Do It Again, Lord! (Guest Post by Cynthia Hyle Bezek)

I am delighted to host Cynthia Hyle Bezek as today’s guest writer! Cynthia’s greatest passion and privilege is to help ordinary men and women connect with an extraordinary God through prayer. Leading people into satisfying, two-way, relational, personal conversation with God is the aim of whatever she does, whether as an author, editor, prayer leader, speaker, teacher, mentor, or prayer retreat leader. The following is reprinted with permission from Let’s Talk: Deepening Your Relationship with God Through Prayer.

Desert Sunrise I

Do It Again, Lord!

by Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Sometimes I get annoyed with Bible people. Like this morning. I was reading in Exodus and getting really excited about God. He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites—incredible to imagine! And then when the Egyptian army tried to follow, the waters crashed down on them and they all were destroyed. What an amazing rescue!

Is it any wonder the people rejoiced and worshiped? Moses led them in a song of praise to the Lord. And then his sister, Miriam, led all the women in a joyful dance before the Lord. As I read, the people’s joy nearly vibrated off the pages.

“I will sing to the Lord. He has won a glorious victory!”

“The Lord is my strength and my song. He is my Savior. This is my God, and I will praise him, I will honor him!”

“O Lord, who is like you? You are glorious because of your holiness and awe-inspiring because of your splendor. You perform miracles!”

“Lovingly, you will lead the people you have saved. Powerfully, you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The Lord will rule as king forever and ever!”

(excerpted from Exodus 15, God’s Word translation)

But a mere two verses later, I got pretty upset with the whole lot of them. For Pete’s sake, they act as if God had died! True, they’d traveled for three days in the desert without water. That’s a problem. But instead of asking God for help, they griped about Moses. Instead of trusting God to provide for them as He had done not even 72 hours earlier, they whined: “What are we supposed to drink?” (verse 24).

I paused from my Bible reading. “I cannot believe these people!” I said out loud.

Really? a Still Small Voice asked in reply.

I realized I’d been busted. The Holy Spirit was gently pointing out how much I have in common with the Israelites. Immediately I thought about a situation that I’m struggling with. It’s a genuine problem, no less real than the Israelite’s need for water. And I am utterly incapable of solving this problem. If I think about it very long—like more than about three seconds—I am very likely to gripe and whine, just like the Israelites did.

The irony is, like the Israelites, I have also experienced God’s deliverance in desperate situations. I can name at least three examples of God’s loving intervention, working things out in ways I never would have imagined, and never could have orchestrated on my own.

Still, I forget. The new crisis looms in front of me, and I forget the victory song I’d sung just a few days earlier. Or I doubt. Sure, God delivered me before, but who says He’ll do it again this time?

Either way, my responses are not pretty.

God, I don’t want to be like the Israelites, I told Him this morning. You have delivered me wonderfully before. You have walked through fires and floods with me on other occasions. You have never abandoned me. You have never failed me. I am sorry I forget. I am sorry I doubt. Please help me to remember Your deliverance. And please deliver me again.

It’s a full 15 hours later, and God has not answered my prayer yet. He has not led me to water as quickly as He did the Israelites in Exodus 15. I’m still waiting for His deliverance. But however long I have to wait, I want to do it with faith, not doubt. I want to hope in the Lord. I want to trust that He will help me—as He promises always to do when I call on Him. So that has been my prayer throughout today, and probably will be for days to come: Help me to remember, Lord—and please, please do it again!

Looking back

Photo credit (bottom photo): Susanne Nilsson via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit (top photo): TLV and more via Flickr Creative Commons

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Guest Post for Jean Fleming: Two Aromas

I used to think being a sweet fragrance for Christ meant directing that fragrance to others—living so that people will like me, even if that meant conforming my personality to theirs.

But in my thinking, the direction of the aroma was all wrong. Being a sweet aroma does not mean being a people-pleaser. We are a fragrance of Christ to God …

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***

I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer for Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery. Click through to read the entire article, Two Aromas (and get a peek into my Bible-reading journal, including some drawings and doodles like the ones I wrote about in Behold the Beauty, chapter 4).

Open Letter to the Generations Before Me

The following is for the blog tour of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Making It Home. Did you know Emily has provided blog prompts?

