25 Nov 2015

Step out into the Beckoning, adventure awaits

The sights that dazzle us, that draw us, that holds us spellbound -

How long and how much of it do we



True, we are travelers. We will never be able to cling onto, hold onto, possess any of this. But travelers are not tourists. Tourists want a whiff and make the best of the buck collecting these whiffs of transcendence, purity, silence, majesty, magnificence.

And what if the way our souls open up is the beginning of stepping forth into something larger, an adventure, the Beyond that beckons? Which means that quickly, moving on to the next thing; causing our souls to shut again, is saying No to the Beckoning?

We believe too little. Our dreams are recycled notions. Everything passes us and slides into commonplace: like/instagrammed/tweeted. Short takes on deep things.

Like cliches. Platitudes. Or attitudes like, 'been there, done that'. 

Christmas is coming. Or is it just passing by, while you and I stay dead centre, watching it like window dressing as we move on with the train of humanity, on and on. More likes/pins/tweets?

And what if we are missing so much because we are unable and unwilling to really enter what beckons us? 

The last few months, I have been sensing an Invitation to journey deeper. It's hard to see how I can fit one more thing into my schedule. But the issue is deeper: i seriously doubt my capacity to handle more of whatever it is God has in store. I am confronted with the paucity of my soul. I am content with my small collection of sea shells of spiritual knowledge and experiences. 

"The sea shells tell you there is a wide open sea ahead!""I can't swim well! It's too dangerous for me to venture out there.""Have I ever left you on your own?"

Do you too sense an Invitation? 
What is your response?

I finally offered my weak desire and take tentative steps towards the water.

All around us God beckons us - to live and to give, to enter and endure, to enjoy and enforce.

Watch for it this holiday season.

Maybe you are blessed to make a trip this holiday. then do slow and drink deep of what is set before you. No need to post a picture. Instead, scratch some notes on your soul -

why does this stir me so?
what may i have forgotten?
where is it leading me?

And if you venture outside your home, you will be bombarded with Consumer Christmas. How can you resist all that draw to be cool, hip, up-to-date, well-dressed, well-fed; and instead consider -

"..the time is coming when he'll make the whole area glorious... The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows - light! sunbursts of light! You repopulated the nation, you expanded its joy. Oh, they're so glad in your presence! Festival joy! the joy of great celebration, sharing rich gifts and warm greetings... For a child has been born - for us! the gift of a son - for us! He'll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness... He'll put that kingdom on a firm footing and keep it going with fair dealing and right living, beginning now and lasting always..." ~ Isaiah 9

is Christmas a dream?
whose dream is it?
dare you share the dream?

20 Nov 2015

a retreat experience

retreat /rɪˈtriːt/ - a period of withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director

According to all battle strategies; there is a time to retreat.

When -

We forget we are in a war. 
We don't build in the strategic moments of retreat. 
We face defeat.

God in His loving, attentive, all-wise way, beckons me to step away, leave it all, and go to a quiet place to rest, to hear, to rec calibrate ... in order to engage the battle with fresh vision and strength. My disobedience to my Commander-in-chief will lead to horrid outcomes.

Retreating is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And I nearly missed it.

After setting my heart and arranging to take a retreat; I made a last minute decision (upon my dear husband's strong support) to attend a 5-day writing-related conference. This was going to be just before my retreat dates; taking me away from home for more than a week. 

i tried to reason that perhaps i could kinda retreat during my conference if i stole pockets of time. But the very first day of conference, I was uncharacteristically exhausted! It looked like i couldn't even enjoy and benefit from the conference; much less burden it with one more agenda: God. 

Also, i needed and wanted to give Him undivided attention. 

Good thing I did not cancel my retreat plans!

Yesterday at Bible Study, we looked at that familiar verse from Mark 1v35:

"and while it was still dark, Jesus arose and went to a quiet place.."
We were asked: what did Jesus do in the dark and quiet when he met with God?

Did he look at the stars and remember the long-ago promise God gave to Abraham his ancestor?
Did he review the day's route and asked for God's-Positioning-System?
Did he ache over the faces and lives he encountered?
Did he grapple with his humanity?
Did he talk about each of his disciples by name?

What do you do when you get to a place of quiet with God?

Quite often in the past, I went into a retreat time with many burdens, questions and longings. My last retreat I went with a huge need to find direction as I was feeling so out of sorts with where I was at. I was doing what seemed right but it did not bring me peace and I felt my soul warping with frustration and pride.

Weeks earlier, I had several questions I wanted answers to at this retreat. But when I got to the place and set my things down in the bare room; I was unable to find or frame my questions.

A simple and bare space can do wonders for us. It seemed to strip me of the questions and longings that clung to me. As I shed all the things I usually surround myself with - no more laptop, familiar books, the cat (!), the schedule, responsibilities and noise... suddenly there is this sufficiency, this simplicity. I tried in fact to dig around because when I was busy and filled with much to think/say/do; the questions pressed on me with urgency. But now, they lose their power and their claim. So I stopped. I reminded myself that being on retreat is to receive care from the One who knows me completely. I gladly opened my hand and let Him lead the moments.

If you have never known the freedom of having no datelines, no whatsapp, no emails, no one to answer to...then you must go on a retreat! Simply being on your own with nothing to achieve/settle/ resolve is a most freeing experience. it is not that your troubles are all sorted out; it's just not the time for it. In fact, we are so used to being a problem-solving mode that we really need a break from it; in order to come back fresh.

