Friday, August 10, 2012


Last weekend eight friends from across the country joined me in the Smoky Mountains for a girls' getaway. Now, I know what you're thinking: four days of sleeping in, eating out, and hitting the outlet malls. (After all, it WAS tax-free weekend!) As tempting as that plan sounds, our weekend looked very different.

You see, these ladies came into my life over the past two years as we served side-by-side at a women's retreat in Colorado. We joke that eight days shared at this retreat equals eight years in real time (kind of like human years/dog years). We've shared our stories with one another - the good, bad, and ugly. We've worshiped, laughed, cried, and learned how to listen and pray together.

And that is exactly what this weekend was all about. We didn't go into our time together with a plan. No schedule. No expectations. Instead, we each arrived with a desire to engage, to listen, to surrender, and to intercede. It was beautiful.

On Friday, we were all set to go tubing. How better to introduce outsiders to East Tennessee (other than a trip to Dollywood, perhaps)? Just as we were finishing lunch, however, thunder rumbled and the skies opened up with rain. Instead of withdrawing for naptime, we gathered in the living room and began to listen to Karen's story. Listening turned into praying.

It was like that throughout the weekend. One by one, we would talk about our lives, our fears, our desires, and where God is (or where we don't see him) at work. And we would pray. It was as natural and easy as having a conversation with a dear friend.

For much of my life I thought that for prayer to be effective it had to follow a certain formula. If I missed a step (i.e. confession), then my words would either not reach God's ears or he would dismiss me because I'd not followed correct protocol. What I'm learning is that only one thing is required for effective prayer: surrender.

When we surrender in prayer, we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and to provide the words. Romans 8:26-27 explains it this way: "We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God."

Prayer (or any other part of our life in Christ) isn't about method, requirement, or duty. If it is fear-based or formulaic, then I'd pose it's not Spirit led. I've found that true communion - with God and with others - comes when we lay everything else down to be present and to surrender. My weekend left me with such gratitude: for beautiful friends who are following God, fierce allies who are willing to pray, a patient God who continues to shepherd me, and the sweet experience of surrendering in prayer.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Welcome Home

Our family has been packing for a move. Not across the country or even across town. We’re simply moving a few miles to a house close to my husband’s work. However, we’ve learned through nearly twenty years of marriage and now six moves, every move is a big move. This one seems especially big as I sort through ten years of accumulated “stuff” and recall the ten years of memories that have taken place within these walls.

As I have processed all of these times – both the bitter and the sweet (mostly sweet) – I have remembered the gatherings, both large and small, that we’ve been privileged to host through the years. The people who have graced us with their presence…

The small group that circled round our den to study the Word, watch the Superbowl, or share a meal. Couples that joined us for a game of Canasta or Scrabble. Girlfriends who offered me connection while I offered simply a mug of Chai. Elders who gathered late on Wednesday nights. And our son’s small group that somehow makes a weekly Bible study a rowdy, full-contact sport.

While each of these encounters differed, they all shared one common trait: They were all expressions of community. Through the years I’ve learned that when we open our home to others, we open our hearts to them as well. These people shared laughter and tears, joy and sorrow with us. They filled this home with life and brought their own unique voice into the conversations that have taken place here. And most importantly, they have revealed Christ to us…how he loves us, how he accepts us, and how he provides relationships to nurture, console, encourage, and grow us.

I recently read a plaque that said, “Welcome home. Feel free to be yourself.” Yes! As a family, we yearn for those who enter our front door to feel comfortable being who they are…the good, the bad, and the ugly. For our guests to feel so at home they can kick their shoes off (or keep them on); they can sit in the well-worn armchair that clearly says, “I’m the favorite” and feel at ease; and they can share their hearts and know they are safe.

My parents had their own plaque hanging at the entrance to their house. It read, “To all who enter here, know this is a Christian home.” A visiting friend once remarked, “Whoa, that’s serious!” Perhaps he read it with an inferred tone of warning. I actually like that declaration because it makes a promise: This home is a place of peace where love is real, forgiveness is offered freely, grace is plenty, and you are always welcome.

As we continue life in a new house, we pray that it is exactly this kind of home. One where Christ reigns and community thrives. You are welcome. (Just give me a few weeks to unpack the boxes!)