Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Joyful Revelries

I've never been known as a "party girl". Never been one to go clubbin' or bar hopping, never skipped out in the middle of the night or ran away with friends, never smoked or even had a drink. Yes, I was a "good girl"- in my mind, at least. Oh, don't get me wrong - I made my parents worry plenty, and the " good girl" label didn't really stick in my circle. There was certainly some rebellion to be had. But being a pastor's grandkid along with the rest of my strict, fundamentalist background kept me in line for the most part. It also taught me how to have good, clean fun. Now I'm no social butterfly (not by a long shot!), but I love socializing and stirring up some fun with my friends whether it's watching movies, traveling, dining or just talking together. I feel as though I live a fairly joyful life, and I feel blessed.

When you were a child, did you ever make a pact with your best friend that you would live next door to each other, your children would be best friends, and you'd all visit together every day? (No? What's wrong with you?!) Well, my childhood friend now lives thousands of miles away from me (though we still reminisce about our "spit-into-our-hands-and-shake" alliances), but the idea still appeals to me. It would be utopia for me to have everyone I like and love living nearby, bringing up our children together, and being challenged to live in perfect unity in Christ (hmmm, sounds a bit like cohousing). I know, it's idealistic, but it's a desire that's been created in me. The more surrounded I am by friends and family, the more joy I derive from their friendships and the more challenged I am to grow and mature in Christ. Jesus himself seems to have surrounded himself with his friends and disciples on all his travels and only went off by himself when he sought out his Father and some much-needed rest and recharging.

If you've read my profile, you'll see I mention having a passion for "befriending and 'discipling' other Christian women and creating opportunities for moms to get out, hang out and celebrate together this life we've been given." It might seem like a weird passion to have, might I even say a frivolous one? I have many interests, and this is one in which I feel God can use somehow. So forgive my constant stream of invites to parties, events, social gatherings, etc., but it's my excuse for fellowship and getting to know others better as well as taking time out for me. Still waiting for God to get some of you to come though! :-)

If you've read the archived posts from this past year, you may not notice an underlying thread weaving throughout each entry - the message to live the Christian life to its fullest and with utmost joy! Living the Christian life can be a tough thing to do and living it to its fullest means different things for different people. To me, living the Christian life to its fullest means one word: Freedom.

"All of God's children, I am convinced, feel instinctively, in their moments of divine illumination, that a life of inward rest and outward victory is their inalienable birthright. Can you remember, some of you, the shout of triumph your souls gave when you first became acquainted with the Lord Jesus, and had a glimpse of His mighty saving power? How sure you were of victory, then! How easy it seemed to be more than conquerors, through Him that loved you! Under the leadership of a Captain who had never been foiled in battle, how could you dream of defeat!

And yet, to many of you, how different has been your real experience! Your victories have been few and fleeting, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had perhaps a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul. Christ is believed in, talked about, and served, but He is not known as the soul's actual and very life, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty. You have found Jesus as your Savior from the penalty of sin, but you have not found Him as your Savior from its power. You have carefully studied the Holy Scriptures, and have gathered much precious truth therefrom, which you have trusted would feed and nourish your spiritual life, but in spite of it all, your souls are starving and dying within you, and you cry out in secret, again and again, for that bread and water of life which you see promised in the Scriptures to all believers."1

Many of those around me that have grown up in the Christian faith have lost sight of the unfathomable power and grace of God and the freedom he awards us. They live their life in bondage to fear, anxiety, misery, judgement, shame, and a host of other demons whose grip is strong on their life. If I had one message to teach over and over again, it would be regarding this freedom gifted to us.

"In the very outset, then, settle down on this one thing, that Jesus came to save you, now, in the life, from the power and dominion of sin, and to make you more than conquerors through His power. If you doubt this, search your Bible, and collect together every announcement or declaration concerning the purposes and object of His death on the cross. You will be astonished to find how full they are. Everywhere and always, His work is said to be to deliver us from our sins, from our bondage, from our defilement; and not a hint is given, anywhere, that this deliverance was to be only the limited and partial one with which Christians so continually try to be satisfied."1

True joy can be had, but it can only be had through Christ. May you discover permanently your joy in life.
My hope is that your reality closely matches God's original plan for us - a life lived in Him without restrictions, boundaries or burdens.

