One Word: 2017

joy

For the past month, I’ve been up early nearly every morning, quietly reflecting, praying, thinking, reading about this past year and sitting in anticipation for what’s next. I’ve been looking back to remember God’s faithfulness and His closeness through this year. A few of us have made a practice of choosing one word for the year.

My word for 2016 was: with.

I wanted to focus on being with Jesus. I started this year with so much margin, needing time to rest and catch my breath after 2 years of intense ministry and seminary, and my soul craved slow, quiet, time with Jesus.

Immanuel, God with us.

I ended the year after a season of studying, writing, and teaching through Philippians in the midst of infertility treatments, hormone swings, the ups and downs of grief and failed treatments, and this time my soul needed Immanuel, God with us . . . with me.

I made it my aim to keep the main thing, the main thing: being with Jesus.

As the year ends, I’m thinking about what’s next. What will 2017 be about? I have dreams and goals, ideas and plans, of course. But how will I live on purpose this next year? How do I, as Jess Connolly said, “work from rest, instead of rest from work”? I want to stay living close to Jesus, with Him in work and rest, with Him through joy and suffering, with His yoke that is easy, His burden that is light. I want to know His unforced rhythms of grace.

I kept thinking about that word surrender. I want to live surrendered. Seems like after this last season of life, I have nothing left to do but surrender. I started to lean toward that word, making it my aim in 2017 until I realized, I wanted more. I wanted to live surrendered, but I also wanted to live beyond surrender. I wanted the life and life abundant, and I want it now! I know, I’m a greedy little taker.

Because the God I know promises us freedom is found in surrender, yes, but He also promises us abundance, hope, and JOY. We will not be free from suffering this side of heaven, so I wanted to learn how to live with JOY in the midst of suffering.

I studied Philippians for a good portion of 2016, and I found JOY in the midst of suffering. The apostle Paul and Jesus, two men who experienced more suffering on earth than most, and both had JOY. JOY didn’t come after the trial, it didn’t come when circumstances changed or the suffering lifted. It came right there in the midst of suffering. . . because true JOY is found in the presence of Christ.

JOY is found in surrender, in abiding, in delighting, in being with Christ.

I want that. More than anything I want a closeness and a fellowship with Jesus like never before. I want to sit with the Holy Spirit and be comforted and empowered to walk in His strength. I want to know the love of the Father in the deepest way.

I want JOY! And I know where to find it.

As I’ve moved on from Philippians, a study we titled “Joy in All Things”, and moved right into James, guess what I found?

Joy . . . and . . . suffering.

Right there, from the very beginning, another author telling us how to find joy—to consider it all joy, when we’re in trials.

There’s a mingling of suffering and joy, side by side, they dance together. So if we surrender to knowing we won’t escape suffering, than we can also surrender to knowing we’ll find JOY, right there in the midst. Joy in the presence of Jesus.

That’s what I want 2017 to be about.

 

 

 

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Permission to Ask the Hard Questions

This year will be full.  I refuse to say “busy” because that’s a bad word in my vocabulary, so I like to use busy’s more attractive cousin, “full”.

Life will be full.

I’m starting seminary, working full time at the church now, teaching reading intervention a few hours a week, and continuing with all my usuals: bible study, maintaining friendships, keeping up the house, etc.  Santino is still working a lot and doing all of his other stuff like life group, reading, and most importantly playing tennis with our neighbor 😉

And we’re still walking through infertility.

And life.

And all the stuff that comes along that we can’t calendar.

So I’ve been intentional about asking people to speak into my life.

I’ve sat with a friend and given her full permission to call me out, speak truth, and ask the hard questions.

And not just “How are things going?  How’s work?”  Anyone can ask that.  I can answer those easily without telling you how I’m REALLY doing or confess that Santino & I ate left over bruschetta and string cheese for dinner last night because, I’m the worst.

I’ve given her permission to ask me things like:

How’s your marriage?

How’s your time with the LORD?

What are you learning in God’s word?

Are you sleeping?

Have you cooked dinner at all this month?  Something besides bean burritos?

And then she can slap me upside the head if I try to lie or skirt around the issue.

I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.  I don’t want to do more than I can handle.  But I also don’t want to sit back and not do what the LORD has for me.  I want to depend on the Holy Spirit, not ease and comfort.  I don’t mind spending my life exhausted for His name sake.

But, I don’t want all that I’m doing to interfere with my relationship with my husband or my relationship with God.

I’ll quit everything before those things happen.

So I’m trying to be intentional and aware and invite people in to ask those hard questions.

