On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. This week I have the special treat of swapping places online with my friend, author Tina Osterhouse. She is joining us today sharing how we can attend to the voice of God in Scripture, see his fingerprints in our lives. When I read her words I am challenged and inspired to dig into the Word, eagerly looking for evidence that He is speaking, has always been speaking. I know you will be, too. I will be writing over at her blog on Friday...stay tuned! - Nicole
Last night I was over at my friend John’s house. He’s a spiritual formation professor at a Christian university. He’s recently walked through the valley of the shadow. We have a lot in common: a similar history in ministry, denominational similarities, and now, divorce. He lives on a lake with a big backyard and a long wooden dock. His daughters hung out inside the house and watched a movie. We sat outside and put together his new adirondack chairs. I passed him the screws, held the arm pieces in place, and sipped on Argentinian red wine.
I asked him about hearing from God, what’s important for him when it comes listening. He looked up from his project, reflective. “Oh, I suppose lots of things are important. Early in my youth when I learned to speak in tongues, or when I would spend hours in worship.” He paused and smiled. “I think the foundation for hearing God is when we learn to attend to God’s Spirit as we’re reading scripture.” He shrugged. “A lot of people plow through the Bible and try to read as much of it as possible. But slowing down and attending to God’s voice, to what the Spirit is saying as we read scripture is the best way to learn how to recognize God’s voice.”
* * *
When I was ten, my mom bought me a new NIV Topical Study Bible. Hardback. Beautiful. At ten, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading it. Not yet, anyways, but for some reason, one afternoon I ended up sitting on the living room floor with my Bible open, leafing through the pages. The sun was shining on that particular corner of the living room and the carpet warmed my belly, when I stumbled upon Jeremiah 17:5-8.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and ever fails to bear fruit.
I read through the verses. I read them again. The imagery was striking. I understood. It made perfect, absolute sense to me. A desert, parched and barren …. a tree planted by streams of water. Roots that went deep into the stream. No fear of the heat. I paused. My little mind overflowed with the beauty and the structure of the passage, and also the overwhelming clarity. This was black and white. Yes or no. Trust in God or Trust in people. Life or death.
I wanted to be a girl who trusted in God. I wanted to be a tree, not a parched bush in the desert.
I’d always loved to read. I read novels all the time. I read every Janette Oke book I could get my hands on. Bodie Thoene was a personal hero. As for reading the Bible, it would take years to love scripture and let it wash me, let it change and transform me, let it feed my deepest parts and call me into the unknown, into the Truth that goes beyond intellect and touches the Eternal. Still, for being ten years old, there were elements in that encounter that went beyond mere reading. Something happened that connected me to that which is Other, and I knew it. I had touched the Mysterious and interacted with something More than myself.
* * *
John has been having some troubles with his work and we’ve spent quite a lot of time talking about it. During one conversation over the phone he expressed worry, doubt, concern – the stuff of life. Out of nowhere, I responded, “Read Jeremiah seventeen,” I told him. “Maybe that will help. Meditate on those verses.”
What seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t out of nowhere. It came from the place where my spirit and God’s Spirit had somehow touched, had communed over those gorgeous words so long ago. Twenty-eight years later, I drew them up and handed them to my friend so he might feast on their hope.
On Mother’s day, my son Lucas, gave me my gift. A picture frame with a beautiful tree he had colored. The picture was titled, Blessed. The verses underneath were … Blessed is the one who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
I smiled and caressed the words through the glass frame. Oh, those words … those life-giving words.
I’ve spent my life learning to trust God, learning to turn away from placing my hope in people and putting my hope and cares in God. The words of Jeremiah have been my food, my template, my anchor, the symbol I’ve grasped onto when I needed a frame of reference. There, as my fingers touched the words through the glass frame, I sensed a gentle smile from above, a moment of recognition with the Other, with God, Eternity and Time intersecting.
It’s not magic, it’s certainly not incantation or spells. Of course not.
It’s not mere words, either.
