Hearing God's Voice In The Valley of Suck

I won’t lie.  Writing has not come so easy as of late.  I get the writer’s block angle but it is not just this, I think it is the journey.  It is dealing with the long, tiring slog full of fits and starts in the valley of suck.  

Yesterday, my kids and I visited a church that was new to us.  We are doing a lot of visiting of churches together.  I am finding this to be really good for us as a family.  Not only do we have time together but I get a chance to teach them and they can experience, just how big Jesus’ Church really is!

During the service, I was led from being a parent caring for his kids and a pastor observing the flow and experience, to being part of the worshipping congregation.  The second song of the morning (which I didn’t know before Sunday) brought me to tears as the words eloquently described the wonder of what the Wesleyan-Methodist movement terms “prevenient grace.”  Take a listen if you have time:

“His careful hands they hold us
Safe within His promise
Of calling and of destiny
I will sing of all You've done
I'll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end”

Just to clarify, “prevenient” is just a descriptive word (not found in scripture) to describe the grace (revealed in scripture) at work when we are completely clueless of God working (John Calvin, I believe, describes a similar grace termed “common grace”).

Now, I am not nor have I been, clueless to the reality God has been at work in my life and all around me.  I do not question “...God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).”  

Here is one of the many problems of pulling out this verse too early as a means of comfort for many people in deep grief: we don’t care.

I’ve noted some other things before such as I do not believe God took my wife and the mother of my children.  She died because she (and we) are mortal creatures - mortal because of the soul wound which we suffer with since Genesis 3.  She did not die because there was not enough prayers or some secret, unconfessed sin.  Please. Spare us all - you did not know my wife that well and God did not put some secret wisdom on your heart (that reeks of the heresy of gnosticism. Sorry, but it does).

In the midst of great grief, there is not space in a heart to deal with any mystery more than the death of a loved one, in my case, my spouse.  There is mystery enough abounding in our lives as we witness physical life ending for the person we know best.  There are multiple questions abounding but no answer ought to be expected (even if we act like it would help). But really, we don't care if God has a plan or not for things to work good. It hurts. We weep because we know pain and loss. We sob because we are human - and we have lost. There will come a day when we can wonder about God's purpose - but the day will be a day when WE are ready.

It has been over four months now.  And it was not until yesterday, singing and seeing the words of "Faithful Till The End," when I got an answer (or maybe more of a non-answer/answer).  It was not the WHOLE answer.  I am not expecting it and to expect it, would just be silly.  But it was the start of God responding. I have been praying and seeking and waiting for God to say something.

It was like, well, it was like writing.  God gave me the first sentence of the larger answer.  It was God saying, “Look back.  I know you know but look anyway. - I was there.  I came to you. I was there with Heather and you know she is with me...AND I am with you and your kids now.  I have more to say but today, this is all you need.”

Grief is a tremendously long journey.  No one has to know how God is going to work suffering and pain for good in our lives.  I would argue, it may not even be good for us to know too soon.   Humanity needs humility.  Death brings us all to the same place. Humanity has yet to find a cure for death and for all the stories of mythical fountains of youth, we are not going to find what we want. And though we don’t get what we want, in God’s promises and God's actions, we can find what we need.

“Faithful to the End” is the song quoted:

Picture Used with permission:

Becoming More Mindful Through the Valley of Suck

Respect your elders.

It is an idea which has gone by the wayside.  I know for me, it was marked by how I addressed adults: “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am.”  While there might be a perception youth today don’t respect because those are not commonly heard, respecting elders has more to do with a mindset.  Respect also has to be earned.  Not surprisingly, many young people question whether some of their elders are deserving of unquestioning respect when those behaviors don’t warrant it.

My elders taught me to be respectful but they also taught me to ask questions...let me rephrase that, they taught me to ask good questions.

