courage

Dealing with Internal Intimidation

I redirected my energies from my contemplative work into hospitality mid-April. It was to be a two-week hijacking, then a return to the regular route of days. But the pressures and demands didn’t relent. The attempts to incorporate new ideas and habits from classes, the convergence of three young lives summering with me, and some major emotional upheavals suctioned me into silence on my blog. Daily I remembered you and prayed, aching to write, yet simultaneously adding another daily granule of doubt or criticism to the weighted blanket of shame encasing me.

Shame casts imposing shadows and augments reality into mocking illusions. As a young girl I was intimidated by a rocking one-eyed shadow-giraffe glaring down from atop my curtain rod, daring me to foolishly mention it to my parents. I felt stupid for being afraid of it, and sure of being laughed at for speaking of it. So I remained silent, tense and paralyzed under the bedspread. I didn’t yet know the power that humbly laughing at yourself and sharing with others can have to dispel the thrall of fear and shame.

I’m throwing off my bedspread and padding over to you to tell you—I’ve been afraid to write again. The mocking voices inside wonder why I’m making such a big deal over this and try to squelch the importance of it. They leer at me saying nobody cares, no one needs to hear what I have to say—it won’t make a difference, and if you must say something why make a fool of yourself! Just slip under the radar and pretend nothing is happening—you just got busy, that’s all. This is how the enemy’s intimidation works on a soul whose safety is withdrawal and avoidance.

You need to hear it because I need to say it. Because you need to know there is someone else who is facing intimidation while moving forward into a big, exciting, terrifying calling with Jesus. You and I need to see light spill into this hidden dynamic of pressing on in faith and call it like it is: intimidation is real. Its expression can come in a myriad of ways depending on your particular triggers and personality, but it will come. If it silences you like it does me, raise your voice more and let safe people know what ghouls are dancing on your internal landscape. If big-eyed giraffes are ghosting through it, making you feel small and stupid, open the door to those who can provide the brilliant light of truth, hope, and grace. Its strength overpowers the shadows that loom in near-darkness.

Bright Sun

I told my spiritual director about the oppression I felt, and she noted that intimidation only works on those things you hold precious. As we explored the various circumstances where I had felt intimidated, I could see exactly what she meant. I opened the door to her and this realization swung it wide open. In the blaze, the fears have fizzled out, and I can move again. I’ve been avidly writing every day since.

Writing to you is precious to me. I marvel at how God meets me in it, feeding me, then taking it and feeding you, like miraculously feeding five thousand with two fish. His is not the way of stinginess, but the way of multiplication. His is not the way of oppression, but freedom. His is not the way of looming shadows, but of bracing light. Let’s all give our little fishes to Jesus to stretch them further than we ever thought possible—hopeful faithfulness begetting a feast of wonder in full sunlight.

 

Starting next week:

One of the things I explored in my summer class was the discipline of noticing. It’s a practice that I have found really opens my heart to encountering God. Just yesterday, after sending the boys to their school bus, I sat on the front stoop and stared at the dripping plants in our front garden. The water adhered to each in very distinct ways. I noticed how the growing things were all in arches and umbrels, no squares and straight lines. Their flexibility helped them bear the sudden weight of drops without breaking. Not only was it beautiful, but there was wisdom wrapped in the display decorated with water pearls. It encouraged me into flexibility for the day, rather than rigid accomplishment that often fractures under the pressure of unexpected changes. The day felt like a gift rather than a burden because I encountered God in this noticing.

This kind of gift exists in your everyday as well. I’m inviting you into a community exploration on Instagram of these gifts over the next few weeks. It doesn’t have to be long, deep, or fancy, just one thing you notice with a quick picture and however much you want to write about it. I’ll be posting a list at the beginning so we have a focus each day, but it’s open to whatever you notice and however you meet God. I will post the topics on IG in about a week, and thereafter anyone can join in with your posts on that topic with the hashtag #noticeGod and tagging me @writerkimberleymulder. So follow me on IG @writerkimberleymulder, and watch to join in! I will write more in my next post when I kick off this IG practice. I am so curious to see what God has waiting for us to feed our souls! Shalom to you!