Here are Emily’s blog prompts 14 and 15:

14. How would you encourage a woman who feels unnoticed, left out, or no longer relevant as she grows older?

15. How can the older generation encourage the younger generation to stay focused on God’s peace, identity and purpose through multiple life changes and seasons?

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Dear Christ followers of the generations before me:

I once overheard someone ask a woman in her twenties, “Are you going to the women’s mini-retreat?”

“Nah,” the twenty-something replied, “It’s just going to be a bunch of old ladies.”

This young woman came to church dressed in classy leather boots and neatly arranged, fashionable clothing. Her hair was expertly highlighted and curled, her makeup applied with a model’s know-how. Her dad was an influential leader in the church. When she threw a party, all the other young and younger ladies wanted an invitation. She landed a go-getter job that could easily extend into a prestigious career. She volunteered in the children’s ministry and was popular with kids and teens.

These are the girls and teens who heard her say, essentially, that she’s too cool to hang with the old ladies.

I wish that twenty-something woman and those girls and teens would be intentional about getting to know you. I wish they knew Amelia Sorensen, the woman in her eighties who taught my husband’s Sunday school when he was in first grade and invited families with teenagers over for a home-cooked meal. I wish they knew Hal DeMooy, the man who modeled daily Bible reading and encouraged the young to do the same—or Jim Downing, the Pearl Harbor survivor who, at age 102 and counting, is mentoring teens. I wish they knew the python-slaying Egelers.

I wish they knew the value of interacting with you, the generations who came before. Because if they don’t, they miss out on a chance to be rich—like passing by a cave of precious metals and walking away without mining it.

Get all the advice and instruction you can,
so you will be wise the rest of your life.

(Proverbs 19:20)

Your white hair and wrinkles represent decades refined and lived out under God’s grace, like nuggets and flakes of gold. You have the advantageous perspective of looking back on the same years and experiences younger generations still look forward to. You have already seen, perhaps multiple times, the same struggles and blessings I am experiencing right now.

I once sat on a panel to answer a local MOPS group’s questions about parenting. The young moms asked questions like, “What can you do when the kids don’t eat?” and “What if you and your husband don’t agree on the kids’ discipline?” and “How do you educate the child about ‘stranger danger’ and still encourage them to treat strangers kindly?” All of the questions were narrowed down to one person’s specific situation.

It occurred to me that a single answer could address every concern brought to the table:

You.

You are the answer that would provide a custom solution not only for every young mom but even for that individual’s pinpointed question at that Q&A.

So I encouraged those moms leaning forward and eagerly asking questions of the panel before them:

Find a mentor. Or several mentors.

Then I told them I get together with Jill once a month and Jean once a week. My senior year in college, when I was a newlywed navigating the new relationship with my husband’s parents, I pursued Mary to ask about her in-law relationships. I call Linda when I’m having a parenting crisis. When I was a new mom, I turned to Miriam, the Byrnes, Paula, and others. One day a few years ago I called Dorothy and asked, “I need help with marriage. Could I come over?”

“Sure, dear. When would you like to come?”

“What time do you get up in the morning?” I asked. I was there at seven a.m. the next day.

Richard Peck, Newbery-winning YA author and former high school teacher, agrees with me that we need you. He makes sure an elderly character appears in each of his novels:

I need them. Young readers need them more. The old folks are there in the novels as counterbalances. They provide wisdom and seasoning won only through long lifetimes, and compassion unavailable from the peer group. They offer alternatives in the accelerating battle between parents and children, and glimpses of the problems and sorrows of old age for a young generation fixated on their own.

– Richard Peck, Invitations to the World (New York: Dial Books, 2002), 26-27

We need you, and we need to pursue relationships with you. I’ve asked myself, How could I draw out wisdom from the older women around me? How do I mine wisdom from the quiet ones? What questions should I ask? What steps of relationship should I take? More than once, I’ve started by asking you for a recipe in hopes that it will lead to deeper friendship.

Though good advice lies deep within the heart,
a person with understanding will draw it out.

(Proverbs 20:5)

And then you remind me that every person is both young and old, so I ask myself questions as an older woman, too: What young person could I reach out to today? How can I be winsome and inviting to the young? What can I learn from the young?

Thank you for welcoming me into your lives. What would we do without you who have gone before?

