Thursday, February 26, 2015

What is Prayer?

I don't know if anyone else suffers from this problem, but I tend to forget things easily. I am also not a very organized person and can be scatter-brained so if I don't write things down, I easily forget. One spiritual thing I realized I forgot about recently was "The Jesus Prayer". I used to do a version of this quite often but as life got busy, I got away from it. This Lent, the Lord reminded me of it. By his grace, I picked it up again, repeating this prayer often throughout the day. One version I say is "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner."  I also like to repeat the verse from Revelations 4:1-8 "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty  who was and is and is to come!" Do you know what began to happen? As I began saying these prayers, I found myself getting a lot less agitated and becoming more patient, especially with my kids. You see...it is not necessarily about the words and how many times they are spoken. It is about being mindful of God and becoming aware of his presence; being aware that we are in him and he is in us and walking in the knowledge of that. It is about leaning back in Christ and receiving his grace and strength; uniting ourselves with him. Ultimately, that is what prayer is. It is not about how many words we say. Scripture even says, "Do not babble like the pagans." (Matthew 6:7). It is about uniting ourselves with Christ and abiding in him. Repetitious prayers like "The Jesus Prayer" and the rosary are wonderful tools that can help us do that.   

Another powerful form of prayer that unites us with Christ is adoration. When we adore Christ, we stand in awe of his greatness. This is a way to honor and worship him. A beautiful form of adoration is Eucharistic Adoration. This is when the Eucharist (which Catholics believe to be fully Jesus) is exposed on the altar. This makes it easy to adore him, because even if he is hidden under the appearance of bread, his presence is usually very tangible. Since my church only has Eucharistic adoration once a month, I have found other ways to spend time in adoration. I personally like to gaze at a picture of Jesus, like an artist's rendition from the Shroud of Turin. This has proved to be very fruitful in my own prayer life. In fact, I believe the Lord once told me that he left this image for us as a gift and he wants his face to be imprinted on our hearts.

I also want to talk about intercessory prayer because I think it is often misunderstood. I know I have talked about this before and I don't want to sound like a broken record but it is something I feel passionate about and want others to understand. Intercession is about us acknowledging God's goodness and mercy. It is about us being aware of what he already wants to do and then participating with him. Through intercession we should be joining our hearts to his heart  for the person or situation that needs prayer. What intercession should not become is us begging God to act as if he is an ogre withholding good things from his children. I think he even finds this insulting and one of the reasons we don't always see our prayers being answered. He is pleased when his children trust him and believe in his goodness. 

There are many different types of prayer and ways to pray, but the true goal of all prayer should be to encounter God and to become more united with him through Christ! True prayer is transformative! True, faith-filled prayer that unites us with Christ causes heaven and earth to collide and we begin to experience God's Kingdom in the here and now!   

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bread That Does Not Satisfy

This Wednesday, February 18th, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. I happen to love Lent! Lent is a time when we can take stock and reflect on the things in our life that we may be turning to and trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in other than God. It is a time to do penance and fast from these things.

Often without even realizing it, we turn to "bread" that does not satisfy.  "Bread" that the world offers us. "Bread" that leaves us longing and still hungry. Our God is so good and kind that sometimes he allows us to have this worldly "bread" so we can get it out of our system and realize that we do not really want this "bread" and the only bread we really want is HIM. Jesus is the true bread that came down from heaven and the only bread that can truly satisfy the longing in our heart!
Isaiah 55:2 - Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
John 6:35 - [Jesus said] I am the bread of life. he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.  
During Lent there is abundant grace available for us to come up higher and grow closer to God. It is a much quicker way to fast and be purged from earthly desires and attachments than to give into them and find out the hard way that they are not going to satisfy. Lent gives us this opportunity.
Colossians 3:1 - So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
Let us take advantage of this Lenten season, being willing to be purged from worldly attachments so we can come up higher and be transformed into his glory!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Roller Coasters, Puppies, and Learning to Fly!

The past eleven days has been a real roller coaster ride! I am not a big fan of roller coasters, either at amusement parks or in real life! They make me nauseous and I'm not a fan of the thrill. Sometimes however the trials of life that feel like roller coaster rides can help us grow the most in faith. Hopefully the story I am about to tell will produce growth in me. After-all, the Lord can use anything (Romans 8:28)!

