Personal Retreat, Part 3

personalretreat.pngA bit ago, I wrote two pieces about Letitia Suk’s book Getaways with God.  In simple terms, the book is about planning a personal retreat with God.  Letitia Suk has done this for many years, and uses the book to identify the reason why we should make an intentional effort to breakaway for private time with God.  Additionally, she blesses the readers with suggested retreat schedules and purposes that can be tailored to our individual needs.

The timing of reading Getaways with God was perfect, as I had already planned a trip where I would be arriving extra early.  I decided it was the perfect time to try out a personal retreat.  I have to admit the first couple of hours was awkward.   Being in a home that is bustling with energy from barking dogs, squealing kids, meals that need to be made, emails to send, calls to field, etc.; I rarely find myself in a space that is simply empty.  Void of distractions.  I was tempted to touch my phone, and reach out to someone.  I knew that in this room states away from home… no one would be dropping by for coffee.

I got settled in my space, wandered around for a bit almost lost in the silence and stillness.  I decided to grab a bite to eat before it got dark, bringing it back to my flat as to not lose a second.  I set the tone by playing worship songs, and I was very intentional.  Today was not the time to learn a new song, but to lean into my favorites.  I wanted songs where the words flowed freely from my lips and I wasn’t tripping up over lyrics.  What seemed so difficult at first became so much easier, to the point that by the time my personal retreat was officially over… I longed for it to continue.

For the retreat, I selected Psalm 5:3 as the foundation for my time.

“Every day I lay out my life on your altar and watch for fire to descend.” 

This scripture meant a few things to me, in this space:

  •  Every day, I want my life to be an offering to God, for His glory and His purposes.
  •  Every day, I want to be willing to sacrifice my fleshy desires for He that sacrificed His son for me.
  • Every day, I want His burning fire to consume my sin, burning away the impurities and leaving only what is pure, noble, and good.
  • Every day, I want to watch for the pillar of fire that walks before me, guiding me and protecting me.

The scriptures tell us that before we can lay our offerings on the altar, we must be reconciled to those who have issues with us (Matt 5:23,24).  I needed to know if there was any offense that I had not apologized for.  But, I also knew there were some people that I needed to forgive with the same grace and mercy that the Lord has forgiven me. (Col. 3:13).  It was clear to me that before I could lay out my life on His altar, I had some things I needed to attend to.  The purpose of this retreat would revolve around forgiveness.

Forgiveness, what a beautiful place to begin.

After listening to the songs, my heart softened, I prayed that the Lord would show me an iniquity in my heart and give me His eyes towards those who are apart of my life.  I was shocked by what I learned about my life and my self.   I grabbed my journal and begin writing the names of people I needed to forgive, and what I needed to forgive them for.  I was surprised by the names on the list when I was done.

I learned that there were people I verbally forgave, but my heart was still hard.

I learned that there was someone I didn’t even realize I was angry with.

I learned from the issues I needed to forgive, that there were some patterns repeating in our family.   I’ve heard them referred to as “Generational Curses”, but I didn’t think they applied to my family.  But here they were, repeated patterns going back several generations.  I realized in this moment how much history shapes present, and how much I needed God to break these strongholds.

It all came to the head of love.  The moment when you realize how much you need God’s love, to fill the voids of absent love.  How much you desire God’s approval to fill the void of absent approval.  How much you want God’s validation to fill the void of absent validation.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to be reminded FOR MYSELF… that I am…

an image bearer.   (Gen 1:27)

cherished.  (Isa 49:15)

seen as wonderful, and have a purpose.  (Jer 29:11)

loved, with a love that is everlasting.  (Jer 31:3)

loved, sacrificially.   (Rom 5:8)

redeemed by a high price.  (1 Pet, 1:18,19)

a new creation, in Him.  (2 Cor 5:17)

a child of God, himself.  Adopted, chosen.  (1 John 3:1)

and called to do His will on Earth, a high calling, a commissioned call.  (2 Cor 5:20)

I needed to love myself, as much as the Lord loves me.  In loving me, He has forgiven great sins in my life.  How can I not do the same for others, to love as I have been loved?  To forgive as I have been forgiven?