With deep gratitude and appreciation,
Monica

Book Review (sort of): Wild in the Hollow, by Amber C. Haines

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I don’t know if it’s because Amber C. Haines is a poet, or because reading this book is a little like breaking open a pomegranate and exposing ripe seeds clustered in their hollows, the red of their juices lingering as stains on your fingers after you bring out the fruit—but this memoir, Wild in the Hollow, calls for something other than the typical way I do a book review. Instead, I’m sharing twelve found poems taken from Amber’s words (including page references to the book).

What is a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

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1. From pages 49-51:
It didn’t take me long to see how different I was in the church

So tidy and clean
the church so aware of how it looked.

No one talked about brokenness. I did my best
to look good enough for the keeping, but—

How broken I was. How I didn’t fit. It seemed the rest
of the church had healed up good. Either that

or no one knew how to grieve
the stories, the rumbles of despair. Most days I thought

I would drown. Fresh in the memory of wild back roads
I walked in and asked, “Will you love me now?”

—–

2. From page 54:
My mamaw

She rocked in her chair.
She told me secrets. We became
so close in our brokenness, spoke
in secret language before she slipped away
into her real life. Her confessions
unified us, her perfect love for me
cast out fear.

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3. From page 54:
So much hammered doctrine

was an effort to control,
to harness the Holy Spirit so we could feel
better about ourselves—
a measuring stick superimposed into
the very hand of God.

—–

4. From page 56:
What is Scripture?

What is Scripture if
it doesn’t pour in,
transform,
and then
flow out from the depths,
especially
as love?

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5. From page 57:
I wish I had known

The depravity of man is only
the realization of the hollow,
the need. Depravity
should only imply that we
can be filled
with God.

—–

6. From page 58:
Mercy

Isn’t it sometimes
God’s mercy
that we crash?

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7. From page 111:
Friendship Beginning

a long, silent pause
like an orchestra
before the music begins

like a cellist holding position
with the bow hovering
just above the strings

—–

8. From page 141:
A Word of Truth

Do not forget
that the Spirit of God
indwells you.

And just like that,
the ash blew over, and I began
to burn.

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9. From page 173:
Repentance

a sorrow
a recognized need
a change of mind, the turning point
a place of release
a place to go

—–

10. From page 173:
After Repentance

obedience
moving forward
into righteousness, peace, joy
propelling the kingdom of God

—–

11. From page 186:
Good News

Isn’t brokenness
the fertile ground for the seed
of hope? We are weak ones, but
this is not bad news.

—–

12. From page 197:
In this one moment

I have seen my children
run naked and wild. I have seen them
without a drop of shame.

Book Review: Dancing Priest, by Glynn Young

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I find greatest satisfaction in a novel when it inspires me with admirable (but not flawless) characters, and when it makes an internal connection. As author John Green has been quoted,”Great books help you understand, and they help you feel understood.” Glynn Young’s Dancing Priest wins on both counts—and this novel was so riveting that it kept me up way past bedtime. Immersed in its multiple layers that reach into the histories and current lives of Michael Kent, Sarah Hughes, the people who are and become part of their lives, and the geographical settings of Edinburgh, London, Athens, San Francisco, L.A., and Santa Barbara, I couldn’t put the book down.

The story of Michael Kent—student at Edinburgh, Olympic cyclist, then Anglican priest assigned to a San Francisco church—shows, unadorned, his steadfastness, integrity, and seemingly foolish love toward others. All this comes through without hiding or sanitizing his struggles. If you carry an enthusiasm for cycling, you will especially appreciate this book. But, cycling fan or not, you may find that Michael Kent’s life in Dancing Priest feels a bit like a cycling race: fast pace, determination, struggle, exhilaration, team dynamics, defeat, victory, gratification at crossing the finish line. This story challenged me to persevere in pain, love those who are against me, extend a hand to others in distress, practice art and exercise any God-given abilities, and deepen relationships with those I love. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, A Light Shining.

Photography Lesson

The following is a found poem from Jennifer Dukes Lee’s piece at (in)courage today: Light, for Your Darkest Days. (Scroll down if you want to know what a found poem is, or how to write one.)

To learn the magic of light, she said, I needed to wake before sunrise. I needed to watch how light overtakes dark.

