Saturday, December 31, 2011

Invitation from God

The joy of a holiday for me is time. The house needs attention. The vacuum sits silent in the closet. Dust bunnies procreate at an alarming speed. But the freedom of unstructured time -- few emails to respond to, fewer calendar obligations, no homework to manage; just dinner to get on the table. Instead I have watched football and movies, talked with my husband, caught glimpses of my teenage son, pondered, but mostly I've read. 

There are times when a book is so good and meaningful that it takes me months, not days, to finish. I'll read a chapter and stop to savor it before going on. That has been my experience with Invitations from God - Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun.  It's been my companion since probably about the time I lost my job back in August, and yesterday I finally read the last word. It's been stuffed in my purse or briefcase or suitcase for the past four months. 

"What invitations are shaping your world? ... God's invitations are meant to mend, shape, anchor and grow us into the character of Jesus. They call us into our true selves in Christ. They free us from the lie that says, "The more invitations the better." Invitations from the Holy One serve God's dream for the world. They don't call me to become what I produce, what others think of me or what I know. They invite me to be free. And freedom comes from being an intentional follower of Jesus -- one what is a little Christ in this world."

Each chapter is an invitation, eleven invitations in all:
  • to Participate in Your Own Healing
  • to Follow
  • to Practice the Presence of People
  • to Rest
  • to Weep
  • to Admit I might be Wrong
  • to Forgive
  • to Wait
  • to Pray
  • to Remember
  • to the Most Excellent Way
And within each "invitation" chapter is a marvelous grid (very Adele-like if you've read her other book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook) that outlines steps for responding/following that particular invitation.  She starts by defining the invitation, associates a scripture reference, then outlines the roadblocks to following, lists things you should be aware of as you follow, and then practices to do.

Here are some favorite quotes to savor. 

From Chapter 2, Invitation to Follow:
"God's servants are the biblical heroes. They are the men and women who, in the crunch of life, laid down their own plans, gave up their own agendas and let go of their own power. They disentangled their identity from their own version of success and became followers."

"Following Jesus means caring about more than me and my family. It means identifying with God's broken heart over poverty and his holy anger at injustices in our world. It means following his lead on who and what matters."

"In God's economy, nobody is known for what they have; we are all known for what we have given away. We are known for how we followed Jesus--down--to the point of giving our lives for others."

From Chapter 4, Invitation to Rest:
"Rest is a transcendent anchor in the midst of doing."

"God invites and even commands us to trust him to manage the world for twenty-four hours each week without our labor. Sabbath is the day that reminds us who we are."

"Sabbath keeps us from drifting away. It is evidence to us and the world that we are not slaves to our to-do lists."

From Chapter 6, Invitation to Admit I Might be Wrong:
"The type of humility that admits you are wrong when you know you are wrong is confession. The humility that admits you might be wrong when you're pretty sure you're right is maturity. Without both types of humilty, we become rigid and unteachable. Without both types of humility, relationships flounder and implode."

From Chapter 8, Invitation to Waiting:
"Doing something feels so much better that doing "nothing." But waiting is not doing "nothing." And waiting is often better than doing "something.""

"Expectant waiting requires openness to something good happening beyond out expectations. Expectations are what get us into trouble while we wait. We expect God to do things a certain way: our way. We have expectations about timing: our timing. Expectations bind our happiness to one particular end. I get this job. My house sells. Unmet expectations are resentments and disappointments waiting to happen. The difference between waiting for our expectations to happen and waiting expectantly for this moment to unfold is huge. Being present to what is: this is what matters. What is happening here and now is important. What goes on while I wait may become the foundation for some new undreamed-of and unexpected future."

"Waiting is God's crucible for transformation. Waiting is how God gets at the idols of our heart. Waiting addresses the things we need besides God to be content: money, comfort, expedience, success or control."

"God's goodness anchors my waiting. It's not a matter of if God's goodness will come through; it's only a matter of when."

This is a book already marked throughout by pencil (I rarely read a book with out one!). It is also one that has marked by life and was worth reading slowly and deliberately.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflecting on 2011

I just discoverd this great list by Tsh Oxenreider at Enjoy! 


20 Questions for a New Year’s Eve Reflection

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

5. Pick three words to describe 2011.

6. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe your 2011 (don’t ask them; guess based on how you think your spouse sees you).

