Sustaining Souls

Where was God in 2017?

Without reflection we could see nothing. Our world would be void of colour and shape.  We depend on the reflection of light off of objects to bring them into our awareness, granting them their hue and bend. All things of substance remain hidden.

This necessary property of reflection that brings substance into life and contours our world physically, can be applied to the spirit as well. Our spirits need reflection to bring into view the substance that lies there.

Light shines on the world of our spirits but without reflection we shall never see it. It is imperative to reflect in order to bring into focus and shape that which the Light is illuminating. What is the Lord bringing into high relief in your life? Where are the shadows and the bright edges? Where is He in the midst of gray fog and what might He be showing you there – His touch?

Pursuing Jesus’ presence in reflection, allowing Him to draw into substance His presence in your past moments, be they a lifetime’s or a day’s, is a rich practice for your spirit. There are times we are aware of His presence and working at the moment, but so much of the time we are unaware of it and reflection, under His guidance, unmasks that which was lost in the moments before. At times, it is like watching a city on a distant horizon grow into vast view – naught was there to your vision before, but now you behold a great, solid, hope.

So, in these few days as we turn from an old year to a new, look not only forward. Allow the mirror embedded in this turning to have full view before you look through the window into next year.

There is an aged practice, called the Prayer of Examen, that is especially helpful in allowing the Lord’s light shine in one’s reflections. Originally implemented as a daily practice (which I encourage) it can also be used as a weekly, monthly, or yearly practice.

Rather than our reflection simply be a recounting of the year, we look at it under His guidance of our memories allowing Him to bring to light those things He wishes to show us. Invariably, whatever He shows You is shown in order to illuminate His presence in your life.

Below, you will find my paraphrase of the practice, fitted for a year’s consideration.

Because this is a yearly examen, set aside 20 minutes to an hour to be in a quiet, undisturbed place. A daily examen is usually shorter. Turn off any devices that might distract, and get comfortable. Some like to take a walk in nature, others sit with a candle lit, others like the anonymity of being in a library. It is helpful to take notes, especially for the next year’s examen when you can look back at this year’s and be reminded of all He has been to you during this year!

A Yearly Examen

Become aware of God’s presence. Relax, let tensions drift away, breathe deeply. Remember that God is present and is looking at you with love. He is glad that you are here now, regardless of anything you have done or not done before. Spend some minutes simply enjoying this fact. If your mind wanders, gently, without condemning yourself, come back to God who is still here loving you.

Ask God to reflect on your year with gratitude. Allow the year to gently surface and focus on the things you are grateful for. Don’t choose what to be grateful for, but allow God to bring clarity to what emerges. Take note of the joys and gifts He’s given you throughout the year. He may bring very small things to mind, these are gifts of His in the details. Give thanks!

Ask God to show you His presence in your year. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you particular times that He was present, whether in a situation, in another person or in your internal experience. Allow Him to bring to mind these things, then ask Him to show how He was present. Take note of any themes or patterns He shows you, or things that stand out to you.

Take note of your emotions. Recognize your emotions regarding these things the Holy Spirit is showing you. God’s presence is in our emotions too. What is God saying through these feelings? He may show you where you fell short, allow him to speak life into you. He may show you pain, allow him to bring healing. He may show you exhilaration, allow him to be glorified. There are a multitude of ways that He is present to you in your emotions, let him in to lead.

Ask God to show you your need. Allow God to lead you in identifying your needs. Ask Him to fulfill these needs and look forward with hope and trust that He knows them and wishes to provide for you.

From these reflections pray for next year. You may have something arise from your reflections that you wish to pray over for the coming year – a particular situation, a need, a desire for growth or more experience of God. Again pay attention to your feelings regarding the upcoming year. Allow your reflections and feelings shape your prayer for the coming year.

