Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sooo thankful for...

The sound of Jason coming through the garage door.
Wise insights from friends.
Kanah wanting to get in bed with me in the morning.
My daughters’ curls.
Jason reading the Bible with the girls and seeing them mimick David doing his slingshot and the people singing hosanna and adam eating the apple.
Grace saying sweetly “that’s fuuuuunny” with a huge smile on her face.
Kanah asking me to sing Snow White in the dark at night (I make a different one up each time b/c I can’t remember the last tune I did) and then her pleased little giggle afterwards.
After-nap snuggles from the little ladies.
The book of Ephesians.
Random conversations with my hairdresser.
My husband's prayers over me.
Salem on my shoulder snoring before bed.
Having a son. What an insanely wonderfully amazing surprise to my heart.
My son crawling in high speed towards me with a hissing, excited-noise (you have to hear it) grin all over his face.
Unexpected doors to talk about being a Christian. Lights up my day.
Facebook homepage. Love listening in on so many lives.
Jeans that fit in a size I could stick with.
Our live-in family (as Grace said tonight – “Shawn Cowan, Kalle Cowan, Pearce Cowan”).
Morning snooze snuggles.
My toddlers teaching me they can handle memorizing Scripture “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
$1 Large sweet tea from McDonalds.
When no one is in the house but me.
When everyone is in the house with me.
Salem loving playtime in his crib for thirty minutes every morning.
My kids liking church.
The Holy Spirit wanting to talk to me all day.
Helping my kids reconcile from the “I’m sorry for _” to the “Will you forgive me?” to the “I forgive you” and then laughing as Kanah runs away from Grace who wants to end it all with a kiss and a hug.
The rain setting on my sound machine, perfectly muted with two layers of clothing over it.
Lipstick notes on my mirror.
A clean floor.
Community group in my family room.
Posted comments, especially from my husband, on my blog.
My publisher online books.
The City (online network for churches).
How kanah exclaims “mommy!” if someone else has been watching her for me and she sees me for the first time in hours.
Grace’s trust for me.
Salem’s little legs wrapped on my left hip.
Writing night.
Piecing together overlapping tidbits and lessons and insights in my life and to see resolution.
Divine moments.
Moments I am convinced, by their actions or words, that I am loved by someone.
A look from my husband or friend from across a room that speaks volumes.
Sticker books with stickers that can be moved around.
Velcro shoes. Not for me, people.
Days I don’t have to wake up until 7:00am. (the college version of me would be so confused why I’d be thankful for that…)
Text messaging. Oh what a nice surprise. Shouldn’t have stayed stubborn so long.
Family. (I can’t believe I haven’t written that one yet).
Christmas cheer. The more obnoxious the better.
Forgiveness. I’m wrong so much, I don’t know how I’d live without it.
Scripture TRUTH running through my head.
Our marriage retreat.
Wednesday mornings. (me time)
Wednesday nights. (me and Jason time)
When someone tears up at something that means a lot to you.
Being heard. Being noticed. Being understood.
Being rooted in Christ’s love.
Hearing my mom’s voice when she answers.
Intentional gift giving.
People loving on my kids.
GRACE (=undeserved gifts from God).

Friday, November 20, 2009

"I believe" Retreat

Jason decided that we would go earlier this summer. I cried. I really wanted to go. We had the location. The season. The help with the kids. Inside of three years my heart handled miscarriage, waiting, a difficult hospital bedridden twin pregnancy, preemie difficulties, transition to mommy life, a surprise baby with two toddlers in tow, and many other toted burdens and heartaches from friends and family on this intercessor’s heart.

A marriage retreat was in order.

I’m selfish about sleep. But the idea of waking at 6:30am to get on the road didn’t make me cringe a bit. Popped right up. Stopped in at the bucks to get a breakfast pairing, made a second stop for Jason’s treats of choice and then got on with our four hour drive.

The plan was simple, but packed. We wanted to give each other individual retreats for a half day. Then we wanted to come together, share what the Lord said and what we had meditated on and then visioneer together about our marriage and family life. We needed to sit with Jesus, to know him better and to listen to him closely. I had many things I had been wanting to pray about and ask the Lord to minister to in me. I felt a near desperation to know for certain that the Lord would be able to root out certain sin issues in me, and to be completely transparent I’ll go further to say, most of which revolved around emotionalism – extreme sensitivities, reactiveness, defensiveness, and idolizing human relationships over my identity in Christ. I felt overwhelmed…by my own self. I needed to hear from the Lord and I hardly knew where to begin.

