name='verify-v1'/> Big God - little d: 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Friday morning - I am up by 5. Instead of going to Chapel for the morning service I decide to stay put and watch the sunrise. Bundled up to ward off the chill, I settle into a chair and wait.

Out in the darkness, masses of turkeys begin sounding off from opposite sides of the camp. How to describe a turkey call? It is unlike anything else I have ever heard. Rusty, grating notes are dotted with occasional gobbles. After five minutes or so it becomes they are having a pep rally in the dark. "We've got spirit, yes, we do. We've got spirit. How 'bout you?!" After fifteen minutes or so, they stop and the silence is deafening.

Two owls begin a dialogue. They, too, take turns hooting back and forth to one another. One voice is deep and strong. The other voice is higher and belongs to a smaller bird. I wonder...are they mates? or parent and child? I find myself smiling at their steady conversation.

The sun rises. Without fanfare. Hmm. I had expected to be dazzled but instead the colors are muted and hazy. Disappointed, I hear myself thinking (rather ungraciously),

That's it? I skipped Chapel for that?

Grabbing my journal, I head to the third floor of the Big House where there is a small steel staircase that leads to "Mt. Sinai" -- the lookout tower on the roof. It has become a part of my routine to spend some time here before I leave. From this vantage point I can see for miles in all directions.

Looking out over the palm trees and the retreat grounds, I try to pinpoint the shift that has taken place within me since yesterday morning, when I woke up giddy with joy. It started during my walk on The Way of Peace..continued back in my room with the unwelcome pop-up image that made its way into my mind...and persisted after my nap when I woke up with the strong desire to go home. I may have resisted the urge to leave, yesterday, but my staying came with a price. Now I feel weighted down...somber, serious, heavy with something I can't name...

As I ponder the last 24 hours, fog rolls in before my eyes. The heavy clouds of moisture are traveling so low that their droplets touch my skin as they move past. Within minutes the retreat grounds are shrouded in a blanket of mist. I can see the sky above the fog but the grounds are no longer visible.

I decide the morning fits my mood or maybe it is my mood that fits the morning.

I came seeking God's voice. What did I hear? What have I learned?

I long to fly but I am afraid.
Pruning by the Father is a necessary part of growing.
Flying and dying go hand-in-hand when you follow Christ.
Peace is a byproduct of seeking God's direction.
Seasons in the wilderness allow God to reveal new beginnings.
Healing comes through intentional reflection.
Duty is a part of being a servant of Christ.
Spiritual lessons cycle us higher/closer to the Father.
"The reality of the unknown is fear." -- Father Kelly
"The reality of the Mystery of God is peace." -- Father Kelly
My soul needs regularly scheduled Sabbath time.
Giving thanks dispels fear and anxiety and invites God's peace.

Yesterday's Chapel message runs through my mind: Wisdom trumps everything, including evil, because it comes from God. It occurs to me that what I am feeling, right now, is the weight of wisdom. The lessons the Lord has taught me these past few days are heavy with the fullness of a deeper understanding...

I must be diligent about naming my fears and claiming God's truth over them.
Flying requires surrender and focus on Christ.
Evil is real and knows my name but will always flee at the name of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is with me, always.
I serve, love, and belong to the God of Job. He doesn't have to explain Himself to me.
The Great I AM is my Father.
Living a life of faith requires embracing the mystery of God.

I have the sense that God is waiting for me to respond to all that He has revealed.

I am distracted by the sound of stirring birds. The palm trees to my right are filled with a dozen or more roosting vultures. Each tree's branches bend under their load.

One by one, the birds launch from their resting site. They flap their heavy wings; looking awkward and clumsy. The air pulses from their efforts to stay afloat. In a matter of seconds, though, they find their rhythm and the air current that allows them to soar.

I watch as they move into the distance and begin their lazy spirals in the sky...their view of the ground completely obscured. The Lord uses the image to issue an invitation to me. The Spirit whispers in my ear,

"Come fly with Me. Explore the mystery of Me. Do not be afraid to venture into the unknown. I will be your Guide."

Yes, Lord, take me flying.

Impressions from Henri Nouwen's Sabbatical Journey come to mind. I appreciate this holy man's brilliance (his gifting, really), for putting the experiences of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit into words that an ordinary person, like me, can grasp. But the thing that I most closely identify with is his transparency; his willingness to reveal his own needs and insecurities even in the light of knowing Christ.

I want to be this kind of writer for you, Lord. I want my struggle to be plain even as my hope and faith in You is evident. Show me how...

With that declaration, I climb down the stairs and head to my van. The fog cocoons my vehicle as I drive away from the retreat center. I leave as I came...slowly and with anticipation...only this time, the wisdom of Father Kelly's words ring in my ears,

"The reality of the Mystery of God is peace."

"Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly
make known the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains.
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

-- Ephesians 6:19-20

Monday, December 28, 2009


Thursday - It is 5 a.m. and I am wide awake. Bedtime, the night before, was 7:45. Nine + hours of sleep. No wonder I feel so rested.

I throw a blanket around my shoulders and head to the veranda. The turkeys call back and forth to one another in the dark. The angry squeal of a javelina sends chills up my spine and propels me back inside. Until it is time to leave for morning Chapel, I review the finished list of life events/Scriptures from the past four years.

During Chapel time, two messages resonate with me. "The Kingdom of God is within you" from Luke 17:21. The other is from the Book of Wisdom; even as darkness must yield to light, all things must yield to wisdom. is one of the things I continually seek from God.

Lord, please grant me wisdom that my words would bring You glory.

At breakfast, after nearly bumping into two different people, it is apparent that I am moving at a different speed than everyone else in the room. is bubbling up inside and spilling over. I cannot seem to help myself. There is nothing gentle and/or slow about my movements. I do not linger over my meal. I cannot. I am too full of energy. It takes everything in me not to shout aloud!

Back in my room, the rising sun casts beckoning rays of light just beyond the screen door. I step onto the veranda and position the rocking chair to take maximum advantage of the sunbeam. With eyes closed, I rock and concentrate on the purity of the light bathing me in its warm glow. My spirit sings in union with the Holy Spirit and before I know it the better part of an hour has come and gone.

The sunbeam has moved on. It is time for me to do the same. I grab a map of some of the retreat center's many trails and head outside. There are two trails I am interested in this morning: Derek Ahabah (Way of Love) and Derek Shalom (Way of Peace).

I follow the main path for twenty minutes or so until I reach the path for Derek Ahabah. Its name, The Way of Love, is based on Song of Songs 8:5-7. Verses six and seven, in particular, speak to me as they bring to mind one of my favorite worship songs.

"Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love,
it would be utterly scorned."

God's love for understanding is so limited. My love for so small in comparison. I have so much to learn about love.

Jesus, show me how to love like you.

Eventually the lengthy, sprawling loop meets up with the main trail. I follow the path markers to Derek Shalom. The Way of Peace is based on Psalm 29:11,

"The LORD gives strength to his people;
the LORD blesses his people with peace."

The trail for this path is much more difficult than the prior one. It fades into the grass and sandy turf and, more than once, I wonder if I am going the right way. Instead of finding peace, I am becoming stressed out. My stomach is now upset and my need for adventure evaporates.

It seems that everytime I turn around a bend in the path there are a large group of turkeys, nearby. At first, I wonder if the same group is moving around and popping up somewhere else along the path but the group size keeps changing... 11, 15, 13.

Seeing the turkeys makes me think of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. It also brings to mind Father Kelly's words from the other morning, "The Lord isn't thanked enough."

The Spirit prompts me to focus on giving thanks. I force my mind away from my physical discomfort and mental distress. My litany of thanks is forced and has a desperate edge. Seeing a new group of turkeys encourages me to keep walking and giving thanks. After a few minutes, it gets easier.

According to the map, I am close to the halfway point. The path is supposed to swing around a trail marker and head back towards the main trail. In reality, the path completely evaporates. The irony does not escape me: for me, there is no peace on the The Way of Peace. I turn back and retrace my steps.

