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By michele

This One’s For Me

Because of Covid and the size of the space, our class size has been limited to three participants at a time. One of the reasons I love this particular class is that it has a strong emphasis on our spiritual well-being as well as our physical health.

On this night, it was the instructor, my friend Heather, and me. After the opening prayer and a few stretches, our instructor guided our thoughts as she prayed out loud, “Lord, help us to put others before ourselves.” Looking back, my response was quite comical, although I didn’t see it in that moment. My first thought was, “Wow. That is NOT what Heather needs to hear! She is a mom to four tiny people; she homeschools two of them while nursing the baby and managing a two-year-old wreaking havoc on her home as she endeavors to teach the two oldest. She spends her entire days pouring herself out for her children and others. (Oh, and she has a husband with a demanding military job which requires him to be gone many days a month!) It’s kind of a family joke, but our saying is, “You can’t outdo or outgive Heather.” And I’m sure the neighbors would agree. There’s not a time goes by that I don’t take dinner or something down to her house and I don’t inevitably come back with my hands full.

So, when the instructor said those words, I found myself defensive on Heather’s behalf. In fact, I rewrote the thought in my head, deeming what I was sure would be more appropriate for Heather to hear; “Lord, help us take time to care for ourselves.” After all, attending this class was one of the first things I’d seen Heather do for herself in a very long time.

I didn’t say anything that night, but kept my thoughts to myself, ruminating on them in the days to come. And lo and behold, a few mornings later, sitting with Jesus, and thinking of this exercise class, I felt the Lord whisper to me, “You know when the instructor said, “Lord, help us to put others before ourselves?” That wasn’t for Heather. It was for you. (Insert surprised, wide-eyed emoji.)

This time I didn’t rewrite the script or find my response comical. I just sat and thought about how much I needed to hear those words. Just that morning I was crafting a response to a text in my head and realized I was making a situation all about me and not about the friend on whom it should have been focused. The Lord brought to mind other instances where I’ve clearly been selfish in my thoughts and actions. And additional examples of a word being spoken and my first response being “Who needs to hear this?” instead of “Yes, Lord, thank you for giving this word to me. I’m the one who needs to hear this.”

Our instructor’s prayer was a great reminder. I need to always be listening for a personal word from the Lord. Indeed, this was a word for me.

People

Relationships seem to be a focus for what Jesus is teaching me lately. Navigating some tough ones these days, my initial goal was to just come out on the other side unscathed and unscarred. Due to the fact that community is a basic need we all must embrace as members of the Body of Christ, and members of the human race, and because relationships have been so highly valued in my life, I am failing at my goal. I’m bruised and scarred. But maybe that’s not really the goal after all. I remind myself often that I’m still on the right track in learning to weather the lessons of tough relationships, with difficult people, because Jesus says people are worth it.

In the middle of maneuvering these storms, I came across a quote that rather rocked my boat. “Relationships are not one thing God is up to, relationships are the only thing God is up to.” *

Read that one again. I came to a sudden halt and sat with that realization, thinking back to Scripture and the relationships God initiated with His people in the Old Testament. My mind continued into the New Testament and every mention of Jesus I can recall is one where Jesus is relating to someone else. Be it another person or His Father, Jesus’ only mission was to bring wholeness to relationships.

The Trinity modelled relationship before anything else was brought into existence. In relationship and community, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit spoke creation into being. And today their entire purpose lies in the redemption of people in order to live in right relationship. To Themselves and to each other.

Another reminder of this truth came to me when recently reading a familiar story, that of Jesus healing a blind man. Mark recalls the story of a blind man brought to Jesus in Bethsaida. Though not a “traditional” form of healing in our day, Jesus spit on the man’s eyes and put His hands on him. Mark 8:24 reads, “Jesus asked, ‘What do you see?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’” Jesus put His hands on the man once again and his sight was restored and he then saw everything clearly.

Again, I was stopped in my tracks as I became transfixed on the thought that as Jesus healed this man, the first thing he saw was people. People. The very first thing God granted Him the ability to see was people. In those moments I heard a whisper in my heart from Jesus, reminding me that the first thing I need to see is people. Which is not always easy. Many times, when we look at others we see misunderstandings, betrayal, disputes and disagreements, selfish motives and desires, or a host of other challenges. Our lives are meant to be lived in community. Yes, we are complete in Christ, but it is in community and fellowship with other people that we are made whole.  

As Jesus continues to heal us and give us sight, may the first thing we see be people. Those made in the image of Christ. In community with the Trinity. “Jesus asked, ‘What do you see?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people.’” As tough as it is some days, may this be our ultimate goal.

*author unknown

Photo by daria lisovtsova on Unsplash

An Unlikely Observer of Lent

I grew up in a traditionally conservative Southern Baptist Church in North Florida (think small town, Lower Alabama, and not the trendy Miami Shore.) I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word Lent during my formative years.

In my first year of college, I remember one of my housemates coming home one afternoon with a smudge of dirt on her forehead. To this day, I’m so grateful I didn’t have the nerve to tell her she had dirt on her face. This was my introduction to Lent, which I thought for many years was strictly a Catholic Church practice.

