Today I Saw God
Yesterday, I did battle with our coat closet and I won!
Only two of us live in our home right now and yet, for some reason, our reasonably large coat closet was full to overflowing, junk strewn all over the floor. If a guest arrived at our home last week and handed me their coat to hang up, I would have strategically thrown it over the back of a sofa in our living room.
But not anymore! I have conquered the dragon! I am a Shield Maiden of Rohan, Ruler of the Iron Throne, Mother of Dragons! (Insert Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones theme music here.) You are welcome to come on over and hang up your coat!
Perhaps I am being a wee bit dramatic, but my tendency to make mundane tasks into epic battles of will is quite extraordinary.
Here's the thing: I am not without skills and the ability to follow through. I am capable of managing complex, multi-faceted projects, leading groups of people in major fundraising efforts, and starting a growing business. And oh yeah, I wrote a wholeBOOK, for goodness sake!
Yet, I can NOT seem to clean out my bedside table, organize the stacks in the study or mail the boxes I promised to mail to my daughter. Every room in my house has a corner or crevice that hisses at me when I walk by, mocking me and my big plans to finally, someday, conquer the clutter. When my youngest left for college, I made a list of cabinets, closets, shelves and drawers I was going to tackle. She graduates in May and I am STILL talking about it.
BUT yesterday, I emerged from the coat closet with two bags of giveaways, one bag of trash and a sense of equal parts accomplishment and amusement.
Here is what happened differently yesterday: I had two coaching clients cancel because of illness. Instead of filling that unexpected block of time puttering mindlessly on the computer or getting ticked off watching the news, I asked myself these questions- the kinds of questions I often ask my clients:
- How do I want to intentionally, purposefully use this gift of time?
- What would give me a sense of accomplishment right now?
- What do I say is important to me and how does that impact how I choose to spend my minutes and hours?
- Who does God say that I am and do I believe Him?
In light of those questions, I decided to tackle one of the many looming, leering, mocking projects right that minute, no delay, no excuses. I ended up dragging it out over the course of the day, getting distracted by sending photos of myself in reindeer antlers to my children (no, I have no idea why there were reindeer antlers in my coat closet amongst the FIVE HUNDRED pairs of gloves.) It wasn't pretty or terribly efficient, but I got it done.
One tiny little baby dragon vanquished!
Yes, I know I am making way too big of a deal about this. Cleaning out a coat closet isn't hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Grieving a loved one is hard. Losing thirty pounds is hard. Cleaning out a closet is a joke by comparison.
Yet I am finding many of us struggle more with the little things. We rise to the occasion when the crisis comes, but we feel shame over our inability to master the minutiae of daily living We become paralyzed by that habit, task or struggle that keeps us stuck feeling like a failure. The good news is that God is equally present right in the middle of the mundane, and wants to help us. Because I know God loves me, I am learning to have a sense of humor about these kinds of struggles. Shame keeps me stuck, so I must give myself some grace in the places where I am frankly a bit of a mess. Yet, God also wants me to move forward into becoming my best self, so sometimes I need a kick in the butt and the reminder that I am capable of learning and growing. Sometimes, I need to hear something like, "You got this! Get it done! No more excuses."
Which of those do you need today? A little extra dose of grace? Or a pep talk to get off your behind and get back in the game?
Go get that dragon, brave warrior!
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
Some days, I have a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit. I watch the news and wonder if we will ever, ever figure out how to stop hurting one another. Advent is meant to be about longing, but I want to skip Advent and rush to Christmas because longing is messy and uncomfortable. We are yearning for the coming healing, we are hungry for the almost-but-not-yet Kingdom. On some days, the Kingdom of God seems very far away.
As a follower of Jesus, uncomfortable feelings of sadness, anger and longing eventually move me to prayer. A few weeks ago, I gathered with some dear friends and we prayed for our world, our leaders, our Church, our community and our children. We prayed we would not become cynical, we prayed we would be agents of the change we want to see in our world. We prayed for God to help us be brave and loving in a world teeming with fear and hatred. We prayed the same things for our children,primarily young adults who don't remember a world before 9/11 and weekly mass shootings. We prayed God would show us the path to peace and empower us to lead the way for our communities and families. We prayed and then we planned. We vowed to continue our prayers with our feet, our hands, our voices, our money and our votes. Pray, and then DO.
Another thing I do when I am feeling sad and angry is go to church. I have sat in church many, many times with tears running down my face, full of hurt.Sometimes, the church has even been the source of that pain. But whether I go full of sadness or full of joy, every time I show up and listen, God shows up and speaks. In all its brokenness, I still believe in the Church as a source of good in the world. If you haven't yet found a church that looks and sounds like Jesus, keep looking.
