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Forgetting What Is Behind

This year has been full of new experiences for me, and yet I find myself in the same place I was one year ago. And I’ve struggled with that – a lot – but it’s time to break free. While counting down the last hours of 2014, I begin looking ahead with purpose.

Running toward the Goal

After seeing the portrayal of Apostle Paul as a truly broken-then-reformed man in last year’s The Bible miniseries, I’ve been more drawn to his words than ever before. His humility was more than just a personality trait; it was the after-effect of a man who was wrecked, utterly disturbed by a traumatic experience and then lifted up by Jesus the Christ into usefulness and a mission. His purpose was revealed in his devastation. And then Paul embraced that purpose and set after it with all his might.

I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize.
 
My friends, I don’t feel that I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so that I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize that God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done. Philippians 3:12-14 (CEV)

For the past 2 months I’ve been looking ahead and looking within to determine what comes next for me. What I know is that it can’t look the same as it has before. I can’t continue along the same path. I don’t know the details. I don’t know the timing. I only know that I have to forget what is behind and run toward the future. I’m not good at running, but that’s precisely what I’m called to do.

A Moment to Reminisce

Despite my lackluster years of late, I did find much joy in 2014, and those things deserve recognition. Posterity demands it, and my heart holds these experiences dear. Every moment in life adds to our stories. These were my stories from this year.

South Texas Respite
At the beginning of the year I was still victim to my health and, therefore, traveling with my nomadic parents. They’ve spent most winters of the past decade volunteering in South Texas, and this year I was able to meet the people who love them so dearly. Camp Zephyr is filled with incredible staff who love Jesus and serve with their whole hearts. Their joy is infectious! Although I wasn’t able to spend much time truly getting to know them, they immediately burrowed into my heart. It’s a gift to be returning again this winter, which makes a wonderful bookend to 2014.

Zephyr Camp - Sandia, TX

Homelessness
I spent part of the spring and summer at a homeless shelter in my North Texas town. In one sense it was a blessing: I needed resources to help me through the challenges of job searching with no home and no income. In another sense, it was everything you would expect from communal living. I was stretched to my emotional limits and had to fight off despair week after week, but I also met great people and found joy in the midst of the heartache. The shelter where I lived was a place of purpose, pushing every resident to find sustainable work and teaching the necessary skills to help make that happen. My lesson – which is now my soapbox – was that the face of homelessness is far different than you may imagine. It can look very much like the person working your office reception area or the “middle class” people sitting next to you on a church pew. It’s wrong to make assumptions, and it’s even more heartless to not ask people their stories. While there may be a bit of shame, there’s a greater need for unconditional love. We can all offer something to the people we meet, and you just might see an opportunity to restore a person’s dignity.

homeless shelter

A Brief Period of Employment
While living at the shelter I did find an incredible job at a local university, and I thought it was everything I’d been searching for. I provided administrative support to 13 professors, had my own office, and was able to put all of my career skills to work day after day. I also had access to great professional development opportunities (my favorite being Emotional Intelligence seminars), and immediately hit it off with my office neighbor so that we made each others’ days better just by being around. The job was a God-send with an underlying heavenly purpose. Which made my departure all the more crushing. Having found an equilibrium with my health issues, I was all in with the new job. Until my body developed new ailments, and I was once again unemployed and at the mercy of my health. I mourned this job for several months, and I’ve been frustrated in every way. But, as in all situations, God brought a silver lining out of the dark cloud, and I’ve finally been able to gain perspective. My university job was a blessing that just took a little longer to recognize.

Long-Awaited Surgery
Part of that blessing was qualifying for health insurance on my first work day and being able to retain that healthcare for almost a month after my final workday. So, finally (FINALLY!) I was able to visit all the necessary doctors and then have much-needed, much-delayed surgery during the fall. After struggling throughout my adult life without proper diagnoses and/or disposable income for treatment, being able to tackle every ailment that cropped up was a joy and a gift. Everything culminated in surgery and, thankfully, quick recovery that has given me a new lease on living. I hated losing my job but I am so grateful to have this debilitating chapter behind me.