Posted by k2mulder in Courage, 0 comments

Sabbath: A Foothold of Grace

The magnitude of our responsibilities and breadth of our busy-ness often leave us short of breath. I’ve heard recently that we make 35,000 decisions a day! (Thanks, Emily P. Freeman, for that astonishing tidbit!) I will not regale you with a list of how busy we all are, for you know your particulars. In scaling our mountains, we need footholds, niches in the immovable rock face, somewhere to pause, hot-faced and trembling for some deep oxygen before moving on. Our lives depend on it.

How better than to settle our lives on him on whom we depend? God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche. First the spaces, then us to fit our niche. In our arrogance, we cling to the mandate to rule over creation in Genesis 1:26, forgetting that in order to fulfill this mandate, God and his order of the world precedes us. We are placed within that order, not over it. We easily usurp God when we think we can do it all, or have to do it all. When God first made us, he didn’t make us slaves to scurry at his bidding with no rights or place to call our own. He made us to walk with him, in his created order, ruling with blessing as we image him. He didn’t say, “Now, go impress me with what you can accomplish!” He said, paraphrasing Genesis 2:15-17 and 3:8, “Tend this space, feast, and walk with me in the garden.”

God foreknew what we specifically would need to flourish, and intentionally created that for us. This extends beyond our spatial domain, the earth and geography, and includes the temporal domain. There are limits on the length of our lives, the length of our days, and he established in the created order the rhythm of six days of work, one day of rest. You could say that it is even part of his essence, certainly important enough for him to model for us. “The Sabbath was created for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV) The Sabbath is gift, made to bless us, but not be controlled by us. We are not God’s gift to rule over the Sabbath. When Jesus spoke these words, he was teaching the legalistic leaders that they were not honoring God with their strident Sabbath. As they controlled every possible outcome with their regulations, they made the Sabbath a jail rather than a spacious, life-giving space. There are people and churches today that do the same. If this is your experience, hear the invitation of Jesus to enter a restful Sabbath, one that delights you as you rest in his goodness. (I would love to hear from you if this is your experience and help you enter the gift of Sabbath.)

But most of us (in Western Christianity today), have the opposite problem of not knowing and valuing God’s established rhythm of life. In that Mark 2 passage, the Pharisees are upset that Jesus’ disciples gleaned a bit of grain as they passed through some fields, hungry from their travels. We are not gleaning out of hunger, but getting up at 5 a.m. to mount our combines and thresh every inch of wheat before the sun goes down again. This goes for our ministry, even. In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus is busy teaching, preaching, and healing. He talks to his disciples about the busy-ness of ministry. He doesn’t tell them to get moving and help him out, but to “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” His message honors their limits, establishes a deeper dependence on God, and invites others into the collaboration of working with God and each other. Many hands make light work! The creation of his kingdom mirrors the creation of the universe: God is the originator, we have space and a job to do within it that is limited, and those very limits engender a proper dependence and collaboration which results in multiplication!

When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.

Take comfort that in the exertion of your life, there are God-given footholds. The Sabbath is a temporal foothold where we rest our weight on God’s provision in deep trust. If you are not in the habit of taking Sabbaths, it can feel very scary indeed to push all the work to the other six days! But this is the first step in clearing our paths of gravel to find the solid rock underneath. The natural formations undergirding our lives are firm, we just aren’t used to walking on them. As we become more familiar with them, we find we are no longer trying to shape the rock, but we are able to work with it, trusting its support, and moving with greater ease.

This is just the beginning of a conversation, and I’d love to hear about your experiences with Sabbath, your questions, and to encourage each other not to make space for God, but honor the space he’s given us. What does that look like in your life? Leave your comments below!

