Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December 30th

31 Days of Jesus!

Day 30 - Praying with a prayer shawl.

I saw this video the other day [I know that it's easy to skip over these videos, but the rest of the blog will make a lot more sense if you take the time to watch it]:



Watching it, I just fell in love with the idea of praying with a prayer shawl. And then, as luck [or God] would have it, I happened to acquire a beautiful one the other day at a clothing swap party. My friend, Amie, saw it first. She had every right to take it as her own, but she is amazingly giving and let me have it instead. :)

I haven't done much research on it. As I'm sure you've surmised, I'm drawn like bees to honey to most all spiritual disciplines [except, notably, for one** [see below for explanation]]. In A Shaping of a Life, Phyllis Tickle writes that her life has ultimately been that of prayer and/or praying. I think mine, on some level, is leading me in a kind of inescapable way toward spiritual disciplines. Although I find myself to be a clumsy disciplinarian.

I did find this website, and I love their ministry. I would recommend perusing their site. I definitely learned a lot.

I don't know much about my new prayer shawl. The friend who'd previously owned it said that she got it from another friend who used it as such. It is gorgeous and someone could just as easily use it as a curtain. But when I put it on earlier today, it seemed to have a calming effect. Like the prayer room at Wheaton Woods last year [and the one in Charlotte], it may just be my imagination [which does have a tendency to run wild] - but I think I can feel residual prayers from a previous owner.

I hope I am not ruining it by typing with it on right now. My netbook does NOT have a calming effect on me.

I think [I think] any old shawl [or blanket or scarf] will do. Perhaps if it has special meaning to you, it may bear more significance in your mind.

The website I referenced above talked about it being a comforting thing. I love that. It's a visceral reminder about God's comforting joy. Mine is not snuggly warm. But, it's beauty helps remind me of God's majesty - something, oddly enough, I have been known to forget.

Also, the mentioned above website offers prayers to pray if you put the thing on and think, "Okay, now what?" If nothing else, you could just pray the Lord's prayer:

"Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory,
Forever and ever,
Amen."

You could also just pray whatever comes to mind - whatever you want to talk to God about. No rules, I don't think. Just quiet contemplation. This is definitely one of those practices where you will generally see it's "fruit" not in the practice itself [although that could happen] put rather in your day to day life living.

**Discipline I'm not drawn to: Fasting. I'm not inclined to deprive myself. Shocking, I know. ;) I'm working on it, though. I don't have to be drawn to it to reap it's benefits when I do it.

Happy New Year's Adam!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

December 26th

31 Days of Jesus!

Day 26 - Spiritual Directing and a look back [also, random fun picture taken at the mall the other day :)].

Hmmm. It's 9:27pm and I'm eating potato chips and drinking Mt. Dew. Don't try this at home.

Hi! I was thinking . . . before we move on to the next day, let's stroll down memory lane and take a gander at what we've done for the past 25 days.

Day 1 - Do NOTHING.

Excellent.

Day 2 - the Welcoming Prayer.

Wow, I'd practically forgotten. I could have used that prayer a lot since December 2nd.

Day 3 - Doing that thing you do [with Prayer and Joy!]

Day 4 - Praying for what you need.

Day 5 - Go outside and play!

Yay!

Day 6 - Rest.

Ahhhhh.

Day 7 - New Years Resolutions! I loved that day. :)

Day 8 - The Gift of Surprise.

Again, thank you, Jess! =D

Day 9 - Watch a Nooma video! [I watched Whirlwind [whoop, whoop!]]

Day 10 - Thank God!

Day 11 and 12 and 13 - Fixed Hour Prayer.

Yay Phyllis Tickle!

Day 14 - Souvenirs [saving the bits that will help you remember where God was present in the tough patches [or wilderness] of life].

Day 15 and 16 - sacrificed for the sake of exam week.

Day 17 - Cooking for Jesus!

Day 18 - see days 15 and 16.

Day 19 - Throw out your to-do list!

Day 20 - Exercise for Jesus. :P

Day 21 - Daily Examen.

Day 22 and 23 - Another sacrifice - this time for a trip to Charlotte, NC.**

**Confession time - I lost it here. I completely lost the reason for the season and shifted into "frantic gift shopping mode". It was ugly. It's not that shopping is ugly. No, no, no. I was ugly. I totally lost sight of what's important and became obsessed with my agenda. Unfortunately, it happened at the expense of my loving husband. Oh, thank God he's so forgiving.

Day 24 - Take a deep breath [a miracle just in time for Christmas].

I didn't do one yesterday. Ha. I didn't do anything yesterday actually. My mom and dad had to work [boooo for them]. Sadie is visiting her biological father. Jermaine and I slept in and then lounged [or "rested"] all day. It was marvelous. I was actually able to contemplate Jesus and God's amazing gift to us.

And now [drum roll please] for Day 26 - Spiritual Directing!


I first heard about spiritual direction in the book The Sacred Way by Tony Jones. I felt immediately drawn to the idea. In the official version, you get together with a Certified Spiritual Director and they ask you some questions. Not in a judging way. Just gently probing - asking where you feel God's presence. Where you don't. And other such similar questions.

