Posted in Faith

Ripple effects and warm fuzzies

What’s the best moment in teaching?

Most teachers would probably say the “light bulb moments”. After all, you’re connecting with a student and they are finally “getting it”. Isn’t that what makes the job the most satisfying?

And I would half-agree. Because seeing the “light bulb moments” brings a sense of pride over the one teaching. To know that someone heard and understood something that was said? It’s a victory moment. And these don’t happen necessarily every day: the actual visualization of an a-ha moment, where there’s a head nod, or a student actually says, “Ah” or “oh”. No, these moments are a delight when they take place. Savor them.

I only half-agree with the “light bulb moments” answer because though I do love seeing the comprehension take place as wheels spin behind the eyes, there is another moment that takes the cake.

The best moments in teaching for me, are when I see a drop become a ripple when there is a word or a story from another student and suddenly the wave catches. When I can start a question and see the ripple effect in the room, I have the opportunity to sit back and watch God do what He does:

Spread. Multiply. Fan. Flourish. Engage. Invite. Connect.

I teach Bible study at my home church on Tuesday evenings and as a leader with the spiritual gift of teaching, I know the weight that is on my shoulders. Yes, I have the honor of sharing the truth of the gospel with women in our church once a week, and my hope is always that the participants “catch” the message God has for us to get that night. But I also need to stay true to Scripture, not add or subtract from it, and lead the ladies to read and dig deeper. I am accountable for every word spoken in Jesus’ name.

My goal is to stay humble, read the text, get the conversation rolling and let the Holy Spirit take over. But not every week follows that pattern. And it’s okay. The Holy Spirit is not a sideshow act in a circus. He is the main event as we read and study God’s Word. Each week, we grow and seek Him more and more. I don’t need a sticker at the end of the night or a sign from Heaven to know I’m doing the right things, just an obedient heart to continue to follow my call, and a desire to let Him lead.

But, I’ll admit I get emotional when during a question, someone speaks up and begins to start a dialogue, and I can feel the temperature in the room change. It gets warmer.

Fences come down.

The other ladies lean in closer.

The speaker opens up a little more.

Words spill out and heads start to nod in agreement.

Tears well up, arms reach out and comfort is extended.

Bonding happens so quickly sometimes, and one of the most beautiful things to witness is human compassion. Empathy from one sister to another. When we realize in the course of time we spend together that we’re not in competition, we’re united in Christ. We don’t know all of the answers, but we will find them together. And when someone opens up about something so deep, to have other empathetic women nearby to listen (really listen) and encourage each other, show grace, mercy and love to the speaker, it warms my heart and spreads warm fuzzies like wildfire.

And I think, This is what it’s like when the Holy Spirit is fanned. This is what it’s like when we don’t hold back from our childlike responses. This is what uninhabited love is among believers. This is what it’s like to sense our Lord smiling on us, for loving beyond our own pain, and for reaching out to step into someone else’s.

It is so incredibly beautiful to witness, and I find almost every week, that there are precious moments tucked in each encounter during teaching. They might not be as glaring as tonight’s event was, but each moment of connection and compassion gets me excited about what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus – unhindered from performance, comparison, expectations or perception.

Raw beauty is not an image in a magazine. It is seen in the vulnerable hearts of women who are able to offer something out of their own deficit, simply because they know and believe that Jesus wants them to give. It’s recognizing that the Lord is so present when we are gathered together and loves when we are united.

Jesus prayed for our unity in the garden before He was killed.

Found in John 17: 20-23 
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Imagine, the King of Kings humbly asking His Heavenly Father for unity for those who would follow Him and bear His name. It matters that much! And in this time of my life, in our society where everyone is offended so easily or so quick to judge others without hearing someone’s story, I love the teaching moments where I get to witness women breathe life into other women.

We all need it. We all have lies we fight every day from the enemy:

I’m not good enough.

I don’t matter.

I have nothing to say.

God won’t come through for me.

I’m worthless.

