New Blog Address

Happy New Year!

Beginning today, I have a new location for my blog. If you are subscribed, you will no longer receive updates through this feed. Please visit my new website at http://www.sensibleshoesclub.com and click “blog” to read my latest posts and to resubscribe.

Blessings,

Sharon

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Sensible Shoes for East Africa

A year ago a good friend sent me an email saying that she wanted to introduce me to a woman who lived in my neighborhood. “You and Leslie just have to meet!” she said. “And you need to take her a copy of Sensible Shoes!” Leslie and I exchanged emails and arranged a time to meet at her house.

Leslie greeted me at her door that day with the kind of warm embrace you offer a longtime friend. As soon as she led me into her living room, I noticed a large framed photo above her sofa: five pairs of shoes lined up beside a stream. It could have been the cover of my book. I pointed to it. “Sensible Shoes!” I said. She smiled and nodded, then told me the story behind the shoes.

Three years ago, at the age of 39, Leslie was suddenly and unexpectedly widowed. Shortly after her husband, Rick, died, she picked out five of his favorite pairs of shoes, each one representing work or a particular hobby, and took them to their favorite park. “Rick loved to run and ski there as often as possible,” she said. “Of all the things he had, which wasn’t much, those shoes meant so much to him. Such a symbol of all he loved about life. Outdoors, exercise, fun, community with his Creator.”

I knew as soon as we sat down together beneath those shoes that God had a special connection in mind for us. I listened to her story with wonder, marveling at how God had helped her to steward her grief and loss by becoming a missionary in East Africa. I knew I wanted to do something to support her work with widows and orphans there. Now we have an opportunity to help provide “sensible shoes” to barefoot children.

Leslie explains what $10 can do: “These sensible shoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Yet so many East African children go barefoot, but not by choice. By washing the feet of the children in Nakapiripirit (Karamoja), and fitting them with sensible shoes covered in your prayers, we’ll ‘Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Ephesians 5:1-2). Your sponsorship will bring teaching and ministry to the Karamajong pastors and their children through a conference designed to help their cattle-raiding region learn to…walk in the way of love.”

Will you partner with us as we seek to walk in the way of love?

You can visit Leslie’s blog and donate securely with PayPal:

http://blog.surprisedbyhope.org/2012/03/sensible-shoes-walk-in-way-of-love.html

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The Dead Tree Blooms

Last week a dead tree–a prop for one of the stations of the cross–started blooming in our sanctuary. Here’s the story:

A team of artists from our congregation has been meeting for the past several months to pray about how to design Lenten prayer stations in our sanctuary. Using eight different Gospel texts about Jesus’ journey from His arrest to the cross, the team began to create artistic representations to go along with each Scripture passage. Station number four is called “Jesus Speaks to the Weeping Women” and uses this text from Luke:

And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them, Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:27-31

The team decided to use a dead tree, with tears hanging from the branches. The dead tree was meant to symbolize the wilderness, a barren and desolate place. Jennifer, whose journey this past year has been a journey of lament, volunteered to create the weeping women. She began by painting a woman’s weeping face on black cloth. As she painted, she prayed with the text of Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones. “Can these bones live?” God asked Ezekiel and Jennifer.

Jennifer explains, “As I painted and prayed, I thought of the people without hope and people that suffer daily without relief.  I thought of people in constant pain, physical and heart.  Pain that is unbearable.  That is the kind of pain when you want mountains to fall on you.  The pain so great that you want it to end.  I began to think about the heart wrenching pain of the weeping women.  They were weeping for Jesus.  Ripped in their hearts for the pain of the suffering Christ; like a mother in anguish over the physical or spiritual death of her child.”

The team cut down three trees from a wooded backyard and put them into five gallon buckets. They filled the middle tree’s bucket with sand to help the figure of the woman stand in the tree. The two outer trees were plopped into buckets with a few rocks to keep them from falling over. They used duct tape to secure the trees inside the buckets.

Then they draped a long black cloth through the tree as the veil and cloak of the weeping woman. They made tears from plastic bags, blue plastic, and crystal beads. At the base of the middle tree was a puddle of blue cloth, to symbolize a pool of tears. When it was finished, the station truly looked like a barren and desolate place.