Henri Nouwen's website offers the best example I could find.

My friend Amie and I get together every so often and sort of conduct our own version. Often, we just end up bonding and chatting. But, it's quality friendship time and I always feel God's presence.

I'm leaving Charlotte Monday morning, so we're going to have session tomorrow night before I go home. I decided to post it tonight because I won't have the chance to post before tomorrow evening [if at all] and I wanted to you to have the chance to find a friend and try it if you wanted to.

Have a good night! Love!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

31 Days of Jesus! Christmas Eve edition - Take a Deep Breath.

Merry Christmas Eve! This has been a very special day for my family - and I wanted to share our story with you!

8 years ago my uncle Danny got a new set of lungs because his were quite messed up. Unfortunately, his body rejected them. For nearly a decade he's been struggling just to breathe. It's been a long, painful journey for him and our family [especially his wife, and his two sons, Jesse and Josh]. And for a while now, we've been waiting for another new pair. But, at first, he was too sick to have the surgery.

Last August, Danny was finally deemed well enough for new lungs. And a new kind of wait began.

A couple months ago, we got the call - lungs in Pittsburgh! Uncle Danny, Aunt Tammy and the rest of their family piled in their car and drove from Bradford, PA to Pittsburgh. We were prayerful and excited. But - when they got there . . . they discovered that the lungs that had been donated were no good.

It was shocking and sad and there was nothing we could do but pray. And, honestly, it didn't seem like enough.

And then - yesterday, we got another call - a second donor - offering his heart to a 73 year man and his lungs to my uncle Danny.

And - they were good!

He had the surgery today. He's in recovery now. My aunt said he's doing much better than he was right after he had the last surgery 8 years ago. That's a good good sign!

We still don't know what the future will hold. Our hope is nervous - but it's also abundant. My mom broke down in tears today when she got the call. Because the reality of the matter is that someone had to lose their life so that my uncle can live his. That's so . . . remarkable. And truly and surely what this crazy thing called Christmas is all about.

Thank You, God! And merry merry Christmas!

And that's pretty much it. Have a happy Christmas. And thank you for reading my blog. :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

December 21st

31 Days of Jesus - Day 21 - Daily Examen.

I don't feel like writing this. I'm upset about my a grade I got . . .

I tried to write about an hour ago. It felt forced so I stopped. Sitting at my computer, playing on Facebook, I realized, I really need to practice the Daily Examen tonight. I need to take a look what this day has been about and where God has been in it.

At first, I thought I wasn't going to write because I didn't want to do it just because I felt like I was "supposed" to - like, people are expecting me to, and would be disappointed in me if I didn't. That's not what this blog is about - and I'm trying to let go of that kind of stuff.

And so, it's good. I let go of that reason. I no longer feel pressured to write this because of what you may or may not think of me.

But, then, God gave me a new reason. Because if I really need this, someone else may need it too.

If you're not a night owl, you'll probably read this in the morning. You can certainly do it then [for the day before] if you have time. If not, then maybe tomorrow night.

I'm not really up to explaining the nitty gritty details. And besides, this website does a much better job than I could ever do. And this PDF spells out exactly what you're supposed to do. I highly recommend this practice. It's truly good God stuff.

Good night, sweet people.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 20: Exercise!

I feel close to God when I work out. I almost feel like it doesn't make sense, and that maybe, it shouldn't be included as a part of this 31 Days of Jesus journey. But, this is where I am today. And so far, through this whole thing, it's been incredibly fruitful for me to use the stuff that makes up my day and my overall morale to write this blog.

I'm done with school. I've been cleaning our horribly messy room for most of the day and watching the Biggest Loser Thanksgiving Edition as a way to get motivated to begin the process of getting back in shape. Jermaine and I trudged outside with our neighbor's shovel and were successful in digging our car out of the snow. Right before we ate, I squeezed in a powerful 10 minute workout and I'm aiming to get myself back out to our apartment gym in a couple of hours [after my belly has settled from dinner].

Oh, and also, randomly, I just finished watching some sort of Olympic skiing competition. And it got me thinking . . . I want to go snowboarding!

And so, I think I'm going to try to make it a reward for myself. If I can stick to an exercise routine for 6 weeks in a row then, on February 5th [tentatively], I'll head up to the mountains.

One of my major problems is that I tend to "reward" myself with food. Bad day? Have a candy bar. Big test? Buy some cheesecake. Gluttony, shame, low-self esteem, perpetuating bad habits; they're all interconnected and keep me messed up. I keep thinking that I need to figure it all out [ie: why I'm doing this to my body] before I can begin to fix the problems. But I'm learning that maybe I need to begin the *work* of fixing the problem before I get it all figured out.

ALSO - I don't want to do this alone. I realized that's why I keep blogging about my weight [http://outofshapeaerobicsinstructor.blogspot.com]. I'm hopelessly social and it's my own unique way of reaching out [even though I'm embarrassed] because I know I'm not alone in how I feel. There are thousands of people out there who struggle with weight and self esteem issues [regardless of the number on the scale].

Maybe today [or tonight, rather], we can prayerfully exercise, asking God how he wants us to use our bodies to glorify him.

