life

Beloved in Grief and Disappointment

I am so glad to host Kristen Leigh Kludt on the blog this week. She wrote A Good Way Through, which I have on my resource page as a book that helps you find God in disappointment and gives guidance on practices that are helpful during that time. Be sure to check her offer for you to get a discount on her Field Guides for the Way at the end of the post!

Without further ado, here are her words about finding God’s love in the midst of facing disappointment and disillusionment in the midst of infertility.


Grief in the unknown: It is baffling. How do you grieve the loss of something that never was? I had so much need in that time, so much pain I couldn’t contain. Many days, I just didn’t want to be the sad one. People were careful around me, and I needed them to be, but their being careful didn’t help the pain. My pain was obvious, no matter how I masked it, no matter how high the walls I built around my heart. Even when I smiled, my eyes were glassy, empty. I was ragged, broken, trying to keep it together enough to be appropriate in public, then screaming silently behind closed doors. How else could I function? We have to go on at times like that. There is no choice. So I danced back and forth between grief and pretending. I let out enough pain often enough that it did not consume me completely, and I faked it the rest of the time.

Where was God in all of this? In my heart, God was distant, angry. I assumed God was disappointed with me and maybe didn’t love me much. In reality, I was the distant, angry one—distant, often, even from my own emotions. How could the God I loved let this happen to me? Was I just not worthy of having something to love?

These questions intensified in our months of infertility, but they were not new to me. I first remember questioning God’s love for me in high school.

Behind my childhood home there was a silver maple, five stories high, with branches that wrapped around the house and hugged my room on two sides. Outside my bedroom window was the roof of the downstairs porch, and I used to climb out onto the roof at night, just to sit under my tree, to watch the wind in its branches. I cried, sang, prayed, and dreamed under that tree. In the minutes before a coming storm, I heard the voice of God in that tree, singing anticipation in its branches, silver leaves shimmering in the wind, whipping through the air like my hair on a windy day.

I felt close to God as a child. I prayed a lot and read my Bible. My belief ran deep; faith in Jesus was the ground I walked on. I believed God was good and Jesus died for me to save me from my brokenness. I worked hard to live up to that gift. I was kind to kids who others disliked. I gave 10 percent of my allowance to church. In high school, I met every week with a mentor, and I took summer trips with the youth group. I discovered the power of musical worship in a new way. I loved my God and the life I lived.

When I was a senior in high school, in the month before my first experience of depression, my beautiful silver maple started to split down the middle. It was a windy summer, and I had to sleep downstairs on a mattress in the family room for a few nights before the tree was taken down, in case it fell on the house.

Men came. First, they stripped the tree of its branches. It became a naked lopsided trunk. Piles of limp silver-leaved limbs littered the yard. My beautiful tree, provider of summer shade, creator of golden drifts to run and play and hide in during autumn, the screen through which I looked down upon the white winter world, was now bare, its majesty lost to a couple of men with a chainsaw.

The sky behind my parents’ house still doesn’t look right to me.

What do we do when the symbols of God-in-this-world are stripped away?

There were other precipitating factors, but the loss of that tree sparked my first downward spiral. I had my first panic attack.  I didn’t eat well. I wanted my body to mirror what was happening in my heart—to feel sick, lusterless. My mom cared for me well, talking me through my first panic attack and making me rice with butter when I wouldn’t eat anything else. She trusted, through what I now know was plenty of fear in her own heart, that I would come out of it, and I did. I made new friends, tried new things, and found God and myself in new ways. I grew up a little.

In adulthood it was harder, more complicated. My mom was now two thousand miles away. From the outside, I looked much the same, but inside something was different. My self-talk turned cruel. How could you do that? Why did you say that? That was so stupid. I would never speak to another human being in that judgmental, degrading way. In my deepest heart, a part of me believed this was God’s voice, and God was angry with me because I wasn’t good enough.

I had two strategies to escape the self-talk: I napped a lot, and I kept moving, filling my life with people and activity. I hid from the fear of what was happening in my own heart. I could only hide for so long.

