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Practicing His Presence: The Effects of the Wind

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Woolly sheep resting in a pasture under a bent pine atop Auckland, NZ. (photo: #loneviajera)

Right now all I can hear is a wind from the north raging and whistling the sweet tiny lake cabin where we are presently staying. I’m kind of surprised my youngest hasn’t run down and jumped into bed with me yet from the ruckus…a sign he really is exhausted playing as hard as a 5 year old does. The elements have a way of carving, forming, shaping, anything that’s in its path. I’ve stood cliff side at the ocean’s edge, dared the railing at the Grand Canyon, sat above the tree line atop the Andes as the sun beat down and the winds and height made it clear no life could live at the peak too long. And we wonder, wonder why all the suffering, why all the pain and erosion? We raise our fists to the sky, maybe to the God some don’t even believe in, but whose fault it surely is for all the agony, and no answers come, at least not ones some may care to hear. It’s amazing houses withstand northeasters, but more miraculous is the beating a tree may take day after day after day. And it’s a variety of trees, too, not just those rooted down deeply. On the shores of warm beaches spanning the globe, shallow rooted palms sustain gale force winds regularly. And some days they don’t. Some storms are weathered by all sorts of trees with all sorts of root systems on any given day. And then, one day, whether it was a storm or just the specific day and time established, it was the one, the one where the uprooting determined the final number of rings to be counted. Therefore I don’t wonder. Well, I do if we think of the word wonder in a way that conjures up awe and continued pursuit and a life of curiosity, but not “wonder” in a despairing way, because we are all only here as long as we are here. Only alive hearts feel the stretch, ache, and deep pain of being bent low in the path of the screaming wind. But the elasticity with which we are made, the brilliance and endurance with which we were created, resurrects us to our original design, rising tall, again, on our firm foundation.

(*This morning I only had 10 minutes to write, so often I just don’t because it doesn’t seem like enough time to finish a thought. But I followed the cheering and advice of my writer friends and put my butt in the chair (I stayed in bed and pulled the laptop in…) and sat with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard, and this is what came of it. There are links to other posts I’ve written like this if you follow the tag: Practicing His Presence.)

A Series: Practicing His Presence

(I am working on listening to God, sitting with Him, closing my eyes and opening my heart to whatever I sense He is saying to me, and then hopefully putting into practice, if you will, the life He downloads into me. My series, “Practicing His Presence” comes from the title of a book called, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, a 17th century Carmelite monk, who sought to be more mindfully aware of God’s presence in the day to day. Personally, the way I do it as it pertains to writing is set a timer for 5 minutes, sit with my eyes closed at the computer, and type whatever comes to my heart. A theme this year has been His Garden. Often times He’ll remind me of what occurred there and how Jesus renewed the kind of intimacy Adam and Eve had with God, one totally open and completely counter to the way modern practice of religion teaches. Here’s a glimpse of what came today…)

Breathe deep. Stop. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale again. Listen. Watch. Observe. Can you hear My voice? Each moment is a gift, something to open and delight in, to be aware of. I have given you good things. I said it was so. And I’ve modeled this for you, a lifestyle of creating GOOD wherever you go, with whomever you encounter, those I’ve entrusted into your care, those you know in your neighborhood, at work, those you see on the streets. Every single one. Share what you’ve learned from My example…give GOOD away at every opportunity. Make opportunities. Find them. Gather people and share the GOOD. Every person I’ve created in My image, though not everyone knows or believes this, lives it presently, nor gives out the GOOD I’ve created in them to give away. They’ve been overcome by discouragement, hurt at the hands and words of others, darkened by the darkness waiting to envelop any and all of you at any given moment. Your mission isn’t to wield your opinions or rules or religious regulations at one another. Your mission isn’t AT each other, it’s TO each other. Your mission is LOVE, GOOD news, Christ in ALL of you, the hope of glory. Give GOOD away. It’s been freely given to you. It’s not up to you to decide who receives it…I’ve decided that already, and it’s for everyone…so give it away to all you meet…and give GOOD to the one in the mirror, as well.