7. Pick three words your spouse would use to describe their 2011 (again, without asking).

8. What were the best books you read this year?

9. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

10. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

11. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

12. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

13. In what way(s) did you grow physically?

14. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

15. What was the most enjoyable part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

16. What was the most challenging part of your work (both professionally and at home)?

17. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

18. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

19. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2011 for you.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Getting Sticky With Faith

In one week I will be home schooling my son for the first time. Although it is only one high school class and presumably for only one semester, I am taking this responsibility very seriously.  My long-time friends will find this no surprise, but I have a stack of books ready to be consumed in preparation.  The subject, Christian Formation, is one I am very comfortable with...until we are talking specifically about my son.  The stakes are then raised and the topic becomes less academic and more personal.

I am on book number two in my stack: Sticky Faith (Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids) by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark. 

I'm not even sure where to begin -- this book like the first one in my stack (Lost & Found -Adolescence, Parenting, and the Formation of Faith by Amanda Millay Hughes) was incredible. I can't believe how much I am learning and remembering. 

Quoting from the back cover of Sticky Faith: "Based on (Fuller Youth Institute) findings, this easy-to-read guide presents both a compelling rationale and powerful strategy to show parents how to encourage their children's spiritual growth so that it will stick with them into adulthood and empower them to develop a living, lasting faith." That is a great summary of this book.

It's unfortunate, but often what our kids hear and believe about being a Christian is ''related to 'doing' the faith...and that lifestyle of external faith is not enough to sustain Sticky Faith." As I engage my son this next semester, I want to show him and teach him that faith is not a to-do list to gain God's approval. He already has God's approval and acceptance. I want him to discover what it means to truly trust God and understand that "obedience is a response to that trust."

"In life and in faith, growth is a process. Our job as parents throughout this process is twofold: First, we help our kids learn to trust God and create the kind of environment where they are able to explore faith and trust while practicing their freedom to respond in love. Second, we model an unconditional, non-judgemental, and ever-embracing love in which our kids can do nothing that jeopardizes or even lessens that love."

The chapters on Identity and Justice (as in social justice and engaging their world) were incredibly spot on and I'll be putting them into use immediately.  The final chapter on transitioning to college were ones I'll be using as a roadmap for our family in just a few years.

While I doubt I will ever feel fully competent to teach (I know myself too well), and especially on a topic so critical, Sticky Faith has me inspired and excited to keep pressing forward with my son on his journey of faith, as well as on my own.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding Less in Christmas

Last year I was swamped with work to the point that our Christmas tree almost didn't happen.  Two days before Christmas, out of mother guilt for a son's Christmas experience, I hoisted the tree, strung the lights and quickly spread on the ornaments.  I was actually very glad I did, for us all.  However the tree then stayed up until March because I simply didn't have the time or energy to put it all away again.

This year, freshly self-employed via an unexpected layoff, I just knew Christmas would be different this year.  But that passion for extensive decorating that would transformed my home into a visual Christmas Currier and Ives scene, simply didn't show up. 

The tree, fresh from it's cocoon in the basement crawl space, was only just lit with lights two days ago.  It looks beautiful. But it has no ornaments, just lights. And we've decided to keep it that way this year. The only other decorations this year are four nativity scenes, placed in places where I can enjoy them. I love the nativity scenes most.

It is so simple. I suspect at some point I might return to a more adorned season.  But for now I am enjoying the freedom and simplicity of finding so much less at Christmas that I can see more of Him.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Finding Holy Ground at 30,000 Feet

I was stuck in a middle seat with screaming babies (yes, there were at least two for most of the flight) and a toddler who passed the three hour flight by repeatedly kicking the back of my seat and banging on the tray. Not an ideal situation for productive work on this flight from Denver to New York. So I pulled out my book and settled in the the ride. And God met me there in the combination of chaos and pandemonium with a book whose author apparently knew precisely what I was going through. Wisdom and comfort sprung off the page. 

So grateful for writers who share their journey so the rest of us don't feel quite so alone.

