It’s such a small word and, on the face of it, so simple.

In the gospels, Jesus tells his followers to ask. And he doesn’t say it just once.

Ask for provision. Ask for help. Ask and it will be given to you.

The promise of ASK is that you will RECEIVE.

You almost get the impression that Jesus wants to answer our prayers!

I have over the years, but more purposefully lately, put this small word – ask – to the test, to take up Jesus’ offer. I’m trusting him that this isn’t a mind game. He isn’t holding out the carrot just so I’ll pull the cart.

To ask is to trust. I want to trust the Lord. I will ask.

Though I’ve had increased eagerness to ask, I’ve also been surprised to find within me a resistance to asking – a desire to say instead, I’ve got this one, or this doesn’t require God’s attention, or I don’t want to…

I’ve needed help and instead of asking, I’ve chosen to worry, I’ve chosen to wallow. How strange.

I’m not sure what the barrier is to getting to the asking, but now I’ve got the word written big on my wall and in my heart: ASK.

I’ve been asking.

And I’ve discovered a few important things:

  1. The first is that the Lord cares about the minutiae. I have very specifically asked and the Lord has very specifically met my needs, ranging from a just affordable car repair and a surprise financial gift to cover the rest, a healed and healing friendship, plus inner peace, joy and increased faith, to name a select few. This is uniquely thrilling to consider that the Almighty God is so intimately aware of our needs and ready to meet them.

    Let me clarify, this is no prosperity gospel. This is not a get rich scheme. The Lord gives us [more than] enough – a sustainability of life and faith.

  2. The second is that I have sensed more than ever the Lord’s closeness. To ask is to acknowledge that he’s within earshot. Even closer! He’s hears our heart-whisper. He interprets our groaning. He reads my journal! That’s OK, I’ve asked him to. Even the instant peace of placing our circumstances in his hand is a beautiful answer to prayer because it is to know he is close.
  3. Asking also means that you necessarily have to let go of pride. If you’re not asking then you must believe that you do not need to. This is the wandering we are prone to.

    In the gospels, even the skeptics asked Jesus questions, though they had the wrong motives and evil intent. Jesus still answered. He still offered a worthy challenge, a beautiful nugget of truth even as he acknowledged their hardened hearts.

    Eventually, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, those who should have known him best, being unable to trap him nor to receive the life-giving truth he offered, STOPPED ASKING. Matthew 22:45 is, to me, one of the most heart-breaking verses in the Bible, “…from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

  4. If you ask questions of the Lord, he will ask questions right back. Your faith with be tested by what he asks of you. Because this is not a one-sided relationship. The purpose of the exercise is not to “receive a sign” to make Jesus prove himself to you – as if he needs to #clapback – but to ask in faith believing in the Lord’s love for you and power to answer.

Do not be afraid to ask. Take Jesus at his word. Ask and you will receive. Don’t stop asking. Keep asking. Ask. Just ask.

42 years to learn

22 truths that took me 42 years to learn… and, by all projections, a lifetime to perfect:

1. Get your sleep, eat well, go for a walk. These are the best first steps to solving what ails you. If nothing else, it puts your mind in a better place to tackle the problem(s).

2. Pay attention to the words of those who stammer, stutter or blush because they are spoken with courage.

3. Embrace your tears. Those who know me know I cry almost daily. One friend has taken to calling me “Tina Tears.” Their involuntary appearance STILL takes me by surprise and, truthfully, sometimes embarrasses me. But I’ve learned to welcome them. I was marked with them in my early 20s when I received Christ. In welcoming these tears, I’ve discovered that they are a good gift. Tears detect beauty, break down walls, open the heart, and speak grace. They adjust my eyes to see what Jesus wants me to see. When your tears make a surprise appearance, acknowledge this good gift.

4. Welcome interruptions. Like tears, most gifts from God are not the things we planned or expected. The things that were/are an interruption in my life: my husband, my kids, my friends, and, well, 42 showed up kind of suddenly…  I can’t rightly say what good thing in my life wasn’t born out of interruption, even the things which initially seemed troubling. So welcome it all as God’s benevolence.

