Of all intentions, these are the most central to who I am. Jesus Christ has changed my life, and in all these things I live for him. I write about the current scenery on my walk with the Lord and my unending pursuit of intimacy and authenticity in my relationship with my Creator.

From Giving Up to Letting Go

My friend Megan is one of the most inspiring and encouraging women I know. She is currently doing a wonderful series for Lent called Waiting Tables: Observing Lent with a Servant’s Heart. I’m honored to share my experience with surrender in her space today. Join me there? (I know many of you have tasted this kind of sweet surrender yourself. I’d love for you to share your experience in the comments over there!)

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Almost everyone can name a food that they hated as a child but have since grown to love, even crave. Sometimes this shift is the result of a palate change. Other times we discover our dislike was attributed to the way in which the food was prepared and served. (Canned peas, anyone?) Such was the case with surrender for me.

I first tasted surrender in backyard battles, playground scrimmages and never-ending games of Monopoly. It was bitter and stung on the way down. In history class and on movie screens I saw others choke on surrender that was always prepared with battle and opposition. In Sunday school I learned that, like broccoli, it was good for me, a nutrient essential to my spiritual health. . .read the rest here.

They Didn’t Teach Me That in Sunday School – On The Holy Spirit

Judith and I in November 2007

Judith and I in November 2007

Quite a while ago, I kicked off a series called, They Didn’t Teach Me That in Sunday School. Then my pregnancy got complicatedI had a babylife got hard, and blogging took a back seat.

When life finally settled down, so much time had passed, I lost my motivation. But, I recently recorded a podcast with my friend and mentor, Judith Hanson Lasater, and my passion for this series was reignited.

In the podcast, Judith shares her heart and wisdom about the intersections of yoga and parenting. But, part way though our chat, I began to panic. I started to worry about how my Christian readers and listeners would receive the insights of a Buddhist. Will they hear the name “Buddha” spill from her lips in the first five minutes and stop listening? Will they lose trust in my discernment?

I sure hope not, because the Lord has used that amazing woman as an instrument of his Grace and Love in my life. Her words have profoundly blessed my life as a follower of Christ. Where I seek him, I will find him – even in the teachings of a Buddhist Yogi. So, today I continue this series. May we all see Love at work in everyone we meet.

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I have an early memory, I couldn’t have been more than six or seven, of singing the “Rise and Shine” song in Sunday school. As we sang, “The Lord told Noah: there’s gonna be a floody floody; Get those children out of the muddy muddy, children of the Lord,” I raised my hand to ask, “How exactly did the Lord tell Noah?”

As I recall this interaction, I feel such compassion for that poor Sunday School teacher and for my curious younger self. She probably thought answering that question was above her pay grade. I, on the other hand, was about to hear something that would make it difficult for me to experience intimacy with my Father for many years.

She explained that, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are able to hear God’s voice in our minds, and that’s how we know what he wants us to do. And in all fairness to that woman, that teaching was reinforced throughout my childhood and adolescence. I don’t even disagree with this message, but it is incomplete. It lacks the important information about how to discern God’s voice from among my many thoughts.

I am an anxious soul. Try as I might to shake her, Worry has been a frequent companion on my life journey. Her influence on my mind reached a fevered pitch in high school. By then, I recognized her as a bad influence and desperately wanted to weed out the thoughts she planted in my mind. But, I constantly wondered, is this Worry or is this from God? It was an exhausting dance.

When I shared this struggle at a youth group meeting one Sunday evening, it was suggested that I wasn’t spending enough time in prayer and meditation. If I spent more time with the Lord, His voice would be clear.

I tried. I really did. I wrote in my prayer journal. I studied my Bible. I soaked in every word of Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest. And, peace and clarity still evaded me.

It’s not that I never heard or followed God’s prompting. It was just that I never felt assurance and confidence that it was really from him. And, those are desperately needed for a truly intimate relationship with Jesus.

Fast forward through ten more years of this struggle, and I found myself in a yoga workshop with Judith. She was working with me on a pose she thought would help an old injury. “How does that feel?” She asked.

“I thought I was supposed to do it this way,” I replied.

“No, how does it feel this new way – in your body, not your mind?” She pressed.

“Well, it feels amazing, but I was always taught to do it the other way.”