I don't get it, God. Have I failed You, somehow? Should I have been willing to walk forward without a path or a clear sense of direction? It seems my peace is strongest when I am certain I am clearly on Your path. Is that the lesson You had for me, today?


Eventually, I arrive at the Big House. Lunch is a welcome reward after the 1-1/2 hour walking adventure. Unfortunately, my stomach does not agree. I try reading as a distraction but it doesn't work. I feel awful, vulnerable, strange and suddenly, very, very tired.

I curl up on my bed hoping a nap will help. I can barely keep my eyes open. Unbidden, a disturbing image flashes through my mind; it is pornographic in nature. Ugh. Without hesitation, I rebuke the image in the name of Jesus Christ. In the same breath, I claim the blood of Jesus over myself and fall fast asleep.

Thirty minutes later, I wake up feeling disoriented and awful. My knuckles ache. My body is stiff. A thought voices itself in my head,

I want to go home.

Then it corrects itself,

I want to be home. Now.

That awful image that made its way into my mind just before I fell asleep has irritated me. I know the attack for what it is: warfare. I am also determined not to be ruled by it. I send up a prayer of thanks for all of those who are praying for me and my family while I am on this trip.

I am agitated and restless but not in the good way of this morning. Needing something to do, I pack up everything but the absolute necessities needed for the remainder of my trip. My journals, extra clothing, all of it gets packed and placed in my van.

The physical act of packing has spiritual implications, as well. My work, here, is done. Or maybe my ability to work is done. Whatever the case, I have heard enough. God has given me plenty to process in the days and weeks to come.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon and evening reading Henri Nouwen's book, Sabbatical Journey. After so many days of concentrating on my own, it is refreshing to read about someone else's journey of faith. I find myself copying more than one of his quotes into my journal:

"We are called to be fearless people in a fearful world."

"Our parents, brothers, and sisters do not own us. Without leaving them it is hard to fully become free and listen to the One who called us even before we were born."

"That's the loneliness of a mystic. Having seen and experienced what cannot be expressed in words and still must be communicated."

The sky turns dark outside. I ponder the events that have taken place since I woke up this morning. What a strange day it has turned out to be. It is my last night in this place and I find myself full of gratitude...glad that I came, glad for what I've learned, glad to be going home in the morning, glad for the journey of faith that is still ahead of me...

"Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Wednesday - After my time with Father Kelly I am acutely aware of God's faithfulness to give me what I need...even if it isn't what I asked for. I thought my reason for coming to this retreat center was so that I could hear God more clearly in regards to "the book." It is why I willingly made the 475 mile drive. As it turns out, God's reasons for my being here are different than mine.

We aren't going to talk about the book at all, are we, God?

Peaceful silence fills the void.

No surprise, really. I'm not even disappointed although I don't know if I would have felt the same way on Monday or Tuesday. We have covered a lot of stuff since my arrival. I rest in the knowledge that the instructions and words for the book will come when God decides so. For now, there are other things He has planned for this time away. In my head, I modify my original goal:

My reason for coming to this retreat center is so that I can hear God more clearly. Period.

Before dinner, I head outside for a stroll. I follow the paved road that winds its way around the compound. A large group of turkeys are scratching and pecking at the ground. Eleven turkeys. Amazing! They keep one eye on me and the other on their work but they do not run or fly away. I am grateful for the opportunity to study them up close. I wish I had a camera.

A while later I hear someone following me. There are other retreat participants on site so I am not alarmed. But after awhile, curiosity takes hold and I turn around for a look. Imagine my surprise when I see that my shadow is of the four-footed variety. A magnificent buck stands less than 20 feet away. We study each other for a moment.

Turning around slowly, I resume my walk. Once again, the footsteps continue behind me. After another 20 feet I cannot resist the urge to stop and look. He stops, as well. He waits. The beauty of this creature moves me from deep within. I am thrilled beyond explanation. I cannot stop smiling.

Eventually, I leave the buck behind and step off the path to explore the estate's historical chapel and family cemetery. It is the place where the original owners, the Kenedy family and workers, worshiped and held weddings, funerals and baptisms. I study the monuments and the grotto that are within the cemetery and wonder about the people who used to live here.

My growling stomach reminds me that it is almost time for dinner. I head back towards the Big House. The path takes me directly alongside the buck who has stepped into the grass for a snack. I hold my breath and walk within eight feet of him. His head bows under a full nine point rack. He grazes without fear. I silently praise God as I marvel at the buck's impressive features. Unbelievable!

That experience, alone, would be enough to carry me through a full day. Add that to my time with Father Kelly and I am full to overflowing.

That's more than enough, Lord. Thanks for today's gifts of beauty and wisdom.

God uses that moment to remind me that I am like a sponge. I can only hold so much before I reach my saturation level. I ponder this for a moment and the spiritual application is clear. I have been a sopping wet sponge for a long time...the multi-paged list of bullet points sitting on the desk in my room testifies to this.

God is using this time and place to empty me from the fullness of these past two years. He is literally squeezing the water from my soggy soul. No wonder I didn't feel as if I could hear him clearly back home. I was too full to hold anything else.

So, if I am to stay healthy and effective in my ministry with You then I must decompress at least once a year. I need an extended block of time for prayer and silence in order to hear You, in order to restore my soul, in order to prepare for the next stage of my journey. It isn't just something I want...although I do want it. It is something I need. Isn't it, Lord? It is critical to my walk with You.

I vow to build time into my yearly schedule as a part of honoring the Sabbath and my God. With the vow comes a peace that blankets me in communion with my Maker.

"If you keep your feet from
breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please
on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going
your own way
and not doing as you please
or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy
in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride
on the delights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance
of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Isaiah 58:13-14

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fear Not

"When they had rowed three or three and a half miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; don't be afraid." --John 6:19-20

Wednesday - After lunch, I return to my room and my journals. There is still an hour and a half before my appointment with Father Kelly. Events from Years 3 and 4 are added to the growing list. The command to "Stand firm!" continually echoes through the pages. Scripture after scripture testifies to the Lord's order not to turn tail and run.

Through a multitude of relationships and experiences, I see how the Lord continues to challenge me in this area:

* Walk alongside this friend even though it will be messy.
* Say "no" even though it will damage your relationship with the one you deny.
* Dance with Me even though you risk being misunderstood.
* Pray for another even though it will break your heart.
* Speak the truth in love even though you dread the consequences.
* Write about your struggles even though you will feel exposed and vulnerable.
* Move your family even though it means leaving your church and your friends.
* Share your stories even though there is no guarantee that it will make a difference.
* Stand in the gap for others even though it means the enemy will breathe down your neck.
* Grieve with Me over the sins of My people even though it means suffering like you have never known.
* Take up your cross and follow Me even though it means dying to yourself.

Stand firm even though it will cost you much...
Even though it will cost you everything.

It is the cost that keeps me from choosing easily. Saying "yes" to Jesus means saying "no" to my pride, to my fear, to my doubt. It is clear that Jesus wants all of me. And each time I stand firm in my faith and follow where he leads, I give him access to those places within myself that need encouragement, healing, strengthening, and correction.

Thank You, Lord, for Your grace and mercy.

My stomach decides to stage a revolt. After multiple trips to the bathroom it occurs to me that my insides are purging in concert with the processing of the last two years. With only thirty minutes until my appointment, I begin praying in earnest,

Lord, I am seeing Father Kelly, soon. Please restore order to my body so that I can keep my meeting.

Five minutes before my meeting, I offer up one more prayer and head to Father Kelly's cabin. The concrete path winds through a stand of palm trees and other brush. I stop a short distance from what appears to be a large, black hose laying across the path. My heart beats a little faster as it begins to move. I watch as all six feet of it slowly slithers into the brush to my right. When I resume walking, the snake stops his progress and turns to look at me. I look at him. We both go our separate ways. Very odd.

