On Being Present

Wednesday, August 13, 2014  ::   Be the first to leave a comment!

I love that you can share ideas with a ton of people through the medium of blog posts. It's very cool and convenient. But at the same time, sometimes it leaves gaps in the story, advice, or overall picture of what is being typed out. To be honest, I enjoy the process of writing to share my heart, but I do not consider myself a writer per se. I'm a leader, an investor in people, a passionate prophet, and I use this blog to share my heart, however, my written words don't always flow naturally, and sometimes, a week or so later, I feel heavy at the thought of placing unintended burdens on people.

Last week I enjoyed the privilege of sharing a bit of parenting advice on my lovely friend Alysa's blog. I most certainly stand by the overall point that, for me, each stage of parenting has been better than the last. However, after more thought on this very subject I wanted to take the opportunity to add some clarification of what it has meant for me to be present through each season with my kids.

A definition of present that I'm quite fond of is "existing in the now." That's it. Pretty basic. It doesn't say loving every single minute, thriving always, knowing exactly what to do, or being overly positive or inauthentic about life's challenges. Being present is existing in the now. Shauna Niequist put it this way a few months ago: "Present over perfect." Yes, present as to not miss anything, but being present does not require rose colored glasses of fakeness or oblivion.

My overall hope of the post was to encourage parents to be present in the seasons of their kids' lives. However, a burden of day to day drudgery may have been hoisted onto the backs of moms who are currently struggling, and that is never ever my intention. Listen, I'm no perfect lady. Through the years there were late summer days that I just wanted/needed school to start, or night terrors or vomit explosions that led to sleepless nights that led to grouchy next day mom, or kids that wouldn't listen so I yelled my frustrations in their face to say "CAN ANYONE HEAR ME NOW?!"

Oh yes. So many sins I could list here, but that isn't the point. I've owned up to my mistakes with my kids and with my Jesus, so I'm able to move forward and trust that God is molding me through the process of parenting. Make no mistake. Parenting isn't only about you molding your kids. In fact, through parenting, my life is continually being molded by a gracious and direct God in unbelievably profound ways.

But here is what I really want to tell you about being present as a parent.

It's not about being in every moment of every day. Sometimes we get so caught up in keeping our heads down to do the work on the ground level that we forget to look up and see the trail, to gain our bearings from the sun and stars, and see the path ahead. Sometimes being present is about living in the day to day, taking it all in, caring for sickies or whiners, making memories, holding and cuddling. Sometimes being present is about keeping your parental vision of raising humans beings that love God and love others in focus so that you don't lose your way.

The times I struggle the most in parenting is when I've been neglecting taking care of my soul. Do you have the times that you are "so present" that you haven't showered, gotten out of the house and walked through an isle of breakable things without panicking, read a book, or talked to an adult? Those times for me shriveled my soul. Now, I've never been a proponent of "me time." Seriously. I cannot stand that phrase. Our culture is obsessed with self. But I am a very strong proponent of soul refreshing time.

Friends, one of the very best ways you can be present as a parent with your family is to care for your soul. What fills you? What breathes life into your weary bones? Do you even know? Are you willing to set time aside to just read for 10 minutes a day? Can you leave your child in their room so you can take a five minute shower? Do not just take care of your body through diet and exercise. Do not just take care of your mind through reading a good book or engaging in good conversation. Do not just take care of your heart through spending time in prayer or going out with friends.

Take care of your whole, entire person. Your soul.

Do not get bogged down in the external distractions of self, self, self. Look inward to see what you truly need, and then allow God to deal with your soul. Five to ten minutes a day of soul care will carry you through being present so that you can believe that each stage is better than the last.

For those of you that are in the trenches this is what soul care looks like for me then and now:

  • exercise 4-5 days a week at a gym with childcare (glorious gym childcare. *sigh*)
  • read 5-10 minutes a day, not to my kids, to myself
  • meals at the table most nights when I had littles, 2-3 times a week currently
  • showered when I wanted to, put my kids in their crib or room guilt free
  • "Go play in your room without my direction or instruction. Just play."
  • regular Bible study either by myself or with a group of friends -- so refreshing
  • investment into others' lives so that I wasn't self-focused
  • invited people over regularly and taught our kids that they weren't the center 
  • adult music in my car -- the Wheels on the Bus can wait 
  • deep breaths, eyes closed, whispered prayers of thankfulness and love

Oh this is such a short list. Soul care is deep, important work. I continue to learn about how important it is. (I'm currently reading a book on this topic. I'm only on chapter 3 and I love it so much, but feel the need to be responsible to read the whole thing before I recommend it. Stay tuned for more on this subject.) 

