Praying for You Chris Singleton!

The next prompt in Writing in the Margins:

While you access to world news, find an image –a face—of someone far across the word.  Look at the shape and color of their eyes, the turn of their smile, and notice their other unique features.  Now turn in your Bible to the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:24-26 and write a prayer for the Lord’s blessing and keeping of the stranger whose photo you engaged.

The church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina was not in the news when I first started working on this verse.   The photo of one young boy in a baseball uniform and his beautiful mother with a smile that could light up a room pulled at my heart strings.  I just couldn’t imagine him losing his mother at such a young age.  You could feel the love between them in the picture.  I read that he often told her that she spent too much time at church, but for her to die at church, to be shot at church is unfathomable.

After a few days, he was still on my mind and I decided his picture was the one I wanted in my Bible next to this verse.  I went to search for it again and found that this same young man spoke about his mother at a press conference.  His words are words that everyone should hear….

Love is stronger than hate, so if we just love the way my mom would, then the hate won’t be anywhere close to where the love is.

I’ll be praying for you Chris Singleton and your brother and sister because you can never have too many prayers.

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(To add the picture to the text, I found a picture that I liked, increased the brightness just a little so that the text would show through clearly, and printed it on clear “Repositionable window decals” from Staples.  When I went to Staples, I was looking for clear label paper, but this was the best I could find.  I was really happy with how the decals work for Bible Journaling because they stick well, but they really are repositionable.)

 

My Faith Walk

I haven’t shared too much of my personal faith walk in my blog, mostly because I have the world’s most boring testimony.  There are no road to Damascus moments, return from the brinks, Prodigal son type returns, near-death experiences, miraculous visions.  I was baptized, confirmed, and married at the same church.  My journey to Christ has been pretty much according to plan, at least from a Presbyterian perspective.

Unlike many Christians, I do not remember a defining moment when I accepted Jesus in my life.  It seems Jesus has always been there; as a shepherd guarding, protecting, and leading onward; as a shining example reminding me of how to live and how to love; as a real help in times of trouble, prompting with words and leading me to do the right thing; as a savior granting forgiveness and redeeming wrong steps; as a friend in quiet and lonely moments; as a reminder that life hurts sometimes; as the silver lining in every cloud.

The following prompt from Writing in the Margins gave me a new understanding of my journey to Christ:

Read Romans 3:10-8:39.  Consider this a series of “stepping stones.”  Write in your margins—as steps—the key pieces of information that shape your journey to Christ.

I’m not sure if I picked the stepping stones that Lisa Nichols Hickman had in mind, but I was surprised and touched by how easy it is for me to tell my journey to Christ through this rather long passage, almost like I discovered the blue print for my faith journey.  This is going to be a crazy long post…

Baptized and educated:  I was baptized when I was four; it’s my earliest memory.  What I remember most is that my mother told me if I were good during the service, she would give me gifts.  After the service, she gave me a Children’s Bible and a cross on a necklace.  I am sure I was a little disappointed, at the time, but through the years I’ve come to appreciate the significance of the gifts that she chose.  We went to church most Sundays, and I loved Sunday school.  Since I was an active participant in my baptism, I learned early in life:  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Maybe my upbringing has affected my vision, but I find this easy to accept.   Just the other day, my mother-in-law gave each of our children a Pez container.  Our daughter was delighted and happy with hers for all of about one evening.  By morning time she wanted her brother’s, too.  I was thinking:  “Don’t covet!”  I know that this is normal for a three-year-old, but that is also kind of the point.  In time, she will mature and I will keep encouraging her to have a grateful heart, but it’s just one simple example of human weakness.    I also know that we are created in the image of God, and see I that image in our daughter, too:  I feel her love and delight in her exuberant joy!

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Called and Confirmed:  A journey of faith always takes us to unknown territory; there’s a point in the journey where many of us feel a little like Abraham, called out of ourselves a bit.  For me, that moment came when I was in middle school.  I was very involved in my church’s youth group and also a contemporary youth choir called the New Spirit Singers.  My spiritual life felt rich and full.  My grandmother took me on a trip to Hawaii when I was about 14.  I have a memory of asking my grandmother for a little time alone.  I walked up to the top of a sand dune, stared at the waves, and the sky.  My grandmother watched from a distance.  The clouds opened up and the whole sky was lit up with twinkling stars.  And I felt aware of a reality that was much bigger than anything I’d known previously.  I guess it could be called a transcendent experience, but it also felt like an official invitation to know God and to be aware of God’s presence.  (It can be hard to meet God amidst the daily grind of life, but sometimes being a new setting can open the possibility for connection.  Vacations and retreats can be a great opportunity to draw closer to God!)  Shortly after this vacation, I was part of the confirmation class at church and confirmed.