Last year, I remember going to church and hearing a sermon that particularly spoke to me in that place of longing, a reminder of things I can DO when I am looking for light in the darkness, Here are the three things we might consider doing when life feels overwhelming and circumstances seem to be stealing our joy:
Watch for God at work.When we become overwhelmed by difficult circumstances, we can become focused only on the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in front of us and it becomes all we can see. Yet, God is with us and the deliverance or healing for which we are praying may have already begun. One of my favorite versesJeremiah 29:13says
"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
Every time I purposely, intentionally watch to see God in the circumstances around me, I see His hand at work. It might be a coincidental meeting, a fortuitous phone call, a specific answer to prayer, a changed attitude in a person in my life or a word of encouragement from an unexpected source. Sometimes it might be as simple as hearing the words of a song that touch my heart right where I needed healing at exactly the right moment. When I watch and listen, I always find Him.
Plug into the Holy Spirit.This time of year, we have many, many strands of light working their magic and making our house a sparkly wonderland. What many who visit our home don't see is the myriad of extension cords required to produce our light show. Simply put, the lights don't work if they aren't plugged in. Similarly, I find I have difficulty accessing the promisedfruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- unless I too "plug in." I think it is different for each of us, but I plug into the Holy Spirit through prayer, reading scripture, journaling, and spending with others who are seeking God. I plug into the Holy Spirit by choosing to acknowledge I need God to help me be brave and love well. When I plug in, I have access to a power greater than my own. When I don't, I get overwhelmed by circumstances.
Bless somebody else.Like many of us, I can get wrapped up in my own little world. When I am hurting and sad, I can become even more self-focused. While we certainly need to learn healthy ways to care for ourselves when we are hurting emotionally, sometimes the most healing thing we can do is to look up and look out. There are a whole bunch of people out there in need of the love we have to give. Finding ways to bless someone else reminds us we are connected to one another, members of the human family. We do not travel this journey alone. We need each other and we each have the capacity to provide encouragement to someone else. A listening ear, a kind word, and a warm smile are gifts when offered with nothing expected in return.
Watch and listen for what God is doing. Be open to the Holy Spirit. Bless people around you. Pray, and then DO.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
I am alone the majority of my time and yet I struggle to find silence.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate if I said I struggle toallowsilence.
When I say silence, I am not referring to the complete absence of sound. My house is quiet most of the day, often eerily so. I am defining silence in this case as a refuge from the onslaught of words, images, input from the outside world. I am constantly connected, a slave to the next ping or vibration indicating someone, somewhere has something to say to me.
To be completely honest, I am addicted to my phone.
I don't use the word addiction lightly. I grew up with an addicted parent. Our home was blown apart by the hold alcohol had on my father's life. Addiction is a devil, a slave master, an insidious seducer. But if you define addiction as a "compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences," then my relationship with my phone could be characterized by the word addiction.
In the interest of full disclosure, I get antsy and nervous when I am away from my phone or I haven't checked it lately. I think about wanting to check it when I am in the midst of something else. I reach for it compulsively at stop lights, in the grocery store line, or when my dinner companion steps away from the table at a restaurant. I move it from room to room with me throughout my day, afraid to miss something important.
The greatest consequence of my relationship with my phone is my inability to sit with silence, to rest with my thoughts, to daydream and imagine, to listen for the voice of God. My constant connection to my phone and all the lovely bells and whistles it provides gets in the way of my ability to tune in to my best self, the part of me connected to the Holy Spirit. My constant connection to my phone gets in the way of my ability to hear the voice of God.
On my coaching journey, both my work with my own coach and the time I spend with my clients, I am learning to ask two good questions repeatedly:
- Who do I want to be?
- What will I do differently?
I want to BE a person who is connected to the Holy Spirit, who recognizes the quiet whispers of God, who is in tune with my creativity, imagination and inspiration. I want to be a person who is constantly learning new things, reading good books and connecting with the people I love. I want to be fully present in each moment, neither tethered to the past or worried about the future.
A couple of weeks ago in church, Pastor Tom delivered a beautiful sermon about listening to God. He talked about the value of pursuing silence as a practice and highlighted the Christian traditions of centering prayer as a way to connect with God. He challenged us to spend 20 minutes in silence seeking God and see what happened. After church that Sunday, I took a walk in the woods and put my phone on Do Not Disturb and turned off my music. I resisted the urge to chatter at God, deciding instead to just listen and enjoy the beautiful day. It was alternately difficult and wonderful, but God was gracious with me while I settled down. Since that day, I have been playing with this practice and have become increasingly curious about the gifts to be found in intentionally choosing to pursue silence on a regular basis.
In order to be the person I want to be, I sometimes need to do some things differently. Now the question is this: what am I willing to do to be a person who listens to God?
Can anyone relate? Does anyone else have a less than healthy relationship with their phone, tablet or computer? Is anyone else struggling to find a balance as we enjoy the miracles of twenty-first century communication?
