Step Aside A Moment

When life is coming at you full-on force, clarity and intention drain away in the torrent like watercolors bloated with water. The picture we were so carefully painting becomes nondescript, even unrecognizable.

water spray window
Photo by Kimberley Mulder


These weeks tailing our summer feel like this, and I am gasping. At a time when I have emptied my reserves, I find I must rally all strength—not to push through the onslaught necessarily, but to shelter and rest.

Automatically, I push back at force to prove you can’t get me down, and it can seem too vulnerable to go with the flow. It requires strength of spirit, mind, and will to step aside into a quiet space, remember and renew my intentions, and trust I am not losing ground as I catch my breath.
But in these lulls Jesus blots the swollen, running colors until the picture is recognizable again. He is creating my life with me and it is his brushstroke that becomes permanent on my page, not the tearing, striking stormrains motley mess.

So step aside a moment today, take a breath, clear your vision, and let Jesus paint your picture.

Shortly after writing this first part I stopped at the lake nearby to clear my mind. God gave me a speech in the fluid painting of sky, the rush of cloudburst, the whisper of water lapping, the silent wing of swallows, and the flow of colors mutely inscribing awe as it seeped into my heart’s depth with their molten heights. 

sunset over Alum Creek
Photo by Kimberley Mulder

My heart rested in new understanding, in something I didn’t even know I needed to know until God said it through his sunset speech. A sudden intuitive understanding rose within like the glowing gilding of the clouds in relief before me, causing my own cloudburst of relieving tears. And as the sun sank beyond my horizon, I laid some things to rest that had passed away and needed to be let go.

Now the new day can rise without the burden of the old.

I encourage you to turn aside into quiet pockets when life is blasting you with busy-ness or trial to reorient yourself and receive Jesus’s loving strength.

 

I hope and pray you are encouraged by these blog posts, and that your quiet soul is thriving. I want to provide more resources for you, and to do that I have a short questionnaire for you to give me feedback. If you would take a moment to fill it out, it will help me bless you as I build and grow this little ministry. Thank you!

Click here to access the questionnaire.

Also, I am embarking on my Master’s in Ministry at Portland Seminary starting in a week! As I become more equipped to assist you with your spirit thriving, I will need to dial back my blog posts to twice a month rather than weekly. As always, feel free to contact me, comment, share my posts on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram @writerkimberleymulder. I will often write short, in-the-moment, thoughts and observations on Instagram, so it’s a good way to stay in touch.

Where Can I Find Peace and Quiet?

My soul hungered for quiet with just Jesus. With an unexpected hour of uninterruption before me, I took the opportunity. I rushed to the bench we usually meet at, and hurriedly sat down to commence “The Time of Being Present” (cue soundtrack indicating an important moment!).

Only I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t stop talking. I felt as if tiny flashes of electricity were flowing under the surface threatening to shock me into action any second. I kept flicking my eyes to see who might be coming, ready to look busy. And Jesus wouldn’t say anything! He just sat there. 

In my discomfort I began to realize that Jesus was holding the quiet for me because I couldn’t.

He was guarding our peace, refusing to bow to the busy-ness of my brain. He remained in quiet peace, because it was in him. There is no confusion in him, no conflict, no tug-of-war in his being, like there is in mine.

Awe washed over me, chasing my pesky, distracting thoughts away. 

Take a moment and let that sink in: Jesus holds the quiet for you.

When you are having difficulty quieting yourself, focus on Jesus, knowing He is there holding the quiet for you. Be willing to surrender your thoughts to his. You could say, “I’m here, Jesus, and I want to lay down my thoughts to hear yours. I welcome you.” Then allow Him to be quiet with you, allow Him to speak to you, allow Him to show you something. Whatever He chooses to do with you, He does for you, not against you, with your best interests in mind. 

Sometimes that means saying nothing, just being present.

When Fear Holds Hunger in Its Teeth

Last week I wrote about how I discern the voice of fear and the voice of Love. This week we are starting our month-long focus on “Hunger” and how it pertains to a centered life. I am sharing from my personal experience and hope that it stimulates your hunger for God!

