The Bible Story

As I was doing my morning devotion, which was about generosity, I wrote down the phrase that a dear friend often says:  “Obey the generous impulse.”  Next I thought:  “Uh oh, what is God asking me to do today?”

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I completed my morning routine and went to Bible Study.  We started a new book called Seemless by Angie Smith:  Understanding the Bible as One Complete Story.  We were asked to rate ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10 how well we understand the general story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.  In the discussion that followed, I shared “that’s just how I’ve always read it”.  I’ve listened to Bible stories from wonderful Sunday school teachers for as long as I can remember; I’ve been so blessed.  Then I said:  “That’s why I blog, to share some of what I’ve been given.”  Then I said, “Oh, I know what I need to do today.”  Everyone looked at me funny.  Sometimes the generous impulse is no problem!  The Bible story is filled with wonderful riches, and so easy for me to share.  Years ago, I wrote an essay and shared it with a writing instructor at my school who was from India.  After reading my essay, she looked at me puzzled and said:  “I cannot access what you have written since I do not know the stories of the Bible.”  Undeterred, I just wrote down a brief sketch of the Bible Story to bridge that gap.  What follows is what I wrote for her many years ago as part of the writing class.  It’s personal retelling, but the Bible story is one that is meant to be told and retold!  I hope it helps bring the long love story that is woven throughout the Bible into focus.

PRIOR KNOWLEDGE:  THE STORY I LOVE TO HEAR AND TELL 

The events recorded in the Bible have always been part of my life.  Before I could read, I learned of the Bible orally.  As an adult, I have learned that the Bible is much richer and more colorful than my Sunday School memories.  Lack of knowledge about the Bible should not get in the way of knowing God’s love, but will definitely prevent people from understanding Christian perspective.

Since my goal in writing this chapter was simply to share knowledge common to most young Presbyterians, I read the following to my fifth and sixth grade Sunday school class, asking questions as I went along.  It was incredibly rewarding to listen to the students eagerly fill in the missing details.  The stories of the Bible are definitely better when they are shared and discussed.  My students became most animated when I arrived at the story of Joseph and his brothers; apparently they all understood the desire to find creative ways to dispose of a brother.  What is harder to understand is Joseph’s willingness to forgive.  Thinking about the stories in the Bible and placing myself in them has given me a moral compass in life and deepened my appreciation for the struggles humans have with God, one another, and ourselves.

Here is the startling claim the Bible makes:  God is real; God is one; God created the world; and God is involved in history.  Through the incredible story that unfolds in the Bible we can come to know God, who is revealed and yet remains always a mystery:  “How unsearchable are his judgments and inscrutable his way!”

The Bible starts with the story of creation, which tells us that God brings form to chaos, fills emptiness with life, and creates humans in God’s own image.  God puts the first man in a garden and gives him work and freedom and finally a companion.  When Adam, the first man, sees Eve, the first woman, he cherishes her:  “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  Love at first sight inspires the first human words recorded in the Bible.  A serpent enters this blissful picture and encourages Eve to eat from a tree, which God commanded Adam to avoid upon penalty of death.  The serpent promises her that eating the fruit would make her like God, knowing good and evil.  She succumbs to the temptation, and Adam quickly follows her example.  Instead of becoming like God, as the serpent promised, the couple becomes estranged from God, cast out of the garden.

In the generations that follow, God sees the increasing evil of humankind and it grieves God’s heart.  Following an enormous flood over the entire earth, all of creation receives the chance to begin again with Noah and his family, and God promises:  “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.  As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”  God puts a rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise.

A few generations later, God decides to start over once again, not with destruction, but by reaching out to a man named Abraham.  God says to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  He promises to make Abraham’s descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky.  Abraham’s wife, however, is already old and without child.  Hagar, a slave who becomes a wife and later a free woman, has a son with Abraham at Sarah’s impatient request, and then a miracle happens:  Sarah has a baby, too, when she is very, very, very old.  Abraham is known as a man of great faith, but I have always wondered about him as a father.  He sends one son to the wilderness with his mother to be taken care of by God, and leads the other son up a mountain with the idea of sacrificing him.  Ultimately, God takes care of the older son Ishmael, and the angel of God promises Hagar in the wilderness to make a great nation of him, too:  “Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.”  God also provides a lamb as a substitute for the sacrifice of Isaac.

Understandably Ishmael and Isaac are not close, but they do not kill each other as Cain kills Able, the first brothers in the Bible story.  When Abraham dies, both of his sons come back to bury him.  Ishmael’s decedents become Muslims, and Isaac’s descendents become Jews.  One of Isaac’s descendents is Jesus, and Jesus brings the rest of us into the same family as his adopted brothers and sisters.

The Bible continues with the story of Isaac, who has two sons, Esau and Jacob.  Esau gives up his birthright to his younger brother for a bowl of lentil soup, and Jacob surreptitiously receives Isaac’s blessing.  Later, Jacob unknowingly wrestles all night with God, and afterwards his name is changed to Israel, which has a double meaning:  “God has striven, God has saved.”  Wrestling with and being saved by God is part of the story of being God’s people.

Israel has twelve sons.  Joseph is the favorite son and he is a dreamer.  The other brothers, jealous and irritated by him, sell him as a slave and tell their father that he has died.  It is not part of God’s plan, however, for Joseph to be a slave.  Through a series of extraordinary events, he becomes head advisor to the Pharaoh of Egypt.  When a famine comes, he is able to help his brothers.  The brothers come to him fearful because of what they have done, and Joseph responds with these incredible words:  “Do not be afraid!  Am I in the place of God?  Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…”  His brothers end up in Egypt, too.  The children of Joseph’s brothers become slaves there for 430 long, dark years.

God starts over again, this time with a baby placed in a basket and floated down a river.  His name is Moses, which means “drawn out” since he is drawn from the water.  He is raised as a son of Pharaoh, but he can never shake his sense of oneness with the Hebrews who are being oppressed.  Eventually, Moses leads the Hebrews to freedom with God’s help, but it is not an easy journey.  It involves ten terrible plagues, a dramatic parting of the Red Sea followed by Egyptian horses and riders being thrown into the water, and forty years of wandering in the desert.  During this time, God establishes a covenant with the Hebrews and writes the Ten Commandments onto stone tablets so that they will know how to love God and each other.

God eventually brings the Hebrews into the Promised Land.  They are led by a man named Joshua, a name that means “Yahweh delivered.”  (“Jesus” is the Greek form of the same name.)