I reach the steps of Father Kelly's cabin at the same time he does. The small wooden dwelling is built on stilts and overlooks a small clearing. He invites me in and I take a seat in the screened in porch. Father Kelly excuses himself while he removes his hat and jacket. Hearing a small sound at the screen door, I turn to investigate. A cat sits on the top step, his face pressed to the screen, peering wistfully inside. It is obvious he is a regular visitor.

Father Kelly takes a seat opposite me. How to describe this holy man? He is elderly but I have no idea how old. Gray hair cropped in a no nonsense crew cut. Tall, slender build. Tanned skin testifies to time out in the elements. Sturdy glasses frame piercing blue eyes. There is something ageless about him.

I take a deep breath and begin a brief overview of the last several years of my faith journey including my Sabbath Year, past visits to Lebh Shomea, our family's move, my call to pray for others, and my writing.

All the while I am talking, I am conscious of the way in which he is listening. He watches my hands as I move them to emphasize a point. He is fully present to me and my story. I am the only thing that matters in that moment. It is a blessing to be received in such a way.

I speak to him of my ongoing struggle with fear; of writing a book for which I have no words, of following God into the unknown; of my brushes with the enemy. He listens carefully. I offer up a sample of my writing A Strong Hedge - Prayer Part 1. He scans the article and makes no comment about anything he reads. Instead he asks me questions which I do my best to answer:

Q: "What is your purpose in giving this to me?"
A. "I wanted you to understand the intensity of the warfare I have experienced."
Q: "What does your husband think of your writing?"
A: "He supports me and encourages me to continue to follow God down this path."
Q: "What did your pastor have to say about this ?" (refers to my writing sample)
A: "He checked my words for theological soundness and believed that what I wrote was of God."

After a few questions about the book with nine chapters, Father Kelly turns to the subject which has brought me to this place. Fear. He begins to speak; slowly measuring each word,

"Fear of the unknown keeps us from living = death."

"Job's initial understanding of God was '---' (he uses a word I am unfamiliar with but implies Job's friendship with God). Job's friends understood God to be legalistic. The truth is that God is God. He is more than we can understand. He is answerable to no one. He cannot be measured or defined by man."

"The mystery of the unknown is fear - man's need to be in control."

"The reality of the mystery of God is peace."

"When Jesus walks on the water he tells his disciples to 'Fear not; It is I.' (John 6:20) If we are in Christ then there is no need to fear. You must submit. You must surrender your fear, your need for control. Embrace the mystery of God and accept that He IS."

With his last statement it is clear that our time is finished. I thank him and leave the cabin...puzzled, unsatisfied, humbled.

I need to think about what Father Kelly has said. He didn't give me what I wanted. He gave me what I needed. My spirit already knows this even if it is taking longer for my brain to come to the same conclusion. I came expecting to hear something else and my disappointment initially gets in the way of the wisdom that he shared. I had hoped he would validate my fears. Instead he challenged me to refocus my eyes on Christ.

With new clarity, I laugh at my own naive hopes that he would tie everything up in a neat little package with a pretty bow. Instead, he pushed me out into the vast, undefinable mystery that shrouds the great I AM. Walking with God means walking in the mystery that is a part of Him. Can I surrender my fear and follow Him into the unknown? It is the only way I will know the peace my soul craves.

Jesus help me to surrender my fear. I know now that this will be a lifelong process. Even if it were possible, I do not want to do this on my own. A life without you is meaningless. I want to live in the reality of the mystery of God. Teach me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Duty and Cycles

Wednesday - Breakfast is out of the way and I am ready to do some work. With a fresh sheet of paper and a pen in hand, I prepare to make a bullet point list of significant events and lessons learned. I start with my Sabbath Journal. It is the culmination of life lessons God taught me during my Sabbath Year in '05-'06. I wrote it during my first visit to this holy retreat center back in August of 2006.

I hadn't realized it before now but aside from God's Word it has become the most important book in my life. God has used my Sabbath Year lessons to shape my future. In the past three years, I have pulled this book out, over and over again, because it grounds me; reminding me of who I am and who God has called me to be.

I come across a question God asked me on my first trip around the desert path - A Way in the Wilderness,

"Why is it such duty to pray for your family while you consider it an honor/privilege to pray for others?"

I remember this question. I was at the retreat center seeking discernment about my Sabbath year. It was my first time around the daunting trail. In a single sentence God stripped me bare and exposed my internal struggle which was an ongoing source of guilt and shame. Why did praying for my family always feel like hard work while praying for others felt like ministry? I didn't have an answer for God's "why" I only knew that what He spoke was true. It was one of those moments that made a lasting impression. I added it to the list.

For the remainder of the morning, I work my way through journals for Years 2 and 3. My list expands quickly. I marvel at the ways God has allowed me to participate in Kingdom building relationships and ministry. I also see repeated patterns of great fear and faith struggles as God calls me to deeper ministry.

I take the journal I am reading and head to the rocking chair on the veranda. I lose myself in the movement of the soaring vultures. They circle in slow, effortless spirals that take them higher and higher into the sky.

Their movement triggers the memory of a recent conversation with a friend about the frustrations and heartache of stumbling along the journey of faith. She was discouraged with a recent failure and felt as if she were starting her faith journey all over again...back to the beginning, so to speak. I recall saying this was not the case, instead, my friend had learned much during her walk with the Lord. She may have cycled around to her "stumbling point" but she was not back at the beginning of her journey. Instead, she had cycled to a higher level of relationship with God, a deeper faith, a greater sorrow over her sin, and with newfound wisdom to see how she'd gotten there. What she labeled as failure I saw as growth and a reason to celebrate.

The Spirit nudges me to view my growing list of experiences in the same light. God has used my so-called failures as opportunities to develop my relationship with Him, deepen my faith, increase my sorrow over my sin, and impart wisdom so that I might choose better in the future. Wow!

At lunch the Lord brings up the word duty. I recall yesterday's lesson from the reading in Luke 17:7-10 (subtitled "duty") and my take-away, "A servant should not expect to be thanked." I recall the question from my journal reading earlier today, "Why is it such duty to pray for your family while you consider it an honor/privilege to pray for others?" Then I proceed to have one of those "Aha" moments where everything becomes crystal clear.

The purpose of God's original question was to uncover my faulty thinking and lead me to a deeper truth. My response was to hang my head in shame and seek the answer on my own. It hadn't occurred to me that God was inviting me to say, "I don't know God. Why do I feel this way?" Three years later, we have cycled around to the same question but I am no longer the same woman. I want to know. I am ready to learn. And so, I ask,

God, what do You have to say about duty and prayer and me?

"When I first asked you this question you were struggling to reconcile the disparity of your feelings between praying for your family and praying for others because you approached them from two different mindsets:

Prayer for your family was serving your family.
Prayer for others was serving Me.

In reality, both were serving Me but because your marriage and your children came before you committed your life to Me you associated them as set apart from Me. And apart from Me there is no joy... even when you are praying for those you love most.

You gladly prayed for other people without expectations or need for appreciation because you were doing so out of love and obedience for Me. The honor and privilege you felt stemmed from your relationship and willingness to serve Me. It didn't hurt that each assignment had a beginning and an end. You enjoyed the variety of opportunities to pray and the mystery of what might come next. You also loved the indescribable thrill of using your gifts in tandem with the power of the Holy Spirit to make a difference in My Kingdom here on earth.

Your understanding of prayer has changed since I first put this question to you. We have been working on bringing the parts of your life established before your commitment to Me into alignment with the parts of your life established since your commitment to Me. Check in your heart and you will see that this is true.

Now, let's talk about My definition of duty.

You are a wife and a mother. It is your obligation to pray for your family. This is My order for marriage and family. And the reason it feels like hard work is because it is hard work.

You feel the weight of responsibility and there are times when you wish it didn't matter so much. But the fact of the matter is your prayers matter. Your obedience affects your entire family.

The commitment I am calling you to increases by the day. As years are added to your marriage and as your children grow older, you understand on a deeper level that you will pray for them until you die. It is a life long commitment and you no longer take that lightly.