If you’d like to go more in-depth, find examples of Sabbath, wrangle with the many questions that arise around it, I recommend these books:

Sabbath Keeping, by Lynne M. Baab

Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton (especially chapter 8 on Sabbath)

 

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Humility, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

How Do I Know God Loves Me, Personally? My Journey to Knowing I Am Loved

I bided my time as she squeezed me tightly to her, warmth rising at the closeness, and stared listlessly at the jumble of envelopes, scratched notes, and flyers askew on the counter, a lone pen lolling against the backsplash. Punctuating a smile on my face to meet her shining welcome as she released me back to my own presence, I felt relieved with the return of the little gulf that buoyed me to safety.

I keep to myself. It’s less awkward, less dramatic, and less demanding. I don’t feel immobilized like I do tight up in someone else’s power, even when it’s a loving power. Smothered is the word I used when I talked to myself or God. Intimacy seemed more like an oil slick spreading its sticky poison to blanket the sea’s life into suffocated death. And so I evaded, hid, sometimes flew but never far because, well, that’s just not the right way to respond to love, is it? The ebb and flow of what I was comfortable with licked at my heels, threatening to mire my feet. I could not give myself totally to the warmth, to the power, to the discomfort. It was just too much, and I was just too little.

feet running at waters edge for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Genevieve Dallaire on Unsplash

The safest place that was not too far nor too close, was near. I could share a room toiling on a project or reading a book, ensconced where I had only to look up to control my participation. I loved stories because I could feel it all, yet remain outside it. When my tears rose at the suffering of a favorite character or the sacrificial love of a good father, I could close the book. There they remained, at arms’ length where I could flip the page on tenderness, sliding it into place, staid on the page.

The same was true at church. I found God in a book. His character was intriguing, complex, and so right all the time! Every page I flipped gave me something new to consider, to follow, to do. I loved how I could select a passage and tie it to another and follow God’s thoughts. How loving of God to share his thoughts with me, in a book, no less! A book I could open at will—and close. God was delivered to me in such a manageable package.

Included in this package were lessons on how to view myself. I’d use these passages as a mirror, turning it to catch the right angle to see my reflection, but instead I saw a distortion. I knew I was good—I did good things all the time, in fact, I rather thought I was pretty good at being good. Yet the mirror consistently made me look like a freak with narrow, tiny eyes and a ballooned jaw. That didn’t seem like a caring gift from this know-it-all God! I figured I couldn’t find the right angle, and carried on assuredly. Of course God loved me, how could he not? I didn’t look like that weird reflection!

The package came with a brochure, provided by my church. Each page highlighted a people group: the remote hill tribe in a jungled Asian country, the veil of hijabs across the Middle East, the bundles of poor overflowing slums, the angry youth caught in the webbed blocks of large cities. The title of the brochure was—This is Who God Loves. None of them went to church with me. And if I loved God then I would go to whom he loves! Isn’t that why he tucked the brochure in and gave me a love of travel?

It wasn’t until many years later that I could identify the empty middle in this belief. I believed God’s love was always directed away from me, to those who need it more. My church knew little of God’s love, always passing the plate on piously, in false deference to those more needy, in essence saying, “We’re good, we don’t need it, here you take it, you need it.” It fit well with my evasive shyness and my gloried goodness. Like a boulder in a stream, I diverted love to either side, believing I did not need the water myself, that it would even be selfish to take what was meant for others. 

I took this package of God’s love in the suitcase of my heart to unpack and give away. Only, when I got there I discovered they were already fed. I was merely bringing more of the same. Even worse, my prepackaged meal of goodies did not satisfy even my own hunger. For too long I had snacked on candy, getting by. I needed a meal. So God starved me.

