I soaked in the sounds of the morning drifting in past the darkened stained glass. The shuffling of feet and the turning of pages in a Bible were the background music of my prayers. In the early morning of the monastery I sat next to monks and retreatants with heads bowed while my pen flew over the page, recording my prayers in the journal that lay open in my lap.
This glorious scene, the perfect time and place to meet with God, happened over a year ago at a rare weekend retreat at a monastery. I had two whole days to do nothing but journal, pray, seek God.
That was the last time the stars have aligned in such perfection.
Usually, the scene is more like this - I catch a few minutes while the kids are eating breakfast to read a devotional app on my phone. I hear God's voice speaking to me through the blog of a woman I have read many times before but never realized she was so much like me until her words leap off of the screen at me that day. I pray with the kids over dinner and choke back tears at the sweet, sincere prayers of an innocent six year old.
I have always aimed to have this perfect "quiet time," thought if I could achieve this quiet space, carved out for me and God, I could have this heart that is still before Him and communes with Him throughout the day. There was a time when early morning, candles lit, I met with Him.
And then, I had kids. And a full-time job. And a writing ministry.
My heart started to shrivel as I held onto this ideal of this perfect quiet time that only looked a certain way. When I didn't live up to that standard, I felt like I couldn't hear God anymore.
I started trying to find new ways to meet with God, outside of a Bible cracked open, a journal beside me.
I was listening to Katie Orr the other day speak about this idea of a "perfect quiet time" and how it "doesn't happen every day. It might not happen every year." This is a beautiful podcast from a mom who is helping ladies dig deep into the Bible in just a few minutes a day but what I love most about the recording is that her kids are screaming in the background! Quiet time is when we make time to be still, not when everything falls perfectly into place.
I am still working on retraining my ear for those little voices throughout the day that come from a song, a child, an interaction with a friend. I am clinging to the promise in Jeremiah 29.13 (the message) from God - "when you come looking for me, you'll find me."
I am finding that quiet time can happen in the noisiest of moments. It is when your heart is still in the Presence of God, no matter what you happen to be doing.
One thing that I have been inspired by lately is the way visual art can be such a beautiful representation of God and of what He is saying to us. My sister, an artist, sketches these creative little representations of the sermon each week on the bulletin as she hears the message preached and posts them on social media. Those little pictures stick in my mind and remind me of God's Truths. I am no artist (my mom is an artist as well and my sister and niece got all of those genes. I am a dancer and writer but can't draw a straight line with a ruler) but I am trying to sketch out things to remind me of what God is saying to me.
Instead of just journaling I have this unlined sketchbook where I am writing prayers and sketches and whatever God lays on my heart. Okay, don't judge me by my art but here is a little glimpse:
If you feel inspired to sketch something and send it my way on social media, I will post your sketches on the weekends (words, prayers, pictures, whatever creative way you find to practice keeping a quiet heart) on the blog.
Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Quiet is something I only know in the late moments of the day when the two wild ones are asleep. Many days I am awoken by four year old wonder, a steady stream of words and questions in my ear. All day they fight for our attention, a tangle of words tumbling over one another. They want to be heard and to make their presence known.
Even in the final hours of the night, he creeps into her bed and we hear hushed laughs coming from her room. Only when they both drift off to sleep is all quiet in our home.
Sometimes I crave those moments but even then, all is not quiet in my mind. To-do lists and deadlines loom, tomorrow's worries tease the corners of my thoughts and replays of today's mistakes linger.
Real quiet is more than the absence of noise. It is something inside the heart.
It is peace.
Look up the definition of peace and you will see the words quiet, tranquility. Quiet and peace are one and the same in the heart and mind.
So often I spend my time looking for the absence of noise instead of perfect peace. All of the busyness of life can stop and still there be no peace. Avoidance and distraction can masquerade for a while but only God can really bring the perfect peace I am looking for.
Isaiah 26.3 says, "you will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" Keeping my thoughts off of my fears or my worries isn't going to bring peace. Keeping my thoughts fixed on God and His truth is where the quiet will start to take hold of my heart.
"God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing," said C.S. Lewis. Today I need to stop looking for peace in the world, for an absence of chaos and noise. There is no such thing. If a quiet heart is at perfect peace, a quiet heart is stayed on Him.
