Righteous but Dangerous

Righteous but Dangerous

This month, our Spiritual Formation exercise (assigned by our fabulous Spiritual Director, Laura Heagy) is “Psalm 23 Reloaded.” It involves memorizing the psalm, dwelling on it, and reframing it in other terms. Really great, if you want to play along at home! 😉

As I was exploring the psalm the other day, taking it line by line, something jumped out at me that I’d never considered before. I don’t know about you, but sometimes these familiar, memorized passages just blur into routine in my mind, so these practices of taking time with them, slowing down, and examining them piece by piece, word by word and phrase by phrase, can be so enriching! Let’s look at these lines, in the NABRE version:

He guides me along right paths
   for the sake of His name.
Even though I walk through the valley
   of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff comfort me.

I had never before paid attention to the order of this image, but let’s take a look. This is our Good Shepherd. He has already led us to the choices, lushest grass in the meadow. He’s let us refresh ourselves by crystal-clear pools of clean, cool water. This has refreshed us and restored, has filled us up.

But then we start moving. We don’t stay in that pasture. We never get the chance to stagnate when we’re following after our Shepherd. He leads us onward, just as a shepherd will always lead his sheep out of any good grazing ground, knowing it won’t stay good for long if you just hunker down. So He guides us out of that peaceful place, along the path of righteousness. The right path. Why? For the sake of His name.

He’s not leading us onward just for our own comfort or pleasure. He’s leading us because we have a purpose. We have a job to do, and it’s bringing glory to Him. Our purpose, our calling, is to show the world how great is our God. So we walk. We move. We chase after Him. He takes us up on a narrow mountain path.

And it’s dangerous, my friends. That valley–it’s going to involve trials. Temptations. Predators. Dangers.

Because this isn’t a tame faith, and we don’t serve a tame God. He’s a God who led the Israelites into the Wilderness; whose own Son spent 40 days there too. This wild, untamed God calls us onward into hard things. Painful things. Dangerous things. Where there are wolves and landslides and always, always the risk of falling.

We WILL be there, in that place. But when we are, we don’t have to fear.

Because our Shepherd is there too. He has a rod in hand–and do you know why shepherds carried rods? To ward off those predators. They would use them to kill wolves or lions or whatever other animals threatened their sheep.

Our Shepherd still does the same. When we stick close to His side, we don’t have to fear the predators. He can take care of us.

We may fall though. Either stumble through sin and temptation, or just slip off the road because of circumstance. We may tumble off the ledge, down toward that valley. We may think all is lost.

But He’ll catch us. That’s what the staff is for–that’s how shepherds pull their sheep back to safety. They hook the end around the creature and tug.

That is our comfort. Not that He’ll lead us where no dangers or pain exists, not that He’ll even remove us from those circumstances when they come upon us–but that He’ll be there with us through them. He leads us into them…and He’ll lead us out of them again, eventually. But first we have to pass through. We have to trust that He’ll defend, protect, and rescue.

But we have to stick close to His side. Don’t let the Shepherd out of your sight, friends. Stay close, within the reach of His staff. Where you can hear His voice.

And rest peacefully, knowing that hard, difficult, dangerous path is leading you rightly, toward righteousness. And that goodness and mercy aren’t away off in the distance. They’re chasing after you–pursuing you.

They’ll catch you, friend. I promise you that. Because where our Savior is, there is mercy…peace…goodness…and the house where we will dwell with joy forever.

Allelujah. Amen.

Giving Thanks through the Years

Giving Thanks through the Years

This year, I thought it would be fun post a round-up of all my Thanksgiving posts through the years. Now, sometimes I took the week off and other years my post simply said “Happy Thanksgiving!”, and there have even been a few times when I re-shared a post from previous years so you’re not going to see an entry here for every single year…but then again, other years I posted several different Thanksgiving items, so you’ll get multiples from that year. =) Regardless, it was fun to travel back through the last 13 years on my blog and see the research and expressions of gratitude I’d composed before and compile them into one place.

My musings on Thanksgiving Day, specifically as concerns my writing career in the month before I re-released A Stray Drop of Blood in the version you all know now.

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I reflect on how grateful I am for the history of the Church that we have to stand on.

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Remember When…Thanksgiving Was Optional

Here I explore some of the history of our American holiday.

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Remember When…Thanksgiving Came

Musing on how Thanksgiving became a holiday, a link to a friend’s post, and a bit of my own history with Thanksgiving and why I love it.

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Stolen Blessings

Thanksgiving is a time we focus on blessings…but are we allowing others to participate in the giving?

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Our Five Kernels of Thanksgiving

One of my favorite Thanksgiving posts I’ve done was for Colonial Quills, where I tell the story of the Second Thanksgiving, and why five kernels of corn can mean so much.

