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The conversation the other night was very human centered.  It revolved around “my choice”, “my free will” and everything “me”….I was talking to a friend who was trying to hold tight and fast to her belief system but what she was unable to comprehend is that her belief system has trapped her.  There may be a God “somewhere out there” for her, but she has made herself the center of the universe.  Everything was about her right to choose.

Now I am not opposed nor do I deny the fact that we have choices to make in our journey of faith, but I just don’t think the adventure starts with us.  I believe there is an initial igniting of my soul from Some Outside Force…the Spirit quickening me to life.

So I asked this friend – so stuck in her choosing world – did she choose to fall in love?  Or better yet….did she choose the initial attraction to her husband?  I knew my husband at 15 years of age and we were good friends.  I never thought I would date him let alone marry him, until one day, something happened to me.  It was an awakening in me and my eyes began to see him differently.  I didn’t choose it…it just happened.

I would contend that this is how it is with God too.  He is always around whether we acknowledge it or not, but we don’t have eyes to see Him.  Through His graciousness and great love for us, He enters into our deepest places and gives us the capacity to see.  It is not always a large movement, but the first move is His.  He begins the dance of awakening in us.

I think this is what is meant in Ephesians when Paul says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that {faith is} not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”  (Eph 2:8-9)  Truly our choices come in responding to what God starts.

And I don’t think this is just for those who don’t have eyes to see God yet.  I think that this is a continual work and gift of the Spirit…always trying to wake us up and open our eyes to something new.  We may ignore the subtle movements, and like my friend, move into a life driven by our power, our choices and our rationale.  But He is a relentless pursuer…He is always trying to give us eyes to see Him and get out of our “me-worlds”.  It is mysterious and wonderful.  It defies explanation, but cannot be denied once it has been experienced.  It is to stand in wonder in the absence of words.

Albert Einstein once wrote, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and all science.  He to whom this “emotion” is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, or stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead.  His eyes are closed.”

I cannot “do” the spiritual life.  No amount of good choices, hard work, and effort can make it happen.  (Well I guess I can try, but it will leave me tired, disillusioned and stuck on myself.)  This is because faith does not start with me.  It comes from outside of me.  The mysterious emotion that Einstein talked about cannot be mustered, but it is given.  Our job is to lean into it once it happens….to keep looking once we have been given eyes to see!

I have grown up in a tradition that tends to be skeptical of “pre-formed” prayers.  On a good side, I think they just don’t want prayer to be rote and something we do without really engaging our being in.  On the ugly side, our prayers tend toward narcissism and an inordinate fascination with ourselves.   I love to talk to God, but find sometimes I just don’t have the words and one of the saints who have gone before me does.

Today I borrow a prayer from one of them.

We, without a future,

Safe, defined, delivered

Now salute you, God.

Knowing that nothing is safe,

Secure, inviolable here.

Except you,

And even that eludes our minds at times.

We did not want it easy, God

But we did not contemplate

That it would be quite this hard

This long, this lonely.

So, if we are to be turned inside out,

And upside down,

With even our pockets shaken

Just to check what’s rattling

And left behind,

We pray that you will keep faith with us,

And be with us,

holding our hands as we weep,

Giving us strength to continue,

And showing us beacons

Along the way

to becoming new.

~ Anna McKenzie

This has been an interesting Advent/Christmas season for me.  As people came to our house during Advent, the huge Jesse tree always became a topic of conversation.   Friends and acquaintances had a tough time wrapping their minds around what we are doing with this rather large bundle of twigs and branches on our kitchen table.  More than a few, however, when we explained that we were reading through the Scriptures with our family in order to see the waiting, longing, and need for a Messiah, thought it was pretty neat.  (What I found interesting is that those who would not claim to be followers of Jesus found it more intriguing than those who were.  Perhaps, there is a certain numbness that comes within any religious circles…we think we already know the story, so why would we have to read it over and over, year after year?)

But whatever sort of responses I got to our Advent activities, it was nothing compared to trying to explain that Christmas is a season and not just a day…and that we would not be opening presents on Christmas Day (although we did a few little ones) but rather spreading them out through the whole 12 days to celebrate the Incarnation.  All around as we’ve seen people at church, the grocery store, or our neighborhood, the question we consistently get is “what did you get for Christmas?  what was your favorite  present?”  (I am a little cheeky and so I want to answer that I got Jesus – God with Us – for Christmas…but I’ve restrained myself!!)  I am simply getting used to explaining the 12 days of Christmas and getting some glassy-eyed stares and polite smiles!