I think it is at the brink of realizing our great and real hunger for God that we often turn away because it is terrifying to see this massive canyon in our hearts and hear echoes of our inadequacy bounce from rock to rock. For a year and a half, I stood and paced that canyon, calling and calling. I tried my books, but they did not satisfy. I tried all the good things, prayer and song, but they tumbled like pebbles into the canyon. My spirit was a starving mountain goat while my body was a rebelling animal, unable to digest food and dropping weight as if it were water in a fall. Hunger was my constant companion and my greatest enemy. I did all the right things and they did nothing.

goat looking over canyon for www.kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Harry Burk on Unsplash

My salvation came slowly through the ministration of she who had always held me close. I could not push her away, for I needed her to hold me together. She literally bound my red, pulsing side every day, touching my pain with her tenderness. A mother now myself, I know her suffering was greater than my own. My fears of being stifled by love were unfounded. Her smile was authentically warm, she did not want to stifle me, she merely wanted to love me. In my weakness, I let myself be loved.

My uncle came and prayed with me, but not the endearing supplicant, hands folded, eyes cast down to the linoleum floor as he sat in the green sterilized faux-leather chair across the room. No, he stood, two feet planted as he leaned on my bed, his warm, broad hand on my chilled shoulder, and he told God how his heart broke to see me suffering, his tears manifesting the words in real drip time, and he asked God to break in and heal me.

Though nothing changed dramatically in my body that moment, my spirit calmed and realized that it had the power to enter that canyon and go find food. It was equipped with hooves and a nose that could snuffle out nourishment even in hard places. I began the descent, at last unlocked from the paralysis at the top of the impossible. I, that is my spiritual self, started to do that which I was made for, to go find that which I hungered for. No suitcase this time, no package in my hands, just the gnawing desire in the belly of my soul.

I almost settled for fodder in a barn on the way. For a time I ate at a church like the one I grew up in. It gave me the comfortable satisfaction of feeling full, but the longer I spent there, the more I realized the food was the same and sat in my stomach like a brick. I foraged further up the valley. Right on the river’s edge, I found a wild pasture of a church. There were some familiar plants but also new ones I had never tested. I was afraid I’d eat something that would make me sick, but I also felt satisfied and alive when I ate in that spacious place. The attraction of the semi-wild place eventually corralled me. My emaciated soul nibbled, then chewed, then feasted on abundant life.

Jesus was no longer good to follow, to strive after, instead he sat with me and became real to me, even in my errors, even in my pain, even in physical ways. He wrapped his arms around me and gave me an absolutely real experience of how much he loves me, personally. We are friends, and I can honestly say, no longer embarrassed or unsure, I love him and he loves me. 

My way in to intimacy with God was through hunger, a hunger greater than fear, just like my need for loving care had to be greater than my fear of being smothered. It was only upon entering in that I could see that I was loved, not trapped.

This was a trip that goodness could not make, for goodness relies on knowing what to do and how; it’s controlled and measured like a tour guide following an itinerary. As long as I followed the guide, I couldn’t make a wrong turn, I could always turn the page and find out what’s next. I didn’t realize that I was holding the wrong guide until I stood on the rim, dizzy with my deprivation. Not good enough to figure this out, to solve my hunger, I had to off-road my spirit. I had to embrace the unknown, the frightening, the hope that there was something for me at the bottom and enough to sustain me along the way. I didn’t know how to scale a canyon wall, but I would languish and die on the edge if I didn’t try. Hunger led the way, and love welcomed me to the feast.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Hunger, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

How to Unpack Your Burdens with Jesus

“Come to me, you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30

It is hard to receive these life-giving words into our hearts, despite our desperate “I want it!” Why?

There may be many reasons, but mine is most often an unwillingness to unpack my dirty underwear. Let me explain.

I am currently facing too many assignments, far more than I can accomplish in a day than is realistic even if I were not tired, and I am weary from weeks of responsibilities, challenges, and new things. I have deep problems to pray about that require time and attention and energy and intentionality—four things I feel I don’t have. But God does have these. And he is the one that called me into all these labors. So, it’s not that I am to ditch my backpack of calling, job, roles, and labors. All I can do at the moment is labor under it into God’s presence.

