Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
There is a big difference between being uncomfortable about doing something and being terrified about doing something! Up until a couple years ago, spontaneously praying out loud put me in the terrified zone! What if I said something wrong? What if my words didn’t make sense? What if a more eloquent prayer was in my midst and they thought my word choice was silly? What if I can’t think of anything to say at all and I get struck by lightning because I’m a lousy out-loud prayer? Oh boy did I have a list of reasons and reservations that prohibited me from leading spontaneous prayer every time I was asked. At first I was ok with the fact that I seemed justified in never being the prayer leader but then something started gnawing at me. I had to think and pray about it for a long time before I could build up the courage to give it a try and once I took that first step, I learned so much; so today seems like the perfect day to share what I learned!
As I was wrestling with this, I heard a speaker say something that made a light come on in my head. (Actually it was more like a gigantic powerful search light!) She said, “People today are sleeping with each other before they are praying with each other because the act of praying with another person is a deeply personal and intimate act.” Holy cow! If you needed a prayer warrior I was your girl…but I was gonna do my prayin in my morning prayer chair with just me and Jesus! The out loud spontaneous stuff was better left to the professionals but I realized through that speakers powerful words, the Holy Spirit was calling me to hand him my terrified. The real lessons came when I started with just simple opening or closing prayer for a meeting here and there. I was getting through them feeling a little less like throwing up each time until the night I was asked to do the opening prayer and the guy across the table from me did the closing and his prayer was so beautiful and simple and powerful and I felt like a prayer flop. I asked him after the meeting how he was able to craft such perfect words and he said, “I don’t! Step one is ask the Holy Spirit to send the words he wants you to speak, step two, know in your heart he will and step three, get out of the way and don’t give a second thought to how you sound because it isn’t about you at all!” That was some powerful advice!
This fall the seed has grown and I’ve been amazed at the situations and lessons I’ve gotten about praying out loud. Last week I was doing a staff retreat for a lovely parish staff and at the end of the day one of the participants was upset after receiving a phone call and I bumped into her as she was headed into the church to pray. We spoke briefly and I headed off to my car but I just couldn’t ignore the voice that was telling me to go back and ask her if she wanted me to pray with her. It was as if my feet weighed a hundred pounds and I just couldn’t move them down the sidewalk so I turned around and headed back into church and ask her if she wanted to pray together. I was glad I went back but I’m not gonna lie, I was a tiny bit relieved when she said she thought she would be ok. I was doubting instead of trusting. I found out later that simply offering to pray with her was a blessing to her heart. On Sunday I was asked to MC a fabulous night of praise and worship at our parish. I prayed about it for days before I said yes and even though part of me wanted to say no, every confirmation in prayer told me to say yes. As the night drew nearer I got more rattled. It would be out loud praying at several intervals during the 90 minute event. That was way out of my comfort zone especially since there was going to be a big crowd. I prepared and printed and planned and felt ok about it. When the evening started, they turned the lights way down and the flashlight I grabbed didn’t work so I couldn’t read a single word I had printed and written. It was an instant lesson in trusting the power of the Holy Spirit!
God wasn’t finished with the subject yet! On Tuesday’s the middle lovelies enjoy “Testimony Tuesday” and the speaker was talking about the importance of praying for each other and with each other. On the fly, we decided to take all the kids to the school chapel and practice praying out loud. She led us in beautiful prayer and demonstrated how to let the Holy Spirit send the words. After she had prayed about a few of the kids intentions she asked if someone was willing to give it a try and pray for her. She shared that she was newly pregnant and wanted someone to pray for that intention. One faith filled courageous middle lovely volunteered to give it a try. She did a fabulous job! She prayed for a healthy baby and a good delivery; all the things you would expect someone to pray about but then she shocked me when she said, “And God, if this baby should happen to die, please help her know you will still be there to love her and take care of her.” I was in tears and so was this beautiful woman. The amazing thing about this prayer is that none of us had any idea that on that specific day, she had been troubled with the thought of losing that baby. It was just heavy on her heart and none of us could possibly have known, but the Holy Spirit did and he put those words of blessing into the prayer of a child. It was amazing! As we sat there in the chapel I remembered the words of that speaker and I was determined to make it a false statement. The next thing that came to mind was that I couldn’t expect the students to do something I wasn’t willing to do myself.
