Surrender Starts with Listening

Until recently, I didn’t ask God to help me surrender to him each day. I don’t know if I thought it was possible. I don’t know if I really wanted it. Only through witnessing the deep surrender of a dear friend have I heard God’s invitation to surrender in the circumstances of my daily life. Here’s a glimpse of my friend’s story, and suggestions for how we can listen to and act on God’s desires for us each day.

My friend texted, asking for prayers as her two-year-old son was on his way to the ER. She found a mass in his belly weeks prior and the doctor had said it was a hernia. But as her family was on vacation, her son developed another fever, and she knew something wasn’t right. 

Parents know that feeling—something’s not right. We know the pangs of fear and anxiety for our children’s health and wellbeing.

Waiting and testing, more testing and waiting. The results: tumor, cancer, surgery, chemo.

And as my friend was cold-water-shocked into this new reality of having a child with cancer, I witnessed a level of trust and surrender that shocked and inspired my faith-life-system.

Of her strength she said, “It’s not me. It’s the Lord.” Of their struggle and pain she said, “If we have to go through this, I want to help others come closer to Jesus by our witness.” Of the words of doubt, resistance to prayer, or whispers to not reach out for help, she said, “That is not of God.”

And as I walked alongside my friend, disintegrating whispers infiltrated my awe—You can’t surrender like she does. That terrible pain and trauma is necessary for surrender

You know those whispers—the ones filled with distorted envy, anxiety, and hopelessness. The one from whom they come wants to take us down, take us away from the service of God and others. 

When I perked up to whom those whispers belonged, I put my foot down, and said, “No thank you, not today.”

And I listened again. And words of truth flooded in and poured out: Help me to listen to you, Lord, and thereby surrender to your plan for me today. Amen.

God calls every single one of us to surrender each day in the circumstances of our lives. It starts with listening.

Listening to Faithful Friends (Real & Podcast)  

We practice surrender when we listen, really listen, to the words of faithful friends and family who love us. When we listen to their wisdom, affirmations, words of encouragement, and challenges for us. When we listen to their stories—how their days look, what challenges they face, where they need our support.

We practice surrender when we listen for how the Holy Spirit speaks to us through the day. I’ve felt the Holy Spirit at work like crazy through the gift of certain podcasts. In particular, Abiding Together creates sacred space for the listener, offering beautiful encouragement and sense of community. I really do praise and thank God for these women and their podcast.

Listening to Desires God Places in My Heart (Good Things!)

We practice surrender when we listen to and act on the desires that God places in our hearts. God also whispers—but, his voice is gentle; he pulls us toward what is good, beautiful, and true. He beckons us toward his pace, his vision. 

I practice surrender when I pick up a book midday (instead of using every moment for “productivity”), and sit down to read while my children play around me. I practice surrender when I pause reading to give a hug, answer a question, or pick up a crying little one.

What pulls does God place on your heart? Do you recognize them as his? Do you listen?

(Not) Listening to the Evil One

We practice surrender to God’s voice of truth, when we let go of and stand against lies. The evil one hates us and hates what God wants to do in us. His voice seems to sneak up on us and we indulge in his lies. Every day, we need to perk up our ears and hearts to what words are not of God. Those words that cause anxiety and fear—nope, not of God. Those words that brew envy and jealous—get out of here, Satan. 

God restores order, brings integration. He is the one who makes us whole, who leads us in holiness. 

Listening, Surrendering Today

It has been an honor to journey with my friend as she carries the cross of having a child with cancer. To listen to her. To pray for her. To learn from her. To see God at work in and through her. Thanks be to God for living in every one of us, for leading us closer to him through each other

How can you create the space and practices to foster listening to the tender voice of God? He desires to speak with you of his good plans for you today. 

Holy Play

This week I sat on the floor with my children, my head covered in a muslin baby swaddle as my three-year-old gave me instructions on how to play with them. Three-year-olds can be incredibly particular. Mama, do this and say that. There are rules to play, ya know.

After ten minutes of playing, I got antsy to do something else, preferably something productive. But I stayed longer, out of desire and discipline to be a mom who is present, and out of awe for the way my children play.