Our children have been begging us for a while for a puppy. My husband and I have been researching what would be a good breed for our family. We have tried big breed dogs and they usually knock the children over and can be pretty destructive so that did not work for our family. We once had a Miniature Schnauzer and she was a really good dog. She was smart, easy to house-break and good with the kids. Pure bred Schnauzers however are a lot more than we could afford. I ended up finding some mixed breed Schnauzer/ Havanese puppies that were available. They cost a lot less and were very cute. So, January 4th we surprised our children with this new puppy because for some reason Tom and I thrive off chaos ;) We had her for four days when suddenly she started vomiting, not just once but multiple times. I took her to the vet where they performed some tests on her and discovered she had Parvovirus. From everything I read online, Parvo was often times fatal in puppies. The prognosis looked pretty bleak!

Ironically right before all this happened, the Lord gave me a word for this year. He told me this year would be a year of learning to walk in Kingdom authority; the authority I have as a daughter of the King. Now, if you are like me, you know this stuff in your head but it hasn't necessarily reached your heart yet. That is the place I think I am at. The Lord also told me he wanted me to come up higher and take my rightful place among royalty. I then saw an origami fortune teller like we would often make in middle school and I saw an origami bird. He told me I could either choose to worry about the future or I could choose to become like a bird and fly.

I am thinking it can be a really powerful thing to truly know who we are in Christ and walk in the knowledge of the authority we have in him! We are God's children and we have full access to his Kingdom. In the story of the prodigal son, the father reminded the elder son that everything he had was available to him and at his disposal. This applies to us as well! If we could walk in the knowledge of that, we could move mountains!

Often times however, we choose to get caught up in worldly affairs and worry. If you are like me, you worry about the here and now and what the future holds. By doing this, we rob ourselves of our inheritance.

The younger son understood that he could have full access to his inheritance in the present. What he did not understand is that he was made for greatness. If he had chosen to stay in his Father's house, he would have been able to walk in that greatness. Instead he chose what the world was offering him and lost his dignity until he repented and came back to the father.

One thing I have learned through the late John Wimber and his book "Power Healing" is  we do not need to beg God for things. He is our loving Father and longs to pour out on us the richness of his mercy and grace. It is available for the asking. Once John begged the Lord for healing for a sick woman and the Lord gave John a vision of a huge honey-comb overflowing and dripping with honey. He showed John that he did not need to beg for healing. He was a loving Father, longing to pour out his goodness.

Now, I don't fully understand everything about the Kingdom. I don't understand why God would heal a puppy and not always people. Scripture says that God's ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). There have been times in the past I have prayed for terminally ill people and even children. I was believing for healing for them as were their loved ones. The Holy Spirit led me to pray for them and when the burden to intercede lifted from my heart, I heard the Lord say, "It is finished!" and then they died. I believe they did receive their healing, just not in the way we wanted to see. They must have received their healing in the after-life and their suffering was worth something, it was redemptive.

So, back to our puppy. I figured if I could believe in healing for a puppy, I could believe more fully in healing for people who are made in the image and likeness of God. She ended up being my guinea pig to learn how to pray more perfectly for healing. I believed that God wanted to heal her. I tried to stand in faith of God's healing for her but my faith was tested greatly! As she was getting over the Parvovirus, she was developing a whole new set of symptoms not related to the Parvo. She was experiencing pain all over her body, especially in her hind legs. At first the vet thought she had a liver problem but then it was discovered that she had a bad case of hook worms that had migrated into her muscles. All week long it was touch and go as to whether she would live or die. Meanwhile, we imagined our pocket book shrinking and the dog not even making it. The reason it felt like a roller coaster ride was because I let what the vet was telling me and the circumstances dictate whether I had faith or lack of peace and discouragement. This showed me that I still had a long way to go and a lot to learn. I believed I was supposed to pray for her healing but my faith for that was definitely tested. Amazingly she did live and she is home with us. She still has some pain, can't walk well and is weak but I am continuing to pray for her and believe in a full recovery. Oh, and on the financial end of things, the breeder gave me my money back for the puppy plus money for the vet. The vet bill didn't come to nearly as much as I thought it would and what the woman gave me almost paid for all of it.

I believe the Lord wants to get us to a place where our faith and trust in him is unwavering and not dependent on our circumstances. When the storms of life come he wants us to not be shaken. A couple years ago the Lord gave me a word that a great harvest was coming into the Church. I was also told that "Now is the time to get ready!". The Lord, through the storms of life is preparing people to be a light to others. He is preparing us to be able to stand even in the midst of adversity and give hope to those around us! He is calling us to help manifest his Kingdom here on earth!



