a new rhythm of rest–a choice to leave the desert place (with book giveaway!)

We are upstairs in my father-in-law’s house, in the bedroom quarters our family shares during our little house’s remodel.

We have the laptop set up on a cardboard box on top of the bedside table so we can easily see the screen. We sit side by side on chairs borrowed from the kitchen table, watching this couple’s faces over Skype. They are kind, wise, gentle. But strong. They nudge us forward intentionally, inviting us to listen carefully for Jesus’ words to our hearts.

Rhythms of rest

When Justin and I gather with our mentors over Skype, they invite the four of us to listen together, asking what Jesus wants to say. For me, I hear silence. Nothing. Not a mental picture. Not a thought–no sentence or idea. But I am not distressed about this. I am not anxious.

But I must be depleted of energy, or distracted. And I tell them this. For I hesitate to ask Holy Spirit to use my imagination, like I usually do. I struggle for energy, desire, to say yes to Jesus’ invitation to be in the presence of the Father. I am not sure I want to listen to any invitation Jesus might have to make.

But I sit. Seemingly empty. In quiet.

But it is not dark here.

And I am not alone.

I wait. I let the openness of my heart be enough. It is all I have, right now, to give.

But I have a feeling my soul knows what it is Jesus is saying. So I wait. And I become aware of the barrenness surrounding me. For I am seeing now–I see myself in a gray, depleted, washed out place of no water, no green, no life.

I look up.

“I am in a desert place,” I say aloud.

I tell them I see myself depleted. Tired. I recognize that my soul is hungry for God, but I sit here, blind to resources, deaf to life singing loud and long–life I can claim if I only stand up, let Him restore my heart, receive.

It feels impossible to receive God’s goodness when we are more intent on jumping through hoops and pleasing the world rather than slowing and taking action to let God care for our hearts.

A new rhythm of rest

This message has been coming at me from all sides this past week. Through podcasts, in books, in articles, in talks with friends. My Father is trying to tell me, over and over, how He is here, wanting to care for my heart. If I do not let His love cover me, restore me to Himself, then I remain hollow, my heart not healthy and whole. I need to make space for my Father to speak to me, over and over.

When our mentors use the word “rhythm” to explain how it is the seemingly small, daily choices we make to create room in our hearts to be with God, I am reminded of my friend Shelly Miller’s book, Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. I needed Shelly’s wisdom during the whirlwind of my book launch, staying up late to read chapters that spoke right to my heart. Shelly’s book invites the reader into a new way of life with God, a life of being intentional with how we spend our time, a life of slowing to specifically spend time with God, in the unique and beautiful way we are each made to do. This is the way to receive the gift God has made for us to receive: rest, restoration, peace, joy, fulfillment in Him and in nothing else.

Oh, how I needed the wisdom of this book. And oh, how my heart rebelled against it.

When I read Shelly’s book, I was reading her words but not letting the meaning penetrate my heart. I am just now hearing it. I am just now ready to receive the wisdom and new life she offers in this beautiful way to live: a life of being open to God’s presence in each moment, open to interruptions, open to intentionally changing the rhythm of one’s life to make space to hear and be in the presence of God.

For He is here. He is all around. He is in you. He is in me. There is so much, this moment, I want to see.

This depleted, desert place where I saw myself? I am not staying here. I am trying to listen to my soul. And new rhythms–daily choices of intentionally turning my heart, my soul, my mind, to the heart of the Father restores me to Him. And I am becoming myself.

What can be better than that?

When you are quiet before Jesus, where do you see yourself? Are you depleted, energized, at peace? What specific things do you do to intentionally choose to spend time with God and be restored?


Three-Book Giveaway!

Shelly and her publisher, Bethany House, are giving away three copies of Shelly’s beautiful book, Rhythms of RestRhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World. Entering is easy. All you need to do is share a comment to this question, “What specific thing do you do–or do you hope to do–to intentionally choose to spend time with God and be restored?” Each share on social media will count as an additional entry in the giveaway. (So let me know when you share.) I will draw three random winners on Friday! (I am afraid the publisher can only send to addresses within the U.S.)

 

[clickToTweet tweet=”Let us let God care for our hearts. #RhythmsofRest” quote=”Let us let God care for our hearts. #RhythmsofRest”]

 

Update: the three winners of the giveaway are Mary, Jeannie, and Susan!

when you get soul bare (and a giveaway)

When she asked me if I would share the truth about myself, the story of my beginning, I knew I would have to start at the end.

