Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Little Leo's Arrival

July 21, 11:00PM

As Charles and I were getting into bed, I felt a rather strong contraction.  After experiencing false labor for a couple weeks I was tentative about saying anything, but this one was significantly stronger than any others I had felt.  I never had false labor with Wally, so distinguishing between the two types of contractions was a new skill I had to learn.  Anyway, as I leaned against the bed and breathed heavily I said, "Charles, I think that was a real contraction.  Just so you know."

I waited a little before getting into bed but nothing else happened.  About half an hour later I felt another one and decided to start paying attention to the timing.  I rolled closer to Charles, who I was pretty sure had not quite fallen all the way asleep yet, and I said, "Charles, I had another contraction.  I think this might be the real deal."  He replied with an "ok", but I knew he might not have actually registered what I said.  

July 22

I managed to sleep a little between contractions, but by about 3 AM they were starting to become more consistent and closer together.  At 5 AM they were about 15 minutes apart and growing stronger.  By 7am I texted our next door neighbor who had agreed to watch Wally if need be when I went into labor.  I woke Charles and started to pack Wally's bag for the day.  I called the midwife about 7:30am and she said she'd meet us at the hospital around 8am.

We eventually got to the car at 8am and arrived at Beverly Hospital at 8:15 AM.  By now I was breathing heavily, experiencing painful contractions and having a hard time not complaining about the pain.  Ok, I complained A LOT.  Charles wheeled me up to the labor and delivery floor and we checked in.  By 9:00 AM I had an epidural but continued to complain more loudly about the pain.  Around 9:45 I felt the need to push and told the midwife with some surprise.  Could it really be so soon?  She replied, "You're not fully dilated, but I can help by holding it open a bit if you feel ready."


With some significantly LOUD groans, yells, screams, and more complaining about how much it hurt (I did get an epidural after all), Leonard Joseph was born with a small whimper on his part at 10:08 AM.  I finally opened my eyes.  I hadn't realized I had them shut almost the entire time we were in the hospital; I was concentrating so hard.  Leo immediately quieted down as the nurse laid him on my chest and rubbed him vigorously.  He looked at me and I'm sure I said something brilliant like "Hello, Leonard Joseph," but the whole moment is a blur.  I just remember feeling so grateful and so surprised that it happened so fast.  Through it all Charles let me squeeze the life out of his hand and listened to all my yelling.  

So far, two months later, Leo has proven to be a sweet little boy who eats and sleeps quite well.  His big brother gives him little kisses on the top of his head and then tries to share mommy's lap.  :)  I bet that will never change.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Learning to Be Quiet

I'm sorry it's been such a long time since I posted.  I've been a little distracted because we had a baby!  I will write the exciting tale of Leo's birth story soon, but until then, please enjoy my further thoughts on the topic of my last post: Hearing from God.

As a teen, I wasn't able to regularly attend a church youth group.  However, God graciously met me for a few months each year through one youth pastor named John.  I clearly remember one conversation we had about hearing God.  I think I was stressed because I wanted to know God's will for my life - do I attend college?  What should I study?  What should I do after college?  I believed God could certainly tell me exactly what he wanted me to do.  The question I had was - how do I know it's him?  Pastor John sat down with me and explained something: God is always speaking.  The question is not what he is saying, but am I listening?  Is my spirit in tune with his?  Am I actually willing and open to hear what He is saying?

I thad never occurred to me before that God wanted to talk to me.  I always figured it was a trial, a test.  If I worked at it hard enough and waited long enough and cried out strong enough then maybe God would deign to speak something to me.  God is always speaking?  He wants me to hear him?  If he wants me to hear him, then what would keep me from listening?

Myself.  If anything is in the way, it is probably me.  So how do I keep myself from distracting...myself?

It took me a while to really work on this skill, but during my sophomore year of college I decided I wanted to grow in my ability or capacity to hear God's voice.  I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but I decided the place to start was learning to quiet my own mind and spirit.  I decided practicing the discipline of fasting might help, so I took one hour every Thursday, skipped lunch, and sat in the library near a large window.  My goal: be quiet.  Quiet my mind.  Quiet my spirit.  Train myself to be silent.

Turns out it was really hard.  I kept a piece of paper and a pen nearby to write down the inevitable "I can't forget to do thus and such, and I should email so and so, and it's my turn to take out the trash from our apartment..."  After weeks and weeks of practicing this silence, it started to become easier.  It still wasn't easy, but it grew easier.  I grew to really love and look forward to every Thursday.  I grew to love the discipline of quieting my soul.  Nothing remarkable happened as far as I can recall.  I received no epiphanies.  But I did learn how to be still.

Somehow, through those hours of disciplined silence, God's voice became clearer.  I wouldn't say that I came anywhere close to being 100% accurate about what God was saying.  I would say, however, that learning how to practice the skill of silence did give me the first tool in the "how to hear God's voice" tool belt.  It was a beginning.

