Get Ready . . .

Pray | Thank you, God, for reminders to be prepared for plenty, not just burnout, for abundance as well as sparse

When our kids were little, I sometimes took them on the weekly grocery run. Before we got out of the car I would turn around and give some instructions: we’re sticking to our list, stay near, hang onto the cart, and such. These expectations were given to help them navigate aisles filled with items that looked good (but weren’t necessarily healthy), always placed on shelves where little eyes could see and small hands could reach. Those trips always went better when I took the time to prepare them for what was ahead. And so it is with Moses and the Israelites, they’re about to enter a very good and plentiful land, carts to be filled to overflowing, but before they go in, Moses begins with a reminder about commands, obedience and reverence.

Read | Deuteronomy 8:6-9

Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land0 where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

We understand preparing for difficult or lean seasons, and we grasp leaning deeply into the Lord and his Word when times are very hard, when grief, confusion, heartache, and darkness seem all around. But in Deuteronomy 8:6-9 Moses says to observe the commands, walk in obedience and revere God, not because a tough season or darkness is coming, but because so much goodness is about to be in front of the people. Figs to capture eyes and pomegranates for hands to grasp, so much so that they are about to lack nothing; the cupboards and more are about to be filled to beyond overflowing. But first comes the instruction so that it will go well for them: observe the commands, walk in obedience, and revere God. It was time to gird up not for hard, but for good.

Have you seen a season of plenty before you? If so, did you prepare for it in any deliberate or disciplined way?

Written for Five Oaks Church Daily Life Devotional

The Magi

I was recently invited to be on the Devotion Writing Team at our church, Five Oaks in Woodbury, Minnesota. I’ll be writing three devotions about once a month. Once they have been sent out to the subscribers Daily Life Devotions I will post them here. I’m excited about this season of writing!

Pray | Lord, despite my comfort or discomfort, status, or not, whether I am near or far, overwhelmed or busy, like the Magi, may I seek the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi – Who were these guys?
There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to the question, who were the Magi? It’s likely that speculation, stories, and manger scenes have shaped our thoughts and traditions on who these men were. It is written that they came from the East, they may have been kings, advisors to a king or someone else entirely. What we do know is that they were expecting the Messiah, and they went to find him and worship him.

Read |Matthew 2:1-2
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

Reflect | In what tends to be a very busy season, it can seem difficult to consider getting up to go find Jesus. It might be as simple as finding that box of Christmas stuff and pulling out the nativity set. But it could be as complicated as looking back at that confusing crisis that happened (or is happening), and wondering “Where did he go? Where is he?!”

Each year when we set up our nativity, we’ve always set the Wise Men far from the manger, then every day they move just a little closer to Jesus until they arrive in front of him bearing their worship and gifts. As we journey through this month and check off our lists, decorate the tree and buy all the things, may we, like the Magi, find ourselves asking, “Where in this is the one who is King?” Some of us will find him near as we spend consistent time with him, some of us are a little further away, maybe skeptical, or just unsure of coming too close for fear of what we’ve done, or even possibly, what we think he will require of us if we get too close. Wherever we find ourselves this season, the Lord promises in Jeremiah 29:13 that if we search for him wholeheartedly, we will indeed find him. May this Advent be a time for each of us to seek him, journey toward him, to come and adore, bow and worship. As we offer our gifts one to another, let’s also consider what we might offer to the one who came to set us free.

Where might you find Jesus this season?
Is there a specific gift you’d like to lay at his feet?
Words of adoration you might quietly offer up?

Not Feeling It

Have you ever been in a season of just not feeling your relationship with God? One where you don’t really want to read the bible, and prayer feels a little empty, kind of bland? I believe most of us have from time to time walked in what feels like a spiritual dry land. I’ve been there for a minute, and I have to say, it’s not a great feeling.

I hear my own voice telling others, “God is not a feeling”, which is true, so I open the bible and read. I open my daily devotions and read. I open my prayer journal and let what seems like limited words, and even less emotion, fall on the pages.

In describing this funk to a friend she said something along the lines of doing it to check the box, which I instantly knew in my soul wasn’t true. I’m reading and praying not to check the box, but because I know this is good for my soul, even if it doesn’t feel it. I know the Word is true and has power to be life giving, correcting, soothing, encouraging and more. I pray because I believe it might matter that I pray, and I believe the Lord cares that I do, even maybe especially when I don’t feel it? Bottom line, I’m doing it because I don’t feel like doing it.

Another friend read Kneeling with Giants – Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers, more than once she spoke of how great it was, so I’m reading it on her recommendation. The book has chapters on spiritual mentors from church history like Benedict, Luther, Calvin and more, and offers different methods of prayer, such as the divine office, the Lord’s Prayer, healing prayer, Psalms and more. I’m only through chapter one, but I sense optimism and just may be on the cusp of freshness.

I’ve started with the divine office taken from the Common Book of Prayer (modeled from St Benedict). I’m praying old prayers that seem written for today, there are prayers for leaders, prisoners – justly and unjustly imprisoned, pastors, the aged and lonely, the hurting, conflicts and more. I’m singing along with hymns of old that are feeling right for now; there is a time of confession, scripture readings and more. In this prayer discipline there are four set times of day to pray, I’m currently committed to the morning one, and slightly committed to the noon one.