As with anything new and challenging, practice is the key. Our mission is to get ourselves out of the way and just open our mouth and let the words of comfort, peace, love and blessing that can come only from God just come flowing out. Awkwardness is a given at first but it goes away with experience. Our willingness to waddle through something unfamiliar and frightening for the Glory of God is pleasing to the Lord and I’m all about pleasing the Lord how about you?
A Seed To Plant: You have 7 days to complete this task! Pick one person to pray out loud with. If someone at work or school is going through a difficult or joyful time offer to pray together. It can be as simple as Lord; I thank you for this person. I ask your blessing upon them at this time, please wrap them in your loving protection and strengthen them. Go ahead…give it a try…our eternity depends on it!
Blessings on your day!
…his mercies are not spent; they are new each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23
I am grateful for lots and lots of things and one of them is my ability to fall asleep as fast and hard as a brick being dropped from a high building! On the nights I’m not asleep in the first 3 seconds after crawling between the sheets I try to do a replay of my day and offer thanksgiving for the blessings and pray for forgiveness for my sinfulness. When I get to that part, sometimes I get pretty sad, even embarrassed about things I have done or said during the day. It’s funny that on the nights I don’t fall right to sleep it’s usually because something has happened during that day that I need to pray on, ask forgiveness for or ask God to help me fix the next day. I’m not gonna lie, some nights when I start thinking about silly things that slipped out of my mouth that shouldn’t have, or situations where I didn’t slow down enough to really listen or be compassionately present for someone I’d rather just roll over and go to sleep. Sometimes it’s like someone holding up a mirror and I don’t like what I see.
I was having one of those nights not long ago and I couldn’t go to sleep. I ended up moving to the couch so I wouldn’t disturb Dave because no matter how hard I tried to drift off, something just kept nagging at me so I gave up, opened scripture and asked God to show me what he was putting on my heart. It was a beautiful experience of his mercy that eventually led me to this verse in Lamentations. How great is our God! Even as he was pointing out something I didn’t want to see, he did it with such love. I realized that he was showing me how I could follow him more closely and after a while longer, I fell sound asleep and didn’t even roll over the rest of the night. When I woke up the next morning I felt so peaceful and content because I realized that no matter how much we mess things up, he is there for us and his mercies are new each morning.
Don’t we serve an amazing God! It’s like a “do-over” every day. The morning brings new light, new opportunity and God’s new mercies. If you’re reading this today and your heart is heavy about something you’re lugging around, put it to rest in the forgiving arms of the Father and sleep tonight knowing his mercies will be new in the morning. Admit your faults and failings, ask his forgiveness, offer apology and make peace where you need to and know things will be as fresh and hopeful as a bright new morning.
A Seed To Plant: Ask God to show you where you need to seek forgiveness, offer forgiveness and then rest in the promise of his mercy.
Blessings on your day!
Get out there and bring your joy! Pope Francis
How simple is that! When Pope Francis spoke these words he was talking about our work as disciples of Jesus. He went on to say, “If we are full of Christian joy then we should let our faces know it.” I love that image. So many times I muddle my way through the day trying to be a good disciple and I get tangled up in the “work” of it all and miss the “joy” of it all!
Nobody will ever be inspired by a grump! Who would ever want to be a disciple if all they ever hear is how much work it is, how many committees you have to serve on and how much time it’s going to take. If that’s all I knew of Jesus and discipleship I would probably run as fast as I could in the opposite direction. Our job as disciples is to bring people to Christ not scare them away or point out how hard we work to be one. People want to be drawn to Christ not dragged so I suppose it is a good idea every now and again to see if our attitude is one that is drawing, dragging or scaring away. I guess the even bigger question to ask myself is; would I want to follow me and get involved?
