Stepping Out of the Boat

This is a guest post written by my dear friend, Sarah Springer. Sarah moved to Prague just before my husband and I did and is now back in the states following God’s leading into new roles and responsibilities. Even though we live on different continents now Sarah will forever continue to be a my dear friend. I’m happy to be able to share her with you all today.

I’ve been on a journey for around 13 years now in “finding myself”. Interestingly, part of finding out more of who I really am, started when I began to learn about who God is. I became a Jesus-follower when I was almost 18 and from that point forward, I have honestly sensed God’s involvement in my life. I have been on an incredible adventure of following Him, in real-life issues, challenges and decisions. I’d like to share how a story from the Scriptures has touched my life in a very real way. As you read Matthew 14:22-34, try to visualize the story of Peter and how he stepped out onto the water in the midst of a storm to walk towards Christ.

22Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but the boat was already a considerable distance[a] from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28″Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29″Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

34When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

This is actually pretty crazy. The fourth watch of the night, means it was around 3 in the morning! I don’t know why Peter did it or what he was thinking. Ultimately I believe he stepped out of the boat because he trusted Jesus; Peter really believed that Jesus would take care of him and support him. Years ago I came across this passage, in a season of transition in my life. I was laid off from work, in the midst of uncertainty, trying to find my calling in life. After reading this passage I realized a few things.

I realized that there were other people in the boat. They were disciples of Christ, believers of His teachings and truly followed Him. These people watched this whole scene with Jesus and Peter. On the other hand, Peter risked it all. He had to trust in Jesus and nothing else. God still loved those who were on the boat. God did amazing things through those followers. But, Peter, was a little different. Peter, unlike the others, knew the actual experience of following Jesus onto the water and even what it was like to fear and be caught by Jesus. I became very inspired by this. I decided with certainty that I want to experience following God and not just observe the things God can do in a person’s life. After reading this, I told God that I wanted to be like Peter, and step out of the boat, into life, in such a way that I can only trust in Him alone.

And, shortly after, my husband and I decided to church plant in Prague, Czech Republic. I had lived my whole life in the Chicago-suburbs; although I moved often, I was very familiar with Midwestern America and that’s about it. It was a huge move and a huge-cultural shift. The motivation that brought me to say “yes” to this adventure was that I imagined myself leaping into Jesus arms and trusting Him alone with my life. I wanted to know Him more though this decision. It was hard to be a “tree” and be replanted in a new culture, new language, and to build brand-new friendships. I cannot imagine where my life would be if I hadn’t faced my fears and in my own way, like Peter, stepped out on the water to trust Christ. We were in Prague for 3 years, and I learned so much, grew in incredible ways, and faced some truths about myself that helped me mature. And, even more than all that, my faith in God grew.

We moved back to the States in June 2009, and now, a year later, I am still feeling in transition. This last year, in many ways, seemed crazier and more adventurous and unknown than our journey heading to Prague! We moved back to a bad US economy where my husband didn’t have a job, I was 6 months pregnant, planning on a homebirth, unsure of a midwife and had no place to deliver my child; we were in temporary housing arrangements, uncertain of exactly which state we’d land in, and in the midst of reverse culture-shock. I could share many details about all that, but again, in the midst of the unknown, I experienced what God can do in a life that trusts in Him.

And now, I’m in a new season of trusting in God. As of yesterday, I have part-time job leading a ministry at my church for families who have a loved one with special needs. God has touched my heart deeply about this ministry and ultimately that my calling is to love God and love people. That’s what I believe life is all about. I have the opportunity to love people who are often ignored, overlooked, or even avoided. I have a chance to help others grow in understanding and loving these people as well. I have the chance to get to know God’s heart more. Who He is. How He loves. What He cares about. I am excited about this. Once again, I feel that I have followed God into this. I believe again, that I am stepping out of the boat like Peter, trusting Jesus to be there when I fear and to be with me in the unknown.

As I transition my family into a new rhythm, one of my concerns is how to continue providing natural, “real” food for my family in the midst of working 2-3 days a week, coming home around 5pm. I’d love to hear feedback on how any of you do it. How do you prepare your food in advance? What kinds of meals do you make that take just 25-30 minutes to prepare?

Thanks for reading. (And if you have any resources or experience or a loved one with special needs, please share! I’d love to learn all I can.)

Here is a blessing/prayer for those of us in any kind of transition:

God, circle us with your unending love.

Calm us with your strong embrace.

Give us the wisdom and discernment we need to

remain centered as things swirl around us.

Be our constant O God.

Keep us above the waters of Life that sometimes want to pull us down.

Give us peace that passes understanding.

Give us moments of refreshment and delight,

Calm our nerves and quiet unwelcome worries.

May we be blessed as we endure

Bless us as we love others, serve and lead.

May we not fear but trust You are with us.

As we put our Hope in You, may we rise up with wings like eagles

And know we are Yours.

May it be well with our souls. Amen.