I have written the following in truth and love, especially for my heritage. It is not glamorous, in fact, it may be painful to some. But I am trying to illumine what God has shown me as He has wrought more freedom into my life. I pray for your freedom as you read.

I grew up in a church community that valued, rightly so, giving and sacrificing for those less fortunate. Many of us were immigrants or children of immigrants with stories of making do and frugality forming our families. There were a lot of unsung, hard-working heroes in our family tree.

But somehow, in the trenches of making a living in a new land, the hunger that everyone had come with became buried under the work of our hands, the ache of the labour, and the strains of limitation. And it was buried in our spirits too.

Though hunger for freedom, for more, for a better life had driven our grandparents across the Atlantic ocean, that hunger went underground as they built their new life. It became inappropriate to want more in life: whether in the making of money or thirsting for God. As we became guardians of the status quo, God felt more distant. Like a knot of hunger in the stomach, our spirits hardened.

We were self-righteous in our mandated contentment. There were whispers of judgment regarding other churches, born of fear. We didn’t understand what they were experiencing as we heard of healings and changed lives. We were fearful of it, fearful of the powerful hunger that drove those people, not realizing that we had the same hunger held underground by our fear.

Only through resentment did we notice our hunger: other churches were growing, why weren’t we?

To desire more was evil ambition and arrogance. Desire was a fearful thing! For those who paid attention to the hunger in their spirits, there were few communal tables at which to gather. By God’s grace, there were a few, and life grew there. I ate with them, I hungered with them, and God met us.

We must allow ourselves to feel our hunger, to stand in it, not run away from it or bury it. It is the gnawing center of life in which we receive the bread of Life. God would not have given us hunger if it did not serve His purposes. That goes for bodily hunger as well as soul hunger. As we are filled, we are empowered. Motion can follow.

Sometimes we must allow our spiritual hunger to push us to immigrate to new places.

The word “desire” has forward movement inherent within it. It is the motion of attraction, like two magnets drawing together. God gave us desire to move us toward him. Desire is a gift, not a curse.

Our fears must not be allowed to control our hunger. The only fear God gave us is the fear, the awe and wonder, of Him; all others are hounds from our enemy. When we put hunger in control of fear it will eat up obstacles in its ravenous power. Let your hunger for God loose, feed it, and fear will cower!

The truly hungry do bold things that they would never do when satisfied. Dissatisfaction can be the Lord’s invitation into the bold changes of His kingdom.

Yes, we need to develop contentment in our souls, but there is a magnet in discontent that will pull us there.  The uneasy, discontented sensation of hunger is the invitation to the soul to find its true food.

In Luke 10, when Mary dropped her duties as host (much to her sister Martha’s consternation!) to go listen to Jesus, she was giving reign to her spirit’s hunger trusting it would find its satiation in the words of this visitor, Jesus.

If you suffer a squelched spirit do not settle in a false contentment saying “This is all there is, I am okay here.” This is where our hunger helps us discern between good and best. God wants our BEST which is good for us, but we often settle for what is GOOD thinking it’s the best. Fear wiggles into power ever so subtly in this situation. Fear says to the squelched spirit: “This is good enough, who am I to want more? I am denying God’s gracious gifts if I want more.” Rather, admit your hunger, and tell God. He is delighted to meet you in your hunger! It is through our hunger that Jesus works to reconcile us to himself. For it is His great desire to be reconciled with us.

On earth Jesus’ hunger fueled his every action. His hunger for reconciliation enabled him to say “No” to temptation in the desert, endure the whips, spears and nails, fit infinity into finity, feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish, and befriend and disciple many in three years. What will your hunger enable you to do as you are filled to all fullness with the bread of life?

 

 

A Perfectionist’s Story Discerning the Voices of Fear and Love

“Perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.” 1 Jn. 4:18 NIV

The type of fear John speaks of is the paralyzing, cowering kind that all people feel in the face of threats, violence, abuse and other evils. It is an oppressive, jailing kind that arises from the deceitful one, Satan. But Jesus came to free the captive (Isaiah 61:1).