What about you?  Do you have people in your life that can ask you the hard questions?  About your marriage?  Your life?  Not just your favorite tv show or work, but the deep/real/meaningful stuff.

Let’s not hide behind the easy stuff in 2014. 

Let’s give permission to others to ask hard questions, and learn to do the same.

Let’s live in the light, of confession and grace, honesty and vulnerability.

Let’s stop pretending “everything’s fine” and learn to walk in real community.

That’s one of my goals for 2014 . . . more than getting an A in my seminary class or checking off another full work week from my calendar . . . real, authentic, honest community.  The kind that helps me grow spiritually and deepen my relationship with God and with others.

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If you are looking for more resources about how to be intentional with your spiritual growth this year, check out anantomyofadisciple.com

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Brad Bell and Rick Taylor have just released 2 books that will encourage this honest community and foster spiritual growth.  They’ve also developed an online assessment that will help you identify specifically where/how to grow spiritually.

Let’s make 2014 a year of being intentional about asking the hard questions & making steps to grow spiritually.

My Hopes for 2014: Extraordinary & Ordinary

Yesterday, I fell asleep to the memory of the night we ate pizza in Jerusalem.

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I don’t know if it was because I just finished Shauna Niequist’s book Bread & Wine, where she reminds us that life, deep-rich-meaningful-life, happens around a table or because I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown, where he travels all around the world to eat food in exotic places; whatever it was, I had pizza and I had Jerusalem on my mind.

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We had been in Israel for eight days and by this point, we were stretched physically and mentally . . . sometimes hiking 10 miles a day, in the wretched heat. We were learning about these incredible sites where the fathers our faith walked, we were standing where Jesus stood, walking where he walked, and learning where he taught.

But nothing, nothing, compared to standing in Jerusalem. The City of the King, the place where the Temple was built and destroyed, where the last parts of the Western Wall remained.

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The place where a city is divided between Jewish quarter, Christian quarter, and Muslim quarter. The place where Christ will come again. Really, the most extraordinary place on Earth. Full of history and prophecy, riches and poverty, love and hate.

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We not only wanted to learn our bibles on this trip, we wanted to learn the culture. What does Jerusalem, this extraordinary city, look like during the day? At night? So we set out to do what our guides warned us about, we ventured into the city of Jerusalem at night. To share a meal with friends from our trip.

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We found ourselves in the Jewish quarter, next to a synagogue and all kinds of shops, and sat down at a restaurant. Everyone ordered drinks and dinner, and then in the most extraordinary place, we did the ordinary . . .

We people-watched.

We ate dinner.

We talked.

We laughed.

We prayed.

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It felt so ordinary. Just sitting in Jerusalem, eating pizza. Until I realized just hours before we were literally standing on the Temple Mount, touching the Western Wall, the closest place to the Holy of Holies, praying side-by-side with devout Jews.

We were in a sacred place. A holy place. Perhaps the most meaningful place for the future of Christians. And I was eating pizza, watching people dance around at a bar mitzvah.

The most ordinary, eating pizza, in the extraordinary, the heart of Jerusalem near the Holy of Holies.

The ordinary meets extraordinary.

I wondered if this was much like Jesus life? In the morning healing the sick, casting out demons, teaching the multitudes, then at night, heading over to Mary and Martha’s for dinner. Just an ordinary dinner with friends, where he’d laugh, pray, eat good food, talk about scripture . . .

Were there parts of Jesus life that were just ordinary? Were his days a blend of the extraordinary & ordinary? Was this God-Man marked with a mix of his humanity and deity? Secular & sacred? Simple & divine?

As I reflect on this past year and think about my hopes for 2014, I want my life to be marked by the ordinary and extraordinary. I want to spend my days pouring out all that I have, using my gifts to further the Kingdom, loving people in the name of Jesus, and then have dinner with my neighbors, good conversation with my husband, laugh with my friends.

I want to find beauty in the simple. I want to redeem the ordinary.

Because really that’s when the ordinary can feel extraordinary. The simple life can be spectacular when you realize all is sacred.

I want my life to be marked like that.

That is my hope for 2014.

To blur the lines between ordinary and extraordinary, secular and sacred, just a little bit more.

I want to invite friends over for long meals.

I want to experience real community and fellowship.

I want to give more of my time, talent, and treasure.

I want to talk about scripture, and bear one another’s burdens, and pray for the sick and care for the poor, and I want to eat pizza with my friends, and laugh.

No big resolutions for 2014 just hopes that my year, my life, would be marked with simple, extraordinary, ordinary joy.

What about you?

What are your hopes for 2014?