Monthly Archives: August 2015

Entering Rest in the Midst of Calendar Chaos

IMG_0936It’s the first week of the academic year and with it brings two welcome cookouts for UC Christian Grads, a prayer gathering, meetings with ministry partners, and continued planning. For the first time in several months I’ll be immersed in interactions with students and faculty nearly every day. I’m looking forward to each appointment on my calendar – along with the ones not scheduled. Even as I’m eager to step into this work, I’m also leery. In this chaotic mess of activity I can often lose myself and the purpose of all this activity. Then at the end of the semester I look back and wonder what happened. But that’s not the way I want to begin the year – flailing around for a solid landing place that never appears. No, I want to step out from a firm foundation.

So, before I drive across the bridge over the Ohio River into Cincinnati, I stop at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington.

Opening the solid, wooden doors I am surrounded by a quiet comfort. The firmness of the stone, the height of the vaulted ceilings, the diffused light through the stained glass, the muffled sound of the traffic, and the light scent of incense and candles invites me to rest even in the midst of work. This is a place of refuge in which my thoughts turn to God instead of my calendar.

Slowly I walk in front of the altar, across the marble floors to the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Sliding into the back pew I sit and close my eyes to rest in this space and allow it to speak to me. Opening my eyes I gaze at the jeweled-toned stained glass before me: an image of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. God met them in that place abundantly and in ways they never imagined – manna raining down, water gushing out, and God’s presence in the light and cloud surrounding the tabernacle. The desperation of the people was heard and met.

But the story told on the walls in this small chapel doesn’t end here. On the side walls murals by Frank Duveneck portray Jesus – sacrificing himself on the cross as the bread of life and breaking bread three days later with two disciples in Emmaus. In these images we see how God himself became the bread to feed us, in a fuller and more lasting way than with manna.

Sitting here I am able to focus again on the truth that Jesus is our living bread, our true source of nourishment. Since I’m prone to want to feed myself, I need to hear these words over and over. I need to stop kneading the dough of my life to death and, instead, hold out my hands to the living bread.

The readings from the past Sunday undergird these musings:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! – Psalm 34:8

I sit and feed on these words and images until it’s time to leave. Then, I take a last look around and walk through the nave noticing the banks of candles lit by previous visitors. Others who have taken refuge and encountered the bread of life in this space. I don’t know how the others left – in hope or despair.

As for me, this place as helped me remember that solid foundation that undergirds all this activity. And not just remember, but rest in the foundation of Christ. Walking out of the doors, I now see the food I’m purchasing for the cookout tonight as not one more task to finish, but part of a larger story of following Jesus and inviting others to come along.

Let the feast begin!

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Hitting the Wall and Breaking Out

IMG_2772It’s been a rough summer and several weeks ago I hit a wall. As usual I had a task list ready and knew what needed to get done to reach a set of goals. There weren’t any outside meetings to get in the way of completing the list that Thursday. Yet, I couldn’t . . . push . . . through . . .. Most of the morning I just read and re-read the list. Some internal barrier was stopping me.  I kept thinking that if I can just get through this list, then I could rest. But there was always another list.

The problem wasn’t so much in the lists, as in the thinking that I was alone responsible for accomplishing everything. Eventually the tasks had become so disparate that I didn’t see the larger vision of why I was doing them and I didn’t see the One behind it all. No wonder I hit a wall. For days on end these tasks became bricks that I thought I were adding to an expansive vision of life, when in reality I was walling myself into a solitary cell.

Gradually each task became a burden and I started living as if once I got through them I’ll then be good enough to connect with God or with others. Until then, it was just me on my own. In my mind I knew this was wrong and pictured the abundant life God promises, but my actions belied belief.

Fortunately, hitting the wall led me to see that I needed to somehow get out. Instead of thinking that I was building a life on my own, I needed to stand alongside others in its building. Nehemiah uses the phrases “Next to them” and “After” over 25 times in Nehemiah 3 to indicate a continuous line of people repairing the walls of Jerusalem, one next to / after the other. Here was a wall that was being built for a larger vision and drew people together.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. – Nehemiah 2:18

I needed to see that larger vision. So, I took a day off. No looking at task lists or e-mails. I slowly got ready and went for a walk then headed to the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky to pray in this space of quiet expanse. Afterwards I walked around the Cincinnati Art Museum for an hour. Not honing in on any specific work, but reveling in the beauty and craft of the paintings and sculptures. My breathing slowed and shoulders lowered. I could look and enjoy. Be inspired. Receive new breath from the work of others and from the beauty that God has created all around us. A quiet lunch and a stroll through Ault Park rounded out the afternoon.

Going home my trained mind wanted to return that list and find commendation in doing something. Maybe I would start cleaning. But I had to say no. This constant treadmill of trying to keep up with work was not life giving. I needed to think of other ways to fill time set aside for rest. Reading, writing, and organizing photos from a pilgrimage last summer took up the rest of the day. In these activities I found rest and started to again see a larger picture of the work before me, before all of us.

With a new view and breath, I am looking at these tasks differently. Not as a list to plow through, but as opportunities to serve God, one another, and enjoy life together.

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Stepping into Fundraising and Finding God’s Refuge

IMG023Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
– Psalm 61:2-3

These past months have been a real challenge as I raise financial support to serve with InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty ministry in Cincinnati. Asking people for money is not a natural gift.

However, I’m told it’s not about asking for money, it’s asking people to partner in ministry. A ministry that I and many others want to see thrive and in which I see God’s hand at work Also, in reality, I’m not the one raising support, God as always, is the ultimate provider.

While one part of my brain assents to these idea, the materially conditioned part of my brain becomes overwhelmed with the numerical goal and what it’s likely to take to reach it. So many letters, e-mails, phone calls, meetings, . . .

In this world I waiver between two extremes. First, trust God fully that the support will come. Sounds good, and it’s biblical. But, sometimes I use this as an excuse to sit back and wait – excusing myself from any role in this work. Or, second, do the work and trust myself In this mode I find myself worried about not reaching the goal and trying to figure out ways to convince people to give. It feels awful.

Slowly (painfully slowly), I’m learning to trust that God is at work in raising this support as I step out to share about the ministry. In this stepping out, I see how God is working and, more importantly, how his Word is changing me. Sometimes I fall flat on my face, sometimes I feel rejected. Other times I’m surprised at the interest people have and their faithfulness in walking in God’s ways whether they decide to offer financial support or not.

Part of the change in my life is a growing awareness of my brokenness. It’s becoming clear that I think and act as if I’m the one in control more than I ever thought. Each week I detail a task list and make plans to complete the work ahead – calls, ministry plans, visits. I don’t even feel worthy of praying until some work is completed and I can show God that I’m diligent and deserve a reward. Once I finish I can then go before God and thank him for the way he followed through on my plans. As you can see, all the emphasis is on me.

Eventually, I find myself crying out in frustration and weariness. Retuning to God with my head bent low and hands held out as a beggar. As one who cannot do this work, or any, on her own. As he then lifts me to the “rock higher than I” I am open to hearing words like Paul’s”

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. – 2 Cor 9:8

God’s grace will provide the needs for every good work – those works God prepared in advance for us (Eph 2). However, those needs may not be what I see as the needs. So all I can do is step out and embrace the sufficiency and the work that God provides.

Through these days and weeks ahead I know I’ll continue making mistakes. Even so, I pray that each step will be towards God who will lead me to His refuge instead of towards a refuge and path I design myself.

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