5. Banish offence. I believe it is possible to live a victorious life if we rid ourselves of offence. To qualify the term, I’m referring to when someone insults you either directly or indirectly, whether real or perceived. Root it out with prayer, kill it with kindness, walk through life unscathed and free.

6. Love others by keeping a record of rights. We know from 1 Corinthians 13 that when we keep an account of offences it is unloving behaviour. We like to either hold onto our offences and nurse them and/or throw them at others like a weapon once we’ve accumulated a good number of them. Is it possible to love by keeping track of, placing importance on, and speaking of the good things we see in others? I tried it. Suddenly, my husband is the most interesting man in the world, my kids are angels, I love Monday mornings, I have the best friends a girl could ask for, and I am saying hello to strangers on the street.  Gratitude is the outcome when we keep track of the good things.

7. Practice good gossip. Get caught talking well about other people. (That Karen is so amazing. Bob sure throws a great party. Don’t you just LOVE our pastor? And so on.) Start a new trend in the workplace, build the joy in your home, revitalize your church through good gossip.

8.  Asking for help is an act of generosity. Be specific with your needs and those who love you will thank you that you’ve let them in.

9. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.” Guidelines for life and social media from Romans 12:15-16.

On parenting (teens)

10. “Good for you!” “Use your words,” and “Play nicely” remain solid parenting principles well into the teen years.

11. Your teens actually do want to spend time with you. Force adventures on them, even if they resist. Do things together that make you hold your breath, use your muscles, tempt fate (within reason), laugh out loud. You’ve all just received a shot of perspective and joy. Now repeat.

Cockram Family Adventure

12. You are the boundary your teen needs to push against. Confirm for your teens that their home is a place where are they are safe to wrestle and doubt. Parents, this is Part II of your labour pains. There will be great rejoicing at the end of it.

13.  Parents of teens, you will need to add a sense of humour to your arsenal. No doubt about it, your kids will laugh at you, but if you join in, it means they are laughing with you.  Believe me, they’ll show you just how funny you didn’t know you are!

On marriage

14. Making the bed together is the best first thing to do each day. Bravo, you’ve accomplished something together. Now go, rock this day. It’s the two of you against the world. I also highly recommend unmaking it together at the end of the day, if you catch my drift…

15.  Dissatisfaction is never the other person’s fault, it belongs to you. Once you identify this truth, you can save/build/enjoy your marriage by ending the blame cycle and attending to the necessary changes in your own heart.

16. This one is for the wives. I’ve learned this little tip over time. (Don’t tell J-M, but it works like a charm). Whatever question you want to ask of your husband, ask it three times.  This is what it takes to get: 1) his attention, 2) the jokes out of the way, and 3) his real response. Try it and report back to me. We might be onto something.

17. Lighten up. If I may generalize, I think this is one of the brilliant things a man adds to a marriage – an easy going perspective. Women can place such importance on their deep thoughts and over-processing the minutiae.  If men and women are polar opposites in their thinking, perhaps the truth can be found in the happy medium. Emphasis on the happy.

On Faith

18. Faith is our spiritual muscle we must activate and exercise or else we become ineffective and unproductive. Train like an athlete. Digest good nutrients (truth). Work it off with strength training (service). Don’t get spiritually obese by only taking it in and never putting it to use. Don’t run yourself dry by always serving and never replenishing your reserves. And, just as importantly, rest once a week.

19. Worship God completely. Like, use every part of you – your voice, your strong legs, your wingspan, your thoughts, your heart, your eyes, your touch, your gut – to love and praise him. Discover how he wants to heal and restore every inch of you.

20. Thank God for the activists. They increase our proximity to the heart of God. They help us see and love the poor, the needy, the abandoned, the destitute, the lonely. So next time you see an activist coming, don’t squirm in your EZ chair, receive their good intentions and consider how you might take action with them.

21. Trade in Karma for Grace. Jesus paid what you owe. Best deal ever.

Final Word (For Now)

22. Seek after beauty. I have spent the past two years trying to understand what beauty is, where it comes from, where it can be found, who owns it. I can say with great joy that there are very real answers to these important questions. They all lead to a Creator God who decided that beauty is the way in which he would communicate his message of love and truth.  Look for beauty, find God.