The deceiver tailors his language of fear to his listener. To some he speaks in soft tongues, to others in sharp. The point of anything fear says is to control and bully, to keep the hearer from knowing freedom and love.

Fear bullies with sweet whispers. Fear seduces with sharp commands. Fear persuades with half truths. Fear controls with comfort. Fear is charismatic, a force of character that draws people to follow him into bondage. And he uses content of every kind under the sun: from self-perception to global annihilation, from sore throats to getting it all done.

Nothing but the whole truth, unvarnished and blazing gently in one’s being, will conquer fear. Before it, like wax melting under a candle, our rigid prisons fall away. To each of our personal realities God’s truth of love shines deeply into our personal convictions, changing and shaping them into action, releasing the prison gates of fear.

To the perfectionist’s ear, fear speaks in “shoulds”. He holds up the beautiful goal and desire for perfection, knowing that that IS what we are destined for, and says: “Look, that’s your goal, go get it! You should do this, then that, then that. You definitely shouldn’t waste your time on unproductive things. Do this…and this…and this.” The perfectionist climbs the mountain of “shoulds”, not realizing that it is made of pebbles rolling under her feet and she is getting no closer. Instead, she is wearing out, despairing, discouraged and unsure. Fear now holds her tired heart in captivity.

I am a perfectionist, and the above is my story. However, the story is not finished.

Into this captivity Jesus stepped. His foot light, he brought water, a pillow, His presence. He sat with me in my captivity until I had rested enough that I could listen. Then He began to speak, counteracting the poisonous thoughts I had been listening to for years, and when I was stronger, He invited me to get up and walk with Him. He began to show me things I had not noticed before, He ignited joy and peace in my heart. For a time, He refused to answer my request for a purpose, knowing that that would send me back up the mountain of pebbles.

After an uncomfortably long time, in which I finally found comfort, He invited me forward with Him. He never used the word “should”, always “let’s”. As He issued His invitation to me into His purposes He said: “You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:12).

I am, literally, today, starting three major things to which He has led me. One of which is the series on this blog on “Ten Attitudes of Heart to Cultivate for a ‘Mary’ Life”!

Just to show you how personal He gets as He leads you, I will share the picture He gave me this morning as I listened to Him regarding these initiatives. First off, you have to know that I LOVE snow, playing in the snow, skiing, skating, all things snow. In that, I am a true Canadian:) In the picture, I saw myself as a child getting ready to go play in the snow, and in my excitement I wasn’t putting on my hat or zipping up my coat. He, Dad, came over and put my hat on, zipped up my coat to make sure I was prepared and then blessed me with a twinkle in his eye and said “Have fun!”.

I have been listening to Emily P. Freeman’s podcast “The Next Right Thing” (which I highly recommend!) and in episode three, she asks: “Are you being led by love or pushed by fear?” Over the last year, this has been especially helpful in my discernment process. It helped me recognize that a job I almost took was motivated by my fear of our future finances, not His leading. It helped me recognize that during this time of discernment, courage means taking the hours to go deep with God, to slowly process all the things He is showing me, and trust that my not getting a paycheck will not bring us to bankruptcy.  It has been eleven months so far without my pay check and we have always had enough, even as we moved to a house with a higher house payment per month!

For me, the voice of fear says excitedly and urgently, like a happy friend: “You should do this because you are so able. You should do this to secure your future!” But if I don’t comply my happy friend’s voice slides into a menacing, condemning voice: “You’ll never amount to anything. You aren’t doing enough to bless the world. You have been given so much and you just squander it. How can you call yourself a leader? A good mom?” In both voices, the identifying characteristic is a push to perform and prove.

Whereas being led by love, the voice is a gentle friend, welcoming and pleased to be with me, regardless of what I do. Love’s voice invites, converses. Love says: “This is the way, walk in it, and I will walk with you.” If I don’t comply, love waits.