We enter into a mysterious kind of relationship with the Spirit as we engage with God through the scripture. Over time those mere words, ancient and as varied as the geography of our planet, become the story and substance of our lives.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. When Julie first shared a piece with us, she mentioned poetry to me saying so much meaning can be conveyed in few words. When I read this poem with tears in my eyes, I couldn't agree more. As a writing mom, I identify with Julie's words. But I think any writer or any parent would find themselves in these words. We are all such souls divided. I am honored to share Julie's words with you today. - Nicole
Her child knocks at her bedroom door:
“Mom, you said we could play cards at four.”
“Oh,” she adjusted her voice and said, “just another minute or two.”
He pushed into the room, stared at her with his eyes of blue.
Her heart tingles with ambivalence; struggling to execute eloquence.
“Can we reschedule and meet in your room at 6?”
Eyes cast down, being nine-year-old-brave is hard enough-
“Sure Mom, I know you when you write sometimes it’s tough”
Relief, sweet freedom, now where was that thought?
The big boy sheepishly peeks in, wearing the shirt Mom bought.
“Mom, I am hungry, can I have a snack and a drink?”
She tries to ignore simply to recapture the idea and think.
She begins to type, the guilt wraps tight.
“Sure, buddy, and by the way that shirt makes your face look bright!”
Returned to her mode, yet worried and wordless.
Surely, it’s there, the Spirit-led trail to a revelation and endless
Imagination that was about to become
A punch for a theme flooded with some fun.
Enter her husband, who wakes after his not-loved nightshift.
“Oh there you are,” he says with pure joy and a spirit-lift.
Her smile widens with genuine glee,
Searching for his eyes to connect and see…..
There it is, her brain pops!
Quick, get to typing before the flash stops.
“You are busy. I will come back.”
His sad, manly voice hits her with a smack.
But she returns to write what God has asked;
To remove the veil and share her past.
Our job for Jesus can tip the scales,
Preparing us with wind for His mighty sails.
May balance lovingly restore
Within your soul to wrap so much love in moments
To Leave your Father and those on Earth yearning for more.
Julie Dibble is a Christian Speaker and Author who resides in Central PA. Her walk with Jesus began in her 40’s, for which she is forever grateful. Julie is married to Jason and mother to their sons, Braedon and Jackson. Julie’s mission is to share the Good News: Let Love and Be a Light.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I am honored to have Amy with us today, a fellow Redbud Writer's Guild Member. Just look at her short twitter bio - "Writer. Professor. Friend. Speaker. Woman. Explorer. Teacher. Wife. Encourager. Hiker. Mentor. Speaker. Mother. Runner. Artist. Theologian." Wow, I don't know how she does it all! She's an incredible woman and writer and I know these words will encourage you to raise your voice with Amy! Be sure to read the whole post for a discount code for her book! - Nicole
Being silenced is terrible.
I know too many who have been silenced by experiences that have taken their voice; some were not allowed to tell their story of abuse, others’ stories were stifled or not believed, and still others were silenced in different ways. And that silencing affects all uses of their voice. In order to regain the use of her voice, a woman’s story must be told and her voice restored to her through empowering prayer and ensuing action.
Silencing ourselves is also an injustice.
Even if we have gotten beyond past silencing or have never struggled with it, most women still face difficulties in finding our voice and using it. Some are afraid of having a weak voice or no voice at all. Others are afraid of having a shrill, annoying, or bossy voice. This is not simply about tone, but also about the deep inner perspective that is shown as we speak. So often, rather than risking an unliked or unaccepted voice, we silence ourselves.
As a professor, I speak a lot, and I know what it feels like to fully find my voice as I speak in front of people. It happens when I am unencumbered by self-doubt, I have a platform, and I am able to flow from thought to thought. It’s as if there’s a river from God flowing through me and out to others. Everything is aligned, all is in sync, and it feels amazingly anointed with Holy Spirit power!
I also find my voice in personal conversation, often when I orally process an event or thought, not knowing the outcome but following the process freely to wherever it takes me.
I wish I could have this voice at all times, but I don’t.
