A Piglet Moment

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The following post is offered by Spirited Life Wellness Advocate, Lisa MacKenzie.

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“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind; ‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’”
Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. MilneHand Reaching

Sometimes we all need to be sure that we’re not alone and that someone cares and is paying us some attention– especially when we’re feeling vulnerable. Some of us might even be having a “Piglet moment” right now.

I recently read an essay entitled Practicing a Life of Prayer by Sam Portaro,* in which he describes a spiritual practice of paying attention. Portaro says: “When I pay attention, I don’t have to remind myself of God’s presence in my life; God is nearly always present and manifest and recognizable in the other, the one in whom and to whom I have paid my attention.”

It takes practice to pay attention and to be aware in the present moment. Sometimes we don’t stop to think about our child who looks at us with longing while we’re racing off to a meeting, or the clerk who has been standing behind a counter for hours and sighs deeply as she bags groceries, or the pastor who has just moved his family to a new town this summer. Paying attention is one of the greatest gifts we’re given by God because it leads us to not only care for others but for ourselves as well.

When I was a young nurse, I’ll never forget a middle aged man with cancer who I cared for on the night shift. It was back in the day when patients had to wait for an injection of pain medication until the 4 or 6 hours were up. This patient was very uncomfortable, and I was in a hurry to request an order from his doctor to administer the pain medication sooner. As I hurried from his bedside, he reached for my hand and said, “don’t leave, please.” In that moment, my patient taught me one of the most important lessons I have ever learned- pay attention. He was scared and alone and needed someone to be present– to touch him, to hold his hand. And when I did that, for a moment his pain eased.

In his book Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen wrote a meditation on care saying that we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, the powerful toward the powerless; yet the word “care” is rooted in the Germanic “kara,” which means to lament, to grieve, to cry out with. It seems that being present is the foundation of care, but to really be present we have to pay attention. We have to stop so that we, like Portaro writes, can recognize the presence of God in the other. Pooh understood this and willingly offered this gift to Piglet without giving advice or finding a solution– because sometimes we just need to be sure that someone is present with us.

*Sam Portaro’s article can be found in William S. Craddock’s All Shall Be Well: An Approach to Wellness.

-Lisa MacKenzieLisa-MacKenzie-90x120

 

The Daily Examen

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The spiritual practice of the daily examen has 16th century origins in Ignatius of Loyola yet offers a framework for prayer that continues to resonate even more than 500 years later.  The focus of the daily examen is on finding God’s presence in your life so that you can be grateful and so that you can listen for His guidance.

There is no designated way to go through the prayer or even length of time needed to complete it; in fact, just 10 minutes should be enough time.  In the approach outlined below, the daily examen is practiced at the end of the day.candlelight

  1. Prepare your heart and mind. Center yourself by lighting a candle or taking a few deep breaths.  Allow yourself to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.  Think back through the events of your day, noting the joys and delights.  Think about the people you interacted with and what you shared with each other.  Don’t forget the little pleasures!  Then, thank God for these experiences.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.  Notice the points in your day where you felt strongly. What is God telling you through your feelings?  Feelings of frustration may indicate that you need to change course on a certain project.  Feelings of worry about a friend’s situation might later prompt you to send a comforting note.
  4. Select a part of your day to pray over.  What one part of your day stands out most to you?  It can be positive or negative.  Lift up a prayer of gratitude, intercession, repentance, whatever the case may be.
  5. Pray for tomorrow.  Ask God to guide you through tomorrow’s challenges.  Turn your anxieties over to God and pray for hope.

A simple prayer card listing the steps of the examen can be found here.  Other approaches to praying the examen can be found at Ignatian Spirituality (from Loyola Press) and Alive Now.

-Katie Huffman

Photo from Pixabay user foulline, via CC.

Remembering God’s Gift of Water

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Question: Are we forgetting how important water is?

Clean water is a goal for many Americans.Is God’s gift not good enough?
I have had some interesting conversations about water lately. As a Wellness Advocate, I have learned a lot about the importance of water for our physical health. Today I want to share a short reminder about why water is not only important for our health, but also why it is especially essential to us as healthy Christians.

Water is mentioned a total of 722 times in the Bible, more often than faith, hope, prayer, and worship. In the Bible, it doesn’t take long for water to be mentioned. Right away in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Water is such an essential component of life, it was created on the very first day.

In Revelations water is mentioned again, and it is almost the last words of the Bible.  Revelations 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Water flows throughout the scripture, and this should remind us of its importance…both spiritually and physically.