I started therapy. It helped, though it was awkward at first. I wasn’t sure what to do, and Dr. L. didn’t ask a lot of questions, so I just talked a lot and tried not to feel weird. As she got to know me, she said a few things and asked a few questions. She would say, “Wow, your god sounds really angry and hard to please.” I would say, “No, he isn’t!” but then I started to realize my god was angry, and I was serving a god who I would never profess I believed in. The God I wanted to serve and thought I knew was infinitely more patient and gracious and loving than the one I was serving.

People asked if I was angry with God because of my infertility. I wasn’t. That would have been healthier. Instead, I was terrified of God. I was certain God was angry with me. I felt abandoned, unseen, unworthy, and unwanted. I was looking first at myself and then at people around me to figure out who God was. Now I try my best to reverse the order, and look to what I know about God to try to understand myself and other people.

After my first session I brainstormed in my journal ideas for “homework”—what could I do to live differently after realizing some new things about myself? How could I practice a new way of being? My list of ideas was hazy, mostly having to do with trying harder not to try so hard to be so composed all the time, to act and look and be so darned competent and responsible.

It took a few more months before I stumbled into a much better, more concrete practice: field trips. For four months, every Saturday afternoon I went on a field trip. The only rules were that I went by myself and invited God along.

It’s hard to describe how hard this was for me. The person I was least at ease with was myself. Perhaps it was not myself, but this projection of God that I had created based on my deepest fears and hurts. In this moment of desperation, I decided that in order to learn to like myself, I was going to have to hang out with myself. In order to be less afraid of God, I would have to be alone with God.

I began tentative and became joyful. I took myself out for tea a few times and brought books or my watercolor paint set. I tried to be kind to myself. I walked in the Huntington Gardens and remembered that I love to be outside under big trees. I started to look forward to these trips.

Time passed. I came to a place where I could sometimes be happy and I liked myself a little bit. I became less afraid of my own darkness. I didn’t exactly hear from God, but the anger I had perceived from God began to dissipate. I started to believe there was something else surrounding me instead.

Maybe it was love.

Discovering my belovedness required two disparate movements. First, there was an inward movement, a deep dive into my own darkness. I needed to be alone with God in my most tender places and discover I was OK. I needed to find a source of joy within my own heart.

Second, was an outward movement toward other people. In reaction to a broken friendship, I had retreated almost completely. I had put walls between my heart and everyone around me except for Dave. His friendship was enough for a little while, but now I needed to find a measured path toward openness and vulnerability. When I experienced my belovedness alone, I could then experience it more deeply with other people. Out of a growing assurance that I was loved, I could let other people in.


“Excerpt from A Good Way Through by Kristen Leigh Kludt, ©2017. Used by permission.”

Field Guides for the Way, www.fieldguidesfortheway.com

Field Guides for the Way

Kristen now creates Field Guides for your own creative field trips with God. 

Journey deeper into God’s love with spiritual practice kits delivered to your home. Explore, discover, create, and remember you are Beloved. 

Field Guides for the Way offer the intentionality and practice of a contemplative retreat woven into your everyday life. Each beautifully curated kit contains invitations and supplies for a journey deeper into your relationship with God, your own heart, and your life.

As a special offer for you, Kristen is offering 10% off your entire order (enter MULDER10 at checkout)! Purchase by next Saturday, March 2. For more on what the field guides are and to order, click here: Field Guides for the Way.

http://www.kristenleighkludt.com/

Kristen Leigh Kludt

Kristen Leigh Kludt is a writer, speaker, and contemplative adventurer. Creator of Field Guides for the Way and author of A Good Way Through, Kristen is a gifted story-teller and teacher. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love and invites others to do the same. She is a member of The Chapter and serves on the board for ReIMAGINE, a Center for Integral Christian Practice. She lives, works, and plays in San Francisco’s East Bay with her husband and two young sons.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Guest Posts, 0 comments

New Year, New Website, New Offerings

Welcome to the new year and a new space here on the internet! I’ve crafted this new website to better reflect my heart, which is to serve your soul’s needs as you serve in Jesus’ name all around the world. As you can see, I’ve changed the name of my site to www.kimberleymulder.com (which was always the address) and encapsulated my intent in the tagline “Sustaining your soul as you serve.”

