Saturday, May 9, 2015

Empty




I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God. (Psalm 69:3 NIV)
But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. (Psalm 69:13)

One of the beautiful things about God is his amazing timing. I have been feeling so empty and out of touch with the Lord and with life in general. (It bothers me that I am forty years old and suddenly blindsided by feelings. I blame the fact that I live with a thirteen year old, an almost eleven year old, and a nine year old. And they are all female.)

I am very involved with a women's Bible study at our church. One of my duties is to oversee the choosing of books to study every year. I have a lot of input from others and I am certainly not in charge, but I make sure that we have books and facilitators for every class. This means that in the spring, I read a lot of books to see if they might be good options for the upcoming year.

So here I am with all these feelings, reading Fight Back with Joy and Set My Heart on Fire and Romans: a Double-Edged Bible Study.

Today, on the first daily reading of Set My Heart on Fire, I read,

"Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32). When your heart is dry, downcast, or in despair, the conditions are just right to ignite your heart on fire with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When the Word of God confronts even the driest of hearts and the good, strong wind of the Holy Spirit blows, that heart is set on fire. And oh, how that fire can spread to others both near and far away." (Catherine Martin, Set My Heart on Fire, page 21)

Oh Lord,
have you swept away my familiar place of meeting you
(in the window seat of my previous house)
swept away my easy chatter with you,
swept away half my books for now
(where are they hidden?)
to replace them with a clearer desire for you?

You are my God. I worship you.
  In my heart, I long for you, as I would long for a stream
  in a scorching desert. (Psalm 63:1 CEV)



photo credit: Valley of Fire via photopin (license)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ellen



Listen, GOD! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help.
Every morning you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar and watch for fire to descend. (Psalm 5:1-3 The Message)

I stood in the doorway of my closet with a huge empty box. The cat wondered what I was doing with the box. So did I. I talked to her. She's a good listener.

“Where should I begin to pack up this far corner of my house? There are maternity clothes and cloth diapers in here! Our youngest child is nine! Maybe I should check my e-mail first. Yes. I’ll think about packing in five minutes.”

I clicked on an e-mail titled “Ellen” from my women’s ministry leader. I figured it was a prayer request for my friend who was in intensive care due to cancer complications. The e-mail filled my screen and I gasped.

Ellen was gone.

“No,” I said out loud, “No. I just saw Ellen at Bible study two or three weeks ago!” Ellen was so alive, so passionate—“Ellen” and “dead” did not belong in the same sentence.

I remember a precious day with Ellen five years ago. She burst into the study I was leading, crying out, “I just came from the doctor and I have cancer.” Oh Ellen. Brave Ellen, to share such a fragile moment with her Bible study sisters. We gathered around her and prayed. Several women who had already walked this path told Ellen what to expect the next few months, and reassured her that she had an excellent doctor. (I was overwhelmed with all the hugging that happened in our class that day.)

Eventually Ellen chose a verse to cling to on her journey:

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

Now my friend is gone. Gone to a forever home with no more packing boxes. I glanced at the still empty packing box at my closet door. How could I think about packing while I grieved for Ellen? I rejoiced for her homecoming, but sorrowed for her three daughters, and for the fact that I will never again greet her in the church parking lot.

I am annoyed by cancer metaphors. “She lost her fight with breast cancer.” Ellen didn’t lose. Cancer didn’t win. Ellen finished her race, followed the perfecter of her faith, and now she sees him face to face.

Weeks later, as I write this, I remember Ellen's memorial service. The music was perfect. Ellen was a teacher, and she chose songs that told us who Jesus is. She wanted our last thoughts of her to be focused on him.

I wonder how I can adopt Ellen's verse. What does that mean, in practical steps? How can I stop staring at that pink oleander (did I mention I hate pink?) and look to Jesus?

I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God. (Psalm 69:3 NIV)
But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. (Psalm 69:13)

You can read Ellen's writings at http://ellenehayes.blogspot.com/



Unknown photo source.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pink Oleander



Two months ago, I looked out my bedroom window at the mountains that surround Las Vegas. This was my corner of the house. I leaned against the cushions of my window seat, thinking about a study I would lead the next day. My phone rang. 

It was my rental agent, shaking up my world with the news that the owners of our home wanted to sell it. We were given thirty days to leave.

We had almost forgotten it wasn’t our home. After nine years we felt like owners. Our youngest daughter was born in our bedroom there. I planted roses and herbs in the backyard and replanted our desert lawn every year. For nine years I prayed in my corner of the house, looking out at the mountains. I studied. I wrote a book every year. I talked to God about grief and ill health and parenting. I found contentment as I came to accept God’s plan for me here in Las Vegas. I loved my window’s view. The sleek windows of Red Rock Casino a mile away reflected sunrises and sunsets, and a new mall nearby added a touch of neon to the neighborhood. 