St. John Damascene summarized, “Water, then, is the most beautiful element and rich in usefulness, and purifies from all filth, and not only from the filth of the body but from that of the soul, if it should have received the grace of the Spirit”. (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith– Book 2: Chapter 9). Water has the power to heal, as can be seen from the stories of Naaman – the Syrian cured from his leprosy in the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-14) and the annual miracles at Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-9). Water has the power to purify, to provide deliverance, and it can also destroy evil and enemies as in the stories of the Flood (Genesis 6:17) and the flight of Israel from Egypt (Exodus 14:1-15:21).

Christ of the Abyss--Cristo_degli_abissi70 to 75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water. Roughly 70% of an adult’s body is made up of water, and about 85% of the adult brain is made up of water. Water is essential to life, and all living things need water to survive. So why do we as God’s children, sometimes take this gift…His gift of water for granted?

Jesus, the source of Living Water, extends an invitation to all who thirst. We take communion to remember His body…broken for you, and His blood… shed for you. We remember that water and blood poured from Jesus’ wound (John 19:34), while he was crucified. Water is given to us by Our Lord Almighty. Let us remember this, and honor His blessings daily. My father never drank water, and he spent the last 3 years of his life on kidney dialysis. My brothers and sisters, I challenge you to drink more water daily.

“O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love;
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above.
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.”
Taken from Sam Rutherford & Anne R. Cousin’s hymn The Sands of Time Are Sinking

10 Reasons to Drink Water (from Allaboutwater.org)
1.    Water is absolutely essential to the human body’s survival. A person can live for about a month without food but only about a week without water.
2.    Water helps to maintain healthy body weight by increasing metabolism and regulating appetite.
3.    Water leads to increased energy levels. The most common cause of daytime fatigue is actually mild dehydration.
4.    Drinking adequate amounts of water can decrease the risk of certain types of cancers, including colon cancer, bladder cancer, and breast cancer.
5.    For a majority of sufferers, drinking water can significantly reduce joint and/or back pain.
6.    Water leads to overall greater health by flushing out wastes and bacteria that can cause disease.
7.    Water can prevent and alleviate headaches.
8.    Water naturally moisturizes skin and ensures proper cellular formation underneath layers of skin to give it a healthy, glowing appearance.
9.    Water aids in the digestion process and prevents constipation.
10.    Water is the primary mode of transportation for all nutrients in the body and is essential for proper circulation

Cool Extras

  • Water Your Body, and Drinking Water are two free App for Android users that remind you to drink water daily and also help keep track of your water drinking habits.
  • Unicef TAP Project” For every ten minutes you don’t touch your phone, UNICEF Tap Project donors and sponsors fund one day of clean water for a child in need. Take the Challenge and help provide a child in need with clean drinking water.
  • How Much Do You Know About Hydration? Take the 15 question Water Quiz from WebMD.

-Dwight Tucker

First image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons; second image is Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, courtesy of Wikipedia via Creative Commons

The In-Between Space, Part III

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This is the third in a special series on Transitions by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.  Click to read the first and second installments.

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Last week, I left you with three questions for discernment in the midst of your transition.  Where am I now, what do I want, and what is my next right step?

If we aren’t careful, we’ll rush right through these steps, won’t we?  I invite you not to do that today; I invite you to slow down a little bit.  If we rush in, things don’t process as they should, and we get stuck.  I invite you to take a long, slow breath.  I invite you to hold the work that God is doing in you through this season, in prayer.  Prayer helps us to process through these steps well.   Prayer can be the safe container to hold all the emotions of transition, the place where we trust that God will work to bring us through our transition, accompanying us to the other side, where we’ll be stronger and better for it!pebbles at beach2_flickr geraint rowlandI was thinking of a biblical illustration that might be helpful for this time in your life.  I kept thinking about the Israelites during the Exodus.  This was a wilderness experience that was pretty confusing for them.  They weren’t sure which way they should go, what they should do.  They had a lot of emotions to process.  Should they move ahead to another place without clear direction or should they stay put?

So, what did they do?  They pitched a tent, didn’t they?  They decided to stay put and wait on a clear direction from God.  They committed themselves to waiting & seeking God’s will.

That may be what you need to do during this time, pitch a tent, and prayerfully wait to discern your next best steps.  Discernment doesn’t happen in our time, it happens in God’s time.  So, don’t rush the process, slow down, pitch a tent- even if it feels uncomfortable to you right now.  God is there for you, you can trust God to show you the way.  When we slow down, this gives God a chance to show up, to lead us into our next phase.  So, we wait, trusting the process, and trusting God to work within that process.