Abortion and Soul BareIt was the end of me that started it all, the choice to let pride kill a life. Two decades later, and forgiveness and grace is the truth I sing.

Not death. Although that is part of the story too. Not shame. Although I carried that like an invisible shroud for years. Not silence. Although that is what prompted the belief in other lies I believed about myself too: you have no voice; you are not made to be loved; you are never enough.

I was invited to get Soul Bare.

There is a beautiful book my friend Cara Sexton edited and released into the world a few weeks ago. It is called Soul Bare: Stories of Redemption–a book of 31 real-life stories by women who share the things they don’t want to keep silent. Stories of the hard and the beautiful, the desperate and the good. Each story points to God, a testament to His presence in the midst of heartache, disappointment, pain.

Abortion and Soul Bare

Abortion and Soul Bare

Abortion and Soul Bare

My story is in there. It is called Cold, Dark Ground. I talk about my story with my friends over at the beautiful Mudroom. And I am giving away three autographed copies of the book, Soul Bare, too.

First, I  hope you will go on over to the Mudroom and read the interview and leave a comment. ThenI hope you enter the giveaway for Soul Bare. I think you are going to love the book.

Enter the giveaway below. (First, leave a comment at the interview . . . then come back over and enter the giveaway!) I’ll choose three winners by Rafflecopter and announce the three winners of an autographed book by email and on my Facebook page on Friday, August, 19!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And the Earth Cries Out, Jesus

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]J[/su_dropcap]esus, it is even in the cracks of moments, when hearts turn themselves over, begging for hope to cover, You come.Earth cries Jesus

It is not only in the darkness that you enter, when tears leave us empty, parched. But it is in darkness too, when we are in the desert, wondering if You are close. And You are. We know it, yet we wonder still.

The earth is aching. Pain that is too much to bear. And You bear it. In the confusion and disorder. In the darkness unleashed, You are still mighty. You are justice, in the night. You are love in the hate. You are comfort in the chaos. You are peace in the mess.

Wise friends share how it is hatred that is here, a thunderous movement upon the scarred land. Hearts are calloused, but the ones who know You cry out. You hear. You are here. You do not abandon the downtrodden, the alone and desperate and afraid.Earth cries, Jesus

You know evil. And You are love covering.

You are justice coming. It is Love that restores, nothing else.

It is Love that heals, nothing else.

You mourn with your children, and You stand, too. You bend low and hold the broken, yet You walk through the ravaged cities, the broken homes, the scarred and mutilated hearts. There is hatred here, yes, but it does not overcome. You say it clear: I am not overcome.Earth cries, JesusYou carry the daughters and the sons and You lead them into where it seems darkness reigns. You shine forth light, showing us how to see it, live it in.

You do not cower. You are not weak. You are not small and hidden and silent.

Jesus, You are the voice crying out in the night, in the thick darkness, leading us toward a different way to hear, feel, see.

Earth cries, JesusCome, this crying earth. Turn inside out now. Let what is evil be destroyed by love. Let it be restored by justice. It is coming. I am coming.

But love is here now. I fill your hearts. I walk this earth now, your bodies my temple, your heart my resting place. Know that I bring justice in the night. And light floods what is broken and desolate, decayed and worn.

Earth cries JesusCome stand with Me. Use your voices. Use the map written on your heart to walk with Me. For hatred has no resting place here, no lasting home. Evil cannot stand here. Stay with Me. Stand with Me. Be restored with Me. Ask Me to move. I hear you. I am with you. I do not turn away.

You come. We see You. Jesus.

Join in with me? Amen.

 

She Wants to Pray for You

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]n California, the rain is pouring down. White blossoms sail sideways to black pavement. A wet crow walks on careful feet, looking for worms, then flies to where I can’t see.

Come on, Father, keep pouring down.

Prayer

When I run this morning, I let the water fall on my head. And this afternoon again, I walk outside and I don’t pull up the hood on my raincoat.

Come on, Father, keep pouring down.

The drought we’ve faced makes rain reminder of miracle. This parched earth cries out.

And I am so thirsty too, so parched for God.

Come on, Father, keep pouring down.