Time and Energy for Reading
An interesting side effect developed from this roller coaster year of living with various people and struggling with my health: I craved silence like never before. Shelter living offered TV with the lowest common denominator (usually sports, stupid comedies, and true crime), and the only quiet moments came after lights-out curfew. So I began to read again, and after a few weeks I began to crave the reading itself. While working, my exhaustion and long days allowed for only short spurts of concentration, but I kept to the reading by following blogs and chasing rabbit trails around the interwebs. Even when Jack Bauer resurfaced and Fall TV began, I just wasn’t that interested. It’s as if I’m slowly extracting myself from the quagmire of entertainment media that has consumed me (and this blog) for so many years. I’m finally rediscovering my love of books. Though I still love movies and still enjoy lazy days of TV binge-watching, I no longer want to fill all of my down time with them. Which leaves much more time for creativity and inspiration.
2014 in Books

My Year in Books
All told, I read 24 books this year, including one abandoned Brad Meltzer title. [correction: Divergent is a trilogy, so I actually read 26 books this year!] It’s a big number considering I only completed 6 books in 2008, and it’s a great starting point for a reading challenge in 2015. It’s also notable since I read only for pleasure and without any goals in mind. Reading became a true leisure activity for me once more, and I’m very proud of that! Two books stand out from my reading year. Go With the Flow by Brad Huebert outlines a simple yet enlightening approach to devotional time and prayer, and it continues to resonate with me 7 months later. Huebert recommends patterning your personal time with God after a walk into the ancient Temple of the Old Testament. Beginning with the Ascent to the Temple steps, we are to prepare our hearts by ridding the mind of all that troubles and worries us. We then pass through the Gates with thanksgiving and praise, and continue onward into each Temple chamber until we enter the Holy of Holies and become still in the Presence of God. After Huebert shares his own experience of imagining this journey into the Temple, it takes no effort to put myself in that same frame of mind. And it has transformed my time with the Most High God. I cannot recommend this book enough!

The greatest novel I read this year has also been added to my all-time list of favorite books. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is (as recommended by GlitterFem) the kind of story you wish you’d never heard so that you could experience it again for the very first time. It is best read with no idea of its plot or characters or story. You simply need to walk through the circus’s grand black gates toward the towering, majestic clock and amble your way through the forest of black-and-white striped tents. Pick up a bag of scrumptious caramel-drizzled popcorn and a couple of chocolate mice, then give yourself over to the experience. You will never regret your time in the world of The Night Circus. It is at once exquisite, mesmerizing, intense, powerful, sensual, romantic, and fantastical. No words can describe it well enough for the uninitiated to comprehend, so I can only suggest falling into this book. You will be forever changed for the experience. I’m not sure another book will ever come close to this again.

Preparing for What’s Ahead

These last few months of 2014 have provided plenty of time for introspection, and I’ve taken the opportunity to really dream. I dove into CreativeLive courses with an eye toward blogging and online business for makers and designers, and I’ve been consuming media on finding creative purpose and turning that into a marketable product. It’s been incredibly inspiring, and my mind is swirling with creative possibilities. There’s no deadline, which means I can really dream, but I’m finally feeling open to any possibility. This year has taught me that confidence and courage are choices, not inherent traits, and my future is as open as I allow it to be. That’s very freeing! And I’m excited to see where it might lead. I hope 2015 brings you hope and possibility, as well. Happy New Year!

Padre Island shore

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A PRAYING LIFE: CONNECTING WITH GOD IN A DISTRACTING WORLD by Paul E. Miller

book commentary :: A PRAYING LIFE by Paul E. MillerThere are many books about prayer and many resources for learning to pray, yet A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller is the first I’ve read that made me feel fully adequate in my current prayer life. Not because I pray well, but because the one thing I do know is that prayer is one-on-one with a person – God Himself. I know that I can come to Him in any moment, whether desperate, anxious, totally wrecked, or totally cool with all of life. Prayer is simply a conversation with a holy God, made possible because Jesus sacrificed himself to redeem my own unholiness.