You chafe under the discipline required for this type of prayer. You like praying for others because the assignments have a beginning and an end and you can cross them off your list when you are finished. You rely on the Spirit to prompt you. Praying for your family requires you to discipline your time and your mind and your spirit. I expect you to take an active role in this process.

It is an honor and a privilege to come to Me on behalf of your family. It is also your Me...for them. Your prayers invite Me to undergird the foundation of your marriage and your children's future. There will never be a more worthy use of your time and energy.

You already know this kind of prayer will bring you face-to-face with your own shortcomings, over and over again. You cannot succeed if you rely on your own strength and your own love. Apart from Me you can do nothing."

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing." --John 15:5

Monday, November 30, 2009


Tuesday - Back in my room, I remember that I was going to look up the Scripture from morning Chapel. Sitting down at the desk, I open my Bible to Luke 17. Jesus is having a conversation with the disciples about sin, faith and duty.

"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Luke 17:10

We have only done our duty.

Something about those particular words grabs my attention. After waiting for further enlightenment and receiving none, I write the words down in my journal. I check in with God about "the book" again.

So, Lord, what about this book? Will You tell me anything else about it?

"There is more than one."

I am not surprised by this news. How odd to be overwhelmed over the prospect of writing one book and yet remain perfectly calm at this particular revelation. It helps explain why I feel torn in different directions whenever I think about writing. There is more than one book in me. Hmmm.

The dinner bell signals the evening meal. While making my way down the stairs I meet up with Father Kelly. I request an appointment for spiritual direction and he promises to get back to me with a time.

I eat my dinner slowly; tasting, chewing, swallowing with heightened awareness. I am mindful of how fast I eat at little I taste what I eat...and how much I take food and its availability for granted.

Thank you, Lord, for nourishment.

Father Kelly stops me as I leave the dining room and asks if tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. will work. I nod in agreement and am instantly aware of the conflicting emotions inside of me: excitement and apprehension.

When I reach my room it is dark and I fumble around for a light switch. A bare light bulb makes a feeble attempt to light up the large room. I switch on the desk lamp and wince at its harsh, artificial glare. My journals sit in a pile on the desk but I cannot bring myself to open them.

I am so tired. I glance at the clock and am shocked to see that it is only 7:30! Way too early to go to bed. I take a shower in an effort to stay awake but my body and my brain are not cooperating. By 8:00 p.m. I crawl under the covers and call it a day.

5 a.m. Wednesday - somewhere off in the distance the coyotes begin their serenade. While I lie there listening I realize that something feels different about my face. After a few moments, I realize that my jaw is moving with a freedom I haven't experienced in a long, long time. (The week before my dentist had expressed concern over the tension in my jaw and face. She was shocked that I wasn't in constant pain.)

So that is how its supposed to move! Thank You, God. I feel great!

As I get up and get dressed the day's agenda is clear: Today is about healing. Today, we (God and me) review the events of these past few years and the emotions that came with them. We acknowledge it, celebrate it and heal where healing is needed.

The sun is preparing to rise. I step out onto the dark veranda as the sky hints of pink and orange. Two owls with deep voices call back and forth among the palm trees. A dog barks in the distance. Bats finish up their evening meal and scatter as daylight approaches. The birds are waking up.

Good morning, Lord! Let's get started!

He confirms my agenda during Morning Chapel. The second reading is from Luke 17:11-19. It is the story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus. Only one of them returns to give thanks.

"Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'" Luke 17:17-19

The Spirit reminds me that when we take the time to give thanks we receive even more from our Savior. Father Kelly shares that the Hebrew word for thanks actually has three meanings: thanks, praise, bless.

Healing and thanksgiving... This should be quite a day.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Tuesday - After lunch I fill up my water bottle and head towards a trail located a quarter of a mile or so beyond the boundaries of the camp. It is known as Derek Ba-Midbar or A Way in the Wilderness. I am going to walk this trail not because I want to but because I must.

This path and I have a history. It has become a part of my retreat experience. My previous experiences on this trail have tested my courage in unexpected ways. I can't help but wonder if round three will be more of the same. I am more than a little apprehensive as I prepare to be tested again.

I follow the paved road until I see a familiar cattle gate to my left. Stepping into the grass, I focus all of my attention on the placement of my feet. There are huge red ants everywhere! They look like the kind that would happily carry off your picnic lunch while you took a nap on the blanket. Their super highways criss-cross all over the sandy turf. I carefully step over their roads and steer clear of the holes in the ground where they congregate in large numbers.

A simple wooden signpost marks the path. It is called A Way in the Wilderness for a reason. There is something very primitive and wild about this area. The path is layed out like a large jagged loop with so many twists and turns that north-south-east-and-west no longer apply. Once you begin walking there are only two options: move forward or retreat backward.

I take a deep breath and begin the journey.

You wouldn't know it by looking at it but walking this path is labor intensive. The ground is predominantly sand which makes it difficult to get any traction. In places it reminds me of the sand at the beach...where the boardwalk ends...soft, dry and hot...the stuff that sends everyone scrambling for the cool water-packed sand near the ocean's edge. Ugh.

The small tufts of grass and native plants that dot the trail become my best friends. I find myself stepping from one tuft to the next to keep my feet from sinking into the soft earth. Walking too quickly just causes my feet to dig more deeply into the sand. Slow is definitely better.

After a while, I settle into a rhythm with my feet which enables me to take a better look at my surroundings. There are all kinds of animal tracks in the sand: turkey, lizard, deer, cow, and coyote. My nose warns me of the scat piles before I see them. Many of them are huge in size and seem to be a combination of a large community dumping ground and impossible to miss territory markers.

My mind is surprisingly blank. I do not feel the need to pray or ask questions or examine my life. My goal is to complete the path.

I spy a deer on an intersecting path. She spies me, as well, and freezes while I walk past. Her companions watch from a safer distance.

Much of the walk unfolds in the same way: A turn in the path leads me to an open meadow where the wind blows freely and the wildflowers brighten the view. Minutes later, I round a bend and find myself in a shady wooded area where the air is stagnant and mysterious sounds come from the tall brush bordering both sides of the path. My heart pounds in response to the sound of large animals crashing through the woods. I am glad to hear them moving in the opposite direction.

About 45 minutes into my walk, I stop and sit down on a bench. The combination of walking and increased adrenaline flow has taken its toll. I am tired. In submission, I ask the question I don't really want to ask,

Should I wait here, God? Is there something You want to ask me or show me?

"Just sit until you catch your breath."

With those words He releases me. There is no need to stay. There is no need to have another face-to-face encounter with a javelina. No need to walk a path while the watchful eyes of a wild animal stare at you from the brush. No need to stare down another overprotective cow and her calf. No need to answer questions that pierce my soul. (All experiences from my last two adventures.) No more tests. Not this time.

There are still fifteen minutes or so of walking ahead of me. I leave the bench and continue along the path with renewed purpose. I am amazed that the mosquitoes haven't found me. The gnats that keep landing on my arms are annoying but harmless.

I turn a corner and stop at the sight of a very large, black cow on the path. I am still quite a distance from him. He doesn't know I am there because he is busy gnawing his side. I wait for him to register my presence all the while thinking the cows here are a lot taller and beefier than the Missouri dairy cows I saw as a youngster. There is something intimidating about being on the same side of the fence as him. When he does look up and realize he is not alone, his eyes widen and his nostrils flare in alarm. Luckily, he turns around and bolts from my presence.

I hope he tells his friends to stay away.

I round the last bend and find myself back at the cattle gate. After locking it behind me, I take one last glance at the path. I am relieved beyond belief. My time in the wilderness is complete.

"See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland." -- Isaiah 43:19

Thursday, November 19, 2009


"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you."' --Luke 24:36

Tuesday - A handful of retreat participants file into the small sanctuary. We stand as Father Kelly enters the room. After he steps behind the altar, he takes the time to make eye contact with each of us. And then he speaks,

"Peace be with you."

The words wash over me in an undeniable movement of the Spirit. The peace of Christ penetrates my entire being. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, welcoming God's tangible presence.