After the Hebrews have been in the Promised Land many years, they decide that they want a king.  God consents and gives them kings, but unlike their heavenly king, the human kings are not perfect.  One king stands out above the others:  King David.  He starts out as simple shepherd boy and rises to fame when he kills the giant Goliath with a sling shot.  Many beautiful Psalms are attributed to King David, and I imagine that much of early scripture was written and read in his court.  David is also an outstanding military leader.  In his personal life, however, he makes some serious mistakes.

During the roughly 400 years following David’s reign, the temple is built in Jerusalem; the kingdom splits in two; both kingdoms fall; the Hebrews are exiled to Babylon; the Hebrews return to Jerusalem almost seventy years later; and the temple is rebuilt.  During this time, God keeps sending prophets.  The word prophet is often associated with predicting future events, but the main purpose of a Biblical prophet is to speak for God.  In general, the prophets remind the people to worship the one true God, to follow God’s law, and to care for the poor.  There is also an ongoing theme:  no matter how bad things become, God will bring restoration.

For about 400 years, the story of the Bible is quiet.  Then on a silent night in Bethlehem, the story starts over again.  This time it begins with a baby named Jesus in the loving arms of Mary his mother.  A carpenter named Joseph is at their side.

When Jesus is about thirty years old, he is baptized in the river Jordan by John the Baptist.  The Holy Spirit descends onto Jesus like a dove and the voice of the Father is heard from heaven saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.”  Since the voice said “I am well-pleased,” we know that Jesus did everything well up until this point, and after his baptism, things really begin happening.  He calls people to follow him; he teaches lessons that change lives; he performs miracles; he feeds crowds; he heals many; he forgives sins; he looks into hearts; and he has compassion.  Jesus does not only come to teach and or to perform miracles to the glory of God.  He comes to deliver humanity from sin and death and to restore humans to God, which he accomplishes by his death on the cross and his resurrection.

When Jesus died, all of our sins—those things that keep us estranged from God—were taken away from us, once and for all, and if we believe Jesus, we live as forgiven people.  This forgiveness allows us to live in relationship with God and each other.  Forgiveness means that friendship is more important than any mistake we might make.  We are blessed to know God as a friend and to know that we will enjoy God’s friendship forever.  This is the purpose of Christian life:  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  We glorify God by who we are for God and we enjoy God because God first loved us, and we know in our hearts that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

I will tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the perspective of Thomas, because I imagine myself in a place just as he appears in the Gospel of John, wanting to believe and not wanting to believe.  I want to believe that Jesus is alive because I love him as a man so much; he has taught me everything worth knowing.  Still, believing that he is alive is almost too wonderful.  According to the Gospel of John, Thomas is not with the other disciples when Jesus first appears.  The disciples tell him the good news, and he will not believe it until he sees Jesus standing before him, wounds and all.  Jesus comes to him and shows him his wounds in answer to Thomas’ request, and Thomas responds, “My Lord and My God.”

The Bible begins with God telling Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.  Adam and Eve may have made some mistakes, but they did obey this command.  For better or worse, the world is filled with humans.  The Gospels end with Jesus telling his disciples to teach the nations everything he taught them, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus’ disciples are still working on this commission two thousand years later.  Thankfully, a disciple of Jesus found me, made me a disciple, baptized me, and showed me how to obey everything Jesus taught.

To myself, I think:  “I wish I could help, but I do not consider myself much of a missionary.  I love individuals as they are, and it is not my goal to change people.  Still, I have a great hope that I feel compelled to share.”

Getting Out of a Rut

Whenever we start something new, there are bound to be set backs.  Maybe you were so excited to get a journaling Bible for Christmas and then did a few entries, but stopped?  Or you got in a good routine and journaled daily, but then lost momentum?  Or maybe you got the Bible and a few supplies, but never started?  Or perhaps a few pages didn’t turn out like you expected, and it just bugs you?  How do you pick up again?

Here’s a few thoughts…

You may be in a season of life where your priorities have shifted.  That’s ok.  That happens.  Your Bible will wait for you!  It’s there when you are ready.  Sometimes you just have to wait on the Holy Spirit to lead you forward.

If you had a daily rhythm going, think about what worked for you.  I was in a really good routine in November and December and here’s some things that helped:

  • Having a daily devotion to work through.
  • Reading the Scripture before bed and putting out some Bible Journaling supplies to wake up to.
  • Having a simple color scheme for the season—picking a few colors that work well together and using them over and over. This makes Bible journaling simpler for me.

You don’t necessarily have to wake up early to Bible journal or set aside a specific time each day.  Bible journaling is something that’s easy to weave into your day.  Read a scripture some time in the morning.  It just takes 5 or so minutes.  Think about it throughout the day.  Even if you just imagine a creative response to a Bible passage, you are still getting deeper into the Word.  I’ve done so many pages in my head that I never had time do in my Bible.  If you do have a few extra minutes, you can journal the page.  I find journaling in my Bible to be relatively easy to do with my kids around (if I am willing to share my art supplies).  It’s not something that requires as much quiet and concentration as prayer.

Remember why you wanted to start in the first place.  My why has changed after Bible journaling for a few years.  Now I can look back at my Bible and remember countless small moments where God met me in the margins of my Bible, giving me a little bit of wisdom through the right verse at the right moment.  Sometimes the way a page comes together just speaks to me right where I am with a voice I couldn’t have otherwise heard.  It may seem funny to say this, but I’ve often experienced it:  The answer to my prayers and questions often surfaces as I play with the stickers and paper pieces. Maybe playing creatively in the Word just lets my mind relax, but the whole experience often feels like a hug from God. And all I have to do is show up!

Face your perfectionism:  Maybe you just can’t face your Bible after a few pages just didn’t turn out the way you expected.  You have two options:  1) You can decide that it’s about the process and not worry about past mistakes.  2) You can decide that you aren’t quite ready to conquer your perfectionism.  It’s ok to start fresh with a new Bible.  I’ve done that myself.  The one Bible that I totally messed up I use for testing supplies or trying something new for a first time.  I heard a pastor once say:  Nothing is wasted in God’s economy!

Consider looking for a Bible journaling class or event locally.  Meeting up with others can provide some inspiration.

If you are at a loss where to start, ask for help in a Facebook Bible journaling group like Illustrated Faith’s Bible Journaling Community.  Someone posted a note recently about being in a rut.  At the time, I didn’t have any suggestions because I was in a rut, too.   I said so, and a Bible Journaling friend quickly posted an idea for me that I’m really going to do!