She shook her head as she gently placed her warm hand on mine. “I don’t want you to just blindly do what you are taught. Get out of your head and into your body. I want you to ask yourself how it feels in your body? Does it create an openness? Do you feel lighter, more peaceful?”

Something broke free in me at that question. Involuntary tears slowly slid down my cheeks as I realized how completely disconnected I was from my physical body. That moment began a journey of learning to quiet my intellect,  so I can hear my body’s leading.

This was not an end to my study of anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, alignment and asana. But, it was the end of allowing the information provided to me in books and classes to speak so loudly that it drowned out my body’s own knowing.

Then I made an amazing discovery. When I had my prayer and meditation time immediately after my asana practice, I began to sense the voice of God, but it wasn’t coming from my brain at all, it was in my gut. I started to understand there is a real physicality to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In all my years of Christian education, I never learned to look for the physical sensations that accompany the Holy Spirit’s moving. I know some people discover this through running or other physical pursuits. But, I learned that the Holy Spirit’s voice is more often found in my belly than my brain on my yoga mat.

Worry still influences my thoughts. But, when she does I head to my mat. I draw my attention from my brain to my body. As I do, I enter into an intimate conversation with my Savior. A Savior who used a Buddhist yoga teacher to draw me closer to him.

Joy in the Hard Places

Christmas is less than two weeks away! Are you feeling joyous? I’m honored to welcome two amazing friends today as part of the #JoyIsRising series. May their stories inspire thoughts that bring great joy to each of you. 

I recently got to break bread (well, gluten-free pizza) with this afternoon’s storyteller, and Anne is as wonderful in person as you might expect from her work at Modern Mrs. Darcy

When my fourth child was born in 2010, we gave him a name that testifies to the joy we’ve found in the hard places.
We just didn’t know it at the time.
*****     *****
When I was in my twenties, my family went through a time when the hard things kept coming and coming, one after another. The hardest thing was our firstborn’s cancer diagnosis.
That period of our lives was so tough. In the midst of it, we became a little obsessed with the verse in James that says to consider trials “pure joy.” Our baby had cancer: how could there be joy there? As committed Christians, we struggled to make sense of Paul’s words. What could he possibly have in mind?
Our son got well, though we continued to struggle with the hard things. That wasn’t the end of our bad luck, and dealing with the after-effects and side effects of the cancer became our new normal. I still felt like I needed God to get me through every moment. It turns out, that’s not a bad thing for a Christian.
That hard road led me to the place where I could begin to understand this surprising joy Paul was talking about. I couldn’t tell you the day or hour when I first glimpsed the joy in the hard things, but one day it was there.
That joy didn’t look like I expected it to; maybe that’s why I missed it for so long. I thought that joy would look like health and healing and happiness. It didn’t.
The joy I learned to see didn’t mask the pain. But it was right there with it, beside it, beneath it–deep and resounding and full. Hard times are hard, but God is faithful and love remains and–that? That is joy.
Had it been there all along, waiting for me to notice, to find it? I suspect so.
*****     *****     *****
And that brings me back to my sweet 4th baby: Silas James.
It was a few years later, and I was feeling the hard again. My little guy wasn’t sleeping–he was literally waking up every 30 minutes around the clock–and I was going crazy with fatigue. Crazy. 
I was driving down the highway, crying out to God, asking him what I was going to do about my sweet baby Silas.
The answer came back to me so clear, like a blessing: Silas James.
And for the first time I realized the meaning of my son’s name. We had named him for joy.
Silas the apostle sang praises to God through the night from his prison cell, and James called his hardest times “pure joy.” Silas James. My son.
This sweet reminder had been dropped into my midst, waiting for me to discover it, waiting to remind me that even in hard times, God is there and he is faithful.
And joy is there, waiting to be found.
Anne Bogel loves strong coffee, long books, and big ideas. She puts a timely spin on timeless women’s issues at her blog Modern Mrs Darcy, and muses about faith at Anne With an E. Head here to get her free guide Paper Gains: A Guide to Gifting Children Great Books from Modern Mrs Darcy
Thank you so much for sharing your story Anne! May we all discover joy in the hard paces! (If you missed Shannon’s story this morning, be sure to check it out here.)

Where Does Your Joy Come From?

