As some of you know, the pig valve they placed in my heart 7 years ago has been misbehaving as of late and it appears I'll need to replace it earlier than I had hoped. Since I'd been told it would last closer to 15 years, I had not placed open heart surgery on my agenda for 2014 or 2015. And, frankly, I'm booked. If I must have surgery in the next year, I believe I can arrange it in the first week of August. It's penciled in.
In another development, I've seen some stuff this year that has challenged my ideas of how God works. Or, more accurately, he has destroyed the large box I placed around him. I thought I'd given him a big enough box to move around in, but, as it turns out, he refused to be limited by what I could comprehend.
This year I've had the honor of meeting people who experience God in ways I only dream of. Like Jackie--whose stories of God's power in her life of serving the lowest of the low in Beirut is surpassed only by her personal story of physical and emotional healing. Or, the many Muslims with whom I've conversed who've had dreams of Jesus and miraculously experienced his power and love. And I could go on for hours. These men and women from Egypt and Turkey and Iran and Jordan and Israel have lived in much more uncertainty and much more faith than I, and the result is a different experience of the Trinity. One of dependence and hope and love. And, its an experience I desire.
So I decided to pray for a miracle.
Half-hearted Prayer (no pun intended)
About a month ago I decided to regularly pray that my thickening, hardening valve would reverse its disease and once again become the healthy, pliable piece of tissue its supposed to be. And, I asked a few others to pray this with me.
This is going to tell you a bit about my own weirdness, but I had a hard time getting excited about praying for this miracle and I couldn't figure it out. It wasn't that I didn't believe God could do this--I really did believe he could. But still, the prayer just didn't 'fit'. I had a hard time articulating it, but I didn't feel like this was a prayer God was inviting me to pray.
This brought up a deep, theological question for me--does the Holy Spirit help tell us what to pray for? I mean, on a personal level. Hmmmm.
Signs of Hope
Over the last month I found exercise to be more enjoyable and fruitful. Even with my damaged valve, I was able to run regularly, even increasing my pace and mileage slightly. I began to think it might be happening. Perhaps surgery would be put off indefinitely or...become unnecessary. I stopped obsessing about my heart when I ran and began again to live in the present moment. That was a gift.
But, last week I was reminded of the sporadic nature of my condition. With no warning, the tiredness, light-headedness and breathlessness reappeared. Nothing dramatic, just subtle reminders of my humanity. So I kept praying.
An Unexpected Answer
And then came the answer. "This isn't what I desire for you."
I stopped praying for this miracle today because God told me to. I think. Sometimes its difficult to discern the voice of God. But, best I can tell, this is his desire.
In a phone conversation with a friend I hadn't spoken with in a while, I shared the news about my heart. I joked that I didn't have time for surgery so I was praying it didn't have to happen. His response?
"Kelli, maybe you need a time of being cared for. I know you prefer to be the one giving, but maybe you need to receive. All this busyness and performance and activity may need to stop for a bit."
I laughed nervously as I confessed, "You know this is what I do for a living, right? I teach leaders how to rest."
"We have a name for someone like you. It's 'hypocrite.' This was not an accusation. It was a mirror.
And I knew these were God's words to me. In teaching others to submit to the realities of their physical, emotional and spiritual capacities, I must become the student as well. As I pondered this for a bit longer, God reminded me that one of my most powerful times in ministry was after my first open heart surgery. I spoke at a women's conference in Dubai 6 weeks after my surgery. And, after 6 weeks of complete rest and solitude and more rest and submitting to the care of others and the gradual process of healing, I experienced miraculous power as I traveled and spoke.
Probably not coincidence.
So I've stopped praying for my heart to be miraculously healed--at least physically. Instead, I'm asking for the grace to submit each moment to whatever God has for me. I really do hope I can wait until August to have my surgery, but I can entrust my schedule to God. Because he loves me. And he is continuing to perform miracles in my heart.
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.
Katy Perry's song Roar hit the airwaves en force last month. Since then it has become an anthem for discouraged, seemingly-defeated-but-resilient people everywhere. Just yesterday Richard showed me a YouTube video with kids in a children's hospital lip-syncing to this song. There's no way around it--I'm inspired.
Given my 'no love' stance toward Taylor Swift, you might assume Katy Perry was on my 'do not listen' list as well. But you'd be wrong. If I were interviewing nannies, I would go with Taylor, but otherwise--Katy's my girl. I can't help it. She has talent and soul. And, every once in a while I see remnants of holy in her.
With the release of her new album, Prism, this week she's been widely interviewed about the inspiration for her songs. It doesn't take a degree in poetry to gather that she's writing about a time of difficulty in her life. In her interviews she confirms that she went through a period that took a toll on her self esteem. But it was out of that darkness that Roar was birthed. (Apparently hyper-sexuality was also part of the healing process, but I'll leave that alone for now.)
As a woman who has a daughter and who works with women leaders to help them find their voice, Roar should be my theme song. You can't hold me down! I'm a fighter! You hear my voice...like thunder, gonna shake the ground! I'm a champion! Roar!
But I tell you...
There's only one problem. God isn't asking me to roar. I'm not saying that having some fight isn't often what's called for, I'm simply observing that the way of Jesus is, more often than not, a much quieter path.
Today I wanted to roar. I'm physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. As I meditated and prayed this morning I secretly hoped I would emerge from this time feeling energetic and ready to take on the world. After all, isn't that how the agreement works? I plug into the power source of the Holy Spirit and, just like my iPhone in the morning, I leave fully charged and ready for another day of productive activity?
I'm currently taking a class on the Disciplines of the Spirit and one of our textbooks is a favorite of mine...The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Calhoun. This week we completed a brief assessment designed to surface where God might desire to shape us. I faithfully completed the assessment and moved on to the reflection questions. What I hoped would come out in my reflection was a sense of deep rest and encouragement. I found myself drawn to the disciplines of Sabbath and listening to God.
Inwardly I crouched, waiting for my time to roar.
And then, he spoke.
"Kelli, ask a friend to show you your blind spots."
"Kelli, you've wounded another friend. Ask for forgiveness."
So, let me clarify. I feel tired and vulnerable and God wants me to invite someone to point out areas of weakness of which I'm blissfully unaware. And then he wants me to admit to another that I've neglected our friendship.
Just what I was hoping for.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
After accepting his invitation I am more amazed at God's faithfulness and grace. But I do not feel like roaring. On the contrary, I feel more dependent, quieter, still tender.
I love Katy Perry, but, for now, she'll have to roar without me.
There's much talk about interactions between God and humans during this season. Angels appearing to Mary and shepherds and Zachariah. Remembrances of God's word to the prophets. Clear directions. Loving promises. Dramatic interventions.
For many years I believed that kind of communication had ceased long ago. I'd seen tel-evangelists misuse the phrase "God told me..." and I didn't grow up in a faith community that entrusted conversations with God to non-clergy. If God had something to say, he said it in the Bible. End of story. In this theology, my Bible reading was reduced to analyzing context and my prayer was limited to me speaking because I didn't know a God who would respond.
Oh, I heard stories of people who claimed that God spoke to them. My mother sometimes hinted that she experienced this kind of heresy. Of course, she also read "The Living Bible" so I wasn't sure she could be trusted. While I desired to experience more of God, it never occurred to me to listen for his voice.
Moving into the unknown...or the previously unheard.
I can't pinpoint the moment, or even the year that my theology began to change. I remember that my husband preached a sermon about hearing God and then I read a book by the same title by Dallas Willard. I moved slowly at first; reticent to trust what I was experiencing. But one of my first realizations was that God had been speaking to me all along. In retrospect, divine whispers permeated my story.
I was reminded this week of one of my earliest memories of God giving me words. It was at Sioux Center Christian School in Mr. Hofland's Jr. High art class. Our class had been commissioned to create a stained glass window for the building entrance and Mr. Hofland was soliciting potential Bible verses or spiritual phrases that would be appropriate for this masterpiece.
Art was not my thing and a part of my brain shut down when creative ideas were being bantered around. I preferred to excel on the basketball court or on tests where right and wrong were easily deciphered. My best friend, Jami, was good at art. She had the 'eye'. I did not. While I could recognize great art, I could absolutely not create it.
But sitting in that art room an idea came to me. Not just a passing thought. More like a a passion. Time slowed and I could feel my heart beat. I raised my hand to share these words. "The least of these I call my own." As I said them, I had a deep sense that to choose any other phrase for the window would be a grave wrong. Perhaps I was so invested in these words because I rarely contributed anything of artistic or creative value in this class, but I think not. Today, I believe it was one of my first brushes with the voice of God.
Since then I've become more attune to God's voice. I've experienced nearly irresistible calls to action where all my senses were engaged as well as barely distinguishable melodies of grace. I've misunderstood, I've sometimes disobeyed and I've often questioned these promptings. But I no longer question that God speaks, and that he speaks to me.
John 10:27English Standard Version (ESV)
The phrase I shared that day was ultimately chosen, becoming a visual reminder to me of the joy of following a God who would entrust me with his heart. But this season is all about this amazing God who would embrace the weak and lowly and "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:2). May you experience him afresh this season and hear him lovingly sing your name!
How does God speak to you? Are there any times when his voice has been unmistakable? Have you ever questioned if you were hearing God's voice or just thinking crazy thoughts? How do you distinguish?
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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