I’m not worth fighting for.

Etc.

Women have a gift of nurturing that is unmatched, when walls come down. And it’s such a remarkable way of God showing us through each other that we can see beauty in each other, even amidst pain and heartache.

Tonight, we started a new study. I had a few veterans and some new blood in the room. And before I left my home, I prayed as I always do: to let the Lord bring whomever needed to be there, and to help me help them find Him. “Keep me humble, so they can see You, Lord, and teach us what You want us to know.”

Would you believe: He always comes through on His end? He’s so faithful!

And yet, tonight, there was a different spark in our room. I got the sense that the room was uninhibited from the beginning of our class. I went over the logistics of our inductive study, read about John Mark, prayed and went to my planned setup. And when I sensed the Holy Spirit taking over, I relented.

Those are the best teaching moments.

All Glory to God!!

Posted in Faith

In the wait… and other ramblings

Change.

What type of emotion does that word evoke in you when you read it?

I know many of us can read that word and feel a sense of hope if we are looking for a way out of a particular job, situation or life event.

Or we may feel the opposite.

What if we are content where we are? Then out of nowhere, a boss, spouse or friend uses this word in a discussion and we know there will be some effort on our part to adapt.

Deep breath…

Many times in my life, I can say I’ve felt the effects, both positive and negative, of that word.  Some of the changes in my life were brought on by something I decided to do on my own, and others were done as a result of prayer or wise counsel that led me to take a step.  The reason I bring it up is that I am in a season with the Lord where I am waiting on Him. I’ve been spending much time in prayer about something, and where I’m hopeful and expecting a change, I’m afraid He may ask me to stay where I am.

Have you ever felt that way?  Does your prayer life ebb and flow?

What does that say about our spiritual lives?  We say we are willing to follow Jesus and put our trust in Him, but if He decides to change our circumstances, life situations, physical living locations, etc., are we willing to obey?

I’m a woman.  Being told to wait usually doesn’t sit well with me.  In my assessment of where I’m at, I’ve pretty much figured out all of the details on my next step, if He would just hurry up and approve my decisions already…

Ah, but you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

If you know me personally, you know that I took a step of faith in a direction for school, only to have the Lord lovingly rebuke me in February of this year, tell me to withdraw and focus on my family.  I had rushed through a prayer time with Him and taken what I thought was a clear step for me, and in retrospect, it was covered with red flags relationally with my husband.  Where I wanted to excel (my GPA was right where I wanted it, my grades were significantly high, the material easy to understand, the schedule overwhelming, but all students have problems with that, right?), God wanted me to sloooooooooooow down.  This relationship with Him is sure breaking down who I was…

Do you want to know the truth?  

The deepest part of me wants to be told to slow down.

I know that when I get so focused on something, it’s easy to push everyone away and just DO IT.

I don’t need anyone, and I’VE. GOT. THIS. becomes my mantra.

But there’s something that has happened in the last eight years.  I have realized many things about myself that I believe all women need to understand.  Face it, though we are all uniquely created in the image of God, we struggle with the same things when it comes to value.  Trust me, we could talk for hours about our issues, and we would all come up with the same answer: WE ARE BROKEN AND IN NEED OF SOMEONE TO RESCUE US.

Remember as a child, when you got into trouble, and were told to go to your room or were placed in a corner for a timeout?  Some days, I wish someone would tell me to go take a nap and come back when I feel better.  As adults, we are deprived of such direction.  We are over the age of twenty-0ne, so we should know how to do these things by ourselves, yet we just keep adding to the schedule and figure at some point over the weekend, we’ll end up in blankets on the couch watching reruns of Person of Interest instead of looking at the clock and realizing Monday morning is just hours away and the cycle of waiting begins again.

If you’re like me, I’d like to give you some hope.