How do you care for your soul? Do you engage more in your external or internal life? What importance do you see in the balance of both internal and external when it comes to being present? Have you experienced that your current season with your kids is better than the last? Why or why not?  

Choosing to Believe :: Better Than the Last

Tuesday, August 05, 2014  ::   6 important comments

As we walked out of the orphanage, tiny little arms clung to our necks like we were her only hope of survival in this strange outside world she just entered. Red taxis zoomed passed us blaring their horns as was the cultural expectation. The sultry air was thick, but mostly because of the weight of responsibility we took on that day. From this moment on, we vowed to be Mom and Dad, to care for, raise up, nurture, invest in, lay down our lives for this child and any other child God saw fit to put into our hearts and arms.

Today as we drove Kyle to his fourth day of ninth grade, he announced, "177 school days left in this year." My heart sank and all I could do was shush him.

In only 177 short days the sweet arms that so tightly gripped our necks will be walking across the high school graduation stage. Esther will wear her purple cap and gown over the lovely dress I'll probably have to beg her to wear. I imagine her guest list at the ceremony will be one of the largest of all the students because she so dearly loves the community of people that so dearly love her.

As all moms do, through the years I've received my fair share of advice, critiques, and future projections from friends and strangers about parenting. So many of the unnecessary and annoying comments pushed me to be a better mom, to be more present, to not fall into the ugliness that people projected onto me and my family. I wrote a guest post describing my philosophy concerning this for my lovely friend, Alysa. You can read it here if you would like more context for what I'm writing now.

In trying to be present, I honestly feel like I've done a great job not looking back, wishing for the old days or looking forward, longing for time to go faster or get easier. One of my parenting goals is to be present in my four kids' lives while raising them with vision and hope for their future. It has not always been easy, but like training muscles, I worked to train my heart and mind to be disciplined in each stage of parenting.

But currently I'm being challenged in this goal. You just read that there are only 177 days of school left! Esther will be graduating and forging her way in the world. I am so looking forward to watching it all unfold. She is determined, trustworthy, intelligent, loving, loyal, and dependable. God's plans for her probably do not include living at home forever so I can peek in her room at night to say a little prayer over her while she sleeps. It is for the best of everyone that our journey keeps moving forward.

I've never been afraid of any coming season for my kids. Sure, I've been completely ignorant of the next step, or nervous for kindergarten, or apprehensive about letting them gain more independence, but fear about the future has not been a plague to my heart.

But, friends, I'm struggling to remain present in this season knowing what is coming in the next season. It feels like as soon as Esther moves out, Kyle, Morgan, and Carah will move out a minute later. It freaks me out to the point of tears leaking out of my eyes in the most random times. Like now.

Confession: I'm afraid.

Redemption: God knows.

He is giving me scripture in each moment of heart-jarring future dread.  He is enabling me to choose to continue to be present and fully enjoy this stage, while choosing to believe each stage is better than the last. He is giving me moments with my family to savor all their "You're such a dork, Mom" grins while I make them stand in a circle and hold hands so I can look deeply into their faces and make a mental memory picture. He's filled my home with love, laughter, and hope for the future that overcomes my minutes of gasps as I realize Esther turns 18 in one month and I have gray hair and wrinkles.

They give me this look often. I have no idea why.
LKM Photography 
So do not fear, do not be dismayed. I will strengthen and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ~ Isaiah 41:10

It will be ok. It will be so difficult to transition through these coming months and years, but so far God has provided experiential truth to my declaration that each season with my kids has been better than the last.

Where are you in journey, parenting or otherwise? Does being present come natural for you or does it take work? Do you look to the future with dread or with a better than the last mentality? Please share your comment love. 