Related Post: 40 years to learn

Give Yourself Permission – Part II (The thing about it is…)

Give Yourself Permission

The other night over dinner, our family had a conversation about other things (riffing off my last post) people might consider giving themselves permission for.

I explained that these would be things people do or don’t do because of some unnecessary pressure. I asked them to think deeply about something they might suggest people give themselves permission for.

“Fart” and “poo in public” came out of the mouths of certain members of the family. They had a good long belly laugh about this while I waited, arms crossed.

“Family, please. We can do better than this.”

Secretly, I agreed that they should give themselves permission to do these things, but I certainly wasn’t going to.

Which is a good reminder that considering decorum is part of the task. It is important to give yourself permission with regard to how it might affect others. It should not be the exclusion of others’ peace and frame of mind.

If you are a person who is highly relational, giving yourself permission can be a difficult task. Women inherently struggle with this – which is why we do too much all the time.

Giving yourself permission should be necessarily thoughtful, but, ideally, it should give you a freedom that then promotes freedom in others.

Giving yourself permission is about delineating false guilt from real responsibility.

The fam finally came up with one serious submission: Give yourself permission to fail.

Thank you, family, for the fodder on the dinner table and for my blog. I’m proud of you again. Go back to the events of your day.

When we start a new journey or take the step of pursuing our vision of where we believe we should be, we never do this alone. We drag people into it with us. Start a new business, you need customers. Start a new ministry, you need volunteers. Become a missionary, you need supporters. It is your supporters, volunteers and customers that feel like a responsibility, what keeps you tied to your vision, even when the tide changes.

There is a time to let go. Often those people we’ve brought with us are the barometer of our success. Their joining us gives us wings; their leaving deflates us.  They are most often the reason we won’t let ourselves fail (even when the barometer is speaking loudly that you’re already headed there.)

Reconsider that you are accountable to your followers, not responsible for them. There is a difference. As I see it, responsibility means your efforts are about controlling others; accountability means your efforts are about benefitting others.

Yes, it is important that you put your money where your mouth is. You must consider who you are leading and to where you are leading them. But when it isn’t working out – or it has worked out and now it’s not – there is a time to give yourself permission to stop and learn the lessons that have come from your attempts.

Our true responsibility is to listen well.

This is the beauty of faith in Christ. Believers don’t have to continually assess the risks and benefits when we follow him in simple obedience. Our striving is only to hear from the Holy Spirit. He carries the burden and ours is light. When his voice is loudest, the weight is lifted and our failures (every last one of them) are redeemed.

Our failures can actually clarify our vision; we see purpose beyond the success of our dreams. Our ultimate goal is his will realized, because he makes beautiful things out of dust.

The vision was never just for you; the lesson wasn’t either.

This might be time for a new vision, that says to others, “learn something incredibly valuable from my mistakes.”

I’ve known pure and utter failure. I have discovered that devastating defeat is almost always a disguise for good and necessary change . On the other end of it, having moved past failure in many forms, I no longer fear it, but embrace the lessons that come with it. Those lessons are: pray to the Father, reach out to Jesus, listen to the Spirit, walk humbly, and take others with you, through the failures too.

Others may perceive the Spirit’s whisperings in your ear, the result of his guidance, to be failures, but know that he is taking you on a path of rich experience and joy that will bring you to a place of deep gratitude and worship. 

Give yourself permission to fail. And some time after that, give yourself permission to celebrate your failures.

Day 40 – God speaks

It’s early in the morning.  I got up specifically to write this post out of a mix of obligation and inspiration (oblispiration?).  Those are the times when you wake up and say to yourself, You should probably write this down.

Of course I had to check Twitter first and was encouraged to get off Twitter and back to the blog by Anne Lamott‘s 140-character plea to, Seize and steal time to write, however & wherever you can–it’s a debt of honor.