Our three and five-year-olds, Ellie and Thomas, can imagination-play for hours. They are doctors, climber-boy and climber-girl, mommy and daddy, Elsa and Anna, Leila and Jack, Mama Mary and Baby Jesus, etc., etc. Some days I get in trouble for calling them by their names because they are so deeply entrenched in another world. Thomas will state, “Mama, why do you keep calling me Thomas? My name is Jack.” Some days, they are perturbed with me when I ask to be just their Mama instead of Mary Poppins or Mommy Elsa.

While play is simply the way they inhabit the world much of the time, there is also something holy about it. How so?

Several years back, I had a spiritual director who frequently assigned me to make a “holy waste of time.” She said, sit on a bench somewhere and do nothing. Just sit, look around or close your eyes, be attentive to the present moment.  There was a reason this assignment was frequent—I always needed it. I struggle with simply sitting and being. I yearn for it, and also resist it.

When my children play, they are focused, creative, emotionally present, and attentive (to each other and the task at hand). When I listen to them play, I hear them processing—happy occasions, fears, and ordinary life. In play, I see my kids living deeply.

Their play reminds me of this Scripture from the prophet Isaiah: “Thus says the LORD,/…The designer and maker of the earth/ who established it,/ Not as an empty waste did he create it,/ but designing it to be lived in” (45:18). They are living in the world in the way their Creator intended—immersed in the present moment. It’s not always sunshine and butterflies. Sometimes they play about the Coronavirus or death (most of the time the person comes back to life like Jesus), and get in fights that need to be resolved and forgiven—preparation for life. 

True mom confession—in the past year of Coronavirus quarantine, preschool shutdown, and learning to be at home with my kids full time, I had guilt over my kids playing so much. Like, is this enriching enough? Are they learning enough? Should I be doing more? I’m learning though, that play isn’t just something kids do, but good and worthwhile. It is practice for some of the most important skills in life and the spiritual life. And it is true that God delights when his children are at play.

God did not create the world or us as a waste (Is. 45:18). He created us with intention and goodness. It turns out that when we make a holy waste of our time—sitting on the ground with our kids or pets, lingering at the table, resisting the urge to scroll, remaining outside a few more minutes—we can see our faithful God living in and with us, working to make us holy.

I’m Leaning In

As the day nears 5pm, our home becomes exponentially louder. Siblings who have had fun all day irritate more easily. “Listening ears” turn to *very* selectively listening ears. Dinner is in half swing and I’ve forgotten to turn on the timer for something in the oven (again). 

On one such evening, my husband exasperatedly walked out of the chaos and into the garage for a hot second of quiet. Who could blame him? 

He returned to my side quickly–crying baby on one of my hips, alternate hand grinding the coffee for the next morning (I often do optional tasks at inopportune times). He said, “I’m leaning in.” And he took our crying daughter from my arms, easing my work.

Our lives are made up of these moments, which make up our days, and weeks and months and years. And I don’t know about you, but one of the last things I’m inclined to do in December 2020 is “lean in.”

It might have been nice to lean in during March and April with funny-true memes going around about it being “the Lentiest Lent I ever Lented.” But here we are in December and boy has the novelty of quarantine time worn off.

I’ve had countless conversations with friends who are just tired– reserves are low, low, low. Folks are running on fumes.

What do we do with our emotional and energetic poverty?

Do we pretend like we are good, hanging on with white-knuckles and fake smiles until this is over? Do we shove our exhaustion down, only to let it unexpectedly explode on those we love? Do we turn inward in pity and forget the larger suffering around us?

During recent prayer time, Jesus showed me a good looking heart. But there was a problem with it. It was covered in armor. When I asked what he desired for me, he began to peel back the armor. I saw a heart of flesh beneath. That raw, reddish-purple flesh of organs. 

My reaction? I told him I was uncomfortable. This kind of vulnerability? Now? After this kind of a year? But, I stayed with him. 

And he peeled off more armor. And I stayed with him.

And then he removed the armor. 

What remained was a heart of flesh. 