I was so looking forward to the alone with Jesus part. I’m a melancholic on paper. Melancholic mommies like to sit during their kiddos’ nap times. We think it would be nice if we had to go to “time out” . We like music but we also really like silence. We like to stare at things and think a thousand words. We don’t love in the moment questions or icebreakers because we know that to come up with our most sincere answers, we’d need some quiet time. We like to pull our little shells up over our heads and ponder. When my husband talks to me, I respond with lots of interesting comments in my head and think it’s all outloud until he says, “Do you have anything to say about that?’ I tease one of my friends, who is the truest version of this personality type, that when we had a lot of people over to our apartment in college, her favorite place to be was in my bedroom closet.

So with those tendencies of me in mind, envision my happiness in my lovely little shell thinking and writing and meditating and creating, and then contrast that with me in my family room with two toddler girls attempting to “share”, one crawling ankle muncher perched under the bottom shelf of the coffee table, dinner going on the stove, a re-heated cup of coffee in my hand, me ignoring the phone, and very frequent words of instruction and discipline and direction flowing off my tongue. Basically, although melancholics love to be at home, learning to take on the God given gift of mothering three children under three kind of means lots and lots of grace and a large learning curve.

So, needless to say, the alone part sounded like Christmas and birthday all wrapped up with a big bow!

Jason stationed himself at the “Sleepy Monk” coffee shop, since he loves people and action for his inspiration. Whereas I bundled up in my shell and a down vest, tucking essentials like my ipod, small Bible, and moleskin into various small pockets. It was super windy outside and kind of freezing but I could not wait to just walk and walk. Although I missed the little ladies and baby sa almost as soon as we pulled away, it was nice to not have to think about who needed a nap next or what I needed to cook for dinner in a few hours.

Jason had set this time aside for me to talk to Jesus. For me to hear from him about the deep things stirring in my heart, the convictions I was feeling, and to respond to him in praise and prayer. I am actually not great with free time. I kind of freak out about it and waste it a lot because there’s all this pressure on how to spend such a precious gift. So I thought about it before we had even left.

I started down the beach and happened upon David Crowder. The guitar picking began, starting my heart. I set my intent on just listening. Listening to someone else lead me in worship, teaching me the words of praise. Instructing my heart to just start saying to God the most simple and full truths I could muster myself to say. I was coming into this time with mostly thoughts in disarray. Confessions in a pile. Questions in phrases not yet legible. And thoughts scattered like puzzle pieces on a table, waiting for order. The Holy Spirit inside of me confirmed that this is where I needed to begin.

In the car on the way down I came upon Isaiah 43:19-21. He spoke to my heart and said, “Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

The relieving message that rested on my heart was this: you do not need to conjure anything up or desperately figure anything out or set out to strategize the perfect plan. My work is to praise the Lord. I knew I had wastelands in my heart that were relieved to know that he would be sending a stream my way. Instead of seeing myself standing by that stream, I remember distinctly that I saw myself standing there and the stream came rushing towards me, where I had previously been standing on a dry place. I just had to stand and look towards Him. My work is to look to Jesus. To praise him. That word is so old sounding. So southern gospel sounding. How can it feel closer? Praise really isn’t much work besides stopping everything else and extending my thoughts to a humble place before Him. We mostly want to experience God and see Him work around us and then praise Him. But I think we are to lead with praise. Because then it’s about who He is and not just about what He does that pleases us. I was formed for the work of praise.

And let me just say…it’s like everything in me knows that when I do it! I was walking and praising and not worrying about my words or what to figure out or to sort through and I just felt a pleasure in enjoying God. I passed faces and groups and individuals talking and searching for shells and looking out into creation like I was and I could barely contain my silly smiles and sweet stinging tears. I wished for a beach for just me and Jesus so I could run with arms high and laughter all around. He would gift me with something of the like the next morning. But for now, walking and walking without time or concern but for what to praise next.

I sat for a long while on a huge piece of driftwood. I was so cold on my walk but I had found myself secluded from the wind and almost warm sitting there with my prayer journal. There were many people walking but I felt tucked away there, and unnoticed. I found such joy in reading Scripture over each of our children and then over various burdens I had for Jason in a moleskin I lovingly call “Jason 101” (an idea from the Song of Solomon series). I read the Scripture, placing their name within the verses. I read slowly and deliberately, so that though it was me reading, I would listen and meditate even more closely and intently upon the truth and life and grace I was praying over their sweet lives. These were not just words but the words of God breathing life.