And then–

Last Sunday someone noticed that one of the trees in a bucket of stones had started to bloom.

As I stood marveling at the blooming dead tree, a verse from Isaiah 53 came to mind: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.”

Next week we will remember Jesus’ death and we will celebrate His resurrection. In the meantime, we have a visual reminder in our sanctuary that we worship a God who brings dead things to life again. It makes me wonder, “What dead places are our tears watering today, that will one day spring into unexpected bloom?”

If you’d like to see the dead blooming tree, you are invited to come and walk and pray and meditate on the love of God, poured out through Jesus.

Redeemer’s Stations of the Cross will be open during Holy Week:

Redeemer Covenant Church
6951 Hanna Lake Avenue Southeast  Dutton, MI 49316
April 2-6

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 6:30-8:30pm

Monday and Wednesday from 10am-12noon.

Maundy Thursday Tenebrae service at 7pm.

 

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The Gift of the Wilderness

I’m posting this by request. This is a journal entry I wrote a few months ago about God’s work in the wilderness, and I’ve included it in a couple of retreats lately.

The wilderness is the place of solitude and silence where transformation and encounter happen. We don’t end up there by mistake, but by the Spirit’s leading and directing. It’s a place of stripping and strengthening, a place of losing in order to be found. A place of confrontation with all that possesses us and competes for our loyalty, devotion, affection, and attention.

The wilderness is a place of mirrors in which we see ourselves, and windows through which we glimpse God in a new way.

The wilderness is painful because it exposes what is true about us—if we let the Spirit have His way with us there. It’s opportunity for intimacy—where we see how God is reaching for us, longing for us.

The wilderness is a place without masks. The place where we learn what our God-given identity means: what does it really mean for me to live only as “the one God loves, in whom He delights?”

And that journey is unique for each of us.

We don’t choose the desert. The Spirit leads us there. We’d rather avoid it—it’s harsh and uncomfortable and none of my familiar idols or comforts or coping mechanisms are there (or they don’t work there).

But the testing is what strengthens us. We discover what we’re really hungry for. And it’s not just physical food. We discover how God provides everything we need, moment by moment, instead of grasping and grabbing for ourselves. We discover how God is faithful, even when things don’t work out as we hoped, planned, expected, or demanded.

We see how much we crave success or admiration or power or approval. We discover the truth that in our weakness, God’s strength really is made perfect.

The wilderness is where the identity of who we are in Christ really begins to shape us and form us—it moves from an intellectual assent into an experience that affects all of life.

And it changes everything.

May you encounter the God who loves you as you travel in desolate places.

 

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Sunset, Sunrise

I just tried to call the very first phone number I ever memorized, and it has already been disconnected. Tomorrow my parents leave my childhood home in California to move to North Carolina. After almost 50 years in California, it’s a big transition for them. For all of us. When I heard the automated woman declare, “The number you have reached has been disconnected or is no longer in service,” my eyes welled up with tears. I don’t like change. Even when it’s a good change for good reasons.

We had our good-bye trip to SoCal in July, and we went to Disneyland–a treasured place that holds not only many of my own happy memories as a child, but happy memories with our son, David, who turns sixteen today. While we were standing in line for a ride at the park, I talked to a friend about grief and change. “I’ve always been a sunset person,” I told her. “I’m the kind of person who loves to reflect and ponder after something happens. I’m not as good at sunrises. And I sense that God is inviting me to look at how I anticipate the new that will be given after the old passes away.”

As we were leaving the park after midnight, and I was caught up in the emotion over wondering whether this would be our last time there, something extraordinary happened. The cast member at the exit gate was cheerfully saying, “Good morning! Good morning! Have a wonderful day!” I knew it was a word for me. Here I was, grieving over a season that was setting and struggling to look forward to the one that was rising in its place. And I was being reminded to watch for the sun and enjoy the morning.

A friend emailed me this morning, asking how my heart was doing with the change. She said a hymn was coming to mind as she prayed for me today, and she shared the line that was speaking to her: “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.” I hadn’t told her about my sunset/sunrise revelation, and I had the sense as I tearfully read her words that the Holy Spirit was seeing me. Knowing me.

Yes, fast falls the eventide, Lord. But you are with us as we watch for the rising of the new day.

