Light in the darkness

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Have you strayed from the path God was leading you on?  Perhaps during some phase of your life, you took a different path, away from your faith.  Looking back, can you see how easy it was to stray from God’s will in your life, to take a detour?  May be one path looked more attractive, easy, or entertaining than the other.

This morning God let me in on a mini lesson. 

I love to walk around the pond at work before starting my day.  I sense God present around me as I walk prayerfully around the pond.  I often ask God to reveal Himself to me, teach me or inspire me.  Many times, He does just that.

This morning I started my day a little early.  The sun had not yet risen, so the path I walked along was dark with light sprinkled around for some visibility.  After praying, I allowed myself to be present to my surroundings.  As I maneuvered through the darkness, I could hear the pleasant sound of the waterfall and the birds singing.  Music to my ears.  As I walked along the path, I noticed a little bird just as the path makes a small fork.  I watched him and began to follow him.  I detoured to the path that I normally do not take as I walk around the pond so that I could follow the bird.  Even though I didn’t get lost, it reminded me how easy it is to wander from the path, to stray from God.  I began to ponder this for a minute.  In the struggles of my marriage, I could have fallen into hopeless despair instead of falling into my faith.  Through my divorce, I could have run into the arms of another man, instead of being embraced by God.  If I would have strayed from the path God was leading me on during the darkest days of my life, I would not be content in who I am, and who God is for me.  I would not have seen all that God was doing for me, how He was holding and carrying me.  Perhaps, eventually, I may have found the path again as the two paths merged.

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It’s so easy, especially when we are struggling with something, to turn to something else that may not be healthy for us.  Sometimes it presents itself as the “thing” that will take away all our pain or something that looks more enticing.   My mini lesson this morning validated John 1:5 “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Darkness is never dark when we allow God to be present within us.  So in the darkest moments of our life, when we carry the Word of God within us, He is the “lamp for [our] feet, a light for [our] path” (Psalm 119:105).

I have seen this prevail in my own life as I allowed the tiny shimmer of light guide my path.  It was Jesus in the Eucharist that shone upon my path guiding me closer to God as I walked through my struggles.  This path wasn’t always easy but it has been a joyful ride, full of mountains and valleys, but it has never been dark because the darkness has always been overcome.

Have you allowed the light to shine upon your path in your journey?  God’s light is never extinguished, as long as we accept the invitation to carry it.

 

 

Refuge in the rubble

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.  Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea.”  Psalm 46:2-3

Have you experienced the summit of the mountain and suddenly your world begins to shake and you find yourself in the midst of despair?  Or may be you feel your life has always been shaken and you just want a break from the quake that is ever present?

Our life can be shaken by so many things.  It can be loss of a loved one, terminal illness, divorce, addictions, a miscarriage, an unexpected birth – the list goes on and on.  When the rocks start tumbling, where do you run to?  To whom do you turn?

God promises to be our refuge, our fortress, our strength, yet most of us still struggle.  I have been reading a book called “A Friendship Like No Other”.  One of the key points in the book is having a relationship with God, with His Son, just as we have relationships with those before us in the flesh.  In order to have a friendship with someone, you have to converse.  As your friendship grows and trust grows, you begin to share more with that person, perhaps in some cases you share deep thoughts and feelings that you don’t share with others.  If your friendship is stable and strong, you are comfortable talking about moments when you don’t agree, moments you become angry with each other over a disagreement.

What about with God?  Have you felt angry with God when life throws a curve ball and all the rocks begin to crumble, crushing you from the inside?  Do you feel comfortable telling God you are angry with Him, that you don’t understand His ways, that they are too difficult and you can’t follow His ways.  In Matthew 19:16-22, a young rich man approaches Jesus and ask what he needs to do to have eternal life, Jesus tells him to go sell his things and then come follow Him.  The young man goes away sad.  The author of “A Friendship Like No Other”, William Barry, proposes a question, what if the young man stayed and had a conversation with Jesus?  What if he told Jesus how difficult it was to sell all his things, that he just couldn’t do it and he needed help?  Do you think the story would end differently?  Do you think a friendship would have been sprouted if he had stayed and told Jesus just how he felt?

What if we are totally honest in conversation with God, just as we may be with a friend about our life situations that shake our world, turning it upside down?  In the song by Micah Tyler, “Even Then”, in the pre-chorus he sings “Where could I run to?  Where could I go?” and in the chorus when he talks about our world being shaken and the waters rising, he ends with “no matter how it ends You’re with me even then.”  If we are honest with God about our feelings, if we tell Him everything and then ask Him to help us to not be angry, to understand, to follow Him, even then He will stand with us, give us all we need with love, compassion and mercy.  He will carry us through the rubble no matter how long the journey takes.  He does this because His greatest desire is a relationship with us.  He longs for our friendship.