P.S. Here is an interesting observation: Most of the people in my life don't have kids, have kids that are significantly younger than mine, or already have grandkids. I don't know very many people in my current stage. Please know that I'm raw in this area before you type out your comment or send me a message. You may not want my feisty response. I mentioned in an earlier paragraph that moms often receive advice, critiques, and future projections. I'm a little or a lot more straight forward with that kind of stuff than I used to be. But don't let this disclaimer deter you from sharing. 

Read the Signs

Sunday, June 29, 2014  ::   2 important comments

As someone who has been involved in some sort of ministry for almost twenty years, my heart and mind can swim for days in stories of real people's lives I've been privileged to hear. People who know me well tease me about having a "tell me everything" sign on my forehead. It's a gift and a curse. I continue to ask God to teach and enable me to love people well. It is impossible to love if you aren't willing to listen.

Second Mile has been in existence for almost ten years. Not to sound cliche, but it's hard to believe. Time flies. Just to emphasize the major life transition ten years can hold, when we moved to Tucson my kids were eight, four, and two years old. 

Then. Such sweet little cuties!
And now. They are still cuties, but not so little.

During those ten years, the flow of people coming in and out of our church has had its peaks and pits. When you see people who left their former church because of tremendous pain come back to reconcile and grow in a group of like-minded potential friends, my heart swells with thanksgiving that God provides more restitution chances than we deserve or can imagine. However, when people you love must move away because of passions, jobs, or adventure, your heart hurts because of the void they leave in your life and community. 

There have been a few times in the life of our church that someone has left Second Mile out of hurt or anger at us. I've definitely learned that not everyone can/will be happy with you all the time. Community is like a big mason jar full of grapes that has been shaken for about an hour, a big hot juicy mess of bruised individuals that bleed all over each other. In other ministry settings, I watched church staff people do back flips and hula hoop tricks trying to get people to stick around. We aren't in the back flip/hula hoop show biz, so when people find that they desire to leave we seek to have a good discussion, make every effort for peace, and hope for healing, restoration, and growth for them and for us. 

However, over the last few months there have been a couple of people not interested in engaging further in Second Mile for a reason that has burned my prophet heart right up. In searching for depth, they did not feel as if they could find it in the stories of the people of our church. 

On any given Sunday you can come and see people laughing, being goofy, crying with a friend, talking about their week, worshiping with arms straight up in the air, worshiping while sitting quietly with eyes open and heart bowed down. But did you know that you can not tell what a single person has been through or is going through by showing up at our gathering or even having coffee with a person a couple of times? To know a person, at the very least, it takes chitchat that builds in trust, time, patience, true interest in who they are, and vulnerability to share who you are.  

Jeff Foxworthy has a comedy sketch called Here's Your Sign. In it he makes fun of people who ask obvious questions or do dumb things and implies that life would be easier if people wore a stupid sign. Sad, but funny. 

I read an article several months ago that twisted the concept. What if we all wore signs that gave a small glimpse into our history or current situation? My assumption is we would be so much more gentle with people. When I'm talking with someone at the store that fusses at me, I try to not snap back because maybe their invisible sign says they deal with chronic pain. Or maybe the person who just won't return my phone call has a sign with the words, "My child has been up all night for the past week and I'm exhausted." Tragically, the signs so many people could be wearing would make someone like me groan and weep and pray because people's lives contain situations of unspeakable difficulty and pain.

But, here's the thing about all this sign talk. We don't get to know! We have no right to say, "Um, excuse me. You seem a little off today. Could you give me a hint to what you may be carrying today so that I can respond to you correctly?" Ridiculous, right? But can we as humans just assume that life is hard and people have been through crazy junk that would make our brows sweat and our stomachs turn if we truly knew what was or is on the plates of those we encounter?

So, to those of you who do not want to engage with our community or another community because people's stories aren't broken enough for you...
There will be no back flips from me for you to stick around today. I'm actually sorry for you. You are missing out on story after story after story of redemption among the lives of people that God cherishes. He does not measure what we've been through. He's actually looking for broken and contrite hearts (not lives) that desire to prove love for him through obedience. So maybe I don't have a story that the world would critique as movie worthy, but I know that I have been redeemed and my heart is to run after him, and that, my friend, pleases Him, so if it doesn't please you, take it up with Jesus.