Your joy in the Lord is to be a far deeper thing than a mere emotion. It is to be the joy of knowledge, of perception, of actual existence. It is a far gladder thing to be a bird, with all the actual realities of flying, than only to feel as if you were a bird, with no actual power of flying at all. Reality is always the vital thing.1

If this were our reality, maybe the Christian faith would be more attractive to those who have no knowledge of peace and joy. Maybe a life lived with joyful abandon is a greater witness to some than all the sermons preached.
For one who lives without joy will never fail to seek for it. Let others find Christ in you through the joy you have through Him!

Joyfully yours,

1. From The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith originally written in 1870

Monday, February 19, 2007

Passion for the Holy

It's true that God blesses us with certain natural abilities and talents as well as gifts of the Holy Spirit if we are His followers. The key is to learn what our talents and passions are so God can help us to use them more effectively for His glory. You may know what your passions are, but may be confused about how God can use them. Or maybe you're not sure what they are. I believe when we look to where our interests lie, we'll see connections between our desires and our calling from God. Of course, our desires ought to always be covered in prayer so they are never for unholy things.
There is a gravitation in the moral as in the physical world. When love to God is habitually in the ascendant or occupying place of the will, it gathers round it all the other desires of the soul as satellites, and whirls them along with it in its orbit round the center of attraction [the core desire].

John MacDuff

In looking to where our interests are, it is possible for us to recognize God's placing those interests within us and seeing where they may lead us whether in serving God directly, serving others or in using them for self-care. "...we must identify what stirs our passion and begin formulating a plan to utilize that passion on a consistent basis. We may not be able to support ourselves in a full-time job doing our passion, but we can find ways to increase how often we do that item, thereby improving our attitude.. Our first step is to ask God to reveal to us the specific purpose for which He created us. This doesn't have to be some major influence. God uses all of us in concert to accomplish His overall purposes. No matter how big or small your purpose is, when used in conjunction with the purposes of others, the whole picture develops and no part is more important than the other. Discovering our passion and using it on a weekly basis makes a major impact on our overall attitude. The new knowledge we learn from God takes root in our heart from our actions.

I encourage you to make the right choices, learn God's truths about who you are because of your relationship with Jesus Christ, spend more time with God than with negative people, and find your passion in life so you too can impact this world for God's glory! "1

Finding your passions can be as simple as asking yourself some questions:
"What is it that moves us? What is it that excites us and inspires us? What is it that gives real purpose and meaning to our lives? When we dwell within the realm of our hearts we are looking for the source of our energy and enthusiasm.
This can be a scary jump. To give our lives in any vocation (marriage, single life, religious life, priesthood, the permanent diaconate), means that we are willing to commit our hearts. Taken seriously, it means that we discover what we are willing to live for, and we are defined by what sacrifices we are willing to make."

I'd like to start a new series on Passion - our passion for life, for others, for Christ. I'm hoping each of you will be able to ask the above questions of yourself and give us some of your own answers. I believe that in knowing what our passions are, we are better able to know ourselves in a deeper, more intimate spiritual way as well as better serving each other in encouraging those passions to be used for God's glory. I will be asking you to share your passions with us, whether they be helping to evangelize the whole world or evangelize your own little world (as in your home), serving in the soup kitchen or serving from your own kitchen, wanting to homeschool your children or serve in your child's school, prayer and/or fasting, communing with God in nature or finding Him in the company of friends, etc. What are your passions? Do you feel God is using them in your life, in others? Reading books, scrapbooking, baking, dancing, hiking, traveling, sewing, playing boardgames, whatever you love doing in your spare time - all these can be passions and all can be used by God in some manner. I'm hoping we'll have many new "authors" on our blog in the coming weeks to share their thoughts, ideas and interests in life (that means you!). Let us offer up our passions and talents for God to use in powerful, life-changing ways!