I ask you, dear friends, is your relationship with God a friendship?  Can you converse with Him, just as you do with your best friend?  Do you listen for His response, receive Him?  If not, start today to tell Him everything that is on your mind.  When you can’t pray, tell Him you can’t pray.  When you are busy and you don’t have time for Him, tell Him you don’t have time for Him.  When you are angry because He didn’t answer your prayer, tell Him.  When you find it difficult to accept the things around you and you struggle with following Him, tell Him.  He loves you no matter where you are in your relationship with Him.  As you are more open with Him, your friendship will grow and when your world is shaken, you will know that “even then”, He’s with you clearing the rubble and carrying you through.

In your struggles, when the boulders seem too heavy to move, always remember that with “God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Have you asked God to re-gift you?

“You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!”  Psalm 139:13-14

Have you re-gifted a gift someone gave you before?  You took the gift and wrapped it in the most beautiful paper and placed the best bow you have on it, giving it to your mother-in-law.  Couldn’t resist the humor in that but I think just about everyone can say that they have re-gifted a gift.  Now hold that thought.

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Have you sat down to pray, totally fell to your knees, and asked God to take away your trials, your suffering, your pain?  And as the days go on, it’s all still there.  You are still going through the trial, may be, you are still suffering and in pain.  What if you flipped the prayer and asked God to walk with you through the trial, lightening the burden of the suffering and the pain?

I want to talk about something that struck me listening to Chrystal Evans Hurst this past weekend at the Women of Joy conference.  It so fitting in my life and helps me to place the right perspective and see the process that God is asking me to see.

In Chrystal’s talk, she spoke about the package that God made when He made you and I.  He didn’t make the package lacking anything.  The package includes your gifts, talents, career, physical features, family, your joy and happiness; and it also includes your trials, suffering and pain.  You could not be you if you do not go through the trials that God allows.  If you do not go through the trials He allows you may not bring forth the fruition of the gifts that He has given you.  All things in our lives are “God given” or “God allowed.”  And all things work together for the glory of God, for His purpose.  When you ask God to take away the trial, the suffering, the pain, you are asking Him to re-gift the gift He gave you, the package He created and designed – YOU.  When you were formed, God wrapped you in a beautiful package and placed the most perfect bow on you that is unique to you and delivered you into the hands of your mom.

 Why would we want to change, re-gift His “wonderfully made” package?  

I totally understand that sometimes the pain is too much, the trial is a huge burden and drains the life out of you.  Sometimes I feel like my trials will never end, they begin to just merge together and I find myself restless, asking God to take it away that I’ve had enough.  But then there is the glimmer of hope, my FAITH that jumps in and opens my eyes and shows me that the package is made complete in my trials and through my trials.  My trials and my suffering will produce perseverance, they will provide growth within me, they will ultimately flourish the gifts God has given me and ultimately, they will make me stronger for the next trial.  God is equipping us in our trials, suffering and pain.  I think what He wants from us is to not ask Him to take away the trial, but to ask Him to help us get through it by companioning along the journey with us and by lightening the load by helping us carry the cross that rest upon our shoulder, just as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus.

Accepting the entire package is difficult.  Sometimes I just want to kick and scream but God grabs my hand and tells me “get up and let’s fight this battle together.”  You are not alone and He will walk along the journey with you, carrying you when you need to be carried, embracing you when you need to feel loved, lifting the cross so it’s not so heavy when you begin to fall under the weight of it, and providing you rest and protection under His wings when you become weary and afraid.

img_3265I want to share this poem I wrote.  It is a poem of feeling beaten down, yet hopeful, longing and finding God after a fresh rainfall in a droplet that remained on the tip of a leaf.  God refreshes us daily if we open our eyes, ears, minds and heart to His presence in all things surrounding us.

Rays of sunshine

In the ark of the morn

As birds perched above sing

To a heart that’s been torn

Darkness has crept

Through the cracks of my being

Depleting Your goodness

My heart started fleeing

Crushed and broken

My heart cries out

Where are You?

Why do I doubt?

A quiet path

Your presence I longed for

To refresh my spirit

On this path You implore

Light of grace

Reflecting on the leaves

Revealing a droplet

A newness conceived

Your presence refreshes

As I sit before You

A whisper of Your love

My spirit is made new

My faith prevails

Your Word running deep

Rooted in my heart

I’m perfect and complete

Where is your focus when the wind is strong and the water is deep?