By that, I don’t mean they taught me to just blanket question everything out of some neurotic need to justify my place in the world or to be part of a movement to deconstruct systems and beliefs.  The model of questioning Jesus gives us is one, I think, calls us to explore not destroy and it requires listening as much as, or more so than it requires us to speak.  Matthew 5:17 records one of the most relevant statements of Jesus on this point when he said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

I’ve written about elsewhere about the desert mothers and fathers of the early centuries of the church.  Dr. Roberta Bondi has been a true gift to the Church in helping recover their wisdom (see To Love as God Loves).  But more than that, she has been a mentor to me in learning to “respect my elders” and learn their ways.  One help in that has been reading from the Philokalia, a collection of the teachings of many of these writings and an important text for the Orthodox Traditions of the Church.

Journeying through the valley of suck, that place of struggle and pain many caregivers experience, is a place of soul searching.  Honestly, it takes you down into the darkest regions of your soul if you let it.  To offer your life to care for someone at the end of their life, especially a spouse, is a place where you come to question many of your own convictions and motivations.  It can be a very spiritual place to say the least.

The desert mothers and fathers wrote frequently for the Christian to be “mindful” and practice “watchfulness.”  They did not intend this to be some obsessive behavior either; not another “to-do list” of a pharisee lifestyle.  It comes out of love for God which pours out of our hearts - even our intellects - as we come to desire all God offers to us.  Of course, they also didn’t live in our fast food - made to order - microwaveable culture.  

We have little patience for...well, patience.

They encourage us to unceasing prayer, a “prayer that does not leave the soul day or night.  It consists not in what is outwardly perceived...but in our inner concentration on the intellect’s activities and on mindfulness of God born of unwavering compunction…” (Nikitas Stithatos, Philokalia, pg 101).  The Jesus Prayer is the foundational practice of these elders but any prayer issuing from our hearts desire for God would be acceptable as well.  

What is encouraged here is for us to begin actively participating in our faith; to listen and learn from the Spirit of God living within us.  Our tendency seems to be that of trusting only those we know - the popular, the current, those with a good marketing plan and slick graphic arts.  We listen to voices that sound like us without trusting our elders because, well, they're old...ancient even!  They use words unfamiliar to our vernacular.  Well, thank goodness there is Google!  Besides looking for new cat videos and pictures, you can look up some of those less common words and begin discovering what our elders really would like us to know.

I can say, as I have made the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers part of my life, I find mindfulness and watchfulness not a burden but habit and behavior far more easily practiced...almost like checking e-mails or Twitter.  There is LIFE in coming to respect our elders, in our true elders, those whose desire centuries ago was to pass on what they had learned.

May I Suggest? Take up praying this week's breath prayer at the top of the blog. Consider that by making any breath prayer a habit, it in fact, teaches you mindfulness. By calling on Jesus, we invite His presence to be more alert to the temptations with face AND the grace given to overcome.

#Simplespirituality: Creating your own Breath Prayer

“If we are bored by our own prayers, it is unlikely that God will be very interested in them,” Simon Tugwell (10, “Prayer in Practice”)   

You don’t know me and I do not know you, but I suspect, when it comes to the life of prayer, there is part of you, at some time in your life, got bored with prayer.  I don’t know if this is right now for you or not.  But it is my hope and prayer, as you read through my notes (raw and unedited) if nothing else, you leave here with a prayer you are not bored to pray.

I think our problems with prayer starts with a desire to want to keep the supernatural; the spiritual; under our control.  This isn’t odd though because we generally like to keep everything under our control.  In his class on the Old Testament, Dr. John Oswalt taught us a great deal regarding the Ancient Near Eastern cult religions.  All of these cults are based off the idea of man “discovering” gods and making sense of their world by rituals intended to control these gods.

But in the Judeo-Christian tradition we have recorded that it is God who initiated, God who reached out, and God who first loved.  We understand Scripture to be a result primarily of revelation and not evolution.  The Wesleyan-Methodist concept of “prevenient grace” the grace that “goes before” makes this a vital foundation to prayer:  God speaks first.  What we do is a response to God’s action.  And the conversation that begins between us and God?  That is prayer.