I was vulnerable, but I was safe. Vulnerable but loved.

We are almost to Christmas, the Incarnation of God in Jesus. God “taking on flesh” to teach us what it means to have hearts of flesh.

Sit with me for a moment and imagine the physical nature of Jesus’ life. Close your eyes and imagine holding the Christ Child in your arms, running your finger across his soft-as-clouds newborn skin. Imagine holding his little hands as he learned to take steps. Imagine kissing his young boy forehead and blessing him goodnight. Imagine leaning into each other, two adults shoulder-to-shoulder, talking around the dinner table. 

For us to “lean in” is at the heart of the Incarnation. 

We lean in by easing the burden of those with whom we spend daily life. We lean in by calling someone who is lonely or sick, *especially* because it is no longer novel. We lean in by providing food or donations to nonprofits that serve the most vulnerable, or by volunteering our time.

But in order to lean in and embody God’s love to those around us, we must first lean in to the One who shows us how.

We sit with Jesus. We can say, “Help me to sit with you, to lean in to you, to lean in to your love. Show me what you desire for me. Help me to follow you. Help me to trust in you and your love for me.”

Where We Walk

Most days, I would rather be hiking. I grew up adventuring with my dad in the canyon below our home. When I was in college, my mom and I hiked Mount Whitney. Those hours totaled would be days of fresh air in my face, dirt and rock crunching beneath my feet, undistracted conversation being shared, eyes taking in whatever the land had in store.

While my mind at first travels to me hiking alone, surrounded by openness, my imagination soon welcomes in my children and husband. Little feet running and tripping on the trail. Baby carriers strapped on. Toddlers seeking to be carried once their legs have tired on the hills.

And, my heart is still at peace. In fact, it is filled with increased joy.

“How beautiful upon the mountains/ are the feet of the one bringing good news,/ Announcing peace, bearing good news,/ announcing salvation, saying to Zion,/ ‘Your God is King.’” (Isaiah 52:7)

Though my feet love the trails, most days my bare feet walk across the kitchen floor making meals, cleaning, and refilling my coffee. They walk from the washer and dryer in the garage to the couch with baskets of clothes ready to be folded. They walk over to a crying or fussy child who needs a hug and some sympathy.

“How beautiful… are the feet of the one bringing good news.”

It is beautiful to comfort, encourage, love, embrace, and be present to the ones we have been given. It is beautiful to read together, play together, speak about Jesus together, cook together, and learn from each other. It is utterly ordinary, and it is also the good news of which the prophet Isaiah speaks.

While these things are beautiful, we often resist them. How could these be the things that bring us peace? These things that are so mundane? These things (and people) that sometimes feel like burdens?

When our hearts and minds callous against those that we love, God asks us to recognize it and call it out. We can ask God’s Spirit to come in, to assist us, to renew us.

With the Psalmist, we can pray for God’s grace to speak the words, “My heart is ready, O God;/ my heart is ready.” (Psalm 108:2)

Today, consider: To whom do I bring good news? To whom do I bring words of peace? 

Wherever your feet might be, that place has the potential to be beautiful. Sacred ground unfurls under “the feet of the one bringing good news.”

Give Me a Word

My great friend, Sam Stephenson, has started Spoken Women, which is a beautiful community for creative women seeking to grow in their calling—professionally and spiritually.

I was able to write an essay for Spoken Women called “Give Me a Word.”

I hope you enjoy, and hope you will check out Spoken Women along the way.

Ancient Christians sought wisdom and direction in the desert. They asked for counsel from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, people of prayer, with this phrase: “Give me a word.”

As I both walk with intention and wander in life, I ask for the same counsel in my prayer to God, “Give me a word.” “Direct me.”

God spoke a word to me in a moment of frustration. I was in grad school, inspired by the beauty of our Catholic faith, and impatient with so many people who just couldn’t see it. Why did I have to be a translator of the faith for them?

What will she say next? Keep reading here.

The Necessity of Beauty

Does beauty ever seem like a privilege to you?

I am not talking about bodily beauty, although a different kind of article could be written on that.