I’ve had many months now of discerning the voice of fear and the voice of Love as I have waited on the Lord to direct my steps. A desire of mine from as far back as I can remember is to get my Master’s degree. I’ve started one, I’ve tested the waters with a course for another, I’ve perused many catalogs. Every time there’s been a check in my spirit at some point on the road – a lack of peace about the focus, a revelation that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should (there’s that “should” again!).

This time the Lord is inviting me to get my Master’s in Spiritual Formation and Direction. It isn’t a should at all, but an “I get to!” I know deeply that this is the right direction, partly because I realize that if I don’t make the attempt and join the Lord I will, literally, forever regret it. All my previous endeavors I was preparing to make do when all along, deep down I knew that I was cut out for this work and had lacked the courage to try. He has been persistently showing and telling me that He wants me living abundantly with Him in the purposes He has for me. He wants the BEST for me, not for me to simply make do.

Are you being led by Love, or pushed by fear? Only you and the Lord can identify the voice of fear in your life. It will speak differently to you than me. It will take courageous, deep work to identify and admit to listening to the voice of fear. But I promise, it is so well worth it. God made you for living deeply, joyfully and truthfully, not quickly, shallowly and fearfully.

Series for 2018 : 10 Heart Attitudes to Cultivate for a “Mary” Life

I am excited to announce the inaugural series for my blog “Living a Mary Life in a Martha World”! Over the next 10 months (starting in February) I will be featuring an attitude needed in order to live as a “Mary” in a “Martha” world. If you desire to be more attentive to Jesus and live your life from this center, not being pushed around by the world, then join me in this investigation. I would love to have you be encouraged and challenged by what I write, and to hear what works for you to be like Mary. Here is the monthly schedule:

 

 

 

If this piques your interest and you would like to join in, please subscribe to my email list so you can be sure to get the weekly posts. I pray it will be a blessing to you and I look forward to spending the year with you in this endeavor!

Christmas Tree Reflections

What follows is not a criticism of decorating and finding joy in doing so at Christmas, for there is much to celebrate! It is right to celebrate, pulling out all the stops to do so, for God brings us joy and goodness. He even instituted celebrations in the Old Testament so that we would be drawn into the joy of his giving. So, please, take joy in your festivities, but may they also be something that reconnects you to the giver of your life.

“Out a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…”

Isaiah 11:1, 10-11

When we cut down a tree, we use or dispose of the trunk and branches and leaves. Maybe for firewood to keep us warm or make s’mores, perchance some artwork or furniture, and in these uses there is good. But there is also finality. Those limbs will not live any longer and eventually they will decay or burn.

Even a “live” Christmas tree, as beautiful as it is, has been sentenced to death.

How symbolic it is that we, in our efforts to beautify our world, cause death in the process. Like our beloved Christmas trees, when we are cut off from our roots and earth, from that which gave us Life, we may shine for a time but die shortly. We are as unable to draw Life into being as a Christmas tree.

We are drawn to the quick pretty, to the fleeting glow of bright things. In our (at least in Ohio) monochromatic gray winters we look for any distracting sparkle we can find. We twist billions of colored lights over millions of trees for a time.

But God sees the dark stump. He sees the Life that is bound deep inside it, for He put it there. And He has not forgotten it. He draws upon the riches in His heart, the deep promises He has made, and begins the lengthy, laborious, hidden process of growth.

Christmas is not about the tree and the glamour; it is about a stump. A stump out of which will grow an entire kingdom of glory, full of radiant people, warm-hearted and whole, gladly affixed to the new Life. No baubles needed, no plug-in lights, or tinsel sparkle, for Life itself shines brightly out of each branch.

As you gaze at your Christmas tree this year, may it remind you that you are a branch (or can be a branch) in the tree of Life that is Jesus. May it remind you to abide and remain connected to the stump, to the life source. Like the star that guided the wise men to Jesus, may it serve to shine your attention on the source of your Life, the source of all Life, and the great growing of it that He is doing today and always.