Our Father, beloved Lord, and welcomed Counselor – Great thanks we give you for your ever presence and your willingness to show yourself in our lives. It is so reassuring to meet you in our reflections and to look forward knowing you will be there too. Thank you for this time, thank you for 2017. Thank you for all that you have shown us. Where we are still tender and smarting, bring your balm and grace. Where we are invigorated and hopeful, flow your direction and guidance. Lead us into this new year after having brought the old into relief. May this year be filled with your presence and glory. Amen.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 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

The Doorway to Wisdom

Garland, on a fantastic sale, roped me in. Soon I was deep in the scrolling, pictures of fake evergreen to festoon my doorway flitting before me. Fantasies of sparkling greenery shimmering in new-fallen snow glimmered in my imagination. Until I realized how much time had passed and that I had purposed to write today about the doorway to wisdom! Wisdom’s doorway is not draped with discount plastic greenery!

Proverbs 8 is the personification of Wisdom, and in it she calls out to us. In verse 34 we read:

“Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” Prov. 8:34

How inviting, how decked out would Wisdom’s house be? Would it be the grandest on the block? The simplest but most elegant? The unadorned? What would cry out to the passersby “Wisdom lives here!”

I picture a palace; a high, gilded doorway, rich with gold and fancy with filigree. Floors of exquisite colored tiles. Enormous, breathtaking paintings. This would make me want to linger in awe like a tourist in an exotic palace.

Maybe Wisdom’s doorway would be filled with ancient splendor that only the attentive archaeologist knows is valuable. The uninformed or fad follower would pass by it as old junk.

How does one recognize Wisdom’s doorway?

Continue reading the full post at https://anchoredvoices.com/2017/12/14/wisdoms-doorway/

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Anchored Voices Posts, 0 comments

God Within Our Limitations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Advent, Encouragement, 0 comments

Learning to Host by Being a Guest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Encouragement, Spiritual Formation, 2 comments

Tis the Season of Preparation

During 2016 Jesus graciously led me to focus on receiving from Him, resting, and pursuing joy. It was a year like no other before it. It was a year of surrendering my striving and discovering He is my friend, not just my teacher. Like a paint-by-number, He walked me dot-to-dot until I saw that the destination of this life I walk is JOY.

It is his JOY to be with us! What says “I love you” more than wanting to be with someone? Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, came to earth for a short time and suffered death for the JOY of having us be with him. The anticipation of this complete joy is what motivated and guided His every action while on earth. As we receive Him, so it becomes our anticipation of this very same joy that motivates and guides our actions every day.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are tangible, temporal expressions of the joy that awaits us in eternity. All the delights of these celebrations: family, fun, and food, beckon to us as we plan and prepare. The joy of it all gives us patience, perseverance and purpose as we deal with the governing lists of preparation details these days.

If you are one whose holiday gatherings are a joy, then the burden of preparation is light. Each task, however mundane or bothersome, is infused with a bit of the joy ahead through the anticipation of it. For you my prayer is that you follow the thread of joy throughout your days and let it lead you to our destination: Joy!

However, if you are one whose holidays are bothersome at best, painful and wounding at worst, then preparation becomes almost a mockery. Each task is drudgery, a press of sharp flint into a scarred and painful place. Your hope is simply that it speed by as quickly and painlessly as possible. For you my prayer is that even in the pain and burden of it all, you bravely expect Jesus. He has no fear of the dark places and wants to meet you there. Joy and suffering do mix. Paradoxically, it was His great joy to suffer death. He went before you in the darkness and will lead you out of it. Joy Himself stood in the tomb.

Jesus says in verse 11 of John 15: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” What was the “this” he told His disciples so that they could live in joy now? It was to remain in Him. The verses before are peppered with his repetitive “Remain!” Rabbis of the time used repetition to teach important points, much like parents and teachers today. In the span of these eleven verses He says “Remain” eleven times! This is how you prepare for joy – remain with Him wherever you are.