Friday, January 2, 2015

Jesus Wore Purple Knickers

I recently realized I hadn't blogged the whole month of December. It wasn't because I was too busy or because I didn't have anything to write about but because I have been pondering some things and have been letting them take root before sharing.

One truth I have been reflecting on is how Jesus took on our shame. He literally took on our shame when he died such a shameful death on the cross. Since he took on our shame, we do not need to walk in shame. Often however we do walk in shame because of past hurts and sin we have experienced. The enemy would like to use these hurts to keep us down and keep us from doing the works God has called us in advance to do (Ephesians 2:10). The Lord however would like to help us overcome these hurts and then would like to use these healed hurts to help others and bring glory to his name.

One such incident in my own life was from middle school. In 7th grade, I was bused to an inner city school in Alexandria, Louisiana. My mother had just taken a trip to Chicago and discovered new fashions that she had not yet seen in my little town of Pineville, Louisiana. One such fashion she witnessed was on a mannequin in a high end department store. She thought it was adorable so she bought it for me. It consisted of dark purple knickers and knee high yellowish, orange socks. Please do not google purple knickers because good things will not come up, but basically they were pants that went to the knees with elastic. This was not yet something my little town in Louisiana had seen in the early 1980's. Reluctantly I decided I would wear them to school since my mother was so excited about them and she lovingly bought them for me. Let's just say it did not go very well. In the morning before classes started, everyone would gather under the outdoor pavilion. On this particular day, not even my friends would stand by me. Many of the students stood in a circle, with me in the middle as they pointed, laughed and called my knickers another name that sounds similar. I was beyond humiliated and it turned out to be the longest day ever. I hung my head low in shame each time I had to switch classes and then in the afternoon, get on the bus. I thought I would die and the day would never end!

That incident happened years ago and I had pretty much forgotten about it. I definitely did not think it still affected me, but one day the memory reared it's ugly head. As the memory surfaced, I realized I still felt embarrassed and shameful regarding it. That incident made me feel like a loser. I prayed about it and asked Jesus to show me where he was when this happened. Do you know what he showed me? Something that made me laugh and put a smile on my face; He showed me himself standing next to me when all my peers were standing around me taunting and making fun of me. Not only that, but he was proudly wearing purple knickers!!! I get teary eyed even thinking about it.

That is what it means that he took on our shame and humiliation. He really did experience everything that we experience. That is what the incarnation was all about! He didn't just redeem us from a distance, he became one of us! His entire life was an act of redemption!
Philippians 2:6 - Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.
And I will end with this awesome scripture passage that I read just this morning: 
Philippians 3:20-21 - Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 
Have a very blessed New Year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Be a Living Rosary!

Drawing by Anna Ponchak
I believe God calls us to the vocation that is going to best help us encounter him and help us grow in holiness. The more we encounter him and grow in holiness, the more joy we will have. For me, that vocation is Motherhood. 

My children have definitely helped me in my quest for holiness and have helped me grow closer to Christ. Through my first two, the Lord started teaching me about resting in him and receiving his grace. The next two helped teach me perseverance. Number six, our boy taught me that God is faithful to his promises. Through my fifth child however, I feel like I have grown the most. You see, she was miserable from day one and continued to be that way until she turned four. She cried all the time, even when I would hold her. She also would not go to anyone else but me and she constantly wanted to be held and nursed so I never got a break. 

One day I was sitting in the rocking chair, that she dictated I sit in, and nursed her while also reading a book a friend gave me. The book was Interior Freedom, by Fr. Jacques Philippe. I read stories about people that had been prisoners in concentration camps but still had joy and peace because they had found an interior freedom that came from knowing Christ. I cried as I read this book because like them, I also felt like a prisoner, just to a lesser degree. Before my fifth daughter was born, I kind of had it all together, or at least I thought I did. Everything was somewhat under control. I was usually able to complete my "to-do-list" every day. After Sarah showed up however, my world seemed to fall apart. That book helped me to see that there was a lot of work that the Holy Spirit still needed to do in my heart. I realized he was calling me to a higher level of surrender.

I began to realize that my main goal everyday was to complete my mental "to-do-list". I even had prayer on that list. If anything stood in the way of me getting my list completed, I would lose my peace and my joy and my family suffered. After two years of struggling to row upstream and cry out to the Lord, "WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!", he finally showed me my problem. He impressed on me that my main goal every day needed to be to encounter him and help my children encounter him. I then realized, that even though I was making it a priority to pray everyday, I wasn't necessarily taking the time to encounter him. By just trying to complete my "to-do-list" everyday, I had become like a hamster on a hamster wheel and life lost it's joy and felt like drudgery.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis said, "The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all those who encounter Christ."