God Within Our Limitations

Becoming a mom was, and continues to be, the most challenging thing I have ever faced. Greater than the hours of musical discipline, greater than being plunged into another language and culture, greater than months of severe illness. Rather than in one or two areas, as the aforementioned challenges were, being mom challenges me in every way. It has brought me to the end of my limits over and over.

First the physical limits of carrying, birthing and caring for fragile life. But intertwined with these physical challenges are the faith challenges, the emotional challenges, the mental challenges. Every challenge highlights another limit of mine.

My over-confident, zealous, I’m-going-to-change-the-world!, twenty year old self has died on the rocks of motherhood. Yes, these limits of mine are not going away.

How did Mary manage to acquiesce to the Lord so quickly? We know so little of her background. We can assume that she lived under the cultural constraints of her time. She appears in the New Testament as a woman who was like all other women, living within her culture comfortably. There certainly seems to be no attitude of pride or ambition in her humble welcoming of the angel Gabriel’s message. Unlike Gideon, she asked not for fleeces. Unlike Moses, she did not cry a cowardly “I am inadequate!”. Unlike Zechariah, priest of God that he was, she did not question the Lord. Despite her limits of upbringing, personality, youth and unmarried status, she did not quiz the Lord on how this could be. God said it would be, and she said yes. She was able to agree with the Lord quickly because she accepted her limits and she accepted, carte blanche, the limitlessness of God. And so, the Giver of Life grew inside of her life.

Baby Jesus, limitless God, curled himself up into a fetal ball inside of Mary and grew within her limited body. He extended her, the natural growing to expand around the supernatural life inside. God deemed to take on our limitations.

How to live the call to house a limitless God in my limited life? In what ways does his grace and presence grow in my life and extend me to what I thought was not possible? And if God can accept to grow, even desire to grow, in the limited confines of the created human life, then how am I to view my limits?

We must allow God to initiate and command the extension of boundaries, not our selfish ambitions or grand dreams. We live in a culture that demands we break through our boundaries, that we not give in to the limits we have, that we must overcome everything. We war against ourselves when we ignore our God-given boundaries.

Largely because of our culture, I usually see the limitation of my energy, with which I wrestle every day, as a hindrance and a curse. But what if it is meant to embody the life of God? God does not condemn my lack of energy, rather he comes to me in compassion offering rest and care, and is willing to work within these confines under which I am born.

I fall prey to the lies that I am not enough, what I do is not enough, a never-ending drive to impress and please. God does not look at our limitations and say: “overcome it, do more!”, like a hounding coach. Rather he surrounds us with the encouragement of his word, his witnesses and his presence and urges us to stay close as we press on within our limited ways.

How might you and I say yes, I am limited AND yes, my limits do not limit God. Has God spoken a word of expansion into your life that you doubt he is able to fulfill? Do your limits discourage you? I suggest that, rather than rail against them, accept them for they are yours, and then accept God into them.

Lord, I am deeply limited, but I am so by your command and allowance. You made me, you love me and you live in me. I praise you that you, O limitless God, actually love to live within me, in my constraints and in my body and life. How valuable you make my limited life!

I pray, Lord, that when I come up hard against my limits, I also come up hard against your love. Be present to me in them. I accept your grace into them and refuse my own condemnation of them.

And when you call me to extend myself in your name, to grow and enlarge as I make room for your kingdom, I pray for faith and courage that you will provide all I need to grow – the support, the sustenance, and the guidance. When I am afraid of this new territory and am beyond my previous limits may I turn to you and see that you do not demand proof that I can do this, but instead assure me that you are with me and glad to be doing this growing together.

 

 

 

Learning to Host by Being a Guest

Who would have thought that from a deeply shaded house, quiet and reserved in the center of the neighborhood, would come a quiet girl to set the table for so many?

My childhood was wrapped comfortably around the dinner table, and dearest memories of deep conversation with Mom, Dad and Brother hold me grounded even today. My introverted family loved to be hospitable to each other where all thoughts, wonderings, jokes and ideas were lingered over in the settled peace of acceptance.