However, I do have a favorite present from this year (and I know it will remain my favorite even though there are still presents under the tree to be opened.)

This last year we have been trying to teach our children about how to handle money and so we’ve helped them come up with a system of giving, long term savings, and short term savings (ie. spending).   All year long they have added up each of these categories and kept a record of them…and watched their money increase.   They had to give at least 10% to giving, but our daughter, who was born with the gift of generous giving, almost consistently put between 35 and 50% into her giving category!!  Not bad for a 12 year old!!!)

A few weeks ago, the World Vision catalog arrived at our house and as our children went through it, they became giddy with excitement.  They realized that they could buy goats, chickens, clothing, soccer balls…really whatever…for people in other parts of the world!!!  They had the money and they set out to write their “Christmas List” of what they wanted to do with their giving money.  ( In fact, we had a birthday party for our son a week or so ago and he asked that instead of gifts people could give him money toward his World Vision fund!)

So on the 23rd we went down to World Vision’s headquarters (we live very nearby) in order to give the money.  We stopped by the bank beforehand, pulled out the cash for each kid and gave it to them in an envelope to carry.  As we walked in to the lobby, both of our children were bubbling over with excitement!!    They both ran up to the counter and announced that they had money they wanted to give and they wanted to “buy” things from the catalog!!  I think the little lady sitting behind the desk was a little overwhelmed!

What insued over the next 20 minutes or so brought tears to my eyes.  Our children deliberated and calculated just how best to spend their money.  They agonized over where the money would go and even verbalized that they felt like they didn’t enough to give as much as they wanted to.  They knew the money was God’s but they wanted it to be used to the “most it could be”.  Then they gladly marched up to the counter, told the lady what they wanted to “buy”, gladly handed over their money and walked away with a huge grin on their faces!!

THAT was my best gift!!  I don’t even think I need any others.  To watch my children give generously and so gladly fills my heart!!  To see them want to give money for Kingdom Work is a part of my desire for them.  To get to be present as they experience the joy of giving to God is priceless!!

Later we walked through World Vision’s visitor center where our hearts were torn by the immense poverty and needs in this world and the hope that some followers of Jesus are just audacious enough to bring into dark places.   And I asked God, then and there, to not only let my kids know the joy of giving money to His work around the world, but to take them there as well, letting them participate firsthand in how these monies are making a difference in the lives of people.

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I have been struck over the last few weeks regarding the need or rather health of repetition and form.  Repetition and form in prayer, in spiritual practices, and even in locations.  I will be writing on this topic over the next few weeks, but as I am on vacation I will leave you with this prayer.  It is borrowed from Mother Teresa and is becoming my prayer of repetition and form for right now.  (As I fight the demons of people pleasing and wanting to be applauded!)

Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire to being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of being popular,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being suspected.
Amen.

Cover copy 2

The new Story-formed Calendar for 2009-2010 is NOW AVAILABLE!!

There are some sample pictures under the “View a Couple Pages” tab.  I have included the Christmas, Epiphany, Holy Week and Lent pages.  Enjoy…I’ve had a lot of fun putting it all together.

If you are interested in finding out more about the calendar, you can email me at: Untitled-1This year the cost of the calendar is $16 …AND there is a PayPal option this year.  Until I figure out if I can put the PayPal option on this site, you can go here:  StoryFormed 2009-2010 Christian Calendar…then click on the “How To Order” link.

I look forward to journeying through all the seasons of this next year with you!

Blessings,

Tara

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Lord,

It seems as though my heart has mimicked the weather of Epiphany.  It has been foggy, cold and dark outside, and I realize the same is true for the climate of my heart.

As we enter into Lent and the daylight lengthens, I too, open my heart to You and the radiance of Your light.  Please come illuminate the dark corners of my heart and bring warmth to those places gone cold.

I understand that sometimes Your illumination will feel like exposure and my first response wil be to hide, to shrink back into dark corners.  But I desire instead to choose to trust You.  I understand that other times Your light will bring a warmth to the very core of my soul and I will bask with delight in it.  But while I enjoy it, I will not grab after it.  My heart will be satisfied with what You desire to give.

I ask only these things:  the patience to sit before You with an open heart and the firm anchor of trusting Your great love toward me.

Arise, Thou Sun,

Upon the winter landscape of my heart

Winter rations are dwindling

And I need Thy light!

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