When I started A Voice in the Noise, one thing I felt was a need for a space that was a place of focus in all the fuss. I felt like there was noise everywhere, competing for space in my head. I needed to hear a voice break through it all. I needed to hear His voice.
When I thought about what I wanted to write about this October for the Write 31 Day challenge, I just started praying about what I wanted to hear from God on for a straight month. What am I needing most from Him, yearning for Him to teach me?
I have a small bookshelf by my bed and on it are the books I want to read but haven't found the time to. Every now and then I will grab one and spend a few minutes in it, spare minutes that are hard to come by. Lately any time I have for reading is spent on blogs or magazines at which I am submitting or reading friend's writing in and in books by exciting and ground-breaking new authors.
The simple cover on this book definitely didn't scream exciting. But the title leapt out at me just the same. I didn't make it past the introduction before I took a deep breath and knew this was the thought on which I wanted to spend the next month. The book that inspired me was by one of my heroes of the faith, Elisabeth Elliot.
In the introduction she shares a prayer that she wrote in 1947, which is my prayer today as well:
Lord, give me a quiet heart
That does not ask to understand,
But confident steps forward in
The darkness guided by Thy hand.
For these 31 days, that is my prayer for myself and for all of you reading. I want to learn more about having a quiet heart before the Lord. I want to receive from Him - not His answers, but Himself. I want to stop all the noise in this space and get to a place where I can confidently step forward, knowing that I am guided by His hand.
Please pray for me as I write, that these words will be what I am learning from trying to truly have a quiet heart before my Savior. Some people write all their 31 day posts ahead of time but I want to truly be on this journey with you and will be writing every day and posting it the next. It is a little nerve-wracking having people join me on this journey when I am committing to write for 31 days and I don't have the words yet. I am trusting Him to show up and speak. And I am grateful for those that will be coming along with me.
I usually send weekly emails on Monday, even if I post more than once a week. For those of you that are following along on my email list who will be getting daily emails for a month, thank you. These will be shorter than my usual blogs. At the end of the 31 days I will be giving away a copy of the book that inspired me to seek God in this way, stay tuned for the giveaway!
Let's spend this month together working to keep a quiet heart...
The Western church responded in grief and solidarity when ISIS representatives beheaded 21 men on a beach in Libya several months ago. The victims were targeted for being “People of the Cross,” members of the Coptic Church.
Last month, Focus on the Family announced a project to aid the martyrs' families, building homes for them and providing job training. President Jim Daly called the outreach a “physical demonstration of unity within the worldwide body of Christ.” In a time of crisis, our prayers and support have turned to a marginalized group of Christians tucked in the Muslim world.
Eight years ago, when my husband and I moved to Cairo, I became an unlikely member of the Coptic community. We were welcomed into the largest Christian community in the Middle East and one of the oldest Christian bodies in the world. While Christians make up just 10 percent of Egypt's population, the Coptic Church’s history and unique position offers lessons for today.
There is a moment when a lie takes root in our hearts and begins to grow. We often don’t know it at the time; can only look back on the other side and see the evidence of the beginnings of our shame.
That dirty word that we believe about ourselves, that F word that we let define us – You are a failure - it always starts somewhere.
I have come to picture this progression as if I were on a boat, set out to sea.
At first I was headed to a beautiful destination but got stranded somewhere. I felt lost and alone.
Then, I felt like the boat was going under, me with it – until I was drowning.
Finally, I found a lifeline that I cling to whenever I am drifting.
Maybe your story is very different from mine. But perhaps you have felt this same way. Have you found your lifeline or are you still searching?
Some days I have to search to find it all over again. Just like it takes time for the lie to begin to grow, it takes a long time to uproot it.
I had spent six years dreaming of this. Ever since the moment I sat in that Arabic class, felt God calling me out of my safe, homogonous life – I had dreamed of moving overseas.
God finally opened the doors for my husband and I to move to Egypt and years of a nebulous dream were becoming a reality.
We were newly married so it wasn’t difficult to pack up our two-bedroom basement apartment into boxes we would store until we retuned. Leaving family and friends, the roots that went deep in our lifelong hometown, was altogether another story. Our church and family rallied around us with support, yard sales, prayers, and love.