Yet what I’ve always struggled with is the “focus” aspect of prayer – the trying to pray but feeling distracted or, worse yet, too relaxed in the quiet. A Praying Life offers assurance that even this is acceptable to God.

Jesus taught that our faith should be like that of a child, and in A Praying Life, author Miller breaks this down even further by considering children themselves.

“If you ask a parent how long a one-year-old stays on task, he or she just smiles. It varies anywhere from three seconds to three minutes. It isn’t long, nor is it particularly organized.

How can that teach us to pray? Think for a minute. How do we structure our adult conversations? We don’t. Especially when talking with old friends, the conversation bounces from subject to subject. It has a fun, meandering, play-like quality. Why would our prayer time be any different? After all, God is a person.”

From releasing “adult” ideas of prayer to gaining new tools for praying scripture over my friends and family, A Praying Life has led me to a new way of interacting with our LORD. In each chapter, Miller teaches how to let go of what you think prayer should be in order to approach God as He wants us to. By the end of the book I was renewed and energized and coming to God with playfulness and a bold spirit. There’s no big mystery in praying to our Creator, and A Praying Life reminds us how to abide in Him through every situation in life.

MEMORABLE PASSAGES

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Feels Like Dinner With Good Friends

Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart. In the midst of outer busyness we can develop an inner quiet. By spending time with our Father in prayer, we integrate our lives with his, with what he is doing in us. Our lives become more coherent. We feel calmer, more ordered, even in the midst of confusion and pressure. — Chapter 2: The Praying Life… Becomes Integrated

The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy.Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. — Chapter 3: Become Like a Little Child

When your mind starts wandering in prayer, be like a little child. Don’t worry about being organized or staying on task. Remember you are in conversation with a person. Instead of beating yourself up, learn to play again. Pray about what your mind is wandering to. Maybe it is something that is important to you. Maybe the Spirit is nudging you to think about something else.

When it comes to prayer, we just need to get the words out. It’s okay if your mind wanders or your prayers get interrupted. Don’t be embarrassed by how needy your heart is and how much it needs to cry out for grace. Just start praying. The point of Christianity isn’t to learn a lot of truths so you don’t need God anymore. We don’t learn God in the abstract. We are drawn into his life.

When you stop trying to be an adult and get it right, prayer will just flow because God has given you a new voice – His own. [The Apostle] Paul told us that the Holy Spirit puts the praying heart of Jesus in you. You’ll discover your heart meshing with God’s. — Chapter 4: Learn to Talk With Your Father

Time in prayer makes you even more dependent on God because you don’t have as much time to get things done. Every minute spent in prayer is one less minute where you can be doing something “productive.” So the act of praying means that you have to rely more on God. — Chapter 5: Spending Time With Your Father

We tell ourselves, “Strong Christians pray a lot. If I were a stronger Christian, I’d pray more.” Strong Christians do pray more, but they pray more because they realize how weak they are. They don’t try to hide it from themselves. Weakness is the channel that allows them to access grace.

If we think we can do life on our own, we will not take prayer seriously. Our failure to pray will always feel like something else—a lack of discipline or too many obligations. But when something is important to us, we make room for it — Chapter 6: Learning to Be Helpless

You don’t need self-discipline to pray continuously; you just need to be poor in spirit.

This is the exact opposite of Eastern mysticism, which is a psycho-spiritual technique that disengages from relationship and escapes pain by dulling self. Eastern mystics are trying to empty their minds and become one with the non-personal “all.” But as Christians we realize we can’t cure ourselves, so we cry out to our Father, our primary relationship.

Poverty of spirit makes room for his Spirit. It creates a God-shaped hole in our hearts and offers us a new way to relate to others. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life isn’t simply a morning prayer time; it is about slipping into prayer at odd hours of the day, not because we are disciplined but because we are in touch with our own poverty of spirit, realizing that we can’t even walk through a mall or our neighborhood without the help of the Spirit of Jesus. — Chapter 7: Crying “Abba”—Continuously

A praying life engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist was in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty.

At some point, each of us comes face-to-face with the valley of the shadow of death. We can’t ignore it. We can’t remain neutral with evil. We either give up and distance ourselves, or we learn to walk with the Shepherd. There is no middle ground.