Another great tip is to pick a date and get started.  I love the liturgical calendar because it provides lots of seasons to start fresh.  This year, Lent officially begins on Valentine’s Day, February 14.  Pick a Bible, pick a devotion, and gather some supplies to fit the season.  My friend Melinda Ransdell suggested to me that I do Ann Voskamp’s Free 40 Day Lent Devotional Journey, and that’s my plan!  (If you want to join me, scroll to the bottom of the blog post and enter your e-mail to download the PDF.)

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I’ll share the rut I’ve been in…

I went on a trip to Disney World with my family.  Six months before the trip, I made a reservation for dinner inside Cinderella’s castle.  It was my mom’s idea at first, but as I thought about it, I was drawn into the idea of a night where I could feel like Cinderella in the castle (I’m sure every woman knows the story of feeling like the Cinderella who can’t do anything right!–just for one night, it might feel good do feel free).  Everything was beyond perfect about our dinner, but I noticed something distressing:  I spent the evening unhappy and worried about something that was totally beyond my control.  We had wonderful food including a beautiful chocolate mousse for dessert, the best table in the restaurant with a window seat overlooking the carousel, our waiter was delightful, when the fireworks went off we were right in their midst.  And I love carousels, castles, fireworks, and chocolate!

Still, I was sitting in my chair while the fireworks went off with tears pouring down my eyes, mixed emotion tears.  And when I came home from the trip, I cried for a couple days.  Part of it was just post-trip let down; I was looking forward to the trip for months.  But something else was going on, too.  There were tears of real repentance.

Since the trip, I’ve been doing some self-reflection.  Part of what has surfaced is a common enough problem:  I’m missing and failing to be grateful for too many amazing gifts that God gives me because my mind is busy trying to understand something or solving the next problem or just judging myself harshly.  Why do I feel so bad about myself when I can’t make others happy?  Why do I beat myself up for forgetting small things?

I stayed up one night making a list of things that make me happy.  I shared it with my husband, who has since been calling me when he sees a beautiful sunset and makes sure I’m looking out the window.  This was before I even picked up One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a book which really speaks directly to the problem I noticed.  So this Lent, I’m committing to spend some time with Ann Voskamp.  Her books arrived today:  One Thousand Gifts and also The Broken Way. I printed out her Lenten resource:  A Lent to Repent and Refresh.  As I skim over the prayers on each days devotion, I can tell they speak to where my heart is now.

I am never sure where this will lead, whether I’ll post daily or weekly or when Easter comes, but I’m looking forward to the journey!

While I was dining at the castle, the princess Sleeping Beauty came to our table.  She stopped to say Happy Birthday to my daughter.  I said to Sleeping Beauty: “Oh your sixteenth birthday, that was a rough day!”  That’s the day she was pricked on the finger by a spinning wheel and was cursed by Maleficence to fall into a deep sleep.  The spinning wheel could easily represent our work, our worries, our endless to do lists, and our spinning mind.  These things do put us into a slumber of sorts.  True love wakes us up!  The Sleeping Beauty, who was with us in the castle, said, “It was a hard day, but it was also the day that I discovered I was a princess.”  She bent down and said to my daughter “You are only six, but you already know you are a princess.”  Every time I think about her saying that, I start to cry.  I hope one day, that I look back on that night and remember it as the night I woke up from my slumber and began truly appreciating all the gifts God gives.  In Christ, each of us is a daughter of the King!  Now to live into that truth!

The Catholic Journaling Bible

For my growing collection of Journaling Bibles, I pre-ordered The Catholic Journaling Bible months ago and it finally arrived…

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In the Illustrated Faith Bible Journaling Community, I’ve noticed a number of requests for a Catholic Journaling Bible.  You might ask what makes a Catholic Bible different from a Protestant Bible:  It has more books.  I circled them below…

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There is a well-known Presbyterian minister who became Catholic named Scott Hahn; he came to appreciate that Catholics have more of everything.  I’ve read Scott’s book “Rome Sweet Home” and while he has not convinced me to become Catholic myself (I really relate to his wife Kimberly’s reservations; I think communion should be a sign of Christian unity, not disunity), I do share with Scott Hahn a sincere desire to encourage everyone to read the Bible and chew the Word of God.  Spending time in the Word in a creative way has deepened my spiritual life and drawn me closer to God.  It has helped me to appreciate the fullness of God’s love and what it means to love God and love others.

The translation is the New American Bible Revised Edition.  I am almost entirely certain this is the translation read at the local Catholic church.  When I went to Christmas Eve mass, I was struck by the wording of the following passage from Isaiah 9:6:  “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (This is how it reads in the Journaling Bible, too.)

The Bible is beautiful.  Each book begins with an overview…

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And there are many pages of beautiful word art throughout the Bible…

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What I appreciate most about this Bible is the helpful, academic footnotes throughout, which are a great help in understanding the text.

You can tell just from the photographs that the pages of this Bible are very thin.  All Bibles have thin paper, but the paper in both The Inspire Praise and the My Promise Bible is less transparent and slightly thicker.  But I can still use my Micron pens without any bleed-through, so it’s all good!

If you have been longing to doodle or take notes or write prayers in Tobit, now you can!

Light a Candle for Love and Christ

What an Advent!  On one Sunday, we lit both the fourth Advent candle and the Christ candle.

I think we should also light a candle for priests and ministers who just had one epic Christmas Eve with regular Sunday morning worship services topped by an evening of Christmas Eve services.  And maybe light a candle for tired mamas, too.

Normally, my blog posts write themselves.  I just write down whatever pops in my head as I’m doing laundry or driving my kids here and there.

No words were coming to me for this final post of Advent.  How can I describe a Christmas that was at once so meaningful and precious to me and so exhausting?  I felt so blessed to be able to celebrate this Christmas surrounded by love, especially to be with my husband, our two young children and my parents and husband’s parents.

When I had no words for how I felt, Elizabeth Foss came through for me in her Christmas devotion from Rooted in Hope:

In those “rest and be grateful moments,” after a healthy birth of a healthy baby, there is a peace that comes with quiet joy.  The worry and work are past.  Contentment settles, a thick sigh of relief blanketed over extraordinary happiness.  These are the moments when praying mothers know to the core of our beings that God is near.

That pretty much sums up how I felt this Christmas; maybe I labored more for this Christmas than past Christmases in terms of reading Scripture, praying daily, and planning as a result of the beautiful “Rooted in Hope” Advent devotional.  When it was all finished, I was more happy and more tired than I expected.