Photo on 2010-07-01 at 22.30 #4I am a wife since May 2000, a mother of two, a sister to a few and a friend to many. I love spending quality time with people, sharing stories and learning more about ourselves as we’re together. I love being with my husband and children, doing whatever. I enjoy cooking, sipping tea, sitting in my papasan chair and reading or journaling. I love researching and learning new things–lately it’s all about food and various things about the food industry. I believe the core of who I am is loved and accepted by the Triune God, and that has made all the difference. I hope that somehow as I continue on the journey of life, I can encourage others and help them see Truth and Beauty in themselves.

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Pregnancy as a Spiritual Practice

I’ve been surprised by how little I have written about being pregnant and my experience being pregnant. I’ve tried to process that a little and I think there are a lot of reasons for it, one reason is probably that honestly overall I haven’t enjoyed pregnancy as much as I thought I would and to write about it too much would probably mean to complain about all the aches and pains and discomforts as well as the fears and insecurities that it stirs up – no one wants to read about that right? Anyway, today though I want to write about pregnancy and share a few thoughts about pregnancy as a spiritual practice and spiritual discipline.

Let me begin by saying that though I do feel like pregnancy is a spiritual practice of sorts I don’t by any means think that pregnancy is an essential or even really an important spiritual practice. Half of the population (men) will never experience it and many women both by heart ache as well as by choice will also never experience it. For those who want to experience pregnancy but are not able to my heart truly breaks and I do not want this post in any way to rub salt in an open wound. So, please if that is your experience don’t read on if you don’t want to, and don’t hold it against me that I wrote this post.

There is so much I could say about pregnancy being a spiritual practice and experience I’m not really sure where to begin now… well, I guess I’ll just jump in…

To me pregnancy feels like a spiritual practice because it is an act which joins us with the creative life-giving God. In pregnancy we partner with God to bring forth life. I really believe that it is a profound and sacred act, an act which is both entirely temporal and physical and yet also entirely spiritual and non-temporal. I can’t really explain that, I more just feel it, so I’m going to move on to another point.

When I first learned that I was pregnant one of the first things that I felt was an overwhelming sense of being out of control. This was so different from anything I had ever experienced before that it sort of shocked me in its severity. I realized very quickly in my pregnancy that I really had no control over whether this baby lived or died, whether he developed healthily or not, whether my body would do all that it was suppose to or not. I was intimately involved in the process of daily creating and sustaining this life, but I had no conscious control over how it progressed. To me it was (and is) a strange feeling to feel so deeply connected with creating life and yet to feel so removed from it. I have never felt as completely vulnerable as I have felt since being pregnant. Vulnerable to physical pain, to heart ache, loss, and even to death (in fact I have been a little shocked by how the act of bringing forth life can be such a vivid reminder of life’s fragility and end).

This feeling of vulnerability and lack of control have brought me to look at all of life with much more awareness of my own smallness. I have realized through this experience that I am out of control and vulnerable in more areas of my life than just my pregnancy and it has called me to a deeper trust in God and his sovereignty. Through pregnancy I realize anew that there is more to life than meets the eye, there is Other and I am called into a trust relationship with that Other. Through pregnancy I realize that I can’t go at it alone and that I do ultimately control very little in my life and world. Through pregnancy I realize that it is when pain and heart ache are close to us or threaten to be close to us that we most learn to trust the ultimate love and goodness of God. Through pregnancy I learn again to let go and surrender to that which is and will be.

Pregnancy feels like a spiritual practice to me also because it is a time that forces you into waiting. You can’t rush it, you have 40 weeks of waiting and anticipating and wondering and praying. Even though there’s a lot to do to prepare, pregnancy seems like it sort of forces you to slow down and be patient. As I wait for this baby to grow, I wonder what he’s going to be like, I wonder what kind of mom I’m going to be, and in many ways every day I have to let go and wait on God. Trusting him.

Pregnancy also feels like a bit of a spiritual practice to me because it is uncomfortable. It’s not easy being pregnant. Sure it’s beautiful and fulfilling and feminine, but it’s also terribly uncomfortable and awkward. You get nauseous, your back hurts, your skin itches, you get big and your balance changes – just to mention a few. In all honesty your whole body changes. I feel like dealing with the change and discomfort can be a sort of spiritual discipline. How I handle the physical pain and discomfort of pregnancy can teach me how to handle the pain and discomfort of life in general. Can I let go of the discomfort and pain and work through it? Can I continue to live lovingly towards those around me even in the midst of discomfort? Can I let go of my selfishness enough to notice and care for another’s discomfort even amidst my own? But will I also take care of myself when needed and recognize when I am pushing myself too hard and my discomfort is a sign that I need to slow down and rest? Can I listen to what my body is trying to communicate to me? Pregnancy forces me into all these questions and these questions force me to face my own inadequacy and that inadequacy forces me back on my knees before God’s throne of grace.