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A Thanksgiving Prayer

There were several years in which I shared this same prayer of Gratitude and Thanksgiving from Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan prayers. It’s worth rereading annually!

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The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Giving thanks isn’t easy…can we do it even when we’ve lost it all?

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I’m So Grateful for YOU!

As a writer, I often feel like I’m typing into a vacuum…but you all make it worthwhile, and I’m so thankful for you!

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Being Thankful…Especially Now

The year of All the Bad Things in many ways, 2020 was still a year for gratitude!

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Word of the Week – Cornucopia

Because obviously I have to look into the history of this Thanksgiving icon!

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No More Complaining, All Gratitude!

This year, I challenged us all to give up grumbling and complaining and focus instead on gratitude and compassion. There’s even a printable journal to help you out!

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Throwback Thursday – My Unceasing Thanksgiving

Throwback Thursday – My Unceasing Thanksgiving

As we draw ever closer to Thanksgiving, my thoughts go not only to where I am this year in terms of my own attitude and state of thankfulness, but also back over where I’ve come from. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays–I love that we have a day set aside to praise God for His faithfulness! So today and next week, on Thanksgiving itself, I’m going to revisit some of the reflections I’ve shared in Thanksgivings past. Why? Because they continue to linger in my heart and mind, and I revisit them myself regularly…so why not share?

I’m going to begin this week with last year’s reflection. This is one I think about regularly–not because of any insight of mine, but because of the insight of the author I’m quoting, which has lingered in my heart ever since I first read it. This in many ways sums up what I truly believe the purest form of thanksgiving is: quick obedience to our Lord.

My Unceasing Thanksgiving

first posted on November 25, 2021

“Why do I follow you? Because you are who you are, Lord, and because I rejoice in having been called by you. Let the swiftness of my feet in following you be my unceasing thanksgiving.”
~ Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word

When I read those words a few weeks ago, they resonated deep in my spirit. So often we view thanksgiving as something we have to pause to do, a state of mind that we have to work to get into. When Paul tells us to give thanks always, we think of it as something tending toward the impossible–at least if we’re not staying constantly conscious of it.

But I love this perspective, and it’s one I’m dwelling on this year as I celebrate our official Thanksgiving. That sometimes, the loudest praise is doing what God has called us to do. It’s abandoning our fishing nets and following after Him. It’s pouring our offering of perfume onto His feet. It’s rushing through the busy streets of life, just seeking the hem of His garment. It’s doing the work of the Kingdom. It isn’t a big meal or reflecting on all the “things” He’s given or even the people we love. Thanksgiving is about Him.

Obedience is thanksgiving. Honoring His call on our lives is thanksgiving. Rejoicing in the One whose path we follow is thanksgiving.

Lord, I thank you. I thank you with my lips. I thank you with my words. But I also thank you with my feet–may they be ever swift in chasing after you!

~*~

Come back next week, on Thanksgiving, for a full roundup of all my Thanksgiving posts over the years!

Dancing with God

Dancing with God

The other day, my husband and I were talking about the challenges of following God, of growing in Him, even of spiritual warfare.

“It’s hard.” That’s what so many people say. That’s what I’ve said many times. And it’s true, isn’t it?

Being a good Christian is hard. Choosing the right thing every . . . single . . . time is hard. Putting others above yourself is hard. Remembering in every moment to think of God’s will above your own is—you guessed it—hard.

But as we were talking, David had an observation that really resonated with me.

It’s hard because we make it hard, because we refuse to give up control. Because we think we have to be the one doing all the work. It’s hard because we want to hang on to our own will, not fully relinquish it to God.

It’s hard because we think we have to fight the battle under our own strength. Put on that Armor of God and charge into the fray, just hoping He’ll have our back.

David pointed out, though, that it doesn’t have to be that way at all. Certainly not all the time. He made this analogy, and it’s one I love.

All we really have to do is be a kid dancing with our daddy. We have to step up onto His feet. We have to put our hands in His, or even wrap them around His waist. And then we just have to let Him dance.

Isn’t that a powerful image? We don’t have to fight every minute of the day. We don’t have be weighed down and burdened by the challenges. True surrender to God’s will doesn’t mean punishment or drudgery or even a constant feeling of sacrifice (though of course, there is sacrifice in following Him above our own desires).

True surrender looks a lot like the trust of a child dancing with Daddy. True alignment of will looks like putting our feet on His, our hands in His. And then . . . then living this Christian life looks a lot like a dance. It feels a lot like laughter and joy and security and peace.

Because we know that He knows the steps. We know that He’ll move us exactly where we need to go. We know that when we’re so fully aligned with Him, He actually does the work—we just need to stay there, doing it with Him. We need to make sure we don’t stumble off onto our own path or take our fingers away from His.