Here’s a quick look at my last weeks of Bible journaling…

I love this beautiful promise of God’s love from Isaiah. Most of the stickers on this page are covering up mistakes. You can’t see it, but for me, it’s a reminder that we don’t have to be perfect to keep God’s love. I kept messing up this page, but it turned out ok.

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This is one of the simplest pages I’ve ever done, just a verse and two quick stamps…I love this reminder from Jeremiah.  We are clay in God’s hands.  May God be creating something loving!

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Ezekiel’s vision is anything, but simple.  I do better with simple verses that can be illustrated in a cute way than with prophetic images, but I was trying my best to envision what Ezekiel saw:  A sapphire throne, beryl wheels with eyes, a man dressed in linen with hot burning coals, cherubim, and a four-headed figure with wings.   Clearly whatever Ezekiel saw was beyond words.  His experience must have been a total assault on the senses. Reading this passage during Advent brought to mind the contrast between this vision of God’s glory, beyond description and the infant Jesus.  All that in a tiny, approachable baby!

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The story of Daniel and the lion den is a favorite of a friend whose daughter is in the NICU. I’ve been praying this story over baby Colbie as part of my Christmas prayers: God please be with baby Colbie and keep her safe just as you protected Daniel in the lion den. It makes me happy this story was in the Advent devotion!

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We went to see “The Miracle of Christmas” at The Sight and Sound theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The Sight and Sound version of the Christmas story made me appreciate Joseph and his courage and trust. My son was able to see Joseph as a hero for protecting Mary and making what provisions he could for baby Jesus. It was such a tender portrayal of Joseph, perfect for the day’s devotion.

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One of the things that I don’t really have words for is how my understanding of Mary has changed throughout this devotion and how much more clearly I understand the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture and prophecy.  In the past, I’ve always read Mary’s words:  “Let it be done with me according to your Word” as Mary’s response to God’s call to be the mother of Jesus.  And it can be read that way, but it can also be read as Mary’s recognition that all that God has promised since the beginning of the Bible when God said to Adam and Eve “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” was about to be fulfilled.  There are so many beautiful and complicated ways that the Christmas story fulfills the Word and the prophets.  It’s marvelous.  The whole study has been a good reminder that God’s promises are “Yes and Amen!”  I was looking for a blank page to put the beautiful lettering by Carolyn Svellerella.  Putting Mary’s words right at the beginning captured some of this understanding for me.

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Our Christmas Eve service at church was so sweet.  The pastor read the Bible story from the King James Version.  I saw many eyes wink and nod when the pastor said, the Christmas story just reads best this way.  He read from his grandmother’s Bible.  I’ve loved working in my beautiful My Promise Bible, which is in the King James Version, this Advent…

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The greatest gift is knowing that our salvation was born on Christmas day, with his rewards with him and his work ahead of him…

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Advent is a time of renewal.  This passage from Titus captures all that God has been working in my heart this Advent…

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I’ve never felt so sad to reach the end of a devotional!  But that’s it.

I just wanted to say a few words about my Advent prayers.  I prayed the St. Andrews Novena 15 times each day this Advent.

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment In which the Son of God was born Of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires.

This is hard…Prior to starting this devotion, I did “Gratitude Documented” with “Illustrated Faith”.   I didn’t quite finish the project.  I got bogged down at “unanswered prayers.”  I just wasn’t in a place to be grateful for them.

I was praying for my husband’s cousin’s wife, who was pregnant with twins.  She went into labor at 23 weeks on Thanksgiving.  I decided right then and there that I would pray the St. Andrews Novena for her two tiny babies.  My daughter was spontaneously offering prayers for the babies, too.  Between Thanksgiving and the starting date for the Novena, one of the twins died.  I was angry, especially because my 5-year-old was praying!  (And in the prior year, on Thanksgiving, my daughter prayed for this couple to have a baby.)

Oddly, this tiny baby had the same first two names as someone very important to me.  (The first and middle names were reversed, but it was an odd coincidence, especially since there was no relation.)  I wondered if God wanted me to pray for the person I knew by the same name.

I prayed for baby Colbie and my friend throughout the Novena.  And I was able to pray often near a manger scene including this living creche at my church, which would have made St. Francis proud!  (That’s my boy as Joseph!)

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I also prayed during “The Miracle of Christmas.”  At the end of the performance at the Sight and Sound theater, staff from the production were available to pray at the front of the theater.  I felt led to the front, which is not something I would ordinarily do.  When I told the woman about baby Colbie, she said that her sister was born at equally premature and is now just fine.  Talking to her gave me peace, just as God gave peace to Hannah in the temple.

After my kids went to bed on Christmas Eve, I snuck out at 10:30 to go to 11:00 mass.  We heard the same Scriptures that I heard at my Presbyterian church earlier that night and sang the same songs.  I said a prayer for Christians to be one during the communion service.  When the service was over, I lit a candle for baby Colbie and my friend…

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Am I in a better place to thank God for unaswered prayers?  I’m still sad about the death of the baby boy, but in his short life, he inspired me to pray for another person by the same name, and my prayers brought me hope, peace, joy, and love, just as a tiny baby in the manger brought to the whole world.  I’m grateful that his sister is getting stronger every day; she is five weeks now.  Her mom and dad are now taking turns holding her, a good sign.  God has a way of working things out.

I keep thinking back to the start of this devotion and the words:  “It’s a journey and he’s taking it with you!”

I am so thankful for my many blessings this Christmas, most of all I’m grateful for a good God, who became a tiny infant that we might be able approach him and know him.  May Christ enter into all the prayer requests on your heart even if they don’t turn out as you expect and bring you hope, peace, joy, and love!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light a Candle for Joy

It was a joyful celebration at Church this morning.  The children led worship…

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Throughout this Advent, I’ve been praying the St. Andrews novena:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires through Jesus Christ and His blessed Mother. Amen.

This morning, I had my first taste of why this simple meditation on the nativity is so powerful.  It is always a sweet and moving experience to see the children and hear the Christmas music, but today my heart welled up with prayers that have been on my heart over the past year:  prayers for a friend with unresolved back pain, prayers for a family that took in a child from a troubled situation and then had to give the child back, prayers for those going through financial difficulties at Christmas, prayers for those who have lost loved ones, a family from Syria that my parents met, who found refuge in our town, and for baby Colbie in the NICU and a friend I would like God to grant all the intentions of his heart.  I prayed for Christians everywhere that we might be more unified and for Christians facing persecution.