From this deep, delightful beginning God has taken me to tables far and wide. Before I learned to host, I learned to be a guest.

Never a partier, always a tea-lover, my early hospitality was to revel in a cup of tea and a smidge of chocolate – both rationed to measure out this simple delight into each day – with my friend and fellow teacher in our tiny, shared room at a village boarding school in post-Soviet Ukraine. During those years, we were hosted generously in remote villages of the Carpathians, in expatriates’ apartments, in Dutch dyke-bound homes, and Scottish far-flung islands. I had nothing to offer except gratitude and the occasional plate-washing.

I was not a “natural” guest, easy around conversation or knowing when to offer help and when to hold back. These were finer skills that I learned along the way as I observed. As a guest I felt the invader and my role was to receive then retreat. I was reticent to make any request. But my hosts believed I was of value, and they wanted to hear what I had to say, and they wanted to share their lives with me. Slowly I joined the delicate dance of guest and host, and realized the beauty of it. I am so grateful today for the patience, care and teaching I received during those years from my co-guest, Kristine, and my many hosts.

Have you ever thought of the fact that Jesus, the giver of all life, the great host of us all, who promises the joy of feasting with him at his table, came as a guest? He didn’t host people at dinner parties, instead he relied on the invitations of the hospitable and the curious. Everywhere he went he was a guest, thanking his hosts, even washing guests’ feet! He humbled himself to be a guest. It feels awkward to always be the one receiving from hosts, but he entered this awkwardness and even told his disciples to go be guests (Luke 10). The visitor, the guest, who comes in his name, has much to offer: the grace of gratitude, the peace of Jesus. If you are a guest this Thanksgiving or Christmas, carry this honor with you to your host, and bring your blessing.

Learning to be a grateful and graceful guest is great formation for being a gracious host. When I got married, I became a host. With my husband came a large family. I had started cultivating some years earlier an interest in cooking and now the family get-togethers were opportunities to gift people with food.

One of the essential lessons in hosting is to offer your best with your guests’ interests in mind. I practiced the first part, but it took a few years to add the second part! I like to experiment with food, but my husband’s family prefers their favorites. It is a family (semi-)joke that there is bound to be a vegetable hidden in my dishes somewhere. They have graciously tried many a dish out of love for me, but now I save (most) of my experimenting for other opportunities. Another essential lesson in hosting is to remember that this is a dance, a partnership, not a one-way street. Like my hosts across Europe taught me, we are welcoming the life and message of the guest into our lives. We are sharing and receiving, not just giving.

As I hosted more people and more groups I would get irritated when people would offer help or when things didn’t go according to plan. Slowly I began to realize that I expected to do all the giving, and it had to be perfect. Instead of insult, the guests’ offer to help was actually an expression of gratitude and grace, not judgment. As I accepted their help I also discovered that I could connect more with them. Some of my best conversations have been over dirty dishes!

This ties in to the third essential thing I learned in hosting: make space to spend time with your guests. Early on I made such elaborate things that I had no time to sit and talk. I felt like a servant or a caterer, not a host. (I was working as a caterer at this time and Jesus used this to show me the difference between the two.) I began to dislike hosting because it was all burden. And it was all my doing. So, I began to choose food that could be prepared ahead of time, or didn’t require a lot of steps so that I could spend more time visiting. As I did this, I enjoyed hosting more.

Jesus taught me over these years, like he was teaching Martha (in Luke 10) that the host’s offence is to focus on the giving and forget the guest. Jesus was Martha’s guest, thereby making her the host but she was forgetting her guest.

Jesus continues to enter our lives relying on our hospitality, our receptivity, our willingness to welcome him and listen. As you go about hosting your holidays, be sure to welcome and invite him into your gatherings.

Be encouraged in your own hosting and “guesting” that there is equal value in each, that there are spiritual truths embedded in these hospitality practices, and that whether you are hosting or guesting, you bring Jesus to the table this year. Welcome him and make room for him.