I realized that I have been living wounded.  The day I gave my life to the Lord, my wounds tried to heal.  However, I realized I had allowed myself to essentially pick at the healing scabs… keeping the wounds open and fresh.  Living in hurt, instead of living in the freedom of the Cross.

I had allowed myself to live in the lies others had told me, that I had even told myself.  Believing the world and fickle people over the promises of God.  These are the bonds I need to break.

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Remember how I said a few paragraphs back that I didn’t want my retreat to end.  Well, in many ways it didn’t.  Through various means the Lord continued to reveal things to me during the several day long conference.  I’ll write more about those things later.

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Alive in Him by Gloria Furman

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I received a copy of Alive in Him from the Publisher for the purpose of reviewing.  The thoughts and opinions in this piece are my own.

On my flight out to Indiana, for The Gospel Coalition Conference, I brought my copy of Alive in Him by Gloria Furman.  Coincidentally, the theme of the conference plenary sessions was unpacking the book of Galatians.  And, here I find myself reading about it’s neighboring book Ephesians.

Alive in Him is an exploration of the book of Ephesians, and was designed to be read along side an open Bible.  I’ve been a fan of Gloria Furman for quite some time, and I love her intelligent writing style.  She tackles the Scriptures beautifully without underestimating the readers ability to comprehend.  Yet her written word flows with grace, beauty, and femininity.

You can tell that Gloria Furman loves the Word, and desires her readers to understand the depths of God’s promises to His children of redemption.  Then she takes this information and packages it in a way that makes it relatable to our every day life… what does this mean to me today?  How do Paul’s letters to the Ephesians matter in the world, city, and church that I live in today?  What do these letters mean to my personal life and circumstances?

So why read Alive in Him?  If there is anything that I can say comes through Gloria Furman’s writings and interviews is that she has a deep love of God.  It’s not lip service, but genuine and infectious… you want the world to see that same level of love for God in your own life.  However, we must each come to that place on our own … where we truly “get it”.  That is why you should read this book, because Furman desires for you to see God’s tremendous love for you in the same way she does.

This walk through Ephesians presses you not just into how Furman perceives the text, but sends you directly to the Word for your own participation in the conversation.  She shares her wisdom and what she has learned, but challenges her readers to view the text and experience it for themselves.  This isn’t a one way teaching, with a professor standing at a lectern.  Instead you are almost transported to her living room, as if you have been invited to Small Group at the Furman house.

Her approach is kind, loving, and graceful as she unfolds the Scriptures before you.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is:

“The Holy Spirit will not allow you to live satisfied on the rubbish heap; he will nurture a longing for the City of God to beat in your heart.”

~ Gloria Furman, Alive in Him

And I think that quote really does justice to the theme of the book, to help you fulfill that desire to have the “City of God” beating in your heart.   If that is your longing, this book is a great start to put you on the path.

When Your Heart Hurts

whenyourhearthurtsLast week, I attended The Gospel Coalition Conference in Indiana.  Just before leaving, our elderly family dog wasn’t acting quite right.  I had come to the conclusion she needed to go to the vet, woke up the next morning and she was fine.  Totally fine.

Called the vet, we established that since this was kind of a pattern for her not to worry about it yet.  However, if it happened again then she would need to be seen.

When I arrived back from Indiana, within a few days she was having another episode.  Made the appointment for the vet, at sixteen years old we needed to understand quality of life for her.  Would things get worse over time?  Was there something we were missing?  What type of prognosis were we looking at.  Our sweet old lady didn’t come home from that vets appointment.

I told my husband and mother that making such a decision would be easier if I knew that there was something more going on than just “getting old”.  The Lord was merciful to me in that after discussing her recent symptoms with the vet, and his observations at the office, that our old gal most likely had a brain tumor.  An educated guess, but what made the most sense.  When there was swelling, and the tumor pressed on the brain, this is when we would see the sudden rapid onset of symptoms.  When the swelling went down, that was the sudden relief of symptoms and return to normal.