Most sermons that I hear are based on relatively short scriptural passages, have one “big idea,” three points, and a specific application. Preachers are taught this format in seminary, and it has proven to be an effective way of communicating. This, then, is often the way I preach, especially when assigned a biblical passage.
My best voice, however, comes across in first-person narrative sermons. I research a character of scripture deeply and tell the story as if it were my own. When I write the manuscript and when I preach, I feel the same way I’ve described above—it flows so easily.
When invited as a guest preacher, however, I always wonder whether it will be accepted, even though Jesus used stories all the time to teach. Should I do what everyone else does or should I be different? How will the difference be viewed?
I have to keep encouraging myself by the truth that my voice is neither better nor worse. It is simply different, and all voices are necessary. When we choose to emulate someone else’s voice, when we choose not to use our voices, we are depriving the world of our true voice and calling.
Everyone misses out when we are silent. Continue Reading
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. I discovered Amy's writing last October when we were both involved in Write 31 Days. I have devoured her work over at Sun Steeped Days since and am honored to have her words here. Whether you write or not, I know you will relate to the tension she describes, as we are all such torn souls, heirs to both the Fall and the Covenant. - Nicole
I once read about a woman who approached Elisabeth Elliot and said, "It must be wonderful to be able to read your own writings!"
To which the inimitable author replied, "It is like chewing on stewed Kleenex."
On many days, reading my own words feels exactly that way.
When I set out to find my voice as a writer nearly two years ago, I ended up with two. One arose from my exposure to writers who cultivate their faith through contemplation, who approach word-craft like a pursuit of beauty; the other, from living in a world that craves life-in-the-trenches anecdotes and honest truth for survival. They have always pulled me in different directions, and I never enjoy the struggle.
I want to be gentle; I want to be firm.
I ought to paint a thoughtful picture; I should just drive the point home.
Do I encourage by illustration, or say it plain?
Each time I sit down with this ill-fitting pair, my tones and words clash like building blocks in the frustrated hands of my toddler, and I struggle to find the space where they'll finally click.
But after living in the tension between them for over a year, I'm beginning, at long last, to make my peace with this position.
For I’ve begun to see how deeply both voices are rooted in me.
I am spirit and flesh. I need talk of beauty and of God's high country, and then, too, I need someone to tell me she's also had a cart full of groceries when a small voice says, “I need to go potty.” Even in my soul alone, the division is strong:
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. . . . [I]n my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Rom. 7:14, 22-23).
I nod along to Paul's words, because I feel urgency pulling me in both directions. If it is true for both of us, then perhaps the dissonance I feel in how and what I write exists because I come of a people who are, by their very nature, torn.
The story of mankind is a story of pairs: soul and body, sanctification and sin, and -- from its very beginnings -- a high and humble lineage.
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth." (Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis)
As heirs of both the Fall and the covenant, we hunger for holy things even as we battle our burdens. When we read stories and listen to songs, we search for lines that look us in the eye and acknowledge our current realities, and we also look for ones that point out of our spheres and tell us that there are things beyond.
We are creatures whose feet grit into the earth even as our inward selves strain for clearer air.
So then, how does one write — both to and from — these realities?
I'm still asking this question, finding my way one sentence at a time, trying to light match after match against the darkness even if I don't know how useful it will be for anyone else's path ahead. I am broken, too; we are all stories half-told, and halved by our very living.
But what I try to remember, each time I unfold my secretary desk, is this:
If there is tension in all of us, then that shared struggle is precisely what gives our split voices purpose, and what transforms our struggles into the birthplaces of our best art.
The accounts I write from my life don't flow together magically. Sometimes a mess is an unspoken sermon for me about God's mercy in my family's growth; sometimes it's simply a pile of elastic bands, receipts, and picture books that I need to pick up with a cheerful heart. But no matter which perspective prevails on a given day, I can’t deny that they do both speak of the same trajectory: a ransomed life that's traveling Home to walk with and know joy perfected -- mine as well as His.
I want the space I create for others, then, to be a place of inspiration, of microscopic views of God's creative elegance and sweeping vistas of His grandeur -- but also a place of bare-headed confession. The One for whom I write knows what it is to be mortal and eternal, after all, and by some mysterious means, He's also working the dross out of me through that very struggle of scribbling.