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com
"Every morning, I ask God to make me a blessing to someone today." says my friend, Dave. Over the ten years I have known him, I have seen ample evidence of God answering his prayer in the affirmative.
Make me a blessing. A simple prayer. A curious prayer. Even a bold, adventurous or risky prayer.
Blessing is defined as "the act or words of one who blesses" or "a thing conducive to happiness or welfare." Another definition of blessing says it is "something good that one feels grateful" or "lucky to have." We offer someone our blessing when we give our permission, support or approval for something. Whichever of these definitions you apply, blessing is a gift of grace and generosity in word or deed.
Counting my blessings from God is a spiritual discipline I have long practiced, because a habit of gratitude makes sense to me on every level. I am more likely to see God's hand at work in my life when I am actively watching for it. Gratitude is a choice to open my eyes and expect to see God's presence.
Yet the idea of actively looking for ways to BE a blessing, a practice inspired by my friend, is a relatively new intention for me.
My Bible tells me God wants to give us blessings. In fact, God delights in giving good gifts to his children. When I count my blessings, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude by the abundance I discover. Counting my blessings is good for me and brings my heart closer to God. Yet, I sometimes get frustrated by the use of the word blessing among people of faith, as if God is handing out party favors to his favorites. I get squirmy with the implication we somehow earned a prize by signing up for the right club. I cringe a bit every time I see the hashtag #blessed.
By contrast, I am energized and challenged by the idea that I am blessed in order to BE a blessing, the Kingdom of God in action. God's pouring in requires, invites, and equips my pouring out. As we begin to watch for opportunities to be part of God's blessing brigade, we find the possibilities are endless.
"God, make me a blessing to someone today." I dare you to pray this prayer and watch what happens.
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.
"What does it mean when the Bible says perfect love drives out fear?"
I asked this question to the thoughtful group of Bible study participants as we gathered around the table at The Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individuals where I lead Bible study on Tuesday afternoons. We were studying some of the many places in scripture, which talk about fear and courage. At this point in our discussion, we had landed in 1 John, chapter 4, verse 18.
Where God's love is, there is no fear, because God's perfect love drives out fear.
It was an active group, and many around the table had offered insights and stories about their own journey with fear and their attempts at bravery. When I asked this question about perfect love driving out fear, one of the newer ladies to our company shared these thoughts:
"I was so scared. I had gotten sick and lost everything. I ended up in the hospitalandwhen it was time to leave, I didn't have anywhere to go. One of the people at the hospital told me about The Lamb Center. When I came here, people were so nice. Everyone showed me the love of God. The more I felt the love of God through the people here, the less afraid I felt. I didn't feel alone anymore. Experiencing God's love through this place drove out my fear. That's what it means when it says perfect love drives out fear."
As we continued our discussion, she shared another example:the story of a kind woman on a bus who touched her arm and gave her a little money. Although having the money for bus fare was meaningful, she seemed more grateful for the kind words and the touch on the arm. She believed God sent the lady on the bus to let her know he saw her and was with her. I hope the kind lady on the bus knew how much her simple act of obedience meant to my struggling friend.
My friends at The Lamb Center know first-hand about fear. They know intimately the fear of having no place to go. The fear of sleeping at a bus stop or in the woods. The fear of an approaching hurricane when they have no shelter. The fear of disconnection, judgment, shame and loss. They know the fear of isolation and the fear of losing hope and never finding it again. My friends at The Lamb Center know all about what it means to dig deep for courage when they feel afraid.
Fear and anxiety are part of the human journey. While I am grateful my fears don't include worrying about where I will sleep, I understand the solace of realizing I am not alone in my strugglewhatever that struggle might be. Like so many other topics found in scripture, each of us could relate that day to the need to navigate the difficult paths of fear, worry and anxiety. And we were all grateful that God seems to have some answers for us in his word. Answers that often, it seems, include our ongoing need to live in community.
Earlier in chapter 4, John says these words:
"If we love each other, God lives in us. His love is made perfect in us."
Here are some things we learned that day as we talked:
- God is love.
- God sees us when we are afraid, worried or anxious.
- God's love can heal.
- God's love finds its fullest expression through us. It matters when we participate.
- When we love and care for each other without judgment, God's love is made perfect.
- Isolation contributes to our fear. Incommunity, we feel less afraid and less alone.
- It is a privilege to be used by God to encourage one another, so we need to pay attention to those nudges from God to reach out to somebody.
God repeatedly reminds us in scripture"Do not fear. For I am with you."God's answer to our fears is his presence. Sometimes, God's presence involves our presence with one another. Perfect love casts out fear. God's love is made perfect when we reach out and love one another.
As the old 70s song says, "They will know we are Christians by our love." It seems simple, but I know I need the reminder sometimes.
The greatest commandment: Love God, Love Each Other. Could love indeed be the antidote to fear?
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.