There is more I could write about pregnancy and the spirituality of it, and how it has drawn me and called me to a deeper relationship with God, but honestly I’m not sure how to put the rest in words yet and I’m not even sure if what I’ve put into words so far will make sense to anyone but me. So maybe I’ll stop here.

I want to close this post by sharing with you a poem that my friend Joanna wrote and gave me at my baby shower. I think it paints a beautiful picture of pregnancy and the spiritual mystery that is present in the act of bringing forth life into the world. I think it also portrays this awe-inspiring dichotomy of it being my body and yet not only my body which brings forth this new creation.

Moonbelly

Blessed are you, womb that heals and holds
Grows and tends
Stretches and shares
The life of mine own
Blessed are you, skin that glows
Ripe and ready for the harvest fruit
Ready for the great harvest of the one within
Blessed are you, bringer of life
Passage of light
Harbinger of all things good and pure
Blessed are you, blood that nurtures, protects and provides
Blood of my blood
Flesh of my flesh
Bone of my bone
Blessed are you, one within
The indwelling indwells with you
The spirit that knows you
Knits you
Loves you
Blessed are you, my sweet gift
Honor and privilege to call you my own
And show you the great love that is mine to give away
To you

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany

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Winter Rhythm and Trusting God

Lately, I’ve been feeling really depressed. Honestly, I think some of it is stress from a busy schedule and uncertain future. Some of it is from some things that God allowed to be stirred up and ways he allowed me to hurt over the past month, but I think some of it is just natural and seasonal.

It seems to me that in winter, especially in climates like Prague, there is this natural desire to slow down. With short cold days, there’s a desire to stay inside, to be home and spend a lot of time with family and close friends. There’s a desire for familiar and comforting things. I’ve felt this very tangibly lately. I don’t want to keep long active hours, I don’t want to run all over town, and I don’t want to meet a bunch of new people or spend times in large groups. Instead, I long to reflect, to read, to think, to ponder, to write, to have deep conversations with close friends, to cuddle up with my husband, and to eat and drink warm food.

Today I was trying to catch up on blogs that I’d gotten behind on and I came across this post, by Christine Sine at Godspace. She writes:

“Maybe, we reflected, we need to take notice of our bodies and build a slow down time into our winter schedules. In nature the winter is a time when on the surface there seems to be no activity, but beneath the ground roots are growing deep and strong. In fact shrubs planted in the Fall send down deeper roots than those planted in the spring and so are more resistant to drought. Maybe we too are more resistant to spiritual droughts if we take time to slow down and reflect over the winter, allowing our roots to go down deep…We are not meant to be continually producing fruit or even be continually blossoming. In fact plants that are forced into bloom at the wrong season by florists never recover their natural rhythm. Most of them will never blossom again.”

This struck me so profoundly. I feel this physical and natural urge to slow down, but I realize that this beginning season of winter has been and is and will continue to be incredibly busy for me. I have not been listening to my body or this call I have felt to rest and slow down, and instead I have sped up. And it seems that this pressure and speed of action will continue for some time still.

It seems interesting to me that this is common for many people – winter is actually a very crowded and busy season, not a relaxed or slow season. Especially December is a month filled with stress and activities for people, not a month of reflection and waiting and rest. And January as well, though a slower month in many ways, it is also a time when we set  new goals and try to plunge head first, full speed ahead, into the New Year. January is often a time for making changes, for starting new things, for trying to create fruit in our lives – does this seem counterintuitive to anyone else?

This month will be busy. I can’t really change that. But, what I can do is not add to that busyness. I can choose to take time as often as possible to reflect and be with God. I can be picky about the things that I add to my schedule and the things that I choose to let drop. I can choose not to give into the pressure to perform, to produce, to fill my days with motion. I can choose a different rhythm.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she made a statement about Sabbath and about rest. She basically said that choosing to rest is choosing to trust God.

So, often I choose to produce and perform and crowd my schedule, because I am not trusting God, because I want to control my life and control the outcomes of my life. I choose not to rest, not to slow down, not to take the time to put down deep roots, because I feel that I have to make things happen. But, the truth is that I can’t make anything happen.

The truth is that only God can provide for my needs.
The truth is that only God can really raise financial support for Bryan and I.
The truth is that only God produces a harvest and makes fruit grow and drop from the trees.
The truth is that only God draws people to himself, and only God grows a church.
The truth is that only God can make me or some project that I think is mine succeed.

Really, my job isn’t to make anything happen – I can’t really make anything happen. Yes, God chooses to involve me in his work, but it is HIS work, not mine. Really, what God calls me to is to abide in him, to rest in him, to put down deep roots and stay connected to the true vine, Christ Himself. He calls me to listen to him. Sometimes He may call me to action and sometimes He may call me to rest, but the important thing is that I am connected and listening to Him.

Lord, teach me to trust YOU. Teach me to rest in YOU. Teach me to not grasp at control, or rush forward in my desperation for results.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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