Everything I do here is a companioning with God and you so that you are more deeply rooted in Jesus. The deeper and better connected we are with the creator, lover, and sustainer of our lives, the more steady, effective, and broad is our reach as we live authentic, missional lives. Jesus says in John 10:10 that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Too many followers of Christ suffer a full (busy) life that is poor in peace, hope, and joy. But Jesus truly desires us to live abundant, satisfying lives with him. Join me as we make space together to unwrap the gift of our abundant lives and learn how to live them as he leads.

You will see that I have three main sections: Sip, Steep, and Strengthen. “Sip” is where I write mini-reflections, share insights and other soul-sustaining thoughts. These are posted almost daily on Instagram and Facebook. Follow me there to take your daily sips.

Then in “Steep” I am continuing my blog posts because the overwhelming response I got from the survey earlier this month (thank you so much for doing that!) was that you want them. This is where I offer longer forays into inspirations, meditations, and ideas. I will often teach or give examples and guidance on practices that will help your spirit grow. A few things converged for me in discerning how many posts to offer a month. The first is that the Lord has been impressing on me to collaborate with others. The second is that you, my readers, are evenly split between wanting weekly and monthly posts. And lastly, I’m still in seminary, and need time to delve into the next part of what I will be offering all of you (more on that in a moment). So, the second Saturday of each month I will be posting my own posts, and the fourth Saturday of each month I will have a guest blogger for you! These are people who have written books, have ministries, and are also passionate about keeping you, the body of Christ, healthy and connected with the head, Jesus. Next week, coinciding with the giveaway I’m doing as I unveil this new space, we have Michelle DeRusha who just released, on January 1, her book True You: Letting Your False Self Go to Uncover the Person God Created

That brings me to the giveaway! I will be opening it on Thursday, January 24 and will draw the winner on Thursday, January 31. To enter, follow me on Instagram or Facebook and watch for the posts that week. The directions will be there. It has an “Oregon” theme because I go to Portland Seminary, Michelle was inspired for the metaphor that structures her book by the Japanese maple tree at the Portland Japanese Garden, and I contribute to www.anchoredvoices.com which is mostly made up of contributors from Oregon. The giveaway includes a copy of Michelle’s book, True You, a blue leather-bound journal, and a bar of “Crater Lake” handmade natural soap with essential oils from www.elementtoiletryco.com which is my fellow blogger’s company.

Back to my new website offerings: I’ve added a Resource page on which I share devotionals, books, podcasts, and other helpful material for your spiritual formation. I will add more as I continue to learn more so check back every so often for your next step on this journey with Jesus!

Lastly, my section called “Strengthen” is not up and running yet. You all were clear on the next thing you’d like to receive from me, and that’s guided meditations. As I’ve prayed and considered how best to do this, it seems that a podcast is the best way, so I’ve been diving deep into how to do that and what shape that will take. I would love to have that up by the end of February, although I suspect that might be a tad bit ambitious! I will keep you all in the loop on the progress, so keep on the lookout for it. I am excited to do this!

For the next seven months I will focus all of the posts and podcasts (when I get them up and running) on the following themes:

February — Beloved

March — Making Space for God

April — Savor

May — Linger

June through July — Series on Hearing God

I pray that you will find these changes helpful to root and strengthen your relationship with Jesus, and that you will find your service and ministry is focused and effective. As always, I love to hear from you, how God is touching you and those you serve, and for any ways I could help sustain your soul—just email me at kimberley@kimberleymulder.com. Grace and peace to you all in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Kimberley

Posted by k2mulder in Giveaways, New Website, 0 comments

Still Life for Christmas

As I sit, still, in the curated Christmas décor of my living room, I see in the imperceptibly shifting sunbeam, the motionless candle-powered nativity carousel. Like me, it is locked in still life. In a week, it will be spinning above the flicker of flame, Mary always flowing backward round the center pillar, with Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men chasing her forward, Jesus sleeping blissfully in the middle. Likewise, I will be flitting around the kitchen trying to turn back time to get all the baking done, while my kids chase each other from activity to activity, my husband blissfully enamored with his game on his first day off of work. 