As the whole church sang:

Joy to the world
The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room

I hoped for Jesus to enter into all the situations on my heart.  I asked Jesus to bring healing, peace, strength, hope, and joy.

What the world received in that hour vouchsafe was Jesus, and deep down, I had a knowing that Jesus, a king born in a humble stable, who taught the world how to love one another, is the answer to my prayers and desires even today.

Looking back at my Bible journaling for the week…

First, I read the story of Samuel going to Jesse’s house to pick and anoint the future king.  The story has an almost impossibly Disney-like feel to it.  All the brothers arrive but one, and Samuel asks:  “Are all your children here?” (I was happy that some of the ladies in the Rooted in Hope Facebook group thought of the Cinderella story, too.  I’m not the only one!)

There’s something endearing to me that God chose the son who was at work, the shepherd, who would not leave the sheep to be part of the lineage of Christ:  “For the Lord sees not as a man sees for man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

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The next couple days were busy and was grateful that I had line art to color in My Promise Bible.

As I reflected on this passage from Amos and also the devotion by Ana Hahn in Rooted in Hope, I thought of how often we only learn to fully appreciate a good in our lives once we lose it (or think we might) and gain it back. A friend recently posted in Facebook that she didn’t appreciate her normal life until it was completely disrupted by a trip to a burn unit with her son who burnt his hand badly. In my own life, I had a frustrating night, but the next morning my kids woke up early and we had time to do the fun things I wanted to the prior night, but couldn’t. After reading Amos, I enjoyed them all the more! Simple joys!

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I had to travel for work this week.  I took my Bible, but forgot my coat!  The weather took a turn toward the frosty, too!  My favorite thing about working on the passage below:  It was read as part of the Christmas pageant today and I thought, “I know that passage!”

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The next reading was the book of Jonah.  First, let me say that Jonah was my absolute favorite Bible story as a child.  The way I have always read the story:  Jonah wanted to run away from God’s call, but God would stop at nothing, preserving his life in the belly of a giant fish, to fulfill His purpose in Jonah’s life.

The trouble is:  I have never liked the way the book of Jonah ends with the Jonah being distraught over a wilted gourd plant.  The author of the devotion read the story in a much different way:  As the story of a man who had a pretty irrational hatred of the people in Nineveh.  I never wanted to wrestle with that part of the story.  After reading the devotion and reflecting on this last chapter of Jonah,  I heard more clearly the message that God was telling Jonah: “God’s love is for everyone.” This is the simplest and best truth of all.

I found myself thinking of a friend of mine whose family survived the Armenian genocide.  She felt led by God to go to Turkey and walk in peace, and she did.  Some of her friends from families who also survived couldn’t understand; even an Armenian priest seemed puzzled by this desire to share love and peace in this way.  Perhaps, the person most changed by the experience was my friend; her eyes were opened to the persecuted church, and at the same time, she was changed by the warm hospitality with which she was received by people from many different traditions.  Her heart grew.

Jonah is one of the few prophets in the Bible, who people actually listen to.  The Ninevites were changed by their encounter with him and God shows His mercy and love to them.  Jonah clearly had trouble with this outcome.  The story of Jonah ends without telling us whether or not Jonah’s heart was changed after his conversation with God.

I think the final chapter of Jonah has been left unwritten on purpose.  The final chapter is the story of our own hearts and how they need to be enlarged to see all people as created and loved by God.

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My daughter came home from school with the cutest illustration on a worksheet titled “Grinch Growth” as I was reading this passage from Habbakuk:

Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit be in the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

As I worked on this page, thought about the passage and the story of the Grinch, I pondered the message that it’s our joy when joy is unexpected that grows the hearts of others and opens hearts to faith and love. (The happy and sad Grinch are my daughter’s.)

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The memory verse for this week….

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Last night my daughter said, “Let’s have a coloring party.”  My daughter colored pictures of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, and I kept coloring until I colored all the Scripture readings.

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Every time I read the first chapter of John I find new insights.  Today, I found myself thinking more about John the Baptist…

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who said:  “Behold the Lamb of God.”

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The My Promise Bible has some pages with room for artwork in the back of the Bible, I used these to write out the passage from 1 Thessalonians since I’ve already added a lot of art to that page in my Bible…

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Spending time in the Word in a creative way has brought me so much joy this week as I prepare my heart for Christmas!  Only one more candle to light before the Christ candle!

 

Light a Candle for Peace

I’ve been working through the Advent Devotional written by Catholic women for Catholic women called “Rooted in Hope.”  There are two main reasons that I chose it:

  • Over the past five or six years, I’ve made it a personal tradition to go to Midnight mass after I get my kids to bed and light a candle; it seems there’s always a prayer concern on my mind at Christmas.  This tradition began when our next door neighbors invited us over for a fish dinner and then let me tag along with them to the service, which was so beautiful that I’ve kept going even when they’ve been out of town.  I thought maybe this devotion would be a good way to prepare my heart.
  • The second reason has to do with what I do at mass: I can’t take communion at a Catholic church since I am Presbyterian, so I always just use the time to pray for unity among Christians.  One of the things that has warmed my heart the most about the Bible journaling movement is to see Christians from all denominations and backgrounds sharing art and supporting each other.  I have this deep hope that our art helps us see what we share in common:  our love for the Word and our love for Jesus.  As I light a candle for peace, I give thanks for the tie that bind us all together!

Here’s a window into the Bible Journaling I’ve been doing this week.  I’ve just been following the daily readings.

This passage from Isaiah 11 is a strange prophecy, one that seems to go against all the laws of nature: a wolf dwell with a lamb? But when we follow Jesus, we often do the unexpected: we choose forgiveness over getting even; we choose loyalty over just looking out for ourselves; we do what is right even when it’s hard or our actions might be misunderstood; we go the extra mile and turn the other cheek; we keep praying until our adversaries become friends; and we do not intentionally hurt or destroy. It may not make the headlines, but I am sure quiet moments of reconciliation made possible by Jesus happen all the time. From today’s devotion: “Salvation history unfolds one yes at a time.”

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The next devotion took me to Exodus where God meets Moses in the burning bush.  I never made this connection before, but Moses is much like the shepherds in the Christmas story, just tending his sheep when he hears God’s voice calling to him.  It is great encouragement to know that God is with us in whatever we are called to do.