Last night, too sick to go to the marriage group Justin and I were scheduled to attend, we stay home. I pull my hair into a ponytail; I step into the soft grey track pants that make me smile. And I think about the women who come here, and the women of Loop, and the women who share their hearts in whispered prayers typed out on blank white screens.

In emails you share with me stories of trial and faith, stress and heartache. You share uncertainty and disappointment. You share the miraculous ways God comes through and reminds you how you are not alone. You encourage me in your faith, your choosing God’s strength when times are hard. I want you to know each other’s names.

I want you to gather and listen for God’s voice together.

I’ve been praying, Father, come, keep pouring down

So, on that night when the rain poured down in my little California bungalow, and I was tucked inside, so happy to be home and warm and dry, I wrote a post over at Loop’s page on Facebook, asking if Loop devotional readers would want to have a place to get to know one another, share their hearts with one another, and pray. And nearly two hundred women said yes.

So, in a little corner of the internet, on Facebook, the prayer group, Loop Prayer Sisters was born.

Loop prayer sisters Facebook

It is a closed group, which means that only members, and not people outside the group, can see what’s on the page. So, I am praying it is a place where women seeking God’s voice in their lives can find community, sisterhood, encouragement. I am praying it a place where women can be vulnerable with one another, trusting that the Holy Spirit leads and is the safe place.

This is how I introduce it on the page:

Loop Prayer Sisters Facebook group

And this Friday, when this group was born, women have been gathering, sharing the most beautiful, vulnerable things. Sisters are stepping up, grabbing hold of a sister’s hand, whispering to her God’s truth: you are loved; you are not alone. This burden you feel? Let’s lift it up to our God together.

You, my sisters, are stunning in how you love.

Incline your ear and come to me . .  (Isaiah 55:3).

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20).

Praying in sisterhood, saying “I am here, let’s lean into God together,” might be one of the most powerful, life-changing things we can do together. This is your invitation to join with other sisters, listen to one another’s heart, trust God’s voice and presence, and pray. If you are on Facebook, and you want to join this new community of women joining in sisterhood for one another, click right here and ask to join. How wonderful it will be to see you there.

Come on, Father, keep pouring down.

Love,

 

 

What You Need to Know about the Church and Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts

The church, Sarah Bessey, and Out of SortsI used to think the church wasn’t safe; it was people all cleaned up and perfect – and thereby close to God. But now I think the church is people broken and yet whole – the beautifully imperfect and free.

I sat in church as a teenager, right next to my parents in the dark walnut pews. The seven of us would take up a whole row. And when it came time to sing I didn’t think too much about singing right to Jesus. But I would listen to my dad raise his deep voice, and I would smell my mom’s perfume, and I would stand and hold the red hymn book, heavy in my hands. And I would lift my voice too.

Three rows of pews sloped down to the steps in front, maybe ten rows deep, filled by grandmothers and widows and farmers and families – the family not of blood but of the church. These were the people who cheered me on with smiles and quiet nods when I memorized all the books of the Bible in Vacation Bible School and stood at the altar’s front steps and recited them, one by one, Genesis to Revelation. And then I memorized and recited Psalm 23 too. I earned my own red-leather covered Bible – my whole name, Jennifer Ann Johnson, in gold block letters on the front.  Maybe this was the church’s welcoming acceptance into a different type of knowing God. Looking back it all felt pretty simple, being part of this fold, this family, the church.

This church family also smiled like love when Pastor Rich stood in the water, the tub cut into the blue and green carpet where the altar usually stood. And he held my hand when I stepped down to him. He asked me if I loved Jesus, and he leaned me back with his strong forearms into the water, the white cotton robe hanging wet and heavy as I stepped up and out. And when I went out front afterwards and twirled in my seersucker dress my mom sewed for me, the one with the rainbow stripes, the church followed. They went on out the front red double doors and down the cement ramp and stood outside on the tiny patch of grass and made me feel safe and held.

I had chosen something good, my Jesus, and it never crossed my mind that someday I would think He would leave.

The Church, My Mess, and Out of Sorts, by Sarah BesseyThis church were the people who sat in the pews when I stood up front years later and gave a baccalaureate speech the Sunday before high school graduation, sharing how with God there is always hope and there are good things ahead. I said it all like I believed it, and I wanted to. But something had happened to this heart of mine, to the little girl who had once twirled in her seersucker dress right after getting baptized and the teenager who looked like she had it all together but was, really, doing everything she could to hide a secret she held deep inside.