– Jennifer Dukes Lee

Photography Lesson

To learn the magic of light, wake
before sunrise. Stumble barefoot
on gravel. Chase light before dawn

in the silky mist of valleys
where landscape yawns.
Then wait. Press

one hopeful eye against
the viewfinder and capture
the last word:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness
has not overcome it.
(John 1:5)

Have you ever written a found poem? The Academy of American Poets defines it:

Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems.

A pure found poem consists exclusively of outside texts: the words of the poem remain as they were found, with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet.

If you’ve never written a poem, try a found poem. It’s a gentle, fun, and easy way to dip your toes into poetry for the first time!

Related:
See more of my found poems here.

Tennis Lessons

Daily Shoot 10.18.10 [Spherical/Curved]

What coach taught me:
When you serve, step up
to the line, bounce the ball

three times, and pause
for that calming breath—those habits,
those rituals will keep you

consistent. Toss the ball in a straight
vertical, to the highest point
of your reach. Keep looking up

even after you hit the ball.
Don’t get caught flat-footed. Stay alert
on the balls of your feet. Split-step as soon

as the ball zooms at you. If the ball is out,
call it out. Hit the ball on the rise
so it won’t continue on its

natural trajectory.
And keep up your
mental game.

Serve

Photo credits:
Tennis ball photo by Marie Coleman, via flickr creative commons.
“Serve” photo by mirsasha, via flickr creative commons.

Lava Rock

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How can it be that magma heat
loses its liquid burn? How
can fiery froth turn cold,
molten bubbles no longer
bursting in a rolling boil?
Your zealous glow has cooled, aloof now
and indifferent, your white-hot hue
frozen into dull darkness, igneous and basaltic,
your dynamic flow turned
static, all the little holes
hardened into airy rock, not much
weight, negligible influence on
any scale. Burn again.
Burn.

Because you have this faith, I now remind you to stir up that inner fire which God gave you.

– 2 Timothy 1:6 (Phillips)

(for this poetry prompt at tweetspeakpoetry.com)

When the Sherlock Holmes Precept Doesn’t Work

For The High Calling book club on
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
This week, Laura Boggess leads our discussion on the introduction through chapter four. Join us!

—————————–

My son has read the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and told me this quote: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

Holmes was talking about sleuthing—figuring out events that have already happened. If you eliminate all the impossible scenarios, you can narrow it down to just one possible solution. If it was impossible for the guy to come in through the window or the door, he must have come in through the chimney. Mystery solved.

Sure, this worked for the famous fictional sleuthhound figuring out what happened at a crime scene yesterday. But our dear detective assumes (1) we are capable of considering all the possibilities and (2) we know what “possible” contains.

I’ve erred in applying the Sherlock Holmes Precept to the future, or to current circumstances. I consider a difficult situation and count the possible outcomes on my fingers: either A or B will happen. When I get really creative, I can turn up a few more fingers for possibilities C, D, and E. But then, that’s it. All scenarios are bad, and I conclude that I’m in a hopeless situation. There’s no way out.

I think of Martha who said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I think of the community of Israel saying in the wilderness, “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt … But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” It’s a hopeless situation. There’s no way out. My brother is dead. We’re going to starve in this desert.

My wise friend David Brown of The Navigators said, “If you’re choosing between Crummy Option Number One and Crummy Option Number Two … well, God can count to three.”

I count the possible scenarios on my fingers. But God won’t be limited by my Sherlock-Holmes thinking.

It’s elementary: God is more than I know.

The Mercy of Horizon

What a mercy to have a horizon—
that faraway line reminding me
while my head is in the clouds
that earth and soil are under my feet
and everything is not sky. The horizon

is horizontal only because of my
smallness. In fact, it is a curve beyond which
my hands cannot reach, my eyes cannot see.
It is a great circle inscribed where the heavens
and the two-dimentional place of my perspective

intersect, a reminder that God is always
more than I know. What a mercy to have a horizon
that hides (for now) what is past the threshhold—a mercy
because the knowing, the sight, might be more than

my easily blinded eyes can bear. A mercy because
if I see too much, I may not have faith enough. Funny, too—
without the horizon that limits knowing
there can be no azimuth,
no arc to give direction, no reference point
from which to measure a navigating angle.

Listen as Wisdom calls out!

“…I was there when he established the heavens,
when he drew the horizon on the oceans.”

(Proverbs 8:1,27 NLT)