To those of you whose signs would express emotional, physical, and/or spiritual pain...
Jesus knows you and loves you! When He walked the earth He encountered a woman at the well and He knew her story. He revealed to her that she could worship Him in freedom! The disciples that were with Him didn't get it. They couldn't read the sign. People will fail. Don't allow it to cultivate bitterness in your heart, but instead, let it turn your heart more and more and more towards Jesus.

To the people who call themselves followers of Jesus, but are unable or inept at reading signs...
Read the gospels every single day to study how the Man you claim to follow loves people. There are so many different kinds of people in the world. People who are happy, sad, funny, hurting, angry, cheer for a different team, dress opposite of what you would choose, vote differently than you (For the love! Can Christians please stop being so politically hateful?!), speak different languages, say terrible things to you at the store, flip you off on the highway, tell your kid they suck at sports, bosses who lead poorly, professors who grade unfairly, and on and on and on. Jesus loves them all so much, whether you are willing to or not. When we refuse to bestow dignity on people around us we are denying that they are made in the very image of the God we serve and love! If you don't believe me, take Him at His word. Here are some links for you. Matthew 5:43-48, John 13:34-35, Proverbs 31:8-9 (one of my favorites), Mark 12:30-31  LOVE! There is no excuse not to. Anything less is disobedience.

To those who seek to love well and pay attention to the lives of those whose paths you cross everyday and to those who want to live this way...
Keep up the good work. I know it pleases Jesus. You are living out the gospel. Ask Him to fill you up when kindness isn't returned to you by people you encounter. Ask Him to continue to give you insight in how to love like He loves.

Friends, if we can't point people to Jesus by how we treat them, speak to them, see that there is more to them than meets the eye, then we can't point people to Jesus at all. Pray for wisdom and read the signs.

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How do you pay attention to people around you and respond with love despite how they respond to you? Do you judge a book by its cover or do you seek to know the story? What can you do to love the people you encounter today in a way that honors Jesus? Who is difficult for you to love? What is one step you can take to remedy your lack of love for them? 

Rhythms of Rest

Tuesday, June 17, 2014  ::   3 important comments

Rest -- freedom from activity or labor, a brief pause, peace of mind or spirit, free of anxieties. 

Two weeks ago my family set out to rest. Over the past few summers vacation came to us in the form of big trips to exciting destinations. Because of schedules in the shortness of our two month summer, no one had the same weekend open for us to get away. To be honest, I cried about it. My soul so desperately wanted to escape with my family to recharge and refill. 

After deliberating several options, Chad and I had the bright idea to staycation in Tucson. We agreed to completely clear our schedules and engage with our family and our city for two whole weeks. The biggest kicker for me was that we also agreed not to talk about work at all. For the two of us to not talk about what we do through and in Second Mile would be a challenge. My fear was we wouldn't have much to talk about. Sad, but true.

Do you know what? The first two days of being at home with "nothing" to do irritated me like a mosquito bite. I was pouty that I wasn't on the beach. All of the things that I left on my to-do list scrolled through my mind. Fear the kids would think our staycation was lame infested my heart. It took intentional prayer and surrender to allow God to sift through my soul to prepare my heart for the great two weeks He had planned for the Haynes family.

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burnt 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 rightly."

The beauty of this passage comes in our day to day life. It isn't a passage meant to be used as an excuse for vacation, but in the times of setting regular life aside we can be reminded that this is how he desires for us to live everyday, to learn and enjoy "the unforced rhythms of grace."

We forced nothing during our staycation, but we intentionally sought out several things.