Each service is structured in the same way: two readings, a brief moment for reflection and sharing, and then communion. Everything is done slowly and with great deliberation. It is powerful in its simplicity.

Today, the second reading is from Luke 17:7-10. A servant should not expect to be thanked for doing his job. I don't know why the Lord is pointing this out to me but I plan to go back to this Scripture, later, in the privacy of my room. Perhaps He will reveal something more.

I spend the remainder of the morning reading through my journals from the last two years, searching for something without knowing what I am looking for. I alternate my time between the desk in my room and the rocking chair on the veranda. The vultures are soaring everywhere; too numerous to count.

My reading is interrupted by the long, slow ringing of a bell. The sound comes from a large bell mounted on the grounds behind the Big House. Each day someone faithfully pulls on the rope to signal the call to morning Chapel, lunch, or dinner. These regularly scheduled moments are the only time when the silence of each day is deliberately broken.

I stop to count the number of times the bell is rung. Three times - pause - three times - pause - three times - pause - nine times. I wonder about the significance of this set of numbers. No matter, it is time for lunch.

Mealtimes are interesting in this place. Men and women silently file into the dining room located in the basement of the Big House. Each person serves themselves from a large table where the simple food is set up buffet style. Once you select your food and a drink, you are free to sit at any of the four large tables provided. The only sound is that of knives and forks moving across plates.

For me, the first meal or two are always awkward. It is strange to share a meal with another human being without talking or making eye contact. Eventually, though, my curiosity subsides and even my meals become a time set apart with God.

As I prepare to leave the dining room, Father Kelly steps into my path. He quietly asks if I am okay. While he whispers his question he is studying me...checking on me...looking to see if I am indeed okay. I smile, gently touch his arm, and say, "Yes."

But something about the encounter causes me to ask myself the same question as I head upstairs to my room.

Am I okay?

Truthfully, the answer is both yes and no. There are spiritual matters which I do not understand. And there is the matter of my fear. I decide to schedule an appointment with Father Kelly for some spiritual direction. As soon as I make the decision I am, once again, at peace.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Monday - Back in my room, I sit down at the desk and pull out a small plastic tub that holds my journals from the past few years. I have come to this place seeking discernment for the book that I am to write. I set out my pens and highlighters and prepare to work.

As I stare at the notebooks, I am overwhelmed with the thought of the task ahead - a book. <Sigh> I have no idea where to start. <Sigh> In fact, I don't even feel compelled to start. That tells me something.

This doesn't seem to be where You want me to focus, Lord. Now what?

Silence wraps itself around my question. I head back to the veranda for some more rocking chair therapy. Before long the Lord's question from earlier in the day comes to me again,

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

This time there are no tears or hesitation as I answer,

Yes, Lord, I want to fly.

I continue rocking and watch as the sky slowly fills with soaring vultures and turkey vultures. Say what you will about these scavenger birds, in this place, in this setting, they are simply God's magnificent creatures. Their outstretched wings easily span a distance of five to six feet. I marvel as they catch the unseen wind currents and float effortlessly in long, lazy spirals. More and more birds join the flying celebration. I try to count them but lose track after I reach thirty.

I go to bed that evening with flying on my mind. Around 4 a.m. the mournful, frenzied sound of howling coyotes pulls me from my dreams. Rolling over, I manage to fall back to sleep until 5 a.m. and then I am up for the day.

Tuesday - By 6:30 a.m. I leave the Big House and walk towards the Chapel in the gray shadows where the dawn chases away the dark. Bats dart back and forth in the sky. No wonder there aren't many mosquitoes here. I see two rabbits chasing each other in the grass. Hello there. My eyes widen as I approach and then pass an 8 pt. buck grazing not more than ten feet away. He didn't even flinch when I walked by!

The wonder of this place is hard to describe. Each time I visit I am delighted anew. I have tried and failed to explain it to my family and friends. The animals who live here are not tame and yet they are not afraid. They have learned to coexist with the humans who are here. Peaceful silence and holy prayers have bathed this place for decades. God is here and the animals know it and live in the sanctuary of His presence.

I am early for the morning Communion service so I take a seat and wait. The wall behind the simple altar is covered in a massive, primitive looking cross made from beautifully aged wood. It demands my attention and I study it in detail. After five minutes or so, He asks,

"Do you want to fly?"

He knows the answer and so He continues,

"Open your hands. Spread your arms wide."

I am looking at the cross as He speaks to me. His intention is clear and I make the connection immediately.

The posture of flying is the posture of dying.

If I open up my hands and let go of all that I am holding...if I spread my arms wide in order to sail on the wind...then I am saying, "yes" to dying on the cross. Tears roll down my cheeks at the simplicity and the weight of His words.

The posture of flying is the posture of dying on the cross.
They are one and the same.

My heart breaks with an understanding that is beyond my human brain. I cannot take my eyes off of the cross. Something deep inside my soul has been touched and I can do nothing but cry in quiet response. He is calling me to a deeper place, a deeper commitment, where flying with Christ and dying with Christ will be closely intertwined.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." --Hebrews 12:2

Flying and and the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Talking Trees

"But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him."
--Habakkuk 2:20

Monday - It is only mid-afternoon and I am already exhausted. I take refuge on my bed and fall into a troubled sleep. Thirty or forty minutes later I wake up knowing something isn't right. Something has disturbed me but what?

It takes me a few minutes to get my bearings and remember where I am. And that is when I hear a sound so strange that everything in me protests its is the sound of a human voice.

It isn't that people never talk in this place, they just do so with hushed reverence. There are only a few designated places on the grounds where people are free to speak but they are out-of-the way places. The silence here is makes room for the praises of His provides sanctuary for searching souls.

Who would dare to break such a thing?

I listen more carefully. Yes, I can clearly distinguish the voice of a man. Still in bed, I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling. My irritation increases when a second voice joins the first.

It occurs to me that there is nothing charitable or Christian about how I feel in that moment. I don't care. My solitude, THE solitude has been broken. I want it back.

I consider my options: go find someone in charge? Go knock on the door of the offender(s)? Write a note and stick it under their door? I even go so far as to pen the words to the note (all in my head).

In the end, I do none of these things. Instead, I get out of bed and step out onto the veranda. As I take a deep breath the voices begin, again. They are coming from somewhere above my head. The third floor perhaps? But when I trace the sound's path with my eyes, I am looking out over the large expanse of the tree covered front lawn of the Big House.

The sound is coming from the treetops?

And there they are; two men clinging to the tops of different palm trees. Day laborers. With sharp knives/machetes they are chopping down the dead and dying undergrowth at the top of the trees. Every branch they cut loose is sent crashing to the ground. In between their efforts they call back and forth to one another.

I still wish they would stop speaking but my anger evaporates as I watch them work. In fascination, I take a seat in the rocking chair and study their movements. After removing the branches they spend time cutting away the fibrous undergrowth. The evidence of their work piles up on the ground below. When they are finished they scale down the trees with ease and move on to the next.

The newly trimmed palms look healthier, greener, and more beautiful without the weight of their old branches.

I am here so that God can do the same for me.

Monday, November 16, 2009


"All my longings lie open before you, O Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you." --Psalm 38:9

Last week, I travelled to a remote part of Texas for some much anticipated solitude.
Monday - Three hours south of San Antonio, I turn off the main highway onto the non-descript road that will lead me to my destination. My foot eases off the gas as I take in a large black Labrador Retriever standing in the middle of the pavement. His mouth is open in what seems to be a smile. His tail sweeps back and forth in a friendly hello. As silly as this might sound, he looks like he has been waiting for me.

I pull off the road to text my husband that I have arrived safely. When I look up, the dog is gone. Easing the car back onto the asphalt, I glance at the farm road to my right. There is the Labrador, again in the middle of the road, watching me as I drive past. I grin back at him.

Thank you, Lord, for the special welcome.

This next part of the trip is always the same: I lower the windows of my car and slow my vehicle to a mere idle and crawl along the quiet road. It takes a while to cover the last six miles at this pace but it is always worth it. Everything in me begins to shift gears. My breathing slows down. My senses are sharpened as I take in the wild, untamed vegetation and catch the first faint taste of salt in the air.

