Covenant Relationships- A Word from Ann Voskamp

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

From Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

I had an entirely different post scheduled for today….

One about being present and listening to a heart rather than a word.  It was a good post (no worries, look for it next Friday!) But then I read my friend Holley’s blog and it was just so perfect.  It so fit my word for the year and so fit how I am seeking to live my life this year (and for many to come), I just had to share it with you….

We can all find ourselves pulled into negative conversations from everything from the weather to politics to what great aunt so-and-so did last week. The start of a new year always feels like the blank page of a new journal so guarding our words and helping others around us do the same is perhaps more important now than ever.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen. – Eph. 4:29

So if you find yourself in the middle of gossip or a gripe fest, what can you do?

Here’s my go-to list of three kinds of questions to ask to help the conversation get back on track…will you jump over with me to Holley’s to read the rest?  There’s a free printable download of the graphic above in it for ya :)…

And a little song to drive it all home… 

Words by Hawk Nelson

Love and Grape Jelly (and a SheSpeaks Scholarship)

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.  ~St. Augustine”

We were in a hurry.  We were late for school.  I was rushing and pushing and striving and, well maybe-just a little, yelling.  I had woken up as “Drill Sergeant Mom” and was fully committed to the role at hand.

Xander was making his breakfast toast.  Gluten-free brown rice bread with soy-free, vegan butter spread and Welch’s grape jelly.  A big, giant, brand new, (did I mention full?) glass jar of grape jelly.

“Come on, guys. We are going to be late for school! Let’s move!”

“I’m coming, Mom!” Xander exclaimed as he put the lid back on the jelly and shifted the giant jar to his left hand to open the fridge. I turned to give him the “don’t-sass-me” look, and time froze. In the painfully slow motion instant where you just know what is about to happen and are powerless to stop it I watched the giant, glass jar of jelly teeter in his hand and-

fall

to

the

floor.

The dull spl-thwack of the jelly glass snapped the space-time continuum back into full speed.  I leaped into action as I watched tiny shards of glass spray across the floor- lifting and swinging Xander and his bare feet out of the blast zone.  As I sat him down, I looked into his eyes. Tears were streaming down his face. With huge, remorseful brown eyes he looked up at me.

“Mama, I am so sorry. I have made such a big mess, and it’s all sticky and it was a brand new jar and now we’re late and it’s all my fault…”

You know what my first reaction to his repentant heart was? Was it  I can’t believe you made such a mess? Or clean this up right now? Or even an exasperated sigh and when will you ever learn?

It was none of those things.

Upon seeing his heartbreak and repentance, I melted. I immediately gathered him in my arms and held him. Loved him. Soothed him.

“Aw, Baby…it’s ok. We’ll clean this up together. Everything will work out just fine. Ok?”

Sniffing back the last of his tears as he started to calm down, “Ok…”

And then, “Mom…I love you.”

“I love you, too, Baby.”

I just want you to hear this one thing-

GOD LOVES YOU LIKE THAT.

With Mama-soothing-her-broken-hearted-baby-love.

I have lived a good deal of my life with a voice of accusation that I sadly labeled as God. Always believing that He sent his son for US to cover our sins, but, in some way never fully understanding that Christ came FOR ME…FOR MY SINS…and that nothing that I do could ever change the fact that He loves me so much that He would lay down His crown, put on our icky man- clothes, walk among us on this fouled planet, innocently die a horrific, tortured criminal’s death bearing up under the weight of all the sin that ever was and will be, conquered the grave and ROSE AGAIN (He’s alive, my friends- isn’t that the most amazing thing?)…HE LOVES ME that much- andHE LOVES YOU that much too.

The moment that jar of jelly hit the ground, and I looked into my son’s eyes and saw his despair at what he done, I felt the immediate, instinctive reaction to soothe that despair, to forgive that mess he had created, to forget it. In that moment, God changed my entire understanding of grace and forgiveness.