As eternal guests at the table of joy, we need to be well-practiced at receiving. If a guest is uncomfortable receiving hospitality, the joy of the giver is incomplete. Think of the guest who self-deprecatingly turns down every offer. Or the guest who jumps up to help with everything because they are uncomfortable receiving hospitality. As host, you may feel disappointment or even irritability because your gift is being negated. Likewise, we, in our proud, broken ways we sit not with our Host, but constantly say “That’s ok, I don’t need that” or jump up to help Him. Jesus’s joy, nor ours, is complete then. So fellow guests, practice well your reception. Receive with gratitude what the Lord has for you today. When we receive well, we remain more comfortably with the Giver.

Jesus honored Mary’s choice to remain with Him. He urged Martha to do the same. The great Host told his host that it was better to receive from Him than strive to make a perfect place for him.

As you prepare for the holidays ahead, let their promise and joy color your plans. Let them remind you of our destination: JOY. Practice being a guest by focusing on your Host and receiving from Him. May your season of celebrations and all the preparations they entail bring JOY to life in your soul this year.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Prep Work Season

Autumn gardens are not pretty. They are all mold and cold, dark and decay, mess and muck. But if autumn death is not plied into the ground, no spring is nourished. Spent and anemic, the soil will respond to the force of spring with random, unintentional growth of opportunistic, oppressive weeds. Spring will draw great jungles from them, jungles we did not want when we plotted the plot.

But autumn is hopeful preparation. Why else would any gardener go out in almost freezing temperatures to fork another layer of compost into the dark ground under gray skies?

A week or so ago, I spent the majority of my day winging walnuts into the forest behind our house, then mulching and fertilizing our lawn. The light was the seepy white gold of October, the air refreshingly not too hot.  Our yard was peppered liberally with puce orbs fallen from the scraggly-leaved trees arching overhead. These same trees had been the “wow” that convinced us to make an offer on this house just three months before. Now I understood why the grass underneath was so pocked. Every autumn it is pummeled by thousands of black walnuts! And now it became my task to undo the happy work of autumnal ripeness.

As I practiced my pitch (something I hadn’t done for, oh, 20 years or so), I prayed. Not that I wouldn’t hit a squirrel, or a neighbor child playing in the woods (thankfully they were all at school), but the listening kind of praying where I am delighting in the moment and aware of Jesus being there. He drew my attention to the fact that I was doing prep work.

I thought of all the ways I engage in prep work: commercial kitchens, my own kitchen, my garden, for the school year, for travels, for blogging, readying for the day, the season, the year. I felt in my spirit that I was in a season of prep work. This put a context on my life that had previously been missing and I found it encouraging. For that means I am being prepared for a future, for a purpose, that Jesus has a place and goal for me. There are seeds he plans on planting! It has been a year of great change, of digging up roots, and in the transition it has felt scary at times. But He has placed me now in this new “plot” of life where we are working in the soil of my soul.

This context has cast new light on my life. Typically I think of autumn as a time to wrap things up, to finish and to put away. It is that, and in some ways I am finishing with previous pursuits in order to prepare for new pursuits. Apparently, what I choose to spend my time on this autumn will have ramifications many seasons ahead. If there was no decay and dying of these things I am to leave in the past, then I will not have the rich soil I need to grow come spring. The work now is to dig in the decay to replenish the plot of my soul.

He has a vision for the plot of my soul, of fruit and flower born to brighten and sustain. To create this life in me he is faithfully working in the soil of my life. He is deeply digging into my foundational understandings of who He is and who I am. Some of those ideas need to die and become food for the future.

Take a moment and consider what season you may be in. Maybe you are in full flower and can trace the edge of the shovel in seasons past and now you can say thank you for that. Maybe you feel like a piece of abandoned land with no purpose and you need Him to lay hold of you as His own. Maybe you have just been planted with new seeds of ideas and plans and now you need careful watering. Maybe you, like me, are in a season of preparation, of deep soul work. In every season of your soul, let Him do his work. Tend this life He’s given you with attention and care.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 2 comments