Pope Francis is an inspiration to all Christians because he is a living, breathing demonstration of joy, love, kindness and humility found only in the heart of a servant of the Lord. He makes us want to follow! I was reminded of a story I heard about a little girl who got in line and followed the kids who were leaving school to go to Religious Ed. A few weeks later the teacher realized the little girl wasn’t Catholic and asked her why she was going along each week. Her response was awesome. She smiled at the teacher and said, “I just wanted to go where they were going and learn what they were learning because when they come back to school they are so happy!” Out of the mouths of babes! It made me stop and ask myself, when was the last time I came out of church and others could see the joy and the happiness bubblin out of me? Jesus hasn’t changed…he is and was and always will be so that led me to the conclusion that it was me who wasn’t always bringing my joy; not him!
It doesn’t matter what the sermon is like or the music is like or the way the sanctuary is decorated. The joy of Jesus and discipleship lies in the love he has for us, the mercy he shows us and the grace he freely gives us. I just need to act like it! So…pew potatoes unite…let’s get out there and spread the word and bring our joy!
A Seed To Plant: Before you go to church this Sunday, ask God to reveal three things to you that will bring you joy and then take it out the door when you leave and share it.
Blessings on your day!
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
The mystery began as soon as a very puzzled mother realized her 7 year old son had returned home from school without his underwear. After she had exhausted him with her standard line of questioning, she sighed, realizing she was no closer to unraveling the mystery. In her wisdom, she decided to do what all good mothers do…wait him out…he was bound to crack sooner or later!
A few days after the unfortunate underwear incident, the mom was unpacking her sons Spiderman backpack and discovered a small brown paper lunch bag with a message scrawled across the outside in red marker. The note, written by the mother of her son’s best friend explained the whole situation in humorous detail. It seemed that the measure of “coolness” among that particular group of boys was directly related to the designs on their little underwear. Her son had been wearing a pair of his new sports equipment underwear on the day of the disappearance. They were covered with pictures of little hockey pucks, baseballs, footballs, tennis rackets and such. Apparently they were the COOLEST one’s ever. The boy’s best friend studied them carefully because he wanted some just like it for his upcoming birthday. After a brief discussion about the inability of modern day mothers to shop properly, he decided to do what any great buddy would do; hand them over so the buddies mother could stick them in her purse, take them to Wal-Mart and whip them out when she arrived in the underwear section enabling her to purchase exactly the right underwear. Now that’s true friendship!
Friendship is one of the most thoughtful gifts God gives us. As I look back at the troubled or difficult times in my life, it’s usually the memory of friends who appeared and slathered me with love, support and laughter that I remember instead of the event itself. God promised life would be difficult at times but in His amazing love, he gave us great friends to help us along. The little boy who gave up his underwear was willing to forgo his personal comfort, endure his mother’s pelting questions and possibly deal with a bit of embarrassment all for his friend. Not exactly “laying down your life” but it was that tiny act of “dying to self” that contains the lesson.
Make no mistake, I’m not encouraging anyone to give up any part of their wardrobe today, but I am suggesting we take a cue from a 7 year old boy and make a sacrifice for a friend. If you’re looking for a way to love and honor God, why not start by loving and honoring the friends He’s blessed you with. A little act of “dying to self”, like passing up sweets, less screen time or doing the most dreaded job on the task list without complaint can be done out of love and offered up the Father in the name of a friend. Now that is a powerful way to ask God’s blessing on a friend; that is powerful love!
A seed to plant: Make a list of three friends and three simple acts of self-sacrifice you can do for the intentions and needs of those friends. Lift them up in prayer each time the sacrifice gets difficult and the blessings will magnify. Don’t forget to share the story of blessings that will follow your acts of “dying to self” for a friend.
Blessings on your day!
If you judge people, you have no time to love them. Blessed Mother Teresa
This is a post that took a while to put in print. My mind wanted to write it but it took a while for my heart to cooperate. It’s a story of strength, faith and radical kindness. It’s the story of a great blessing…no, not a great blessing…a phenomenal and life changing blessing. It’s a story that might be passed over as common but make no mistake the simplicity of the story is what makes it so profound! I’m writing this story because there are just some stories in life that deserve…no, not deserve… NEED to be told because they really matter and because they have the potential to make us better people just because we heard the story and make an attempt each day to live a little piece of it. It’s my Aunt Mary’s story. I had to convince my heart to tell you her story because I didn’t want you to know it yet…I wanted more years to plan this post, I wasn’t ready…but God was and so here I sit tears plopping on the keyboard ready to give you a little something to think about today!