There is something about this compulsion to write.  It’s so strange how God places this fervor in you to observe the world around you  and then find words for what you see.  It’s a bit of a madness. For instance, while J-M and the girls were planning what is to be a fun-filled long weekend, complete with beach days, BBQs and baseball, I was thinking to myself, I sure hope I get time to write.  Where oh where was this drive in high school English?

And to those who checked in yesterday, I’m sorry I didn’t post on Day 40.  My excuse is that Day 40 had to happen first before I “reported back.”  But the truth is, my family hijacked my plans and took me out to have fun instead.  I’m not complaining, just redirecting the blame.

So allow to me recap. I’ve been praying for direction consistently for 40 days.  During those 40 days, I have not eaten after 2 p.m., except for Fridays and three cheats celebration dinners. An undefined, but persistent desire to go deeper in ministry is what drove me to this fast, hoping to hear exactly what the “deeper in ministry” part was to look like.

I am happy to say that God was faithful and answered my prayers.

I didn’t write that sentence easily. I want to be sure I’m not conjuring up a “happy ending” to this fast, something to please me and you that this was worth the effort.  Of course it was, in a kajillion ways, but  I would not say God sent lightning bolts from the sky or a great heavenly finger to write on my kitchen wall.  In any case, I don’t believe he speaks that way.  If he had sent the finger, I might, in my sinfulness, ask him why then he hasn’t spoken up more about my Dad’s MS or a friend’s heartache or poverty and all the injustice in the world?

I believe God does speak clearly, consistently and powerfully.  He speaks through scripture, his word, which is a plumb line for discerning his will in this life and the next.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature…. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

I encourage you to read the rest of that, about how we can increase our participation in that divine nature. Amazing, spine-tingling stuff.

A word should also be said here about handling scripture with reverence, in the company of believers, guided by the Holy Spirit.  But in short, we have access to God’s answers for all our questions.

God also speaks through others and this has been my experience throughout this fast.  I have been given tons of advice and encouragement – some conflicting!  Again, I returned to scripture to measure the words I received.  If they line up with what scripture says,  I accept – and wholeheartedly.  And God bless you for saying so!

Throughout the fast, God spoke clearly, like portions of food, replacing what I wasn’t physically eating. I received his word in bits and pieces.  Every bite from him was full of spiritual nourishment established by the peace he gave me when I digested it.

For my questions, I received the answers either no/not yet or keep going.

Let me start with the no/not yet.

God has made it very clear to me that “deeper into ministry” does not mean bigger.  I’d had some suggestions from people, that perhaps my role was being broadened from just working within my congregation to ministering on a larger scale with an outreach to others beyond our church.   I don’t doubt that God can move in mysterious ways and use the things one does on a small scale to reach out to others in areas or ways you could never anticipate.  But to change my focus at this time is out of the question.

First of all, I am very green – I have spent just one year leading the women of our church – this ministry alone extends my abilities to the max.  Beyond this, is the focus of our ministry.  Over the past year we’ve been purposeful about getting away from the common trappings of women’s ministry (fundraisers and friendly gossip, to name a couple).  We’ve been diligent to make sure that our focus is to grow closer to Jesus and to each other.  For the upcoming year, I believe we are to add to that by reaching out to others in our community.  That means finding the lonely, the needy, the desperate who hide behind closed doors, in our own neighbourhood.  I think it’s all this growing closer to Jesus business.  We’ve found out that’s where he’s always heading and we want to go with him.  This call is clear and so my personal pursuits cannot be any different.  I’m staying local.

As for the keep going message:

I have received an overwhelming response to this blog in the past 40 days.  No one would say that I write well – and neither would I –  but what joy to hear from others that they have been moved, challenged, affected, or convicted by something I’ve written!  I am not deceived – I may have a specific demographic who doesn’t mind the frivolous chit-chat mixed in with an exhortation, and a couple of typos for good measure.  But the few who respond to it, who see Jesus in it? Well that means this madness isn’t for nothing.  It’s for something.

To be clear, I do not wish to “be published” other than to click that button on the blog, but just to be faithful to write it all down.