At a time when we are bombarded by stories of tragedy, violence and pandemic, I sometimes feel badly about desiring beauty in my life.

Why should I want a lighted candle or fresh flowers on the table when evil seems to abound? Is creating space for beauty something that only the privileged to get to do? In other words, do I get to think about beauty because I live in a safe area, experience overall financial stability, and don’t experience injustice on a daily basis?

Perhaps.

If I remove myself from the equation for a moment, beauty on its own has power. As Dostoevsky said, “Beauty will change the world.”

How many people over time have marveled at nature, music, art, food, the human figure and falling in love as things of beauty. Beauty seems to speak to the soul of humanity.

However I am feeling before a morning walk with my kids, when that fresh morning air hits my face and fills my lungs, I revive. I look ahead and see the fog lifting and sun lighting ridges on a mountain. A smile of surprise on the face of one of my children; Elizabeth’s unencumbered curly hair tossing and blowing about; the smell of granola baking in the oven making cinnamon waft through the air; bits of unplanned, playful nature in the midst of development. For me, these are things of beauty. They bring joy to my soul.

Listening to music is an experience of the beautiful for my husband. I can picture him laying on the sofa, eyes shut, music on, mind relaxed. 

I think natural, simple beauty brings me joy because it takes me out of myself. I am not worrying about me, ruminating over something that doesn’t actually matter, anxious about who knows what.

Beauty brings me into a space of gratitude. I remember that I am not in total control, I am not the Creator. And that is a good thing. There is a Creator who is deserving of my love, adoration and praise.

When beauty grounds and inspires us toward goodness and truth, I think we might consider it to be necessary for a healthy soul. Every person is worthy of experiencing beauty in their life.

I don’t know how my kids would define beauty, or if they could, but they probably understand it better than I do. Because they ponder, wonder and treasure. Like Mary pondering the treasure of Christ within her womb in her heart (Lk. 2:19). 

I also can’t help but think that Jesus knew how to appreciate the beauty his Father created. Don’t you think he sat on the beach every once in a while, looking out over the sea? Breathing in the salted air deeply, saying, “Thank you, Father.”

If we allow ourselves to be inspired by beauty, I think God will move us farther. He will move us out of ourselves to bring beauty and goodness to others. To reach out to someone lonely, to write a note to someone far away, to make a meal for a family who needs it, to say “I love you” more often, to feed and clothe the hungry and naked.

What more beautiful thing could there be than to experience being loved by the Creator, and move outward into loving others in return.

Just like that mustard seed, perhaps the small seeds of beauty – the lighted candle, the fresh flowers, the praise of God for his creation, the small acts of service – can grow and flourish into something that more closely resembles God’s Kingdom.

 

The Hope of Home

Hope doesn’t work without the cross.

Sometimes we feel like our burdens are heavy, and sometimes light. My guess is that many of us would go with the former at this particular point in history.

If the word burden is unrelatable, how about anxiety, restlessness, fear? Chatting with a girlfriend this weekend, the un-graceful words we had were: “The world is a strange place to be right now.”

When I worked with high schoolers, I sometimes heard the sincere and naive desire for a greater challenge in life: “I can’t be close to God unless I experience something that is really hard, something that makes me really need God.” “Soon enough, sweet girl, soon enough,” we might say.

In a way, she was right. With eyes of faith, we see the unavoidable truth that Good Friday came before Easter Sunday. Death comes before new life.

Look at your life. But don’t look too far; don’t over complicate.

God is tremendous and also simple. Simple, not that we can control God with our intellect. Simple, that we can understand God in an intuitive made-for-you sort of way with our bodily existence.

God became one of us in Jesus so that we could continue to know God through the walking and talking and crying and cooking and changing of our everyday lives for all of history.

The cross of burden and suffering is in other places, but it is also here in our own lives. And so is the hope.

In these multiplied moments at home, I have felt an increase of hope. More moments of lighting candles for the sick, the deceased, the depressed- both known and unknown. More walks with my children and listening to the breeze move through trees, rustling drying-out summer leaves. More honest talks with my spouse; opening up wounds of past, vision for future and gratitude for the passing present. More  moments of seeing my own selfishness and stubbornness, and corresponding opportunities for letting go and handing over.