When Aunt Mary first got sick, she asked me to come home and help her plan her funeral. She didn’t want to burden her family with those decisions. She, Shannon and I spent two amazing days together planning. She had Shannon and I sing dozens of songs for her so she could pick exactly the ones she wanted. We read from Scripture for hours one afternoon until she found the perfect readings. I was feeling very peaceful about it all until she asked me to give her eulogy. We had traded turns crying and being strong several times in those two days but that was my moment to lose it a little. When I told her I’d be honored she threw her arms around me and I was lost like a little girl in one of her world famous loving hugs. When we got it all back together, she told me she wanted to see a rough draft before I returned to Michigan. I laughed out loud and asked why she didn’t trust me. She said she just wanted to make sure I didn’t stand up there talking about her! Above all, she was humble beyond imagination and she didn’t want that to change. She wanted me to use that time to teach the important lessons everybody needed to know in order to live a good life, a life pleasing to God, and so I did. I reminded everyone about the great lessons she had shown us all.
She showed us how to love...everyone! She never knew a stranger and she never missed a chance to smile and say hello. She knew peoples favorite colors and flowers and desserts. She always remembered something about you and when you spoke, she listened. Her spare minutes were spent doing or making something for someone else. Always giving, always paying attention to the tiny details so she could remember you with a surprise “perfect something”. She didn’t think anything about it; “Anyone can do something nice for someone!” she would say. But she did it better than anyone I know. Her signature expression of love was handwritten letters and notes. It was a simple thing but the impact of that simple act is huge. Many nights through her illness I would find Shannon asleep wrapped in a blanket Aunt Mary made her surrounded by a stack of cards and letters from her she had read over and over and over.
She showed us how to serve. That really is our mission as Christians; to serve and not be served. She was a master! It was second nature for her to put other people first because she knew people had a story she didn’t know and everybody deserved to feel like they were important and treated with kindness. Her service was extra special because she did it with such tenderness and sincerity no matter who you were, where you lived or what your past involved.
She showed us kindness…to a degree I’ve never seen from anyone else on earth. I think if I could gather all the sugar on the planet I still couldn’t make a heart as sweet as hers! She cried easily and laughed even easier. She loved hard and forgave easy. The last lesson she wanted me to teach for her was the importance of forgiveness. She made me promise I’d say, “Life is too short to carry the heavy burden of an unforgiving heart.” “Make peace and move on to better things”, was another line I promised to share for her. She wanted me to remind everyone that judging and doubting God and selfishness were a waste of time and energy. She suggested more prayer, more faith, more generosity and lots and lots more kindness instead.
She battled cancer like a warrior, she prayed like a saint and she loved with the compassion of Christ himself but I wasn’t allowed to say those things at her funeral so I wanted to make sure I said them now…because they matter! She was one of those people who made your life better just because you knew her. Her generosity and her faith and her courage were legendary and the best way I know to keep her legacy alive is to try every day to live like she did. It’s a tall order but I’m up for the challenge so why don’t you join me and just maybe we can make this world better!
A Seed To Plant: Pick one of Aunt Mary’s lessons and live it this week!
Blessings on your day!
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…James 4:8
I enjoyed one of my favorite things this weekend! Shannon and I spent a little time babysitting my three great-nieces and their infant brother. When it was time for the baby to sleep, I took him upstairs to rock. It was an absolute pleasure to hold that tiny little guy in my arms and just watch him. It was a little different than rocking my own babies. I wasn’t in my own house so I wasn’t distracted by chores or tasks that needed my attention. Shannon was busy playing with his big sisters so I had no other responsibilities at the time but rocking him to sleep. I also think I appreciated the experience more than I did with my own babies because I’ve learned the hard way that life happens so quickly that the tiny moments are the ones we need to treasure the most! I learned a lot from that beautiful baby boy as I watched him snuggle into deep sleep.