Christmas Carousel for "Still Life at Christmas" for kimberleymulder.com

Christmas Carousel by Kimberley Mulder

In my still life today I consider the stillness. I revel in it and welcome it, especially after the full weeks preceding.

Still life paintings have always repelled and attracted me. In one sense they seem futile—why capture a bowl of fruit on canvas for ages to come? Was the fruit so special it deserved a legacy beyond its ripe lifetime? What message is there in such common things?

What an oxymoron—“still” “life”! Life is, by definition, not still. It is characterized by growth, activity, and change.

In another sense still life artwork captures, and creates, a beauty otherwise missed. We can enter, at any time, a glad contemplation of these exquisite momentary gifts. Their legacy, born of stillness, is the growth of wonder and gratitude, of seeing the world a different way.

On the wall to my left is another nativity scene, inanimate in its painted composition, but it elicits in me wonder and gratitude, focusing me when I am still enough to look at it—to enter it. Frequently it is in stillness that we can find life.

 “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Cody F. Miller's "Birth of Jesus" for "Still Life at Christmas" blog at kimberleymulder.com

Picture of Cody F. Miller’s “Birth of Jesus”

The flurry of our efforts can bring us closer to death, to stillness. When we carelessly rush about, trying to make things happen without considering their purpose, their toll, their role in our lives, we will fray. Our physical bodies will tell us in its relentless mental fog, high blood pressure, aching muscles, headaches, anxious sleeplessness, and more. This psalm was written most likely in the midst of war, in the midst of trying to save themselves from attack, and in the middle of that, he says: “Be still.”

Is your December feeling more like a preparation for a battalion to go to war with all the logistics of schedules, provisions, and preparedness? Is your body trying to get your attention? Is God?

“Be still.”

Your life, body and soul, depend on it.

Be still in God. He’s got this. Like in the psalm, it’s his actions that protect us, provide for us. He wants to be with us. And isn’t that what Christmas is about? Emmanuel—God with us, infusing our lives with the rejuvenating stillness of being together, of faith. The legacy of the still life of our fruit bowl of the soul is a rioting, wild world around us slowly taking notice, as the exquisite characteristics of our still lives in the spirit catch their eyes. And then the rest of verse 10 erupts: “I will be exalted in the earth,” as wonder at our solid faith draws people into their own still and solid lives with Emmanuel.

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Let There Be Light

Light’s radiance—there is a core from which it comes, its spreading brilliance splaying on anything or anyone.

The visible spectrum rays touch the surface of things, irrespective of what they fall on to. But the invisible ultraviolet rays penetrate into the darkness underneath, into walls and bodies, dense and hidden innards.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by the power of his word.” Hebrews 1:3

Patterns of Light from "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this winter season of darkness, of waiting for Christmas where we don’t see fully yet, may we take notice of the light of Jesus speckling our lives with patterns of grace. And may we be aware that this is just the surface—his radiance glows deep into our hearts and souls, cauterizing wounds, warming cold hearts, and radiating the good work of sustaining his grace in your life.

Let the light catch your eye and hold your attention for a few moments. Whether the shifting glow of sunrise on bare branches, a shimmer off the shiver of ice upon wending water, a brilliant gloss carpeting indiscriminately, a mute radiance of smoky clouds—pause to take it in, let it filter into your soul.

Engage in purposeful pause—a silent staring into a flame can draw your mind into a spacious place. A space to let your shoulders shift back down, your breath draw in with grace, and your creased brow to soften, where your spirit can flicker forth at last to dance.

Advent Candle for "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com

Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this season of muchness, find a flame to focus on, and dial down to let your spirit speak. The season, and life in general, is so much richer and enjoyable when we engage with our whole being.