I have the additional blessing of being paid to write.  My position as Social Media Journalist (decoded: blogger) for the Free Methodist Church in Canada, although part-time, is a huge privilege.  I want to fill the parameters I’ve been given to full capacity, “Telling our Stories” about God’s faithfulness within our churches.

Another part of the keep going message is my being available.  I love that I have been able to offer my time for what would otherwise be considered interruptions.  What a gift to know that when someone wants to go for coffee to chat, I can say yes, how about today!  Or if someone wants to meet to pray, yes, how about right now!  I have able to volunteer at a friend’s store for a few days over the past two weeks because she really needed the help.  I have been able to do stand up for another friend’s impromptu wedding.  If God can use me during this time of unemployment, I will not say no to that.

I will write more about this 40-day experience. For one, what about this problem of bringing home a regular wage?  Just a quick preview on this – Mom’s wise words that if God calls you to something, he will certainly provide the means to fulfill your calling.  We’ve known that well in our lives before, and I claim it now.  You can be praying for J-M to be receptive to this also.  His suggestion?  To add a “Donate Now” button to this blog.  Also to my t-shirt.

There has been so much jam-packed into the last 40 days.  I’ve been looking through my journal, comments and e-mails from others received since May 22 when this all started.  The picture is clear.  God speaks through all of it.

Happy you were born

Dear John-Mark,

Have you ever noticed that my Happy Birthday cards  turn into Thank You cards?  I go to give you a birthday blessing and I find myself thanking you for all you do for me.

Our relationship is very one-sided in many ways, I know.  I can’t believe all the things I get away with.  I can’t believe I NEVER cook.  And while a lot of friends say their husbands cook, it generally means they share the responsibility with their husband.  But when I show up at a potluck, of which we’ve attended several in the past little while, and people ask me either what I brought or how I made it, I just say, “Ask John-Mark.”

And they’re all, “Wow! Even church dinners!”

I might as well admit that I don’t ever do the laundry either.  I remember at one point you trying to unload that chore on me.  I would drag it out, maybe tackling a load when I had some free time.  When you ran out of undergarments consistently, you re-adopted the chore.  I just happen to believe that folding laundry is the excuse you need to watch Dukes of Hazard reruns – enjoy!

When my friends complain about their husbands never helping around the house, I can’t relate at all.  In fact, I will most likely take the husbands’ side and suggest that maybe their husbands have other ways of contributing to the homestead? Like facilitating good conversations around the dinner table?  Maintaining the family social calendar?  No?

You’re turning 38 today.  This came as a relief to all of us, after last year’s birthday, when my Mom sang you her favourite cheery birthday song:

A Happy Birthday to you!
A Happy Birthday to you!
May Jesus be near,
All of the year!
A Happy Birthday to you!
A Happy Birthday to you!
The best one you’ve ever had!

Except she accidentally inserted “last” instead of “best” in that final verse, which unnerved us.  Here you are one year older and her, not a bit of a prophet.

You’re slightly younger than me and you never hesitate to rub it in the other eight months of the year when we are separated by one number.  But you, my dear, have aged quite significantly in your own way this year.  You got yourself a sleep apnea machine.  I was getting worried listening to your halted breathing at night, with pauses up to several seconds at a time!  You went for a test at the sleep clinic to discover that your heart would pause consistently and dangerously in your sleep.  Scary stuff!  So they sent you home with a CPAP machine and our lives will never be the same.  I find it hard to believe that side effects of this machine are supposed to be a healthier, longer life simply by being transformed into an 80-year old robot every night.

But this year has been a great one, hasn’t it?  I’ve loved watching you embrace ministry with passion, getting excited about seeing people move closer to Jesus.  This is something on your brain all the time.  You even had a dream about it, getting uncharacteristically charismatic, running up and down the aisles of the church and yelling at the congregation, “Is Jesus engraved on your hearts?!  Well, is he?!”  Aren’t dreams reserved for unicorns and chance meetings with fav celebrities in space?  Anyway, I suggest you try your dream out next Sunday and shake things up a bit.