I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
   and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
   more than watchmen wait for the morning,
   more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:5-6)

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A Parable

I was reading through one of my old journals this morning, marveling at everything I’ve forgotten about my life with God, when I came across an entry that particularly grabbed my attention. A friend had told me a parable:

Two monks were standing by a river when a wealthy woman approached and demanded to be carried across. The older monk agreed and carried her on his back across the water. She griped and complained the entire way. When he set her down safely on the other side, she never thanked him before she walked away.

The young monk was indignant the rest of the day, fuming aloud over her ingratitude and rudeness. That night the old monk turned to him and said, “Son, I set that woman down ten hours ago. But you have continued to carry her on your back.”

I didn’t record at the time what prompted my friend to offer me the parable. Maybe she simply saw that I was stooped over.

Lord God, give me the grace to let go of all that weighs me down, yokes me to bitterness, and keeps me from walking freely and lightly with You. In Jesus’ name.

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Averting My Eyes

I admit it. I avoided watching the news yesterday. I couldn’t handle the graphic images of the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan. I couldn’t bear to watch the terror unfold in real-time Twitter and Facebook updates. I couldn’t bear the images captured on cell phones as cars with people in them were being swept away.

I’m sorry. I couldn’t.

God knows I’m a Highly Sensitive Person: an “HSP.” If you don’t know about HSP’s, or if you suspect you might be one, you can Google it. You can even take an on-line assessment. If there were a category of highly Highly Sensitive People, I’d be in it. That framework helps me understand a lot about the way I live (and have lived my life). No joke: my first recorded sentence in my baby book is, “You hurt my feelings.”

So I protect myself from things that have the power to disturb me. I cry at commercials. I refuse to watch heart-breaking movies. I  prefer to live in a bubble-wrapped, hand over the eyes, head in the sand–you choose the image–world so that I don’t become overwhelmed. I’m self-protecting.

A few weeks ago while I was driving, I saw that I was approaching a dead deer on the side of the road. Normally, I look away.  But this time, I heard the voice of the Spirit say, “Don’t avert your eyes.” So I looked. And predictably, I dissolved in a puddle of tears. I cried for the next twenty minutes.

As I was praying the other day about embarking on my Lenten journey, I asked the Lord to show me where I’m tempted. I immediately heard one word. Only one. Avoidance. I knew it was the Spirit’s voice, because in that instance I felt both the prick of conviction and the liberating joy in knowing that a significant stronghold had just been revealed and named for me.

Ouch and thank You, Lord!

Avoidance. It sums up everything about the ways in which I am tempted. I avoid doing bad because I don’t like to make mistakes, I don’t like to be corrected, I don’t like to be scolded. I avoid speaking the truth because I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings or make them angry. I avoid expressing my anger because it’s easier to be passive aggressive. I avoid doing hard things because I’ve made idols out of my comfort and security.

And the list goes on and on.

I read a wonderful quote a few months ago about the writing process. The author said that as writers, we are invited to journey into the white hot center of ourselves and see what’s true. But often, we flinch. We avert our eyes. The invitation is to make the journey there and see what’s true without looking away. And that takes courage.

So God, give me the courage, not only to look honestly at myself, but to look at this broken, fallen, desperate world with Your eyes of compassion. Help me not to flinch, but to see. To really see. And to pray.

In Jesus’ name.


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A Controlled Burn

Twice a month I meet with a peer group of spiritual directors. Yesterday one of them shared an image that is just too good not to pass along.

We were listening to one of the directors describe a recent session with a directee. Over the past few months, Pam had watched this directee grow in her faith and in her longing for Jesus. But in their latest session together, the directee had returned to some destructive habits and relationships. Pam was discouraged and frustrated.

As we spent some time in prayer for Pam, Mark spoke up. “Here’s the image I’m seeing,” Mark said. “You’re driving along the highway and see a forest fire raging off the side of the road. So you pull over, panicked. You’ve got to call someone, and you don’t have your cell phone with you. Just as you’re standing there wondering what to do, a forest ranger appears. You’re surprised he doesn’t seem panicked about the situation, and he smiles and says, ‘Don’t worry. This is a controlled burn. We’ve had this planned for a while.'”