I'm coming Lord. I'm almost there.

To my left, a pair of large birds roosts in a tree. They remind me of eagles. A bit farther down the road a startled pair of javelinas and their young take off from the roadside and head under an opening in the wire fence. Butterflies, dragonflies, countless birds, white tail deer, and even a turkey are all part of the welcoming committee.

Your creation is magnificent, Lord.

When I reach the retreat center I head to the Big House to find out where I am staying. I've been assigned to "Ruth" for my stay. I am delighted. It is a large room on the second floor of the main building with access to the veranda that faces the cool breezes blowing in from the bay.

After unloading my possessions I park my car in a remote, out-of-the-way location and walk back towards the Big House. I stop to watch the tiny woodpeckers who are working overtime on the knotted gnarled tree branches nearby. They see me but they aren't concerned about me. Then I look up into the clear blue sky as a shadow crosses my path.

A turkey buzzard soars directly overhead. He glides effortlessly on the wind current. A thought voices itself in my head,

He doesn't have to work at it. He just opens his wings and the wind does the rest.

My longing and envy catch me by surprise. Just as surprising is the immediate response from the Lord.

"You can do the same thing, Denise. Just open your heart and let me do the rest."

I am startled. I hadn't expected to hear Him so clearly, so soon in my visit. His words linger in my heart as I head towards my room to get situated.

After lunch I step out onto the veranda and make myself comfortable in a rocking chair. I am still trying to acclimate myself to the slower pace. The knowledge of days of silence stretching before me causes an anxiety I can't seem to stifle. My thoughts rush and jumble themselves into bunches and knots. My prayers stop and start. I keep reminding myself to just breathe and relax.

The steady motion of the rocking chair begins to work its rhythm into my soul. I become aware of the wind as it rustles the leaves of the palm trees. It is continuous. The trees give witness to the way it ebbs and flows but is never completely still.

Breath of God always with me.

And then He whispers to me...

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

The question hangs in the air for a moment.

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

Yes, but I'm afraid. Why am I always afraid?

The truth of my confession slowly sinks in. Tears roll unbidden down my cheeks as my spirit waits for my brain to catch up. I am afraid...

I rock and cry and slowly accept the truth as I feel the breeze blow softly on my face - God with me.

I don't feel the need to explore the details of why...not yet. For now, the fact that I am afraid is enough.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Listening Heart

Q: How exactly does one go about writing a book?
A: One word at a time.

Q: Which words are the right words?
A: I don't have a clue.

A few weeks ago, the Lord revealed to me that He and I were going to write a book. Now that the initial shock has worn off I am ready for more details. What I have realized is that my day-to-day routine makes it impossible to be still enough to listen.

"But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer." Luke 5:16

Jesus retreated from the world in order to be with the Father. It is no different for me.

On November 9-14th, I am returning to a beloved place, Lebh Shomea House of Prayer, where the silence is indescribable and the presence of God - undeniable. It is a desert retreat center located south of Corpus Christi, TX. No internet service. No cell phone coverage. No tv.

This will be my third visit. Each time I have visited Lebh Shomea (pronounced lev show-mae-a) I have encountered the Lord in ways both reassuring and unsettling. While there I have experienced His peace which is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have also reeled from the questions He has set before me (Job 38:2-3).

There is no hiding from God in this place. It is a place where God insists on honesty and vulnerability; offers opportunities for repentance and healing; and in return, bestows forgiveness, blessing and direction.

So, in a few days, I will go seeking direction for the book that has yet to take shape. I brace myself for His questions that are certain to come.

I have heard You call and I am coming. I cannot wait to pull off the highway and into the sanctuary of Lebh Shomea. Soon, Lord, very soon I will be saying, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." Thank you, Jesus, that it will be so. In Your holy name, Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009


"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD,
'He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.'" --Psalm 91:1-2

I am feeling a bit overwhelmed these days.

Recently, God made it clear that He and I are going to write a book together. A whole book. With nine chapters. That is the extent of my knowledge.

Since the "You're going to write a book," news my spirit has been in an agitated state. I am excited. I am wondering if I am up to the task. I have more questions than answers...and God knows better than to talk to me when I am unable to listen with all my heart.

O my heart, be still. Be still.

Until then, I am hunkered down in the shelter of the Most High. He is my Shelter. He is my Refuge. He is my Fortress. He is my God.

And I will trust Him.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Empty Journal

"The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever." -- Isaiah 40:8

We have a routine, the Lord and I. Most mornings, I pull out my One Year Bible and see what God's Word has for me that day. Anything from His Book that stands out [intrigues, comforts, convicts, challenges, delights, distresses, clarifies, teaches] gets copied into a journal. For the past four years we have been meeting. And for the past four years I have been writing His Words back to Him.

In four years time, I have filled up 25 journals with Scripture.

Open a page in any one of those journals and God's faithfulness and glory is revealed through His Word. Read for a while and that particular stage of my faith journey and state of mind becomes clear, as well. God's Word has persistently and consistently been molding me into the person He intends me to be. Not that we are there yet!

Yesterday marked the beginning of fall and I celebrated by picking up a new journal. When I got home, I sat down to copy the words I had underlined earlier in the day. I had to smile when I saw Isaiah 40:8. How appropriate to begin Year 5 with an empty journal and the promise that His Word stands forever.

Father God,
Your Word is eternal. For so many years, I approached Your Word with little expectation. Forgive me. Remind me, Lord, to approach Your Word with fear and trembling for through it You will speak Life into my very soul. Speak to me, Lord. I am listening. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A New Season

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."
--Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a change in the air. Mornings are cooler. The alarm clock goes off but now it is pitch black outside. Fall is on the way and hope is riding its coattails!

It has been a long seven months for my family. For me. Grieving, surviving, adjusting to the challenges of moving to a new city...each day its own mountain needing to be scaled. Breathe in, breathe out.

Give me the courage to make it through the next five minutes.
Okay, how about the next five minutes?
Oh God, how am I ever going to make it through the whole day?

Falling asleep exhausted and getting up the next morning, begging for the courage to do it all over again.

Our family of five has been tested. This move has marked us; left us with tender battle scars, a new limp from freshly knitted bones and the memories of dark places. It has not been easy and yet, we are stronger for having gone through it. I am stronger for having gone through it.

Am I glad I moved? Not really. Not yet.

But I am grateful. I am grateful for the faithfulness of my Lord who has walked every step of the way by my side. I am grateful for the prayers and encouragement of my friends. I am grateful for the life lessons I have been taught as I have been forced to grow and change.

Even more, I am grateful to be moving beyond "survivor mode" to "thriving mode." The cooler breeze has ushered in a season of hope. I cannot wait to see what God has planned!

You are the God of Hope. Praise Your Name! Thank You that there is a time and place for everything under the sun. Forgive me for all of the times I doubted Your plan this past year. I want to believe You without reservation. Teach me, Lord, teach me. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Beyond Words - Prayer Part 3

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth." --Psalm 46:10

We are all called to pray. Even when I was a small child and didn't understand much else about God, I knew that prayer was important. It wasn't until I had reached adulthood that I experienced, first hand, how the practice of prayer establishes and grows a relationship with God.

As my prayer life has developed, I have taken great comfort in Romans 8:26 which reassures believers that when we don't know what to pray, "the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." I also love that Jesus sits at the right hand of God as my advocate; my intercessor (1 John 2:1). It is easier to openly express my heart knowing that Jesus will filter my words before they reach the Father's ears.

The summer I turned 42, I answered the Lord's call to serve Him through intercessory prayer. This type of prayer was different than the other kinds of praying I had done before. I found myself burdened with the invisible, yet palpable, weight of certain people and events. Their names and faces traveled with me throughout the day...always with the understanding that I was to keep lifting them up to the Lord and praying for them as He directed.