I love your strength of character.  You have really great, healthy boundaries.  You never hesitate to show love and respect to others, but are not taken in by manipulative behaviour or excessive demands.  You are steady and calm when emotions escalate and are always willing to engage in reasonable dialogue.  I just wish once in a while you’d let me buy a great pair of shoes even if it’s not in the budget.

Although you’ve earned the nicknames, Spock and Stoneface, in the past, it’s not that you’re without emotion.  Recently, on a family trip to Toronto, Sophia asked you questions from her Coke or Pepsi quiz book.  This is the ultimate pre-teen girly book with “tons of questions for you and your friends to answer!”  We were all interested to know that, given the choice, you’d go for a mountain ski resort vacation over an African safari.  We were delighted to learn that you’d choose flying instead of invisibility as your super power. When Sophia asked what makes you cry,” you said, “When people are honest and real about the pain in their life.”  There was a moment of silence and reflection in the car before Sophia carried on, “So rock and roll or country music?”

Know what else I appreciate?  How supportive you’ve been during this whole fast!  For the past 36 days, you haven’t complained at all about making dinner for the family minus one.  You’ve encouraged me to seek the Lord about this and listened as I babble on about what I’m learning or wishing I was learning.  You’ve prayed with me too.  I know it’s a huge inconvenience to you, since you believe so strongly in family dinner… but you’ve understood it’s importance to me and have been such a wonderful support, keeping me accountable and strong.  You are such a gift  to me.  And on your birthday.

Tonight we’ll go to your sister’s home to celebrate.  You share a birthday with her son, Edmund, who turns 4 today.  My biggest birthday wish for him is to turn into a Godly man… just like you.  I’m relieved it’s not a potluck, because I’d hate to make you prepare food on your birthday.

Happy Birthday, Honey, and THANK YOU.

Love, Me

Asking the impossible

Leisha, Karen and I had some good discussions in Ghana about what we were experiencing during our visit.  It was painfully obvious of the lifestyle we are accustomed to is worlds apart from the women in Bolgatanga who make the baskets.

While we stayed here,

they slept here.

It didn’t feel right for our differences to be in such close proximity to one another.

The hotel where we were staying is in the process of building a pool, which will be open next year.  The 40 degree heat made us wish that it was ready right now please.  On the other hand, we’d have to ignore some realities very close by in order to feel the freedom to enjoy it.

And yet, is the answer for us to sleep where they sleep?  Would it make sense for us to give up our homes, our jobs, our businesses in order to start farming the land or living in a mud hut?

Inevitably, after a visit to this reality, one brings a new perspective home as a souvenir.  I return to my home, look around and ask, why do I have all this stuff?  What do I really need?

I remember when it surprised me to discover that I was needier than a Ghanaian in a mud hut.  Modern day conveniences have incapacitated me, so that I rely on so much just to get through the day.  If we had a food shortage, I’d have no idea how to grow my own veggies or raise my own livestock.  If I didn’t have electricity, how would I do my work?  How would I Facebook?  If I didn’t have access to running water, how would I brush my teeth or shower or wash my clothes or…  If I didn’t have Google, how would I know anything?

There was a wicked thunderstorm one of the nights we were in Bolga. The next morning I saw our host use the water from a puddle that had accumulated in a plastic chair to wash his hands.  It came naturally to him.  I can honestly say I would never have thought of a puddle on my patio furniture as useful.

Perhaps that would change if I were forced to live in the situation.  But would I choose it?  Should I choose it?

In the passage of the rich man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus instructed him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.  I believe the passage is intended to challenge us all to release the things we hold onto tightly, the things we put in place of God, in order for God to be at the centre of our lives.  Jesus’ instructions were about what it takes to be perfect.  They were about generosity.

Jesus acknowledges that he’s asking the impossible of the rich man.  He always asks the impossible – to take the focus off ourselves and put it on God and others.  He knows that in our humanness, we can’t possibly do it.  But he also promises that with God it is possible!

A human response to poverty is to feel fearful or threatened by it.

A Godly response to poverty is to see our fellow humans with value beyond their circumstances, to minister to them and meet their needs.

A human response for the rich is to hold on tightly to our wealth and trust in it as security.