  • We played games including cards (Shanghai) and Ticket to Ride.
  • We ate donuts from a 1935 Tucson landmark.
  • We finally went to San Xavier Mission which was a long overdue expedition.
  • We enjoyed the sunset at Kyle's track meet.
  • We went to Mt. Lemmon and split two ginormous cookies from that little cookie house we've passed for ten years, but never made a point to stop. 
  • We went to Guadalajara Grill mainly for the table side made salsa. That stuff is delicious. 
  • We made some pretty fine meals ourselves, many of our family favorites. 
  • We celebrated Father's Day with scones, Miss Saigon, and Ross. 
  • We never set an alarm and slept in every day.
  • We laughed so much, mostly at my expense because moms are pretty easy to make fun of. 
Personally, 
  • I baked cobbler and scones. 
  • I met my goal of getting in our pool every single day. 
  • I read at least ten Psalms everyday and deeply inhaled God's steadfast, unfailing love. 
  • I finished one of my books about prayer which means I was awake in the middle of many nights praying which was pretty fantastic. (I said I wouldn't talk to Chad about work. I had to get out all my crazy thoughts to Someone! Who better to talk to and listen to than Jesus?)
And you, my friends? You were wonderful. This staycation would never have worked if you hadn't respected my family's need for rest. My phone was eerily silent. A few times I wondered if we were missed because my quiet phone made me insecure because any normal given day it goes off 877 times. Your love for us demonstrated in your ability to encourage a time of rest bolsters our desire to serve and love you. Thank you for perpetuating the circle of loving one another. 

One more thing, this staycation came at the best season in the life of our family. I'm praying my kids learned that you don't have to spend money, be extravagant, go some place new to find rest, to enjoy the people you love, to recharge and refill. This season was right. Let me say that if we would have tried this when my kids were little I would have lost my ever lovin' mind! It would have felt like normal, trapped life with piles of laundry and messes and the millionth game of Candyland and another episode of Dora and bath time and waking up at 6:00am. Getting away was necessary when my kids were young, and we did! We went places that the whole family enjoyed. But now, in my opinion, the sweet season of witty, charming, self-caring teenagers was the perfect time for a staycation. Those of you that currently deal day in and day out with sweet tiny cuties that depend on you for everything don't try a staycation just yet, but keep this in a file in your mind for the future. Be intentional now, so that family, relational intentionality grows deeper and deeper through the years. You won't be sorry. 

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What are your favorite ways to rest? Are you going on vacation this summer? What is your favorite part of vacation? How does your time of rest include soaking in more of Jesus? 

Standing My Ground :: A Confession

Tuesday, May 20, 2014  ::   4 important comments

Over a month ago I wrote this post about prayer. At first the stats showed that no one was really interested in reading it. However, thanks to several Second Mile community group leaders and a few others that have shared my words, it has grown to one of my most read posts.

I've been silent on this blog since I hit the publish button on that last entry. The week before Easter I led the prayer time during 2M's gathering on Sunday afternoon. A fire in my belly to urge the church to pray compelled me to speak boldly to my friends. Hopefully, my words were mixed with love and the fire I felt didn't just turn me into a dragon. Sometimes that happens, too. It's usually not pretty.

After our gathering two of my good friends came to encourage me. I told them that I was feeling like a better version of my pre-stroke self. Energized, focused, excited, hopeful, passionate, clear-headed were all adjectives I would have used that evening.

But I did not brace myself.
When I was in college and newly walking with Jesus, the words "spiritual warfare" were thrown around like a hot potato. Every bad day or rough interpersonal interaction found blame with the enemy. One could often hear among my social circle, "I'm really under attack right now," or "Oh, I'll pray for you. It sounds like Satan is attacking you." Every. Bad. Day. For reals. That's a little much, don't you think? Over the last twenty years I've come to realize that sometimes I'm just grouchy, or I wasn't responsible, or that "the enemy" isn't everywhere all the time and probably doesn't care much about what I'm doing. The real humbling stinger came when I realized there was no need for a spiritual attack if I wasn't doing anything for Jesus that Satan wouldn't like. Why would he waste his time on a spiritual time waster? Ouch.

Don't be shocked, but for many years in my late twenties and thirties I swung to the other extreme in spiritual warfare by thinking God's enemy and his minions couldn't care less about me. I was convinced they were busy torturing true soldiers of God like Billy Graham, the Pope, or Beth Moore. If any unexplained difficulty popped up in my life, I blamed my own sin or assumed God was using difficulties to sharpen and chastise me (which, by the way, can very often be true). If anyone mentioned to me that I may be "under attack" I could easily justify why I thought it was a bogus idea.