In his book “Shattered Dreams,” Dr. Larry Crabb makes the observation: “It is in the pain that we discover our desire for God.”  Now, pain can take on MANY forms.  The pain that drives us toward God maybe related to work, to family, to faith, to health, and the list goes on.  For me, you can combine all of these and a few more but none so transformative as being my wife’s caregiver and living through her death from colon cancer after a 20 month battle with the disease.

Pain and prayer have gone hand in hand for sometime.  And in observing the life of Jesus and the lives of the saints, both those who lived by the Law of the Old Covenant and those who followed Jesus after the New Covenant, we find their spiritual lives governed by a more simple spirituality.  Jesus sums up the Law:  
Matthew 22:35-40 ESV  And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  (36)  "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?"  (37)  And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38)  This is the great and first commandment. (39)  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40)  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

While we Methodists point to a number of practices which fall under the title of “Means of Grace,” in his sermon by the same title, John Wesley points out three practices: Prayer, Scripture, and Communion as the primary practices for us to grow in faith.

We are not given the gift of an abundance of time today so we are limited to one of these, and by request, it is on prayer.  But let me put out one idea which does apply to them all that being:“Practices of Faith, practiced when we choose, are practices available when life does not go as we choose.”  My practice of the Jesus Prayer and breath prayers, is one example.

As part of my first 5 Day Academy of Spiritual Formation in 2011, we were encouraged to read, “The Way of A Pilgrim.”  It is a spiritual classic from the Eastern tradition of the Church, by Eastern, I mean the Orthodox Tradition.  It tells the story of a pilgrim who learns to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  I began praying it and found it a wonderful gift and way to pray.  As honest confession, I had long struggled with praying until reading this book and learning to pray.

A couple of years later, I learned of about breath prayers.  A way to pray based off the idea of the Psalms and the Jesus Prayer.  Rev. Ron DelBene, and Episcopal clergy, wrote a series of books on it called “The Breath of Life” Series.  From this point, I have continued to explore breath prayer as a more active and dynamic practice.

When we read and study the narrative of Jesus’ life and teachings, we often neglect, I think, to point out the ongoing practice which has been so much a part of our Methodist-Wesleyan tradition: Jesus was an itinerate teacher.  He was always going from town to town, synagogue to synagogue and venturing across the waters ways of Israel.  Today, we are more stagnate and passive, not only in our lives but also in our faith practices.

My daughter, Jay, and I were planning to start section hiking the summer of 2014.  We had planned to do 50 miles of the Georgia section that first time out.  In preparation, I debated about what to carry - namely to take a Bible and/or devotional.  But it was “The Way of a Pilgrim” that won out.  No, I didn’t take the book, I took the narrative - I simply took the practice of the Jesus Prayer.  

Up and down the mountains of the AT, I prayed the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  That was it.  But what BEGAN happening was far more personal and transformative.  I began to breath it in and out and meditate on each phrase, then each word.  The rhythm of my feet, my heart, my mind and my soul came to resonate with it.  This is what the pilgrim spoke about = coming to “pray without ceasing”

Abba Matoes, one of the early desert fathers of the church, said, “The nearer a man draws to God, the more he sees himself a sinner.  It was when Isaiah the prophet saw God, that he declared himself, “a man of unclean lips.”’ (Isaiah 6:5)  It is hard to miss that truth over the many steps taken saying you are a sinner.

It is also hard to miss the power and magnificence of the word, “Mercy.”  Just that one word becomes a prayer too.  And suddenly, you have the basis for another form of Simple Prayer called “Centering Prayer.”  Referring to the book, “The Cloud of Unknowing (Ch 37),” Simon Tugwell mentions how powerful a one word exclamation can be: “Fire!” yelled by someone running from a burning home is sufficient for a response.  Consider simply “AMEN” and how it is traditionally defined to mean “So be it” or “I agree” or “Lord, make it so.” (9/29/16. http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/amen/), it becomes a prayer. Pick any word found in Scripture: Love - Peace - Patience - Faith - Hope - Grace - Jesus - Savior - Spirit: each word, like MERCY, holds a multitude of prayers to be considered.