A Godly response for the rich is to be generous, understanding we’ve been entrusted with a blessing that was meant to be given.

I certainly don’t have the particulars of what this Godly challenge looks like for every individual. Lord knows I’ve struggled with the details for many years.

I do not believe it means the world living in mud huts, without electricity.  But it does mean letting go of the hold our wealth has on us (and in some cases that literally means selling what we have).   It means listening to the wisdom of Jesus and letting it resound above all other voices.  It means practicing true generosity, putting others above ourselves.  It means relying on God to see us through.

It means accepting the challenge of doing the impossible.

Some of the most encouraging things Jesus never said in the gospels

To prepare for Easter, I have been reading through the gospels.

If you’re still with me and don’t feel judged by that statement, let me tell you that this was to be a daily commitment, and I’ve missed at least every other day.  I’m “behind” my original goal, but still ticking along, because THIS TIME I won’t let my failures make me a failure. (I’ve talked about spiritual temper tantrums before, one of the enemy’s ways to get us to abstain from Jesus’ goodness incited by our own feelings of fear or inadequacy.)  Even the bits and pieces are worthwhile.

I originally took on this challenge wanting to hear directly from Jesus, to know better his truth and understand his purposes.  That has indeed happened.   Unexpectedly, I’ve also been encouraged by the words and actions of others besides Jesus.

Granted, there are many in scripture who were written up for speaking with malice or doubt.  Jesus sighs a lot in the gospel of Mark at this unbelieving generation. I feel for him as he tries to show love and reveal truth but is accused at every turn.  How hard it must have been!

But when a few people “get it,” even when I catch a glimpse of someone trying to understand, I feel joyful on their behalf.  I can relate.  Doubt and skepticism come so easily.  There is a world of confusion around me if I take my eyes off Jesus even for a moment.  I struggle with my own unbelief, my own flaws, my own faithlessness.  So when I see others who can draw me to the Saviour amidst the confusion, I feel a camaraderie.  We’re on this journey together, even if they are 2,000 years older than me.

I have a heart cry like the man whose son was suffering from seizures.  As any parent would, he wants Jesus to heal his son, but perhaps worries that his own doubts might get in the way.  I see others who need healing and I want them to know freedom from their pain.  I too say,  “I believe, help thou my unbelief!” (Mar 9:24)

Or what about Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road.  People who previously rebuked him tell him to, “Cheer up!  On your feet! He’s calling you.” (Mark 10:49)  If you challenge me in order to point me to Jesus, in order to remove the scales from my eyes, you are the best friend a girl could have.

Peter is the disciple I relate to the most.  He goofs up all the time: speaking when he shouldn’t, going ahead of Jesus, over-zealous and mouthy. I’ve made pronouncements and promises based on emotion, “Even if all fall away, I will not… I will never disown you!”  When fear invades, when reality stares me in the face, when I break my promises… I relate all too well to Peter’s pain. “And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:72)  While not everyone might find that encouraging, I have come to know brokenness as the first step in restoration.  It’s a dissolution of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves. I also know that God used Peter despite (or because of?) his failings to build his church. There is hope for everyone!

In Luke, Jesus talks to his disciples about forgiveness.  They get an inkling of how difficult – how supernatural! – it is to live a life of forgiveness.  Also, faith is a gift from God.  “Increase our faith!” they say to the Lord. (Luke 17: 5)

There is the criminal on the cross beside Jesus who says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)  This criminal’s prayer is answered immediately and directly. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus replies.

And when all looks lost, when Jesus finally breathes his last, the centurion who stood watch says in THAT moment, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)   He was given faith that defied the circumstances.  Without knowing how it would end, without anticipating Jesus’ resurrection, how is it that the centurion recognized Jesus’ power through his death?

There are many other examples in the gospels of people wrestling with the truth of Jesus.   They have the beginnings of the church.  Like the teacher of the law who agreed with Jesus, “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  (Mark 12:32-33)  We receive Jesus’ most encouraging reply, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

It is one week till Easter.  I’ve still got a lot of gospel to go.  As I continue the journey, I’ll take the words of my fellow wayfarers as prayers of my own heart.