Lately I've been pondering spiritual warfare because after I wrote a blog about praying, asked the church to pray, witnessed people surrendering their lives to Jesus, and more whole-heartedly than ever in my life committed to pressing into telling people about God's unfailing love things have been a little out of whack, a little crazy, and a lot discouraging. All of this has forced me to look once again to the fact that spiritual warfare exists, that there is an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion, that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." 
Over the last week I began to privately brace myself in this epic battle we face. The first step was to admit that Ephesians 6 is a very real passage with very real purpose and importance. I'm reading it and meditating on it. I've also picked up three books that are good for this season of my life.

Spiritual Warfare for Women by Leighann McCoy -- Why a book geared towards women? Well, duh, I'm a woman. But more than that, the description talked about how warfare for women can often look like extreme discouragement and the desire to quit and give up. Bingo. That almost perfectly describes my emotions over the last month. She also wrote that a primary way to do good battle is to memorize scripture. If you know me, you know that sold me.

Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud -- Over this last month I've found myself in very strange conflicts. Chad recently referred to me as the toilet plunger of the church because for whatever reason (sin, my need to grow in this area, the enemy taunting me in my weakness) people come to me to complain about Second Mile. Often they don't see themselves as complaining, but if I've heard a dozen people say what is not great with our church it starts to feel like complaining. I have to learn some boundaries, and not just in this area, but also with my phone, with other people's very real hardships, with people who are in need. You see, I'm a bleeding heart. I love people, hurt with them, want to help them. But, when a bleeding heart does not have good boundaries they actually end up bleeding out. That's no good. (Don't be offended if I use my new boundary skills on you. Be proud of me instead.)

Prayer: The Timeless Secret of High-Impact Leaders by Dave Earley -- I will not back down. You better believe I'm going to keep fighting. This book represents that even though I'm reading two others to help me personally in the fight, I will also be growing in my understanding of how to fight.

Books aren't the answer to how I'm bracing myself. Jesus is. He is my foundation. I'm praying and asking for relief from the burden of discouragement and the desire to run and hide.
Would you pray for my family, too? Leadership can be a lonely place. We are growing and learning, but it can be so tiring.

What about you? Are you growing and living a life that the spiritual world takes notice? Do you blame everything or nothing on Satan? What scripture do you most often go to in your time of need?

The First Thing :: Decrease Unbelief

Tuesday, April 01, 2014  ::   4 important comments


There is a stirring in my heart, an awakening. 

source
Before we moved to Tucson almost ten years ago, prayer sustained me, filled my heart, and provided direction even in our big move. Maybe because my kids were little and napped, time alone each afternoon provided me the opportunity to reflect, ponder, and worship. Throughout the last ten years prayer definitely has not ceased, but it certainly has changed. Thankfully, through God's grace of maturing me, my relationship has become just that... more of a relationship. Talking to Jesus is part of my everyday life. It comes through set aside time, but also during the ebbs and flow of each day.

But over the last few months, my heart has been moving towards more time, more depth, more intentionality. In September I felt like a sleepy bear coming out of a year long hibernation. Sabbatical gave me the time I needed for healing, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As I imagine a giant black bear straggling out of the cave, stiff and hungry, I, too, felt ready to come out, but stiff and hungry for more.

December gave the opportunity to focus on Advent. More than ever before, the thought of Emmanuel, God With Us, moved me to beg and plead for God to make his presence known in my life, in my church, and in my city. The desire refreshed my soul.

Second Mile's week of prayer and fasting challenged me deep in my belief. The verse about Jesus not doing mighty works among them because of their unbelief haunts me still.  As a church we prayed for big things, but we must believe! He wants to draw people to himself. He wants to build his church. He wants us to grow in dependence on him. Is it too much to ask him to redeem ten people this year? I think it is too small of a request, but my belief starts to tremble with doubt. God, help my unbelief! If I want him to redeem people, how much more does God want to draw people to himself? So much more.

The If Gathering reminded me of one of my life long truths: To Run My Race! I think maybe I had slowed to a meandering walk.