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The next Bible story was unfamiliar to me.  When I have a tough time with a passage, I’ll often read it in a children’s Bible.  The Action Bible does a nice job with all of the book of Judges.  The mighty warrior, Gideon doubted God’s promise to him, and asks for a sign and then another sign.  So many times in life, we want God to give us a clear sign that we are on the right path.  God shows great patience to Gideon by filling his fleece with dew on one day and letting it be dry the next though the whole ground was wet with dew.  God still gives him the victory and St. Paul still lists him in the Hall of Faith.  That being said, I still think it’s best to walk by faith, not by fleece.

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I have read the story of Hannah in the temple many times.  Reading it again, what I noticed is how she prays; then she talks to the priest; and then she feels relief. She is a beautiful example of someone who casts all her anxiety on the Lord and then trusts that he cares for her.  I’ll light at least two candles this Christmas Eve, one for a dear friend, who is a faithful saint, and one for a tiny baby growing strong in the NICU.  These two pages gave me time in advance to pray for both.

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The following passage was selected for the Feast of Immaculate Conception.  I did not know what the feast of Immaculate Conception was all about.  I decided the quickest way to find out was to simply go to early morning mass on Friday.  I sat in the room for crying children because the church was surprisingly full and listened to the homily. As luck would have it, the school kids were there and the priest did a nice job teaching about the feast day. The priest explained that God had a plan for Mary from the moment of her conception to be the Mother of Jesus. I love how this ties into the Scripture passage chosen for today in the devotion: “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him in love.” It is easy for me to accept that God had a plan for Mary. God also has a plan for us to be adopted as God’s children.  That is something to celebrate!

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I’m in awe of the beautiful calligraphy by Carolyn Svellinger found in “Rooted in Hope”. I did my best to copy her handwriting from the book and then had fun with my Bible Journaling supplies.

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I went to bed last night reading the first chapter of Mark.  I was a little surprised that my pastor preached on this passage at church today.  She begins almost every sermon telling us the passage just read is one of her favorites, but today she confessed that she was preaching on a passage that was just ok for her.  She made me laugh when she said: “Everyone at Christmas wants to see the angels with tidings of joy, but there’s not as much enthusiasm for the man in the camel hair that eats honey and locusts and reminds us to confess our sins and repent.” Advent is a good time to straighten out what is crooked and smooth over what has been rough. It’s not just homes that need to be clean and ready; more importantly it is our hearts. We lit a candle for peace today; Peace on earth begins when we make peace with our God.

I am learning to love St. John the Babtist for how he chose to live a life of austerity and penance and how he prepared the way for Jesus and pointed others to him.  Is there such a thing as a St. John the Baptist Christmas ornament?  I’d love for him to make an appearance every Advent!

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I read the passage about John the Baptist before bed and woke up thinking:  “Remember that you are dust.”  This is a bit of a paradox because I know that God loves and cherishes me.  I know my worth is measured by this:  Jesus paid the price for me.  And at the same time, I know that I’m dust relative to the power and glory of God.  And there’s a freedom in that, which is hard to explain.  Remembering that I’m dust simply helps take the focus off of me and allows my heart to focus on Jesus.  And this gives me true peace.

 

 

 

Rooted in Hope

Welcome to Advent, the start of the liturgical year.  I always think of Christmas as the end of the year, but really, it’s just the beginning.

We start the season of Advent by lighting a candle for hope.

At our home here’s how that looked:  My parents came over for dinner last night and helped us decorate our Christmas tree.  We held an impromptu Advent candle lighting service.  My house was a little cleaner than usual, but my kitchen table was surrounded by the ordinary mess of too many craft supplies.  I quickly picked a Scripture to read.  My mom suggested singing a Christmas carol.  It turned out that none of us knew all the words to the first verse of “The First Noel”.  My daughter randomly ran from the table to get some bells.  For some reason,  some of the potatoes in my soup failed to get soft.  My mother concluded our Advent lighting ceremony, by saying in a solemn voice:  “God, we give you thanks that there is hope.”

And we all burst out laughing.  We start the liturgical year with hope, but we all know too well how things will go.  Sometimes having hope can seem comical.  When things don’t go as planned, I am grateful for friends who laugh, and when the situation calls for it, cry with me.  And I have to believe that even our clumsy attempts to honor God in our homes and with our lives are pleasing to God.

This morning at Sunday school, the story for the children was the three visitors who came to see Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham believed the visitors when he heard that he and his wife would have a child in their later years, but Sarah laughed.  I don’t blame Sarah at all for laughing.  I know too well the pain of waiting month after month for a common enough little miracle.  I think she laughed, not so much in disbelief, but to hide the pain of so many disappointments.  I have always loved the story of Sarah and Abraham and how thousands of years later her descendants still tell the story of how much Sarah wanted a baby and how long she waited.  Her story is also my story and I pray that my children will always know how I prayed for them, longed for them and hoped for them.  What always fills me with awe about the story of Sarah and Abraham:  through Jesus Christ our brother, we are living proof of the promise that God made to Abraham that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars.

We always start to prepare for Christmas with hope.  By spending more time in the Word this Christmas, my hope is that no matter what happens, my heart will be focused on Jesus, my true hope in all circumstances.  I’ve been following along a devotional, called appropriately enough: “Rooted in Hope.”  I love how the Illustrated Faith Advent kits work together with the Scripture readings.  Here’s the first of my Advent Bible Journaling Entries.

The St. Andrews Novena found its way into the margins of my Bible.  Praying a Christmas novena is a new experience for me, but I’m enjoying this simple meditation on the night that Christ was born.  I’ve been working in the “My Promise Bible” from King James Bibles.

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I was surprised at the simple way the prayer from the Illustrated Faith Advent kit was met by the Scripture in the “Rooted in Hope” devotional.  If you want to keep your heart on Christ through the Christmas season, there’s no better way that to have Scripture in your mouth and in your heart!  Spending time in the Word is the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas!

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I loved this assurance from the “Rooted in Hope” devotional:  “The Lord will strengthen you to the end.  It’s a journey and he’s taking it with you.”

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The page below will always remind me of the night that we put up our Christmas tree.  May I wait for Christ’s return with the same hope and excitement and eagerness to prepare that my children have for Christmas and always live as the servant he expects us to be, loving God and one another.

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May you be filled with hope (even if it comes mixed with laughter or tears) this Advent!

 

 

 

Gratitude Documented

It’s been a November with much journaling in my Bible thanks to Illustrated Faith and the Gratitude Documented project.  It was really satisfying to journal prompts (almost daily) together with other people from the Illustrated Faith community.  I loved seeing how people took the same idea and had such different responses.  It is wonderful to be strengthened by a community of believers sharing the same praises.  It was fun to make new connections and get to know others better through the art they shared.  Personally speaking, beginning my day with gratitude and a few minutes in my Bible improved my frame of mind all day.  I’m looking forward to beginning an Advent devotional, but I’m a bit sad this month is ending!