She was keeping a secret from all the grandmothers and aunts – this church family who had known her since she was little – the secret that she just wasn’t sure if she belonged with them anymore. She didn’t tell them that the year before, two weeks before Christmas of her junior year in high school, she found out she was pregnant. She figured, of course, the church wasn’t going to want her, and there was no way her God could approve of her – especially after she decided that the preservation of her own life was greater than the baby’s inside her and she had an abortion and didn’t tell but one soul.

But she kept going to church and sitting in that pew, week after week, never telling anyone other than her boyfriend what she had done. In her heart she believed she could no longer belong; she was no longer part of the church; she was far now from the love that had held her all her life.

I used to believe church was a place where love shone all around – when you are good, when you are whole. I didn’t know, like I do now, that the church is a place of the beautifully broken, the gathered. It is in our brokenness that the church exists at all, the family of God, the brothers and sisters of the blood of Christ.

The Church, My Mess, and Our of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey

The Church, My Mess, and Our of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey

You see, I didn’t understand it when Laura and Kathleen, my Sunday School teachers, used to stand up front during large group with all the kids, before church started, and sing with joy, like they were singing right to Jesus. And then when the congregation got to make requests of which songs to sing in church, Kathleen would always choose “And Jesus said come to the water, right by my side, I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied.” And Kathleen would cry, and then I would want to cry too. But not because I knew why yet, but because Kathleen was hungering for Jesus in a way I didn’t know I could.

I understand that hunger now.

When you try to pretend you are not broken – that you are already fixed up and everything is fine – the church is not able to be the church.

When we act like we don’t need God –  that we aren’t falling and faltering and desperate for God to come and love us, we are our own gods; we are the idol. We worship an ideal of ourselves, at our own cost, and the church isn’t given permission to rise up, in its beautiful brokenness and show how, with Christ – only with Jesus – it is whole.

Growing up in that little country town church where I was known and I was loved, I wish now that I had tested what it stood for. I wish I had given it a chance. I wish I knew the church is a place of wholeness only when our own brokenness and sin is recognized – by each person, and as a collective whole, too. I wish I hadn’t try to keep the secret my own.


These words here were prompted by Sarah Bessey’s brand-new book, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, a book that surprised and challenged me. It gave me a fresh perspective on the church’s role in my story. I had taken the church for granted, and Sarah’s vulnerable wrestling with her feelings about the church spurred me to consider mine. Sarah Bessey’s book, Out of Sorts, is an important one, and I am giving a copy away this week. I think it can bring healing to you too.

Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey

You want this book! To enter to win a copy of Sarah Bessey’ beautiful book, Out of Sorts Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, please enter using the Rafflecopter widget below. And here is where you can buy it right now.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Also, click on over to Sarah’s place to find her inspiring playlist for Out of Sorts. And here, you can download and read the first four chapters, for free!

How has your relationship with the church shaped your story?

Jonah Werner’s Run, the New Album I Love {a Giveaway}

Jonah Werner Run

Once upon a time, there was a Colorado boy who wrote and sang and created community around the truth that we are whom Christ came to save.

Jonah Werner came to know Christ through Young Life and has spent more than a decade pursuing the heart that his Father gave him, connecting other hearts to God through stories of real life, truth and music.  He writes songs and travels internationally leading worship at Young Life camps because he doesn’t want people — and especially youth — to not know Jesus’ love.

When a heart becomes saved you can’t help but sing.

And how can you not encourage everyone to sing along with you?

When you hear Jonah sing, your heart recognizes more than just sound –  a guitar, a harmonica, a voice bringing laughter, joy, and hope.  You are gathered up in stories of love pursued and love lost – songs of a man seeking a Savior to come and save.  The songs are the invitation, the prayer we each sing:

Rescue me, if you’re out there.

Do you love me, do you need me, do you want me?

I’m so lonely, can’t you see I’m just looking for someone to rescue me?*

We each need to be rescued.

Jonah Werner RunWe are each wondering if someone will be there when we really need them to be.

The words carry, and I am that little girl again, the one who longs to be known, to be seen, to feel she is special and desired and adored.

That little girl doesn’t leave; she is always there, asking the same questions.  And I am grateful for these songs that speak to what is most true.

