I wrote this post in originally in December of 2010. Since then, my husband and I are blessed to have found a community of believers who live life alongside us in a way that naturally brings us closer to God. Still, this post sums up the necessity of strong community and God’s desire for us to experience it as part of our walk with Him.

Strings Attached Ministries

“Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so dull and insignificant.  As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of god.  That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”- Henri Nouwen

Finding ways to engage the community of believers is the central teaching of Strings Attached Ministries.  Learning to plug into and act as a vital part of the Fellowship of Christ is key to truly deepening your relationship with God.

We have focused in the past weeks on deepening our quest for…

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An update, a book review (and giveaway!), and some other lame excuses…

Ummmm…wow….so long time, no post! I feel a bit like I’ve run across a friend  I promised I would call last month in the freezer section of the grocery store.  I’m sorry seems a little lame. I missed you seems disingenuous (even if it’s true.) I’ve been a little busy is a terrible understatement, but I am sure you have been too, so it feels a lot like an excuse. Anyway you cut it, I feel a bit shameful for not having written in several weeks…so, well, I bring you presents! Presents make things all better right?

Ok…so let’s dig in….

I’ve been busy:

Photo courtesy of Old Hat Studios

We have finally wrapped on Stage 1’s Fall Production of Alice in Wonderland.  Cardsman #4 and Flower/Lobster/Cardsman both did amazing jobs in their roles. My dear hubby and I ran the sound for the show (woo…that was no easy feat) .

The following week zoomed by and by Thursday I was headed to Ransomed Heart’s Advanced Captivating Retreat in Buena Vista, Colorado. The weather was beautiful and the setting absolutely stunning.  There was so much wonder and love to be had and shared there. I promise there are posts coming with what I learned, what God shared and how amazing an experience it was (but I am trying to get to the presents part :)!

But now to the nitty gritty….during this awesome experience in Colorado, I got to meet two of my favorite authors: John and Stasi Eldredge.

(I wish I had a photo with Stasi, but I forgot to bring my camera the day I chatted with her.)

John has written a new book and I was lucky enough to get a preview copy to review….and even luckier to get an opportunity to hear him speak a bit about this amazing work.  Ya’ll this is one of his bests…a book that promises to help set the Christian heart free…and delivers.

Here is the review I wrote for Amazon:

Beautiful. Scandalous. Disruptive.

This book will change your view of Jesus. John Eldredge has written a book meant to set the hearts of Christians held captive to the religiousity free. Beautiful Outlaw walks us through the gospels, the scriptural stories of Jesus’ life and instills personality, motive and heart to each one. Seeing Jesus in this way has made me fall in love with him all over again. Seeing Jesus as truly human who experienced hunger, compassion, thirst, love, fatigue, and anger helped me to come to terms with my own human experiences.

Looking at the gospels through the lens of shaping a picture of a personality has helped me understand the man more thoroughly and in so doing, understand God more thoroughly. His playfulness and sense of humor, His gentleness and compassion, His cunning and disdain for the religious spirit of the age are presented in a way that is easy and quickly understood.

This is one of John Eldredge’s best books to date.  If you are looking for the story of the real Jesus…not some “creepy, religious” version of Jesus, this book is for you.  If you are looking to set your heart free from religiousity and legalism, this book is for you. If you just want to learn more about the man and love more about our Savior, this book is for you. Read it….more than once….you won’t be sorry!

What is so cool about this book and it’s message is how generous Ransomed Heart has been with it.  They are making available an 18 video DVD series FREE by download or live stream as well as the companion study guide.  There are also opportunities to take part in a live simulcast and a small live tour this fall.  HOW COOL IS THAT? For more info go to www.beautifuloutlaw.net.

So, in the spirit of generosity that the Ransomed Heart team has started, I am giving away a copy of Beautiful Outlaw to one lucky reader….here’s how to enter:  Watch the video trailer for the book below and leave a comment with your thoughts about the trailer before midnight on Oct 19th 2011.

 

On Coming Home


In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son, who runs away from home to an alien country, and the older son, who stays home to do his duty.  The younger son dissipates himself with alcohol and sex; the older son alienates himself by working hard and dutifully fulfilling all his obligations.  Both are lost.  Their father grieves over both, because with neither of them does he experience the intimacy he desires.

Both lust and cold obedience can prevent us from being true children of God.  Whether we are like the younger son or the older son, we have to come home to the place where we can rest in the embrace of God’s unconditional love.

~ Henri Nouwen

 

Did you hear that?

“Both lust and cold obedience prevent us from being true children of God.”

Where do you fall?

Downward Mobility

“The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up.    Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.

The way of Jesus is radically different.  It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.  It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place!  Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing?  Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.”