In fact, over the last year she probably didn’t overcome two strokes as we all originally thought… but rather we were dealing with a pesky brain tumor and didn’t know it.  (And before the emails and comments start, the only way to know for sure was a MRI and she was too old to be safely sedated for that).    In all honesty, collectively we all knew the right decision to make in that unexpected moment.  Not one person in the family disagreed with making the decision to let her go peacefully.   The process went so incredibly quickly and peacefully, that we knew with all confidence that her old body had just run out of steam.  In her passing, she looked the most peaceful I had seen her in quite some time.  Mercy.

That moment was excruciating for us, our hearts broke into pieces over this amazing dog.  The entire vets office wept as she was loved by all of the staff.  They were tender and kind to us.  We are grateful.  Coming home was hard.  The next day was the hardest.   It’s crazy to me how much she was apart of our every day routine.  Every morning our younger dog would get out of bed, find her, check on her, and then head outside to use the restroom.  Every time we let our dogs out in the yard, we did it as a pair.  I remember holding back the little dog chiding him with “Ladies first, Cooper.”

When the mail man came to the door, and the barking started… instinctively I called out “back dogs” only to remember there was only one dog now.  Last night as my daughter went to bed, out of habit she called her dog down the hallway.  I cried with her at the realization.  When the kids were not in the house, it was incredibly quiet as we were missing the sound of nails on the tile floor.  I missed the sound of her howl that would end in a whistle.  She loved us, and we loved her.

But, all of this brought up some other emotions in our family that we didn’t expect.  My husband was amazed at the peace our dog was given, and struggled with memories of watching a parent waste away to cancer.  We all felt like this death was too soon, and my husband declared that he now has had enough with saying goodbye.  My kids had to face losses that they hadn’t quite dealt with when they were younger.

There were other hurts it brought up as well… and while I am trying not to dwell on them… I almost can’t help it.  Psalm 30:5 tells us that while we experience pain and sorrow at night, that joy comes in the morning.  We hope that when we wake up the next day, we have peace.  But that doesn’t always happen.  What I’ve begun to understand is that some nights are just really, really long.

Think about Barrow, Alaska. They live on the same twenty four hour day as the rest of the planet.  Yet, in winter sixty seven days will pass before they see sunlight.  That is a long period of darkness, a lot of anticipation to see the sun rise.  Once it does, Barrow will have eighty days of uninterrupted sunlight.

There are times where our sorrows will be gone in the morning, when the sun rises.  And some nights are just really, really, really long.  Longer when we want them to be, but the sun will rise.  Light will push back the darkness.  Joy will press upon sorrow.  We just need to trust in the Son.

Lead Me…

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This isn’t going to be long, or all that profound.  Just a reminder.

Leaders need to be led too.

Your leaders are spending a lot of time leading others, make sure that someone is leading them… pouring into your leaders, on a regular basis.

Your leaders are pitchers that fill up the empty cups they serve.  Empty cups can’t be filled by an empty pitcher.  Someone must pour fresh water into the pitcher, so that it can continue to serve.

What do you do, in your church or ministry, to fill up and refuel your leaders?

The Struggle: Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

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I’m going to be honest here, this is a tough book.  Tougher than I thought it would be.  Someone else who read it equated it to peeling layers off an onion.  Onions make me cry, and this book does too.  It has caused me to face some things square in the face.

uninvitedbook Sometimes people say things right to your face, quick little jabs or slips of the tongue that pierce you like a dagger.

Sometimes, however, there will be people who slay you with their words.  There is a reason that scripture refers to the tongue as dagger, and that words can be equated with murder.  They stand over you, piercing you over and over again.

Then, there are those occasions where you replay those words said once, repeatedly to yourself.  Opening old wounds, unable to heal.

uninvitedbook3Speaking for myself, I have a pretty high tolerance for such things.  I understand we are all imperfect, say things we wish we could take back.  I can extend quite a bit of grace.  I try to extend the amount of grace that I would want to receive.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have my breaking point.  When it reaches that level of hurt, when I know this is more than just someone making human mistakes… I cut the head from the snake.  I can walk away completely in order to protect myself from further strikes.  Yet those words still left wounds.