I noticed how hard he sucked his pacifier when he first started falling asleep. I noticed how hard he tried to open his little eyes to keep from falling asleep no matter how heavy they were to try to lift open. I noticed how he would flinch and lurch, stretch his arms and straighten his little legs when he would hear a laugh or a screech from one of his big sisters playing downstairs. And finally I noticed how still he became and how that pacifier fell right out of his little mouth when he finally surrendered and drifted soundly off to sleep. I wonder if we look a lot like that to God when he’s trying to bless us with his rest and his peace.
As I watched him sleeping in my arms I realized how truly peaceful and safe he was; much like the safety we are offered in the arms of Christ but are too busy to slow down and savor. I thought about how hard he tried to fight his peaceful nap; much like the way I try to fight the will of the father. As I swaddled him closer I knew how much better he would feel when he finally gave up the fight and just let sleep win, the sleep would make him so much happier. The same is true I suppose with our surrender to the desires of God. He knows what we need and what will make us happy but yet we fight it like our way is somehow better. The flinching and stretching and desperate attempts to hold open his little eyes reminded me of the dozens of times each week I rail against the things that are best for me in the father’s eyes. My favorite moment was when he finally surrendered completely and his little body became so peaceful and still that the pacifier just plopped right out of his mouth. That obedient surrender brought so much contentment. I realized there were countless days I longed for that same contentment in my life and it was right there before me just waiting for me to surrender and claim it for my own. I’m an experienced, educated woman but I learned volumes from a tiny little boy only a few weeks old. Maybe he can teach you something too!
A Seed To Plant: Find an image of a peaceful sleeping baby and sit in prayer with that image. Allow the peacefulness of that infant to inspire you to surrender and then allow God to blanket you with his comfort and his love.
Blessings on your day!
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26
Looking back on the trip Shannon and I had to Kansas last week it would be easy to call it an emotional disaster; but that isn’t true because God outdid himself in the blessings department. The story actually started the week before we even took the trip and continued until we safely reached our front porch again. Buckle your seat belt because this story is an emotional ride!
It all started when my amazing Aunt Mary was nearing the end of her remarkably courageous battle with cancer. It’s a horrible feeling that hangs like a storm cloud; just waiting, wanting to cling to her but knowing you can’t be selfish and deny her the prize of heaven. We knew we would only have a day or two to book flights and be on our way. I was a little worried about timing because Shannon was a homecoming queen candidate and I wanted her to enjoy that experience although she was ready to pass it all up in case of a conflict because saying goodbye was more important to her than any sparkly dress or parade. The first blessing; the timing was perfect; we were headed out on Tuesday and back on Thursday but we didn’t know what awaited us in Chicago. Our first flight to Kansas City was cancelled so that put us on standby for the next four flights to Kansas, each of which would be filled before we got a chance to get on. God blessed us with a sense of peace as the afternoon came and went. I can’t tell you how much I treasured all that time with my daughter that day. It was such a blessing because there was no work or schedule to distract us…just us and a never ending list of things to talk about. That was a mother’s great blessing.
As evening came I realized we weren’t going to make it home in time to get to the wake and we would miss our chance to see her one last time and say goodbye; that was the hardest part of the day! As the hours ticked away we had one last chance to get out of Chicago. We were able to get seats on the 9 pm flight but as the clock approached 10:30 pm we wondered if we would even leave. I feared we wouldn’t get home for the funeral the next morning and then all we would have had was a $1,300 trip to O’Hare airport. Shortly before 10:30 airport personnel began setting up rows and rows of cots for stranded travelers and my heart sunk. Just as I was beginning to feel tears sting my eyes I looked down and saw a penny. Every time I see a penny I read the words “In God We Trust”. It was his blessing to me and a loving reminder that he had everything under control. Within minutes they announced the boarding of that long awaited flight. We were blessed! Once we finally got settled in the last row of the plane the flight attendant quietly asked Shannon and I to follow her to the front of the plane where she pointed to two first class seats. Our motto all day was “If God can part the Red Sea, He can get us to Horton Kansas” and as it turned out he not only got us there, but he gave us great seats! Blessed again!