There is light.

It is here.

For you.

Enjoy.

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, 0 comments

Why should a Christian practice “being present”?

For some Christians, practicing being present sounds too other religion-y, too “out-there”, too vague. To Christians who love the “go” of the gospel, who find purpose in a mission, and joy in activity, being told to “be present” is too inactive, even a trap of the devil to stop the forward motion of the kingdom. Aren’t we supposed to be looking forward to Jesus’ coming and the full expression of his kingdom? Yes, we are. Aren’t we supposed to turn from our old selves? Yes, we are. But these are not the only aspects of following Jesus. We follow him today, too.

So, why is it important for a Christian to be present? And what does it mean?

First, although God spoke the Bible into being in the past, His word is alive and active today. He has also embedded every “today” with his presence. In Hebrews 4:7, 9-12a, it says:

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,…

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish… For the word of God is alive and active.

When you read a certain passage and it strikes you as especially pertaining to you in the moment, that is the Holy Spirit speaking today.

To those who are compelled to go and tell, do and act, it is important to recognize daily that Jesus does not only live in the future of heaven, but in today. Let that future inform the present, but not take its place. In our eager anticipation, let us not gloss over the realities of today.

Second, our creating, life-giving God is making today and gifting it to us who live in it. He has purposes for it and for us. God speaks in Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

All time is in his hands, for he made it. In Isaiah 46:10 he says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Yes, he has created us for eternal life and called us into His promises, but He is giving us life today to live that out now.

Third, to be present means three things for a Christian:

1) to be attentive to God in the moment,

2) that we are called to be his disciples today, not living nostalgically for a real or imagined past, or living with disdain for today because we think the future is the only place we will find happiness and fulfillment,

3) that we are able to attend and minister to others without our own thoughts and concerns taking precedent.

The biggest difference between the practice of being present within other spiritual traditions and Christianity is that a Christian is seeking and experiencing God in the moment as His beloved creation. We are listening to God in the moment.

Jesus left heaven with its lack of time, to enter our here and now at a very specific time. He did not live longing for the past, or ignoring the importance of today because of the future. He lived in Mary’s now, and Joseph’s now, and Peter’s now. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our present help in the todays that followed in which we now live. In John 14:26 He says, “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.”

I will elaborate in another post how practicing being present helps Christians minister to others. For now, may I merely point out that when we are present with God regularly, our worries and preoccupations dim because we are able to leave them in his hands, thus making more compassionate space within ourselves to minister to others.


Now, I am by no means an expert on other religions, but I wanted to make an effort to point out some important lessons we can learn from others who practice presence far more frequently, as well as some fundamental differences.

In yoga, it is an exercise, a practice, meant to waken you to yourself on the way to perfection. While Christians do not share the same belief that self-awareness will make us perfect, there are some lessons we can take from yoga. For example, “Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgment or expectation.”

This stance of listening without judging or expectation is necessary for Christians too. Jesus listened deeply, and he did not cast judgment, reserving that for the Father when He deems the time right. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:17.

While Zen Buddhism recognizes that we are limited beings, it denies God, certainly a personal, loving God. But it does recognize that the problem lies within us. Christians go further and name it sinfulness.

“It’s how our mind handles those external forces [like interruptions, conflict, pressure and chaos] that is the problem.”

This is true. We try to solve things on our own, without God. No matter how brilliant we are intellectually, how emotionally intelligent, we are still sinful, including Christians, so our natural bent is toward broken, independent-of-God solutions.

Practicing being present, which really puts us in touch with the experience of being a creation and beloved at the same time, helps us to humbly accept this again, and find God in the here and now.

In Buddhism of a more general nature, practicing being present is a way to be released from suffering, from the attachments we make with our expectations and desires. Ultimately, Buddhists deny any permanent, essential soul and self, so practicing presence is a way of losing those attachments that create the illusion of self. This is very different from why a Christian practices presence!