My favorite part from the Genesis story of God’s call to Abraham is that Abraham is blessed to be a blessing.  And I believe that is why God calls Christians:  to be a blessing to others.

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Prepared:  During my high school year, I started attending worship services more often.  I remember clearly hearing a sermon preached on St. Paul’s writing about rejoicing even in suffering.  It was always clear to me that a Christian journey would not be easy.  There would be times when prayers would seem to go unanswered, but even in my sorrows and heartache I could be assured of God’s love.

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Justified:  Sometime during my senior year, I started to have a lot of questions.  Things that I had learned formulaically, very basic Christian beliefs like Jesus died for our sins, started to trouble me.  Jesus died a horrific death, and I didn’t think anyone deserved that.  Justification was all of the sudden really hard for me to understand.  Deeply distressed, I went to talk to my minister, who did not offer lengthy explanations or give me another book to read.  Instead, he just asked a simple question:  “Are you willing to find out what this means for you?”  When I responded, “Yes,” he said, “That’s all that is needed.”  He reminded me that everlasting life is the free gift of God.  I just needed to be willing to accept the gift.

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Assured and Adopted:  I’ve experienced temptation and sin, but I take comfort knowing that St. Paul shared his own struggles to do what is right.  Through every stage of life I have felt assured that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  And I feel blessed to call God “Father.”  I feel God’s presence guiding me in life, like a Father, lovingly and patiently helping live according to God’s ways as Jesus taught.

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Patiently Conformed and Always Loved:  I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God.  I’ve shared this page before, but it is a fitting conclusion to my faith walk!

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Civil Liberty and True Religion

This is part two of my reflection on the following prompt from Writing in the Margins…

Galatians 5:1 speaks to our freedom in Christ.  Take your Bible to a place where you can engage the news of the word…Write a prayer for freedom for those in particular places in our world where violence and oppression reign.

In my previous post, I prayed as Lisa Nichols Hickman instructed.  As I reflected on areas of the world with violence and oppression, God laid something on my heart:  an important way to honor the persecuted church is to deeply and fully appreciate the religious freedom we enjoy.  Far too often we squander it, sleeping in on Sundays and letting our Bibles collect dust.  It’s a privilege and a blessing to worship in freedom; to own and read (and even doodle) in the Bible.  It’s a blessing to explore our religion in depth and nourish our spirits.  There are people in the world who can’t practice their religion without risking arrest.  As I read about Christian persecution around the world, two main causes came up again and again:  dictatorial paranoia and religious extremism.  In America, we owe such a debt of gratitude to the framers of the constitution for protecting us from overreaching politics and religion run amuck.

I keep thinking of a sermon titled “The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men” (May 17, 1776) delivered by Rev. John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister and leading influence in the educational and intellectual life of colonial America.  He signed the declaration of independence and nine of his Princeton students went to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, including James Madison, father of the Constitution.  In the sermon, Rev. Witherspoon advocated the duty to resist tyranny and proclaimed a sure faith that God would ultimately bring good out of evil.  He taught that praising human nature leads humans in the wrong direction, but recognizing our lost state kindles the desire for grace and a longing for peace and righteousness.  His vision for the young country was one of liberty, justice, and humanity brought about by civil liberty and true religion.  He ended his sermon with a prayer that any unjust attempt to destroy liberty or true religion, would in the end lead to the support and establishment of both.  I somehow know that Rev. John Witherspoon is in heaven and still praying for this country.  I join my voice with his in offering this prayer for America:

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For Witherspoon, the essence of true religion was simply “responding to providence with suitable inward temper and outward conduct.”  I can’t help but think if Witherspoon had a Bible verses to share with Americans today, it might be Galatians 5:13-15.