So I come, Jesus, I come as I am—overwhelmed, frustrated, tired, and dismayed. And before I confess the various sins that are apparent here, I simply sit with you in this morass, my backpack on but in your presence, for to wrest my burdens from me now would be an act of denial and unacceptance. I don’t want to be too quick to separate myself from something I have allowed to define me. I would only succeed in pretending the pack isn’t there. I’d simply be ignoring it like the so-called elephant in the room. So I sit with the weight of it on my back, acknowledging I’m carrying it.

You see me. You see my discomfort, the exhaustion in my posture, the sweat on the sides of my face and sticking in my hair. You see my desire to do what you’ve asked of me, you see that it is love that first moved me up this mountainside with a pack too heavy. You see my self-condemnation that I am worn out, and I am only at the base of the mountain, my disbelief that I will ever climb the entire thing. You see my worry that I will not figure out how to do this. You see my judgment of my insufficiency—and that that is actually a judgment of you. Now, I’m angry. Angry that you have not equipped me better, angry that you should demand so much of me, angry that there is a cost to my family and to my time spent doing things I like. There is fear that all ahead is dogged drudgery instead of the joy that first led me to take all this on. There is fear that the joy you’ve unearthed for me the last few years is now going to suffocate under a massive pile of responsibility and trial.

I’ve come to you and I’m unpacking my bag. I am not confessing or asking forgiveness—yet. That will come after I’ve unpacked the burden of these emotions and thoughts. They tumble helter skelter about me as I audaciously toss each crumpled emotion out of the pack like dirty underwear. You wanted me to come to you and unpack my burden? Well, here you go, the unedited, unpacked me.

And still you are there, unoffended, patient, watching me without incredulity or judgment or bated breath. You knew what I had packed in my bag. You knew I’d be at this point on my journey and you met me here. You aren’t looking away, embarrassed and uncomfortable. Rather, you are relieved, glad, welcoming. You get up from where you’ve been listening, reach for my hand with a smile, and invite me to keep walking.

“But what about my stuff? Aren’t we going to deal with that? Shouldn’t I pick it up?”

“No, leave it there. Let’s walk.”

Two people walking up hill

Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas from Pexels

 

Posted by k2mulder in Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

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.

Posted by k2mulder, 0 comments

Courage Amid Worries

Four a.m. is a sly hour. Sometimes I can slide past it in oblivion, other times it wakes in my sub-conscious as a bright new dawn, a photo-bomber of my picture perfect slumber. Last night, it shed its camouflage, and grinned widely at me, enjoying the time to toy with my mind. This is the hour that is raw; the vulnerable, naked time. It is as if all the swaddling comes off my psyche, and I’m left in the crib flailing and wailing (if awake), or completely at peace (if asleep). Honestly, this hour intimidates me.

Last night was one of those unpleasant rousings where the ugly thoughts come out to haunt and ridicule. At this time of night, I’m not laced into focus, my mind is not nimble, and the shrouding darkness leaves a perfect place for me to be ambushed. Unguarded, unfocused, and vulnerable, I am rather like an infant who cannot control herself, let alone protect herself.

For an hour in the dark, I ricocheted between what I call “worrying prayer” and brainstorming solutions. “Worrying prayer” is babbling all my thoughts, like a litany of desperation, without pause or presence. Essentially, I am bombarding God’s ear with my worry. He is gracious and allows me this, but I have learned that I cannot possibly receive an answer in this state. Have you ever tried to talk reason, or love, into someone wound up like a top in their worried spiraling? It’s like speaking to an infant who doesn’t talk yet. He or she really doesn’t have the capacity to take it in. Likewise, worry occupies all the available circuits to take in these words of comfort or guidance, so nothing can attach to brake the spiral.

I have taught my children to pray in these moments, to bend whatever power of thought they have toward the eternal light of Jesus’ love, to spend their minutes remembering and calling for his help. They have told me of numerous times that Jesus has come and settled them, even within nightmares. This is what I was attempting to do at four o’clock in the morning.