By the time we got to Kansas it was after midnight and I was worried about my friends who were picking us up and what a late school night it had become for them. Blessings rained down again as we realized that all of NE Kansas was still up at midnight watching the KC Royals win their biggest game in two decades! The next morning on our drive to Horton, I overestimated the drive time and we got into town early enough to stop at the Funeral home and say our goodbyes; blessed again. Shannon and I were able to sing at the funeral and I was able to deliver the eulogy all without falling into my own puddle of tears. My heart was truly breaking but somehow I managed to keep it together and do what Aunt Mary had asked me to do and that my friends was a gigantic blessing! It was a great blessing to visit with family I hadn’t seen in years and years and of course some time at my dad’s kitchen table was awesome!
Thursday morning we headed to the airport emotionally and physically soggy but excited to get home for all the homecoming excitement ahead. Early afternoon, when we should have been back to the Grand Rapids airport where our car was, we discovered there was no way we were going to get there until Friday afternoon. The thought of spending the night in that airport inspired me to practically sprint to the nearest ticket desk and beg. The first two agents I visited couldn’t help us but all of the sudden I heard a boarding announcement for Kalamazoo. I raced to that gate and begged, including shameless tears to get the two of us on that plane. My tears weren’t working so I looked right into that crabby ticket agents eyes and said, “Sir, surely if God could part the Red Sea, you could get us on that flight because we have to get home tonight!” God is good, and he stirred in this man’s heart who radioed the gate agent to wait for two late boarding passengers. BLESSED! Dave was going to have to head to an airport we’d never seen and we had to drive to the other airport an hour away to get our car but we were on our way back to Michigan. It was dark and stormy as we left Chicago and as I plunked into my seat I started to feel a little overwhelmed by the emotion of the day. Just as I felt like I was about to melt into a blubbering puddle, the plane soared above those storm clouds and into the most beautiful bright sky sprinkled with white fluffy clouds and God blessed me with a heavy blanket of peace, it was as if I could feel his arms around me saying, “See Sheri, that’s what happens when you trust me!” I realized that I have to trust with my whole heart, even with the situation is stressful and inconvenient, God can do mighty wonders!
A Seed To Plant: Sit for a quiet minute and ponder the most stressful thing going on in your life and invite the God who parted the Red Sea to swoop in and take charge then prepare to be blessed in your stress.
Blessings on your day!
Which one of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim? He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise. “Luke 10:37
The final line of the Good Samaritan Gospel story gives us a simple directive; show mercy. In its simplest meaning mercy is “kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation.” There it is; that’s what we are told to do. The question then becomes, how do we do it? Knowing how thick-headed we can be sometimes God shows us mercy again and again and again. Our task is to take his example and spread it around to others. This parable shows us exactly what mercy looks like.
Shannon and I had a very interesting lesson in “mercy” last week. We flew home for a funeral and the trip routed us through Chicago. If anyone has seen the news you probably heard about the radar tower disaster that affected O’Hare airport. Unfortunately, we hadn’t watched the news so we were caught completely by surprise. The root of the disaster is traced back to one man who in the midst of enormous personal turmoil decided to lock himself in the radar tower that controls one of the busiest airports in the U.S. and inflict great harm upon himself and the tower. The results of his actions involve thousands of cancelled flights and millions of displaced travelers for weeks. As we sat in Chicago for hours and hours listening and watching the drama unfold over and over I was amazed at the ripple effect that came from one decision. We saw dozens of innocent ticket agents and flight attendants receive the bad end of every negative emotion you can imagine and it all troubled my heart. I’m not gonna lie, I had a mountain sized hissy-fit bubblin up inside me several times myself but each time I thought a little of it was about to leak out, I’d see someone who was really stuck in a pickle and I’d simmer down.
When we finally made it home, I realized how important showing mercy really was. The first thing I thought about after we landed and started to drive home was that man in the radar tower. When did he need mercy and what would that trip through the airport have been like if more people in his life would have shown it to him? Nowhere does judgment or evaluation play a role in showing mercy. It’s not for us to decide who is worthy or deserving of mercy, he just told us to show it. I very often remind myself that “I don’t know what I don’t know!” I don’t know why people wind up in bad or desperate situations and need mercy. It’s not my business to know, my business according to God is to show mercy and let God deal with the rest.
A Seed To Plant: As you pray this week ask yourself where you need to show mercy and thank God for coming to you with his great mercy each time you’re in a bad or desperate situation.
Blessings on your day!
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