In just a few moments, we’ll work on a simple pattern for creating your own breath prayer.  My first breath prayer that I used for some time was “Our Father, my God, grant me you.”  But when my wife’s diagnoses came, and I began a journey into what I call "the valley of suck," this prayer seemed so lacking and I chose to go back to praying the Jesus Prayer.  And it was in this STEPPING BACK INTO the practice of the Jesus Prayer, I saw it as a way to INTERCEDE for others especially my wife: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on Heather.”  I would add my kids to my prayers in this way.  

I didn’t have to think of words to say, they came over and over again.  Why?  It is was the practice of being on the trail.  By this time, I was using an Orthodox Prayer Rope and then prayer beads.

When Heather and I received the news in January that her cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy, we were both heartbroken.  As I prayed I found something new rising in me and from it came a new breath prayer: “Jesus, have mercy and grant me comfort.”  It too became a prayer of intercession for Heather and our kids.  Most days, my prayer boiled down to and still does, to “Jesus have mercy” or “Mercy Lord.”

And, this began a pattern of listening to the Spirit more regularly for how I might pray, what is it that I feel or experience a burden for?  It is not just from my heart either, as the Psalms and other scriptures provide guidance as well for how you might pray.  

These steps are nothing magical.  They come in part from Ron DelBene’s pattern but let me say, if you’re attentive to God’s voice, you may find breath prayers coming from other sources.

  1. SIT with God
Find a good time and space where you seem to most connect with God.  However, sitting with God may include other activities.  It is just a way of saying “be aware” of God.  The Spirit of God can speak anywhere.

  1. SENSE God speaking
Ignatius of Loyola was a big proponent of using our imagination in spiritual practice.  Imagine God is speaking and asking: “What do you want?”  But listen carefully too.  God may also be asking you to pray something specifically.  God may say, “This what you are to pray,” or “Look for my words to your prayer.”

  1. SHARE with God
This is practicing “active listening” with God.  Whether it is a word like “mercy” or “forgiveness” that comes or a Bible verse, what resonates with your soul?  This is largely the time of forming the core of your prayer, what the Spirit is speaking to you.

  1. SPEAK God’s name
What is the name of God which fits best your prayer?  That may seem odd.  Ron DelBene encourages the reader to think of a favorite name but I try to consider the wealth of names which are available OR the one which fits the tone or meaning of the prayer.  “Savior” may not be a significant as using “Spirit.”  

  1. SETTLE on a prayer
Here you put it together: the prayer with the name of God.  Speak it out loud.  Chew on it quietly.  Consider its rhythm and where God’s name fits best.  Be willing to change it as you continue to pray it and learn from God.

In the sidebar of my blog are samples of breath prayers. Each week, I take time to listen to the Spirit and my heart and have conversation with God. Using these practices and others, I consider what is a prayer for my week. I share these through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (look up "jedipastorken") and if they are helpful, I encourage you to take them and share them but more importantly, to pray them. Whatever you do, I encourage you most of all to just pray but don't pray boring prayers!

Here are further links you might find helpful.
Ron DelBene's Site  For downloads of Ron's books and links to his YouTube Videos.  

Prayerworks Studio  For the writings and prayer beads of my friend Kristen Vincent.  If you're interested in prayer beads, start here.

JEDIPASTORKEN on YOUTUBE  I have a number of resources here on my blog but also I'm over on YouTube and here is one of my videos giving a quick overview of prayer.

In Defense of Pity Parties

Blessed.  That was the sticker on the car I read as it passed me.  It is not the first time I had seen someone with a sticker stating this.  It has always bothered me I think because most of the time these are placed on really nice cars, usually one I cannot afford.  On this day, it struck me as particularly bothersome.  You see, my son recently made a statement that really hit me hard, he said, “Nothing good ever happens to our family.”

