Prayer for the overwhelmed

Sharing with you the prayer I shared today at the Internet Café… God, it’s too much. No matter how hard I try, how good my intentions, how little I sleep and how much I work, I can’t hold it together. Why do I feel like I have to? Why do I expect myself to be able ...

Read More

Sharing with you the prayer I shared today at the Internet Café…

God, it’s too much. No matter how hard I try, how good my intentions, how little I sleep and how much I work, I can’t hold it together.

Why do I feel like I have to?

Why do I expect myself to be able to handle it all, fix everything, and do it without breaking a sweat?

Why do I let myself drown in worry and sorrow, sadness and fear?

Wash over me, Jesus. Wash away the emotions that drag me down. Lay Your hand on my weary head and calm the tumultuous emotions. Break the chains of things that weigh me down.

Carry this weight, Lord.

Carry me. And let me not worry that I’ve failed. Let me trust only in You. Renew the drive inside me and give me energy and hope. Make a way. Clear paths, open doors, transform my life.

It’s Yours, Lord, and I give it back to You. Asking—no, begging—You to make sense of it all. To untangle the knots that trip me up, over and over.

And let me know I’m not all alone. Remind me that You are with me, and that even when I don’t see or feel You, You remain beside me.

And no matter how lost I feel, how overwhelmed by the responsibilities I have and the things I cannot control, give me the certainty that it is not too much for You. Never too much for You.

Never too much.

And if this is not too much for You, and if You are right here with me, then I can do this. I can endure the hard moments, withstand the onslaught of too-much, and carry on. I will get through this. And when I come out on the other side (of this trial or sickness or deadline or broken heart or lack of resources), I will be stronger. Hardened by Your holy, refining fire. Made into something better, something more beautiful. Resilient and transformed.

And ready to face the next thing. Because there will always be something more—but that doesn’t have to discourage us, because there will also always be more of You. You endure. Never change. Always provide. Engender hope.

And remain faithful, always faithful. Amen.

The essence of creativity…

As I’m busy writing my next book, I’m also poring through all of my files. Stacks and stacks of papers. Printed blog posts and online articles. Handwritten notes scribbled over the years as I read books in bed, late at night. Scraps of paper and receipts with “brilliant” ideas that I scribbled as I drove, ...

Read More

GRAPHIC essence of creativityAs I’m busy writing my next book, I’m also poring through all of my files. Stacks and stacks of papers. Printed blog posts and online articles. Handwritten notes scribbled over the years as I read books in bed, late at night. Scraps of paper and receipts with “brilliant” ideas that I scribbled as I drove, afraid the thought would vanish with the scenery. Bits of my own writing, bits of other people’s.

This quotation is one I stumbled upon again recently. I immediately fell in love with when I first read it—when Ann Voskamp posted it in 2012 in a post about why everyone needs to make art everyday. (Read that post here.)

Because of my new book, I’m thinking a lot about creativity. About risk. About finding the courage to seek God even when it’s not easy. To look for Him even when we’re tired and weary. To pick up the Bible even when we don’t know where to start. Wondering about how to keep up a life of faith, how to not burn out, how to push through anyway. And I’m pondering how to still my mind and relax into my relationship with God even as I try frantically to meet this next writing deadline.

Just because I’m writing about prayer does not mean I struggle any less than you do. But with each comment I receive, each message and question about prayer, I am more and more inspired to work on this book. I’m in love with the subject. I’m in love with creativity. And I’m remembering how much I’m in love with the Creator who inspires all of those things.

And I’m grateful for you. For that thing inside that won’t let go, the part of you that keeps reaching, keeps wanting to try again or find more of God or reach out to connect with others. The part of you that keeps hoping. We hear all the time that God is love. And oh, He is. We can rest in it, pull it around us, wrap ourselves in the warm cloak of God’s adoration.