He spoke His word to me, “And now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..” Romans 8:1

I knew that God loved me like that- no, beyond that. That as long as I have a truly repentant heart about the mistakes of my life, God is stirred to soothe. To forgive. TO FORGET. It is the promise he makes us. I knew that the accuser of my soul was not my Lord, my Savior, but an enemy.  THE enemy.  There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He speaks to us with words of love, and joy and encouragement.

Thank you, Jesus for ransoming my heart on the cross. Thank you, Lord for rescuing my heart with a broken jar of grape jelly! I love how you use the tiniest of moments to teach us truth….Keep teaching, Lord. I am listening.

What small moment has God used to teach you about His love?

This post is an entry for a full scholarship to the 2011 Proverbs 31 SheSpeaks conference. The She Speaks Conference is about women connecting the hearts of women to the heart of our Father God and my heart is to serve Him and His daughters, as He leads.

I have so wanted to attend for many years, and love that my word sister, Ann Voskamp is offering an opportunity for scholarship to this awesome resource. If you would like to be considered for scholarship, check out her blog post here.

Returning to Your First Love: Make a Commitment Booklet

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Photo by Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

Several weeks ago I was preparing to lead a retreat for my home church.  Tasked with filling three hour-long sessions and taking last year’s success to a whole new level, I felt the pressure of perceived expectations.  And, ya’ll “pressure kills everything it touches.” I felt that pressure squish and squeeze every creative idea from God.  Every new thought, every different approach, every visionary idea…shut down in a moment by the riotous spirit of self-doubt echoing through my brain.

I finally hacked out the first two sessions exactly a week to go before the retreat, but the third remained elusive.  Completely blank.  I had nuthin’…

And then, 4:30 am on a Saturday morning, God wakes me from a restful (albeit Nyquil induced) sleep.

READ EPHESIANS, he said, in the quiet of the pre-morning.

I was petulant…sulky….my thoughts went something like this (imagine teen angst, heel kicking into the bed here) But, Goooodddd, it’s 4:30 in the moooorrrnnningg….on a Saaturday!

READ EPHESIANS…

So I rolled out of bed and drug myself to the living room.  Snuggled under my Snuggie, opened my Bible and began to read.

I have to admit that I have never read the book of Ephesians entirely in one sitting, and I strongly recommend it.  A guidebook for Christian life it is, young paduwan…but even still I didn’t understand how it was to be used in the flow of the retreat weekend that was beginning to take shape.  The whole weekend was to be about returning to our first love, and I was just not quite sure how the book of Ephesians fit the theme.

I finished my reading and hopped on the computer to read a couple of my favorite blogs and was delighted to see that one of my favorite writers, AnnVoskamp, had already posted that morning.  Even better, her post was entitled: Returning to Your First Love- Bible Memorization: Make a Commitment Booklet.

That’s what I am talking about God…a clear, undeniable sign!

I began to read this post about scripture memorization and memorizing entire books of the Bible and wisdom in the age of Google.  And then this:

“Communing with the Holy comes in committing the Holy to the heart.”

It was sealed right then and there for me.  This was my third session. We would make these memory commitment booklets and memorize entire books of the Bible together! I was excited…and terrified by the prospect, but somehow, doing this with my girls didn’t seem nearly so scary.

Ann even provided a suggestion and a template to start us off….

Ephesians….

Doesn’t God just blow your mind sometimes?

So that is what we are doing.  Over the course of the next 31 weeks, my IBC Princesses and I have committed together to memorize the book of Ephesians.  But, you can do it too! I have linked to Ann’s original post so you can make your own book if you want…We stretched the original 26 week program to 31 so no one would use the holidays as an excuse. If you would like a copy of my template, leave a comment or email me and I will be happy to share it with you.  I will be posting each week, the new memory work in the Scripture Memory header, so you can follow along that way too if you would like. We’ve already been so blessed by this process, it’s amazing how the Word seeps into your very  being when you dissect it to commit it to memory. .  Do this with us! Hide his word in your heart and no power of hell, no scheme of man can ever it pluck it from you!