Finally, this last week I was privileged to speak to a group of women at a church plant/revitalizing conference. I loved it. I would love to serve in this way more often. I love investing in women so much. However, the best part of the conference for me wasn't what I did, but what I received. A pastor from Las Vegas laid it out to us about the absolute necessity of prayer. It was a challenging and beautiful reminder for me. Here are a few of the zingers he threw out to us:

"Prayer precedes growth of any kind."
"Does my prayer life reflect that I believe God is smarter and produces better, long lasting results than me? How much do I pray?"
"Your prayer life should shout, I BELIEVE!"
"Do you want to revitalize your church? Revitalize your prayer life."

Honestly, none of these statements were earth shattering in the sense that they were new concepts, but each of them were convicting to my heart. Do I believe them in the sense that they puff up my head with knowledge? Or, do I experientially live out the belief that prayer is vital.

I'm thankful to be part of a church that values prayer. I can say that we pray often, but I can't imagine ever saying that we pray enough. Friends, let me invite you into continued prayer for our city, for our church, for our friends, for our families, for the nations...the list continues.

Get out your prayer guide and go through it again. If you aren't part of Second Mile, use the linked prayer guide for your own church, or better yet, write one for your church and share it with others.

Read a new book about prayer, or re-read your favorite book. Gather some friends to pray once a month, or once a week, or once a day.

Would you consider making fasting once a week part of your routine? Let's use not eating for one day as a reminder that we long for him more than we long for food, that we are already redeemed, but not yet home, that we need him to increase our belief.

In an effort to help each other, think about what you can do and then tell someone for accountability. Will some of you join me in fasting one day a week for God to draw our friends to himself? Will some of you community group leaders plan a prayer gathering for your group? If you need ideas, please ask me. I would love to help. Are there some of you who would come to church on Sunday afternoon early to pray? Let's amp up our prayers.

1 Tim 2:1 The Message
The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. 

Do you need an idea on books about prayer or belief? Share in the comments if you have additional suggestions.

My heart is stirring, awakening. Let it never be said about us that our unbelief kept Jesus from doing mighty works among us. May it be true of our lives that the way we prayer is the first thing we do, in every way we know how, for everyone we know. 

What do you want to add? How does your life reflect the way you pray? What challenges do you face in praying? What are one or two ways you can challenge yourself in maturing the way you pray? 

In What Shall I Boast

Saturday, February 15, 2014  ::   4 important comments

My soul feels bound up today. Tears wait on the edge of my eye lids while the lump in my throat grows big enough to burst into yelling.

If God is real then...

I've struggled with this question since I first read about the IF: Gathering. The ability to answer the question for myself eluded me. By no means was it the intention of the leaders to create a question that would spark doubt, but for me, deep in my guts I questioned my own motives, years, purpose. All of the sudden I wondered. Too much.

The wondering birthed some unwelcomed cynicism in my heart. Several of my closest friends agreed together to engage with IF and to host a small group through Second Mile. As time grew closer to the event, I felt more and more unsettled. I blamed it on the ambiguity of the conference, the gathering, the whatever it was/is, but it was only today that I finally put my finger on the spot in my heart that birthed the cynicism.

Before I reveal that spot, I want to say I really loved IF. In the moments of each speaker, each song, each story, engaging with 20 or so dear women whom I greatly value, we were refreshed, refilled, reunified. We sang loud. We got on our knees together. We laughed. We shared deep parts of our hearts. I was continually reminded throughout the weekend that we are part of an extraordinary church that challenges one another, that retreats together, that shares life together, that longs for Tucson to know Jesus together. We often take for granted our courageous church. It was not lost on me that only a few short weeks earlier many of the women who gathered for IF had gone without food for an entire week in order to seek Jesus together as a community. These things have become normal to us. Refreshed from the week of prayer and fasting led beautifully into refreshment from the IF leaders who were used by God to speak to our hearts. Beautiful.

If God is real then...

For me, God is real. Was I supposed to still doubt? If I can believe he is more real, then will it change my life more? Will it help me do more? Will I have more insight? Will I then be able to do some crazy humongous thing that will receive Christian world-wide acclaim?

Cynicism. Darkness. Smallness.