“The wind is strong, the water is deep;  My heart is heavy and my mind won’t sleep; Oh can you heal, my fear it breathes; I need to know if You’re the shadow I can see;  I wanna run to You when the waves break through;  I wanna run to You and not turn back;  There’s no turning back;  Nothing in my past; My eyes are on You again; Can’t see nothing at all; But Your outstretched arms; Help me believe it; Though I falter; You got me walking on water;  The ocean’s singing, the song of grace; But if I’m honest with myself, I am still afraid….”  Walking on Water by NEEDTOBREATHE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh49C6vxB40

Ever felt like you were on the mountaintop of life and then stumbled, falling into the valley?  Or perhaps you were walking on water and lost your focus as life hit you from nowhere and you began to sink?

Sometimes our faith may be tested and we lose focus.  Our trust in God may falter.  The things we feel we have overcome and conquered find there way back into the cracks of our inner being, leaving us breathless, hurt and afraid.  The great thing about our faith is that God knows we are going to fall off the mountain or sink to the bottom of the deep waters but He is there each time to pick us up.  God reveals this to us in Matthew 14:27-32.  Upon Jesus’ command, Peter begins to walk on water towards Jesus, but when he becomes afraid and takes His focus off of Jesus, he begins to sink and cries out to Him, “Lord, save me!” and “immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him.”  When we take our focus off of Jesus when the storm frightens us, we may falter but He will stretch out His hand each time and lift us back up.

Today I found myself reflecting on my own moments of faltering as life hit me like a train.  The things I thought I had overcome and put beside me knocked me into the deep waters.  The strength and trust I felt I had built up over the years, began to crumble like a wall that had been hit by a wrecking ball.  This song “Walking on Water” by NEEDTOBREATHE and the passage in Matthew 14 speaks to my heart so much in this season of faltering and losing focus when life feels out of control.   It leads me back to the truth of my faith, that even in the moments that I feel helpless, God is there sorting everything out, calming the storm as He lifts me from the depths of the sea of self-pity, fear, doubt and whatever other feelings that are surrounding my core of His grace and love.  Of course, as I watch this unfold I see my faith and my trust strengthen a little bit more.  In Isaiah 43:2,4 I am also reminded that as I “pass through waters, [He] will be with [me]; through rivers, [I] shall not be swept away.  When [I] walk through fire, [I] shall not be burned, nor will flames consume [me]… [I am] precious in [His] eyes and honored, and [He] loves [me]…”  His truth breathes life into me as He reminds me who I am in His eyes and how to depend on Him in the storms of my life.

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Dear friends, what will you do when the storms hit and the walls begin to crumble?  When the winds are strong and the water is deep, will you focus your eyes on Jesus?  Will you turn your back on your past and walk on the waters of life into His outstretched arms as He calms the storms in your life?

Traveling together, a journey with one focus

“Just as the wise men traveled together to find Jesus in the manger, so we travel together to find Jesus born in our souls.”  Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction, Alice Fryling

Have you encountered a companion along your journey that has helped you grow in your relationship with God, perhaps in the form of a friend, a spouse, a mentor, or a guide?  Have you encountered companions that seem to draw you further from God?  Which one brings you life?

I have had many companions in my short life.  Some have taught me about life, love and faith, some have comforted me, some have inflicted pain and some have guided me.  They all have one thing in common, the journey they accompanied me on was headed to one final destination.  My journey has been a walk through the valley, the desert, the mountainous terrain, along the beautiful springs rushing by and through the fields of a thousand flowers.  I have swam the depths of the ocean and soared on the wings of eagles.  All the while being accompanied by others to a destination in my heart to find Jesus waiting for me.  In the pain and in the joy, in the hardships and in the simplicity of life, there has always been one compass pointing to one direction.  The beauty of it all was that my companions helped me to see this path forward, whether they intended or not.

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There are going to be positive guides and companions in my life, spiritual friendships and mentors.  There will also be negative companions that will rip at my spirit, test my strength and weaknesses and prey on my vulnerabilities.  At the end of each day, it is I who am the one discerning the path to take to reach my destination.  When I don’t have my eyes focused on Jesus, I will miss the path to take.  I will wander off onto a path that is lonely and treacherous.  I will have no companion and I will only seek the desires of my self will.  This is when I find myself broken and damaged, depressed and forgotten, hopeless and in disparity.  I will find myself needing companionship to be alive, to continue along my journey.  When I see myself in such a desolate state, it is imperative that I seek companionship.