Thankfully, God led me the next semester toward the next skill I needed to learn: trusting His voice.  I'll write about that experience soon.  Until then, here's my question for you to ponder:

If God is always speaking, what do you think He might be trying to communicate to you today?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hearing from God

The other night one of my neighbors asked me to share how I came to Gordon-Conwell and why I had chosen the M.Div. program.  As I shared, my neighbor interjected a question: "How did you know it was God speaking to you?"

I realized then that my story is FULL of moments where "I heard God say" or "I think God was saying...."  Somehow it had never occurred to me before that my story was so full of listening to God, hearing from God, and that that would be unique somehow.

Perhaps it is not unique, but as I shared my story that evening several people who were listening in asked me about hearing from God.  I didn't realize such a skill was also such a mystery.  The principles are not difficult; it just takes time to become proficient.

I am no expert on hearing from God.  I am not proficient.  But I am confident anyone could find insightful and helpful books and sermons and experienced professionals who could teach them how to grow in that spiritual discipline.  I feel as though I should at least share how I have learned to know God's voice and what that experience is like for me.  I guarantee it will not be the same for you, but perhaps sharing my story will encourage you.  If nothing else, you'll get a peak into my soul.  Lucky you!

I decided at a young age (9 or so) to read the Bible everyday.  I saw my parents do that, and it seemed like the smart thing to do if you call yourself a Christian.  I read about a chapter a night before I went to bed.  By the time I reached 11 or 12 years old I had read through the whole Bible.  I felt completely empty... and at the same time full of pride.  I had read it all.  Clearly, then, I knew everything there was to know.  What do I do now?

I actually felt desperate.  For some reason it didn't occur to me that I could ask a human being about this problem.  I didn't ask my mom or dad.  I didn't ask any of the dozens of pastors I knew.  I asked God.  I got down on my knees in my room in the house we were renting in Princeton, Illinois, and prayed.

"I've read it all, God.  I know everything" (I clearly remember praying this!  I was so full of myself as a pre-teen).  "What else is there?  What do I do next?"

Hebrews 13

I didn't hear a audible voice.  It was just as if an idea came into my head, sort of attached to a voice.  But the voice wasn't booming or masculine or loud or even really "godly".  But it wasn't my voice, and it wasn't my idea.  I decided to listen.  Well, I didn't just listen.  I replied.

"I just finished reading Hebrews a few months ago.  There probably isn't even a chapter 13," I said incredulously.  I decided to look just in case.

"Oh.  It's the last chapter.  Ok, fine.  Hebrews 13."

Verse 6

"Whatever.  The chapter probably ends at verse 5."

Then I read:

6 So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

I immediately began to cry.  Several things had happened all at once.  God spoke to me in a way I could understand.  Without saying much of anything, He pointed out my stupid pride and ignorance.  Not only did I not remember that the letter to the Hebrews had 13 chapters, but the verse He led me to was a quote of Psalm 118:6 which means I had also not remembered reading it there either!  I was doubly ignorant.  Somehow this actually felt like God really cared about my spiritual development.  He loved me enough to gently show me how wrong I was.  I didn't feel reprimanded; I felt loved.

The thing that impacted me the most, however, was that God spoke through that simple Scripture reference to a deep-seated fear in my soul: I was afraid of people.  Knowing my upbringing, you might think that was a little strange, but it was (and sometimes still is) very much a part of my everyday life.  I was constantly afraid of making anyone unhappy, or angry, or disappointed.  I was afraid of being on the receiving end of hurtful words.  Those were the worst.  But that final sentence, What can mere mortals do to me, hit me at my core.  Was it actually possible to live unafraid?  To be unhurt by others actions and reactions?  Could I actually find help from Jesus instead of trying to "be strong" on my own?

I decided to try and put my faith in that promise I read in Hebrews 13:6.  I could trust God.  He was trustworthy, and He cared about me and my feelings. 

That was the first time I heard from God.  It wasn't earth-shattering.  It wasn't even a lot of God talking.  In fact, from my experience up to this point as a 35-year-old, He doesn't talk for very long.  He speaks just long enough for me to get the point.  At least, I hope I get the point.

But that experience taught me that God could speak and I could hear and I could be transformed by listening.  I'm so glad that I got to the end of my rope at such a young age.  And I'm so grateful that God responded when I cried out to Him.  

I'll write more about how hearing from God in my life has changed over the years, but until then I will leave you with a question.  Please feel free to actually answer in a comment below!  We can always learn from each other's experiences.

What is hearing from God like for you?  If you've never heard from Him, what do you think He might say to you today?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Capacity to be His Spokesperson

Isaiah 50:4a (New English Translation)
The Sovereign Lord has given me the capacity to be His spokesperson....