I will borrow the words of that favorite author again as I offer you her prayer for transition:

“I encourage you today, to slowly, move into this new phase of life and ministry.  I pray that your heart be refreshed, encouraged, lifted up, and strengthened by the truth that during this season, you’re not walking in isolation from God.  God is hunkered down with you in the midst of your steps, and he sees clearly the marked path in front of you.  Trust in that abiding, friends, and stick close to the Father.  God has something more for you than currently meets the eye. Most certainly, that something will stretch your faith and shape your soul.”  -Elaine Olsen

May God’s abiding grace sustain us as we journey through the season of transition together! 

-Dianne Lawhorn

Dianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for Diannethe Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Image by Flickr user Geraint Rowland, via CC

The In-Between Space, Part II

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This is the second in a special series on Transitions by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.  Read the first installment here

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Last week, I left you with a question:  What is it time for now- in the midst of this in-between space?  

I believe it’s a time to grieve, honor, reflect, and hope.path in sun_flickr alex de carvalho

The first task is that of grieving.  This is a time to allow yourself to feel whatever feelings you are having about this change.  It’s not a time to ignore those feelings; you should name them, as you recognize them, as real and significant.  It’s important to acknowledge the sense of loss that comes with any change, with the ending of any season.  There’s always a measure of anxiety that comes with change because we are facing the unknown.  We have a choice about what we do with that anxiety.  We can ignore it, unknowingly act it out, or simply choose to hold the anxiety.  Acknowledging our anxiety gives us permission to grieve the end of the past season.

This is also a time to honor the passing season, to celebrate the past!  It’s a time to honor all of the experiences that you’ve enjoyed with your former community of faith.  It’s a time to honor the times you’ve been there for each other and all that you’ve learned from each other.  It’s a time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished together and to honor the difference you’ve made in each other’s lives.

This is also a time for personal reflection.  It’s a time to remember who you are as a pastor.  You might think about what your strengths are.  You might recall those teachable moments in your ministry that made you better.  It’s helpful to find new ways to talk about your challenges that invite growth and discovery, energizing you for the future.  You might consider what you have already overcome, what ground you’ve already trod.  It’s also helpful to recall those moments where you embodied your best self, where you behaved as if you were who you want to become.  This reflection becomes a resource to help us get through transition.

This is also a time for hope.  It’s a time to allow yourself to dream a little bit as you look forward to what’s possible for the future.  It’s a time to remember that your story is not over!  As we consider our hopes and dreams, we have the opportunity to live into them.  When we live into them, they can shape our destiny.  They can serve as a bridge to connect past and future.  They can help us to determine who God is calling us to become in this next phase of our ministry.   This is something that we can really get excited about!

Some questions you might use in your discernment are:

Where am I now?  What do I really want?  What is my next right step?

Dianne Lawhorn

Dianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia DianneGroup which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Photo by Flickr user Alex de Carvalho, via CC

The In-Between Space, Part I

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This is the first in a special series on transitions by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.

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For UMC pastors, we’re all heading into a new conference year.  And for many of us, we’ll be moving on to new appointments, which means that we might find ourselves in the midst of a season of change.

We may find ourselves longing for the familiar during this time.  While we are hopeful that this season will have gifts to offer, we are quite unsure of what those gifts will be.  We find ourselves living in the land of the unknown, where uncertainty resides.  As we hang on to the land we once knew, while traversing into a new land, we find ourselves feeling very much “in-between.”  The in-between space can feel like a strange place, but there is much we can learn if we “lean into it.”

We live a seasonal faith.  With the change of seasons, there is a grief that goes along with letting go of the season that has just passed.  And there is a hope that we may grasp hold to the new season that’s arriving to replace the old.

Here are some questions that we might ask ourselves during this time:

What if we don’t want to move onto a new season?

What if we don’t feel ready for it?

What if we’d rather hang onto the season that has just passed?4 seasons

While we do have the option of holding onto the past, we also realize that it’s better for us to let go of the past and take hold of the future.  There is much we can learn from the seasonal nature of our faith that can help us in the midst of transition. Here is a quote from a favorite author of mine about the opportunities that each season brings:

“Each season bares a worthiness all its own… we live a seasonal faith and with that living, comes a time for everything—every joy, pain, frustration, surrender, sorrow, and celebration. Nothing in our lives is exempt from the cyclical process of our winter, spring, summer, and fall. We can choose to walk through these seasons, with little or no effect to our hearts, but we cannot deny the possibility of growth extended to us because of them. Each season of our lives is rife with eternal possibilities.  The soul shift happens when we bow low and lean into those possibilities.”   -Elaine Olsen

I love that last line, the soul shift happens when we bow low and lean into those possibilities.  Our scripture tells us for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.  That means that there is even a time for change, but change is scary, no matter how you want to slice it! 