In the book the “Inner Compass,” Margaret Silf draws on a unique perspective of companionship and our need for others in guiding us to our final destination.  In 1 Kings 19:19, Elijah sees Elisha and when “he came to Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing behind twelve yoke of oxen, he himself with the twelfth, Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him.”  What she goes on to describe is the act of plowing a furrow, “your furrow of life.”  Ahead of you, you have 11 oxen, helping you carry the load and keep your eye on the focal point so that you stay on a straight path as you plow.  You are not alone in your journey, you have companions that will help guide you and keep you focused on the destination, Jesus.  We all have a story to tell along our journey, our faith share.  It is in this story, that we see our 11 oxens, our companions that help keep us focused on Jesus.  Perhaps, a few of these companions may be your anamchara, Celtic for “soul friend”.   We also see those that help us become stronger in our faith because of the trials we endure.  In all circumstance it is you and I that are the ones making the choices that mold our story into a faith share that only we can claim.

Are you going to allow others to travel with you “to find Jesus born in [your] soul?”   Are you going to allow them to help you companion with you to keep your eyes on the focal point, Jesus?  He is the destination and the ultimate companion, but He gives you others in your life to let you know you are not alone.  He speaks to your heart through them as they guide you, mentor you, keep you grounded in His love for you.  Have you thought about who are your 11 oxens, who are your “soul friends”?

Will you allow God to shape and form you?

“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ever wish life were simple, everything worked out, there was no pain, no suffering? Do you think if you had no pain and suffering you would be the person you are today?

So often I wish God would take away all my pain and suffering, just put me in a bubble and protect me from all inflictions. If only each piece of sin and suffering would bounce off the wall of the bubble and I can watch in peace. When I sit and dream of such a beautiful, perfect life with no heart ache, no unhappy tears, I’m reminded of all that I have gained in the midst of pain and suffering. If I had not suffered pain and inflictions, I may not have the relationship I have with God. It is through these trials that I have grown the most in my faith and relationship with God. It’s in these moments that I cry out to God and seek His love and guidance the most. It’s in these moments that I learn to trust God more and more because I know there is much more greatness God has in store for me.

As a parent, I am always wanting to place my girls in a bubble, protect them from all things in the world that can inflict pain, hurt, heart ache. But being a parent, I also know that putting my kids in a bubble and not letting them experience these things is not good for them. In order for them to grow, I have to step back sometimes and give them space to experience situations.

God does the same for us in so many ways. He knows what we need and He allows us to go through these moments so that the happiness He designed for us through love for Him is pruned and blooms.

What masterpiece can be created when you fire up a slab of metal and mold and shape it? What can you create when you twirl around a piece of clay, guiding its formation? Is God not the artist and the potter? Will you let Him shape and form you today through your pain and suffering, because you are His perfect work of art?

Ripples of the Holy Spirit – are you open to receive them?

Do you struggle with listening and hearing God? Do you struggle with being still and resting in His presence? How about being open to everything around you and how He will speak to you or reveal Himself to you?

Do a little exercise. Get in a comfortable place, somewhere that is peaceful for you. Perhaps a place where you have experienced God before.  Take two deep breaths and release them.

Now, imagine you are sitting next to a calm lake. The water is still. There is absolutely no observable movement on the surface. The surface is flat throughout. It is absolutely undisturbed.

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Now close your eyes, keeping this image with you. Imagine you are this body of water. You are still. Your mind is clear. Your body is at rest. Allow the Holy Spirit to drop something into this body of water, into your presence, your being. Open your mind to receive it.  Release all the pressures of the day and receive what God is offering you in this moment.  Do you hear a whisper, feel something within, or envision something? Perhaps it’s a word? Perhaps it’s an answer to something you’ve been discerning to do? Perhaps it’s an object or a scenery? May be it’s a person’s face?  Or perhaps it’s a feeling of love embracing you?

Does it make a ripple when it hits the surface of stillness within you? Do you have an overwhelming feeling throughout your body? A feeling of joy, comfort, or rest? May be you feel a peace of some resolution that has taken place within or that needs to take place?  Whatever it is, soak it up.  Stay in this moment and rest.

Just as the stillness of the water creates a ripple through the lake when something is dropped within it, does our inner space when we allow the Holy Spirit to drop His thoughts upon us.

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The ripples fill the lake as the Holy Spirit fills us. The ripples are only bound by the edges of the lake. We too place boundaries upon the ripples in our lives when we aren’t open to receiving all the Holy Spirit has to give us. His presence is boundless if we are open to it.

Open your eyes and always be prepared for God’s surprises.  Let Him drop a single thought into your mind, a single smell of freshness into your nose, a song of beauty resonating in your ears, and a sight of art and feel His love surrounding you.  God presents Himself to you in everything around you.  He whispers to you His plans for goodness in your life and fills you with rest in times of despair.  The key to it all is being open to receive it.  Allow your Heavenly Father to walk your journey with you today.  He seeks your friendship and will drop His very thoughts into your being, creating ripples in your life that are endless and perfect.  Trust in His will for you and joy will overflow from you as the water overflows from any body of water when it fills every ounce of its reservoir.