Oh! And PS. I don't want to go snowboarding alone, either. My friend Jess and I are tentatively planning a trip this year - if you want to join us, let me know! We'll figure out a weekend that works well for all of us [the more the merrier!].

Love!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

December 19th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 19 - Throw out your to-do list!

That's it. Just throw it out. Heh, if you live in Maryland or Virginia then you're probably snowed in anyway. We sure were! :)

I know it's late. You probably don't have anything else on your to-do list today [I'm banking on the fact that most of the people reading this watched TV all day as the snow piled up outside]. If you couldn't throw it out today, then you can tomorrow!

I've been trying to figure out what to do for today all day long. I finished my last exam OF THE SEMESTER at noon today and I've been chillaxing ever since. :P Finally realized that considering the past few months I've had, that's a totally awesome way of getting closer to Jesus!

After months of feeling the heavy weight of the homework I had every time I wanted to just chill out. It's freeing to let go of that guilt.

Good night! Happy slacking!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

December 17th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 17 - Cooking for Jesus.

Hello! Sorry I missed a couple days. Tuesday and Wednesday were the most difficult of my exam week. I'm so glad they're over! I just finished my easiest exam. And so all I have left is one more on Saturday morning and then I'm COMPLETELY DONE for the semester. Oh goodness. Thank God!

I have some fun news. Author Keri Wyatt Kent read my December 6th blog where I mentioned reading the first couple chapters of her book, Rest, at a bookstore and commented - offering to send me a copy if I promised to review it on my blog! I'm really psyched about it! I have a weekly devotional that she wrote called Simple Compassion that I read every Sunday - and I really like it. She combines the concepts of "quiet time" with God [or whatever you want to call it] and the spiritual discipline of giving or serving. Some of the concepts I feel like I've wrestled with in-depth already. But others are completely new. I find it gives me something to focus on every week.

Haha, sorry. Didn't exactly mean to turn this blog into a review of that book. ;o) Moving on.

Cooking!

I love to cook. And I love to bake. Especially for people. Maybe it's because I'm a woman and I've been socialized to like it and to gather some of my self-worth from doing it well [so says the sociologist in me]. But, I don't care. It's fun. And everyone likes to be cooked for, right?

Tonight, Jason and Jen, the couple that Jermaine, Sadie and I will be moving in with very soon, are coming over. Jason is allergic to dogs. Our dog is supposedly "hypo-allergenic" so we're getting them together to see how Jason does [and if it would be remotely possible for us to bring our dog into their house]. Jermaine is going to cook Curry pork and rice [he makes a mean curry dish].

Spending time together. Cooking for your friends or family or both or strangers. Baking bread for your neighbor. I really feel Jesus' presence when I do these things. Haha, I guess you could say I'm cheating today because we've had this planned [and not as one of ours days for Jesus] for a week. But, oh well. It's good stuff regardless. :)

So have a cookie swap. Or make your parents dinner. Or make suckers out of hard candy with your kids. The main point of this day is to make something in your kitchen and give it to someone else.

Ooh. And I want to add a recipe to this blog. On Recipezaar I found this one; Better than Olive Garden Alfredo Sauce. It truly is [it's also over 1000 calories, though!].

Happy cooking!

Monday, December 14, 2009

December 14th


31 Days of Jesus - Day 14 - Souvenirs.

Going to aim to make this really short and sweet [without all the word fluff I usually add] because I have a very difficult exam at 8am tomorrow.

My friend, Meghan, introduced me to this sermon series at her church [Renovatus in Charlotte, NC] called "In the Wilderness" because she knows I've been going through a very difficult time these last few months. The series is freaking awesome. I highly advise you check it out. Particularly the one that led me to today's blog called "Souvenirs".

Basic gist: we generally gather souvenirs to remember happy times. But, in the desert, God called Moses and the Israelites to save some of the Manna. He wanted them to remember that he was with them during that difficult time.

When I start to think about it, I'm blown away by all the times I felt God's presence in my life. In the good times for sure, but in the dark times - he's peeking out of practically every crevice!

I wanted to share one of those times with you. I hope my friend Jess won't mind. Last year [during exams] she sent me a message of "exam encouragement" on Facebook:

Jessica Jean Hudgens December 15, 2008 at 10:44am

I was praying for you just a minute ago, and I barely got three sentences out before God gave me a word for you.

He wants you to have peace during this exam week, B. He wants you to know that He has it all under control. Study, work hard, but put your faith in Him, not in your own understanding. He has placed a call on your life - and He will be faithful to fulfill that. Have faith in that and know that this exam week is only a step toward that life He called you to, and that no matter what happens this week (though I know you are brilliant and should have no worries) - you are called and you are worthy of that call. Find peace in that.

I love you.

"Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." - Luke 1:45

Reading that, a year ago, I was reduced to tears [in a good way]. I hadn't even been that worried about my exams - but in that moment I was so touched and so encouraged! It really helped me get a feel for the bigger picture.

Now, every exam week, I dig this message out of my inbox. It still makes me cry. And it still helps me focus on God's larger plan for my life. This exam week it's been especially helpful because this has been probably the hardest semester of my school career.