I leave you with these questions for the week:

  • So, what are your tasks in this season of change?
  • What is it time for now- in this in-between space? 

Dianne Lawhorn

Dianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia DianneGroup which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

Image by Flickr user Rick Harris, via CC

Pedaling to Stop Traffic

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The following post was written by Mark Andrews, Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is admit to my church that I need help.  Somehow, through almost thirty years of ministry I had taken for granted that as the spiritual leader of my congregation, I could never admit any weakness or vulnerability.  But keeping up that façade of invincibility has been catching up to me in these last few years.  In a new appointment with more staff and more administrative responsibilities I found myself less and less able to maintain the persona.

In the midst of this stress I began Spirited Life through the Clergy Health Initiative. At the same time I also took part in a year-long spiritual practices exploration called the School of the Spirit offered through The Lydia Group.  These two programs reinforced each other, and one of the messages that became clearer during this year was what Brene Brown calls the courage of vulnerability.  Somehow, if I was going to get better I must, first of all, admit I was needy, and secondly, ask for help.

With fear and trembling I went before my Staff-Parish Relations Team, then my Administrative Council, and finally, my congregation, asking for a three month renewal leave.  I told them I was weary and needed a rest from my responsibilities, with the hope that I would come back renewed and refreshed to continue ministry.  At each announcement, I received from my people powerful signs of grace, appreciative affirmations, and open-hearted permission to do what I needed.  Such an outpouring would have never happened had I not admitted my need.  And as a result, I have already begun the healing that I had denied myself but so desperately needed.Mark Andrews_bike

On June 1, I will begin my renewal leave by climbing on a bicycle and riding from the Atlantic Coast of North Carolina to the Pacific Coast of Oregon.  I plan to use this trip as a means of support for our United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking.  As I ride 4000 miles, I hope to raise $10 a mile ($40,000 total!).  Your donations are welcome (Pedaling to Stop Traffic).

Most of all, I am making this trip for me.  I want . . . no, I need to do this.  I am anticipating a restoration of my soul as I use this time to reflect on my calling and how to fulfill it with greater vulnerability in the years I have left.

But I have already learned one thing — we who serve the needs of others must acknowledge that we have needs of our own, and we must be vulnerable to our congregations if we are ever to receive the help we need.

-Mark Andrews

Bracket Redemption

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Lent Madness 2014

My interest in the NCAA basketball tournament has nosedived.  All of the ACC teams are eliminated — men and women — plus my brackets crashed and burned the first weekend. Thankfully, I have discovered a replacement pastime, which I hereby share with you.

Lent Madness was conceived by an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts. Lent Madness allows you to vote online for your favorites out of pairs of great Christian figures from history. The exercise is fun and educational: there are short profiles of each entrant, including many inspiring men and women with whom I was unfamiliar.

The competition continues through Easter. Even if, like me, you missed the beginning of the contest, you can still vote in the later rounds. Winners advance to the Saintly 16, the Elate 8, and the Faithful 4, in pursuit of ultimate glory, the Golden Halo.

Sadly for United Methodist fans, John Wesley and Charles Wesley faced off against each other in the opening round!  (Charles won, in a mild upset.)  Talk about your unfortunate seedings.  Complaints have been lodged with the Selection Committee.

nla.pic-an24433007-v-John James

Top image courtesy of Lent Madness.  Nuns Playing Basketball is from the National Library of Australia, shared via Flickr.

 

Walking Together

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I had the opportunity recently to walk two different labyrinths. It had been a number of years since I’d walked one, and walking two nearly back to back was a refreshing and grounding experience.

We’ve written before on this blog about labyrinths as a form of contemplative Labyrinth_1_(from_Nordisk_familjebok) (1)prayer, and I’d encourage you to read that post for more information on labyrinths’ origins and modern use. I personally love labyrinths for the way they tie me to ancient spiritual practice. Labyrinths are found in Greek and Roman mythology, and came into wide use in Christian tradition in the Middle Ages, but they also have been discovered to have their place in ancient Nepalese, Indian, Native North and South American, and Australian cultures. The sense that this pattern and practice is meaningful across time and different religious traditions is very powerful for me — like all liturgy, it is a gift to participate in something that transcends my particular time and place. I also love that the path is laid out clearly before me, with no dead ends or choices to make (so UN-like life!) which allows me to sink into a deeper level of mediation and prayer. Avila

I experienced the first labyrinth during a women’s retreat at Avila, a retreat center in North Durham (for those of you who are local!). Walking the path under tall and sturdy pine trees with the wind in the branches and the sun on my back was so peaceful.