Without the Good Shepherd, we are alone in a meaningless story. — Chapter 8: Bending Your Heart to Your Father

Majesty and humility are such an odd fit. This is one reason we struggle with prayer. We just don’t think God could be concerned with the puny details of our lives. We either believe he’s too big or that we’re not that important. No wonder Jesus told us to be like little children! Little children are not daunted by the size of their parents. They come, regardless. — Chapter 13: An Infinite-Personal God

Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.

Jesus stands at the edge of the story, unwilling to overwhelm [you] so that a richer, fuller [person] can emerge. He allows pain to continue for just a moment so Jesus the person can meet [you] the person. — Chapter 22: How God Places Himself in the Story

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Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

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Homelessness, Interrrupted

Yesterday I shared the story of saying goodbye to my apartment and how God provided a new place for me to live throughout the summer. Until the end of May, I believed I’d be living in a homeless shelter, so the gift of an acquaintance’s garage apartment was enormous! Every little thing was a blessing to me, but the greatest joy was its country setting. My neighbors were horses and chickens and lots of little goats. I highly recommend being lulled to sleep by the whinny of a spirited stallion. This past summer provided the peace that my body and my spirit needed the most.

paint horses

My health has fluctuated back and forth for 20 years, from mostly manageable ailments to fully debilitating disorders, and 3 years ago early menopause was added to the mix. This past June, my health took another turn for the worse when I began experiencing extreme menstrual bleeding accompanied by vertigo and blackouts. For 8 days straight I could only lie in bed. I could not work, and even restful activities like reading and watching TV were out of the question. I had no rest, no true sleep, and the fatigue stayed with me for weeks after. The heavy bleeding continued more than 50 days. My doctor finally confirmed what I suspected: the need for a hysterectomy. But for the moment my only option was medication.

With the end of summer quickly approaching and the likelihood of entering the homeless shelter, dozens of questions entered my mind about how to live in a communal setting while experiencing such a personal health issue. How would I manage symptoms like pervading vertigo and persistent bleeding while sharing a bedroom suite with 3 other women? As the days of summer dwindled, my nerves and fears threatened to overwhelm.

My prayers had been tender-hearted for many months, expressing my desire for rescue while also acknowledging that I may have much more desert to cross before comfort arrived again. Over and over I was reminded of God’s provision for His children. Bible reading led me to scriptures about His care for even the smallest of creatures, about His joy in giving good gifts, and about His constant presence as we walk through every valley in life (and any other time, as well). Songs on the radio described the peace that comes even in the midst of life’s worst moments, and Paul’s words reminded me that circumstances should never change my contentment in life. At every turn, I encountered Jesus, and by the end of August I was ready to enter the homeless shelter as a missionary for Christ. My heart was perfectly at ease, and my prayers changed from cries for help to joy at the prospect of a missional purpose. How like God to slowly strip away the “things” of my life so that I might be unencumbered as I move into a new phase. I became excited at the possibilities!

On the morning of my intake at the shelter, however, I was incapacitated with another bout of bleeding. I was sure I needed to visit the emergency room, but my doctor said there was no reason to worry. The new medication would require a few months to reach full effect. Unfortunately, the morning setback meant I lost my bed at the shelter, and I had nowhere else to go.

It was my parents who offered an immediate solution. In their capacity as full-time volunteers, my parents travel around Texas and work at Christian camps. This month I’ve joined them, blessed with a place of respite while my body recuperates. It’s just another pause in ever-changing circumstances, but I am so grateful for this option. These days are a chance to regroup and strengthen, and I praise God for carrying me every step of this journey.

Homelessness is still a definite possibility, but in the past few months God has taken the fear away. I’ve learned to see my future as wide-open. I’ve come to understand the freedom of having very little “stuff.” Though I still have much more than 2/3 of the world’s citizens, I’m less attached to it than I was six months ago. This is the way God works, and I’m excited (even if a bit nervous) about what He could possibly be up to in my life. What a story I’ll have to tell!

country sunset

Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

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