Will you join us?

Guest Post: How to Prepare for Family & the Holidays: The Fish Principle

My word sister, Ann Voskamp, keeps the most beautiful blog at A Holy Experience. Her words are always like water over my soul….I love to read her writing…You will be truly blessed to check out her blog.

When I get to her door, it’s after 6:30 and dawn’s breaking rays down rows of the cornfields and I’m already late.

Mama’s got a note on her front door that reads in a black scrawl, “Welcome! Come on round. We’re out on the back deck!

Every other Saturday we meet when dawn breaks the day open. We bring Bibles.

We are four, one Linda, who is my mama and her name means beautiful and she really is, and one Annette, one Anne, one Ann, three with one name meaning grace and the Trinity really is and I am the deep dirty Ann who has to bathe her stains long in the Grace.

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Mama’s got plates of sliced oranges laid out,strawberries, raisin bread toasted. Her tea pot in its cozy. Their Bibles are all laid open. The air is cool this early, the sky quiet clear. A cardinal heralds the sun from the tip of the spruce tree at the fence. I nod embarrassed, always the last, and mama pours my tea and the steam wraps itself up and around the cool, warming fresh morning.

John 21,” Annette winks her welcome, points to her page and I find the passage. Ah, yes, this passage — Jesus at dawn and the disciples at sea with their nets and He’s already got the fire kindled and He beckons, “Come and have breakfast.” I smile. We’re here. And it’s a feast! Mama clasps her hands, laughs.

We read the passage four times. Once lingering. Once listening. Once lifting voice to pray the words. Last time: to live it. Lectio Divina.

Annette says she wants the passionate abandon for Jesus that jumps out of the boat like Peter, plunges straight into water as soon as he sees Him, and did he do it because he thought he might walk on water again?

Mama keeps returning to the three times Jesus asks “Do you truly love me?” and she says that all week she’s been working through feelings of rejection and it’s been hard and it hurts and yes, betrayal, and what does it really mean to feed Christ’s sheep today and she has to figure that if that’s the way we show we really do love HIm.

Anne, the other one with the fanciful “e” and curling hair, she’s thinking about Peter with a battered faith who says I’m outta here, I’m going fishing, and a Jesus who won’t let Him go, who wants him to build His church even when he’s betrayed Him three times and that’s a kind of love she needs right now.

Then Mama turns to me, “And for you, Ann? How is He speaking to you through this passage?” The sun’s warmer now on our faces, higher over the corn behind Mama’s house. A robin’s singing with the cardinal. I unbutton my sweater.

“Well, there’s the fact He asks us to trust him when it feels like we’ve been in a long night and caught nothing and will we hear His voice, trust him, do what He says when He asks the unconventional of us: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat”…. And there’s this: … the wild love waiting for us at the end of dark, empty nights of the soul — the kind of love that has breakfast waiting for us on the beach, the fish and bread all ready for us… but really… and this is what I keep coming back to,” I glance around anxious at their faces and I run on excited, “I keep coming back to this:

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.

I look up. They look blank. I try again. “It was full of large fish — 153!” Mama nods slowly… waiting for the epiphany to strike. Annette’s smiling politely. Anne’s fingering the corner of her page, re-reading the text.

I just blurt it out: “Someone had counted the fish!”

Peter, the failure, the reject, the broken, he had counted fish.

Now they all smile, nod politely. My cheeks are hot. I distract with reaching for my cup of tea, swig back a long gulp, and sputter out something about it getting that time and maybe it’s time to close in prayer?

We go around the circle and the sun’s sure now, strong, and we each pray passionate for the woman to the right of us, for her bruises and for her dark night and for her longings and that she might be fed, her nets full to overflowing in the morning and that we would each really love Jesus. We squeeze hands with the final Amen.