Christians recognize the permanent eternity of our souls, that God created each and every unique one, and when we are present we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is much like paying close attention, so close that we forget our own concerns and preoccupations, to a dear friend.

To those who acknowledge the inspired word of God, the historical humanity of Jesus’ divinity on earth, and base their lives on God’s past actions and the promise of His future actions, it is important to be open to His presence and action in today.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Being Present, Spiritual Formation, 1 comment

On Being Present Today (When You’d Rather Be in Yesterday or Tomorrow)

I am currently in a temporal vortex of sorts having just returned from a fantastic, fulfilling mission trip that lingers in my happy memories and draws me back from today, yet driven forward by the hope and plans of the future that require a time investment today. So here I sit in the heart of the year, in the heat of today sandwiched between two mountains gazing at their tantalizingly cold and clear summits. In the hazy swirl of the valley lies my today, the heavy traffic of an eight-member household, a job, hobbies, and responsibilities all bustling about me, confusing me with their incessant demands to decide now, today, on this and that. Like a helium balloon that cannot but rise because of the nature of the gas inside, my spirit rises above the smog and noise of today to those summits behind and before me.

How can I tether my spirit to today? How can I keep my attention on these busy, tiring, immediate moments in this six-week long valley when I just want to escape into the summit of yesterday or run headlong into the trails of tomorrow? How can I even enjoy being present now when I find today taxing, boring, unpleasant, and tedious? I even ask why must I?

The simple reason is that Jesus is in today. He made today; he gave it to me and to you, and he weaves his love and purposes into it, especially into its unwelcome circumstances. He does not flee the difficult, the despairing, the darkest of days. He does not live like a hermit on mountaintops. He lives now in whatever rain or sun, haze or clarity, storm or serenity surrounds us. Jesus holds my ballooning spirit in the here and now.

Jesus grounds me. He keeps me present even as he calls me forward into his promises and plans, even as I remember with nostalgia his bold presence in the past.

If you find it hard to wrest yourself free of a happy past to face the trials in today, or you are looking forward in anticipation to a hopeful tomorrow, entrust those times to God, and look for Jesus today. He is “I am”. He is holding you today. He is speaking today. He is present today. And he wants you to be present, too. As you pay attention to him in the moment you will find that He has grace for you today. He has guidance for you today. He has love for you today. He has purpose for you today.

When I stopped lingering my gaze on the mountaintops, I found Jesus ready to help me navigate an intense conflict, I found him urging me to pray with someone, I found him bringing joy into simple things around me, I found grace for my fatigue, I found wonder in his word.

My present circumstances require grace, focus, lots of decision-making small and large, and they easily tire me because they require my weaker skill sets. Even in this, I can base my day on the promise that in my weakness, he is strong.

In my weakness, I want to escape, float off into the past or the future, but His strong hand holds me here as He walks me through each day, aided and anchored, until I have traversed these busy streets into the quieter mountain trails foreseeable in my future adventures.

So, if you, like me, are finding your present days arduous, are tempted to mentally stay in the pleasant past, or are eagerly anticipating a future that dulls your today, join me this month as we focus on being present in the present to God and to others. Let’s discover the gift of Jesus in our todays together.

Here on the blog each week I’ll be putting up another post on being present, so be sure to look for those. You can also follow me on Instagram for more frequent, shorter encouragements and thoughts at @writerkimberleymulder. I share my posts, thoughts, and those of others on my page on Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter.

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

Humility Brings Abundance

Abundant life comes, paradoxically, through humility, not through “to do” lists. Among other descriptions, humility is realizing and accepting you can’t do it all. It is simply recognizing that you are a created being under God, that God is great and giving. It is not putting yourself down, or being a doormat for others. Most picture humility as a person kneeling and bowing, which is something we do only to those in great authority. Thus, we are focusing on who, not what or how, when we practice humility. As we bow to God and not our accomplishments, He gives us life.