But the word that makes my spirit leap is hope. Hope says there’s always something more. That the end is not the end. That somehow, some way, things will get better. Deadlines will be met, bodies will be healed, finances will balance, relationships will be restored, life will move forward, and God will prevail.

But allowing ourselves to believe? Letting ourselves feel that hope? It’s hard. And scary. It’s a huge risk. But if you look back at Ann’s quote, note that she doesn’t simply say that creativity is believing. She says it’s believing enough.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to believe everything you hear or study. You don’t need all the answers. You can still wonder, and doubt, and try, and fail, and walk forward, and fall back. But just believe enough to pick yourself back up. To take one more step. To reach out your hand, to tilt your face towards the sky. To dream. To create. To pray. To seek. To hope. And to find.

Because the biggest risks bring the greatest rewards.

 

 

A glimpse into my convoluted thinking

A while back, as part of a blogger review network, I received a movie to review. My family sat down and watched it. And then I wasn’t sure what to do about it. See, it wasn’t bad. As far as Christian movies go, it was actually pretty good. But it stirred up all kinds of ...

Read More

GRAPHIC Christian to mean lesser

A while back, as part of a blogger review network, I received a movie to review. My family sat down and watched it. And then I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

See, it wasn’t bad. As far as Christian movies go, it was actually pretty good.

But it stirred up all kinds of feelings inside of me.

As an author with a book releasing soon, I certainly didn’t want to say anything about it if I couldn’t say something good. But at the same time, I want you to trust me, to believe what I say. To know that I don’t gloss over the things that are less than perfect, that I will say what I feel needs to be said.

And I didn’t love it. So I was conflicted.

But last night, as I thought more about it, I realized why. And I knew that it was OK, that I could tell you about it. I realized we didn’t need to talk about the movie by name in order to have a good discussion.

Here are the things that bothered me. While the acting wasn’t too bad for a Christian film, I hate that we have to give special dispensation for something calling itself Christian. Why can’t it be just as good and just as strong as something that isn’t? And if it’s not as good, why not? Why do we watch it anyway? The same questions apply to books, to music.

I don’t want Christian to mean lesser. And yet in our society, it usually does.

The movie ended with a happy ending. I have friends who love that, who long for the resolution in which every loose end is wrapped up in a big, perfect bow and they live happily ever after. And in Christian movies and books, that often happens. Because of God. Because saying a magical prayer washes away all your worries and suddenly life is good.

And really? Admit it. We all know that’s not true.

We want it to be true. We long for life to be carefree. Along the way, I’ve experienced for myself the truth that life with God—even when facing frightening, tragic or otherwise unsavory situations—is better than going through those things without Him.

But we’re afraid to admit to someone who doesn’t believe that life won’t suddenly be perfect if they take that leap into faith. We live in a Photoshopped world, a place in which appearances matter. So when we tell our non-believing friends about God, we leave out the parts when God gets angry and smites people. We ignore the behaviors of God that we can’t defend or explain. We skim over the hard parts, the places where Jesus says that, although many called on His name, He did not know them. We neglect that whole love-thy-neighbor-as-thyself and the part about selling all our possessions to give to the poor. We don’t try to convert people by reading them the part about how we have to give up everything to follow Him.

Because we don’t know what to do with that. We think it’s our responsibility as Christians to sugar-coat God. To put a colorful, unblemished mask on Him so that people will like Him.

And in a way, it is our responsibility to market Him. To exhibit Him and all that He believes to the world. To live according to His commands. To love extravagantly, to give joyfully, to stop judging. We’re called to let people see Who He is. We have a responsibility to draw close to God, to reach for Him in prayer, to study His Word and His life so that we know Him. So that we can show Him truthfully and accurately.

But it is not our responsibility—or our right—to try to change Him.

It is not our place to pick and choose the “good” parts.