When our main goal is to encounter Christ, well, we can do that no matter what is going on in our lives. We can encounter Jesus in the joys of life. We can encounter him in the sorrows and the cross. We can encounter him on the mountaintop or the valley. We can find him in the mundane and the thrilling. Most everything we experience, Jesus experienced. He was and is a person. These are also the things we meditate on when we pray a rosary. For my Protestant friends who may think the rosary is all about Mary, it really is not. Through the rosary, we meditate on the Gospel, the life of Jesus. Yes, there are also Marian prayers. Through these we ask Mary for her intercession and to bring us into a deeper relationship with her son. There are also a few things we experience, especially those of us who are mother's, that Mary instead of Jesus experienced. She experienced the joy and sorrow of being a mother. It is okay to meditate on these things (Philippians 4:8). Jesus gave her as a gift to us (John 19:27) and we can find comfort in her story because it is our story too. Unlike Jesus who was also fully God, Mary was fully human and yet she was highly favored and full of grace (Luke 1:28). This should encourage us of how much we also are loved and the level that God desires to elevate us and how we, like Mary are also called to magnify him (Luke 1:46). This is also what we as Catholics meditate on when we pray a rosary. Mainly though, through the rosary we meditate on the life of Jesus. We meditate on his joys, his adventures, his sorrows, and his glory. It is all covered in the rosary. The goal then is to join our lives to his. In this way, we become a living rosary. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hearing God's Voice

Last night I had the privilege of giving a talk at my church on hearing the voice of God in our lives. This is a topic I am very passionate about!

When I was eighteen, I actually stopped believing in God because I figured if there was a God then he should be able to speak to me and since I didn't hear him speaking, he must not exist. At the age of nineteen, the Lord revealed himself to me in a powerful way! I discovered that he does know and care about us on a personal level and he does speak to his people. He saved me from a life of sin and despair and I couldn't wait to show him how grateful I was! I got involved in every ministry I possibly could and became VERY busy. Looking back, I was actually running way ahead of him and there were times he was trying to get my attention but I wasn't listening.

One such occasion that really stands out was a time I was actually praying alone in my room instead of on the go like usual. A word came to me that something was going to happen to my car, it would be on a Wednesday and it would be on the way to church. I thought that was odd because Wednesday was the only day I wasn't at the church. That next Wednesday came and went and nothing happened so I forgot about that word. Shortly after that, the youth minister at the church I attended asked me to be on the leadership team and they were going to start meeting on Wednesdays. I said yes, but did not remember the word the Lord gave me. The first Wednesday leadership meeting day was hectic to say the least. I went to community college in the morning, worked in the afternoon and then was rushing to make it to the meeting in the evening. The church was about thirty minutes away and I was speeding down a busy highway during rush hour traffic, trying to make it there on time. I still did not remember the word that came to me that day in prayer but for some reason I felt uneasy in my spirit so I was praying the whole time in the car. All of a sudden my car went from about 75 miles an hour to 20 in a matter of seconds. I also lost control and my car was swerving all over the road and finally came to a stop on the left hand side. Miraculously, no cars hit me even though there were cars driving on all sides of me. It turns out, the front Axel rod broke off. According to natural law, I should have been hit. Even though that event shook me up, I continued full speed ahead and did not slow down until after I was married and had a couple kids. Through difficult pregnancies and an autoimmune condition, the Lord finally was able to get my attention and began to teach me how to lean back in him, rest and receive his complete and perfect love and grace. You can read more about that here. It is out of this place that I began to hear God more clearly in my life.

The fact that our God speaks to us is one thing that sets our God apart from other so called "gods".  Psalm 135:15 says, "The idols of the nations are silver and gold, but by the hands of men. They have mouths but cannot speak..." Our God is living and active! He is more than capable of speaking! Heck, he even brought the world into existence by speaking a Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14)!

Obvious ways God speaks to his people is through Scripture and through the Church. If you have ever read the lives of the Saints, you know he also desires to speak to us personally. The reasons we often do not hear him are because we are too busy, there is too much noise around us, we do not have our spiritual "antennas" set towards him, and we do not expect to hear him speak to us.