For the last six years, I have been exercising this gift. It has become an integral part of my life. I fall asleep praying. I wake up with prayers already in my mind. Throughout the day, it has become second nature to agree with the Lord in whatever He has to say over situations and His beloved people. (In fact, I just stopped typing this in order to pray and answer a text from a friend who needed prayer because the enemy is trying to rob his joy -- the very joy he expressed, yesterday, over all the Lord is doing in his life.)

One of the things I love about God is how He continues to teach me new things about Himself through prayer. Last week, as I prayed for a mission team in Costa Rica, the Lord revealed Himself to me in a new way.

Thirty to forty minutes earlier, I had prayed my way through a long list of individuals. The Lord had directed me to claim a new Scripture for each one. Even though I enjoyed the end-result, the process was tedious. So, as I began praying over the mission team (a group of nine), I half-wondered if God was going to ask me to find individual Scriptures for them, too. Imagine my surprise when I sensed the gentle words,

"Shhh...Let Me talk." in, these are My children, I know what they need.

"Shhh...Let Me talk." in, this is My mission trip, I know what needs to be done.

"Shhh...Let Me talk." in, just be still and let Me do what I do best.

Immediately, I broke into a great big grin. Everything in me: spirit, mind, body became still. I closed my eyes in delight and bowed my head as our Father prayed perfect words over my friends.

After some time had passed, something in the air shifted and the moment drew to a close. I knew, without having to be told, that He was finished. I didn't dare add to the words that had already been spoken. There was no need. He had said it all.

"Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth." --Psalm 46:10


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

God's Word - Prayer Part 2

"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."
Isaiah 55:10-11

It has been three weeks since the Lord called me to an intense time of intercessory prayer. It's a good thing school is back in session. This kind of prayer tends to spill over into every aspect of my day... which is good for the people I am praying for...but not so great for my family who has to live with me while I'm in a very distracted state!

Ever since the enemy rattled my fence, A Strong Hedge - Prayer Part 1, I have been extra diligent about staying in God's Word, not just for my sake but for those I am praying for. God has also been clear that I am to use His Word as I lift others up to His throne of grace.

Over time, I've discovered a few things about myself and what happens when I use God's Word in my prayers:

1. My prayers are shorter. God's Word is enough. I don't need to add to it.

2. I have greater peace when I claim God's Word for a person or a situation. I don't have to wonder if I said the right words or asked for the right thing. I have faith in God's Word.

3. It takes time to apply God's Word. Using God's Word in prayer requires me to do my homework.

In the past, I haven't always taken the time to search God's Word for the verse or verses which fit the circumstance. In the beginning, I didn't know I should. When I started to understand that it was a good and powerful thing to pray God's Word, I didn't know how. It was faster to pray words of my own then to face the task of searching God's Book - which is overwhelming in size and intimidating to those who are still learning their way around it.

It has become a bit easier as I have become more familiar with the Bible. Amazingly, my journals (filled with Scriptures that I copy during my daily reading) often yield the Words that are needed. Over time, I have purchased several books on prayer that identify helpful Scriptures. But, if I am somewhere with internet access, I will go to to search using a keyword or words. The beauty of this site is that I can pull up the same verse in multiple versions and compare the wording to see if the meaning holds true (to what I thought it meant). I can also look at the verses before and after to see the context in which they are used. This has kept me from misusing God's Word in prayer, more than once!

And that leads me to the last discovery.

4. There is no greater blessing than to claim God's Word on behalf of someone me and the one I am praying for.

" 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." -- Isaiah 55:11

Father, Thank You for the knowledge that Your Word always accomplishes what You desire and never returns to You empty. Thank You for Your Word that blesses and teaches; convicts and heals. I love You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Strong Hedge - Prayer Part 1

"Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land." --Job 1:10

I have been working my way through the book of Job these last few weeks (heavy duty reading). I have also been called to an intense time of intercessory prayer for family, friends, and others (heavy duty praying).

The whole idea of God and Satan having a conversation over a righteous man (Job) will have to wait for a different post. What I want to address is the reality of evil, Satan and spiritual warfare and how we arm ourselves against it.

If we are walking with the Lord and growing in our faith we should expect to gain the attention of the enemy. The simple truth is at some point in your life, you or someone you know will need to know how to respond to spiritual warfare.

In Job 1:10, Satan asks God a question about Job, "Have you not put a hedge around him...?" A hedge, as in, a hedge of protection. When I read those words an immediate question came to mind,

Q: How does Satan know there is a hedge around Job?

A: Because he has already walked the fence line.

He has literally prowled the perimeter of Job's world.

Job is not the exception. Satan does the same for all of us.

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." -- 1 Peter 5:8

He looks for an opening in our hedge and uses it to his advantage. Our weaknesses become his exploit, distract, derail...anything to keep us from focusing on and giving praise to our God.

This past weekend, I volunteered at a concert for a well-known Christian artist. Through God's design, I ended up as one of the chauffeurs for the artist and the band. I had two jobs, really. My physical act of service was to drive the group from the airport to the church and then back again. My spiritual act of service was to pray for the artist.

For the past week or so, my prayers had been divided between the artist and a group of friends who were preparing for a mission trip to Costa Rica. The concert was scheduled for the same day that the mission team was heading to CR. So, when I wasn't praying for one, I was praying for the other.

While praying, something very unusual happened. The kind of thing that people don't talk about. The kind of thing that many people don't believe in. The kind of thing that makes people look at you sideways once you share.

I have been praying for discernment ever since the experience. I have thought a lot about this before writing a single word. And, I have asked for spiritual counsel before posting it. After all of that, I still believe God wants me to testify and to equip you for the future.

Here goes:
I was standing outside the conference room where the band had just finished eating dinner. Two volunteers were inside the room, cleaning up. I was out in the hallway, by myself, leaning against the wall in prayer.

Out of nowhere, I felt the physical weight of two hands on my shoulders shoving me downward. The sheer force of the blow took my breath away. I blinked my eyes and concentrated on breathing in an effort to keep from blacking out. As my knees buckled, I slid down the wall and crumpled in a heap on the floor. Had I not been leaning against the wall, I am convinced I would have been knocked over, violently.

I was completely caught off guard. I struggled to catch my breath. My mind raced trying to analyze and rationalize what had just happened. Dehydrated? no... Low blood sugar? no... Anxiety? (I took my pulse - it was unusually slow) no...

I was seized by an overwhelming need to pray. I didn't know if the need was for the artist or my friends who had just arrived in Costa Rica. I only knew it was critical to pray as if lives depended on it.

I must pray. I need my Bible.

My backpack was only 6 feet away but I couldn't stand up to walk over to it. I ended up crawling on my hands and knees and pulling it open. My heart sank as I realized my Bible was in the car. Don't ask me why, but I pulled out my journal and, with great difficulty, wrote down these words,

"7:12 p.m. Heavy hand shoving me to the floor.
Standing outside --'s band conference room/eating dinner.
Faint - heart beating very slowly.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus."

I prayed in the hall until I could stand up (five-ten minutes?). On shaky legs, I slowly made my way to a chair in the conference room where the volunteers were working. One of the woman, took one look at me, and alarmed by what she saw in my eyes, asked if I was okay. I'm not sure how coherent I was but I shared what had happened in the hallway, that I was interceding for the artist and my friends in Costa Rica, and I needed help I asked them to join me.

They stopped what they were doing and, immediately, took a seat on either side of me. We joined hands and prayed. Afterwards, they returned to cleaning up. I could not stop shaking in the aftermath and was so grateful to be in the comforting presence of women of faith. I stayed in the room; on my knees in continued prayer.

To say I was rattled is an understatement. One minute I was fine. The next minute I was being assaulted? What the heck had happened? There is really only one explanation that fits:

I think Satan was ticked off because of the wall of prayer surrounding the artist and my friends in Costa Rica.
I think he was ticked off because he couldn't sabotage the concert or the mission trip (although he certainly gave it his best effort).
I think he was ticked off because I was a part of that wall that he couldn't penetrate.
I think he had already prowled my hedge and couldn't find an opening.
And, I think he shoved me in frustration when he saw that he was defeated -- the equivalent of a dog throwing itself against a fence, one last time, in futility.