For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as on opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfillied in on word:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

As Americans, our calling is freedom.  And our responsibility, regardless of creed or faith tradition, is simply to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  God bless America.

If One Members Suffers…

I feel so blessed to live in a country where I can freely worship God at a church of my choice, where Bibles are so easy to find, where I received an excellent public education so I can read the Bible, where I can even freely blog about my personal journey through the Bible.  Today’s prompt reminded me not to take those things for granted:

Galatians 5:1 speaks to our freedom in Christ.  Take your Bible to a place where you can engage the news of the word…Write a prayer for freedom for those in particular places in our world where violence and oppression reign.

It’s not easy to read stories of Christian persecution, just as it is incredibly hard to reflect on the death of Jesus.  But the reality of Easter morning gives me hope that one day prisoners will be set free and broken hearts mended.  The persecuted church needs our prayers.  I read in a Christianity Today article that 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom violations against Christians in recent memory.  There are times when it does seem impossible to reconcile God’s sovereign purposes with what I see happening in the world.  My most desperate complaints are often met with silence, not a cold silence but a peaceful silence reminding me of God’s presence even in the midst of the unthinkable.

In response to this prompt, I started following OpenDoors USA on Facebook to keep better up to date on news that often does not make the headlines on major news networks, and I offered this prayer in the margins of my Bible:

Heavenly Father, I pray for those where violence and oppression reign.  Pave the way for religious freedom and civil liberties.  Strengthen Christians living under persecution by your Holy Spirit.  Surround them with love.  May Christians easily and safely recognize one another and find support.  May they know how to share the Gospel and talk about Jesus.  May Christians who have lost friends and family over religion be surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ who will support them physically and emotionally.  I pray for the safety of young children and their parents.  Shelter young women under your wing and be their protection; assure them of your unending love.  I pray that every practical need will be met and also for Bibles and the education to read them.  Amen

It’s hard for me to even imagine not having a Bible, not being able to turn to the Words of scripture for encouragement and wisdom for daily living.

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Prayer Changes the One who Prays

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins…

An often-neglected line in the famous “Serenity Prayer” asks that hardships become a pathway to peace.  The prayer offers:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.

Find a spot in your Bible to write and reflect on this portion of the Serenity Prayer.

I knew right away where this prayer belonged in my Bible:  Right next to Philippians 4:12–I have learned to be content in all circumstances–because the Serenity Prayer provides an excellent learning path toward that end!  I suspect that most people have a desperate moment at least once in their life where the Serenity Prayer is the best answer.  Richard Niebuhr gave the world a true gift with this prayer.  The prayer has changed lives, including my own.  I am reminded of a quote from Kierkegaard:  “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.”

My Serenity Prayer moment came about ten years into our marriage.  After many years of hoping, I still had not become pregnant.  I was feeling somewhat desperate for a tiny miracle.   My head was filled with thoughts of infertile women from the Bible:  Sarah and Hannah.  I thought of Mary’s miraculous conception.  I prayed and I waited and waited and…then just fell apart.  I once heard someone say that not being able to conceive is one of the most stressful life experiences for a woman, and that infertility is comparable in terms of emotional distress to receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.  I found these statements to at least validate the despair that I felt at the time.  I sought some counseling and I turned to this verse:  “I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”  I was focused on learning to be content (mostly on the learning part of it!).

In the midst of this crisis, I was talking to a friend about the importance of being content.  And he started to vehemently disagreed with me.  He said, “It’s not good to always be content.  Should I be content with injustice?”  As I explained more of what I meant, he shared with me the idea of givenness, and I asked, “What is givenness?” “Givenness is ‘What presents itself,’” he responded.  When he saw the blank look on my face, he added, “Appreciating what God has given and not trying to make everything over the way you want it to be.”  When I still had the blank look on my face, he said plainly, “The old AA motto:  The courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept the things you can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  With a profound voice he added:  “The key is the wisdom to know the difference.”  So I prayed for wisdom; the answer I received was “Be patient.”; and the feeling I received was serenity.  In time, the problem resolved itself.  My husband and I were blessed with a beautiful baby boy and five years later (another long wait!) a girl, too.