I’ve gone through some very rough seasons in my life, and in a spirit of transparency… I did let them define me.  I know the negative words that I speak in my mind about myself were planted by others.  Every mistake I make is the proof that those words were true, and all of my ambition is probably rooted in a desire to prove those words were wrong.  Or, at least, no longer true.  Rejection in my past has certainly caused suspicion in my present.

uninvitedbook1What I have personally found to be pivotal in the last two to three years is that through a series of people who God brought into my life, and the influence of certain authors (including Lysa TerKeurst)… I am reminded about who I am in HIM.  My identity in HIM, the one who knitted me in my mother’s womb and knows the hairs on my head.

His love is not rooted in anything that I have done, but who GOD IS.  His Word, which I call truth, tells me that despite my character flaws… I am beautifully and wonderfully made.

His Word tells me that I am adopted, chosen, into His family.  The Scriptures describe me as valuable, worthy, wanted, loved, cared for, provided for, and known.  If I believe His Words to be truth, then that means I must believe what God says about me.  Rooting myself,  growing from, and living in His love.

While that sounds beautiful, and IT IS… what does that mean about those relationship that hurt so much?  What does it mean about the words that spin in my head causing self doubt and negative thoughts about myself?  It means that not only do I have to see those wonderful beautiful scriptures as what God feels about me… but also about how He feels about others.  It goes back to extending grace, to others and to myself.

uninvitedbook2The people who are in my life are just as imperfect as me, they have their own character flaws.  I must have a willingness to see past their flaws, and in doing so they too can begin to see pass my flaws.  These are the relationships that have potential, where our unity in the family of believers is important to us enough to push beyond problems and race toward reconciliation together.

Potential can only exist in fractured relationships when there is willingness from each side.  New relationships have potential because they are untainted, but we have to make the intentional effort to not allow the words of our past to haunt us and influence imagined hurt or rejection where there is none.

A friend of mine has read Uninvited twice already, and she says each time the Lord reveals new things to her to work on.  I have a feeling I still have a lot of work to do. Grateful for books like this that help pull back the curtain and expose the truths that are down deep.

Not only can you purchase the book Uninvited, but there is also a study with DVD.  On the Uninvited Book website there are also online resources & bonus chapter you can access!uninvitedbook4

Conference Time!

tgcconferencepic It’s almost time for my annual conference trip to The Gospel Coalition Conference.  I gain so much from these conferences, it is one of the biggest “pour in” moments of my year.  Every bit of leadership juice I pour out throughout the year is replenished here.

I learn a lot from not only the conference main sessions, but also the workshops that I attend.  I even learn a TON from the exhibition hall, connecting to resources and ministries that I can share through my work in the Women’s Ministry Council.

The first thing I do in order to prep for the conference is the purchase a new journal and colorful pens.  (Yes, I still hand write my notes… and science says it’s the best way to remember what you learn.)  I love using the colorful pens to help me quickly differentiate between sessions and workshops.

I am also excited because this year I added extra time on my trip, and I’m going to have a 24 hour personal retreat.  I have decided, finally, that my retreat is going to be one of personal reflection with God.  Laying down the burdens on my heart, forgiving, surrendering to His will for my life, seeking direction and clarity, and really just letting the Holy Spirit speak into my life.  I want to purge so that my spirit is fresh for the conference and the truths the Lord will speak into my life.getawaywithGod1

So, this is my last blog post until after the conference.  When I get back, I’ll let you know how the retreat went.  Then I’ll start my post conference posts sharing what I’ve learned.

Of all the crazy things…

This week, this book goes on sale…

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… and I’m one of the contributors.

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This is the craziest, coolest, thing ever.

I’m thankful to my family and friends who encouraged me in all the little steps that led here, and are still my cheerleaders for what is to come. 

Lord, let me use this gift well and for your glory.