Lord, increase my faith, let me hear your call, help me recognize your power and follow you.

7, again

I picked up a book today I didn’t want to love.  It had been recommended to me by a friend some time ago called 7, by Jen Hatmaker.  I was babysitting my nephews and saw it on my sister-in-law’s table.  She’d just finished it and yes, I could borrow it.  Which she never would have agreed to had she known I’d spend most of the day neglecting her sweet cherubs because of it.

The premise of the book is, well, let me just copy and paste from Jen’s website:

7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. In the spirit of a fast, they pursued a deeply reduced life in order to find a greatly increased God.

Based on that description, you might agree that it’s a book to be avoided.  It might stir something up, something I’ve been really good at burying.

You see, I’ve done this 7 thing before, where you challenge your choices through the lens of the gospel.  I’ve fasted and I’ve lived a life in the spirit of a fast.  When you live by the message of Jesus, to surrender everything to follow him, it can will force you to make huge changes in your life.  My family was shaken and, as Jen refers to it, messed up by the challenge.  At that time in our life, we were personally convicted to sell everything we owned to do cross-cultural work in Ghana.

For the sake of full disclosure we did not sell our red couch, chair and ottoman, most of our books and, strangely, a bread basket.  These remaining possessions were distributed among our friends most likely to return them.   For the sake of over-sharing, I’m sitting on the red couch as I write and we just used the bread basket at supper.

Otherwise, we were shaken to the core.

You would think that when you experience such life-changing conviction that your life would STAY CHANGED.  I would like to believe that you cannot return to the person you were. The Spirit wouldn’t let you, would he?!  Haven’t we been freed?  But as I read through the pages of 7, when I hear how Jen’s fasting from excess opened her eyes and heart to others’ needs, I am troubled by my recurring blindness. I see how I have placed a sheathing over the eyes of my heart.  I’m hoping it isn’t as thick as it was before, but it has effectively confined my compassion.

There’s a crack in that “protective covering” as I have been deeply affected by chapters 1-6 of this book, read today in one sitting, held in one hand while pretending to play Thomas the Train with the other.  I was distracted, recalling what can happen when you feel like this…

Having done this before, there are justifications I’ve since made that need to be overcome.  I remember treating our house in Ghana like a dorm room.  Zero excess.  No decor, no extras, not even curtains on the windows.  I never thought I was saving the world because of it, but I did it out of respect for those outside my door without homes.  Then my Ghanaian friends told me to settle in already.  It made them uneasy that I wasn’t making my house a home, that maybe I wasn’t committed to ministering there.  This actually caused me to re-evaluate my thinking.  Did this mean I didn’t have to go without in order to serve others?

As silly as it seemed when my Ghanaian friend told me to put up curtains in my windows, I realized that they didn’t want me to suffer needlessly.  They wouldn’t live without given the choice, why would I?  Since those convictions were thrown into question, I was thrown for a loop, and the pendulum swung the other way.

It’s been 4 years since we moved back to Canada.  The first 6 months were spent in shock, so let’s say 3 1/2 years.  Still, I’m surprised at how quickly my old habits came back.  How I bristle at interruption – a phone call or knock on the door –  instead of seeing each moment as God weaving our lives into the fabric of his will.  How I turn first to retail or snack therapy, instead of prayer, to help me out of emotional crisis.  How I want to set up policies and procedures to fix problems instead of recognizing the unique way the Spirit moves in every situation.  How I long for approval from other people.  I fit prayers in here and there instead of first and foremost. I worry instead of trust…

My Dad said the most benevolent thing to me when I discussed this tension within me.  First he quoted Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do,” which is probably the most empathetic verse that Paul wrote.  Then my Dad added, “But Loreli, cosmically, you are not the same person, even if you have the same struggles.”  He reminded me that the circumstances of my life have changed because of the work of the Spirit.   Despite my failures, my desire to walk close to Jesus remains the same.  The fact that there is even tension within me is the work of the Spirit.  I can’t go back.  I won’t.

The tricky part is moving forward.

Read the book. Even if you really don’t want to.