Be Quiet.

We are formally finished with our church covenant. I mentioned it back in January...(I'll pause while you search the archives...)
Anywho...part of our covenant time was to include fasting one day a week for a 24-hour period. I take medication every day for blood sugar control, so the idea of fasting food wasn't working for me--in the sense that if I let my blood sugar drop, I become very nauseated, sweaty, cold--to the point that I can barely eat if I try to. I tried fasting food a few years ago, and by about 4 pm, I truly thought someone was going to have to take me to the hospital. I say all of that to say...I wanted to participate. I did not want to just dismiss the notion all together! The point was to do a physical/food fast. What to do?
I deemed it ok to do a noise/media fast instead. It worked toward the same end of making space and time for God. It shut out what I often use as a replacement for God-time. Every Sunday night the TV/stereo would go off at 7 pm. Most of these evenings I was able to spend a chunk of time reading, writing, listening, talking, etc. On Monday, even though the work day included some natural noise, there was no internet radio or itunes going in the background...
I started looking back at my journal entries from the past few months (I write SOME things you don't get to see!), I realized that the Lord had spoken very clearly...when I allowed Him to. Know what He said?
Be Still.
Profound, huh?
That was the crux of it. Each entry seemed to have that idea as a theme in some way. Yes, I know He has already said that in Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." Of all the verses in the Bible, I do have that one hanging on a wall in my house.
But what does it mean to "be still?"
The Lord has been desperately trying to teach me how to REST...in HIM. The kind of rest that has nothing to do with lying on a beach all day reading a book, and "getting away from it all." But active resting that comes from submitting my plans to Him, trusting Him to take care of me and mine, and allowing Him to oversee my spiritual progress. The kind of rest that comes from laying down my need to plan every little thing, to run around trying to take care of everything, and trying to be a good Christian by my own sheer will. He promises to GIVE US REST (note He does not offer up a cruise to the Bahamas--the idea seems to be that He will teach us how to live lives of rest).
I was so struck by how THE MESSAGE put this verse from Matthew 11:28-30:
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

My resting not only helps me RECOGNIZE that He's God, it allows me to ACKNOWLEDGE that He is God. Many of us believe that God exists, but so many of us try to do His job by steering our own lives and activities. We essentially strip Him of His omnipotence when we fill our days with mindless activity and banter that leaves no room for Him to BE (fill in the blank) for us. We have so much to say that we squeeze Him out of our conversations. We have so many things on the to do list that we shut Him out of even our errands. We have to watch this or that, and are content to let the TV tell us what to think or do or what to buy or what is cool.
If I had any of this down pat, I wouldn't be writing such a painfully long blog entry about it. He has been working on me for five months, and I still struggle to let Him BE.


Goodbye, Dottie Rambo

Just last night, I was reminiscing about my childhood plays and musicals to Jerod. I grew up on small stages, singing and trying to act...one of my favorite of these church musicals was "Down by the Creek Bank."
Sadly, I read online this morning that the composer of this musical and 2500 other gospel songs that comprise the soundtrack of my childhood passed away yesterday. Dottie Rambo was 74. Her myspace page had not been updated as of this morning, but here is a link.
She wrote the Sandi Patty favorite "We Shall Behold Him." And the song from "The Preacher's Wife," "I Go to the Rock." I was privileged to see her live on several occasions as a child.
Certainly, she was not well-known outside of our own Pentecostal/music circles, but she was a prolific writer who had in recent years overcome much personal tragedy with her marriage and her health. I have sung many of her songs...

Below is the news story and some details about her life.


The Nitty Gritty Gospel

As if I could boil it down to bullet points...but here's a messy list of things rolling around in my head...Jesus was not joking when He laid out his church plan.

What I have learned in the last few weeks or have had reiterated to my soul:

1. My life is not my own. I signed up for the Jesus Journey, and I meant it. He has my passport, He's my travel agent, and He guides my steps.
2. My life belongs to others in my local church. My actions (or lack thereof) affect them. They have the right and responsibility to call me out when I take control of my Jesus Journey. (see Matt. 18)
3. I have to practice and accept unlimited forgiveness TO others and FROM God. I cannot hold on to anything like bitterness that will weigh me down as I travel. I have to trust my community to help me, to forgive me, and to pray for me. I have to forgive myself as I allow Jesus to forgive me, too.
4. I don't like all of this community stuff. It's so much easier to be fake, allow people to think I have it all together, and never ask for help. It's easier to breeze through each day without thinking of anyone but myself and "mine." It's easier to lift up my own needs.
5. I have to learn to embrace community. It is a discipline just like praying, reading, and worshipping. It will not come naturally to this self-reliant person. It runs contrary to the independent nationalism that has been bred in me. It runs against the "put on a smiling face" Christianity that I let myself get caught up in. "Never let them see you sweat." "Never let them see you fall." "Never let your guard down." Fight this propensity at all costs!!!!
6. "We cannot be saved apart from the church." I think that being saved is a daily process by which we are formed into Jesus' image. It unfolds like a great novel, with twists and turns and surprises and lulls and OTHER CHARACTERS who serve as protagonists and sometimes antagonists...but the Author weaves it all together magically. Salvation is not a moment in time. Salvation spreads out over our lives until we allow it to permeate our every action.
7. We learn about God's character by seeing it and practicing it. We learn about the depth of God's forgiveness when we realize our own need for forgiveness and then practice extending that grace. We learn about compassion when we receive it from another's hand. We can only learn to really love by loving and being loved...by PEOPLE. Our measly extensions of God's character are his character on display. None of this can really happen in isolation.
8. God can really work on us when we give up selfish ambition. When our way is not the only way...when our path is at His discretion. When we allow our dreams to conform to a God-shaped destiny. When we pray, "Not my will, but thy will be done," just as Jesus did when facing his darkest moment.
9. Jesus knows how deep and twisted we are, and longs for us to be free from prisons we've built for ourselves. Forgiveness is liberating. Extending undeserved mercy is empowering. Seeking the "kingdom" will bring blessings that we don't even know how to ask for. We turned "What would Jesus do?" into a bracelet and a fad...but the question remains...and the answer is usually..."the opposite of my first inclination!"
10. The Gospel has nothing to do with ceasing to sin or abating sinful practices. (shock and awe...I hear it rustling through your mind!) It has nothing to do with a scorecard that you keep in your pocket to compare yourselves to others as more or less sinful than they are. It is a powerful, life-changing walk that moves you to meditate and follow the Words of Christ and to imitate the character of God. In doing so, you find yourself less and less prone to OOPS! and more prone toward grace and compassion and...community.
Blast it!!! Community may be the hardest discipline of all. It leaves no room for pretense, no allowance for acting, but it's at the heart of a Gospel. "Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to him stumble." 1 John 2:10
He is "OUR Father, who art in Heaven..." Not "MY Father..." Dang. I think it's easier to think of Him as all MINE in my little corner of my little world.