I had all these thoughts running through my head as I was mentally preparing for this page.  Then our daughter got sick.  After a rough night, I took her to the doctor thinking she might have bronchitis or pneumonia, expecting to receive a prescription for some antibiotics.  Instead I received a three-day visit to the hospital.  The doctor told me, “You can run home and get your toothbrush, but don’t dawdle.”

I ran home, grabbed a few things including my toothbrush, some favorite toys for Elizabeth, and my Bible, micron pens, and some new Distress Ink pads, which were all sitting on my kitchen table.  Then we went to the hospital.

I found that spending some time with the Serenity Prayer in this setting to be both comforting and reassuring!  It helped me to accept the fact that my plans changed.  The prayer also gave me the courage to turn over to my co-workers a project for work that was about three quarters finished. Once I got over my initial feelings of resistance to the idea of not finishing something for work, which was harder than you might imagine, I simply felt gratitude that I could put my trust in my co-workers to finish the job on time without me.  I did my best to just give into the experience and enjoy one moment at time.  One of the best moments, was playing with our daughter and my new inks on the window sill of our hospital room.  Elizabeth and I enjoyed a lot of one-on-one mother-daughter time, and I felt like both of us were well cared for by the sweet nurses.  (And our son enjoyed some one-on-one time with dad!)  It was definitely three out-of-the-ordinary days that I’ll always remember; someone that I work with is fond of saying:  “Life is what happens to you when you are planning something else.”  (Our little girl has completely bounced back, but I’m still decompressing!!!)

The inks washed off our little girl and the window sill easily, but unfortunately bled through a little bit on my Bible page!  But even the bleed through—something I do my best to avoid—can be a reminder to accept the things that can’t be changed!

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God Loves Us All Perfectly

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins:

Choose a text that has troubled you or challenged you at some point in your life, and have a conversation with the text.  Perhaps even use conversation bubbles in the style of a comic strip.  God speaks from the left, you speak from the right.  Draw a series of bubbles.  Fill the bubbles with a conversation between you and God about the particular text.

The text I chose was “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  The pages from Jesus Sermon on the Mount are quickly getting filled up (and I’m mostly following Lisa Nichol Hickman’s suggestions).  I feel like the Sermon on the Mount is central to what it means to practice Christianity, and it’s hard.  I love the words of Jesus, but I always feel a bit discouraged, as in “I’ll never fully be able to put these words into daily practice.” And in the midst of it all is this exhortation to “Be perfect.”

So I had a little conversation with the text and doing so helped me read the text in a completely fresh way.  I’ve always been so focused on my own inadequacies that I completely failed to see that this verse isn’t about us at all.  It’s about God.  God loves us perfectly.  God loves all of us.  He makes the sun to shine on everyone!  We can practice at loving others this way, but really only Jesus loves perfectly.  And when we grasp how perfectly God loves us, we can express love more easily ourselves.

I did another tipped-in page, and this time I decorated the back of the page for whenever I need a reminder of God’s perfect love!  I hope these pictures show that Bible Journaling can be simple and easy and still life changing!  Journaling the Bible is all about engaging the text in a new way.

God loves us

God:  Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Me:  God, I fall so short in so many ways.

God:  Love perfectly; love everyone I bring into your life.

Me:  But God, I have trouble being patient and kind even to those most dear to me.

God:  Keep practicing.

Me:  I’ve been at this a long time.  I’ll never get there.

God:  Then surrender.  Let Jesus be your perfection.

Me:  Come, Lord Jesus!

The Conviction of Things Not Seen

Just a super quick note for tonight!  This is the last in a series of memory verses found at the back of chapter 8 “Praying in that In of Space” in Writing in the Margins by Lisa Nichols Hickman.  With each of these verses, I’ve tried to do something new, push my comfort zone a little.  I still need to get up the courage to paint outside the margins!

For this page, I made a template for the letters out of cardstock.  After I cut out the individual letters, I took a piece of masking tape and taped it to wax paper, traced the letters, and cut them out.  Then I put the individual masking tape letters in my Bible, finished writing out the verse with my black micron pen, and painted with water color.

Maybe in the morning, I’ll wake up with my head filled with thoughts about this verse.  For now it just makes me happy the way this page worked out.  The word “faith” is what is not painted yet!  Just as love can only be freely given and requires free will; faith can only exist when there are still some blank spaces and unanswered questions.

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