I ate my meal quietly; it was all set out. I did not need to fuss over what to eat. There was just one option. I did find and enjoy the last green-tea packet though! Again, the mind gets to rest, the body gets to slow. This in turn allows the deepest part of us to surface.

I went to the lounge area and looked at some stuff on a table: art paper, two tins of fabric with needles and thread, a large bottle of buttons. In a cupboard I found markers and paint and glue. I walked away to sit in a large armchair and began exploring a huge hardcover book on Thomas Merton's art. A most charming title isn't it?

But my heart felt drawn to return to fiddle with those buttons. I flipped and read slowly; then I got up and went to the table. 

Not quite sure what i was going to slap together, I picked out some fifteen buttons that caught my eye. The word 'mystery' had been floating around so I wrote that down on the middle of the page. With a oil pastel, I drew a thick red line across the paper. Finally i drew and then stuck the buttons on. 

I selected a few books I found and took them to my room.

In the evening, I started to journal. The pages filled out quickly! The spiritual director I arranged to meet had suggested a few Scripture passages. I read those familiar passages and listened. As i journal; i realised those passages helped me to pray about the questions I had. It was good to turn the questions away from being a quest for answers to prayers that expressed my hope in a God who hears and answers.

sitting with Jesus

Over the next two days, God would let me know He knows exactly where I am at: the longing for clarity for my ministry, my recent dreams about a former church, entering a feminine season where loss and rejuvenation combine called menopause, growing children...

brave Mary

in the chapel

I felt something deep within me being filled up. 

Then the deepening impression. Joy. Joy, Joy. We need it but we are so afraid of it.

I prayed relinquishment.
I prayed hope.
i prayed about missing my mom.

i looked at my artwork and i knew its meaning would continue to unfold for me: there is mystery to life. But a river of redemption runs right through it. And along the way, God buttons us up where we may otherwise unravel or split apart.

When I finally packed my things, I was ready,and eager to be home.

Retreat to Advance.

13 Nov 2015

Do I really need God?

Actually, you don't.

If what you want is to get by in life, make it rich, have a good time, mind your own business...raise some decent kids. I would say you do not need God. There are plenty of non-God people who do well in every department of life, from studies to marriage to phenomenal success.

In fact, I tried being an atheist once. Just forget about God la.

It lasted about a week.

This is why.

God is not an add-on.
He is not a secret ingredient for the best life.
The Heavenly Father isn't lonely.
Jesus isn't desperate for followers {as I tell it in my book Shed Those Leaves, his political non-maneuverings led him to a grisly death}
The Holy Spirit won't overpower / spook you because he needs to deliver / fill / use someone.

Human beings at our best spiritually is Religious. This means we think, do, define stuff that measures us as: up / down, in / out, black / white. And religion has got us all into a lot of trouble which we are still trying to climb out of.

We can get by without God. He has graciously and generously provided the air and water cycle plus basic causal links which we can use to generate food, shelter and even regenerate ourselves.
When we reach for God ourselves, we tend to create caricatures, totems and idols.

What the Bible tells us is not that we are bad people. Not that we must improve. Not that Christianity or Judaism is a pathway to God even. No, the Bible tells us,

In the beginning God.
At the end, God.

We come onto the scene at his breath. That breath makes us alive on multiple levels: able to eat, relate to animals, work creatively, govern, procreate, hear and respond to God with immediacy. That the breath returns to the Giver by orienting us towards Him in reverence, obedience, and union.

But the breath gets snuffed.

We need fresh breath to be truly alive.

I named this blog To Really Live because I started out on life with very little. I wore the same dress twice to birthday parties and another child pointed it out. All of my life I grasped at what it means to live. I was alive even if I was hungry often. I was alive enough to thrive through some harsh setbacks. I wanted to be alive emotionally, intellectually, creatively... to really live was my quest.

For many today, a full life is a busy life, or a pleasure-filled life, or a life where one is not denied what one wants. Some are more outward looking and a full life is about making a mark, leaving a legacy.

But to really live, we have to be really alive first.

God says we need Him to be really alive.

With Him, it does not mean our lives are charmed. We speak of Grace, Favour, Providence, miracles. These are all true and we would be blind to deny they are real and experienced by many who trust God. Yet, our lives can also be filled with all the same issues and problems.

The difference?

It is to really live by that breath that turns us Godward so that we rise above ourselves. Our agenda is no longer ourselves. Our reward is no longer this-worldly. Our joy is no longer circumstantial. 

Jesus did a strange thing (especially to our sensibilities) when he appeared to his disciples after rising from the dead. It is recorded that 'he breathed on them'. That breath brings us right back to the first page of our story, when God breathed and brought forth a living being called man. It seems Jesus was re-enacting that; letting them know he is calling them to life.

{imagine the scene, being there and hearing the breath}

Perhaps pause now to hear (one of these):

Breathe on me by Hillsong

Breathe on me breath of God by Steven Green

And this fresh breath is sustained and swept up in a work of God that urges us forward to a vision of renewing earth, reconciling hearts, restoring hope that flickers within us. 

The story of how the disciples were struck by a wind that carried flames and loosed their tongues in Acts is the turn key event that establishes this grand sweep of a purpose no human can imagine or concoct.

The breath of God is God himself and He is afoot with mighty things that will thunder and billow upon this crusted terrestrial ball!

'to really live' quest lives on!

So I don't need God in a way.
But I cannot truly live without Him.

I was created in His image
To be in relationship with Him
In a way that brings Him glory

If I denied that, I am saying I don't need him.

What's your real desire?
Get on with life, or get on with God?