~ Henri Nouwen

Choosing last place….

Can I do that?

Can I intentionally set my heart to choose last place? To downward mobility? To servanthood for the simply the sake of being like Christ?

I waver in my belief that I am holy enough to do this….to choose this life for me. And if I’m truly honest, on most days, I don’t choose Christ’s way over the world’s.

But then, God whispers grace and love and peace and an invitation to abide in Christ.  The encouragement that while I am not holy enough, Christ abides in me, through him I can do all things, and being a Princess in His Kingdom is far more valuable to me than being mogul in this world.

So today I choose the last place…the behind the scenes…the Way of Christ.

Will you choose downward mobility today?

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”~John 15:4

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” ~ Philippians 4:13


Reflections From St Scholastica: A New Day

Reflections from St Scholastica 2/27/2011

St Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas

The Sister’s have invited me to share Mass and breakfast with them this morning. They are such gracious hostesses, sharing all that they have with their guests with no care of gift in return. There is so much I can learn of hospitality from these Benedictine monks.

I rise early and prepare, fully intending to take advantage of their offer, but another longing rises up within me. Something new to my nature.  “Stay with me,” He whispers softly. “Get a cup of tea and break your fast with me.”

My human heart cries out at the invitation. “But…God…I will be alone…and quiet.” It yearns, even now, for the tangible, solid companionship of the Sisters.

My true self does a happy dance and springs to the kitchenette for a cup of tea with My God. I make church by a small pond on the east side of the monastery grounds. There are six Canadian geese swimming happily there and the squirrels with their giant red tails and the robins with their thick bellies promise spring days are near.

The jonquils are beginning to bloom and tiny white and blue crocuses carpet the ground beneath my feet.  There is a tree here at the edge of the water. Big and strong—I wonder at its age—the years it has seen. This monastery in the heart of this small city, has all the wonder of a rural setting, but just in case you forget where you are, the cars on the highway vroom past and the occasional thump, thump of loud music breaks the un-silence of the birds at play.

In my soul a song wells up. I don’t know the words, but I know the heart of it so I close my eyes and hum the tune to Jesus as an offering of worship. My voice is soft and crackly as I shake loose the cobwebs of extended silence. I wonder fleetingly if the Trappist monks who take a vow of silence ever feel these heartsongs? Is it ok for them to release them with their voice to Jesus?

There is so much about this place I do not understand, and yet none of that seems to matter.  Jesus has met me here in a profound way. I have looked deep into the Magic Mirror and found some pieces of me that must be scrubbed away, some practices that need discipline, but most of all I found a beautiful, Beloved  Child of God staring back at me. I found a monk and an artist. I found a heart that yearns for silence and the presence of God. I found an appreciation for a slower way of life…more mindful, more present, more measured.

The question now is how do I return to my world and fold into my reality the peace of this one? Solitude is not just for the monastery. This gift is not one I want to leave here next to the thank you card on my bed- “Thank you so much for the soul space…keep it for me, I’ll be back again next year!” No! This is a gift I can carry with me. But, how?

I will start small:

  • Turning the car radio off while I’m driving alone.
  • Asking of my family that we share 10 minutes of quiet time when we arrive home in the evening.
  • On my free days, taking an hour of each day for prayer.
  • Following the rhythm of the Seven Sacred Pauses during my day- using the praying of the hours to center and guide me back to “ceaseless prayer” in the present moment.

These are my commitments. Perhaps some will stay and some will fall away, but this much is certain—I will find time for solitude. Will you?

Are you looking for ways to deepen your spiritual practices? We invite you to explore the possibilities with us as we begin the “Practicing Your Path” Retreat Series based on the book by the same name by Holly Whitcomb.

Each one day women’s retreat focuses on a different spiritual discipline:

3/19/2011  Practicing Sabbath:Rediscovering God’s Design for Rest

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4/9/11  Practicing the Fast: Taking Yourself Out of the Equation

Register for Practicing the Fast: Learning to Take Yourself Out of the Equation in Rogers, AR  on Eventbrite

5/21/2011 Embracing Your Call: Discovering Your Purpose

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6/11/2011 Practicing Hospitality

Register for Practicing Hospitality: Creating Welcoming Spaces for God, for Others, and for Yourself in Rogers, AR  on Eventbrite

8/13/2011 Practicing Prayer and Action: Living a Life of Intercession

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You can register for each of these events individually or save 33% and register for the entire series!

Register for Practicing Your Path Retreat Series in Rogers, AR  on Eventbrite

If you can’t make it to Northwest Arkansas for retreat, no worries! You can register for online retreats including video clips, worksheets and guidebook. Just click register now and choose “Online” as your ticket type.  You will receive the worksheets and videos by email the week of the scheduled retreat.