Still Practicing His Presence: Advent

When my Mom died this past June, to say my world was rocked would be an understatement. I was flailing. My Mom and I used to talk on the phone AT LEAST once a day, if not more, and this just 6 miles apart across town. Sometimes my Mom made me crazy. I didn’t always understand her wisdom, discernment, and prophetic insight. I still don’t entirely, even looking back. My Mom had a very close knowing of her Lord, the way two best, heart-to-heart friends would sit…that’s how it was with my Mom and God. Why? She was liked and loved by everyone who knew her, so it would be safe to say God loved her, too, but that’s safe to say about all of us, so I’m not certain it’s a favorites thing.

I think they were close because she drew near to Him.

She knew better than to trust that just by simply reading the Bible, she’d “get to know Him,” though she read it over 30 times in her life. People read books about other people every single day…it doesn’t make them BFF’s.

No…she sat still. She listened, because He speaks. And I observed her doing this day after day and year after year. She also candidly let Him into the deepest parts of her heart and let loose all the good, bad, and ugly, willing to accept His ability to see and know all things. She never bought into the cushy American gospel with its frills and whistles, abundance and sought out manifestations. Even if surrounded by it. Even when it was preached from the pulpit. Even when she and my Dad were kicked out of their “church” because they wouldn’t financially invest in a Ponzi scheme...in the name of Jesus.

Nope. My Mom drew near to Him. She called Him and asked Him if He wanted to hang out…just as friends do…and, not a big surprise, there was always room for her.

She didn’t allow ever-changing circumstances to change the God of the Universe. The ebbs and flows of trends and mood swings and popular famous Christians throughout our American Christian journey did not sway my Mom into believing the God who made her and loved her was as fickle.

My sister gave me a FaceTime tour of our parent’s house the other day, how beautifully she had decorated it for Christmas. I cried as she narrowed in on some of my favorite ornaments from childhood, red velveteen birds with nests full of clustered eggs, clipped among the branches. The whole tree reminded me of my Mom…not really what a Christmas tree is supposed to conjure up if you think about “The Reason for the Season.” But I’m grateful it makes me think of my Mom because above all else and anyone else, she was in love with Jesus, her dearest, heart-to-heart friend…and it brings it all back around for me.

This ornament was sent from my Grandma to my Grandpa while they were young teenagers in love...it is from the 1920's.

This ornament was sent from my Grandma to my Grandpa while they were young teenagers in love…it is from the 1920’s.

You see, 8 years ago we spent Thanksgiving and Christmas at Children’s Hospital of Denver with our son, Noah, and with family and friends who gathered…and I still look back on that year and think of those two holidays, plus my birthday, as among my favorites. It was when my heart died to the First World dream of a Christmas tree filled with toys made in China under more toys made in China, and it came alive to what ANYTHING, not just Christmas, but LIFE really means!

We can try as we will to draw parallels between the original Christmas story and our very abundant First World Christian lives, but I’m long over that. It’s not about trees or Santa or a church Christmas play or gifts or lights or choirs or gingerbread or candles or parades or wreathes or any other beautiful holiday season token…none of these bad in and of themselves.

Specifically, in my heart, anyway, these days of Advent leading up to the celebrated birth of Jesus long ago are about the question: Is there room? Is there room at the Inn? Is there room for God’s unconditional love in my life? Is there room at our tables and margin in our calendars? Is there space for others to feel welcomed and loved? Is there room for one more, or two, or three? Is there room for generosity and warmth and sharing and grace? Is there room on my shoulder? Is there room in my heart?

This Advent season, and every day, is there room…?

 