We looked at the calendar and decided to move out a week before we were required to move. This would allow us to move during my husband’s spring break. It would also give us a chance to repaint a room. (Always get written permission to paint a rental home.) Three weeks from now, we thought in bewilderment. We collected boxes and found a new home to rent. In the midst of all the chaos, my husband spent four days in Georgia at the only conference his job has sent him to in twelve years. People volunteered to help wrap dishes and pack the garage.

Moving week is a blur of sheer exhaustion in my memory. 

Five weeks after the move, I am looking out my new bedroom window. There are no mountains in my view, no color-changing neon—only a concrete wall and the neighbor’s pink oleander bushes. 

I really really dislike pink.

Oleander is poisonous. 

I am living on autopilot—cooking and shopping and doing laundry, meeting friends for lunch, leading a class at church—but I cannot hear Jesus. I cannot feel Jesus. 

I have learned, in previous seasons, to keep at it. Keep praying. Keep talking to Jesus. He will speak.
I read a study on Joy a few months ago. I think I need to revisit it.

Listen, GOD! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help.
Every morning you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life
on your altar and watch for fire to descend. (Psalm 5:1-3 The Message)



photo credit: Oleander via photopin (license)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Secret to Living a Defiant Joy: an interview with Margaret Feinberg

The Secret To Living A Defiant Joy: An interview with Margaret Feinberg

One of my favorite authors, Margaret Feinberg, has been through a brutal fight with cancer and shares the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way in her new book and Bible study Fight Back With Joy.

It’s been inspiring to learn how Margaret has been practicing a defiant joy, and I and thought you might like to get an insider’s look, a sneak peek of the video and read an interview with Margaret.


Your newest book and Bible study, Fight Back With Joy, was born out of your fight with a life-threatening illness. What was your difficult diagnosis, and what has your journey to health entailed?

For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one disease represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. Being diagnosed under the age of 40 is significant. I’ve been through a brutal year of chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember.

Why did you write Fight Back With Joy?

I studied joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, and torturous pain. Through the process, I’ve discovered the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before.

In Fight Back With Joy book and Bible study, you really push the reader to reevaluate their definition of joy. Why do you think this is so important?

Much of the teaching I’ve heard on joy over the years is oversimplified. I remember those days in Sunday school learning that JOY is spelled Jesus, Others, Yourself. While that made perfect sense at 9 years old, I’ve seen how distorted that can become as an adult.

I see friends who love Jesus but spend so much time pouring into their kids, grandkids and others that their joy looks something like this: jOy.

Technically, it still spells joy, but more than anything, these men and women who are so exhausted, so empty, so running on fumes from pouring into others need to pause and take time to focus on themselves. Laying hold of joy right now will require them to reevaluate for a season and discover the joy that comes with JYo.

I also noticed how most of the definitions of joy define it more by what it isn’t than by what it is. I constantly heard that happiness is based on circumstance but joy is not dependent on circumstance.

Biblical expressions of joy turn out to be far different than what I had been taught. I am now convinced the writers of the Bible would say that, the reason we have joy is because we have great circumstances. If you are a child of God, you are drenched in the grace and mercy of God.

No matter what you’re facing: Your circumstances are better than you think.

If you’re not experiencing joy, perhaps it’s because your definition of joy is too narrow.

On a scale of 1-10, how hard was it for you to write this book and Bible study?

An eleven! This journey has been the most painful experience of my life. And, to share about it requires some vulnerability. Okay, a lot of vulnerability. And, that’s really, really hard. But I feel like I’m finally ready to share what God has stirred in my heart along the way because although cancer has been the most painful journey—it has also been the most joyful. And no one is more surprised than I am.

A video message from Margaret

Pick up a copy of Fight Back With Joy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Seek Joy in 2015


I read Margaret Feinberg's book Fight Back with Joy during Christmas break. I meant to study it, to soak in its truth, and to allow it to direct my focus in a new direction.

But I got caught up in its pages--the joys and the trials and the truths. Margaret writes of her journey through cancer. She does a beautiful job of sharing her journey without making this an emotionally heavy book. I couldn't put the book down, and I finished it far too quickly.

I ordered the member book that can be used in discussion groups. I am reading it one day at a time, pacing myself so that I will hear the message and the biblical truth that Margaret shares. I am discussing this book on facebook with a few friends, to give myself a bit of accountability.

Margaret balances her story with biblical truth and humor. It is an enjoyable read, but it calls readers to evaluate our own lives and coping techniques. It urges us to lean on Jesus and let him plant his joy in us. This is a comforting yet compelling book.

Margaret also includes some down to earth advice on helping friends who are experiencing difficulties.

Margaret writes:
My prayer is that this book will be beacon for anyone searching for HOW to fight darkness.
My prayer is that this book will be a beacon for anyone ABOUT to face a battle.
My prayer is that this book will be a beacon for anyone IN the fight of their lives.
My prayer is that this book will be a beacon for anyone who has crawled THROUGH the trenches.