Reflections from St Scholastica: Fearing Emptiness

“We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our “horror vacui,” our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, “But what if …”

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love.”

– Henri Nouwen

Today was a beautiful day.  As our group began our Day of Recollection and our presenter, Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr began sharing with us how to discover the “Monk Within,” I found myself drawn to her poetic style and use of metaphor. She began, “we offer to God everything we meant by I, so that the divine love may pass through the space that is left unimpeded.”  As she spoke about the monk and how it is the universal archetype for the heart within us that searches for the divine, I knew that I was in the right place.

Most of the retreat was spent in silent reflection.  Most of the teaching was done by God in those spaces. The communal silence shared among the retreatants became comfortable and cherished and easy to flow in and out of.

As we finished our day, I began to sense a great unease welling up within me.  Everyone was leaving to head home to their families, but I had chosen already to extend my retreat another day for some more alone time with God. As I said goodbye to new heart sisters, my unease became disquiet and settled into my belly like the stone representing my brokenness I had carried to the center of the labyrinth earlier that afternoon. A fear sprang up within me—solid and palpable, without cause or reason—a fear of the emptiness of time.  The space and solitude that was waiting after all my fellow retreatants left for the day.  I began to wonder if I should not just pack my belongings and head home early.

After the last of the ladies left, I went back to my room and paced about. I tried to nap.  I returned to the labyrinth that had offered such comfort and outlet for my nervous energy before. I couldn’t focus my steps, but just kept thinking I should go home and spend time with my family and be at church in the morning and run away from this open space. I was scared.

I packed my bags and sat them next to the door of my room.  Finally, I called out for help.  I picked up the phone and called my husband. We talked for a few moments (I thought I did a pretty good job of sounding light and upbeat—he tells me I did not.) I told him I wanted to come home. He told me I needed to stay and pray through this emotion, to get to the bottom of it.

I went to the chapel and knelt by the altar to pray. “Lord, Jesus, I know this fear is not from you.  I know that you want me to stay, but I feel so alone here. Please let me go home.”

“Stay with Me. You are not alone,” came the answer. “Sit here with me for a while.”

So I closed my eyes and quieted my mind and focused only on that soft voice inside that said, “Stay.” An hour later, Sr. Macrina came to invite me to dinner with the community and I jumped at the opportunity.

God poured out exactly what I needed this evening…first in his invitation to sit at peace with Him and then with His invitation to join the community of St Scholastica for a movie night.  What a joy it was to be invited into the personal residence of the Sisters of St Scholastica and see them through lenses unfettered by my preconceived notions of what life within these monastery walls is like.  It is not unlike mine, with chores and housework, and vocational work, and friends and quarrels and conflict and movies and pizza with the girls.  It is full of life and love and laughter.  I was blessed to be a part of that life for just a short time.

I head up to my room content and no longer afraid. God knew exactly what I needed and because I was willing to surrender my emptiness to Him—he filled it….with love.

“The most important practice of all to the monk is the practice of waiting.” Macrina Wiederkehr

Reflections from St Scholastica: Fire

Saturday, 2/26/2011

One of the wonders of this personal retreat was taking part of the Day of Recollection: Discovering the MonkWithin Retreat led by Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr. The theme of the whole weekend for me really became about finding solitude in the everyday, about experiencing life as a monastic outside the monastery walls.  About slowing the pace and measuring all the steps of our days.  This poem is one of the beautiful nuggets Sr. Macrina presented us with.

“In our lives, the spaces in between are the places of waiting.”

– Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr.

Fire

What makes a fire burn is the space between the logs,

A breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

Too many logs packed in too tight

Can douse the flames

Almost as surely

As a pail of water would.

So building fires

Requires attention

To the spaces in between,

As much as to the wood.

When we are able to build open spaces

In the same way we have learned

To pile on the logs,

Then we can come to see how it is fuel,

And absence of the fuel together,

That make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log

Lightly from time to time.

A fire grows

Simply because the space is there,

With openings in which the flame

That knows just how it wants to burn

Can find its way.

– Judy Brown

“Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that i don’t want it.” – Mary Oliver

Reflections from St Scholastica: Seeking Solitude

Seeking Solitude

I came here seeking solitude,

And found I like the quiet,

But am afraid of the alone.

I came here spent and desiring rest,

And found bounding energy

Yearning for outlet.

Busy energy-

Worldy energy.

“Rest,” You said, “Be still.”

But I find myself restless

And in perpetual motion.

In obedience and with discipline of will,

I sit.

Quiet.

Unmoving.

Eyes closed and thoughts clearing.