I've been reading through the book of Isaiah during my time with Jesus lately.  Today this verse stuck out to me, and I had to read it over several times as though I didn't quite hear it right the first time.  That usually means God was trying to get my attention.


I don't feel as though I have much capacity right now.  Arthritic pain in my back, shooting down my legs as I try to walk and move around the apartment (much less any distance outside), prevents me from being very mobile or very helpful to my husband.  Third trimester exhaustion is exacerbated by increased episodes of false labor as I overdo it while we try to get settled into our new home.  Again, not very helpful to my Charles who is doing everything.  Capacity?  Capacity for what exactly, Lord?

Capacity to be My spokesperson.

I wondered today as I read this verse how many women at this seminary are here to study and develop their ministry skills.  How many are here only because their husbands are studying?  So far I've had about 10 conversations that went like this:

What's your husband studying?

We're both getting our M.Div degrees.
You're taking classes too?
Yes.  Yes I am.

I know this conversation will continue to happen, probably for the rest of my life.  That sad reality doesn't make it less frustrating.  To be honest, I haven't even started seminary yet and I'm already tired of advocating for myself.  Why does it have to be a surprise that I as a pregnant mother of a toddler am attending seminary?  Charles isn't going to stop being a dad or husband by being a full time student.  He isn't suddenly single and I'm the one raising the children.  Better Together means that we are both in this 100%.

Lord, I don't fully understand what the end result will be of my studies here.  I don't see clearly even past this first semester, but I fully trust you.  You called me here for a reason, and even if that currently feels like a battle against my own physical limitations and emotional frustrations, I am fully present.  Lead me, Lord.  You are my capacity.

Friday, June 17, 2016

How We Got Here

It began for me on July 21st, 2015.  

Every month I take a whole work day (usually about 6 hours) to spend alone with Jesus in solitude and silence.  It's part of the requirements for my job as an InterVarsity campus staff worker, but it's also a tremendous help and joy since I lean towards the contemplative in my relationship with God anyway.  My general plan for each ROS was more or less the same: spend as much time as I needed quieting my soul and preparing it to hear from God by journaling and reading scripture; then I would reflect on the last month of ministry and ask God for direction for the coming month of ministry.  

For this particular ROS (retreat of solitude) my plans were no different.  It was a beautiful, summer day so I took a picnic lunch and an old comforter and went to the nearby state park.  I found a perfect spot under some pine trees near the water and off the walking trail where no one would bother me.  I settled in and opened my New English Translation Bible to the Psalms.

I don't recall where I began reading, but eventually I came to Psalm 68.  Now, Psalm 68 begins like any average Psalm.  God is big, blah blah blah.  Nothing surprising there.  Don't get me wrong, it's good stuff.  It's true stuff.  But nothing in particular stood out to me....until I reached verse 11:  

Psalm 68(NET Bible)
For the music director; by David, a psalm, a song.

1 God springs into action!

His enemies scatter;
his adversaries run from him.

2 As smoke is driven away by the wind, so you drive them away.
As wax melts before fire,
so the wicked are destroyed before God.

3 But the godly are happy;
they rejoice before God
and are overcome with joy.

4 Sing to God! Sing praises to his name!
Exalt the one who rides on the clouds!
For the Lord is his name!
Rejoice before him!

5 He is a father to the fatherless
and an advocate for widows.
God rules from his holy palace.

6 God settles those who have been deserted in their own homes;
he frees prisoners and grants them prosperity.
But sinful rebels live in the desert.

7 O God, when you lead your people into battle,
when you march through the desert, (Selah)

8 the earth shakes,
yes, the heavens pour down rain
before God, the God of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.

9 O God, you cause abundant showers to fall on your chosen people.
When they are tired, you sustain them,

10 for you live among them.
You sustain the oppressed with your good blessings, O God.

11 The Lord speaks;
many, many women spread the good news.

Now, this Psalm goes on in an unassuming way as if nothing interesting has happened.  But I couldn't continue reading.  I was stopped right in my tracks.  Many women spread the good news?  THE GOOD NEWS?  WOMEN???

I quickly pulled out my phone, which I had turned off since I was on an ROS; and I looked up the Hebrew words used in verse 11.  Yep.  It can be translated as women.  In fact, it could be translated as a "great host" or "army" of women.  An army of women who spread the good news.  I immediately thought of the women at the tomb after Jesus resurrected from the dead.  

Lord, I prayed and wrote in my journal, why does this feel important?  What is it that you are trying to say to me right now?

With very little warning I felt like God replied immediately: You must get a Ph.D., for many, many women in my church do not know they can spread the good news.

