It has always fascinated me (read-- frustrated me) that Abraham was actually living in the Promise Land when God established his covenant with him. Abraham was prosperous, righteous, chosen, obedient and willing. And, BONUS--he already lived in the place God promised to give to him and his descendants. It seems a lot of time, trauma and trekking could have been saved if God had simply established their residency early on. I'm just saying...
And now, a little about me...
A little over five years ago I attended a silent retreat at a beautiful Mission on the west coast. I remember it well because I was coming off a four year journey of deepening my relationship with God through the contemplative disciplines. It had been a season of healing from addiction to busyness, compulsive codependency and activity-based Christianity. I longed to help other Christian leaders find the sanity and soul nourishment I experienced and I assumed God's next step for me would be into the field of spiritual direction or coaching Christian leaders. I wanted to spend more time 'being'. I was afraid of 'doing'. It felt like death.
So, of course, that's where God sent me. Not because he's a masochist, but because he conquers death.
A New Direction
As I sat on the cool grass in the center of the Mission courtyard I began a collage that I thought would depict 'being'. Somehow I found myself gluing the word 'DO' to my paper. Then...ACT. In the midst of all my being words, God was clearly directing me to action of some kind. But what?
I left the retreat confused. I thought I'd misunderstood. I pursued a job coaching leaders but some wise people around me shared they felt it wasn't a good fit and that door slammed shut.
God waited a week, then showed me his plan as I drove to Home Depot. I don't know why he chose Home Depot as my burning bush moment, but it has forever changed my experience of home improvement. Anyway...as I drove to Home Depot, God suggested I call Apartment Life and see if they were still looking to fill the regional leadership position. They were. Through a serious of miscommunications with my husband I ended up putting my name in the hat and in January of 2009 I was fully immersed in a world of doing and performing and activity.
The next three years I spent trying to integrate what I knew about formation into my life as a leader. I felt propelled for a purpose--creative, energetic and resilient. Then, just as quickly as the energy appeared, it was gone. I knew it was time to move on.
Then, two more years of wandering.
Back Where I Started
And here I sit. In the same place I thought I would be five years ago. Pursuing a master's degree in spiritual formation. More and more drawn to silence and solitude. Repentance and rest. Waiting and watching. Loving and listening.
There are days I wonder if it wouldn't have been simpler if God had led me here in the first place. I was already sitting on the edge of this new land. Did we really have to walk away, only to return a few years later?
Yes. So clearly, YES. I don't claim to understand all of what God was doing, but I honestly wouldn't have done it any other way. And, although I'm sitting in the same place, I come as a different woman. A woman with more depth, more pain, more healing, more dependency, less certainty, more beauty.
Today I see how God took my desires from that day at the Mission and grew them. How he lovingly held them with me, then took my hand and led me where I needed to go in order to fully enter into his plan. I have a feeling there'll be more of this in the future. Glimpses of the future, abrupt changes in direction, wandering and then...home.
Until we're finally face to face.
Well, it happened. All the people who were concerned about my involvement in Christian Yoga and contemplative practices were right. They clearly saw the danger ahead of me and the perilous path on which I was embarking. They must have known that yoga and silence were just gateway drugs. If I was open to such questionable activity, my judgement couldn't be trusted and certainly I would end up abandoning my faith or, worse, becoming a...gasp...liberal.
This week I found myself so deeply impacted by the love of God that I had no words. I found myself loving others so deeply I felt like an idiot. I found myself ready to abandon everything for Love.
Who am I?
While this was no sentimental, sappy, Hallmark card experience of love, it was an emotion. Or, perhaps more of a physical presence. How weird is that?
I don't want to write too much because words seem to diminish the sacredness of this transformation, but my foundation has been rocked and I'm amazed at a God who would so lovingly disassemble my prickly, protective coping mechanisms so I could fully live and love and be loved.
Today I find I'm not hiding behind my life experience or my emotional health or my spiritual resume or my well-crafted sentences. I'm a beginner again. Sitting at the feet of Jesus while he introduces me to so many I've dismissed and overlooked who may have much less external success or platform but have love in great measure.
For the first time in my life I'm beginning to understand what Paul means when he says,
" But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord."
Do you see what's happened? I started a journey some years ago and I was adequately warned that it would lead to something radical. Something unsafe. Something that would change me.
I insisted it wouldn't affect me.
I was wrong. Praise God.
As my first accomplishment in 2014, I completed a small home improvement project. No applause necessary. Really. I painted my coffee table to match the rest of my room and the furniture. That's right. I've lived here two years and I finally got off my butt and took care of that little project.
After spending four days in Arizona painting, cleaning and improving a house I'll never live in again, I decided to do something about the home in which I currently reside.
And it was tough! I first had to walk across the street to buy a can of paint (because I forgot I'd purchased the paint for this project two years ago). It took a good ten minutes to complete the process. And then there was the waiting for the paint to dry. Insufferable. But I made the best of it and used the time to get a pedicure.
Now both my coffee table and toes are painted (different colors) and thus begins a new era in taking small steps toward improvement.
And now to overanalyze...
I really can't help myself. How can I not spend some time reflecting on what would keep me from doing such a simple task? I saw this coffee table every day. Every day I noticed how it didn't really match. And, every day I chose to do nothing about it. Eventually I stopped thinking about it. I became numb to the discomfort of my avoidance. But the longer I avoided, the larger the task seemed.
And then I picked up a paint brush again and I remembered how easy it is and how much I love transforming something with a fresh coat of color. How the color of a room or an object can impact our emotions and the 'feel' of a space. And I remembered the joy of making something beautiful.
Some thoughts to ponder...
As I begin this new year I think some more reflection is in order. Are there areas in my life where I've grown numb to the nagging pain of avoidance? Have I grown too comfortable with ugliness in my midst? Is there more beauty to be experienced with a simple step of obedience? Where could I be experiencing the joy of creativity and fresh color in my life?
I'll have to sit with those for a bit, but first for something more practical. Time to dust the mounds of dust from my fan blades.
In my reality, today is the REAL first day of the year. Today is the day the kids go back to school, Richard goes to the office and I get the house to myself to work quietly and efficiently. Today is the day I've been waiting for. Today I'll be able to think clearly again. Today I'll string together a couple of sentences that don't make people wonder if I'm 'special'.
But, perhaps I was a bit too optimistic. Apparently you can't go from stressed-out-babbling-idiot one day to competent, wonder woman, the next. At least, not completely.
A good beginning.
I was so excited about this fresh start that it wasn't even hard to get out of bed early and begin my day with disciplines to aid my emotional and spiritual health. It caused me no irritation when Cade commented that I was up early and then noted that 'Dad doesn't seem to have a problem getting out of bed in the morning' even though Richard was still in bed and I was up being productive.
When Richard did get up he volunteered to take Madison to school so I could stay in the groove. Awesome! This day is getting better and better. With Cade off to school and Richard taking Madison, I basked in the quiet and stillness. I sipped my coffee, enjoyed the warmth of the fire and congratulated myself on a very good beginning.
A few blips I think I handled very well, thank you.
A few moments later I heard the car in the driveway as Richard arrived home. The door opened and Madison appeared. Strange. It occurred to me immediately that I had not doubled checked the first day of school for her. Oops. It's tomorrow.
Other than the disappointment of being up too early, Madison was excited to have the whole day off. I , however, was a bit disappointed. (I might just poke my eyes out if I have to hear/watch another episode of 'Chuck'.) But, since she's a much better person than I, she had already contacted her mentor to see if she needed help in her classroom today. Minutes later, I was alone again. Crisis averted.
After paying bills, planning this week's menu, creating my weekly task list and putting the roast in the crock pot (Yes. You read that right.), I sat down for a long day of productive work. And that's exactly what happened. Weird.
I did stop for a minute to make a delicious carrot-beet-strawberry-tangerine juice for lunch, but other than that I was on a roll.
Then I pushed my luck. I felt a little guilty for being so glad the kids were gone for a few hours that I decided to bake chocolate chip cookies for an after-school (or after teacher's aid) snack. I've found a plethora of parental transgressions can be overlooked when the smell of warm cookies greets a child upon entering the home.
There were two slight problems with this evil plan (besides the fact that it was a guilt offering):
I learned today the new lower element works really well and I definitely need to put cookies on a higher rack in the future to avoid burning the bottoms and, even burned, its extremely hard to resist a chocolate chip cookie after having a salad drink for lunch.
But all in all, the real first day of the new year turned out pretty well. Probably unsustainable, but truly enjoyable for however long it lasts.
Today I packed away the last few remnants of the holiday. Christmas is over with all its parties, presents, lights, decorations and high caloric, coma-inducing food. And, frankly, I could not be more relieved. That's not a comment on Christmas, per se, but more on my need for a return to normalcy.
Besides, this year never really felt like Christmas to me. In fact, I would have been fine without a tree or any decorations.
That is not like me.
I love my Christmas house. I love the smell of fresh pine needles, the warmth Christmas decorations add to our home, the external reminders something BIG is happening. But this year was all 'bah humbug'!
I usually participate in some form of Advent observance and enjoy focusing my attention on the waiting. The anticipation of hope dawning on a weary world. But I never established a healthy groove. I got carried along with the activity and programs and found myself easily annoyed with this disturbance in the calendar. I lost my alone time when the kids entered winter break, my diet was horrendous and the shorter days gave me a significant case of the blues. That is not a formula for Christmas joy.
So now I enter the New Year without living into the excitement of anticipation or the wonder of the incarnation. Bummer.
Not only did this negatively affect my Christmas spirit, it also generated a total funk around my usual New Year's excitement. I'm a sucker for new beginnings and ceremonial landmarks but this year it just wasn't coming together.
No sense of where God was leading me in 2014. No path. No verse. No word. Just silence. Of course, there's nothing innately spiritual about proclaiming a new beginning on January 1. I mean, the most dramatic changes often happen in the course of our ordinary lives, but I have come to enjoy this discipline in my life and was disappointed in its absence this year.
This is where it all comes together.
I tried out a couple of ideas to see if any of them resonated with me. I knew God was inviting me into a different kind of prayer practice, but still I had no sense of a theme or focus for the year. I read of someone else's word and I really, really liked it. I mean, there's no saying two people can't focus on the same thing for a year, right? Unfortunately, it wasn't the word God had for me.
On January 2 I sat down to pray and observed that I felt particularly happy; excited about what was ahead. I had no idea what that might be, but I had a sense of anticipation.
In an early December meeting with my Spiritual Director, I sensed God inviting me into a season of active waiting. Waiting with a sense of hope and joy and expectancy. Not waiting to act, but waiting for the fullness of what God has. Not forcing my agenda or manipulating circumstances, but living fully into whatever God puts in front of me.
And there it was...a year of Advent! I don't actually have the word or a particular verse, but I am confident God is inviting me into a season of expectant waiting. The kind of waiting that Mary understood...or, more accurately--didn't understand. Saying 'yes' to crazy things. Making preparations for the fruition of God's plan regardless of how people perceive me and whether or not it makes sense. A year of hope and curiosity and wonder. A year of questions and disappointment and abrupt changes of direction.
Perhaps that's what I'll call it. My year of Advent. Makes sense. I'm a very slow learner and I often require more time to grasp things than your average person. So God is giving me my own remedial course. How very thoughtful.
Or, maybe, its not my word for the year. Maybe its just for this next season--until God moves me to the next thing--however long that may be. This really is new.
I should probably wrap it up. Things are getting crazy! I'm winging it and there's no telling what could happen!
I'll keep you posted.
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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