Learning to be still, rest and listen has helped in my ability to hear God in my life. There are many scripture verses about resting in the Lord. Here are a few of my favorites:

Psalm 62:1 - "My soul finds rest in God alone."
Isaiah 30:15 - "In quiet and rest is your salvation."
Psalm 46:10 - "Be still and know that I am God."

There are different ways God speaks to his people. It can come from a thought popping into our head that wasn't from us; visions, which can range from an image popping in to your head to a whole scene being played out, like a movie; sudden knowledge, you just know with your "knower"; an audible voice; and dreams.

Personally I have had a lot of fun with dreams. There are several types of dreams a person can have. There are dreams from our flesh that help us work things out in the night. These are usually in muted color. There are dreams from the enemy. Sometimes God allows these to help give us insight into the schemes of the enemy. These are usually in black and white. Then there are prophetic, God-given dreams. These usually stand out the most and have vivid color.

There are several ways you can discern if a word is from God or not. You want to first ask if it lines up with Scripture and Church teaching. You also want to ask yourself if the word is encouraging or is it full of guilt, manipulation or condemnation. Even corrective words should give hope and encouragement. God does not use guilt and manipulation to get his point across.

There are ways we can hear God better in our lives. First we need to know that he loves us and desires to speak to us. We need to rest in the knowledge of his love for us and expect him to speak. Another powerful tool to hearing the Lord speak is opening up our imaginations to him. He gave us our imaginations and he can use them. An example of this is Ignatian prayer in which you place yourself in the Gospel narrative. Often it starts with the imagination but then the Lord can take off with it and show us things. Children have great imaginations so I usually use this type of prayer with my children.

Last but not least, we need to take seriously the things that come to us and God will give us more. One day I was crying out to the Lord and telling him that I really needed to hear him speak to me. He said to me, "Well, when you are serious, I will speak." I realized after that, that he was actually speaking to me all the time but I wasn't taking his words seriously or listening. He often speaks in a still, small voice and it was easy to dismiss words and images coming to me as distractions. After the Lord spoke this to me I began writing things down that would come to me in prayer even if it didn't make much sense. One example of this was an image of elephants that popped into my mind one day in prayer. I wrote it down in my journal. Soon after that I was outside with my four year old daughter. She looked up in the sky and said, "Look Mommy! The clouds look like elephants!" That evening, I was watching the news and they were talking about a tornado that touched down in a little town in Alabama. They interviewed a little girl who said, "It was as if an elephant stomped on my house." The Lord definitely had my attention and I felt like he was trying to warn me that some "storms" were about to hit our nation. Soon after that I had a dream about 9/11. This was back in 1998. I believe the Lord showed me these things so I could pray for our nation.

The Lord is so kind and merciful and desires to speak to us a lot more than we are willing to listen. If we will put down our iPhones, turn off the television, be still and worship him, he will speak!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Toddler God

After having five girls and then a boy, you can't tell me that there's no difference between boys and girls. My son, who will be two in January, makes animals growl at each other, says "vroom vroom" every time he sees a car, makes swords out of just about everything and loves to throw things. He does these things without any promptings. None of my girls did these things. Having a son is giving me a better understanding of what Jesus must have been like as a child as well as adding to our joy. 

My daughters have also given me a glimpse of what Jesus might have been like as a child, especially my creative ones. Dealing with my creative children has helped me to sympathize with Mary, the mother of Jesus, who must have really had her hands full with probably the most creative child who ever lived. Creative children are often in their own little world. They color on the walls, play dress up with their clothes that were put away neatly in their dresser, cut their siblings' hair, and fail to listen because they are usually zoned out in an imaginary land. They get into lots of mischief without really meaning too, but their curiosity and creative spirit can get the best of them. Perhaps that is what happened when Jesus wandered away from his parents and ended up in the temple.

Having a son is helping me see a whole new dimension of God. My son is now a full-fledged toddler and is into everything! Lately I have been wondering what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to have a toddler God and especially a boy toddler God. Toddlers already think that they are God and the world revolves around them but how do you handle a toddler that really IS God and created the universe?! He must have really kept them on their toes to say the least! This does not mean that I think Jesus sinned, but I think there is a whole lot of mischief a toddler can get into without sinning. The same holds true for creative children. They are not trying to be disobedient but because they are usually zoned out in their own little world they have created, they usually are not able to hear what you are saying to them. This understanding has helped me to be a lot more patient with my own children. There is also a reason God made children cute!