paying their debts. Like the Chinese, the tet2Vietnamese believe that Tet marks the time when the Kitchen God reports on their family to the Jade Emperor.

A week before Tet, family members attempt to propitiate the Kitchen God by burning gold leaf paper and offering carp (live, placed in a bucket of water upon the family altar) for him to ride. Houses are cleaned (or repainted) and decorated with yellow blossoms. A bamboo plant called a Cay Neu is planted in the family courtyard: decorated with red streamers and flowers, the Cay Neu is believed to welcome good luck and ward off evil spirits in the week-long interregnum between the old Kitchen God’s departure and the arrival of his replacement. Vietnamese also pay tribute to their ancestors throughout Tet. Each mid-day, for the duration of the New Year week, offerings are placed on the household altar and incense is burned in memory of the departed. Tet and Good Luck On the stroke of midnight, as the old year turns into the new, Vietnamese usher out the old year and welcome the new Kitchen God, beating drums, lighting firecrackers, and goading dogs to bark (a lucky omen).tet1

More on luck and the New Year: Vietnamese believe that one’s luck in the entire year can be determined by auspicious (and not-so-auspicious) events during Tet. Thus Vietnamese will try to even the odds. Barking dogs inspire confidence in the New Year, so dogs are encouraged to bark. Hooting owls are regarded as an unlucky omen. The wealth of the first person through the door on New Year reflects the family’s luck for the year to come, so the rich and popular are invited to one’s home. Tet and Families On Tet, families lay out a splendid feast to welcome visiting relatives and friends.

Traditional Tet treats include: Banh Chung: a special rice pudding containing mung beans and pork bits. Watermelons: considered lucky because of its red color. Other lucky fruits: coconuts, oranges, and grapefruits Family members and friends also exchange gifts during the visit. After the guests have been feted, the family goes off to their respective places of worship (Christian or Buddhist) to pray for the year to come, or join in the many public parades celebrating the festival. The first few days of Tet are meant to be spent visiting friends and relatives. The first day is spent calling upon close friends and one’s parents. The next day, Vietnamese call on their in-laws and other friends. And on the third day, people call upon their distant relations. On the seventh day after Tet, the Cay Neu is taken down, and dragon processions stalk the streets.tet

(from http://goseasia.about.com/od/eventsfes6/a/tet.htm)

What Did You Say?

discernment-wordleDiscernment (according to Wikipedia) is the activity of determining the value and quality of a certain subject or event, particularly the activity of going past the mere perception of something and making detailed judgments about that thing. As a discerning individual is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others. 

In Christianity, the word “discernment” may have several meanings.  It can be used to describe the process of determining God’s desire in a situation or for one’s life.  In large part, it describes the interior search for an answer to the question of one’s vocation, namely, determining whether or not God is calling one to the married life, single life, consecrated life, ordained ministry or any other calling.

I used to believe that one of the gifts God had given me was the ability to be discerning.  It has strangely often seemed over the years that I have somehow had a unique ability to see the greater story going on around me.  You might call it God awareness or sensitivity.  Many times I’ve just been able to look at a situation, mine or someone else’s, and somehow speak into it something that was beyond simply what the eye was able to behold or just know what God wanted.  It’s a handy little gift to have, you might think.  🙂  And, yes, at times it has been.  I suppose it just developed over years of trying to listen to the Father and then obey the best I could.

The thing that is kinda rocking my world right now is that I seem to have lost it.

Now I know there is little truth to that.  But I have to tell you that it is unsettling how tentative I have become in the last few years.

First I noticed my hesitancy to speak into some of my friends, even at moments when I thought I might sense God tapping me on my shoulder to open my mouth.  Now I’m experiencing my hesitancy to even make decisions or statements about myself.  It’s quite a strange loss of confidence in hearing from the Lord that I have developed.

Why is this happening?  I’m not sure, but I think this is what I’m landing on.

Early on in life God quite graciously allowed me to learn how to recognize him.  Kind of like a mom teaching a child to speak, he didn’t try to make it difficult for me.  He made it very black and white.  So I learned and responded.  I got good at hearing him and discerning life and situations and it became very comfortable to follow him boldly into whatever he showed me.

But at some point in early education a kid then has to study language and sentence structure.  It is no longer good enough just to be able to talk.  A child has to learn how to write and communicate well and diagram sentences and study the complexities of language.  It becomes harder work.

I think that must be where I am now when it comes to hearing and discerning God.  It used to be easy.  I became confident in the simplicity of his voice speaking into me.  Then life turned upside down and everything I knew was completely different.  I became gun shy with God for a lot of reasons – mostly reasons that would serve to protect myself from any more hurt and confusion.  I kind of took a short break from him for a while – not that I wasn’t counting on Him or trusting Him, but I was a bit afraid to give my heart to Him fully in relationship for fear of what might come next.  It seemed he had done so little in the recent past to show he wanted the good for me that I perceived to be good.