Christmas is less than two weeks away! Are you feeling joyous? I’m honored to welcome two amazing friends today as part of the #JoyIsRising series. May their stories inspire thoughts that bring great joy to each of you. 

First up this morning is my friend (and co-host of the Tuesday Baby Link-Ups), Shannon of Growing Slower. May her words bless your life today!

The last two years have been full of some hard things in my life. It is nothing compared to the hurt that is too common in this world, but it’s been hard to me all the same. Ours is a story of unemployment, being underwater in our house, being too far from family, and having a baby (now toddler) that never sleeps. Over those same two years, never have I been so certain that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

In the soul-trembling exhaustion that early parenthood can be, I haven’t found much energy for intentional practices. Peace and Joy are not things I do. They are the way I survive from day-to-day. Thankfully, breastfeeding has afforded me beau coups of quiet prayer time, especially in the middle of the night, that has opened my heart to see the Joy right before me.

All of the things in my life that bring me the most Joy are the ones that I decidedly did not have in my plan. This little life of mine is nothing that I planned or dreamed. It is SO much better! I am chin-on-the-floor in awe of the way God has quietly been working out His plan in my life. Everyday is so full of Joy that I get to live this life. It is impossible to look into the smiling face of my little boy without being reminded of all that is good.

All day long I’m free to be in awe of this gift of life because of the Peace in knowing I can fully entrust my present and my future to my Creator. Silently He orchestrated a life for me that He knew would bring me the most Joy. In this way He built our relationship, and oh so slowly I learned to have Peace that I can trust His plan more than I can trust my own. If instead I were doing my own planning and stressing, I wouldn’t be able to experience Joy.

When the hard stuff of life comes up for a day or a season, I can see past the circumstance into the Joy that is still there everyday thanks to the my relationship with my savior.  This time of year where Joy is a focus of the season, it can call glaring attention when it is actually missing from our lives. I pray that you will find your Joy this holiday season too!

Finding Your Joy

Joy is nothing that I have earned or mastered. If I am able to offer any advice for finding your Joy, it would be to prayerfully open your life to God’s plan. Don’t bother making your own plan. Don’t try to solve the problems of life alone. You might be surprised where it takes you, but I am certain that it will lead you to receive the gifts of Peace and Joy this Christmas season and all year around.

For me I have found that Joy is not a carefully cultivated intention, but rather a gift freely given everyday.  Jesus is the Joy in this holiday season!

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great Joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

Shannon writes about simple living, attachment parenting, and natural birth at GrowingSlower. She is wife to the man created perfectly just for her and is the proud mama to the wild BabyE. She would love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

 

 

 

Thank you, Shannon! Come back this afternoon to hear Anne Bogel’s story of finding joy in the hard places. 

Here’s the Thing

The world often disappoints.

The world can make me question myself.

The world is capable of walking away when I desperately need someone to walk toward me.

The world gets overwhelmed and distracted.

The world has messed up priorities.

The world grows weary.

But, my God never disappoints. His love never fades and his grace is sufficient.

My God is always pursuing me, always pressing in to my soul.

He is not overwhelmed by anything. He is never distracted and his priority is always love.

My God does not grow weary.

But, here’s the thing. My God calls me to be flesh to his Love here in this broken world. He wants me to be part of his provision. He promises to equip, strengthen and sustain me to do this work.

On my own, I am the world that so often causes pain to those I love.

So, I drop to my knees and plead with heaven.

Make me an instrument of your love and grace.

Let me not be hardened by the pain of this world.

Use me.

Make me a wife, a mother, a friend, a human being that reflects not the world, but you.

Please, please let them see you in me. 

They Didn’t Teach Me That in Sunday School

When people find out that I’m a yoga practitioner and teacher, I’m often asked about the safety of the practice for Christians.

“Isn’t it a Buddhist or Hindu discipline?”

“Does practicing yoga open one up to harmful spiritual influences?”

I’ve even had people tell me that yoga teachers are “Hindu missionaries.”

And here’s the thing, it would be irresponsible of me dismiss those concerns entirely. There is no denying the Hindu influence in this practice. While the vast majority of today’s yoga teachers are not Hindu, they are not often professing followers of Christ, either. But, despite these concerns, I know that my God has used the practice of yoga to deepen my relationship with Him.