In my spiritual life, I’ve struggled with certain things, some of them pretty foundational to Christianity. For example, I’ve actually spent time questioning why I should have to accept the sacrifice Jesus made. I didn’t ask for it. And I don’t understand why it had to happen. After all, if God is God then shouldn’t He be able to say He’ll take us anyway? Can’t He abolish the need for a sacrifice? Why did something so bloody, so unsavory, so troubling, have to take place? Why didn’t He stop it? Why didn’t He change the rules?

Finally, I came to peace with the idea that there are certain things I will never understand. I don’t know why it had to happen. But if God is the God I believe Him to be, then there must be a reason. If He is holy, maybe it’s like the opposing ends of a magnet, pushing us in our unholy states away from Him. Making it impossible for us to come to Him. Maybe that’s simply the way it has to be. And maybe I’m too full of myself when I begin to think that I need to understand God, or to think that I’m capable of grasping something that is obviously ginormous and critical to my whole belief system.

Because if my God is big enough to take care of my life for all of eternity, then He’s surely big enough to be in control of the facts. To make the right choices. To not be petty. To not require useless sacrifices. I have to be willing to yield—control, yes, but also the chance to be “right”.

I’m willing to share my doubts with believers, and I believe passionately that doubt and faith can exist side by side. But I don’t want to be the reason a non-believer turns away from God. I don’t want my lack of answers to get in the way.

But maybe it’s time we all started talking about it. Because to any outsider looking in, it’s clear that we, as Christians, don’t have it all together. It’s obvious that there are things we don’t know. That we live imperfectly, that our understanding, at times, is flawed. When we pretend otherwise, they can see right through us. And then not only do we look like we don’t know what we’re doing, we also look like hypocrites. Pretenders.

None of this would make anyone want to join this exclusive little club we’re in. To tell the truth, I’m not always convinced I want to be here, either. Not that I doubt God. I always believe in Him. But sometimes I cringe at the impression left by those who profess to follow Him but act nothing like Him.

So how about it? Want to start having some of the hard discussions? Want to develop relationships with people that are strengthened by the shared journeys towards answers we can live with? Want to muddle through this together?

If so, talk to me. About anything. I don’t have words to express how much I love to have these kinds of discussions. So, what’s on your mind?

An upside-down Christmas, part 4: Bringing Christmas’s true meaning into focus

No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with ...

Read More

No one has to tell me what Christmas is really about. I know. And I love what it is supposed to be. But, like many of you, I get caught up in the busy-ness of it and don’t seem to have much time to focus on spiritual. Much of what we fill our holidays with is good, or at least not inherently bad. But it obscures our view of the bigger picture. These are just a few ideas of ways to add a layer of meaning without totally disrupting your schedule and life. You don’t have to do it all. Frankly, you don’t have to do a single thing here. Trust your own instincts. Do what feels right. And only if it does not add stress or otherwise distract you from what is important to you.

Observe—or create—family (or friend) traditions.

As much as I like change, there’s something comforting in the familiar. I think, for many of us, keeping family traditions alive is important. It’s a way to honor the generations before us and to connect with the holidays. Sometimes they’re more about family or friends than something spiritual, but they can still be a way of creating and remembering important memories.

Open presents in your jammies. Have pumpkin pie for breakfast, or always make the same cinnamon rolls. Let the youngest kids pass out the gifts from under the tree. Hold hands before dinner and say grace, or pass around an antique cup (because our cups runneth over) and let people say what they’re thankful for. Invite a neighbor whose family lives out of town to join you in the afternoon, when you’re all drowsy and you’re gathered around a jigsaw puzzle or watching movies. Ask everyone to tell which ornament on the tree is their favorite and why. Buy a new ornament for each family member every year so that your kids have a small collection when they leave home and have their own trees. There are countless small things—most of which don’t cost money—that will give meaning, long term, to your get-togethers. And having some kind of loose structure to your celebration can create a framework that may bring comfort. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s celebration. It doesn’t have to be traditional. You don’t have to eat turkey and dressing (unless you’re at my house, where I insist on it).