As much as I wanted to argue the point, in truth, I could not.  Both my kids are in the valley of suck too. I lost my wife and my kids lost their mom. I don't know what that is like but I know it sucks.  And you know, a lot of days I agree with him and this was one of those days.  Do good things happen to our family?  Sure and a lot of times, I would start out giving him a list of things but on this day it was too much.

It was a pity party kind of day.  It was a day in the valley of suck and my son named it.  But I cannot help think about what our problem is with naming moments in life for what they are?  I do not mean just society, I mean Christians too: what is our deal?  Can we really not be honest with the reality our lives can be excruciatingly hard?  That some days, the valley of suck really sucks?  How about just naming a bad day for what it is and throwing a pity party?  

I am standing up today in defense of pity parties.

It bothers me to think our Christian faith is measured in what we have or do not have.  If you’re spending any time in the Lectionary readings of recent weeks that come from Luke’s gospel, then you’ll see Jesus has a real issue with measuring or relying on material wealth as a sign of being right with God or being blessed.  

Very telling is this week’s reading is from Luke 16:19-31 and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.  As I read multiple commentaries, I am amazed, going back even to Martin Luther, the focus seems to be still on what the parable says about heaven and hell.  But the context has NOTHING to do with that!  A quick glance at the context in Luke 16:14 says clearly this parable has to do with coveting and trusting in riches for our hope. The engineering of heaven and hell isn't the main point.

Our passion for positivity runs so deep it seems to me people now even struggle to live with the simple empathy which Paul challenges the Roman Christians to emulate when he says,
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.“ (Romans 12:15-16 ESV)

The writers of the wisdom of the Old Testament seem to have had little issues with expressing their pain and having pity parties regularly before God. “Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me! (Psalms 142:6 ESV)” is just one of the many cries.  This does not include the writings of the prophets which share the trials and difficulties of those who sought after God and proclaimed God’s message relentlessly and knew pain and suffering intimately.  

Do all good gifts come from God?  Scripture declares it so (James 1:17) but Jesus says that so too does the rain fall on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:44-46)

Blessed you say?  Why?  Because of wealth that God has given you?  In light of the varying statements of Scripture text that seemingly contradict one another, maybe the Spirit is pointing to a more profound truth - a middle way (which is often maligned these days from every side)?

It seems to me a more Christian response might be to have a sticker which says “Content.” Maybe that is just not good marketing though? At issue is that we find this idea throughout Scripture too: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (Philippians 4:11; see also 1 Timothy 6:8 and Hebrews 13:5)).”  Go look it up if you must but I find it means exactly what we think it does in the New Testament Greek.

I defend the pity party because we’ve defended for too long the idea of “Be Happy” theology as the way to discern God’s presence in our lives. That is, a theology that all God wants is us to be happy and well off and without worry to determine if it is God’s will.  I’d prefer a middle ground somewhere along the way but to do it, we need to make space for a Savior who, “...has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58).”  The Church and Christians need to come to grips with a God who became like us; not like the U.S.  We need to tailgate less and throw pity parties a bit more.  

I am not saying it is necessary to give up everything to follow Jesus but I can tell you it is in the realm of possibilities because he told someone else to do it (Luke 18:18-24).  We need a theology which makes room for pity parties alongside all our “blessing bashes.”  There needs to be room enough for those who grieve in the late hours of the night (Psalms 6:6) as there is for those who celebrate in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

So here is to you, all you who are throwing a pity party, go for it!  You may not have a crowd to fill an arena, just be sure to send me an invitation because Jesus will be there and where Jesus is, I want to be too.