What a beautiful, profound image.

We’re so quick to try to label things as “positive” and “negative.” But often what we label “destructive” is a holy fire safely held in the hands of a loving God–a God who is vigorously committed to our freedom, growth, and conformity to Christ.

As I pondered that imagery this morning, the lyrics of an old hymn came to mind:

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” (How Firm a Foundation)

What’s on fire in your life right now? What’s being consumed so that you can be refined?

“Don’t worry,” God says, “This is a controlled burn. I’ve had it planned for a while.”

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The Gift of Community

One of my deepest joys is hearing about readers who are connecting with one another to pursue spiritual formation together. Just yesterday I heard about a book club that has decided to form a sacred journey group in which they can open their hearts and spirits to one another in authentic and life-giving ways. Praise God! God creates us for community. At the very beginning of creation, God declared that it was “not good” for us to be alone. God gives us the gift of walking together, of encouraging one another, even of glimpsing the formation of Christ in one another.

This is the story of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel. Mary, having received the angel’s word that she will bear Christ, immediately races to see her cousin, Elizabeth. And Elizabeth immediately recognizes the work of the Spirit in Mary’s life and celebrates it. Elizabeth offers the encouragement we all need when we are waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled: “Yes, the Spirit is doing something new in you! I hear it. I glimpse it. Christ is being formed in you. And even if the promise seems impossible, I am with you to affirm it, because God is doing impossible things for me, too.”

This is the gift of group spiritual formation. This is the gift of opening ourselves to one another in community. Henri Nouwen, whose work has had an enormous impact on me over the years, writes, “How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it? We cannot live this new life alone. God does not want to isolate us by his grace. On the contrary, he wants us to form new friendships and a new community–holy places where his grace can grow to fullness and bear fruit.”

And here’s a prayer from Nouwen, which expresses my hope for each of us as we open ourselves to God’s transforming work:

O God, when we feel isolated and want to withdraw, help us by the grace of Jesus to reach out to others.

May you, like Mary, not only have the courage to say yes to God’s work, but also the desire to seek and find the gift of companionship as Christ is formed in you.


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Wakened from Sleep

Yesterday the “real Sensible Shoes Club” sat and prayed with Zechariah 4:1-10.

The angel who talked with me came again and wakened me, as one is wakened from sleep. He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it; there are seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And by it there are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No my lord.” He said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'”

Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumbline in the hand of Zerubbabel.

It’s funny. I had intended to start the reading at verse 6: the “not by might, not by power” part. That’s the best-known portion of this passage. I expected that I would land there, as God frequently reminds me that I am to do His work by His strength.

Instead, I ended up meditating on the very beginning of the passage: the “wakened from sleep” part.

It occurred to me as I listened to the text that what we have in those first few verses is a picture of spiritual formation. God invites us to keep awake. And when we inevitably drift into drowsy spiritual dullness, the Spirit awakens us again–awakens us to see, perceive, and understand the movement and work of God.

“What do you see?” the angel asks Zechariah. But the question comes only after Zechariah is awake.

It brings to mind Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John have traveled to the top of the mountain with Jesus. Luke tells us, in language pregnant with meaning, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory.” (Luke 9:32) Some translations say, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw His glory.”

I’m comforted to know that Jesus’ inner circle, His close companions, struggled with drowsiness. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus poured out His prayer with sweat and blood, the three of them couldn’t stay awake.

I wonder, what glimpses of God’s glory have I missed because I was too sleepy to watch and pray and see?

Zechariah, awakened by God’s messenger, sees what God desires for him to see. But he doesn’t understand what it means. That’s the next movement of being awake in the Spirit. God enables us to see, and God invites us to ask the meaning of what we see. We wrestle, we chew, we meditate, we pray, and God in His mercy reveals His heart and plans and purposes to us as we wait and listen.

Advent. A season filled with temptations to drift into busyness and spiritual dullness. The Spirit longs to awaken us from auto-pilot, quicken our attention, and help us see Jesus’ glory, even in the ordinary circumstances of our lives.

Are we awake? Are we paying attention? Are we sitting still long enough to listen to the Word made flesh?

Lord Jesus, awaken us and give us eyes to see Your glory.

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