During this season with the Lord, I have read sections of the Bible I’ve never even thought to look at.  I’ve had verses come to mind that I learned years ago that have carried me through.  The Holy Spirit has brought peace into otherwise anxious situations, all because He can and because I’m learning to trust Him with those times.  I’ve seen miracle after miracle in my reactions to those who have previously hurt me and I am thankful.  I can forgive, love and move on without hesitation.  I have grace as my first response, which is so unlike me, and it just confirms that God is at work in my life.

And do you want to know something cool?  The Bible says that this is considered holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-16 shares the following truth, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”  He is speaking to believers.  This passage is PACKED with hope and newness for us.  What does this mean?

It means that while we are in our human physical form, after we accept Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit who helps to transform us into the likeness of Jesus.  I want to be clear.  We aren’t perfect as believers.  We aren’t above anyone.  We will never be.  Jesus actually expects us to put others first ALL OF THE TIME.  And if you struggle with selfishness, take that to God in prayer.  He may be requiring you to repent and surrender that part of yourself.

When you became a believer, you were changed from death to life, not a bad person to a good person.  The work of the Holy Spirit is something the Lord does for us as we surrender.  But before I get off on a tangent, being holy means that we begin to manifest Christlike attributes that are contrary to our human nature.  They are supernatural and can be seen by everyone, believer and unbeliever alike.  God wanted us to be different so that those who are lost can see the difference and desire to know more.  This is not done by picketing events we’ve judged, or ranting on social media when someone who is lost ACTS like a lost person…we are to love as Christ loved.  See Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus commands us to love God first and others as we love ourselves.

I’m still not looking forward to staying put right now, but I have seen Christ in action in my life, and want to continue to walk in His holiness as I learn how to be more like Christ.  I know that He must be preparing me for something I’m not ready for yet, and He still has work to do.  The knowledge that He has my best interest at heart is reassuring.  But it also means that since I’ve agreed to follow Jesus, the plans I have laid out for myself, may have NOTHING to do with God’s will for my life.  So I have to be obedient and continue to trust in the wait.  Many other people throughout God’s Word were told to wait and also benefited from having a deeper relationship with Him as a result.

Do I have hopes and dreams and desires that I know would benefit the Kingdom of God?  YOU BETCHA…but I also don’t want to supersede His will like I’ve done in the past.  I want to continue to trust His will and surrender the part of me that is following my womanhood.  I know He knows the outcome of my life, and I am willing to wait.

Posted in Faith

Encounter- Being Romanced

In the woods of Du Bois, Pennsylvania, I encountered God in a way I’ve never encountered Him before.

Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA
Panoramic shot taken by Grace Hejnal, October 27, 2013 in DuBois, PA

Leaves were changing and the air was becoming cooler.  It was fall 2013, and I had been given the gift of time and money from my husband to leave home from October 24-29, to go through an intense personal spiritual journey with four other women from my home church, and get away to a secluded place to spend time with God.  We studied, cried, laughed, studied some more, answered deep questions, studied more and took personal time.  In between, we drank coffee, shared personal stories, cooked for each other, sat around in our pajamas, and gave each other personal space.

On Sunday morning, October 27, in lieu of church, our leader requested that we go to a place on the grounds of Treasure Lake that could allow us to have our quiet time with God, and to ask some deep questions our hearts had, because she was sure that He would answer them for us.  I had been on retreats before, so my personal “go-to” was my Bible and a journal in hand, but this time, I felt like I just wanted music.  I decided on a walk.  To where, I had no idea, but I knew I had an hour and a half to kill for my own personal “church”, so I figured I would just start walking and end up wherever the road took me.

Our leader took her earbuds and music, and headed left from our front door.  Another woman took her journal and went in another direction.  I put on my tennis shoes, coat and grabbed my iPod touch.  I checked my phone for the time, and headed out of the cabin.

Starting my journey, I prayed, “Lord, I want to experience you.  I love being outside, and I want to see you in a new way.   Thank you for this time with you this morning.”  

Going left, the road wound to the left, then right, then down, and I thought, “This will be interesting to just follow the road.”