This Savior, who does the rescuing, reminds me I have never needed to save myself.  We all fall and need to be gathered up, to be reassured that our questions matter and are heard.

And that is what Jonah loves to sing about too.

What inspires his heart for song more than anything is the sharing of these questions that pierce the soul.

What if I fall, will you catch me?

What if I call, will you hear me?

What if I trust, will you help me?

What if I’m drowning, will you save me?

Having questions heard offers more than just answers.

These are the questions buried, the questions that prompt the aches, the deepest desires of the heart rising up.  And this is how we hear music, letting ourselves  in this world He has made, through the questions.  This is the meaning we seek.

Our hearts all recognize and heed the same song.

Our family loves Jonah, and I couldn’t help but share his music with you. Want to win a free copy of Run, Jonah’s latest album that just released last week? 

Jonah Werner Run

I’m giving away four copies of Jonah’s album, Run. (Your choice – digital or hard copy.)

I will announce the winners next Thursday, October, 15.

You can enter the giveaway right here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here is another post I wrote about Jonah’s song, “Rain your Mercy”. It’s on his new album, Run (that you can win!) It’s the song that makes me cry every. single. time I hear it. Oh, and jump up and dance, too. And don’t forget to check out Jonah’s other albums and let me know what you think.

Jonah Werner Run Giveaway Pin

What questions is your heart asking?  How are you longing to be rescued? 

* Lyrics from “What If I Fall?” from Jonah Werner’s album Fight

The Pointed Life – Community that Points Women to God

The Pointed Life Community

It’s silent. I hear only my own breathing. And then my friend’s puppy presses against my bare foot – cute, clumsy paws gently brushing the thick carpet.

I’m not sure what I’m listening for. The right prayer? A whisper from God to my heart? I think, actually, I’m relishing the invitation to not think any thoughts. I think, perhaps, I’m enjoying not listening, not searching for what to say, what to do.

Together, we read scripture; we layer praise; and then, in silence, we confess our sins. I love this part, this sitting together, in this circle of sisters, not saying a word. It surprises me how much I love it.

Silent confession? Fun? Really? Is it the confessing I love? Is it the almost tangible silence I find mesmerizing? Is it being in the presence of these dear friends who know my heart so well?  What part of this is so inviting?

I think it’s all three.

Through the act of confession my spirit is quieted. In the presence of my God I feel God’s love. But women around me who know God, who want more of him in their lives? They can do something powerful and beautiful:

Christian sisters can stir us to recognize our own yearning for more of God. They can encourage us to live lives that point to God, too.

The Pointed LifeA new site opened up its beautiful doors last night – a site for the purpose of encouraging and mentoring women to point, with their whole lives, their whole hearts, to God. It is amazing. I have known the founder, Michele-Lyn for a few years now. I first found her on-line, and then we got to spend time together at a conference.  I recognized her as a sister who was hungry for all of God. She didn’t want to settle for just a little bit of him. She knew the life he offered her was good, and she didn’t want to hold back on what he was asking her to give.

So, she started praying, and writing, and listening, and seeking. Her heart was breaking for women and families and children who didn’t know God. She took her family on trips to serve with World Help, a Christian organization who provides humanitarian, educational, medical assistance to people in need. But there was something else she felt she was being led to do. So she continued to surrender her heart and listen to what God was stirring in her – she felt he wanted her to partner with him in pursuing the hearts of his daughters.

The Pointed LifeEventually, after more writing and dreaming and listening (and even going back to school to pursue a Organizational leadership degree!) the dream of The Pointed Life began to form – a place for women to come and be reminded of their identity in Christ and how they are fashioned for a specific and beautiful purpose. The team at The Pointed Life, Michele-Lyn, Ashlie, and Meredith, have joined together to bring inspiration, sisterhood, encouragement, and Biblical mentoring to women who want to join other women in pointing their lives to loving God.The Pointed Life community

The welcome mat is down. The front doors are open wide. An awesome giveaway is taking place as a way to say “thank you for coming” and “you’re welcome here”.  So go on over and join a group of sisters who want to come alongside you, encouraging you to live knowing by whom you were fashioned and for what function.

Together, let’s be sisters who want to lead a life that points the way to God.

What is the one thing you are looking for most from connecting with other Christian sisters on-line?