We found our new home to be the fulfillment of dreams we imagined it would be. That isn’t to say it wasn’t difficult. Culture shock and homesickness were real. Arabic was a language difficult to acquire. Normal life was more of a chore in a land we didn’t know.
But we loved every minute of our time there…until the news came.
My father had been sitting in church when he had a massive heart attack. They called it a widow maker because most do not survive it. He actually died sitting in the church that day.
Several doctors and nurses rushed to his side and were able to resusitate him, getting him to the hospital where my mom learned he needed a quadruple bypass.
That is when a crushing weight settled in on my soul.
I wanted to run home to be with my family but had a life in Egypt, responsibilities. We had worked so hard to get there and so many people had struggled along with us, were counting on us.
I couldn’t breathe anymore in this place I loved but also couldn’t imagine giving up and going home. What would everyone think? We had only been there six months and leaving then felt like a failure.
Two months after my dad’s heart attack we unpacked those boxes back into our apartment and did what we believed was right. We felt God saying our family was the most important assignment at that moment.
But life did not go back to normal. I felt like I was floating through a shadow of the life I knew before.
It was then that I began to feel like I was stranded at sea. I was between two worlds and that crushing weight I felt back in Egypt had followed me home.
I couldn’t name it then, couldn’t understand it for years. Looking back I realize that was the moment I started believing the lie that I am a failure.
The enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy pounced on the confusion in my spirit and whispered to me about my failure to finish what I had started, about all the people I had let down.
I started to question my choices and God’s faithfulness. I imagined people looking at me with disapproval. Every question about why we left was an indictment. I feared their judgement. I feared I had let them down, had let God down.
I found myself drifting away from Him, distancing myself really. I was so afraid I would learn the worst about myself when I spent time with Him – that I really had failed Him.
The beginnings of my feelings of failure started seven years ago and I am still wading through this. When I felt like I should write about this, every other story I read or message I listened to spoke into this subject.
Everywhere I turn, God is still speaking to me and helping to dislodge this age-old feeling that found it’s way into a new heart.
In April, the world watched as a massive earthquake in Nepal killed more than 9,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Recovering from this recent disaster, however, is not the only struggle this country faces.
Around 1 million Christians live in this nation of 28 million. The growing church now faces increased persecution and their religious freedom is at risk.
After nine years with an interim government, Nepal is now just days away from the finalization of a new constitution. A group of political leaders, the Constitutional Assembly, rushed the draft through while most people's attention was on the reconstruction efforts. This rough draft, submitted to the public on June 31, has raised concerns with the Christian minority in the majority Hindu nation and has church leaders calling for action from the international community.
As the collective Body of Christ, those of us in the Western church should be concerned about what their Nepali brothers and sisters are facing. The Bible tells us as one Body “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the situation in Nepal may not affect the daily lives of Christians in the West, as followers of Christ, it should affect our hearts and prayers for the people of Nepal.
In 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the communist Maoists and the government of Nepal ended the 10-year civil war. Nepal became a secular nation, no longer the world’s only Hindu Kingdom, and the lack of government brought new freedom to groups previously restricted in meeting together and sharing their faith.
Nepali Christian leaders had been working with the government on changes in the constitution that would bring full freedom of religion to Nepal. They were encouraged with progress until leaders from the major political parties met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July.
Summer has officially come to an end.
I mean, you still break out in a sweat just walking out to the car in the afternoon and the first official day of fall is still a month and a half away. But we are back into our fall routines and the time of staying up late and no homework is over.
As a mom who works full-time and is also a writer, summer doesn’t mean much change for me. The kids still go to “school,” the amazing kids camp offered to staff kids at the church where I work. My hours don’t change, so I have to make an intentional effort for summer to feel different.
It is also hard for me as someone who struggles with perfectionism and striving to make myself unwind. I knew going into this summer, though, that I needed a different kind of season. My life couldn’t keep going at the velocity that had become normal.
It wasn’t even a number of events or the two jobs that had become the problem. It was an attitude of my heart.
I entered summer just trying to make it through the week, counting down the days until the next family getaway or fun event. But my daily life needed a serious injection of the lazy days of summer.
I avoided social media because if I saw one more mom who had the summer off with her kids talking about how good life was by the pool I was going to throw my computer across the room.
Can you tell I needed a break?
There is this one thing we do every summer as a family that I begin counting down to in January.