In between ricochets, I kept telling myself to remember that this is a vulnerable time for my spirit, that I have an enemy who wants to distract and dismay, and to recall what the Lord has been speaking to me regarding these things I’m worrying about. Essentially — Be still, Kimberley! Hold your plank! (See last week’s post about holding your plank to develop courage in stillness.)

As I spun around again and again, these internal reminders acted as a visual anchor to my spinning soul, like watching your parent standing patiently at the side of the spinning ride. Even though my mind continued its circuits, I knew peace awaited me. When the mental gyrations slowed enough for me to set foot on the solid ground of truth, I looked intensely for Jesus. I needed my woozy brain to lock into peace.

If you’ve ever gotten off a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, or any other spinning amusement park ride, you know that finding a focal point for your eyes will ease your head back to stability. As my whirling mind slowed and moved tentatively forward, I asked Jesus for a word, a feeling, something to help ground me and keep me from orbiting back out into anxiety.

Immediately, he gave me a picture. I saw him, not in great detail but definite in presence, stooping low to look me in the eye, motioning with his hand to keep my eyes locked on his. We were entering a narrow passageway in a cave.

I suffer a mild claustrophobia at times. I don’t like narrow caves. Once, in Colorado, I balked at one, almost returning to the surface and waiting for the others. But the guide told me its dimensions, and my husband and he would go before and after me, talking with me to keep me calm. Knowing the length made it manageable; knowing I had help made it possible. I did it, which helped me in future times when I faced a similar challenge.

To add exquisite depth to this story, the reason I was in this precarious state at four in the morning was because we are taking financial risks at the Lord’s leading. I am way outside my comfort zone. Our finances are tight, and likely getting tighter. Cave analogy, anyone?

Not only now for my sleep-addled brain high on adrenaline, but also for the time to come with its consequences regarding our daring choices and the looming “what-ifs”, Jesus gave me exactly what I needed: “Lock your eyes on me. I will lead you through this tight space.”

This is a word that is especially rich personally for the present moment, but its reverberations stretch into eternity. Not only is he speaking peace and courage into my present heart palpitations, but he comforts with the promise that as I follow him through these tight financial places at his bidding, like a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), my future is secure (Matthew 19:29).

If you, like me, are feeling the pull of a worry spiral, expend your energy on remembering who God is, what He has said to you personally, and focus all your attention on Him. When a moment settles, ask Him to fill it with His presence, a word, a picture, some grace to latch on to.

May you find the ground beneath you,

As you step off the worry-go-round,

Focused amid the trembling,

Sure, maybe not of your steps,

But of His care,

His purpose,

His Love,

Presence,

Peace.

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Courage, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Courage Gains Strength in Stillness

Nascent courage feels much like a sprig of hope, slenderly strong in the cold earth rising to the call of the white light above. Fragile, yet powerful, in its miniscule multiplication, cell upon cell of mitochondrial factories.

Scoff not at the small beginning. Trample not the greening of an idea under the solstice of God. He rises, like the sun, for just such a reason. He bends his power, as the sun sends its rays, to this greening earth to call forth these courageous beginnings.

Sometimes a seed lies long in the dark earth, then someone “happens” to kick a clod away, just enough to make the difference between dormant dream and lifting life. When hope has lain buried for long, in order for courage to rise and respond, our hope needs to be called forth. What draws us out of our sheltered shells is, most often, love.

Without love we will lack courage. So, if you are at a crossroads and struggling to be courageous, pause and consider whether you have lost your sense of belovedness. Consider whether you have been pushing forward out of duty rather than in response to love. Are you being led by love, or pushed by fear? When we push forward because we are afraid, we are reacting, not discerning; we are controlling and manipulating, not receiving and moving in peace. This is not courage; this is fear.

Courage is refusing to react to fearful circumstances with desperate action; instead, it is rooting action to burrow into love, scaring the fear away with tenacious trust.