And all I can say is thank you, Jess. And thank You, God!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

December 11th and 12th and 13th

31 Days of Jesus - Days 11 and 12 and 13!

Fixed Hour Prayer

Sigh. I did it. I missed a day. Sorry. :(

It was semi-intentional. I had planned to write at some point [and I had figured out what the day was going to be about]. But I still hadn't done it at 11pm. For the past few days I've spent the last hour of the day racing to finish this blog. Aside from the fact that that's not incredibly Jesus-centered [I wasn't actually contemplating that at all], I was really tired. So, I committed to writing in the morning, and curled up with a good book [Phyllis Tickle's autobiography The Shaping of a Life: A Spiritual Landscape]. Jermaine is on the middle school retreat so Sadie cozied up next to me and read The Mitten and Thundercake [we'll not talk about why she was up at 11pm].

My friend Amie lent me the book I'm reading now. It seems very fitting to mention her. And to mention Ms. Tickle. Amie introduced me to the wonderful world of spiritual disciplines. I was visiting Charlotte a couple of years ago and I chanced to attend a Bible study she was leading [which happened to be about the disciplines]. Although I didn't realize it at the time, that Bible study absolutely changed my life. It opened up a world to me [a "spiritual landscape" you might say] that I was completely unaware existed. And she raved about Phyllis Tickle, who compiled these books called The Divine Hours, which brings me back to the subject at hand.

Fixed Hour Prayer is a practice that has been around since the birth of Christianity[and long before, in fact]. This link at Phyllis Tickle's website offers a brilliant explanation of what this discipline is all about. I will [attempt to] give you the abbreviated version.

Wait. No, scratch that. Ms. Tickle says it way better than I could. Here is an excerpt from her website detailing Fixed Hour Prayers origin:

Fixed-hour prayer is the oldest form of Christian spiritual discipline and has its roots in the Judaism out of which Christianity came. When the Psalmist says, "Seven times a day do I praise You," he is referring to fixed-hour prayer as it existed in ancient Judaism. We do not know the hours that were appointed in the Psalmist's time for those prayers. By the turn of the era, however, the devout had come to punctuate their work day with prayers on a regimen that followed the flow of Roman commercial life. Forum bells began the work day at six in the morning (prime, or first hour), sounded mid-morning break at nine (terce, or third hour), the noon meal and siesta or break at twelve (sext, or sixth hour), the re-commencing of trade at three (none, or ninth hour), and the close of business at six (vespers). With the addition of evening prayers and early prayers upon arising, the structure of fixed-hour prayer was established in a form that is very close to that which Christians still use today. [http://phyllistickle.com/fixedhourprayer.html]

I fell in love with The Divine Hours because I wanted to pray more, but I didn't know what to say. With this practice, I'm reading the Lord's Prayer, certain selected poems and songs, and passages from the Bible. I don't end up feeling like my prayer is too self-centered. And, it's all about praising God - something I've never been fully able to wrap my mind around - or practice with a spontaneous prayer without feeling completely ridiculous.

I don't know if I'm explaining this adequately, but in a way, I feel like the best way to learn is just to do it. This link will give the prayers for the appointed time [it's also the first link on PT's resource page]. She arranges it a little bit differently than the passage above. Her fixed hours are 6-9am, 11am-2pm, 5-8pm, and the Vesper's [right before bed]. The actual reading takes about 5 minutes and you are supposed to read it on a half-hour [so, for the first one, you would read it at either 6, 6:30, 7, 7:30, 8, 8:30 or 9am]. But, don't sweat it if the timing is off. Especially if you've never done this before. Just try it. Read the prayers out loud if you can. This is another one of those practices that you see the "fruit" of it or the results while living life. Although, you could totally experience God while reading through them [and actually, the New Testament has several stories of apostles doing just that!].

I have a lot of studying to do. But, I'm going to try to get a little bit of the Sabbath good stuff tomorrow. That's, of course, why I included it today. But also, I think it's important to try to get into the rhythm of the Divine Hours. I'm hoping two days will help you to begin to do that. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10th

31 Days of Jesus: Day 10 - I don't know??

Side Shout Out - HAPPY BIRTHDAY SADIE!

Goodness gracious! I don't know if I'm going to get this post out before midnight! I'll make it short and sweet [or quick and dirty -whichever phrase you're feeling at the moment].

Today was busy - in a very good way! My spirits are soaring [which is a little crazy because they were waaaay low yesterday]. But we got to celebrate Sadie's birthday and then went over to have dinner with some new friends. AND, they invited us to come live with them!!!!

It's such an amazing God-orchestrated thing! We're just totally blown away. :)

So yeah, the only thing that seems right to do today is to thank Jesus. I know you all have your own things going on. Maybe it''s been a rough day. Maybe it's been as good as ours.

But, either way, let's just stop and thank God for the good and the bad. I mean, really, what else do you have to do at 11:54pm on a Thursday night?

Sweet dreams!

Ooh - PS. School is almost over -and once that's done, these blogs will come a lot earlier, I promise [so, you actually do them that day, lol].

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December 9th

31 Days of Jesus: Day 9 - Whirlwind.

I would have gotten this out earlier, but I was having a moral dilemma. I had a really rough day today so I went on YouTube to watch a Nooma video. I'm a bit of a sermon geek and Nooma videos are like bite-sized sermons. I had a feeling God would lead me to something I needed to hear.