When I was young my grandma called it, “going home.” We would pile books and our pillows into the backseat and watch cities and farms go by on our nine hour drive from Georgia to the small-town in Indiana where my grandparents grew up. I visited cousins and went from house to house in this foreign world where doors were left unlocked because everyone was related or knew each other.
As my mom, sister, aunt and I embarked on the journey – my first time in eight years since my grandma’s death – I couldn’t help but feel a part of me was going home. I never lived there and didn’t have many ties left except a few aunts, uncles and cousins. But as cornfields made way to coal mines, I realized this place was a kind of home to me.
This Midwest small-town held all of the stories that shaped the life of my family. As a child I played down by the creek but was oblivious to the living history all around me. On this particular homecoming, I started to listen.
I watched my great uncle, now in his nineties, smile the same smile I saw as a ten year old child on the face of my granddad. I held back tears as I watched familiar eyes looking back on me, imagining granddad would have looked much like this now.
I listened to his stories of the 13 siblings growing up and fighting, of how my granddad went to World War II to avoid life in the mines. He told us about generations I didn’t know existed that bootlegged during prohibition as we looked through boxes of faded photos.
I also stood beside graves and learned about my great grandmother who married three times and the miscarriage I didn’t know my grandmother had in her first marriage. I heard the tales of divorce, abuse, addiction in my family tree.
I realized there was so much pain I missed looking at my family as a child, hurt and sin under the surface that I never knew.
I also realized there was healing and hope, a God who saw all of the pain and was with my family generations before me.
The heat of the long summer days has not subsided, yet back to school tasks are beginning. My oldest is entering first grade, all of her school years still ahead of her. She is still young enough to look forward to school with expectancy.
On the other end of the spectrum, someone special in my life is entering her senior year. A different kind of expectancy surrounds her and her family, as a life-changing year looms in front of her.
These are my words for her:
We haven’t often talked about serious matters. Our relationship has often been expressed at a surface-level, but my love for you feels more like a protective older sister than anything. I was so young when you were born, about to enter my senior year of high school. I can’t believe you are now there yourself (and how old that makes me)!
As I think about the year ahead of you, of course, it makes me reflect on that time in my life when I felt like I was on the brink of real life. I didn’t realize how little I really knew. I probably wouldn’t have listened to someone telling me how to live my life, thinking I was so sure of what lay ahead. But you have always been the type that listens more than other people, an old soul. Keep listening. Others who have been before you have much to share.
I see the incredible potential in you to do great things for the world, a compassion for people that is rare in a person your age. I then look around at the culture you are in the center of, this generation that gets everything at lightning speed and expects instant gratification as their right. It is at such odds with the kind of life God designed us to live, waiting on Him and putting others ahead of ourselves. It must be so difficult to live a life of faith, feeling like you are swimming upstream in the middle of this generation.
When I think of you entering your last year of high school, there is so much I want to tell you. I could tell you how important this year ahead of you is for your future, how the decisions you make this year will determine the course your life takes.
Today, my story is being hosted at the beautiful SheLoves Magazine. Please join me there...
Some of the stereotypes of the Bible-belt South tend to be true. There are churches on every corner and they are divided pretty well along cultural or racial lines. Atlanta is a hub for international students and refugees, but drive south 30 minutes and you will find a much less diverse population.
While we love our hometown suburb, we committed when we had kids to expose them to a more diverse world as much as possible. We lived in the Middle East before the kids were born and we feel called to serve the international community. We want our children to understand how fortunate they are and never forget to show God’s love in word and deed, especially to those that might feel like outsiders.
Our six year old is the epitome of a southern American girl. All attitude, her long blond hair trails behind her as she dances and sings constantly. She is loud and bold, with a southern drawl in her voice.
But she also knows that the name she bears ties her to a world larger than her suburban school and church, her big green back yard. We make sure to tell her often of her namesake on the other side of the world.
We picked out her name before she was even a thought in our minds, knowing the beautiful Arabic name would serve as a living reminder for us, and for her, of the legacy of love we want to leave her.
Years ago, my husband and I had moved to the Middle East at the end of summer, but the temperatures were still well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To top that off, we found ourselves in the middle of Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting....
Today I am over at SheLoves Magazine talking about the value of welcoming the outsider. Join me there?