November 3rd: Practicing His Presence

There is a fight, but it’s not for your life, it’s for your beautiful soul. You are in a boxing ring, but you must know, you are not pitted against another person, nor are you supposed to be fighting yourself. The Devil, the very Enemy of your heart, is poised in the other corner, poised with subtleties, wooing you to believe, to actually buy into the idea that you battle against anything, or anyone, other than him. I told you, “the Enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come to give life and give it to the full.” I’ve told you all this so your spiritual eyes could be opened to the battle that rages over your head and heart on any given day. You do not battle against flesh and blood. I created you to work together, champion for one another, carry one another’s burdens when your brothers and sisters, the family of humanity, everyone I created in My image, grows weary. But you aren’t fighting a visual Enemy, it’s not your spouse or best friend or colleague or neighbor or family member, it’s not the person who thinks or looks or acts or believes differently than you. It’s the Enemy of your heart, the Devil, and he masquerades in offenses, doubt, hardening, and fear. “Everyone” is not out to get you, but he is, you can be sure, and if you succumb to his vices and fears, it will overwhelm you, distract you, and cause you to question whether I am for you or against you, just as he did in the Garden. He wants to distract you from the beautiful life of living in communion with Me. What is “abundant life” and “life to the full”? It’s not what the world says with the ample possessions and hefty paychecks, or what some claim to preach in my name, “a life that is always full of joy, without pain or sorrows…” Abundant life is a life filled with my peace amidst any trial or heartache, My presence always with you and My peace. My peace is shalom peace, nothing missing, nothing broken, not lacking in anything. Yes, if you look around at the world, it is easy to lose heart at all the brokenness, but close your physical eyes to truly see what I see and your heart will be open to the way I love.

From Matthew 12:30-31, The Message:

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

From John 10:10, New International Version, (read also in The Message):

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Series: Practicing His Presence – October 29th

October 29, 2014

Do you think this is a magic trick, sitting here with Me for five minutes, waiting for Me to speak? I am speaking all the time. But I won’t shout. I won’t scream. Mine is a still small voice and to hear it requires discipline. Your discipline to sit still and to open your heart. To listen, you must STOP and be quiet. It seems counter cultural and it is, actually, even with all the good there is to do. Even all the righteous causes. You want more than a 24-hour day, but you couldn’t handle it if you had it. I know how much you can handle in a day, trust Me with the Earth rotating around the sun, spinning on its axis. If you seek Me you will find Me if you seek Me with all of your heart. Is there room in there for Me? There is. There is plenty of room in your heart for My love, it’s your head that lacks space for My Presence and Peace, all those thoughts and concerns whirling. But only you can rearrange and clear out the noise and choose what is life-giving to hear. 

Philippians 4:8-9, The Message –

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

Series: Practicing His Presence – Cares and Worries

Here’s what He put on my heart today. Some of it applies to me, but I’m thinking someone else is supposed to hear these words, too.

Last winter I experienced a lot of anxiety. Changing my diet and habits, exercising and acupuncture all helped to a degree, but I also chose lame “rewards” to escape the feelings, to no avail. Not until after 6 months of multiple anxiety attacks a day did I find relief, and I haven’t had one now since May. I went to see my dear friend who is a Naturopath and one seriously discerning praying machine. After we sat quietly for a while, she said it was a spiritual attack on my life, an attempt to keep me held back from what God had in mind. She prayed for me, I walked out of her office, had lunch with Jason and Ryan, and have. not. had. another. anxiety. attack. since.

October 28, 2014
Your heart is racing. There is so much to do, so many things vying for your attention, so many needs in the day-to-day, let alone the rest of the world. Anxiety is creeping up your neck and you wonder why you don’t get a break. There are ample ways to escape it, a walk, book, time with a friend, a glass of wine. Or is it shopping, a hobby, a sweet treat, or handful of something salty? Is it working harder, staying busy, even a cause to take up? You can walk on the beach a million times, run mile after mile after mile, read your Bible, talk to others, go to conferences and retreats and listen to every inspirational speaker out there, but I’ve told you: cast your cares on Me because I care for you. It’s not a command but a clue, a glimpse, a gift and an extension of My love to you. None of those other things will give you the deep down “break” you are looking for. Sure, you are strong and capable, remember how I made you in My image? But, you see, I am fully aware of all the going’s-on in the world because it’s My world to shoulder. The weight of the world is not meant for you to bear. You bear My image, but you were not made as a duplicate of Me. When you hand over your cares to Me, I’m not telling you not to care, rather I am freeing you to trust Me in the day-to-day, that My heart is with you and in Me your heart can find rest.

Series: Practicing His Presence – Guest Post with my daughter

Today as my daughter and I spent time in homeschool praying, reading, and listening to God, He told her something pretty neat. You see, every. single. morning. she says, “What are we doing today?” And every. single. day. she says, “What are we doing tomorrow?”

She wants to know. She wants to know specifics. She loves writing things down and having things planned, though she is mostly flexible when plans change or shift.