If you haven’t done so already, I would encourage anyone to join the Illustrated Faith Bible Journaling Community.  This group has over 43,000 members.  I can’t even imagine administrating a group like this, but from my experience, it has been a positive and uplifting way to connect to other people who are journaling in their Bibles, too!

Here’s just a few of the pictures I’ve done over the past month…I’m so grateful that we are created in the image of God to be creative!

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I am eternally grateful for my two children…

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And grateful for a home to take care of…

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And for the friend that I have in Jesus and all my friends.

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And grateful for God’s command that we take time to rest!

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I am grateful for the opportunity to share the margins of my Bible!  Thank you for following along.

I decided to do the Rooted in Hope Bible Study this Advent, written by a Catholic mama.  It’s a bit of a change for me, but I like how daily planning is combined with Scripture selections for the month of December.  I’ll be posting as often as I can through the month of December on my instagram page.  Historically, December has not been an easy month for me to do quiet time!  But maybe with the combination of good planning and good scripture it will happen.  Blessings!

 

Colors of Faith with Sherri Chan

Guest post by Lisa Nichols Hickman

Recently, the Bible journaling pages of Sherri Chan caught my eye.  On the Illustrated Faith Facebook page, Sherri posted an image of a Japanese cracked pot mended with gold.  Her image displayed the beauty of the practice of kintsukuroi.

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Once I saw those pictures, I had to get to know her!  She does not know any other Bible journalers in Asia, if you are one, or know someone, please let Sherri know!  You can enjoy Sherri’s artistic pages at her “Colors of Faith” Instagram page.  Here is the story Sherri shares about her experience with Bible journaling:

I was born in Taiwan, grew up in the U.S., and now live in Hong Kong. I’m married to a wonderful Godly husband, and a proud mother of two beautiful children. Ever since I became a Christian, I have always served in my local church. When I moved to Hong Kong 11 years ago, I have had the privilege of being a part of a global ministry called “Family Journey (Homecoming).” I do large-scale conference/gathering coordination and a lot of on-stage translation (mainly from English to Mandarin and vice versa.)

A few years ago, I came across a photo of someone’s pen drawing of an angel’s wing on a Bible. I thought it was a nice picture but the person must have gotten bored with reading or something. Then, I was invited to teach DTS at a YWAM’s base in India in December 2016. I stayed at the base leader’s home and his American wife showed me her journaling Bible and art journals. I never knew that such a thing (Bible journaling) even existed! I have seen people draw prophetic art at gatherings, but on a Bible as devotions?!? That was really an eye-opening time for me, and I realized that it could be something that I would enjoy.

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Immediately after returning from my trip to India, both caretakers for my parents-in-law suddenly left and my father-in-law’s health quickly deteriorated at the same time. I had to cut most of my travels to be at home for them. For the same reason, I found time for Bible journaling. I used to travel abroad two or three weeks in a month. If it weren’t for this, I don’t think I would ever have time to develop my Bible journaling, even if I wanted to. It was like the Lord made a sharp halt for me so that I could get started on this.

When I first met Pastor Bill Johnson in 2012, I asked him about how he reads his Bible so that he can get so MUCH more out of the same book that I am reading. He told me that he just loves the Word of God to a point that he reads the Bible as a leisure book whenever he has time. My first reaction inside was “You must be kidding!” I like reading the Bible, but reading it as a leisure book?!? I couldn’t picture myself loving it that much!

However, ever since I started Bible journaling, the Bible has come alive to me again but in different forms—in pictures, colors, symbols, and sounds. It sharpens my spiritual senses to His Spirit. Now, whenever I see nature, I think of some scriptures. When I hear songs or listen to sermons, I see pictures. Literally, I can sense how everything (the world) was “created and held by His Words” and I am immersed in His grace and power every day.

It also helps me to process emotions. One night, I couldn’t fall asleep after the doctor at the hospital told us to prepare for the worst for my father-in-law. I got up in the middle of the night and did the lion page. It reminded me how our God will always triumph gloriously even in the most difficult spots of life.

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When I started in Feb 2017, I didn’t know how to do art journaling in my Bible (nor had I done any type of art for over 30 years), so I browsed through the work of others to get ideas. When I experimented with some art media that I read about online, the result was often not what I had expected. The first time (see this link for information on using gelatos) I used gelatos, I didn’t know that we could blend colors with a wet towel… All I saw were crayon-like smears! Then I drew the lines wrong. Yet, in the end, I heard the Lord say, “It’s ok. Nothing is wasted when you are with me.” To this day, that page remains as my favorite one because “I am safe when I take refuge under His wings.” (Referring to Ps 36:7-9 “feather” page.)

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At another time, I tried out a new technique using Tombow brush pens. I had learned from my previous experience that I should try everything on another piece of paper first. The result came out great on a card paper. But when I repeated that on my Bible, it was NOTHING like what I had achieved a few minutes ago. But it was too late. I didn’t know how to save it and had nothing bright enough to cover up the strong colors. I tried and tried… nothing seemed to work. I finally realized, in frustration, that this is my choice of worship… so will I choose to remain in His presence and continue to drink from the “fullness of joy”, or be anxious about a “messy-looking” page? It was then that I realized I can always choose joy over a “good” work, and nothing I do together with the Lord will be a waste, even when things do not come out as I had expected. (Referring to the “Psalm 16 Joy” page.)

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Now, instead of browsing online, I stay with what the Lord impresses on my heart. For one, it helps me to stay away from the trap of comparison. It also encourages me to spend more quiet time before God, which is actually the main purpose of my journaling.

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I sometimes get a picture, scripture, or concept at random times, so I always log them on my cell phone first. When I have time to do a page, I will go through that list and pray about which one to do, search online for a photo to serve as a base, then start. I still have some ideas that I probably can never draw, but it’s ok. More importantly, it’s getting that download from the Lord.

Doing bible journaling allows me to discover how I tend to stay with colors that I feel comfortable so I would intentionally break out of my comfort zones sometimes. Also, it helps to remove my fear of writing and provides a way to share what Papa Father deposited in my life over the years.

One of my favorite scripture verses is Romans 12:2 “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I have done two pages on the same concept—my first page (I Cor 2:16, “Mind of Christ”) and the butterfly page (Rom 12:1-2, “Be Transformed”). Understanding the significance of this verse has really changed my journey with the Lord.