If you’re grieving a loss or have some other big change in your life, maybe you should change something. When my mom had cancer, we knew that her remission was only temporary, so we decided we should move the location of our Christmas celebration. It had always been at my parents’ house, and now my sister and I (who live next door to each other) share the hosting. It didn’t fool any of us, but it did allow us to have Mom here with us for two Christmases before we lost her, so our kids have memories of her celebrating here with us.

Establish spiritual traditions.

My husband and I are elders at our church. On Christmas Eve, our church has a candlelight communion time. No service, just soft lights and soft music and a communion table in front of the altar. Getting to serve communion—passing the bread to the couple or family or group of friends next in line, and then reading the passage from the Bible, looking each of them in the eyes and watching the way each family or group huddles together in reverence—is the spiritual highlight of Christmas for me. It’s so humbling to be the one serving. It changes the ritual of communion completely for me. After they take the bread, the group moves to the other side of the table, where my husband serves the wine and reads his passage, before they go stand, kneel, or sit together and pray quietly together. It’s such a holy, beautiful thing, and it’s become my very favorite part of the whole holiday season.

Have someone (maybe one of the grandparents, or maybe one of the kids) read the Christmas story from Luke before dinner, while everyone gathers in a circle to give thanks. Maybe even set an extra place setting to remind everyone that Jesus is the One we were (and are, and always will be) expecting—and even if we can’t see Him, He’s still there with us. Participate in a community program to provide toys or coats or other needs to local families who could use the assistance. When you do, have your kids help you wrap the presents, and say prayers for each person as you do. You might want to set up a small tree, and have a basket of colorful papers and ornament hooks nearby. Ask your family to write down things for which they are thankful and hang them on the tree as a reminder of all the great gifts God gives us every day.

One year, shortly after losing Mom, I was especially grumpy about Christmas. I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of decorating, and I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. Part of it was simply the fact that I was hurting. But then I remembered the tree topper my sister’s family had used the year before—a cardboard scroll with the verse John 3:16 written out, by hand, by my niece Reilly. I thought that was such a beautiful idea and a way to take an oft-quoted verse and give it new meaning. I also remembered that I’d set aside some specific ornaments the year before (and like a good consumer, got online and ordered some more). Then I set out to create a different kind of Christmas tree, one centered on Christ. As I hung the hooks on my “Jesus tree,” my prayers went something like this: Yes, Jesus, you are the I AM. You are love. You are the baby in the manger and Lord of All. And on and on, as I added ornaments symbolizing many of the names and faces of God. He is peace. Freedom. The light of the world. The Day Star. The lamb, and the lion. The shepherd, the carpenter, the gardener, the creator, the fisher of men. He is hope and joy. The Alpha and Omega. The king, the church. Faithful. He is my home, the vine, the gate, the door, the Word, and my daily bread. With each ornament I placed, I found the feeling of reverence I’d been missing. Because our God is so much more than a baby in a manger. The tree reminds me to really think about who He is—about all of the things that He is. To remember that He is so much. He is everything, and He truly is the center of Christmas. Changing the focus of the decorations in my home changed the focus of my thoughts.

Allow yourself to slow down. To stop.

I put this section last, but it’s the most important advice I can offer. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Don’t set unrealistic expectations—better yet, let go of all expectations. Give yourself permission to stop all of the busyness and ENJOY. Close your eyes and give thanks. Read an extra bedtime story to your little one. Stay up an extra five minutes on the couch, resting your head on your spouse’s shoulder after you’ve put the kids to bed. Let dinner be 15 minutes later and just sit in the chaos of torn wrapping paper and memorize the way your family members look today. I give you permission (in case you have trouble giving it to yourself) to slow down. Give yourself grace. Forgiveness. Kindness.

Remember, Christmas is about God drawing near. We miss the point of Christmas when we forget to notice that He’s here. Right now.

Still.

And forevermore.
Amen.
**

What do you do to bring meaning back into your Christmas celebrations?