2. This comes from an article I found related to your "calling" from God (as in vocation) written by a priest. I recommend reading the whole article found here:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

How to Avoid Mother Burn-Out

My dear ladies-

I recently read the following excerpt in a commentary on 1st Peter. The author was talking about pastors, but had previously stated all could be said of parents as well. As I read along, it really resonated with me as I see my service to my husband, children and home as my ministries, and certainly with my children, I serve as a pastor of sorts. Read along. Wherever necessary I changed words to reflect our positions as mothers and placed those in brackets. My behind-the-scenes thoughts are in blue.

At times we need to go through the typical technique of “cold turkey obedience.” That is, we get up and go about our [child-rearing and home management] even when we do not want to just because God has called us to do a certain task. [Italics author’s] It is not unusual for a [mother] to awake some morning, perhaps not irregularly, and face the day with the wish that something else were to be done. Instead, that [mother] can take time with God and ask him for the courage of obedience to do the tasks of ministry in spite of a lack of passion about it.

Further, what [mothers] need most is the constant stimulation that causes growth and development in their own lives. You cannot give to others if you are dried up yourself. Stimulation comes from spiritual disciplines, personal relationships, and physical rest. This is what Kajiji’s is all about. Let’s all contribute some ideas on how Kajiji’s can meet these needs more and more. Here are some of mine: Practice some of the spiritual disciplines together – like fasting, meditation, prayer… Have some of our weekly discussion times be centered on getting to know each other and deepening our friendships. Have a spa session where we do pedicures and facials, maybe even bring in a massage therapist and take turns! [Mothers] have a pattern of overworking themselves and [families], unfortunately, are good at exploiting those tendencies. [Mothers] need to feed themselves by reading new and interesting materials (do you all know about our book club?), by finding other [mothers] with whom they can share their lives (both joys and frustrations), by praying and meditating so they can deepen their knowledge and experience of God, by attending retreats and conferences (do you all know about our Family Enrichment Weekend coming up in April??) that will challenge them to new and deeper ministries [both in the home and out], and by investing their time in the love and joy that comes from their families [and friends]. [Mothers] also need to take time off – weekly, quarterly, and annually. When they work too hard, they lose their joy for [marriage, parenting, and home management] and their willingness to serve.

Ok Ladies – time to fess up! How frequently do you get time off? What are the obstacles that keep you from having time for yourself? Are you willing to have accountability or work with someone to brainstorm how to make this happen? In what ways are you your biggest enemy in this regard? I have to say, I recognize in my own life the destructive cycle of poor-self care and it poisons not only me, but my entire family as well. The saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” is TRUE, at least in this house! If I want to provide my best to my husband and children, taking time for me is mandatory. Non-negotiable. Imperative. So, why don’t I do it as regularly as I should? Hmmm. Why don’t you?

After hearing about Susan's activities fast last week, this seems like a great time for us to tackle this topic together. I hope you will consider joining me for some discussion in this regard. (Discussion, by the way, can happen on this blog, on a Friday gathering, or over a Java Chip Frappuchino… the options are endless!)

Here’s to chattin’ with you!


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Fasting from activity

Crystal invited me to share with the group my experience in fasting from activity which I did for a few weeks last summer; she felt it seemed to fit well with the simplicity theme that has been the recent focus of the Kajiji Girls. What follows is my description of this experience, and at Friday's meeting Crystal has asked me to lead a discussion on this topic.
Blessings, Susan Arico

In the middle of August, 2006, I hit a wall. I had had six weeks of fun, exciting, wonderful, nonstop summer adventures that included travel, R&R, friendship, time with family, and the like. What it didn’t include was virtually any quiet time – with God or even on my own. When the last of the visitors left and my ‘normal life’ was on the cusp of resuming… I had a mini breakdown.