I’ve never attended a Christian yoga class. Most of my yoga teachers have not been Christians. Yet, my mat has been a very real sanctuary. I have come to know my Savior in such an intimate way through this practice and those teachers.

More and more, I’m bothered by the separateness the follows the mistaken belief that God is not actively pursing Every. Single. Person. Sure, we need to be discerning. But, we also need to remember that where He is at work, we can find Him and His Truth and Love. 

My dad was a minister. I grew up in the Church. I attended Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, youth group and church camp. My Christian education was wide and deep. When I started college, I thought I knew exactly what it meant to be in relationship with the Living God. Then, seeking a form of exercise, I stumbled into a yoga class.

Today I’m launching a new series here in the Faith section about the things they didn’t teach me in Sunday school, but that I have discovered through yoga, about my relationship and walk with Christ. Over the next few weeks I’ll share more about:

- Seeing the Artist in His Art (How my study of the human body through yoga has brought me to my knees with awe for its Creator)

- Emmanuel in the Ashram (How I learned anew what it means to have God with me during my residential yoga teacher training in a Hindu Ashram)

- On the Holy Spirit (How I discovered there is a physicality to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit)

I hope and pray this series helps to ease the concerns of many Christians about the practice of yoga. But, more importantly, I hope it will remind us all that when we seek Him, we will find Him – whether that is on a yoga mat, in nature, on the mission field, in school or at work. May we all be increasingly aware of the way Love is at work in our own heart and in the heart of every single person we meet. 

I’d love to hear your stories about how yoga has affected your faith or the unexpected ways God has used something or someone to reveal Himself to you! Please share in the comments! 

Standing on Holy Ground

Sometimes it takes me a little while to catch on to the obvious. Despite many examples of her gift, I didn’t realize my mom was a writer until I was in high school. But, when I finally caught on, I began to regularly seek her feedback and input on my own writing. Like any good editor, she has never done the work for me, instead she pushes me to find my own voice and speak it with clarity. 

A few weeks ago, I realized that I wanted to share her voice with you. When I asked her to write a guest post (without giving her a single prompt or topic suggestion), she agreed. And, boy did she ever BRING IT with this one. Without further ado, my beautiful mom…

By: Carol Carter

I am a list-maker and goal-setter. I like checking tasks off as I complete them – and stay pretty focused on how I am progressing toward the accomplishment of my plans. Those traits are part of my relationship with the Lord, too. I usually have at least one scripture reading plan I follow. I have a morning and evening time set aside to prepare for and debrief my day with God – as well as lots of “emergency meetings” with the King of Heaven regarding unforeseen events of the day. There is a rhythm and reliability to these practices that provide stability in a world that is constantly changing.

But thankfully, God Almighty calls to me often, at unexpected times and through surprisingly everyday situations and people, to remind me that I am standing on holy ground. Do I hear His voice audibly? No. But the call is unmistakable. I am brought up short – literally to a standstill. “Take off your shoes, Carol. I am here. I am at work. This is what I am about.”

It happened when I witnessed the husband tenderly walk his wife with Alzheimer’s Disease down the corridor of nursing home, guide her gently to the table and encourage her to take another bite at dinner. The love reflected in his eyes for his beloved reflected the Author of love. My breath caught in my chest. My eyes filled with tears. Too precious to behold.

It happened when He used a speaker at a conference to nudge me out of my complacency last summer. Mama Maggie Gobran’s humility and selflessness awakened my own awareness of my pride and vanity in a way that was God-driven. I was not browbeaten or shamed, but provided a place of holy surrender.

Sometimes it has been in the glimpse of Him through nature. Other times it has been in the wonder of watching my children and grandchildren grow. The beauty of holy ground is that it is the Master’s doing. Not my making. Not my plan. But His intervention into and through my world – pointing out to me that He is there, meeting me, leading me, redeeming me. With me. 

When was the last time you found yourself on holy ground? We would love to hear!

Carol is the Executive Director of a Senior Living Facility in Pennsylvania. She is an amazing mom and Nana, and although she doesn’t swim in free time, I’m hoping she will share her beautiful voice here from time to time. (Hint, hint, mom!)

Grace for the Doubters

This post is part of a series where I unpack the wise words of a friend and mentor. You can read more about those words here.

My dad was a Presbyterian minister and my mom is the most amazing Christian. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Jesus or His love and sacrifice. Most of my friends growing-up were from church. In my small-town, I rarely encountered people who didn’t believe the same things as me.