The second one was in Duke Chapel — a large 11-circuit labyrinth made of canvas spread on the slate floor just before the altar. The settings couldn’t have been more different: hushed darkness, candles, the only noise the swish of socks shuffling along the path.  And this time my eight-year-old daughter, Clara, was with me.

Walking the labyrinth with Clara is an experience I will cherish for a long time. On the way in, I led the two of us slowly, asking “What do I need?” She followed close behind. I had instructed her to open her heart to God, to pay attention to her breath. An 11-circuit labyrinth takes a long time when walking at a meditative pace. She didn’t seem to mind.

We made our way to the center and found a place to rest. She wanted to sit on my lap. I had told her beforehand that the center represented God’s womb. She understood right away that I meant a safe place, free from harm, surrounded by God’s love. I invited her to open her heart again and to ask God what she needs. We sat like that — me cradling her and us being held together in that prayerful space — for a long time. We started back out slowly, with her leading. On the way in I had given her a special stone to carry, and she passed it back to me as we started out. I held it, still warm from her little clasp, and prayed to see how and where I could best participate in God’s healing work in the world.

Walking out after her, I asked for wisdom from on high to follow her lead in life, to let her teach me how to she needs to be cared for. She walked a bit faster than me, and got ahead of me. I had the chance to look upon her and behold her. I prayed, “God, teach me to cherish her more and more each day. Make me worthy of her. Teach me to mother her with Your love and light. AMEN.”800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral

I think the reason walking the labyrinth with Clara was so powerful is that it was something we could do together, something we could participate in as equals. When I think about passing my faith on to her, there is so much that is difficult for me to explain — so many of her questions leave me tongue-tied. And yet here was a form of prayer that was both simple and profound and that involved our bodies but not our intellects. No special training or instruction was required; she is sensitive and picked right up on the sacred tone of the moment. Afterward we quietly put our shoes back on and filed out in silence, blinking in the evening light. I held back from asking her questions about what it meant to her, though over the next few days she did offer some reflections, and mentioned a number of times that she really liked it and wanted to do it again. That evening as I was tucking her into bed, she shared that it was her favorite part of her day. All I could say was, “Mine too, sweetie, mine too.”

-Caren Swanson

First and third images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; second image courtesy of Avila Retreat Center

Creating Space For God

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The following post was written by Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. 

I was participating recently in a Quiet Space Day at the Starrette Farm.  These days provide sacred space to encounter God through silence, solitude, and stillness. These Vignette pathdays help me to consider my needs for these disciplines. It makes me think about how Jesus sought out this kind of quiet space throughout his ministry. It is obvious that he saw it as something he needed.

Jesus needed quiet space in order to experience rest that would replenish him in mind, body, and spirit. He also needed it to reconnect with his father, to nurture this relationship, to be reminded of the work that was given him. He needed this quiet space because his job was difficult. Jesus had people pressing in on him with great needs. He had work that never really felt complete.

Pastors need time apart for similar reasons. We need rest that replenishes us in body, mind, and spirit. We need time to reconnect with God, to nurture this relationship. We need to be reminded of the work God has given us to do. We need this space because our job is difficult. We have people pressing in on us with many demands and work that never feels complete.

Silence and solitude gives us the opportunity to slow down, to be still, and to get quiet, so that we can hear the voice of God. We need a pause from the ever-constant demands that are placed upon us, to slow down long enough to show up for God, so that God can give us what we need to persevere through challenges. Just as it was for Jesus, it’s our connection with God that is our greatest resource for life and ministry.

This is why we need to create space in our lives for silence, solitude, and stillness. We need to protect this time from getting hijacked by the many demands placed upon us.  We need to rest our bodies, quiet our minds, and nurture our souls. Don’t we need this kind of spiritual rest? Wouldn’t it replenish our souls and allow us to re-enter life and ministry refreshed?

Often we deprive ourselves of this gift because we are afraid.  We are afraid that we won’t accomplish what is needed if we take a break. We’re afraid that we won’t be able to slow down long enough to enjoy the space. We’re afraid of having to face ourselves and our unpleasant feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to skip it- then our souls miss out on much needed peace. We miss out on the fruits of silence, solitude, and stillness. We miss out on allowing God to give us the strength we need to press on! Quiet space is something Jesus needed and something we need if only we have the courage and wisdom to create space in our lives for it.

Quiet Space Fridays are offered the Second Friday of every month at the Starrette Farm in Statesville, NC.  For more details, click here.

-Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

Rev. Lawhorn is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for Diannethe Lydia Group, which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.