Journaling that day, I recorded that I felt a) exhausted, b) depressed, c) overwhelmed, d) alone, and e) fearful. I also noted that I didn’t like myself and felt unliked by others. I realized that all of these emotions and feelings were things I had brought onto myself by overextending myself significantly, but knowing this didn’t make me feel a bit better.

What made me feel worse was the fact that I had been in this place before. A lot. Different circumstances and events, different breaking points, maybe not the exact same end-result emotions… But close enough. This was a recurring pattern in my life. I would go, go, go, go, go, loading myself up (most often with good, exciting things that I wanted to be involved in) – and then eventually I would crash. After crashing I’d take a step back, catch my breathe, apply a few administrative and time-management tricks to my schedule, tell myself I’d try harder to over-do it less… and within months, I’d be back in the same place.

I was tired of it. And sitting alone with God making my list of how awful I felt, I realized that God was tired of it too. What good was I doing to either one of us? “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his very self?” (Luke 9:25)

What I had to do, I decided, was get to the bottom of what was bringing me back to this place again and again. Why was I addicted to over-scheduling my life and taxing myself so heavily? What was driving me? How could I stop? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I did know that I had never really asked them deliberately before, and I had never tried to press into them to find the answers. Also I knew that God had the answers.

To force myself to take a bigger step back and take this nascent effort seriously, I decided to fast for two weeks. Fast not by using food, though, but fast by using time. The thing I needed to abstain from was not eating, but doing. For activity was what had a hold on my life, I realized – it was my driving force. Activity and productivity were my idols… not food, so an activity fast was the logical step. The free time this type of fast would grant me would enable me to make good on the commitment I made to God (while rehearsing my litany of woe during my wall-hitting moment) to seek Him, wait on Him, and make space for Him to meet me.

The “activities fast” began the next day. Basically it meant that I would not put any new appointments on my calendar that didn’t need to be there. The ones that were already there – a Bible study, a doctor’s appointment, a few work commitments, church – could stay. The point was not to be legalistic, just proactive. In essence, through the activities fast, I said to myself: “you will not take on any new activities for two weeks. You will keep quiet days and deliberately spend free time with God.” I did not watch any TV and I limited my reading in order to prioritize open space of mind and heart – and time to hear from God.

So for two weeks, I backed out of ‘normal life.’ I took a lot of long walks with my son in his jogging stroller. During his naps, I sat on the porch with the Bible and a journal and spent unharried time in the Word and in prayer.

It was a wonderful and fruitful time. I felt balanced and centered by the end of it. I felt grounded in God.

One of the main things I discovered was that I knew nothing of peace (inner peace, I mean, not the absence of armed conflict.) I had long known that productivity was an idol of mine and sought to fight it… but I had not made the connection between over-active life and lack of peace. During my fast, God made this connection clear. I saw that ‘peace’ was a word that I had pretty much ignored throughout my life.. Here it is, third fruit of the spirit – following only love and joy – and I basically didn’t know what it meant… let alone how to live it out.

So, in some of the free time my activities fast won me, I did a Bible-wide study on peace. I found that it means “total well-being and inner rest of spirit, in fellowship with God.”[1] This state of being is my inheritance as a child of Christ’s – and yet I have not acknowledged this inheritance. Worse, I have implicitly rejected it. It was this situation that God empowered me to explore, acknowledge, and repent of during my activities fast.

At one point during the fast, I was sitting quietly on our porch when my husband, who had been jogging, came up the driveway. “What’s wrong?” he called out as he approached. “Nothing; why?” I replied. “I just never see you sitting doing nothing,” he replied. “I figured something must be wrong.” That moment was a wake-up call for me. I do not want to be that woman, the peaceless one who never sits still – and God wants it even less than I do. That one moment was a picture of what God was doing for me and in me during my fast; He was allowing me to see myself more clearly, calling me to repentance, and teaching me how to live a godlier life. And a more pleasant fulfilling life, since (as I learned during my fast) peace and joy go hand in hand[2].

[1] NIV Study Guide, Zondervan
[2] Romans 14;17, 15:13
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