Hope is not faint; hope is not weak. Hope is experiencing the cross and realizing that what we’ve heard is true. There is new life.

 

 

The Mercy of the Present

I need to turn over the soil. I need to harvest the broccoli. I need to sweep the floors. Lucy is getting fussy; I wonder how long she will last in her bouncer.

And as I was about to move Lucy outside into the garden with me, hoping she could hang on so that I could work, I was gently nudged to instead pick up a children’s book sitting on the coffee table.

“Do you want to read?”

I squatted down.

“One. One English village.” Her face lit up.

“Two. Two rich gentlemen.” She squealed with delight.

“Three. Three houses.” I looked into Lucy’s eyes and remembered. I remembered what I had forgotten about the present while I had kept myself busy with distraction.

There is a Generosity in the present moment whose creativity gently corrects my desire for control. 

As I picked up another book and set aside my plans, which moments before seemed necessary, Lucy’s joy at my presence to her changed time. Time was no longer divided into minutes with tasks to be accomplished before the next child needed me. That sort of time slipped away as we dipped into something eternal.

If I could name why I believe in heaven, moments like these might be it: moments of joy, peace and love that are so marked by timeless beauty that they could not be of this world.

I have been avoiding being in the present moment. It feels too vulnerable right now.

I want to forget that thousands of people are isolated, sick, and dying. I don’t want to be quarantined at home anymore. I don’t want to be looked at skeptically by others when on a walk. I want to go to the grocery store without feeling anxious. I don’t want to be scared of touch. I want to embrace my family and friends.

But today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, God reminded me of His generous love that lives in the present moment. There is contentment in working on a floor puzzle with my two-year-old. There is bright joy in talking with my cooing infant. There is creative energy in listening to my very verbal four-year-old. There is peace in having an afternoon cup of decaf with my husband.

Maybe more than all of these, there is a God who is always present to me. When most of the time, I am not present to Him. And that sort of generous, effusive, patient, forgiving, healing, embracing love — that is Mercy.

Missing Jesus on My Road

What does the everyday-ness of your life look like right now? How close do you actually believe Jesus is to it?

For as much as I desire to live a faithful life, sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine Jesus in the nitty gritty of my road. For as much as I know (in my head) he is with me, I think I miss him where the rubber hits the road.

The road I walk right now includes lots of bouncing, changing diapers, feeding and burping; squatting down to pick up toys or pull down pants for potty. My road is anxious over sickness and heart-charging joyful over smiles. It’s learning to be physically available for cuddling, lap sitting, meal sharing and story telling when I’d rather have personal space. It’s learning how to accept rather than resent the interruptions. The way is learning to open myself to the joy and freedom found in “wasting” time with my children— laying on the floor, reading books, making silly voices for laughs. The way is remembering and nurturing my marriage amidst the pulls, of work, children and the world.

Why the temptation to avoid imagining Jesus in the particularity of this road with me? Everything about the Christian story (and my experience) tells me that Jesus isn’t over there, up there or a figure left in history, but right here.

Maybe we miss Jesus because we fail to imagine (or believe) the greatness of God’s goodness that dwells in simplicity. Maybe we overlook the generosity of God’s presence that seeks to be with us right here. God wants to be with me in the bouncing, changing, kneeling, drawing, laying, crying, talking, and laughing.

I’ve only seen glimpses, but this is what I know— when I open my eyes, mind and heart to see God in these spaces, he transforms them and transforms me.

Lent Check In- What God Calls You

There are some things we always need to hear. Not in a way that condemns, but in a way that opens up our hearts and peaks our curiosity as we listen to the words spoken to us. Henri Nouwen is a master at naming what it is that really matters. No matter the state or season of life I am in, he speaks in a way that helps me hear more clearly the voice of the “First Love.”

As you ride in the car, do laundry, take a walk, or cook dinner today, take 15 minutes to listen to Nouwen. God has a special name for you, and it changes everything.