Monday, December 5, 2011


It's a single-degree sort of morning with snow blanketing the Colorado landscape out my window. The boys have left for work and school; Jake is snoozing beside me; Christmas music is quietly playing while I journal my heart. Today is week two in the Advent book I am reading -- Behold! Cultivating Attentiveness in the Season of Advent. This week is all about Preparation. Too often for me preparation is a to-do list. It is busy. It is responsibility. It is pressure. But this preparation in Advent should be Quiet. Thoughtful. Relaxed. Joyful. Restorative. 

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." (Luke 1:38)

Excerpt from "Behold!:
"Only many years later did I learn the garden wisdom of my great-aunt. It took a while for me to understand what she knew about preparing a garden for the winter season. It took some time for me to discover what she had learned about "abandoning" the soil, space, and the plants she spent so much time loving well from spring through autumn. She knew and was teaching me that it was God's season for working the garden. Aunt Lylla was turning over the preparation to God. Aunt Lylla was, in a deep way, abandoning the beauty and health of her garden to the One who first created it. My great-aunt had come to understand from a life of practice that while we could behold little above ground in the brittle, dying remnants of her garden as winter took its turn, plenty of life-giving growth, beauty, and change was taking place in the deep, dark earth below where we walked."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Learning to Wait Before God

Time for another book review. Oh, and this is a great book but not one I've heard that anyone else is reading, at least in my circles. So I'm thrilled to introduce you to this gem: "Your 100 Day Prayer: The Transforming Power of Actively Waiting on God," by John I Synder (Thomas Nelson).

This is a book with a purpose. Right at the start of the book there's a page to note your 100 day start date  and space for "Your Prayer Request." Each of the 100 days mapped out in this book starts with a short devotion/teaching from scripture, then a one sentence prayer question about your request to help get you started, and finally space to write about "Today's Progress." It's structured and powerful. 

A Prayer to Begin:
"Lord, as I embark on this journey of prayer, come and banish from my heart every last trace of self-reliance and captivate my mind with the truth that you are sufficient for my every need, great or small. Transform me by increasing my confidence in you, in all your extravagant forgiveness and mercy, and strengthen my trembling knees in the face of trouble. Cause my loved ones and me to emerge from this season of prayer with a fresh vision of your glory, a new and lasting fearlessness, and a renewed devotion to your purpose, for Jesus' sake. Amen."

You can hear in this prayer that a pastor wrote this book. John and his family worked out the 100 Day Prayer together before he penned the book. I suspect I'll be using a journal to draft responses so that I can reuse the book over and over again.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Going Deep

I have read Gordon MacDonald's books since his "Ordering Your Private World" was published back in 1985. MacDonald's latest book, "Going Deep: Becoming a Person of Influence," continues his passion for maturity in the Christian ranks. Frankly I was attracted to the title. As a pastor's wife with a passion for discipleship, I was interested in hearing what MacDonald had to say on the topic.

He writes in narrative, about a fictional (but real) church, as a vehicle to communicate his points and recommendations. The subtitle of this book is a bit deceiving since it's really written for church leadership versus the individual who wants to go deep and become a person of influence. MacDonald prescribes a rigorous discipleship/leadership program that he and his wife have developed.  It's a program I'd love to lead in our church.

In the Preface, MacDonald reveals his inspiration: "My visit to West Point provoked me with a nagging question. What would happen if the church I served became committed to a high-priority leadership training effort that took its inspiration from the mission of West Point?"

He goes on to say,"In the course of this book I will try to express the idea that leadership is first about character, then about a disciplined charisma and competence. In other words, reshape the spiritual parts of a person, as Jesus did, and a forceful but humble kind of leadership begins to emerge from within."

"What might happen if a church made the development of deep people its highest priority? Let me take that question a step further. What if a church decided that its pastor's greatest responsibility was to lead the effort to produce a continuous flow of deep people?"

MacDonald challenges the reader with great questions, challenging questions (feel free to replace your name for the word church) :
  • What is your church doing today that would cause anyone to be attracted to it?
  • How can our church enlarge its core congregation with deep people who are prepared to take us into tomorrow exemplifying the Christ-following life and inspiring us to fulfill the mission God has given us?
The interesting approach he's taken in writing Going Deep, is that it is both memoir, journal, roadmap and instruction. He's done a good bit of the legwork in mapping out a program for the pastor or church leader interested in growing deep people.

(Note: This book was provided by Thomas Nelson as part of it's blogger review program.)