Consider The Lenten Way

40 days expand out from here. Everything that is known stands behind and waves an enthusiastic “Bon Voyage!” In front is a canyon worn down into the barren earth from pilgrim feet following in the footsteps of the first one who walked this wilderness path. Prayer was his food. Repentance would become his message … heaven his promise. But first, hunger, thirst, temptation.

Only fools take up this journey imitating him, remembering him. We strap on our boots and bring plasters for the inevitable blisters it will cost us, all for the promise of a spirit that is full. The only sustenance we can carry on our backs are truthful words, silence and a personalized invitation addressed to the Holy Spirit. He is the original guide through this desert and only costs us our pride. The road doesn’t need to be walked alone. The valleys are littered with bones of people who got lost in their prideful wanderings. Don’t go near them, they are full of disease.

But, if you are tired of the stomach aches gluttony has given you. If you need to slow down and learn how to breathe again, taking in the world around you and seeing it as if for the first time. If you need an outlet for your grief and new vision for the future. Consider the Lenten Way. If you can’t get out of bed, can’t leave your job for a month, can’t pass the kids off to someone else while you travel over over the path of a real mountain pilgrimage – consider the Lenten Way. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that will take you through suffering to joy. Not all who wander this road are lost.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God ~ Psalm 42:2

There is always a reason to go on a 40 day journey. Tell God what you want to get out of it. Take half a minute and be silent when you are done.

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Longing

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I am Longing. At the edge of the garden, that first garden, I made my home with you. Grief rolled in waves down your cheeks as you looked back one more time to the place of belonging and wholeness you were denied. I dried your eyes. While you slept I whispered promises of restoration until the air sang a new harmony that sounded like hope.

I am Longing.

In the soul of the nation.

In the breath of the prophets.

In the scriptures and stories.

You grew tired of waiting and tried to expel me from your home. You don’t even recognise me anymore. You mistake me for Hurt and lash out at anyone who doesn’t heal you. You mistake me for Loneliness, and so move the people around in your life like furniture, as if the right combination will finally make me disappear. You mistake me for Disappointment and so take control of your life and everyone else around you.

But I am Longing.

I turn your stomach sour at the thought of where you are and hang a framed picture of promise of some unknown, impossible place that will dissolve your sleepless nights and endless days into realities so perfect, so unimaginable. The painter of it dipped his brush in joy to wash the sky and carved out peace across the earth.

I am Longing

In the girl who believed what God had said to her.

In the wise men who studied and searched the stars.

In the heart of the shepherds who got up day after day to do the same thing all over again.

I am Longing, more than anything, in the baby born that day. His longing was as the one who could make the pictures come to life, not as in a dream, but life more real than you have ever felt before. His longing was for you. I followed him to the grave and back again. He restored the home built for you, where you don’t just hear about belonging but can be filled with it again; where you aren’t in search of the pieces of yourself you lost along the way but are complete.

I am Longing. He made me his companion, and I followed him to you.

if i give you me, would it be enough?

11012191_975360895858913_6670742371155085826_nWhile handing out Christmas cards to friends in the community this week I was told, “Most people are only lovely at Christmas, but you are lovely all the time.” I was a bit tongue-tied as I wasn’t expecting a response like that when I was just passing through on my way home. I had those cards printed and signed for people in my life I wanted to bless with prayers of peace this season. I wasn’t really supposed to figure into their thoughts at all apart from them feeling loved and appreciated. Those words stopped me and turned my thoughts to the gifts we give people.

What if the best gift I could really give people is me? What if the best gift you could really give someone is you? These aren’t vulnerability questions. They are value questions.

What are you worth? You, with all your quirky likes and dislikes. You, with all the unique talents you possess that you don’t even think others would want to know about? Your smile. Your laughter. Your forgiveness. Your friendship. Your love. Your hospitality. Your handshake. Your kindness.

What are others worth to you? Him, with all his quirky likes and dislikes. Her, with all the unique talents she possesses. His smile. Her laughter. His forgiveness. Her friendship. His love. Her hospitality. His handshake. Her kindness.

Although I absolutely love the festiveness of the season we are in, those celebrations have very little to do with another event that lives in the depths of my soul. God gave us him.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:22-23 … an explanation during Joseph’s inner turmoil about finding out about Mary’s pregnancy)

If I didn’t believe in Jesus I would still keep the Christmas traditions. We don’t exactly have too many feast & festivity dates on our calendar and I am convinced that we need them to help build healthy societies, even if they aren’t for spiritual purposes. I am also convinced that we could all do with at least a little of God with us, even at that moment when he seems so small and insignificant – a baby, a promise. The King of kings. Love incarnate. Prince of peace. Everlasting father. Saviour of the world. God with us … If there is any loveliness in me throughout the year it is because I walk with him and he makes me complete. I give you me because he gave me him. I took him up on the offer.