But what I have found is that you finally get to a place where protecting yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – especially for a person who at the very core so desperately longs to experience a great God story in their lives.  So now that I’m getting to that place of opening back up to God, I’m having to relearn him at a deeper level.  God doesn’t necessarily look and sound and smell like he always used to.  I thought I’d be able to ask him and hear him as simply as before.  Wrong.  I thought I’d all of a sudden hear what my future held and that he would start speaking truths about my future as before.  Wrong.  Discernment, like truly learning language, in this season is harder work.

But it’s good, dirty, hard work.  It’s a re-working out of my faith.

To hear the Lord now I have to press harder.  Pressing harder means I have to learn to trust him again.  I have to want him more.  I have to suffer more for the answers and direction I long to find.  But I think there is going to be a beauty in this new learning.  I think I’m going to understand him at a deeper level than I even knew existed.  I’m pretty sure that’s what he wants and why he has me here.

But I still have my doubts.  I’m still gun shy and when someone asks me anything about what I think about my future I clam up, unable or afraid to speculate.  I know what I long for God to speak, but for those words I still wait.  And in the process of pressing in a have to believe he will be faithful to speak loud and clear when He’s good and ready – and when he does, he’ll allow me all the discernment I need.

discernment

Free Relationship – True Friendship

knuckles

Tonight I ‘m sitting in Whole Foods (my happy place) and watching the Colorado snow finally fall. Snow, hot coffee, a yummy chocolate chip cookie and 2 hours to spend. . . Yet, I have stared at this screen now for 30 minutes clueless what to write.. Now finally it has hit me after my 12th time checking Facebook. . .we take friendship much too lightly. How’s that for a conversation point?

Let’s just start here. . .Facebook tells me that I have 663 friends.
663 people claim me as their “friend,” and I them!

That statement alone tempts me to go and delete everyone on my list – no offense “friends.” But you have to admit, it is quite ridiculous. I can’t even name 663 people! I’d do good to name 63.

The reality is, there are 663 people in this world on whom I eavesdrop. . .and I might actually have 6 REAL friends.

It’s crazy how our society has unintentionally taught us that relationships can and even should be so shallow. We often live a lie, thinking we have true relationship. Via the internet we see what someone had for dinner, how many awards someone’s kid received or if a person plans to vote for Obama or Santa Clause and we “like” it and feel like we have “connected” with a friend for the day. Does anyone else agree with me on how ridiculous this has become? I know that sounds mean, but think about it. I have an 85 year old Swiss neighbor. She walks past my house every day. We’ve carried on a few conversations over the months. We smile and wave regularly. But I don’t call her my friend. She’s an acquaintance. . .a neighbor. Yet, I’ve had more contact with her than I have 643 of my Facebook “friends” in the last 5 years.

All this being said, it has just made me think about who my REAL friends are.

The last 2 years have been very telling. As a pastor’s wife, everybody wants to know you. Everybody just naturally wants to be your “friend” even if in another circumstance they might not even look your way. In some ways it makes for easy relationships for those introverted people like me. People are kind. They smile a lot at you. They invite you for free dinners and good coffee. You get to hang out with families and see lots of people in their personal, home environments. You get to council and help people through the tough chapters of life. You get to celebrate and cry and pray with so many, causing emotional connections. Moments of life can seem really full and blessed and people have so many good intentions. But that life also has a way of tricking you into believing you have a huge amount of people who love and support you. You think you are equally invested after a while.

But when it comes down to it, one of the biggest lessons I have learned over the years is that I don’t need to be so quick to call someone “friend.” Isn’t that sad? I know it sounds so doom and gloom. But I tell you, it really has been a valuable lesson that was super hard in the learning, but very freeing on the other side.

When the rubber meets the road, many of the people whom I have elevated far above” Facebook friend” status in my life have proven to fall very short. . .and visa versa. When it comes down to it, I now just tend to believe that a person only has the capacity for a very few friends.

And how do I believe this? I believe this because, like you, I’ve been burned. I have a plethora of experiences I could tell you of people who have let me down – people who have walked out of my life unspoken – people who have hurt me and my family who once sat on my sofa and even did something so intimate as seeking the Lord together – people whom I thought I could count on and trust, yet who chose not to fight for relationship, but instead beat me up behind my back when the temperature of life rose a few degrees. You’ve been there in one way or the other. Like me, you’ve even been that person.

But what if we waited much, much longer to call a person “friend?” What if our friendships looked much more like a dating process than an “everyone’s welcome to the party” ride? What if we took our time to truly get to know a person, do life with a person, go through hard times with a person, before we carved out a place in our hearts for them?

Ouch, I can already tell that some of you are wincing at my statements. It doesn’t seem right does it – especially in our world of “friending” everyone who sends a request.

I’m not suggesting we be snobs – quite the opposite. I’m saying freely include everyone, love on people and share your life. But in the midst of it all, guard your heart.

I’m convinced that God will weave people together that are truly meant to possess the gift of our hearts. I think those people are very few and far between. Buddies play together and do life together but maybe true friendships should be elevated to something of a covenant relationship in which all parties are moving with the understanding that we will work hard, care deeply and remain-and that takes lots of time.