And, boy, did he!

I ended up watching Whirlwind, which centers around the story of Job from the Bible - a wealthy man who loses everything - his stuff, his health and his kids. His wife advises him to curse God and die [awesome]. His friends come over and engage him in this lengthy debate - essentially, why do bad things happen to good people??

Then God shows up. And God has some questions, too - and they cut deep - they are sassy yet compassionate, sarcastic yet full of love. And most of the Nooma video is Rob [Bell] spouting out God's questions from the book of Job. I had no idea they went on that long! Verse after verse after verse. The questions comforted and disturbed me deep down in my soul. It was a bit like drinking a most delicious drink that is just a little too hot to be consumed. It really helped me make it through this difficult day.

I wanted so badly to share the video with you! I didn't know if it would affect you the same way [and it would be totally okay if it didn't], but I felt this burning to desire to pass this on.

There was just one minor problem . . . the Nooma videos on YouTube are pirated. Thus, the moral dilemma. It's like stealing a Bible from a hotel. Okay, well, it's not exactly like that. But, although I could have uploaded them onto Blogger [as I've done before], it just didn't seem right.

So, I did what any of you would have done in my situation. I googled it. I found a discussion on Facebook about the pirated YouTube videos, and, in that same discussion, an answer to my problem! Apparently at http://player.flannel.org/map, you can get a ticket to watch one free Nooma video per day! And, you can also buy tickets for those who can't afford to buy the movies. I think it's a really sweet idea!

Day 9 has truly been a whirlwind for me. Instead of uploading the video - I'm going to encourage to you go and pick out a video that speaks to you. They even have two of his tours uploaded on there! I have them both - and I think they're pretty nifty.

Okay. I'm so done. Good night cyberworld.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

December 8th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 8 - The gift of Surprise!

Ugh. Sorry to get this out so late. One of those days, you know? Had a major paper due today. Got up at 4:30am. There was a car on fire on I495 on my way to school this morning. I tried to research it earlier but was unsuccessful. I just found this link that reports the driver made it out okay, thanks to a good Samaritan. That's definitely a relief!

I figured out what I wanted to do for Day 8. However, I was going to change it because I didn't get a chance to actually do the exercise. But then - out of the blue - my friend, Jess, [without even the slightest clue] did it for me!

I wanted to propose we all give a surprise gift. Something homemade to someone unsuspecting - maybe even someone we're on the outs with. I'm not on the outs with Jess, but she did surprise me! She ended up with a gift subscription to the Food Network magazine and for some reason [or God*] she decided to offer it to me!

I know it's late, so you're probably not planning on jumping up from your computer right this minute to go and surprise someone. But if you get a chance, maybe you can do it tomorrow. I can honestly say, the subscription made my day - especially since I feel like I'm up to my ears with stress. It felt really good that she thought of me. :)

Thanks Jess!


*not to say it was God's plan to give me more stuff [I mean, maybe it was - he is the God of getting lots and lots of crap**, right?] - no, no, no - I was suggesting that God may have been helping out with this blog [because, of course, he's also the God of bloggerific fun].

**NOT to say the Food Network magazine is crap! No, no, no.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 7 - New Years' Resolutions!

I am a dreamer. When I was a kid, I spent hours playing out loud - imagining myself as a glamorous adult, winning awards in the white hot light of a pretend stage [fame has always been my Achilles heel]. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that during times of boredom or restlessness [like when I'm stuck in traffic or while cleaning] I am not above revisiting my childhood fantasies. I would like to think they've become a bit more sophisticated, but that is probably not the case. ;)

Much of the work of my life as a Christian has been to let go of my perpetual dreaming and live - gratefully and vividly - in the present. But sometimes . . . sometimes I think my dreams can be useful. I think they've helped me to focus on the outlandish [like a single mom returning to school full time or moving 400 miles away from her amazing parents and friends]. I also think my ability to dream has graced me with the guts, in some capacity anyhow, to work on turning those crazy schemes into realities.

I love New Year's Resolutions. I never get tired of the ones I continue to make year after year - although I tend to feel a more concrete resolve to "really do it this year". I know it's a bit early - I guess most people don't begin to conjure up their hopes and dreams for the next year until the week after Christmas. But I would like to propose that, in the spirit of the 31 Days of Jesus, we may be able to use our resolutions this year to conceptualize and further explore our God-given purposes. Maybe I'm just especially excited about 2010, because first of all, I'm graduating from college(!), and second [for me and my family], 2009 has been a very difficult year.

I got the idea for resolutions last week, but it didn't seem to fit until today. I've got a huge paper due tomorrow and [as you probably know] a lot on my plate in general. I thought this exercise might be particularly helpful today in assisting me to see past this wretched semester and onto the big[ger] picture.