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Once my husband joined the military as a chaplain, my eyes were opened even more to the traditions and practices of other denominations. As I’ve often remarked through the years, while I’m very grateful for my Southern Baptist roots, and for my home church, I’m forever indebted to the military chapel and my friends of many denominations (and faiths) along the way who have broadened my understanding and given me such great appreciation for the reality of what it means to be the Body of Christ.Our military chapel families have blessed us with the best of all worlds; I often say that I like “this” from the Methodists and “this” from the Presbyterians and “that” from the A.M.E. Church and “that” from the Anglicans. I even fondly appreciate and have incorporated several Jewish traditions into our family’s faith practices. My narrow view of Christianity has grown into a much broader understanding of the Body of Christ, hence my tiny view of God has grown into a much bigger understanding of how multi-faceted and out-of-the-box He works. I realize how much more effectively we can bring honor and glory to Him when we unite our traditions and expressions of faith, focusing on our unity in Christ and not the things that divide us.

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One of the traditions I’ve learned to appreciate in the past years is the observance of Lent. For me, it is entering into a time set aside on the Church calendar that is intended to focus on repentance and reflection. It’s a personal time to choose a posture of humility and practice spiritual disciplines that sharpen my awareness and dire need for a Savior, namely in Jesus Christ. It’s a time for me to sit silently and often, taking inventory of where I am spiritually and where I want to “set my face.” (Luke 9:51 tells us “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face toward Jerusalem.”)

It’s an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ suffering in a very small sense, never believing I will comprehend the suffering He endured, yet lifting my meager offering up to the Lord. It’s a time for me to ponder what it really means when Jesus asks me as His follower to deny myself and take up my cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34). Lent is a time for me to remember and reflect on His goodness and love. It’s not a legalistic must; rather it’s a grace-filled time of observance.

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Although Lent is intended to be a sobering time, I keep in mind what follows is the grandest celebration of them all!

I Didn’t Want it to be This One

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I didn’t want it to be this one. I had another one in mind that would have been less challenging and yet still engaging. The other one would focus on loving others, which is a noble goal, and secretly, I took comfort in the fact that it would require less vulnerability on my part, always a rumination for one who struggles with being authentic. For several days I conversed with God and tried to convince Him my thoughts were worth His consideration. In the end, He, of course won. So, my word for this year is listen. After pondering and praying over a few others, I seemed to be drawn back to the word listen.

In the first several days of the year, I heard this word a few times. I dismissed it, pretty much convinced it was the other word the Lord wanted me to focus on in 2021. But I kept hearing it. And seeing it. And reading it. I began a new book, and within the first pages the admonition was there to “listen carefully to what you hear.” This statement was in reference to listening to others.  On the next page I read, “Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness…” which referred to listening to God. I picked up a magazine in the airport, and the first article I read was 5 Ways to Be a Good Listener.

This year I want to learn to be a better listener to my friends and those in my sphere of influence. I want them to feel valued and heard as they share their stories. I want to listen with a heart to understand, and not an agenda that includes having all the right answers.

And I want to be a better listener to Jesus. This morning, I read in Life of the Beloved, that Henri Nouwen believes “the real work of prayer is to become silent and listen to His voice…” It’s not the easy work of prayer. My desire is to spend time just listening. I long to sit and begin my prayer time invoking the Holy Spirit with a mere seven words: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

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I think most of us agree talking is the simplest part of any conversation. Whether to Jesus or to others, talking doesn’t take a lot of effort. We seem rather skilled at the gift of gab. And we deceive ourselves into thinking whatever we have to say is really important. I’m reminded of a quote I heard that suggests a wise man is one who has a lot to say…and says nothing. Listening, on the other hand, takes great discipline and effort.

This year the Lord is calling me to listen. Oh, Lord, may I learn to listen well.

A Wonder-Full Time of Year

He learned how to flip the switch to turn on the train. Together we laid beside the Christmas tree and watched intently as the Polar Express made its way around the tree; round and round and round it chugged, whistling occasionally and the conductor calling for “Allll aboard!”  His little eyes were full of wonder as any two-year-old’s might be.
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She couldn’t take her eyes off the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree. The wonder shown through her six-month-old little body so still and focused, watching the colors change from bright white to red and then blue.

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Observing the world through the lens of my grandchildren brings back that simple, childlike wonder. More marvellous than this gift, though, is pondering the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Reading part of the Christmas story each morning, I sense the invitation to stop often. And wonder. I read just a few verses at a time. And I pause to wonder. I’m amazed at the precise timing of events that needed to line up in order for the prophecies to be fulfilled.

That Micah foretold Jesus’ birth 700 years before He was born, and he specified the tiny town; this makes me stop and wonder.

Mary and Joseph didn’t even live in Bethlehem; however, a census, the first ever, “happened” to be instituted at just the right time, which would require them to travel from their hometown of Nazareth and would position them to be in Bethlehem on the exact day of his birth. At the precision of the timing and all those involved in bringing this prophecy to fulfilment, my mind is filled with wonder.

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Astonishingly, many prophets in the Old Testament proclaimed Jesus’ lineage, that He would come from the line of Jesse, the father of King David. Reading through the record of Jesus’ ancestors, God divinely used murderers, prostitutes, the lowly and those in power to bring about Jesus’ earthly birth. Wow, God! This is amazing. It makes me stop and wonder.

So, this Advent, I accept God’s bidding to slow down and wonder. I read and ponder with great anticipation of God’s quiet whispers of marvellous wonderment. Like a child, not understanding the mystery, yet, being so filled with a sense of awe, I watch and I wait. And am wonder-filled.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things… (Luke 2:18 KJV).