And for a moment, we all sit still and silent in the sun. I close my eyes, listen to nature waking. The light feels healing. The robin keeps singing. A back door closes down the street. I can hear a car start.

“Well, you’d all better get back to families!” Mama’s gathering plates off the deck table. We carry in teacups from the back deck, wander in through her house for our shoes.

And there it is on Mama’s kitchen table. Stacks and scattered and in open books. Us three Ann’s pause on our way through. Mama sets the teapot on the counter. “Yes, forgive the piles. All week, I’ve been sorting out the years. Filing them into albums.” I scan my history — Mama’s. I hurt inside.

A child abused. A wife replaced. A mother broken.

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Annette leans over, points to a black and white image of a little girl holding a doll, her mother’s hand.

“Who is this?”

“That’s me!” Mama smiles and Annette’s eyes grow big, picks it up for a closer look at time.

There are photos of Mama a toddler, her sitting on her father’s lap, a color-tinted photograph of her mother, Mama’s first Christmas with my father, his gold-band hand resting on her shoulder. There are photos of me sleeping on Dad’s chest, my first steps, my Dad holding me brand new in the heat of an August dusk. Mama looks so young.

Her whole life is laid out across the table on kodak paper.

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Anne points to one a white-blonde girl with sky blue eyes playing in a cardboard box. “And this?”

“Aimee.”

Mama says her name quiet and holy, name of my younger sister who was killed before Mama’s eyes. I want to find the door, run away home. I want to pick up the photo of Aimee and me and Mama sitting on the orange flowered couch with my brother, my Dad and I want to go back and make it right, make it all hold. My parent’s marriage. My sister’s life. Us.

Mama picks up the picture for me, of us all. Holds it so I can see. Dad’s smiling. I remember when Mama had long hair like that, dark and thick and wavy, under a kerchief. When they were married and we were all together and I remember Aimee’s giggle and her alive.

“Yes… “ she traces faces… says the words more to another time than to us right here. “Now you can see why I’ve been working through rejection.” I swallow hard. When we can’t say it and we just want to run away, Jesus asks our question for us, again and again, “Do you truly love me?”

Anne nods understanding towards Mama and Mama looks across the table, asks in this wounded whisper, “What do you do with all this?” It’s her life.

We are silent.

And then it comes, and I murmur:

You count fish?

Mama turns to me and I reach for one of John and Aimee and I playing in the sandbox and I say it slow.

“You pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —- the net actually didn’t tear. That there’s much in your net. And you actually count them. You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask because you know. You know it is the Lord.” I feel the lump in my throat ebbing.

You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153Far more than 153. It’s a feast!” I look up. Mama’s looking at me.

“You count fish?” She nods and she clasps her hands and laughs lovely and soft and long and she is beautiful. The epiphany strikes: “You count fish!”

Us four stand around a table picking up photos and pain from the past and we’ve lingered over Scripture so that we live it and we are disciples counting the blessings hauled in by a life.

We give to God when we give thanks.

I hold one picture long.

And I count it twice.

And I count it twice.

::

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Guest Post-How To Avoid Getting Caught in the World Wide Web: Letters between friends about Social Media: #1

My word sisters, Holley Gerth and Ann Voskamp are sharing their hearts over at Holley’s blog.  This was exactly what I needed to hear today. How about you?

a letter from Ann Voskamp to Holley Gerth

::

Dear Holley, woman with a heart as wide as hope itself…

Do you remember first asking me —“How do you be in the world wide web but not of it?”

How can we navigate this cyberweb and not get caught in it?

Creating buzz while we are soundlessly being wrapped tighter and tighter…. till we are slowly eaten alive…

:::

::

I know. What does any of this web stuff have to do with anything real, really? The world wide web, these blogs, this thing called “social media” — isn’t all just a little bit — virtual? Unreal? Disconnected to the stuff of our life, our hearts?…Head over to Holley’s blog for more….