I hit Play on my “Power in the Blood” playlist and then selected Shuffle.

Music filled my ears, and I tuned out the cold, brisk air that was hitting my face, and started walking.  I followed the curvy road for about five minutes, listening to Chris Tomlin, and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw something to the left of me.  I had passed a dumpster which was located in the back of one of the cabins, and when I had passed it, there was nothing there.  But when I turned back to see what my peripheral vision had caught, I saw the back part of a deer.  It had its nose to the grass and after sniffing slightly, it started to move forward, on the opposite side of the building I was on.

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My interest was piqued.  I grabbed my phone from my pocket and made sure all sounds were off, then turned the camera on.

So I began to modify my journey and I walked back around the building, careful to walk slowly.  The grass still had dew from the morning, and it had covered my tennis shoes already.  I wanted to be quiet, as not to startle the deer, and I wanted to know where the deer was going.

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He led me down a path that was not a path.  It was the center of the grass, in between the townhomes located on the property and he didn’t go in a straight line either.  I still listened to my praise music, but I had the volume low in my ears in case something scared the deer and I would have to reroute.  I followed slowly and tried not to step hard.  I was about twenty feet behind him.  And the whole time, I kept praying, “This is so cool, Lord, I wonder where he’s going…”

When we reached the bottom of the hill, the deer started to walk left a bit, and I must have made a noise in the grass.

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He stopped and looked back directly at me.  I held my breath, and didn’t move.  This shot was taken from my mid-abdomen and I was able to catch him looking directly at me, without having him get startled.  After about a full minute, he began his journey to the woods again.

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Another silent prayer: “Lord, is this you?  You knew that I would follow a deer, because I love your animals.  And you know I am curious.  Did you send him for me?  Is he taking me someplace special?”

Silence.  And stillness.

About this time, I was about twenty-five feet away from him, and walking even slower as the grass was super wet.  I didn’t want him to catch me, but I stayed behind him.  He was walking to the entrance of a wooded area.  The deer made it to the entrance and then it appeared that he went downward.

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I quickened my steps, checked my watch (I had been following him for a half hour already, and the townhomes were no longer in sight), and continued forward to the entrance.  Stepping over the log that was laying on the ground at the entrance, I scanned left and right.  The deer was not to be seen.  I tried to comprehend what I could remember.  When he was at the entrance, it looked as though he went over the log and down, but stepping over the log, the height of the ground did not change.  Where did he go?  The deer had completely disappeared.

“Lord, you led me here, didn’t you?”

Peace.

“Wow, what is this place?”

“Sanctuary.”

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Stepping into the wooded area, the bright orange, yellow and brown leaves were still clinging to the trees that canopied the entire area.  I took a few pictures with my phone, and then began walking.  The area I was in, was surrounded by trees, hills, and ledges, and they were covered with fallen leaves like a beautiful fall carpet.  It was a sanctuary.  There was a rock seat that I sat on, and prayed.

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I thanked God for the time to get away, relax and have my perspective changed about the women who had come.  We didn’t previously know each other very well, and had only had small encounters with each other at church and in small group studies on Wednesday evenings.

Over the course of our time together during that retreat, we admitted our fear at coming to an unknown place and spending so much time with people we didn’t know, and God changed all of that.  I thanked Him for the time to be still, to see the deer, and to be led by it.

He told me to explore, so I did.  I climbed some of the hills, took pictures, climbed down and walked further into the woods, sat and took pictures, and then at one point, after I said again that I wanted to experience Him, the following happened.

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I was walking forward down a small path inside of the wooded area, and I heard in my spirit, “Get low”, so as I was standing, I bent my knees.  He said, “Lower”, so I bent my knees even lower.

Then, the previously still, soundless wooded area seemed to come to life.  

To the right of me, I heard wind starting, and I turned my head, keeping my knees bent as requested.  I saw leaves dance on the trees with the wind’s movement, and slowly they cascaded to the left of me.  I felt the rush of wind go over me, and I closed my eyes as I felt the air pass.  And then the leaves continued to dance.  It was like a heavenly hug.