So [drum roll, please], here are a few of mine:

  • I plan to finish my Bible blog. I had to take a break from it because I inadvertently took on too many classes - but I am hoping that I can dive back into it during winter break and at the very least finish within a year.
  • I want to make a real attempt at getting published - and beyond that, begin to build a freelance writing career. I've always fancied myself a writer. When I returned to college, though, I discovered that I wasn't a very good one. I was afraid that the years spent partying had damaged valuable brain cells that were supposed be set aside for writing well. I decided the best way to become better at my craft [and to see if there was still hope for me] was to read. And read. And read some more [in fact, my writing tends to be very swayed by what I have most recently read [in today's case, it was scholarly sociological journals [which explains my choice of big words in this blog]]]. It was, if I do say so myself, a brilliant idea. I can actually see the improvement each semester. I will, of course, continue to read [and read and read and read], but I now feel like I possess the confidence and the ability to actually become published. I can only hope my future editors agree.
  • A couple blogs ago, I wrote about this idea I had - a grassroots organization helping people who have survived human trafficking. I still most definitely want to pursue that. But I have decided to bring the dream down to scale a bit in 2010. I want to craft recycled journals and sell them on Etsy.com. Most of the profits will either go toward my imagined future organization or to help an already dreamed up organization like Free the Slaves or the Polaris Project. And I will hopefully use the extra time I'm giving myself to research the project further.
I have other more practical resolutions, but these are the ones where I most feel God's prodding [not to say that God doesn't prod in the practical!]. I pray this exercise rejuvenates you as much as it has me.

Now, back to my research paper . . .

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December 6th

The painting on the left is entitled "The Sabbath Rest" and it was done by Samuel Hirszenberg in 1894.

31 Days of Jesus - Day 6 - Rest.

In a bookstore a couple of months ago I read through the first few chapters of Keri Wyatt Kent's book Rest, about the Sabbath. One of the things that stuck out for me was this idea of letting go of perfectionism. Most Christians I know have tried to keep the Sabbath—and failed miserably. And many of the sermons I've heard about the day of rest speak of its importance, but they don't necessarily mention that it's okay to fail. Or that, like an artist hones her craft, one gets better at keeping the Sabbath with practice. And, importantly, that even the failed attempts are essential [Rob Bell talks about this [though not in regards to the Sabbath] in his book Drops Like Stars].

In Kent's book she confesses that during her child's soccer season, she and her family struggle to maintain a Sabbath. That is extremely comforting. Because while I'm in school, and especially as I get closer to finals, I find it almost impossible to practice a whole day of rest.

Not that I try really hard. The Sabbath is one of those spiritual disciplines I find myself trying to ignore. Not purposefully, but just because I'm so ridiculously busy. But still, I feel God's gentle prodding. In sermons, in conversations, in books and even in my thoughts, the call to rest rings clear and true. And yet, I cover my ears and I scribble down that day's to-do list.

In a sermon, Rob Bell once remarked that the Sabbath was about stopping your work even when it was not done. That struck me as a remarkable concept. Because it makes sense—our work is never truly finished. But also because I think deep down I have this idea that I can't stop until I'm done.

And that's totally false.

In Girl Meets God, Lauren Winner shares her experience with Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. She talks about the importance of Preparation. I guess that's why I'm writing this blog. It's why I took a shower tonight and why I'm going to try to lay out my clothes for tomorrow morning. Sabbath was meant to be a joyous occasion and highly anticipated. And so I'm hoping to spend the rest of my evening planning, so that I can wake up in the morning and really dive into God's good stuff.

I'm not going to have a whole day of rest. I have to work at 1pm and then finish my homework tomorrow night. But from the time I lay my head on my pillow until I have to begin my work, I will be making an effort to experience Sabbath. And through the Sabbath, feel God's love and desire for me to play and rest with him.

The New American Standard Bible translates Psalm 46:10 [Be still, and know that I am God] as, "Cease striving". I freaking love that.

May you cease striving today.

December 5th

31 Days of Jesus - Day 5 . . . Go outside and play!

Dedicated to one of my favorite people, Abi England. I used to attend the same Sunday School class as her when I lived in Charlotte. And at the beginning [or end, I don't remember] of every meeting, we'd share praises and prayer requests. She worked with kids back then, I think. I didn't know her very well. But I remember that she often shared "praise reports" sharing how she got to go outside and that it was just so beautiful. I vividly remember being in awe of her simple praise. I'm not an extremely "outdoorsy" person. But her face and her eyes just lit up as she praised God for the gift of experiencing his natural creation. She radiated with joy, and it was contagious.

It's a little late now. Haha, sorry about that. I tweeted and Facebooked what this blog was going to be about earlier today. If you are trying to follow along every day, and you didn't get this until tonight, I am sincerely sorry. But, I'm sure this goes without saying that you needn't follow these exercises "religiously". If you don't get outside until tomorrow or next week, no matter.

I went out and played in the snow with Sadie today! It was loads of fun, except for the fact that I don't own a pair of boots - my thick socks and tennis shoes held up for about an hour before I felt my toes becoming wet and cold. Thankfully, we didn't make it out of the house until 4pm, so we only had an hour of daylight left for frolicking. We sledded and made a snowwoman. All in all, a blast was had.

At the end, Sadie became a little whiny, wondering out loud why we didn't get to do other fun snow activities, like having a snowball fight. Irritated, I explained to her that it would make me very happy if she could be thankful for what we did get to do instead of whining about what we didn't. She contemplated that as we trudged home, both a little sad, and walked in the door dripping with cold, wet, slushy snow.