When life got hard during my teen years, my faith never faltered. As I watched my family fall apart, I told everyone, with confidence and conviction, that I knew God had a plan for us, and that I was okay. When my mom battled breast cancer, my fears never once caused me to question God’s goodness and love.

I went through plenty of hard times, but I never doubted, I never questioned. And, I wore that fact as a badge of honor, a symbol of how strong my faith was. Sadly, I used that as a weapon when anyone around me dared to question the Almighty.

As my horizons expanded and I met people of other faiths, or even other Christians who were questioning certain beliefs, I spoke of my God with an arrogance that completely belied His love. Instead of an instrument of Love and Grace, I was a right-fighter.

Then one day in my early thirties, darkness descended upon my world. It moved in so quickly, I had no time to rally my defenses. All of the answers that once flowed from my smug lips, now appeared to be lies.

I was free-falling when my wise mother gave me a net. She encouraged me to gather up all of my doubts, my unbeliefs and my rage and lay them at His feet. I was so lost I didn’t even question her, I just did it. I cried ugly sobs as I prayed out my anger and uncertainty.

When I did, answers, resolution and peace still evaded me, but Grace flooded in. Grace for my doubting self and for every other doubter I’ll ever encounter. Just a few weeks later when Judith Lasater spoke those words that rocked my foundation, I wrote this adaptation of her quote in my journal:

“Don’t be afraid to question. Deal with your own doubts in such a way that enables you to be in the presence of someone else’s doubts without needing to push them away. He is there, even when we doubt.”

How do you deal with your doubts or those of others you meet? I welcome your thoughts!

Was It A Morning Like This?

Sometimes it happens when I’m struck by beauty. Sometimes it happens when I see truth. And sometimes it happens when I can literally feel the movement of the Spirit.

I get the chills. Little bumps arise on my arms, and tiny hairs stand to attention. A whisper of touch rapidly slides from the base of my spine to the top of my neck, causing my entire torso to involuntarily quiver. And my heart, oh my heart…it beats joy, excitement and anticipation.

I was nine or ten the first time I remember being moved to chills. It was Easter time in the late 1980s, and my mom was cleaning our house. She had the music blaring. The first few notes of the song caused me to pause and listen.

Just a few moments later it happened, I got the chills.

  • Did the grass sing?
  • Did the earth rejoice
  • To feel you again?
  • Over and over like a 
  • Trumpet underground,
  • Did the earth seem to pound:
  • “He is risen!”

My prayer for all of us this Easter is that we feel Him. He is risen! Happy Easter!

What gives you the chills?

The Wind that Powers My Sails

As I’ve been reading (and loving!) Chris Seay’s A Place at the Table this Lent, I’ve found myself routinely praying the same prayer. “Lord, give me eyes to see where I’m in need of your grace.”

Of course I’m aware of many of my sins and my need for grace. But, it is also true that some transgressions have a way of blending into the landscape of my life. I’m shamefully blind to the many ways I fail to be the person God created me to be.

So, I’ve been praying for eyes to see. Gently and compassionately, God has answered this prayer. He hasn’t said, “Why are you doing this you fool?” No, he’s loving reminded me, “You need to lean into me a little more here.”

That’s exactly what He did this morning. This week, I’ve been sharing a difficult part of my story. I’ve felt an urging to tell this story for more than seven months, but have ignored it.

About two weeks ago, I realized I could no longer procrastinate. It was time to tell this story. I bravely shared my heart Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

But yesterday, I just couldn’t do it. For a variety of reasons, I felt beat-up and unvalued. I told my husband I wanted to crawl into a whole far from the internet and never come out.

“It feels like the wind has been sucked from my sails,” I prayed this morning. “I just can’t go on.”

And it was then, that I heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. “Just what wind where you using to power those sails, dear Jennifer?

The tears flow now as they did then. Light shown on a sin that was in darkness. I have a problem with looking for worldly affirmation. I seek the approval of others and use that as fuel for my journey.

He wants to be my wind. When it is Him that powers my sails there is an ease that accompanies the effort. I am propelled forward with lightness and grace. Today, I will lean into him as I go forward.

What wind powers your sails? How are you leaning into Him today? I’d love to hear!