This morning I had the familiar feeling of indecision and forgetfulness that leads me to write down all I need to tackle today. The list, of course, is enough to fill three days minimum. With each scribble, my heart nestled more tightly into the cushions of denial, while my adrenalized mind spun into superwoman orbit tightly circling the tasks that peopled my day. But I have enough experience with my ways to know that this dichotomy would only split me into a frazzled, frustrated, commando by the end of the day, if not sooner!

Instead, I heeded the nudge in my spirit, the desire that drew me out into the sunshine away from the glaring white light of my “to do” list. In order to make enough space to experience God’s presence, I had to leave the couch, the house, the computer, and enter the world. As I did so, I simply enjoyed being outside. I enjoyed the chirping chickadee, my skittering, flamboyant dog, the brisk breeze frying my ears with freeze, the blue backdrop and the white steady sunshine. My heart came out to play then. And to play gladly with it, came the presence of God.

Soon creative ideas danced in my mind, the agenda left behind. A basketball hoop made by “Goaliath” connected me to the idea that David didn’t kill the mighty giant, Goliath, with a “to do” list. He didn’t map out: “I’m going to kill a giant someday, so I need to train myself how to shoot a slingshot perfectly accurately, accommodating for distance and wind speed and the height of the sun.” He didn’t set for himself a schedule of practice sets to accomplish each day, enter competitions, or master the calculations required for making such a hit. He didn’t focus on the accomplishment, which is what “to do” lists do. He focused on the “who”. And not the “who” that was humiliating the Israelites – Goliath, but the “who” that was filling David with courage. David knew that only God was worthy of kneeling down to, in humility. He knew Goliath was not worthy of that. And because David was in the habit of bowing to God, he could overcome the impossible.

So, without having mastered a program on how to take down giants, God inspired his willing, brave heart at just the right time (God calculated the wind speed, sun’s zenith, and distance) with just the right tool (God provided the right stone and used David’s familiarity with the slingshot) to accomplish the impossible. This is what happens when we humble ourselves before God.

I am entering a season in answer to the call of God that is bound to be impossible. I am not slaying giants, but if I were to write out a “to do” list for the next year, I would hibernate with my heart in a safe cocoon hoping the giants will pass without noticing me. He’s asked me to do big things. They require a great deal of faith. I cannot do these things by way of an agenda. The only way will be to continually humble myself, confessing my inability to do it all, pressing into His presence and not into my abilities. He gives us more than we can handle. He does this so that we will honor him and demonstrate his loving might.

How do we stand up courageously under the towering giant of “too much”? By bending down in humility, picking up a stone of remembrance, standing in the courage born of knowing that God is far stronger than the giant, stringing our slingshots with the tension of faith, and letting fly the weapon of the Word that admits I am not enough, but God is. This is the promise:

“God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

I’ll take you back into the day I wrote this post because it illustrates in microcosm what God does on a macro level with our lives.

Instead of dragging myself from task to task, I found that I was filled with energy and joy. What had looked hard became easy. The indecision went away, I had space to be creative (something I thought would have to wait for another day), and I accomplished everything but one on my list that I had thought would take three days. In addition, I did a few extra things. The even more marvelous part was that I did it with a deep sense of God’s presence and accompaniment and strengthening.

I will be honest, this does not always happen, for there are days that do drag and are difficult, and I don’t have a sense of God’s presence, even after humbling myself and meeting with Him. My spirit feels lean and hungry then, so I (try to) lean into the promise that “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3) The abundance promised here is not felt yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The challenge here is not to try to fill my hungry spirit with accomplishments, but to carry on waiting in humility.

Then God shows up big, like he did the day I wrote this, and as I experience the fullness of his presence I am empowered in my tasks. I get a taste of heaven, and I am humbled all the more into joyful awe that today, in my life, his will was done on earth as it is in heaven.

He’s arranged it so that our small days are filled with promise, with provision, with Him. Whether it’s a day that you taste heaven or a day that you hunger for it, the more we recognize our inabilities and stand courageous in His abilities, the more we will be full of hope and peace and joy. Our interior worlds will not be constrained by worry, or “to do” lists, rather, they will be full and spacious. An abundant life is not something achieved; it is given.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Humility, 0 comments

A Child Again

 

I propose that within every adult is a desire to be a child again. What is more, that desire is not something to hide or ignore, rather, it is the very desire that leads us to live fully, that gives us access to Life – our Father.