And we need to keep looking up at His face. That’s the sweetest thing about being a child dancing with Daddy, right? The way they tilt their faces up to regard their loving Father. That’s how they keep from falling away.

That’s how we do the same.

Keep looking up into His precious face. Keep hanging on to His nail-pierced hands. Keep your feet firmly planted on his swift-moving ones. And feel the rhythm of the dance of grace.

A Challenge: No More Complaining, All Gratitude!

A Challenge: No More Complaining, All Gratitude!

It’s November. Every November, as I scroll through social media or blogs, I see people posting about what they’re grateful for. Thankful for. People taking the whole month to appreciate all they’ve been given from the Lord. Beautiful, obviously!

But you know…sometimes I see or hear those same people doing something we all fall into so easily, even during a month of gratitude: COMPLAINING.

I very nearly titled this post “Hey, you–yeah, YOU–stop complaining!” … but I wasn’t sure it would come through that I was talking to myself as much as you, LOL. But I totally am. Because here’s the thing, friends: complaining is addictive.

Seriously. It releases one of those chemicals into your brain, and it also elicits responses from people–either they jump on board with the complaining (bonding!) or they argue, but either way, it feeds our need to be seen and heard and to engage with others.

Complaining can sometimes help us articulate a problem and, hence, find a solution to it. Sometimes stating, “Man, I’m tired,” can mean, “I should probably stop working now and rest before I make a mistake,” or “Wow, I’ve put in a hard day’s work today!” Sometimes, when I say I’m sore, what I’m really saying is that I need to take a few minutes to stretch. There is simple observation…

But how often do we instead use our complaints as a constant lens through which we view the world? How often do we go looking for what we disapprove of in a situation, instead of focusing on the good?

Just think over your latest conversations. Food, politics, religion, your car, your work, your clothes, your family…how much of your focus on these topics was on the negative? Sure, we can be grateful we have all those things, but if we then turn around and pick it apart, are we really exhibiting the gratitude and thanksgiving that God calls us to offer up to Him?

In a book of efficiency called Effortless, the author had caught himself in a pattern of complaining so issued himself a simple challenge: every time he complained out loud, he had to put a dollar in a jar. Well, he soon curbed the spoken words, so then it was every time he thought about complaining, he put the money in. Pretty soon, he’d stopped even thinking complaints. Every time something came up that would usually have made him grumble, he consciously reframed it. Maybe into a mere observation: So maybe, “She is late AGAIN” turned into “Huh, that’s the third time this week she’s been late” and then–here’s the real trick–into a compassionate response like “I wonder why she’s late again? Are her days stressful? Is there anything I can do to help her with that?”

This month, I’m going to be issuing myself a challenge, and I’d love it if some of you would join me. Let’s turn our complaining into compassion and our grumbling into gratitude! Every time we think or speak a complaint, let’s pause and reframe it into something positive–something to be grateful for. Let’s stop being put out by people and start trying to help them.

My example: when walking along the beach with my best friend in September, I observed, “Man, it’s crowded out here! I hate crowded beaches.” We’d just been talking about complaining, so we laughed and immediately reframed it to: “Isn’t it great that so many people are out with their families enjoying God’s creation? It’s pretty awesome that I get to be here sharing that with them too.”

To help us all out with that, I’ve even created a little printable mini-journal. To help us develop the habit, let’s keep this with us and jot down our complaints–and more importantly, our reframing of them into a praise–throughout the month. I bet as the weeks wears on, we’ll find fewer and fewer occasions to use it…because we’ll stop complaining in general!

What things or topics tend to evoke the most complaints in your conversation? How can you check that impulse?

Festooning the Lord’s Prayer

Festooning the Lord’s Prayer

A month ago, I blogged on Colossians 3, inspired by the spiritual formation exercises that we’re doing in the Patrons & Peers group. This month, our lovely resident spiritual director, Laura Heagy, sent us a great exercise on “Festooning the Lord’s Prayer.” The phrase comes to us from C. S. Lewis–the practice is old and so amazing!

The idea is this: read through the Lord’s prayer slowly, phrase by phrase, and dwell on what each word and phrase really means. Rewrite it for yourself, adding to it to make it not only applicable to your life but to convey the breadth and depth and insight of these seemingly-simple words that Jesus chose to model for us.

I’ve done this before, but never so deliberately, and so frequently. I haven’t written down my thoughts on it every day, but enough that I can start to pick out the themes of what really strikes me. Some days, I choose to view it through the lens of Holy Communion and what Jesus truly gave for us on His cross. Some days, I focus on the fact that every single personal pronoun is plural–not about ME, but about US. Some days, I focus on how missional this prayer is.