So what do we do when the enemy throws himself against our fence line and rattles the boundaries that keep us under God's protection?

God's Word provides the answers:

1 Peter 5:9 says, "Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings."

How do we resist him? By putting on our armor before going into battle. Ephesians 6:10-18 talks about putting on the full armor of God in order to stand up to the devil and his pray without ceasing.

And, finally Revelation 12:11 reminds us that we have already overcome Satan by:
1. the blood of the Lamb (Jesus)
2. by the word of our testimony

Over the years, I have found that when a spiritual moment intensifies my prayers tend to do just the opposite. They simplify. My journal entry attests to this:

"Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus."

"Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."
-- Philippians 2:10-11

The name of Jesus will never fail you.


is always enough.

Jesus, thank You for being enough. In your perfect name, Amen.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oaks of Righteousness

"They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor." --Isaiah 61:3b

I spent this past week at a Student Life Youth Camp in Waco, TX. It was a week of blessings mixed with surprises, heartbreak, and victories. I am still unravelling everything I saw, heard, felt, and learned but one experience stands out above all others.

It was the last evening of camp. Our group of 100 + youth and leaders had joined the other 1,200 campers for worship. The music was loud. The auditorium was cold. I began to feel very ill and wanted nothing more than to leave. There was just one problem. I was sitting on the far side of the aisle. Leaving meant I would have to climb over 10-15 people just as the speaker was reaching a pivotal point in his talk -- the invitation.

So, I sat in my seat; miserable and trying to convince myself I was ok. All around me were youth and adults with heads bowed in prayer. It was impossible for me to concentrate. My only concern was heading for the exit as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

Young people began to stand up in response to the invitation to give their lives to Christ. The speaker asked leaders to make their way towards those who had said, "yes" to Christ. I took advantage of the moment and bolted for the back of the auditorium.

Just as I reached the big double doors the Holy Spirit stopped me and said,

Turn around.

My mind and my body rebelled at the thought of staying. But I turned around, walked back toward the crowd, and stood behind the section of seats filled with our campers.

I had a perfect view of our group. My attention was captured by five young men (junior high age), near the back, who were standing without a leader. Just as I wondered if I should go stand with them, I saw a big, athletic, high school student making his way towards the group. It was hard not to notice him; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

I watched as he positioned himself in the middle of those boys. He stretched his broad arms across their shoulders and every one of them leaned into him. Five boys and they all fit underneath the umbrella of his embrace. They remained that way while the speaker prayed. It was a powerful image.

The speaker encouraged those who still needed more prayer time to lead their groups towards the back of the auditorium. The young man gathered his group and led them to a spot just a few feet away from me. They huddled in a circle of prayer.

I sensed the Holy Spirit again,

Place your hand on his back and pray for him as he prays for his group.

I did so, all the while rejoicing at the opportunity to witness such an incredible moment.

The speaker issued a new invitation. Anyone who wished to rededicate their lives to Christ, who wished to recommit to study and prayer and relationship with the Lord...would they please raise their hands. He asked the remaining leaders to pray for those standing.

The young man who had just prayed for the five new believers raised his hand. I was the only adult, from our group, nearby.

Now I understand why You told me to stay, Lord.

Just minutes earlier, this young man had provided spiritual covering for those who had declared their faith for the first time. Now I was the one being called to provide a covering for him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and prayed words supplied by the Holy Spirit. It was a holy, holy moment.

When I was finished, he gave me a hug of thanks and headed back to his seat. Surprisingly, I no longer felt the need to leave the auditorium. I stayed in the back and celebrated what had just taken place.

The picture of the boys huddled under their leader's outstretched arms remained vivid in my mind.

Isaiah 61:3b speaks of oaks of righteousness, planted by the Lord, for His splendor. That is what I witnessed this past week and it was a glorious sight to see.

As believers, we have been planted for the purpose of displaying His splendor not our own. And, each and every time we stretch out our faith and extend ourselves on behalf of another, we bring Him glory.

You are an amazing God! You are mighty in strength. Your glory is beyond compare. Forgive me for all the times I have gone my own way; missing the opportunity to serve You and display Your glory. Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a spirit that is willing to obey. In Jesus' powerful name, Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Thy Will Be Done

"I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please." --Isaiah 46:10

Last week, I drove to Kerrville, TX in order to attend evening worship at the Mt. Wesley Retreat Center. Two hundred jr. high kids were attending Mt. Wesley for a week of fun, games, and the opportunity to explore their relationship with Jesus Christ.

I spent much of the 300 mile trip in communion with God. I worshiped the Holy One. I prayed for my loved ones. I prayed for what was going to take place that evening. People, near and dear to my heart, were in charge of leading the campers in the week's activities, teaching moments, and times of worship. My daughter and her friend had been invited to sing with the worship band that evening. All of this, I lifted up to the Father.

You might think after all that praying that I was done for the day.

But that was not so.

The leadership team and the worship band gathered before the kids arrived. They prayed with an urgency and a humility that only comes from those who are completely submitted to the will of the Father. Prayers for God's will, power, healing, strength, for the courage to answer God's call, and protection from the evil one, were spoken with fervency. It was obvious to me that the Lord intended to do a mighty work in the lives of those young campers. It was just as obvious that satan had much to lose and would do everything in his power to disrupt the evening's plans.

Later, as the kids poured into the worship center, I sat on a bench watching and waiting. I knew God intended me to be more than a spectator. It didn't take long before I recognized my assignment.

There were double doors leading into the room. Large and heavy, each time someone entered or exited the place they closed with a bang. On the surface, it may have seemed like no more than a minor distraction. But on a deeper level, it represented a subtle interruption of the worst kind...

{Bang}...and a split second later, a young mind loses their ability to focus and wonders again why they are there

{Bang}...and there is a disconnect between the heart beginning to be warmed and the praise words being sung

{Bang}...and the whisper of God's call that accompanies the pastor's message is lost

Without question, I walked to the doors in order to ease them closed each time someone passed through them. I felt conspicuous. Anyone coming in or out had to go around me. Even so, my discomfort was secondary to obeying God.

God had physically posted me at the door to do more than close it gently. He expected me to pray, with authority, over all that was happening inside, as well as that which was taking place outside.

I had my Bible with me and opened it to the Scripture lesson for the evening: Acts 1:1-11. For the remainder of the evening, my Bible remained opened to those pages.

These were the words I lifted high above my head in worship. These were the words I clung to when I boldly faced the doors and claimed, in Jesus' name, that the enemy had no authority, and had to leave the premises. These were the words I wept over when I could no longer stand up and found myself stretched out full length on the floor, weeping and shaking.

A part of me wanted to get up...I was in the way, someone was going to step on me, what if I was distracting someone? Another part of me was powerless to move. Twice, someone came and prayed over me. Overwhelmed, in God's presence, I could do nothing but remain on my face before Him.

Prompted by the Spirit, I began to pray. The prayer was simple but incredible...the same four words spoken over and over again. Thy Will Be Done. Each time I spoke them they took on new meaning.

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a plea that God move as He promised

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a surrender of my own selfish ways

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a declaration of faith in God Almighty

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a blanket of protection for those leading the way

Thy Will Be Done... and it was a stamp of authority against the darkness seeking to disrupt the holy awakening taking place in the hearts and minds of 200 precious souls

Thy Will Be Done... and I was in complete agreement with Him

Eventually, I was able to stand up again and resume my post. A young man (college age?) came up to me towards the end of the evening. He said that God wanted me to know that even though I was a small person I was a spiritual warrior. What I had done that evening, by guarding the doors, had made a difference.

His words blessed me but, not so much because I needed to hear them. No, the blessing came from the look on his face as he delivered the message to me. His expression was that of confusion and wonder.

Out of obedience to the Father's will,
he returned to a room he had already left and
spoke words he never intended to say
to a woman he had never seen before.

Out of obedience to the Father's will...

May Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In Jesus' name, Amen.