I will never forget that.

The feeling of the wind passing over me, the sound of the wind, the movement of color.  And then as my eyes watched the leaves to the left of me, where the wind seemed to stop, a deer began walking.  How long he had been there, I had no idea.  He looked smaller than the one God had used to lure me to the sanctuary.

 “Be still.”  

So, I stood, holding my breath again, and this time, the deer passed five feet in front of me, from the left to the right.  He didn’t stop to smell me, or get startled, he just slowly walked.  I have no idea how he didn’t sense me.

I was in awe, and wanted to shout from the treetops, but didn’t want to lose this precious moment.

The study over the course of the retreat that we had been working on, is called Captivating by Stasi Eldredge.  In her book, she explains that God has placed desires in our hearts as women: to be seen as beautiful, to have an irreplaceable role, and to be romanced.  These core desires are because God Himself has these desires, and since we are created in His image, we have these desires.

Praying while in the sanctuary, I learned that God is beautiful.  The leaves, the hills, the deer, the brook, the trails, the unbeaten paths, all of it is from Him.  We assume beauty is something of femininity, but it is of God.  Beauty is not just women.  It is the desire to produce something that can be delighted in, and appreciated.  Even when men work on cars or airplanes, they name them female names, because the objects are delighted in and appreciated.  Beauty is something we are all capable of producing.

God knows that I love adventures.  As a child, I never hesitated to explore the woods, ride my bike to new paths, and get away from the city streets.  I loved the woods, nature and quiet.  There was an area at the end of my street that would run behind some homes.  And at the end of it was a creek with trees all around.  I dubbed it, “My Walden” and would write and journal there as a teenager.  That has never left. me.  And He has used that desire within me to continue to go on adventures, with my husband in our marriage, in our faith, in our lives.

And the gift from the Sunday morning of my retreat was that God romances us.  Think of the many times in a fairy tale that a woman waits for someone to romance her, to be seen from across the room and make eye contact.  Many women want that feeling of being desired.

God drew me toward Him.  He answered my prayer for an encounter, to see Him in a new way.

He knew I would follow an animal.  And to follow that deer to the entrance of the place that God wanted to have “church” with me that morning was solely His doing.  He took me to a place that had a tree seat (not man made) and I was able to sit, listen to my music in there, be quiet, explore the many areas within the wooded area, and then to witness another deer pass directly in front of me.

I would never have been able to see that part of Him, had I not stepped away from the city, my crazy schedule, or my life.  I needed to get away, have a new perspective of Him, and He was willing to meet me in that place.  He wanted me to see how much He loves me, that He knows color excites me, and that He knew what it would take to get me to a place where He could romance my heart, and reassure me that He is real and loving, good and true, and aching to step into the empty places in our hearts that other desires have left bankrupt.

He desires that for all of us.  He wants to meet us in the places of our hearts that are so empty and alone.  He wants to heal the wounds that have left scars, and drained us emotionally, and tested our faith in Him.  But He wants us to take the first step.  It has to be because we desire to let the great Healer do the work.  He is our Jehovah-Rapha, “the God who heals”.

He won’t force us to do anything we don’t want to, because He has given all of us the ability to make our own choices.  But He will call you again and again and again and again, because He has a relentless pursuit for your heart.  The love that He has is incomparable to anything humans provide for each other.  We get just a small taste of the romancing that is offered to us by our King.  Human love is beautiful and adventurous, and it is because of our Father that we love and desire those things.  But the ultimate healing of our humanity is through what God did through the work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection to make sure we know it.

I pray that all of you are able to have an encounter with Jesus.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be on a hilltop in Pennsylvania, with no other distractions (although I highly recommend shutting off the smartphone with notifications to hear Him more clearly).  It needs to be a sincere question to our Heavenly Father.  “May I encounter you?  May I see you?”  He will gladly answer yes.

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