Can I carry you?

This post is being featured today at the Internet Café. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man ...

Read More

roof-photo-788x1024This post is being featured today at the Internet Café.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” ~Luke 5:18-20, NLT

Standing in the center of a clump of people at the altar one morning, as I prayed for a woman who had requested prayer, I felt a new hand on my back. I heard Sandee’s voice. I leaned back slightly into the pressure of her hand. And I rested, knowing that these prayers were for me. I laid down the worries I had and let her words wash over me.

After she prayed, she put her arm around me and squeezed. And said, “I don’t want you to have to go through this again.”

Me either. My dad has cancer. Stupid, stinkin’, honkin’, blasted cancer. I lost my mom to that awful disease nearly three years ago. Believe me, I don’t want my dad to go through this, and I don’t want to, either.

When Sandee prayed for me that morning, I pictured the men carrying the paralytic on the mat. Hauling him up to the roof because they couldn’t get through the people crowding the house where Jesus was. Tearing off mud and tile — they had to make noise and a mess, and people had to be watching, but no one stopped them. And then carefully lowering him down to Jesus, muscles straining, sweat dripping. Because they knew what Jesus could do for their friend. And they knew their friend couldn’t do it for himself.

I went home and read all three accounts of this story (Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5). And noticed something. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the paralytic asked his friends to take him to Jesus. I think I’d always assumed they did it because he asked for their help. I just assumed that the one in need of healing would take the first steps (literally or figuratively) toward the Healer.

But in this case, I think it was his friends. They took it upon themselves to carry him. To put him where he could receive help, help that they couldn’t give him. And when they did, when they fought through the crowds and excavated a hole large enough for their friend, Jesus said, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” And then He healed the man’s body too. As always, the soul was healed first. As always, Jesus knew just what was needed.

And so did the paralyzed man’s friends. They’re the ones who carried him. Like Sandee carried me. Like friends do in this Kingdom. Because sometimes we’re too weak. Sometimes we’re frightened, alone, filled with shame, overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the problem. Sometimes we’ve lost direction and don’t know how to get there. And sometimes we’re not even aware of what we truly need.

So today, my friends, will you please let me help carry you to His feet? Comment below with your needs, or send me an email (kellyostanley@me.com). I commit to lifting you up — or lowering you down through the roof. Let me carry you today. And then, tomorrow, we can each grab hold of a different mat and help carry another. Until we’ve laid the whole world at the feet of God.

Never doubt…

  Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light. ~Victor Raymond Edman...

Read More

Print

 

Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light. ~Victor Raymond Edman

My kitschy religion

I promise I’m not irreverent. But you might not believe me if you saw my collection of religious artifacts. I have a Mexican Sacred Heart of Jesus candle bought at the grocery store. A plate with a drawing of Notre-Dame Du Cap — with a halo glowing around her great big cap, I mean crown. Antique ...

Read More

Image

I promise I’m not irreverent. But you might not believe me if you saw my collection of religious artifacts. I have a Mexican Sacred Heart of Jesus candle bought at the grocery store. A plate with a drawing of Notre-Dame Du Cap — with a halo glowing around her great big cap, I mean crown. Antique postcards depicting Jesus and the disciples. Bracelets dripping with charms of the saints taken from old rosaries. A tin of Last Supper Dinner Mints. And, of course, a Dashboard Jesus.

I’m not making fun of these things. As much as anyone, I believe Jesus is Lord and is due every bit of respect and exaltation we can possibly show Him — and more. I take my faith seriously. But I see the looks — confusion, concern, uncertainty — when people see my collection. At best, they think I’m weird. At worst, they think I’m blaspheming when I wear the rosary charms.