Suppose that, if it could, the greening tendril sprouting from the mud should react to an onslaught of icy rain by moving, or quickly throwing a shelter over itself? It would die because it was no longer in the ground, nor getting the nourishing water. That onslaught, terrifying as it is, actually feeds it. When we react in fear, we could be refusing the very water our courage needs in order to grow.

Courage is bracing our hopes with Love. It is the action of choosing to be patiently still in the storm, attentively focused on the leading of He who loves us. Uncertainty could be your storm. Attack, need, conflict, or busyness could be your storm. Regardless of the nature of the storm you are in, refuse to be swept up in it, refuse to be tangled. Set your mind and heart on agreement with the Lord – which can only be love. Focus your attention, not on the solution to your particular dismay, but on the Lord’s love for you. Dig into it and stay there. From this courageous place, dug into Love, you will receive strength and understanding of what to do and when.

If you have ever held a plank exercise, you will understand the strengthening action of stillness. In this exercise, you have only your hands and toes on the floor supporting your body stretched as if it were a straight board head to toe over the floor. It requires, and develops, a great deal of active strength to hold this still pose for very long.

So, if you are weathering a storm around your just-sprouted hopes, hold your plank! Brace yourself! Be still, knowing God.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1-3,10 NIV)

For now, you will feel the pain of holding it, you will not notice the growth in your muscle of courage, but afterward, you will not be uprooted, you will be strong, focused, and courageous.

In my own life, I have had to do this repeatedly.

In my twenties, crisis pulled me out of the international ministry life I had just embarked upon. In the stillness of my sickness, I struggled to know God’s love in my experience. He was there, but the strain of spiritual and emotional endurance, like burning muscles, screamed for my attention and often drowned out the soft touches of love. When the assault of illness ended, I wobbled out with a weak, but healed, body, and a battered, but tenacious spirit. 

That was twenty years ago, this August. Two years before that (twenty-two years ago), I had followed Jesus out of my plans to be a musician and into his plans to put me in ministry. At the time, the shape of my ministry was teaching English in Ukraine. But after my illness, it dissolved and I could not see it. The clarity had shattered and melted into the ground where it nourished my life, but remained unseen. For twenty years I’ve known it rests there, but I’ve been unable to draw it to the surface into a solid shape.

Two years ago or so, after many efforts to draw this latent desire into life (out of fear that I had no purpose), Jesus drew me back into stillness – for a year! I dug into him, and held my plank. Unlike other times of waiting, this time was warm with joy, rich with experiences with Jesus, and had a sense of incubating new life. From it new ideas germinated from old loves that had lain buried so deeply that only the Lord knew where to find them.

Just like the plank exercise works on your core muscles, the stillness of this time developed a core courage upon which I am growing new strength. For the last year, I have looked many of my fears in the eye. Fears like, “Who cares if I write?” “I’m going to face critics; I don’t think I can.” “Am I jeopardizing my kids’ futures with the sacrifices my choices are making?” And on and on. Through many interactions, Jesus lead me forward against these fears. At one key point, I realized that I would eternally regret not trying. That was a decisive blow to many of my fears and cleared the path for me.

He is leading me into the impossible, which is another name for miraculous. That ministry which dissolved into the ground of my life twenty-two years ago, He is powerfully inviting forth with his sunshine, his call of love. And it’s not the shape of a singular plant, like I thought it would be. It is an entire field! From it, he is coaxing a writing ministry, a vocation, and one specific international opportunity.

In a month, my family of five will be going with a team from our church to central Asia to minister to ministers. There is a retreat for missionaries in central Asia where we will minister to the kids, while their parents’ spirits are encouraged and empowered in the adults’ sessions. This caring for the spirits of the “frontline” leaders is exactly what Jesus has called into life in my vocational field.

It is also an opportunity that we have prayed for, for twelve years! We adopted our oldest from this country and planned and prayed about taking her back when she was twelve to sixteen. Not only do we get to delve into her ethnic background and culture, but we get to invest in it!

To answer this call, we’ve had to exercise courage financially, by sacrificing, and by asking for help. Again, love leads us into this, and we ask that you listen to Jesus to see if He is asking you to help us with your donation and your prayers.