I still wonder, on many days, if my stewed Kleenex doesn't extinguish the tiny flames of truth it tries to relay. But as I so deftly brew my next batch, I often stumble across a fine read somewhere that reminds me that the Kingdom's coming, and is even now here. So I take up my soggy, flickering words and hold them out beside others' blazing torches, because we are all weary travelers stumbling up the avenue in search of a gracious refuge.
In such a place, even a tiny, split-wicked candle may make a difference for a solitary soul.
And together, with our reflections and depictions of Him who cannot be overcome by darkness, we are lighting the way Home.
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. Brian Sooy discovered my work through a shared hashtag on twitter and then we discovered we shared much in the world of non-profits and discipleship and traveling. When I read his encouragement to find what space in our lives, I was challenged to search out more space for God to move, more room for Him to breathe into my life. I know you will be challenged by these words, too. - Nicole
Before you continue reading, do this one thing. Go ahead, nobody’s watching, I promise.
Reading will wait. First, close your eyes, and breathe deep.
Breathing deeply is the prelude to a pause that calms your heart and focuses your mind. Breathing deeply gives way to silence, which makes it possible to listen. Not only to listen, but to hear.
One thing to remember: God never shouts to make himself heard. When we fill our lives with noise, as if to kill the silence, we miss the whisper that speaks life and says “You are mine.”
Not only do we try to kill the silence, we fill our lives with the white noise of activity: a ceaseless din of work, exercise, church, meetings, shopping, travel, and more.
It all piles up. Why does it seem as if time compresses and the pace of life quickens at year’s end? Why do we feel weary and exhausted at the dawn of a new year? We become frantic; deadlines of our own making threatening to undo us. The urgent supplants the important; everything seems as if it needs done at the same time; there is no room for white space. When do we rest?
White space is a design principle. It’s the space around the objects on a page or in an environment. White space ultimately serves to draw attention to what matters, or to separate what matters from the visual and spatial noise surrounding it.
In music, it’s the quiet between movements; in journaling it’s the pause of your pen before you commit your thoughts to paper; it’s the space between the paragraphs on this page.
When applied to living, white space is the time you allow for reflection, for dreaming, for thinking, for prayer and meditation. White space appears when you simply stop, and when you say no.
Jesus found white space. More than once, the gospel of Mark shows us how: he went into the hills; he found “isolated places” where he could pray, early and late in the day. Why would Jesus, who had the fullness of God dwelling within him, need to find quiet places to surround himself with solitude?
He was fully God, yet he was fully human. It wasn’t his deity that needed to find white space, it was his humanity. He was like us in every way, with the same spiritual resources and physical limitations we have. Like Jesus, we need to find quiet places to pray and to seek clear direction from our heavenly father.
Our culture places an emphasis on doing. Activity and results are valued over reflection and solitude.
What we desperately need is more white space. Space for prayers and dreamers and thinkers who are also doers.
In this new year, will you allow yourself to be enslaved to the tyranny of the urgent? Or will you allow yourself to sit back, close your eyes, and breathe deeply?
Your work, your family, your school or church is just one part of your life. It is not who you are; it should not define who you are. God calls you to be his child and become more like Christ. Your entire life is a glorious opportunity to fulfill and express your calling in a way that in uniquely yours, and unique to his call upon your life. You’re more likely to discover your calling when you separate yourself from noise and distractions, and listen in the quiet for the voice of God.
God entered this world as a child. Mary held Jesus close, felt his breath on her skin, let his breath mingle with hers. The time for doing would be later. The time for being present was now. At that moment, there was white space.
Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for 3 years of intense and intentional living. He worked, he studied, he learned. He knew his purpose, he understood his calling. He saw the end; yet throughout his last three years left room for white space—to breathe, to pray, to rest—and to remind himself of what matters.
Jesus spent time alone, intentionally. Will you spend time alone, intentionally? Will you say no, will you listen, will you breathe deeply? Let Jesus hold you close, let your breath mingle with his. Be present.
Find your white space.