Take a look at what gives you delight (and if you aren’t sure anymore, then dig into this question and find it back!). Is it hanging out with people you care about? Is it being silly and playing games? Or perhaps it is getting wrapped up in a good story, or exploring, or discovering something new. Don’t you feel alive then, so much so that you’ve likely lost your self-consciousness? You are wrapped up in the fun and wonder of it, the clock no longer exists, and the “shoulds” and “have-to’s” have lost their hold on you.

Ironically, it was during the years of my children being very little that I lost my desire to be a child. I still had it, I just couldn’t find it. I remember hearing from other mothers how having children gave them an excuse to play and be like a child – they were fulfilled and glowing with their role. I, on the other hand, found it very difficult to play with the kids. I have since learned that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be as a child, I just take delight in other things – many of which are difficult to do with very young kids. The few that I could do with them I dove into almost with a fearful tenacity, as if my life depended on it.

I didn’t realize it then, but it did.

Those delights kept me sure of my good Father, kept me connected, kept me comforted in an otherwise dull and difficult season. A mom of young kids easily becomes overwhelmed with all the nitty gritty care of these wee ones – it is a laundry list of “shoulds” and “musts” that easily drowns the exhausted spirit not buoyed by surety that someone good and loving and greater than her is caring for her.

When we do the things that make us feel a child again, we often feel that someone good and loving and greater than us is caring for us.

Because we don’t know this, or we don’t like it, we hide or ignore our desire to be as a child. In so doing, we hide or ignore our Father, our greatest caregiver and chance of living fully.

You may have heard the oft-quoted idea that everyone was created with a God-shaped hole in them that only God can fill. Jesus was describing this idea in John 7:37-39:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit…

“From within them” is from the Greek word koilia which means belly, stomach, womb and, by extension, means feelings and emotions. It is an empty place meant to be filled. It is the spiritual place from which comes hunger and thirst, and into which is poured grace and love so that we can birth the same. Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable; in other words, by God himself. (VII(425))

When you come to Jesus as a child, he fills this craving hole. No matter how old we are, we are still God’s children. It is a fundamental part of our identity. He made us to be dependent on Him, to receive His care, and enjoy being with Him.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13

The things that help you be as a child are access points to your Father.

What helped me out of my difficult season was rediscovering childlike delight. Things like cross-country skiing, reading The Lord of the Rings, exploring a new park. As I did those things I would always receive a sense that my Father was there with me, enjoying these things with me. Sometimes that sense was overwhelming and I would weep. There is a tree in the park I ski in that has witnessed many times of tears of wonder and gratitude. Slowly, but surely, through these good, delightful, childlike things, I was warmed and reassured of my Father’s care until it was no longer a rare feeling or a struggling belief.

Had I not done those things and continued determinedly on in my very great responsibilities I would have drifted further and further from the experience and knowledge of my Father’s care – not that it would have actually been gone, but I would not have known it, and I would have remained desperately hungry. And when we are desperately hungry, but do not take action to get the nourishing food, we will eat anything; we will become indiscriminate and selfish in our “hangry” state. It is here that the world lives, sadly. And so we see adults driven by selfishness, acting like tantrumming two-year-olds, trying to drown the emptiness rather than be filled. We adults have believed the lie that we must do it all, we are on our own, with no one to care for us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We see in Mark 10:13-15 Jesus’s strong response to those who withhold children from him:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

So let us not hide or refuse our desire to be a child before God. Like a mother and a father hurt by the fact that their child wouldn’t come to them for help, Jesus is angered by this! He wants us near, he wants to give us the kingdom, he wants to pour his love into our empty places.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Hunger, Spiritual Formation, 4 comments

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?

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Attitudes, Encouragement, Hunger, 0 comments

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.

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Encouragement, 0 comments