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Though I have been a Christian for over thirty years and served extensively for over ten years, I still find myself struggling with identity. Maybe because of my Asian background, I would often subconsciously define my value based on what I do (or what I can do), rather than who I truly am in Christ. If you ask me, my head knows all the correct answers, but they are not true beliefs in my heart. (I always shared that the greatest distance between me and my God is only 14 inches… from my head to my heart. Well, in my case, maybe 12 inches because I am not that tall. Haha.)

In 2014, the Lord told me to pay attention to my negative emotions and ask myself why I have them in the first place. Practicing this, I was surprised to discover how many lies of the enemy I had unknowingly believed, and how little faith I had in the words of God!

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For instance, I realized that I often get frustrated when things don’t go as I planned (totally not much faith in Rom 8:28), or feel insecure when I am no longer being needed (reflecting that I build my worth not on what He says about me in the scripture, but on what or how well I could perform.)

The mind is also the target of the enemy and where most of our spiritual battles take place. I have come to realize that, without having a transformed mind, we will never know who we are, who He is, or whose we are. We will always interpret life based on our history, our abilities, and/or our possessions (wealth, education, job, talents, etc.) Though saved, we are still orphans without a true connection with our loving Father. I would like to recommend a small book by Wendy Backlund, “Living from the Unseen: Reflections from a Transformed Life”. This book verbalizes many of the same experiences that I have gone through and it truly is a great resource to help anyone who wants to live with a transformed mind of Christ.

 

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Bible journaling is not popular in Asia. You cannot even find a single-column Bible in HK. (I had to order my ESV single-column Bible from Amazon in the States, which my son carried back to Hong Kong for me.) Soon after I started, the Lord told me to post my journal pages on Facebook. I felt really reluctant at first because it was like exposing my personal diary to the world. But the Lord said He wants to use this to encourage others to do the same. So I obeyed. For months, I only posted for my own friends. It was only last week that I felt led to post in the “Illustrated Faith-Bible Journaling Community”.

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I feel SOOOOOO surprised and honored to be interviewed/introduced like this. While I thought the Lord only wanted me to encourage my friends, I would have never known that I may one day be an encouragement to people whom I don’t know by using my art. Thank you so much for inviting me. It is a tremendous encouragement.

 

 

 

Connie Denninger, Visual Faith and Creative Havens

Many of you know the amazing work of Connie Denninger and her vision for “Visual Faith.”  Recently I had a chance to ask her about the story behind her work.  Here’s what she had to say:

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I have been a visual kinesthetic learner since my earliest memories. SHOW me and let me DO IT. Then it connects. I have been teaching Visual Faith practices for over twenty years with Keep the Faith projects that connect my personal faith story and His faithfulness, After meeting Sybil MacBeth at a Praying in Color event we hosted, I have been teaching Visual prayer practices for ten years. I jumped into the Bible Journaling communities when it first started. I think I was #43 in the Illustrated Faith Community that now has 42, 900 members. One of the early fascinations was the incredible need for community in the Bible Journaling world.

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Often members could not find anyone else that was “processing” life and Word this way. It was both permission-giving and affirming. The Holy Spirit used both of those in such a way that people were not able to “be silent” about what they were seeing and learning. They HAD to tell others.

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I had finished reading Lisa Hickman’s Writing in the Margins about 6 months before I stumbled onto Bible Journaling online. When I found out that Shanna Noel and Lisa didn’t know about each other and how the Lord was working in their own lives, it was time to bring them together. So Illustrated Faith- Virginia happened in Nov 2015, in Northern Virginia and I saw what it could possibly mean to raise up teachers and coaches to bring these visual faith practices to our families, churches and neighborhoods. Now that has evolved into the launch of Visual Faith Ministry- a website and ministry that brings together resources and a coaching and encouragement team that seeks to raise up the gifts of the laity in the Kingdom in a collaborative learning community. The Lord has been faithful. My role in all of this has been to be a “condoit” of grace that connects the gifts of His people.

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I don’t consider myself an artist in that I can draw “images”, but delight in using creative approaches for making a section of Scripture highlighted in a way that makes it easier for me to see and remember. These tools have been very helpful in dealing with my diagnosis of “spiritual amnesia” and the challenge to remember God’s faithfulness to me on a daily basis. Many of my additions in the margins center around events and celebrations and worship services. That connects to may support role to my husband who serves as a Bishop of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod in the Southeastern District. Often the entries are just the lectionary connections to the readings for a worship service. We refer to this as the simple practice of “worship into the week”. How does a worship service experience become the center of my meditation in His Word for the rest of the week? This has brought me much Joy- to simply spend more time in God’s Word.

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Most of my margin work is simply rewriting a small section of a Scripture reading that “stands out” in my reading. I often use an ancient practice called Lectio Divina that moves me to read a portion of Scripture a number of times and seek the words the Holy Spirit needs ME to SEE. One of the things I teach people is to turn their own handwriting into a font. So the words often are simply my own handwriting, with a “wild outline” that creates a space for adding colored pencil. I have not done well with looking at a font and “recreating” the letters. This has been my simple adjustment to allow my own writing to be the center of my marginal interactions. So a margin might start out with a rapid writing in the margin during a worship service and then the rest is finished during the week. It became an amazing blessing to realize that those scribbles, when pinned on Pinterest or shared in an online community becomes a witness of blessing to hundreds and thousands of people. My go to supplies are regular colored pencils, alpha stickers, a Micron or non-bleeding fine-point Sharpie and washi tape. However, anything is game to be in the margins- from magazine photos, to worship service images, or a pretty napkin.

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I love hosting open studio events called Creative Haven that invite a host of people to stop by, pick up a new visual prayer handout, try a new product or assemble a Make and Take project.

In November 2016, I got an email from Joanne Fink asking if I would help to take an editing look at her book- The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling. She found me on Instagram. She saw that my work is to teach others to teach others about visual faith engagement practices. What a fun experience and the forging of a wonderful relationship with Joanne. Our team now seeks to design ways to use her product line for Michael’s Stores in our Visual Faith communities. It has been a blessed connection to share in the 14 Facebook Visual Faith Communities in the United States and one in Israel outside of Jerusalem.

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One of my greatest joys is that Visual Faith connections have blessed the lives of my three daughters as they personally use these tools of engagement and bring the practices to others. It is truly a gift that blesses from one generation to another as we gather around tables in our homes and worship centers.

Connie Denninger—November 2017