What gifts can we give that will last this year? What gifts will we recognise and accept from others?

caught up in this white-out, called peace

PeaceThe world goes silent as streets and gardens and fields are insulated under a thick layer of white. The first intricate clusters of snowflakes bring promise of silence, of a sort of temporary peace on earth where sounds are muffled into the pockets of air reserved to capture and hold all indication of chaos.

I dream of snow.

It is a white duvet of purity that slows down the speed of life, halting us in this moment, this place, these four walls. At the moment when movement becomes impossible, it presents a blank canvas of possibility. The world looks perfect draped in robes of glistening diamante of temporary splendor. A reverent hush subdues the noise of silence in the immediate settling of it. It is peace come to earth.

I dream of peace.

It is a hush whispering over the soul. Chaos is caught up between its particles and, for once, we are stilled and silenced long enough to really see the beauty of this present moment without removing us from it. It is gentle as it falls in a storm where white is all you see, purity is what you see. Gone are the thoughts that have set up false expectations wrapped in cheap, brightly coloured plastic. Gone are the images of everything we do not have, cannot have. Satisfaction is found here in our present relationships, in what we have and the warmth we share.

Welcome the peace. Invite it to come. Do not fear it. Let it bring promise of possibility. Let it still you.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:6-7

 

walk around like the good work of art you are

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Imagine a world where art took in a breath and came to life. Imagine it walking through the streets stirring up questions about existence, about purpose, about possibilities. It would congregate where shadows gather, lighting up dark allies that strike fear.

Fear begins to pitch its tent in the streets around me. It sells its fortune-telling trinkets from stalls glittering in dark omens on every street corner, computer and smart phone. Fight, flight or freeze – natural responses, normal responses, survival responses.

But I want to respond differently. I don’t want to be afraid. It muddies the waters and stifles out life. It steals away joy and cauterizes contentment. I want to be beauty. I want to be art. I want to speak to these streets and shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

In the beginning God created a sculpture from the earth, a work of art intended to live. I don’t particularly care about the techniques he used or how long it took him. The result was beautiful. And then he breathed into it. And it lived, perfectly, for a while until diluting the breath of God with toxic pride.

Fear came. Death came. Hatred came.

That is what we were made to be. Living works of art with the breath of God in us. We still can be, but it’s a little harder than before. We have to seek out his life in us. We have to pull down the bricks we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe and let love in. Love will change us. It will pull back our shoulders and set our spines straight. It will clear our muddied thoughts and replace them with wisdom. It will seek and destroy lesions of bitterness that are slowly killing us.

We have a choice, this choice: stand at the stalls of fear, hide in self-preservation or light up the darkness. We cannot do more than one. Want to go on a walk with me?

I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside. And this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. ~ Sara Groves

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why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen

airplaneA yellow mask springs down from the clear tube attached to the hand of a flight attendant. “Pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen. Place the mask firmly around your nose and mouth before pulling on the elastics to tighten. Be sure to put on your mask before assisting others.” He exaggerates a tugging motion like a Broadway cat pawing his whiskers.

If you have spent any amount of time flying you will have it drilled into you that you won’t be any good to anyone else if you run out of oxygen while helping the person who has less strength and ability than you. Thinking slows down and motor functions become sloppy until there is just not enough strength to help others, or survive.

I had barely landed back in Dublin before I was being told off by friends about the schedule I was jumping into this week. “What can God do with a dead Christian? What good is a dead Christian to him?” I was asked. My sleep deprived self couldn’t quite vocalize the response that immediately came to mind, “What good is an alive one?” It’s rare that someone who doesn’t 100% (80% minimum) believe in God would ask that question as if it really matters. Apparently, it did to him and I was curious to know why. Unfortunately, you can’t get answers to questions that you don’t ask out loud. I’m pretty sure that I smiled and laughed anyway. Who really says things so straight like that?

In this life, love is our oxygen. Food and shelter, we can exist on only those but we cannot fully live. Not this love – that cloudy word that has been reserved for parents and their children, or two people with hearts in their eyes. Not this love – that all-inclusive abstract thought, so slippery and fleeting just as you reach for it. But this love – that tangible expression of kindness when we haven’t deserved kindness, patience when we haven’t deserved patience, acceptance when we haven’t deserved acceptance. It’s that wholehearted embrace that comes after a truth filled explosion of all that is good and bad. No, we cannot live without this love.

Do you feel the love being sucked out of you as the pressure in your life changes? Are you the strong one and yet think that you can help others without putting on your mask first? What good is a corpse? Find love. If left alone in nothing but your thoughts and silence, cry out, “Love! Love me!” Search for that perfect love that takes fear and destroys it. Pull down gently from the heartbeat of heaven, cover your nose and mouth, tighten and breathe deeply. Then, assist the person next to you.