In chapter one, Praying with St Benedict – The Divine Office, there are two places I’ve underlined, on page 21 Gary Neal Hanson writes, “It (the divine office) stretches me to pray in a healthy range of ways. It renews my connection to deep and holy things. When times are hard, it can put my battered soul back together. I admit there are days when it feels like a ritual performed without conscious thought – though even that can help me. Whatever it feels like, it puts my day in a rhythm of prayer. As one of my students put it, Benedict envisioned a life of prayer with work interspersed, not the other way around.” And on page 34 he says,
“. . . but the more hours you pray and the longer you keep at it, the better chance you have of keeping all of life in perspective.” In my short time with this style of prayer I’m feeling both of those statements to be true. I’ve decided to hang out in this prayer style for awhile before I move on to chapter two, Praying with Martin Luther – The Lord’s Prayer.

In the meantime, it is written to be prepared in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2); I’ve been feeling out of season, but maybe this is where some of the work is done so that the in season will return.

If you find yourself interested in reading Kneeling with Giants and discussing it, comment on fb, instagram, this post, or email me at shericarlstrom@gmail.com and we’ll figure out a way to connect through a group zoom, email or maybe private fb group.

(I’m praying the Divine office through an app, Mission of St Clare – Praying the Daily Office, I just have to click the morning, noonday, evening or compline prayer, making it very simple.)

A place to land

AirBirdnBird

An odd sight for sure, this bird house hanging off my house. But it makes me smile everyday because it’s evidence of a sweet act of kindness.

Here’s how it got there…

Several weeks ago two birds were hanging out on the corner of that roof for two days singing, singing & singing. On day three I noticed they were tearing into a small spot of rotting wood. By day five they had opened an impressive, though frustrating, gaping hole. I watched as they carried in this and that to build their nest, and I sent a picture to Kevin.

After Kevin got home from work he retrieved the ladder to inspect these squatters, discovering a nest in process but no eggs. With no building permit posted, he cleaned out their construction, temporarily boarded up and sealed the entry to clearly communicate “No Vacancy”.

The next morning the racket over their eviction was on the edge of panic. Though I knew Kevin didn’t remove eggs, you would’ve thought their babies were inside; I sent videos and pictures to him of the ruckus. At some point he texted back, “Do you think there’s a place to mount a bird house for them?” (I thought he meant in the backyard.)

That evening the ladder came back out and this simple “AirBirdnBird” was offered ~ not in the backyard but right where these birds thought they needed a place. The pair moved in within two days and began coming and going, singing and looking in my kitchen window, “You’re welcome” I said to them. The babies soon arrived and for weeks there was much activity and many songs, all becoming a sweet spot in my days.

This saga caused me think about extending kindness and refuge to others. The world is big, and there are so many issues that feel overwhelming, loud, messy and beyond my capacity. But what about the things and people who are within my reach? Am I kind to all? Even the uninvited squawkers? Do I offer a safe spot to land for the person who has a tender heart; who maybe needs to rest on a corner for a minute, an hour or more? Do I listen and care for the person, even if I’m not aligned with something? Do I make concessions for the things that cross my path that weren’t a part of my plan for the day? Am I generous in what I extend? Am I aware of the panicked songs around me? Can I serve in a way that settles the panic of another into a song?

All good questions for me to truthfully ponder.

These pushy, loud, little birds became a sweet part of my days, I miss them now that their babies have flown the nest. My husband is in the process of mending this corner of the roof and will move the bird house to the back yard where we hope they make a return visit next year. But also, he’s decided to add a winter roost to the side of our garage for the ones who might be looking for a spot when it gets cold.

It’s what we can offer, so we will.

Sometimes You Just Feel Like You’re in Middle School Again…

Tonight it was as if I was back in the 7th grade lunchroom. Let me explain, my sister and I are going to the Super Bowl on Sunday (Her job often has some pretty fantastic perks – and I am the beneficiary of this particular golden ticket!! More on that later.)

We were both originally arriving today, but a last minute change of plans, due to her job, meant I am here now and she will be here in the morning. I checked in, called my family to tell them I arrived – sent a picture of my view  (we are across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium!) and then needed to make a decision about dinner.

Dinner…..hmmmm…..what to do. Eating alone at home is completely different from eating alone in a restaurant. Room service was an option, but I decided I was confident enough to go down and see what the hotel had to offer. The first place I saw was the bar, it looked nice. But I walked around and saw what looked like a really nice restaurant ~ possible, but probably too awkward. I saw two fast food places. Hmmmm…that sounded easy, get something and take it back upstairs. But I really didn’t feel like doing that either. What to do? How awkward will I feel sitting alone? Seriously, am I in middle school?

So I decided I would walk back to the bar, order a glass of wine and a sandwich.  I’m 46 ~ this was not that big of a deal. So I did it. I ordered the wine, tuned into the Duke – Virginia Tech game on the huge screen and ordered my sandwich. I felt like a grown-up, although I did text my sister to tell her that I could not wait for her to arrive in the morning.

What I’m Reading these Days…

I used to love trashy magazines (I’m talking People and the likes filled with celebrity gossip and stolen pictures). Then I had kids and started receiving Ladies Home Journal in my mailbox. When my oldest started reading, she would read anything she could get her hands on, looking at some of the articles, even in that magazine, through her eyes made me cancel the subscription. Several years ago my new favorite magazine became Real Simple. Love that magazine and everyone in the house can read every article.

For Christmas I asked for SHAPE magazine, my daughter couldn’t remember what I had asked for and got me a subscription to Prevention. Seriously, I have gone from People to Prevention. Good Grief.
What really cracked me up was yesterday as I sat in an office for an appointment, I picked up Arthritis Today and I actually found a few articles that were interesting. This seems like cause for concern.