But even if it was a little dampened at the end I can't help but be thankful for the time we had together. Her and I, we giggled and guffawed out there in the cold today. If you're a parent, I'm sure you know, one of the most sincerest pleasures as your kids grow up, is to share a whole-hearted laugh with them. Not to laugh at something they did that was cute [although that's great, too], but to realize that they are growing up - and their humor is maturing! And suddenly, you understand each other on this whole new level. And it's beautiful and precious and funny.

Yay, God!

Friday, December 4, 2009

December 4th

31 Days of Jesus - Beautiful Interruption

Sorry I didn't write earlier. I got an idea yesterday for what I wanted to do today and I got really excited about it. But, then . . . well, today has just been so hard. I decided to hold off on that idea and pick an exercise that I did this afternoon in an act of sheer desperation.

Day 4 - praying for what you need.

I was at this Bible Study in Charlotte about a month ago called the Kiln. We were talking about simplicity and specifically loving God simply. One of the girls mentioned how good and wonderful and okay it is to pray for what you need. It really struck me because I have a tendency to feel guilty if my prayers are focused on me. I feel like I'm being selfish, that I should really be praying for others.

I had what Andrea calls a "mini-meltdown" earlier today. Suddenly and unexpectedly, while on the phone with Jermaine, tears just started streaming down my face. His whole unemployment situation, I feel like it just grinds on me little by little everyday. It wore me down until today I broke.

I felt really fragile all day. School is stressing my out and my back is still hurting [not as much, but it hurts when I sit - so the hour long commute, and sitting for class and homework [the only three things I'm required to do daily] all end up being really uncomfortable]. These things, combined with the stress of Jermaine's unemployment, just had me feeling really vulnerable.

I feel like I'm done. I'm ready to move past this point in our lives. And I feel so helpless. What can I do to help him find a job? It's sort of been all wrong from the start. I've struggled with depression, anger and trust issues with God. I haven't been as supportive of Jermaine's way of doing things as I feel I should be. I know, on some level, that the trials we're facing are really imperative to our spiritual growth, but man, I just don't feel strong enough to go through it anymore. And, what's more, I know God has the ability to give me the strength, but I don't want it. I just this to be over.

I had to go over to our friend's house today. They have been insanely generous to Jermaine and I since both of our cars have been in the shop. We got one of them out today so I was driving over to their house to give them back their vehicle. As I was walking up to their door I just got this feeling - I needed to pray with someone! I'm not strong right now. That much is obvious. I needed someone else to be strong for me for a little while. So when she opened the door I just totally spilled my guts [and interrupted whatever she had been doing at the moment]. I asked if she would pray for me. I don't know her really well, so I guess you could say this was the most intense conversation we'd ever had.

But it was beautiful. And as she prayed for Jermaine and I, her toddler ran around reeking havoc in the living room. I loved it. I was intensely grateful that she would allow my interruption and, I think, she felt blessed to have the opportunity to help me in that way.

So, that's basically it. Jermaine didn't get a job today but I was able to make it through the rest of the day - and that in itself is sort of a miracle. And so, for today, or whenever you read this, take a few moments to access your needs. And then, either with a friend or on your own, lay them out before the Lord. I'm learning how much he cherishes these beautiful interruptions.

Resources:

http://crcc.org
http://24-7prayer.org
http://www.charlotte24-7.com/

Thursday, December 3, 2009

December 3rd

31 Days of Jesus: Day 3 - Doing that thing you do, Part I

This idea has been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days. It's easy to get bogged down by the mundane tasks that make up your average work day. So, the goal for today is to become really aware of Jesus' presence in the boring stuff. Whether you're a stay-at-home mom, a student, a pastor, a receptionist, are currently unemployed or anything in between, make an effort to see God shining through your work. You can do this a number of ways:

16Be joyful always; 17pray continually; 18give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • You could pick a bible verse [or a phrase you love] and repeat over and over again in your head [or out loud, if you're feeling spicy]. When I first became a Christian, I was working at a ski shop in Charlotte. I wanted to bring God into my work because it was so easy for me to forget about him [sadly, 5 years later, it still is]. I was overcoming various addictions and mending some of the ways I had messed up my life and I knew that if I didn't remember God's goodness everyday, I could easily slip back into the mistakes of my then very recent past. So, everyday I picked out a bible verse to memorize and repeated all day long. It gave me something to do when we were slow and I was just straightening winter jackets. And it helped me to really focus on my Creator and the opportunity to marvel and ponder whatever verse I was learning.
  • You could give endless thanks. It's a theory of mine that a person could begin giving thanks and potentially never run out of things to be grateful for. IE: Thank you for the couch I'm sitting on, that my back doesn't hurt as much anymore, for Ibuprofen, for Blogger, for this blog, for 31 days of Jesus, for friends, for Jermaine, for Sadie, for Sadie's Snowy Splash, that I got to see Cathy and Jeremy and Frankie last weekend, that they took us to a craft fair [especially because Jermaine hates those kinds of things], that my husband is not cheesy, that I am, for Sadie's gift with people, and her gift with math, for Andrea, for the amazing conversations we have, for this new fire she feels to help the people of South Africa, for her desire to go to South Africa [!!], for my amazing Charlotte/Brunswick friends, for my wonderful, loving, generous parents, for their funny quirks, for school, that I'll be graduating soon, for trees, for potatoes, for my favorite hoodie, etc, etc, etc. You get the picture. I literally could go on for hours. Unfortunately, this blog is only supposed to take 15 minutes and we've already blown by the half hour mark.
  • You could pray silently for all of the people you encounter today at work [or school, or home]. So, for example, we had to give presentations today in one of my classes. I could have prayed for each student as they went up. I could have prayed for my professor as I was begging her to let me make up some of the assignments I missed. I have a ton of homework - namely two presentations - one on women pastors and one on the United Kingdom. While I'm doing them I can ask God to bless my words. I pray for the UK and for men and women pastors all over the world. You could pray for your future employer, your kids, your co-workers and the customers that will buy the products that your company sells. This is also the type of thing that could go on endlessly. Ooh! And I just had a thought - if you're shopping, you can pray for the people running you over to get to the hot ticket items and for the saleperson who is probably over-worked and underpaid. You can pray for the person/people who made the shirt/toy/game/etc that you're buying.
It sounds a bit corny, but basically, whatever you do, do it with Jesus in the forefront of your mind. For me this is one of those heady exercises that tends to make me feel like I'm really living. One of my major goals in life is to figure out everyday what it means to live life to the fullest. So, of course, I love this type of thing. Also, I feel like it can be a Godsend in dealing with conflict. On the other hand, I'm sure you know that committing to do this exercise is a bit like asking for trouble as far as conflict is concerned.

Happy doing! Love you!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

December 2nd

Day number 2! - The Welcoming Prayer

My friend, Patsy, introduced me to this practice and it has been incredibly helpful to me.

It's fairly simple [although a bit more involved than doing nothing]. :)

First:

Focus, feel, and sink into
the feelings, emotions, thoughts, sensations,
and commentaries in your body.

Second:

Welcome the Divine Indwelling in the feelings,
emotions, thoughts, commentaries,
or sensations in your body by saying
“Welcome.”

Third:

Let go by repeating the following sentences:

“I let go of the desire for
security, affection, control.”

“I let go of the desire to change
this feeling/sensation." (Contemplative Prayer, Welcoming Prayer Brochure, 2)

So, for example, I'm harboring negative feelings toward a professor of mine. Every day, when it's time to go to that class, I feel my body tensing up.

First, I'll focus on my professor and the way I feel about her. I'll pay special attention to how my body feels. My whole body is locked. My jaw is especially tight and I'm breathing short, shallow breaths. Also, I've become so anxious that my stomach physically hurts. I acknowledge the ways that my body and my mind feel. I'll spend time on each uncomfortable element as if I was sitting with a dear friend.

Second, I'll welcome these sensations [out loud if possible].

"Welcome negative feelings about my professor."
"Welcome tenseness and tightness in my jaw, face, legs and the rest of my body."
"Welcome stomachache."

Third, I let go [again, out loud if possible]. I let go of my desire for security [in this case, the desire to know I'm going to get a decent grade]. I let go of my desire for affection [this professor, I acknowledge, doesn't have to like me]. I let go of my desire to control the situation [it's not the end of the world if I don't pass]. And, finally, I let go of my desire to change the situation [it's also okay that I don't like her].

This may seem counter-intuitive to the way we've been taught to pray. That's part of the reason it's so beautiful. It's easy and simple enough to do practically anywhere. And if you practice it regularly, you'll most likely reap the benefits in your daily life.

For more information about Welcoming Prayer check out The Contemplative Outreach website.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 1st

31 days of Jesus!

I'm so freaking excited! And I'm so freaking bogged down by my to-do list! But this is the good stuff kids go for. So! Here. We. Go.

Here's the skinny if you have no idea what I'm talking about:

I got this idea a couple of weeks ago. I love Christmas but I always feel like I lose my way a little every season. I forget how much God loves me and that I don't need to prove anything to anyone [not even myself].

I'll be posting simple exercises/activities/ideas that will hopefully help me and you to focus on what matters most. If you have an idea - let me know!

Thank you for doing this with me. I probably love you. :)

ACTIVITY FOR DAY ONE . . .

. . . Do Nothing.

A counselor once asked me when was the last time I sat still with no background noise and did . . . nothing. I couldn't remember. 5 years later, I still can't. And yet, it's one of my favorite ways to unwind. It's such a ridiculously simple concept. But it can be an intense challenge. If you have kids, you may want to wait until they slip off to sleep [or wake up before they do tomorrow morning if you're an early riser]. For 5 minutes or more, sit or lie comfortably. Position yourself in a place with as little noise as possible. Don't try to think of anything in particular, but it's okay to let your mind wander. I think it has a way of clearing itself out.

And that's it. Es todo.

I really put a lot of thought into how to start this month off. In the midst of the busyness - this seems like the perfect way to begin.

And so, yay! Here we go!

PS. It's totally ok if you fall asleep. :)