I eventually found my way back to the Sleepy Monk, having no idea how long I’d been gone. We traded journeys, with me taking some time on the laptop to write while he checked in our room and then went on a walk. And then the remainder of the evening we ended our alone time and enjoyed a conversational journey back through all God had done.

When I woke up in the morning it was raining sideways but I was compelled again to go out. I walked into the wind bundled from head to toe for a total of about ten seconds, my flared pant legs blown tight against my ankles like skinny jeans, and my giant down, furry hood blew right off of me. As far as I could see up the beach I counted maybe three other determined combers. The music beat loudly in my head and I could barely see with the stinging rain on my cheeks. I relented and spun around the other way and stopped for a moment and my hood blew straight up again. I didn’t move. I felt God still me right there in that spot. Sometimes the most strange, anti-cultural thing we can do is to be still and stop the moving and spinning and clamoring and all of the noise.

I looked. And before me was a spoken word from the Lord. The sand was whisping past my feet, making quick zig zags all along the beach. The waves were ferocious and with each whip of the wind, the crest of the crashing waves blew wildly up into the air a few feet. The impressive Haystack rock sat unaffected by the sea, determined to be unshaken. The morning fog set itself over the scene and the backdrop of it all being a muted gray-blue sky, the dramatic contrast like that of something in an artsy movie. The strength of the wind and the fury of the ocean and the might of the rocks and the presence of the skies all felt so chaotic and untamed and wild. Yet there was order. And I just saw this as God’s word picture to me. The Holy Spirit whispered to me that God was greater, so much greater, than all of this, and though it appeared wild, the truth was that there was order in all of this. And to the unsettled places deep with in me that seemed to rule my entire being, which felt too big for God to order in me, he spoke that they were under His greatness. He could order them. He was enough. And in that moment my heart simply said, I believe you.

I needed belief. And he gave it to me. More than a formula or a deep study with numerous interesting revelations, I needed faith that God was bigger than all I was feeling overwhelmed by in my heart. This wasn’t a quick fix. I also felt him say more to me and confirm in the following days:

Confess these full truths to other believers. Lean on them. Let them minister to you. Let yourself cry. Break. Bend. Humble yourself. You need Truth. You are lost in lies. You must allow other believers to place truth on your mind. And I will give you the strength and courage to keep asking for it and accepting it. You need phonecalls with prayer, you need verses, you need checked on, you need accountability. You need to pray outloud almost constantly, even just one sentence at a time. You must read the Truth, the Word of God. It is your Life. You need to be laid low. Stay low. Stay on the ground. Stay out of fire. Lay at my feet. I will fight. I will place truth on your head. Lay the lies down. Let others lay them down when you cannot. Ask them to lay them down. Do not pretend you do not need help. Confess all weakness. Do not mind passing judgment even from those who love you. You must only take pride in the I Am. Not in who you are. Your biggest battles are believing I AM ENOUGH. I Am. Believing I am your Savior even in this. I Am. Believing I am the God who drives out despair, disappointment, hate, strife, jealousy, depression, fears and discord. I AM.

After my movie like moment on the beach under those muted blue skies, when I found my land legs again and began to walk, I looked down within just minutes and found a sand dollar. I love beach combing. And I especially love finding little treasures when I am not looking for them. That’s the best because it’s a gift instead of a clamoring. It felt a lot like the way I had found faith that day. I simply turned around and there was the faith before me and it all fell on me. I could not have wished it to be or made myself believe. I was given the faith and I was given the sand dollar when I didn’t even know to look for them. I picked up my little treasure, finding an inside pocket to stash it away in. And I immediately decided that this would be an “Ebenezer” for the faith God gave me to believe in him that day. And Ebenezer is a tangible reminder of what God has done in your life. The Lord put it on my heart right there that I should start a box of ebenezers, with each one labeled with what God did for me so that I could praise him in the coming years and with my children and their children.

Jason and I packed up our things when I returned. I put my tote together, which held a few Christian inspiration books, my calendar, my journal, my laptop and some pens. I don’t think I hardly touched any of them. It turned out that what God wanted to do was set me right in the midst of the magnified version of the unfettered places in my heart and demonstrate to me his loving power and might over them. God stilled me. I believed Him. And just weeks after a total meltdown over these very words I am about to write, I knew in my heart Jesus was enough.