I don’t believe there’s any particular magic in any of these items. I don’t think they’re lucky charms, nor do I mean for anyone to be offended by my quirky taste. But would you like to know why I do this? Why I collect these things that are kind of funny, kind of odd? It’s true, some of them were chosen simply for their kitsch factor, like the Notre-Dame du Cap (which actually means Our Lady of the Cape, but it somehow amuses me to think of her as the Madonna of the Hat). And the Dashboard Jesus — well, it’s just a strange gift someone gave me, knowing I’d find it funny, but it’s also a reminder that He is with us wherever we go. (Just so you know, though, he resides on a shelf in my office, not in my car.)

The reason I keep most of these items is because they once meant something to someone. The pressed glass, antique plate of DaVinci’s Last Supper — how many generations of families were served banana bread on this? How many meals, gatherings, occasions did it take part in? How many hands touched it? And how about the Saint Christopher medal that is worn smooth, probably from aging fingers who rubbed it for comfort? It once hung around someone’s neck and made him feel safe. It wasn’t the deliverer of safety, but it may have been the conduit for that person’s prayers.

I find comfort in these objects of ritual and tradition. They remind me I’m not alone. That generations and generations before me worshipped the same God and sought solace in Him. That He was the source of strength, the bringer of hope. That He transcends years and decades and centuries. That faith can endure. That even when I am weak, even when I fail, I’m part of something so much bigger than I am. That He is mighty and glorious and transcends all cultural and denominational boundaries.

That He is my God, and I am His. That I don’t need plates and charms and postcards to see Him in my daily life, but maybe someone else once did. Seeing Him, beholding Him, experiencing Him — these are things worth commemorating. Things I hope I never forget. Things I remember every time I look at these items perched on my shelves. (Or my dashboard.)

What items bring you comfort, and why? Comment here or send me a link to a picture and I’ll post to my board on Pinterest.

When the Spirit illuminates the heart…

When the Spirit illuminates the heart, then a part of the man sees which never saw before; a part of him knows which never knew before, and that with a kind of knowing which the most acute thinker cannot imitate. He knows now in a deep and authoritative way, and what he knows needs no ...

Read More

GRAPHIC When the spirit illuminatesWhen the Spirit illuminates the heart, then a part of the man sees which never saw before; a part of him knows which never knew before, and that with a kind of knowing which the most acute thinker cannot imitate. He knows now in a deep and authoritative way, and what he knows needs no reasoned proof. His experience of knowing is above reason, immediate, perfectly convincing and inwardly satisfying. ~A.W. Tozer

A blank canvas

It can be a bit intimidating to get started. That may be true in whatever it is that you’re doing, but especially if you’re creating art. That blank canvas… So much possibility. Possibility — or pressure? Depends on why you’re creating it, I suppose. If someone hired you to do a masterpiece, if you had a ...

Read More

83113862

It can be a bit intimidating to get started. That may be true in whatever it is that you’re doing, but especially if you’re creating art. That blank canvas… So much possibility.

Possibility — or pressure?

Depends on why you’re creating it, I suppose. If someone hired you to do a masterpiece, if you had a large commission depending on your success, or if people are actively watching you — yeah, that can be intimidating. If you have to complete something specific and you have exactly one canvas, or a limited amount of paints, I suppose that could cause some trepidation.

Lucky for you — and for me — this blog is one place where the pressure is off. You are not here to perform or to achieve. Just to do. If you want to paint something, be my guest. But I’m really here to talk about prayer. It’s amazing the similarities between prayer and art.

During the next several months as I prepare my book (The Art of Praying Upside Down) for publication, I’ll be exploring countless other connections between prayer and art, hoping you’re willing to walk beside me as we search for more of God, for deeper intimacy in prayer, and for individual ways to strengthen our prayer lives.

Your prayer style will likely be very different than mine. That’s what makes art interesting, too — the individual styles, the variety, the differences. I’m excited to see what each of us will create. One thing is certain: we will get God’s attention. He’s waiting, as anxiously as we are, to see what we can make together.

Because the possibilities are endless.

This website and its content are copyright of Kelly O'Dell Stanley  | © Kelly O'Dell Stanley 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red