That’s why I’m thinking we can and probably even should only have a very few “friends.”

AND that is why all of my other relationships now feel very free.

Written Words

writeI  had the most enlightening argument/conversation with my 13 year old, Emma, a few days ago.

If you didn’t already know, we homeschool.  We always have.  Some days are fantastic.  Others just suck and that’s the nicest thing I can possibly say about them.  It’s the hardest thing I have ever done and yet I continue to choose to punish myself year after year.  🙂  So many would wonder why Kevin and I have chosen this path.  To be honest, that answer changes all the time.  But regardless the space of life we are living in, homeschool has continued to remain a part of our family and at the end of the days I am so proud of our choices.  We have amazing daughters, a free and flexible life and I have a constant challenge in front of me every day.  Our girls have a solid foundation no matter what space we move into next.

Anyway. . .the conversation with Emma.

I was asking her to have a conversation with me about the Middle Ages.  We were talking about the fall of Rome and how the only city that remained after the fall of the western part of the empire was Constantinople. . .on and on. . .through Justinian came the Byzantine Empire. . .on and on. . .we landed on me asking her what it would be like if Barbarians were to take over the United States. Everything that she once knew to be true and her way of life changed and she had no control of it.  I just wanted her to tell me how that would make her feel.  Easy enough, right?  You would think.

The interesting thing was that for Emma it wasn’t so easy. . .thus a fight between mother/teacher and daughter ensued.  I’m explaining how easy the question is.  She is melting.  I’m trying to get her to talk.  I’m using her younger sisters as examples. . .calling them over to answer the questions and show the ease she should be able to answer with.  She is an 8th grader for goodness sake!  (brilliant parenting/teaching skills, yes?)  She continues to cry and I continue to push.  Tension just rises and rises.

Then all of a sudden God grabbed me in the middle of the drama and simply said, “Amy, she’s just like you!”  “She is your daughter.”

Hhmmmm……humbling mom moment.

You see, I struggle with exactly the same things.

Kevin and I get sideways with each other.  He wants me to “use my words” to share what I’m thinking and feeling so we can work things out. At that moment I can’t even compose a complete thought in my head, much less voice it in his time frame, even though my head and heart are experiencing a lot and inside I’m screaming out.  I’m in a group setting and asked a thoughtful question and I clam up.  My processing is very slow.  I am careful and thoughtful about what I say.  It often takes a lot of time to decide how I feel and how I need to respond when stakes are high.

This is also my Emma.

So what started as a battle finally became a great teaching opportunity.  All the things I have been learning about who I am and how I process and communicate – how I’m wired and how I’m not-what I need to work on and what I need to just accept about myself along the lines of relationship and sharing with others, I got to teach to Emma .  And as I told Kevin that night that I got to teach Emma about the importance of practicing conversation even though it is uncomfortable and you might not have all the right words, I was also able to provide him with a huge laugh. 🙂  What goes around does come around, I suppose.

Anyway, all that being said I just wanted to share that one thing I have learned in this last year is that I must write.  Just like Emma.  She writes and that is how she opens up her heart.  I write and that is how I think.  Writing is how I talk to God.  Writing is how I plan.  Writing is how I dream.  Writing is how I center my head and heart and figure out what I’m actually feeling.

This last year I haven’t written.

Many things I have not wanted to process.  Many things have been too hurtful to have the energy to spend the time on.  Not writing protected me in a sense.  Yet it has slowed the healing process of the last year, too.

So I think I’m finally ready to write again.  My journal is already filling up and to me that means that days are looking brighter.

Has It Really Been 6 Months?

I can’t believe it has been almost 6 months since I last blogged.  It’s been quite a year to say the least.  Maybe someday I’ll share some of the details with you.  We’ll just have to wait and see what God allows me to write and what I end up choosing to keep just between He and I.  Regardless, this morning I finally decided it’s time to re-enter.  I think I’m happy about it.  We’ll see.  In the last few weeks I have had multiple people whom I didn’t even know followed my writing to ask if I was ever going to blog again.  I think it has been through them that God has started to prompt me back into sharing life with you all again.  So thank you my new friends and “hello” again to everyone else.  I hope you will keep reading.  I hope it will be worth all of our time.

I would caution you this…you will quite possibly sense a different me in these next days.  The realities of life have their way of changing a person and causing them to see things in quite different light.  I know for sure that some of the silliness that you once saw me post will be few and far between.  I’ll only be writing when I have something to say that is worthy for the space in my brain and yours.  I guess we’ll just wait together and see what God does…which is the basic theme of my life these days anyway.

As for today, I just want to share with you the one beautiful constant my life has had over the last year. . .my wonderful family.  Jenny Gizzi took these pictures of us just weeks before we moved from Superior this fall.  Isn’t she great?!  If Kevin, Emma, Claire and Olivia were the only blessings God ever chose to give my life from this point on, I’d without a doubt be more blessed than any one person ever deserves.

Enjoy your weekend, friends.

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