Thing is, I have no idea. And I HATE to disappoint her, telling her one thing and then it not happening. Sometimes I have a clue as to what’s on the agenda, like the staples of meals and homeschool and bedtime, but in this time of complete uproot and total transition, to give my children concrete answers about concrete plans would convey I know anything about anything…and I’m not a fan of pretending OR lying.

In the past what has worked is to simply deliver life in a series of surprises (even when I had planned it all along…), like one morning when Emily was two months shy of 4 years old and I was pregnant with Noah, she woke up to a packed suitcase and a plane ticket to accompany her dad to California for a long weekend while my best friend, Molly, came into town from Kansas City, and she and I remodeled Em’s room into a “big sister” room. Not only didn’t I tell Emily about the trip ahead of time to save myself from millions of questions about when she was leaving, but she didn’t know she would have a surprise when she got home, either.

Win, win!

She had a weekend away with her father, one who loves her and whom she loves, and that was enough for her. At least when she was 4…lots of life has happened in the 8 years since then, and it’s NOT A FAULT of hers to want to know. Heck, I’d love to tell her and on some days I’m able to lay out a general plan, but with our impending season ahead, I can only tell her a month at a time, even knowing the sheer audacity of stating plans more than a day in advance is foolishness to God.

So we wait. And we trust.

And this is what He shared with her this morning during our 5 minutes of quiet listening:

Em said, “He told me that I don’t have to worry about today or tomorrow or try to plan the future and know every detail, but to let Him take care of it and let me enjoy what He has planned.”

And then she read this in Proverbs 27:1, since it’s the 27th day of the month: “Don’t brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.”

This picture was from when the trip was over, hence the sad face...

This picture was from when the trip was over, hence the sad face…

Upon entering her new "extreme room makeover" digs...

Upon entering her new “extreme room makeover” digs…

One happy kid, who never even knew it was coming!

One happy kid, who never even knew it was coming!

None of us may know the first thing about tomorrow, but we can know the One who has tomorrow in His hands.

Series: Practicing His Presence

Listening.

I’m starting a practice, an intention if you will, of sitting still for 5 minutes with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard. It’s not to write, as far as a writing practice, but it’s my heart and intent to sit with my soul and ears open so I can hear the Spirit of God. Over the last 28-ish years I’ve “heard” God speak to my heart on several occasions. When I say He spoke to me, it means a smarter thought came to me than I could possibly think up…it often also means hearing something contrary to what my natural self seeks, as if God in His infinite wisdom may know something I don’t that would benefit me and my circle of life in the long run. Many journals are filled with my ever-changing handwriting from over the years, pages filled with God’s wisdom and encouragement to me, if I would only sit and listen long enough to scribe it, go back to it, chew on it, and allow my soul to be nourished by these moments.

So, below, I was going to post what He put on my heart yesterday but when I went over to Word to get the document and cut and paste it here, it disappeared. After 30 seconds of shock and holy-cow-ness, He said, “That was for yesterday. Today is a new day.”

I’m learning.

I’m not being legalistic about the time frame, but am trying to keep it to 5 minutes for the sweet taste of what can come when we stop and trust the Lover of our hearts with even just a snippet of this crazy, hectic life. He is longing to speak to us, are we willing to stop and listen?

October 24, 2014
Seek new manna each day. Don’t look for yesterday’s “day old” bread. It’s stale, lifeless, no longer filled with nourishment, whether it was true or not. Each day is a gift, a day meant to be fully lived. How long will you try to survive on left-overs? How long will you stuff your face and head and heart with junk food, time suckers that distract you from My will for your life? I am the Truest Truth you will ever know. The Enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy but I have come into the world to give life and give it abundantly. I am not a man that I would lie so trust Me when I say this. Each day I long to greet you, every morning when you rise I am cheering you on. Do not fret that there is too much to do or worry if you are in line with My will…I have not called you to a life of performance but rather one of obedience. I am gentle, and am not talking about obedience in the sense that people bicker over and debate discipline. My heart in creating you is for a lifetime of love and relationship. Let’s walk together each step of the way. It’s my favorite thing to come alongside my children and be invited into your daily bread. It’s there you will find true nourishment.

Empathy: A Noun?

Maybe that’s the problem?

I like the word, “empathy.”