Image used with permission http://www.freeimages.com/photo/moon-party-bulgaria-3-1506740 and http://www.freeimages.com/photo/homeless-and-ad-1437644

The Valley of Suck Makes a Great Runaway Truck Ramp

The experiences which I and my family have endured over the past few years, most notably, the death of my wife, Heather, have all acted as sort of a runaway truck ramp on a mountain road.  We regularly drive up into the mountains of north Georgia and North Carolina and drive past the giant “sand traps” built to stop a semi-truck.  I have never seen a truck use one but I can imagine it would be quite a sight. But what about in our lives? I think that this suffering, pain, and struggle, acts in many ways like the runaway truck ramp. I have been forced to a stop in my life; no longer am I able to just take off and go about doing things my own way. Sometimes, I am even forced onto a path I would never have taken if I could have seen the signs sooner.

Here, most recently, I have found myself forced to examine the faults of another.  This is never a place which I like to be but I have really had no choice.  This is no “straw-man” argument it is simply my being careful and it really doesn’t have to do with that person anyway.  It is the old adage, “If you point your finger at someone else there will be three fingers pointing at you.”

As has been my practice in recent weeks, I am being intentional about discerning God’s voice in prayer and fasting.  The tone of the week is often set by the breath prayer which I develop and this week was no different.  The prayer, “Holy God, let holiness and humility grow in equal proportion in me.”  At times, I’ve shortened it to: “Let holiness and humility grow in me.”

On their own, holiness and humility can lead to arrogance, in the case of holiness, and to shame, in the case of humility.  Together, they seem, in my estimation and study of scripture and tradition, to balance each other out.  As I have prayed though, I have felt the scale tip ever so slightly toward humility.  

How do you judge another, in the Christian tradition, without humility?  So much is being made of holiness, whether Scriptural or social, there seems little room for the topic of humility.  In the constant drumbeat for better trained leaders and CEO pastors, there seems little room for humility.  In the debates between Christian conservatives and liberals regarding the correct political candidate, there seems little room for humility.

In the ongoing clamor to determine who is right and who is wrong, I wonder if we have lost sight of who we are trying to be like in the first place?

The late Dr. Robert Mulholland, defined spiritual formation as “the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  There are many ways this process plays out, as many as there are or have been people in the world.  And as I have been forced to make a judgement, I realize, I ought to consider what image am I conveying?  In whose image am I being conformed?

And those questions pointed me to one of the few verses my fragmented mind could recall.  It comes from the book of Hebrews 4:13-16, where the writer declares,
(13) And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (14)  Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  (15)  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  (16)  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

What I hear in these verses is the gentle yet firm reminder, there is only one who is without sin.  In his commentary on Hebrews, Dr. Donald Guthrie reminds us too, “temptation in itself is not sinful (126).”  Tragically, the Biblical record and tradition of the Church (along with experience and reason), indicate “We all have sinned and fallen short…(Romans 3:23)”  In our judgements then, we ought to take into account our own state of our own soul.  

This does not mean I have to forgo the need I had to make a judgement.  It does mean I have to live with it and carry it.  If I am truly in the path of spiritual formation - “being conformed to the image of Christ…” then I had better make note, not just of my own righteousness/holiness unto the Lord, but am I reflecting the humility of Christ Jesus?

I readily admit, my answer to this is in the negative.  I am still upset and angry I was put in the position where I had to make a judgement.  But I also recognize the voice of God speaking in my life through prayer and fasting. I dare not become complacent and live in this self-righteous indignation but temper it with true humility.  For while one’s sin maybe on the outside, and my own on the inside, we have all fallen short of what God intends for us in Jesus Christ.  

The valley of suck - those experiences of pain and suffering that steal joy from our lives - has been a place where your knees get taken out.  The blessing in this is that to be on one’s knees is a symbolic posture of humility.  Maybe I’ll finally learn this is a better place to be if my goal is to be like Jesus.

Image used by permission: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/mountain-road-1257764

Figuring Out the New Normal in the Valley of Suck

It feels a bit odd not writing as I had been over previous weeks.  I was surprised by how healing the process of writing was during the weeks leading to Heather’s death and the weeks after.  There was so much happening and so many emotions and experiences I needed to put down.  I was humbled by the response and the affirmations and for that, I say thank you!  