A what?  A Ph.D.? Me? Why? What? My job is going so well!  I like it!  This isn't my plan!  A Ph.D.??? I don't want to go to seminary!!! Seminary is for snobs and academics who don't care about the practical side of ministry where all the nitty gritty happens and people actually meet Jesus and are transformed by Him.  (clearly I have some unresolved issues around the concept of seminary that need some healing prayer).

No.  Not right now.  I can't think about this right now.  I have work to get done.  I need to make plans for the fall semester with my Cornell students.  I'm supposed to start planting a new InterVarsity chapter at Ithaca College.  I've got so much more to learn and grow in as a leader in IV.  I can't think about this now.

So I didn't.  I stuffed it.  I put it in the back of my mind and moved on.  I didn't think that I had heard wrong.  I knew exactly what I had heard, and my spirit knew that it was right.  But I didn't want to hear it, so I ignored it.  Ph.D.  Whatever.

As the summer went on and autumn blew in, Charles kept bringing up the idea of moving away to attend seminary.  He had planned to take classes online because of his love of scripture and a hunger for learning, but every day that passed he felt more and more as though attending seminary full time was what he really wanted to do.

I was not convinced this was God's call for our family.  We had just bought a house.  A HOUSE.  Our church small group was finally growing to trusting one another.  We were considering training up new worship leaders at our church.  So many things were moving in such productive, positive directions.  Leaving our jobs, house, church, and family (both sets of parents lived nearby) seemed like utter foolishness.  Everytime Charles and I talked about it I said the same thing:  I don't have any clear indication from God that that is what we are supposed to do.  I'm not going to move just to make your own dreams come true.  It has to be for both of us.

After weeks of this it was beginning to frustrate both of us as we both felt each other was being somewhat unreasonable.  I didn't know what to do to resolve it.  We both needed to hear the same thing from God, and of course I felt like someone (named Charles) needed to hear differently.

One sabbath morning, Charles came downstairs from his quiet time of scripture reading and prayer and got down on his knees in front of me.  I have to repent, he began.  I have been asking God what his will is for my life as if I were a single man, not what God's will is for us as a family.

I wept.  That is exactly what I had felt was happening.....but how do you tell someone who has a great relationship with God that they are praying wrong?  I was so relieved that God had spoken clearly to Charles about how to pray in this situation.  And I was so grateful to be married to a man who was man enough to apologize with humility for pursuing his own dreams and interests instead of ours as a couple or ours as a family.  Once I finally stopped blubbering we decided to take the rest of the day in listening prayer, asking God what is your will for us as a family?

It was amazing.  The rest of the day we traded on and off for an hour or so at a time.  One of us hanging out with Wally, our 2 year old, while the other spent time alone with God.  We would share what we heard, if anything, and then switch.  I heard two very clear things that day.  But before I heard anything new, God reminded me of his clear directions in July.  You need to go get a Ph.D.

Ugh.  Right.  You did tell me that.  Why do you have to be so right all the time, huh God?

The two clear things I heard that day as I listened for God's direction were this:

You are better together.  Something about me and Charles pursuing degrees and ministry together was somehow significant, important, and powerful in God's kingdom plan.  I don't have a clear picture of the end result, but I do have complete confidence that we are supposed to do this together, both learning and studying and ministering together.
Whoever leaves houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields for my sake.... (Matthew 19:29).  As I prayed, Jesus reminded me of this verse.  These were all the things that were holding me back: our brand new house, our families living close by, our field of work.  Would I willingly leave them?  Jesus had asked me this before, but never before had things felt so settled and .... settled.  I don't know how else to describe it.  I grew up in a very unsettled, mobile environment.  Feeling settled in my own house that was finally and actually mine was something I had never experienced.  Strangely enough this was the thing that was the hardest to leave!  I had a home for the first time in my life, as a 34 year old woman.  And after only having it for a few months, Jesus was asking me to leave it.  Our beautiful, brand new, lovely home.  


Yes, Lord.

It is June now.  It has been almost a year since God called me to pursue a degree and a career I had never expected or anticipated.  We moved into a campus apartment at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary this week.  We will be ending our work with InterVarsity at the end of July when our second child is due to be born.  We will then have about 6 weeks before classes begin as we both pursue our M.Div. degrees here at GCTS.

The past 9 months or so have been filled with many quiet times of weeping before the Lord.  Why, God?  What in the world are you doing?  This is insane! 

Yes, it is insane.  It will be difficult.  I will need Jesus every day to remind me what He is doing.  But it is not uncommon for God to call us out of our comfortable places into uncertainty.  He invited Peter out of the boat into the water.  He invited Abraham to go to a place He would show him.  Throughout history He has called men and women away from home and familiarity into dangerous, unknown places.  My story is no different, and I am by no means special because I have been called.  I am simply aware of the foolish danger of saying NO to God.  I would rather foolishly say YES and suffer the consequences of obedience.

My answer is Yes, Lord.