And finally,

I sink into Your grace.

-Cari Kaufman

Written on retreat at St Scholastica, 2/25/2011

Reflections from St. Scholastica

I am just returning from a three day personal retreat in Fort Smith. My dear family gave me the soul space to make a retreat to a monastery and retreat center not far from our home to spend a little time seeking and resting in God.

Choosing to go to a Catholic retreat center  was, well, a good bit out of my comfort zone(I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic), but I found heart sisters there none the less.  More importantly, God met me there.  Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some reflections from this trip with you.  I hope that you are blessed by them.

This next reflection was from my first evening at the retreat center.  Enjoy!

St Scholastica Retreat Center, Fort Smith, Arkansas

2/25/2011

Dear God,

How do I seek you? How, How, How?

I am riddled with how, and how come, and when and where and why. And I am sorry that my human need to understand overshadows my soul’s desire to obey. Have patience with me, Dear Father. I am like a young child, full of wonder, but just cresting into the age of exerting my independence.

I’m not sure why I’m here in this place. To seek you, I know. To draw near to you, to spend quality time with you, but my busy mind doesn’t know how to be quiet. My heart doesn’t know how to be still. Nouwen spoke of how his intellect was a hindrance—always looking for ways to spread your message, but often losing out on the golden moments of absorbing it himself.

Even now, if I’m honest, I write with a dual purpose: both to put words to and process how I am feeling and to express to others that this humanness is not something to hide—that it is a shared experience.

I am learning that in this monastic community are the perfect picture of the inhale and the exhale of solitude and community. There is a place for both. But I am afraid of the community today because I’ve come seeking solitude—is it wrong to engage others?

I leapt at the chance to take supper with the monastic community here: both out of curiosity and an also a visceral need to share this experience with another human being. I find myself in the common areas more than my room to listen to laughter and concern and conversation of others. It is music to my soul, but I’m afraid that it is escape—a distraction from the disruption of God in my life. Is it? Am I defiling this sacred time? Am I running away from you?

I don’t understand this way of being. I only know DO-ing. Give me something to do and I am comfy, cozy there. My God, this just being, this act of presence—I find my skills rather shoddy.

Help me, Lord, to quiet my mind—my spirit, my heart and just know that there is no wrong way to spend time with you. Save not at all. That by making this sacrifice of time, I am already drawing near to you. I am not being graded on this experience. Meet me here, Lord. Let me see you and feel you and hear you…Amen.

You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction and I do not possess my house in silence.” – Thomas Merton

Upgrade Your Spirit- Forgiveness

As we head into this Christmas weekend, my thoughts turn to healing relationships.  To mending broken pieces and patching torn places.  To human love in its purest form.  To Forgiveness.

I read this recently and it resonated deeply with me…I want to share it with you:

Forgiveness is made possible by the knowledge that human beings cannot offer us what only God can give. Once we have heard the voice calling us the Beloved, accepted the gift of full communion, and claimed the first unconditional love, we can see easily–with the eyes of a repentant heart– how we have demanded of people a love that only God can give. It is the knowledge of that first love that allows us to forgive those who have only a “second” love to offer.

I am struck by how I cling to my own wounded self. Why do I think so much about the people who have offended me or hurt me? Why do I allow them to have so much power over my feelings and emotions? Why can’t I simply be grateful for the good they did and forget about their failures and mistakes? It seems that in order find my place in life I need to be angry, resentful, or hurt. It even seems that these people gave me my identity by the very ways in which they wounded me. Part of me is “the wounded one.” It is hard to know who I am when I can no longer point my finger at someone who is the cause of my pain!…

It is important to understand our suffering. It is often necessary to search for the origins of a suffering.  It is often necessary to search for the origins of our mental and emotional struggles and to discover how other people’s actions and our response to their actions have shaped the way we think, feel, and act. Most of all, it is freeing to become aware that we do not have to be victims of our past and can learn new ways of responding. But there is a step beyond the recognition and identification of the facts of life.  There is even a step beyond choosing how to live our own life story. It is the greatest step a human being can take. It is the step of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We do not even know what we are doing when we hurt others. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour– unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.  The voice that calls us the Beloved is the voice of freedom because it sets us free to love without wanting anything in return. This has nothing to do with self-sacrifice, self-denial, or self-depreciation. But it has everything to do with the abundance of love that has been freely given to me and from which I freely want to give. – Henri Nouwen

I am praying for you this Christmas- that your hearth is warm and your family is near, that your heart is full of love and laughter  and hope.  I am sending love your way! Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus!

There are still 4 posts left in the Upgrade Your Spirit series.  Check back next week for more reflection on deepening your relationship with God.