What seemed so evident (and has continued to feel that way) is there are so many people walking through the “Valley of Suck” that is caregiving and it goes largely unnoticed.  And, in these weeks after, the reality of loneliness and pain experienced by those caregivers, especially widows, and widowers.

It seems rather odd how my very public writings turned quickly toward the interior life in the past few weeks.  It seems a natural transition really.  Unfortunately, it does add to the alienation for many, intended or not.  For me, I made some intentional decisions and these have been, I think, very important with each passing day.  Some are spiritual but others just practical.

1.  Take Time To Discern.  While I’m not writing here as much, I am still writing, and listening, and praying, and reading, and...you get the idea.  When I wrote I would be doing a period of discernment, I wasn’t kidding.  The practices of fasting and prayer have really provided a grounding for me, especially combining weekly breath prayers with the times of fasting.  I think fasting may be getting way off course in over-spiritualizing fasting.  In my experience and reading, fasting comes down to this: obeying God - denying self.  You then are coming to pray doing precisely what God said to do.  God longs for disciples who will trust and obey (I think there is an old hymn by that title as a matter of fact).  God has not failed to show up.

2. Decide to Follow Your Gut.  After a conversation, I made a promise to do things that I needed to do because it was the right time for me.  Getting help going through Heather’s closet was important and it is done.  Putting away certain items or rearranging things for our “new normal” are all important steps.  It isn’t something the kids and I are rushing, but when we feel it is “time,” we do it.  Right then.  When I have done this, I have felt a sense of peace.

3.  Grieve Your Way.  Hear me say this slowly and carefully…


Nobody has the same timetable.  You have no idea how attentive I or anyone else has been to grief and the process.  I don’t mean to be rude...well...maybe a little...but YOU don’t get a say in what I need unless I ask for your opinion.  I have my support system and it has layers.  Not everyone is or can be close enough to have that kind of say.  The same is true for others.  I grieve my way.

4.  Get Help.  I have never backed away from talking about my struggles with clinical depression.  There is a difference between grieving and being depressed.  I can say I am nowhere close to depression.  I got help early and often in coping with Heather’s illness.  Not only did I need it, I knew I would have to be a single parent and I needed to do my grieving well for not just me, but for my kids.  I found a counselor.  If you need it, do it.  Get help.

5. Listen for God.  This is the other part of discernment I thought I better throw in to bookend this short list.  Discernment can become navel-gazing and have more to do with our own needs than anything else.  Listening for God means you have to be intentional about listening to God’s voice.  This is NOT easy work.  A spiritual friend or spiritual director is a valuable part of this time.  This is especially difficult to do if you’ve not heard God’s voice before.  I encourage you to look back at my blog regarding the practice of discernment I’m using.  They work.  There are others mind you, but I chose what might work best for me and I was right.  God has been speaking.  That DOES NOT mean I like what God says but God is talking.

To do this, you are going to have to make some life changes too.  You may not even realize what they might be yet!  I can tell you what things I have changed to make the time possible:
  1. Little to no TV...that includes Netflix and Crackle.  
  2. Dropping back on Facebook...I love FB but it is only on my laptop. No phone or tablet app.
  3. Diet...Learned to eat healthy for my body.  Feels great.
  4. Exercise...again, learned what works for my body and really changed me.
  5. Sleep...when I need it, where I need it.

One final note I’ve learned too, keep God’s voice close to your heart.  Only entrust those messages with your inner circle and ONLY if you think they’ll get what you’re saying.  God is not going to contradict the words of Scripture so DO keep it close.  You gotta remember, though, there is a lot of things we like to ignore that God says.  If you’re listening for God, I can promise, you will hear precisely what you need but likely not what your selfish self wants.

Much love from the valley of suck my friends!

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