 Find this book on Amazon or Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble. You can also purchase the 6-Session Bible Study Kit.

Hear Margaret introduce her study here: http://mar.cta.gs/0be





Monday, January 12, 2015

You are Here: a new Bible study

I stared out the window of our apartment in Las Vegas and wondered what in the world I was doing here. It was too hot to take the baby outside and I hadn't made friends in our new town. Reading my Bible seemed like more fun than folding laundry. The book of Ecclesiastes caught my attention. Its author was an ancient king who looked out his palace windows and declared that life was meaningless--a chase after the wind. I looked at the dishes in the sink and the cereal on the floor and I could understand the feeling. I kept reading. Nothing made King Solomon happy. Nothing brought him fulfillment. He saw all the evil and unfairness in the world and he was discouraged and confused. I considered current news events and I realized that not much had changed in our world. I was intrigued by the reality in this ancient book.

My Sunday school class led me into another biblical book. Philippians was the opposite of Ecclesiastes! Its author wrote from a prison cell, and said he was perfectly content. Paul urged his readers to rejoice and to be confident that God was working in their lives. I wondered if I too could choose to be content.

These contrasting books were my companions for several years. When the desert heat was overwhelming and discouragement knocked on my door, I would turn to God's word and find hope. I bought a study Bible, and noticed a chart in the book of John. It showed me the statements Jesus made about his identity: I am the light of the world, I am the bread of life, I am the vine. These simple words answered all the longings expressed by Solomon. They explained why Paul could proclaim, "For me to live is Christ."

I began to understand that the difference between discouragement and contentment was not so much a choice but a Person. When I am aware that my Savior is walking beside me, I am not so concerned with memories of the past or worries for the future. He is here, speaking his truth into my reality.

In my new book You are Here, you can join me in the books of Jonh, Ecclesiastes and Philippians. Come see Jesus in action. Whisper your needs and longings to him. He is here.

To order a copy, use the Contact Me form to the left of this page. The spiral bound book is 253 pages and has 12 chapters. The books are $11 each, plus shipping.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Prayer and Journaling Pattern

Today I saw a pattern in Psalm 37, a pattern I can use in my prayers as I apply Scripture to my life.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act..
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him...
(Psalm 37:3-5, 7)

I see a prayer pattern here.

TRUST (Take him at his word)

DWELL (Acknowledge my reality)

DELIGHT (Find joy in him)

COMMIT (Give him the situation)

BE STILL (Rest)

Here is how I used this. Today I read Isaiah 50:10:

...Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.

I applied this truth to the prayer pattern and my day today.

TRUST: Lord, I believe that you are the light and you desire to give me your truth.
DWELL: Lord, you know that I am not sure what you want me to write today, and I am very tired.
DELIGHT: I rejoice in your light! You have enlightened me so many times and I am grateful.
COMMIT: Here is my day. Take it and shape it as you will.
BE STILL: At this point I just put my head down in my Bible and remembered that Jesus loves me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Travel Light Readers

I was blogging along through Travel Light, to keep in touch with you, and I took a little break to work on a new book. Now I see that my little break was quite a bit longer than I expected! How are you? Are you done with Travel Light now? How did it go? What are you reading now? Please comment or e-mail me at grapelighthouse @ cox.net. (Remove the spaces in the e-mail address.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Travel Light Connections: What? Why?

If you follow my blog you are seeing a lot of posts labelled "Travel Light Connections." These are my thoughts and prayers as I journey through my Travel Light book (see link above). I had hoped to post a few videos for other women who are reading this book, but I had technological difficulties. So I am posting just a few little thoughts that didn't make it into the book.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Travel Light Connections: 7.1

But for you who fear my name,
 the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. 
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)

I use Biblegateway.com to look up verses in different translations and to find verses on various themes. I am going to try to walk you through a fun resource on this website. The format of the website changes occasionally, so you might need to play around with my directions a little.

Look up a passage (Malachi 4) at Biblegateway.com,
click on "search",
and look at the search results,
then click on "Show Resources."

Now, on the right hand side, there are some resources listed: a study Bible, a commentary, and a list of Bible themes. This is my favorite study help! Every verse has several themes listed, and if you click on them you can read verses on those themes. Scroll down to "Light, Spiritual" and click on it.

Now you have lots of verses, and a short definition of spiritual light. Click on a few references and read some great verses.

The verse in Malachi, above, is one of my favorites on this topic. Here are a few more:

Lord, You light my lamp; my God illuminates my darkness. (Psalm 18:28)
The revelation of Your words brings light and gives understanding to the inexperienced.
(Psalm 119:130)
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards You will take me up in glory.
(Psalm 73:24)
Open my eyes so that I may see wonderful things in Your law. (Psalm 119:18)