Goodbye April, Hello MAY

...But more on the title later...
Life is a lot like whitewater rafting. Indulge me a moment, even if you've never been. I have been numerous times. Most of the rafting adventures I've taken have been wholly pleasant...sky overhead, open water before, trees, birds, some rapids to excite and break up the monotony. Pure relaxation with a wee bit of adrenaline. THE BEST. But this month in life has been a lot like a particularly scary trip I took a few years back on the New River in West Virginia.
I knew at the beginning of the trip that it was not going to turn out well. Everyone in my raft was a beginner...no biggie? Well, that included the guide. (yikes!) It was maybe one of her first few trips as a guide, so she was sandwiched between two more experienced guides. I had already been dumped into a small whirling eddy and promptly snatched up by my dear friend Reggie. My faith in "Katie" the guide was diminishing with each rapid. I had been on rivers--many of the largest in the Southeast--enough to know some things about when to paddle hard right and what to avoid. It seemed she kept putting us in precarious situations. The clincher came on the rapid known as "Miller's Folly." It is the longest rapid on that stretch of the New River. It is about a 3 or 4 on the rapid scale (don't know the exact name for that). Katie was steering us to the right. The boat ahead and the boat behind were going left. I asked my last fateful question of the day, "Katie, why are the other boats going left and we're not???" She replied that the right pass was easier. Enter sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We found ourselves pinned against a 12 foot boulder on my side (the right-hand side) of the raft (I was in the very front of a seven man raft). The water was flowing underneath us pretty swiftly, and we really needed to put some weight down on the left and catch the current to move us on. Just as everyone realized we were stuck, Katie yelled for everyone to LEAN RIGHT!!!!! Lean right? I just barely had time to think about what that meant before I found myself kissing the boulder, under the raft and in the water. OH...gurgle...slurp...gurgle...MY...gasp...gurgle...GOD! gasp. Every time I could catch air I looked around for the rescue rope...someone on a rock to help...I looked back at Greg, whose look of panic I will never forget as he bobbed down the river. "Keep your toes up...down river..." I kept telling myself. And then I remembered the phrase that saved my life I really think. "Whenever you see the sky, take a deep breath," Amos the experienced guide had told us on the bus. I remembered it, and DID it. I was in a washing machine of river water, unable to keep my body in any position, trying desperately to keep my toes up...where were my toes? I was completely disoriented...then I saw a huge rock in front of me...I was headed straight for it. Would I bounce off? Would I get lodged somehow and pulled under? I had so many clear thoughts, including asking Jesus to let me die instead of live maimed in some way. I really am not being dramatic for the blog's sake. I really did experience all these things, and had some pretty good late-night panic attacks about it for months afterward. I still get a little sweaty when I see lots of moving water (Niagara Falls was some decent therapy).
No one threw me a rope, but I "swam" through the quarter-mile rapids and made it to the first raft, who pulled me in, choking and spitting and shaking. My boss, Daryl, looked like he was about to cry because his guide wouldn't let him jump in the water to help us. It was too dangerous. They were just going to have to watch us struggle until we came through to safer waters, and pray that we did make it.
(man, that was long story to make a point, wasn't it?)
April has been a lot like that trip. I feel like I've been dumped in the river. I have a Life Vest (capitalization intentional), but not much else but rough waters and lots of gasping when I see the sky and go back under the murky water for some more tumbling. My grandmother's passing, about 20 work events in 30 days, two classes in which everything came due at once, birthdays, births, small-group leading (or lack thereof), prayers, confusion, following, reading, and culminating with a lovely car break-in on the 29th... I have literally felt like I have been rafting without a raft.
Stress and the continual piling on can really take you on a journey. It will make you pray more or hide from everything. Or cry. I have cried remarkably little this month...odd for me, indeed. But God has shown Himself. "I'm your Life Vest, Shelley!" I don't know why we get dumped in the river sometimes, maybe so we'll learn to hang on to the life vest and keep our toes up. We learn the value of our lives, and the lives of those on the sidelines praying and watching us bob in the water. But we have to do some swimming and praying ourselves. I had to DECIDE that God was in control, even though it didn't feel that way. I had to DECLARE that He is working everything out for my good. I had to KNOW that He is God. It has been hard to be still this month...I have been eating in my car, making phone calls between work and dinner and class...trying to keep ties with people who are dear because their lives aren't necessarily stopping because mine has been turned upside down. Whew. I don't know if it's all over, but here's to hoping. I know that God is a good and experienced guide and that all of this contributes to my makeover in His image. Lord, let me see some sky...I need to breathe You in.