I’m a peacemaker. How could I not? Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines it:

“the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this”

But its definition says it’s a noun, and my understanding of it is as a verb.

If you are still here reading as the month comes to a close, I hope you will filter each post through the lens of empathy…it’s the lens through which I write and the way I pray to see and treat and understand others on a daily basis.

I fail all the time.

But that doesn’t mean I give up on the practice. Today my legs are sore and I’m utterly exhausted, because in an attempt to practice empathy, I walked 14 miles cold turkey. It’s not that I don’t walk once in a while…I do yoga, lift weights, and walk and sprint as my work-outs, but for usually no more than an hour.

 

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We, the “Graveswolds” are living on a lake in South Dakota for a season that is 14 miles around by the road ways. I decided I wanted to walk around it before the first freeze and we’ll be out of town in Minneapolis next weekend, and the weekend after that could be the first freeze, so this morning, I was totally going to do yoga because it was chilly and sprinkling and I’m DECIDEDLY NOT a fair weather girl, plus I haven’t really “trained” for the distance, just a 5, 6, and 8 mile walk over the last couple months and 2 full days of walking all over Paris last week, adding up to about 18-20 or so miles, and I’m doing a major detox, and on and on and on…

So there are tons of excuses and complaints and reasons why yoga in a heated room would have been yummier.

BUT, the reason I wanted to walk in the first place, and the reason I told my excuses to shut the hell up, were backed by empathy.

You see, I’ve been reading the 4th chapter of John for 15 years, and as a result, the lives of women and water and wells are near and dear to my heart…

…and there are women who are still just girls all over Africa who walk 14 miles every day or every other day to get water for their families. And the water is usually from a dirty, mucky, contaminated source that has to be boiled once they get back to their villages…their villages that, for some reason, don’t have fresh water wells yet…

And these beautiful girls could not only be in schools learning awesome stuff, but they could also be working and gleaning wisdom and nurturing alongside the grown-ups in their lives, even if it is in a field and different from the First World’s idea of childhood.

And these beautiful girls walk even if it’s sprinkling or hot or there are predators…and they don’t have the luxury of a 31 day detox/cleanse challenge or of an incredible husband and kids meeting them at the half-way point with a Nalgene of pure water and lunch of meat and veggies.

Empathy isn’t meant to make us feel guilty for what we have and what others don’t have. The purpose of practicing empathy, whether in deed or heart to heart understanding is to ask ourselves, on any given day, in any situation, upon learning the story of another, this question:

“How would that make me feel?”

Here’s how I felt today as I walked and prayed and pressed on around Lake Kampeska:

  • I was grateful to have U2 singing me along, ministering to my bones, and a chance to talk to both of my sisters in the 4+ hours it took to circle the lake…I hope the children who walk great distances for water at least have some friends or other kids to walk with because that’s a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts…
  • I was thirsty. I purposefully did NOT bring water on the walk, one because I didn’t want to have to carry something, and two, because I didn’t know where I’d stop to pee, and three, because I knew my prince and chitlins were bringing me rations halfway…I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to schlep 40 lbs of *dirty water for half the distance I did today. I know what a 40 lb, 5 year old feels like in my arms, but to carry him for 2-3 hours would break me.
  •  A million other thoughts, but one last observation: It’s true I wouldn’t know any different if this were my chore as an African child, but time is my love language, and today I spent 4+ hours away from my family. While this kind of a break is usually welcome and wonderful and refreshing for my soul, it’s usually doing something I choose to do for relaxation or rejuvenation…different from a tasking chore. And I think of all the time those kids are apart from their parents or community, which may fill their hearts with a sense of contribution and worth, but what wisdom and mentoring they are missing, or what snuggles or smiles or glimpses or loving gestures they simply miss out on with the casual interaction that happens with doing life together, because they are fetching water at great lengths.

 

World Vision International is the largest NGO that provides clean water to the developing world. Their work and presence in nearly 100 countries enables other non-profit organizations to dig wells in villages around the world.

So, yeah. Empathy is asking ourselves, “How would that make me feel?”  It’s a “me” focused question, yes, but meant to experience life through the eyes and in the shoes of another…and it’s painful and beautiful all at once.

I was thirsty…and he gave me a drink.