It seemed to hide its identity from me until the first discussion time. I drew my question out of the pile available. "What is holding you back?" I asked my group to come back to me because I wasn't sure of the answer. As each woman answered her own question it became so very clear. I was cynical. I confessed to my friends, and said a prayer of repentance to Jesus, but oddly enough, the understanding of it all only became clear today.

When I was 18 I came to the place of realizing I didn't want to live my life without Jesus. The teenage years worked me over like a rag doll. Opting out of floppy limbs, a floppy heart, and a floppy mind, I went straight into battle mode. Praying, reading, learning, and growing in knowing and loving Jesus became an obsession. I wanted to do big things for God!

I went on trips, met with any leader who would talk to me, talked to strangers with passion while standing on tippy toes and smiling about how much he loves us, married a crazy, yet level-headed, passionate guy who also wanted to change the world. We went to another country, shared our love for God, met God-fearing people who showed us God was much bigger than the American God I had created in my mind, studied a language, adopted an amazing kid... all before I turned 25.

We returned to the States telling God we would serve him in specific ways, yet he took us on a completely different path, we had more kids, lived in other states, discipled college students, decided we should start a church with ten amazing friends... all before I was 30.

We began a church called Second Mile, labored with sweat and tears, we've given around 1500 gifts to strippers, parented eight kids, partnered with people who love Tucson, walked with women towards freedom...all before I was 40.

Doesn't it sound braggy? Oh, but I don't mean it to. I'm reminded of the passage that Paul shares all his accomplishments and then so beautifully says, "If I must boast, I boast in the things that show my weakness." In Galatians he says, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes. Boast in Jesus.

The cynicism was birthed out of my own soul boasting. How could they ask me, a 40 year woman who has been trying to bust her butt to serve Jesus If God is real then...? Come on, people! Look what I've been doing the last twenty years? Who are you to ask me IF I am living as IF God is real? I. Am. Trying. Can't you see that?

Defeated. Disheartened to think I haven't been doing enough. Too exhausted to consider doing more. Unable to answer the questions of those I lead about what God would have us do.

The truth is I do believe God is real. I see his activity all around me. Sometimes by his grace I get up and join him. Sometimes because of my fear, or stubbornness, or ignorance I watch the marching go by without me.

If God is real then I will press into him in order to be more like him when I'm 41, when I'm 48, when I'm 50, when I'm 67, when I'm 70, when I'm nearing my finish line.

If God is real then he knows my cynicism and wants to right my heart towards his statutes and not toward selfish gain.

If God is real then I will not demand to be used by him, and I will get on my face and dwell his holy presence, delight in him as he sings over me, allow myself to just be.

If God is real then I will realize that Jesus didn't start his public ministry until he was 30 which means he waited 30. long. years to go big for his Father. We've only been in Tucson for not quite 10 years. Easter marks our tenth year of taking gifts to dancers in men's showclubs. Ten short years. Am I willing to wait for 30? If God is real then I will stay the course.

If God is real then my faith must believe that God is who he says he is! Faithful, merciful, kind, just, loving, good, unrelenting, pursuant, almighty, jealous, with us, I Am.

If God is real then I must believe I am who God says I am! Daughter, redeemed, beloved, forgiven, worshipper, entrusted with talents, co-heir, laborer, door holder for his kingdom.

If God is real then I must run my own race and not look towards other leaders and assume they don't know the trenches. My gaze must be fixed on the cross. Run my own race. Run my own race. Run my own race! Run well with my community, cheering one another on, sharpening each other as we go, carrying each other as we need, pointing each friend to Jesus.

Through the week of prayer, through IF, through so much soul searching this week, I've surrendered my cynicism. It is an ugly recurring theme in my heart. I'm asking God to remove it from my stoney heart through his kindness and grace and give me a heart of flesh that fully believes Him. He has mapped out a trail run for me that I fear has twists and turns, drops and rocks, and peaks and pits. As I keep my gaze on him I know he will make my path feel straight and narrow, secure, and enable me to keep both feet on the ground, rooted deep into the Rock that is higher than I.

Will you run with me? If God is real then he gave us to each other. He doesn't want us to run alone. I need you.

What is your If God is real then statement? Let's share together so that we may fix our gaze on Jesus, and together, boast in nothing but the cross.