To chat a moment about the practical, I set up a section in a notebook for doing this. At the top of each page, I wrote one phrase of the prayer–in color, centered. Then I have the page to write my musings and festoonings throughout the month, about each phrase. It’s been working well for me!

Here are a few of my thoughts from the last couple weeks–I’m sharing seven days’ reflections, simply because it’s a nice rainbow. 😉 Each color coordinates with the same color for each phrase. I invite you to break out a cute little notebook and take a few minutes to do some festooning of your own! If you feel so inclined, share in the comments!

Our Father, who art in Heaven

My beloved Papa, ruler of the universe who holds me in Your hand…
Daddy of us all, who is present by our sides…
My God and Father–the one who makes His home in heaven…
Our Father–not just of me but of all believers–who is all around us…
Dear Dad, I know you make Your home in a place of perfection, but still you fill this very room…
God who guides us with a loving hand–wherever we go, you are there…

Hallowed be Thy name

I will honor your very name and set it aside as holy, knowing the power that speaking it wields…
We sing your praises and worship your name…
Let us revere, honor, and glorify you, knowing you are the very definition of what is holy…
We praise your name together, because you are worthy…
It’s easy to speak of you in passing or for my own purposes, but that’s not right. I need to remember you–and even your name–are powerful and sacred…
We will lift up your name and recognize you as the one who defines holiness and righteousness and goodness…

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven

May we live in your kingdom, bring it here, by doing your will as fully and wholeheartedly as your angelic messengers…
Through Christ you established your kingdom–help us to do your will as joint heirs of that kingdom…
Help us to do your Kingdom work here on earth…
We want to work together as ambassadors of your Kingdom…
It’s so easy to seek MY will and assume it’s right…but no. I need to seek YOUR will and conform mine to it. Help me to do that, and to do it atively, purposefully…
Give us the eyes to see your will, the hearts and minds and hands to do your work here on earth, redeeming the world…

Give us this day our daily bread

Provide for us today exactly what we need in order to carry out your will…
Thank you for providing Christ daily for us, to sustain our souls…
Give us all we need today, Lord, so that there are no needs or lack to distract us from your work…
Today, provide us all with what we need–the food, the clothes, the place to live…the inspiration, the love, the strength…
Because you’re a loving Father who sees so much further than we can, you know our true needs. Thank you for meeting them day by day. Help me to trust you with that…
Give us all we need to do that work for your kingdom–food, clothing, shelter, transportation, money, vision…

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Forgive us for every time we’ve taken a step off your path and gone where we shouldn’t have–and help me likewise to forgive every offense of others…
May His blood wash away our every sin and remind us to forgive others too…
Cancel out our debts against You and give us the grace to cancel the debts of those who owe us too…
We are a people who sin, against each other and against you–please help us to live and walk in grace, mercy, and forgiveness…
I’m going to do things wrong–we all are. Help me to forgive every hurt. Forgive every hurt I’ve given. Help me to accept and extend that healing grace…
Forgive us for the hurt we’ve caused others and give us the grace, love, and mercy to forgive those who have hurt us…

Lead us not into temptation

Please, as my feet are on that path of yours, may it guide me away from tests and trials…
May partaking of Him strengthen us each day to resist any temptation…
Let no trial or test come upon us that will lead us away from you–we know we’re weak!…
We are always poised to stray from your path, but please keep our aim true…
There are so many things to temps us, to test us, to try us! You can see those snares, Lord. Lead us away from them…
Protect us from the things that would reveal our human weakness…

But deliver us from evil

And deliver me from every bad thing that comes…
When bad things befall us, save us from them, Lord…
Save us, Lord, from the fiery darts of Satan and also from our own sinful natures…
When the powers of darkness close in, save your children, Father…
Away from the enemy, away even from consequences that would befall us if we continued on those dangerous, selfish paths. Keep hold of my hand, Lord! YOU are safety and joy!…
And from both active and passive forces of evil–the devil’s really out to get us as well as our own sin and folly…

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever

You rull the earth, you can do anything. You are filled with majesty and light and beauty forever…
Everything we may desire, you hold in your hand–you always have and you always will…
We know that all that is good, right, and mighty is in you…
For you, ruler of all, can do everything. Our hope rests in you, always. you ARE everything good and holy…
Everything I see, everything I could want, the power people fight and kill over–it’s yours. Fame and glory–yours, onlyr yours. Then, now, and forever…
You are the only one in the universe capable of all this!…

Amen.

I believe!
It’s true!
Yes, Lord!
This is what we believe!
Yes, Lord. This is true. I know it, I cling to it, and I hold out my hands to offer it all back to you.
I know it’s so!