If so, please donate at gofundme.com using your credit card (this is not tax-deductible) or send checks (this is tax-deductible) to:

Vineyard Columbus

Attn: Jackie Williams, International Ministries

6000 Cooper Road

Westerville, OH 43081

Include a note (but not on the memo line): Mulders, Central Asia Trip.

I will be sharing here, on the blog, during the trip what God is doing, so be sure to check in for pictures and stories! We are so excited to see and be a part of what God is doing there! Thank you for being a part of our little story.

In what areas do you want to “hold your plank”, maintaining a stillness locked into God’s love? How has love called you into something scary and how are you responding? Have you been courageous because of love? Share your stories in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Courage, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Moses: A Lesson in Humility

When I asked my daughter what “humility” meant to her, she said “It’s when you fart in class!”

via GIPHY

Like her, I think many people confuse humility with humiliation. But humility is something you practice voluntarily. Humiliation is often something done to you, a deeply embarrassing event, not an attitude. Humility is a result of grace, whereas humiliation is a result of shaming.

Take a look at the Old Testament with me. It is peppered with exhortations like these:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9 (NIV)

Humility, in the Old Testament, was always in reference to people’s attitude toward God. It was always voluntary. And it was always the path to true confidence. In Numbers 12:3-8 we get a description of Moses that demonstrates this truth.

Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth. God broke in suddenly on Moses and Aaron and Miriam saying, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” The three went out. God descended in a Pillar of Cloud and stood at the entrance to the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam to him. When they stepped out, he said,

Listen carefully to what I’m telling you.
    If there is a prophet of God among you,
I make myself known to him in visions,
    I speak to him in dreams.
But I don’t do it that way with my servant Moses;
    he has the run of my entire house;
I speak to him intimately, in person,
    in plain talk without riddles:
    He ponders the very form of God. (MSG)

Is that not the very picture of confidence? He has the run of God’s house and speaks intimately with God, all because he was a quietly humble man!

Was he always humble? He certainly hated injustice like God, and killed a man in his zeal! Was that humility in action? No. Rather, it was pride in his rightness and authority to make someone pay. But he realized it, and humbled himself as he ran far out into the desert. I wonder how much of that run was fueled by self-condemnation. Was every day of those forty years in the hot, sunny desert clouded by shame and self-condemnation? Possibly. For when God met him in the burning bush, we find a man so low in his own esteem that He doubts the power of God.

When God calls Moses, he answered, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 MSG), and “Moses objected, “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘God? Appear to him? Hardly!’” (Exodus 4:1 MSG)

This is the hidden danger in humility. We slide out the other side into humiliating ourselves with our self-condemnation. We sink into doubt – since I see myself so poorly, surely God must hate me, distrust me, not love me. We humiliate our Father with our mock humility, making him out to be a silly old fool for doting on us.  

But God fixed the hole in Moses’s soul by not letting him out of his call and by focusing Moses’s attention on who He was. He repeatedly called Moses to enlarge His view and understanding of who He, the great “I AM”, was. God didn’t answer Moses’s self-doubt with “this is who you are,” but with “I AM”.

The more Moses focused his attention on God and held him in awe, and the more Moses walked out God’s call, the more truly humble he became. He walked confidently into potentially enormously humiliating situations. Surprisingly, humility led to courageous action.

Humility is a stance of worshipping stillness before God, realizing our small creature-liness before His infinite divinity. It is the guide into both intimate sanctuary and courageous kingdom action.

Do you need courage to do something God’s called you to? Do you need courage to ask forgiveness or reconcile with someone? Do you need courage to face an enemy? You will find it in humility. Worship God and He will give you courage.

May you enter the gate of humility and discover the wonderful significance He gives you. May the fence be mended in your life to keep you settled in humility and not fall into self-condemnation. May you leave through the gate of humility, confident in what He’s called you to do.

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Humility, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments