The cold weather has wreaked havoc with my skin. It feels dry and craves hydration. But, if I’m being honest, my spirit has been feeling a bit dry this week as well. I found myself asking what happened to cause this dry spell?
Recently, I had stitches in an awkward spot due to a mole removal, over-exerted my knee, and some long-lingering hip pain began to flair - all at the same time. Although I'm sparing you most of the details, maybe that's still too much information. But, guess what happened? I turned into a grump, quickly!
It is true that when my physical body doesn’t allow for my current routine of movement and physical exercise, more than my body suffers. My family suffered. My attitude suffered. My spirit suffered. I became frustrated and felt a tiny bit (okay, more than a tiny bit) sorry for myself.
Yet, I began to hear a gentle reminder whispered from God. He reminded me that I am loved. He reminded me to rest. He reminded me that my soul can be healthy and restored even when my physical body is not able to cooperate.
Shortly after God's whispers became audible to my ears, I received a text from a friend. I had shared with her that I felt a bit tender inside and out. Her response said this, “Rest in Him, sister! He is the balm.”
Maybe you need a little extra salve in this season too? Maybe you need God to slather you and hold you and heal the cracks of a long winter? For we can search far and wide for perfect solutions. However, the only balm that heals is our God alone.
The Lord will guide you continually
and provide for you, even in parched places.
He will rescue your bones.
You will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water that won’t run dry.
- Isaiah 58:11 CEB
If you're in a parched place, grab some balm. Take time to slather yourself in Him this weekend. Find time to connect with the one who is your healer. Listen when God speaks through others around you. I'm so very thankful there is an unlimited supply of his healing balm and am feeling the relief already.
On my journey of exploring contemplative prayer tools, I've tried many things. Naturally, some prayer disciplines work for me better than others (I wrote a little about my prayer struggles recently at MinistryMatters.com). Some prayer disciplines work for me in seasons. One thing I've learned about me and my personality (that remains consistent - in an ironic way) is that I like variety in my prayer life. And I'm realizing this is true for many others as well. How we connect can't be nearly as important as our desire to connect! As Psalm 145:28 reminds us, when our motive is sincerely to connect with God, God is indeed as close as a whisper. And, I'm certain the tools we use to connect with God are much more about us than they are about God. So, while I have my favorite ways to pray, I believe being open to trying new tools is a great way to grow my prayer life.
So, it was with openness and excitement that I discovered a book from the Upper Room about Prayer Beads by Kristen Vincent. The book caught my eye after an experience I had on a silent retreat at a local convent with my spiritual director. I am an extrovert, so silent retreats may seem difficult for those of us who use words more than others. However, I love my times of silent retreat. I find they help me deepen my other senses and tap into parts of my soul that often get ignored. As I sat in the chapel on the first night of our retreat, I noticed that one of the Sisters had left her rosary on the chair. I sat and held the beads in my hand and thought of the hands that had held those beads and the prayers that had been prayed over the years. I found myself wishing this discipline had been one that was part of my own faith and was curious to learn more. Kristen's book on Prayer Beads answered my questions and it filled me with a longing to share this tool with others. Turns out, prayer beads are not just for Catholics and I was excited to learn more.
Prayer Beads are used as a tool. They help us focus while praying. I'm not sure about you, but I'm (oh look, it's snack time...) easily distracted! Prayer Beads (like hand crosses, prayer rocks, etc.) give us a tangible reminder that we are approaching God in prayer. I knew that beads had been used for centuries as a tool for prayer. I was excited to discover from Kristen that the modern English word for "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "bede" which means "prayer." And while I'm often seen with my beaded keychain or bracelet(s), this understanding deepens my appreciation for my love of beads.
Kristen's model for praying with beads includes 34 beads (33 beads symbolize the years of Christ's life on earth and a 34th bead symbolizes his resurrection). Each bead has a meaning and my favorite part of her prayer model for the beads is that while they are designed with meaning and purpose, there is no right or wrong way to use the beads. For those who do enjoy structured prayer time, Kristen includes devotional prayers to use with your beads in her book as well as on her blog.
The prayer beads in the photo are from a prayer bead retreat I recently led and the women loved creating them. The beads are a special reminder to us that God is as close as our whisper. The symbolism and order of the beads is meaningful for our faith. The beads are even beautiful. But, the time on retreat creating these sets of 34 beads may have been the best gift of all - the time together was holy.
What works for your life? I have a long list of things I prefer to spend my time doing both alone and with my family. Things like my morning quiet time, yoga, writing, reading, knitting, biking, kayaking, photography, thrifting, etc. Things that too often slip to the bottom of my list.
This morning I awoke with my "to do" list racing through my head and yet the longing to not simply cram my day with the many tasks from my list. I woke up knowing the list must be accomplished. I also awoke knowing that I longed to make time for at least one of those preferred activities that fills me up and connects me with God.
I have learned. These things keep me going. And yet I let them slip away.
So I sat for a moment in the quiet, fighting the distractions of the "list" for the day.
And then I settled in to the stillness and I read this poem.
Stuck with another day,
God speaks. I just have to slow down and listen.
For me, preference it is today - to the things that worked before. The "to do" list already seems easier to tackle.
This past week has been full and at times overwhelming (if I'm to be truly honest). I'm very thankful I started the year off with a silent retreat last weekend to prepare (if even barely) for the coming year. We are now already ten days into a new year as I write these words.
I love words. Words help me heal, they help me share, they help me love, they help me process, they help me understand, they help me mourn, they help me believe, they help me have hope, they help. Words are powerful. So, for me, to select a single word for the coming year is a greater challenge than creating a long list of wordy resolutions (yes, I know I am wordy and this alone should likely be on a resolution list - hence the silent retreat). Choosing one word for the year is a practice I've entered in before and this year, with the help of Christine, I was encouraged and confirmed in my word:
So, although only God knows what is to come in 2013, I choose to embrace it (whatever that means or may look like). This week I have multiple friends facing the loss of loved ones (some with time to say goodbye and some of those friends have lost their loved ones unexpectedly). I have a precious boy celebrating Honor Roll. I have new opportunities in ministry. And, I also have a sink full of dirty dishes, mail to be opened, bills to be paid and a cough that has returned. I have some new boundaries and exciting new challenges. The only way to live fully into the coming year is to embrace each of these moments and the many more to come because only God knows the road ahead.
"MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone." -Thomas Merton
It has been a hard week since the tragedy of those many young lives that were senselessly lost last Friday in Connecticut. This week, I have heard God whisper to me to keep my eyes open for the good things. Yes, there is a lot of tragedy in this world. And, honestly, there are many things that could leave us heartbroken and paralyzed if we opened our eyes to see into the depths of other lives - those around the block as well as those in countries outside our own.
And at the same time, I keep hearing more clearly God reminding me to look around and celebrate the good things - like my friends who are expecting new life and the joyous new marriages that are taking place. We need to find joy in this season by looking to the cradle, even when it is easier to look to the grave. So today, I saw the meaning of Christmas and the purpose of that cradle before my very eyes.
After our lunch and devotion at Gallatin CARES, a new mom and her mother (the new grandmother) asked me if I knew of any cribs that had been donated to the Thrift Store next door and if we could hold one for them. I explained that they just randomly show up and I hadn't seen one but that I would keep my eyes open for them next time I shopped. Shortly after this, I popped over to the store and we found a crib that had been donated just this morning. It was a nice wooden crib, in good shape, that was fairly priced at $75. The mom and grandmother were actually even more discouraged after seeing it and said it was simply out of their price range. We began talking and I asked what their price range was. I had a little cash in my pocket and quickly considered taking part of the burden from them but something held me back from suggesting that immediately. Something had me just wait a moment before suggesting anything at all. Within that moment, a man appeared out of nowhere. He walked up to this new mom and grandmother and asked them if they would allow him to purchase this $75 crib for them.
I wish I could bottle up the emotion that this moment held for each of us. The man, humbly offering to help this family. The women, humbly accepting his help. And me, humbly being allowed to simply witness this gift of a cradle for a new birth.
The scripture we studied today just before these women received this gift was Matthew 2:11:
They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (CEB)
Good things do still happen. Gifts are still being given and love is being shown. Jesus came to teach us this lesson. Let us be the givers and doers and sometimes simply the observers of the good things because they do still happen.
Keep your eyes open my friends, keep your eyes open.
Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.
— Mary Oliver, Thirst
Beacon Press, Boston, 2006, pp. 1, 52, 69
Gallatin CARES is a local help center that has a food pantry, thrift store and worship services that are led by my friend, Jane. I love this place and have been drawn to it for years. I started off just finding GREAT deals in the store and dropping off used goods to show my support. Only recently did I make time in my schedule to stop by on a regular basis and I wish I had done that sooner!
Actually, it sounds like now I go to help at this help center. And, I do….but, let’s be realistic. I go for pretty selfish reasons. I go because I love to see God at work in that place.
Yesterday I met a gentleman in a wheelchair helping out who has only one leg, his name is George. I tried to open the door for him and he thanked me but told me he was used to handling it alone. We then started chatting a bit and he told me about his wife who was running the cash register in the thrift store. He said they’d been married for 36 years. He then told me he had the secret to a successful marriage. He mentioned that many of his friends didn’t want to know it or didn’t care what it was. But, he said many of them were NOT married any longer anyway (hhmmm, that is worth noting). So, of course, I had to ask him what the secret was. He boldly told me that the answer is COMMUNICATION! And, not just idle chit-chat about who is going where today but finding out how they feel about things. George told me that he listens to his wife. He listens when she is mad at him and not just when she is praising him. He listens. He said the key is not to argue, but to let her speak her mind and he gets to speak his mind too. They listen to each other, the good and the bad. And, he told me they’d been through some pretty tough times.
God calls us to communicate. Not just with him (prayer) but also with each other. We are to build each other up and encourage one another. There is another man that works at Gallatin CARES who reminded me how important this is a few months back. His name is Randy. Randy told me that last Easter the people of Gallatin CARES Church asked him to play Jesus in a skit. He couldn’t believe it. He told me that his long hair and beard like Jesus did make him “look like Jesus”, but he never would have thought that hewould be asked to be Jesus. He also told me playing the role of Jesus was the best thing that had ever happened to him.
About a month ago, Randy was in a hit and run accident while riding his bicycle. He was left overnight on the side of the road. Amazingly, he is fighting and healing. But, I was told that they did have to shave his beard. As Randy heals, I pray that he can find Jesus inside of himself without the beard that made him look like a character who could play Jesus. His church, Gallatin CARES, is communicating with him how much Jesus loves him and helping him see that inside of himself. He communicated with me how that made him feel.
In college I studied Communication, Sociology and Speech. I thought I would work in a television station (which I did for a little while) as a journalist. I would dig deep to find the answers to all of life’s mysteries and share those with the world. I’m not on the news. But, I realize now that I am still a journalist. I’m digging deep to find the truth about God. I’m listening and watching stories unfold. I have opportunities to share those stories but most importantly, I can listen and encourage others to share their stories. I may not be “live at 6″. But, I am doing the most fulfilling job I’ve ever been given the opportunity to live.
And, I’m not glad I went to Gallatin CARES yesterday because I got a J. Crew shirt for 50 cents (although that shirt, the hand crocheted afghan, swimming trunks for Drew and super cute clothes for the niece and nephews at 50 cents each were a plus). I’m glad I went because God was shown to me in a big way because people took the time to tell me what he was doing in their life. And, I chose to listen.
So, put on your listening ears and be reminded today that by listening to God’s work in the lives of others we are listening to God. How can you listen to God? Who could you listen to today? What stories of God’s work in your own life can you share so that others may listen? Let us put on our listening ears and receive the peace he promises us:
“I will listen to what God the Lord will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints.” -Psalm 85:8
For some time, I have felt God tugging at my heart to use my story of healing and wholeness to help others but I’ve just not been sure how I was supposed to do that… I started a blog called "Whitney's Journey" after my stroke and brain surgery in 2005. This was my online journal and was even before blogs were called blogs. At that time, I mostly used my blog to process and vent about my recovery and log the often boring details of my progress in Physical Therapy. I also shared my joys and victories as I conquered everyday new tasks like multi-tasking (something I still often struggle with). Most recently I used that blog to post God sightings in my life and the successes I’ve had on my journey of healing. Those writings were very personal for me and helped me to record my faith story. Writing is something I encourage anyone going through a difficult time to do, it does not have to be fancy or formal, just write. It can be a private paper journal or a public blog. We so often do not allow ourselves the opportunity to process what is taking place in our hearts and minds. Journaling (privately and publicly) not only helps us see the progress we make, but it also helps us to keep tabs on our emotions and witness how God is working in our lives. Often times, we are so close to situations that we fail to see God’s work within them. Writing helps.
God has been calling me to pursue deeper study for the past several years. Since the Summer of 2009 God has been calling me to return to school and study Spiritual Formation - specifically to learn more about facilitating retreats and spiritual direction. So, as I pray and dream about where God plans to use me each day (as well as in the future) and what this all means, I felt it was only appropriate I start fresh with a new blog because it isn’t about “Whitney’s Journey”, it never was. It’s God’s journey and I’m just along for the ride.
Notice the dove? God has me on a journey of exploration as I seek to find peace and share it with others in my life. The word peace is very dear to me as it was a comfort during my health crisis. It is a word that came to me at my most fearful moment and a word that brought me closest to God. I truly believe that this exploration is a journey that I am supposed to share. Not only am I to share my victories, but also what I learn from my failures. For the journey to find peace is not a direct route but an exploration. Will you join me?
Whitney R. Simpson
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Whitney R. Simpson,
Exploring Peace Ministries, LLC