Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why I love weeds (no, not that kind!)

One of the things I love most about living in a rural area is the variety of plants and animals that I get to see every day. For example, there is the grass.

The grass is everywhere. And out beyond the walls that mark where our yard begins, the grass is about three feet high. I only mow the grass in the yard around the house because, well frankly, mowing 16 acres of grass that’s three feet high would be exhausting, and futile. Plus, if I mowed all of that grass, I’d miss out on all of the wildflowers that have been blooming for the past month!

I have learned that if I’m going to take a walk out along the prayer paths at The Oasis Renewal Center, I had better not bring my camera, because if I do, my “walk” won’t be more than about 15 feet, and I will spend the next two hours taking pictures of weeds. I mean, wildflowers.

Most of the flowers around here probably are classified as weeds. Some are tiny, they grow in and amongst the grasses, and they have weird names like Pignut,  Henbit Deadnettle, and Graham’s Nipple Cactus (not to be confused with Macdougal’s Nipple Cactus!) Many of these plants are considered to be a nuisance to farmers, ranchers and serious landscape architects. But if you look closely, they have the most beautiful flowers!

I believe humanity is the same. People are not weeds. Yes, some of us are a nuisance, and some are toxic and downright deadly. But everyone has some sort of beauty in them. You may have to look very closely; their ‘flower’ may be extremely tiny and well-hidden!

Does that mean that I think all people are good? No, I don’t. Read the latest headline news – that alone proves that they aren’t. In fact, most days I shake my head and think the majority of people suck. However, I do believe that human beings are created in God’s image. That means that we aren’t weeds – we all have a spark of the Divine in us. It may be very tiny and well-hidden, but it’s there.

You see, people aren’t entirely bad, or entirely good. We all have both aspects inside us at all times, and we are capable of displaying either one at any given moment. The trick is to express our best aspects most often. Just like the weeds displaying their gorgeous flowers.

“Consider how the lilies grow… not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass of the field….He will take care of you!...Seek God’s kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12: 27-28, 31)

Is there a map for a spiritual journey?

Your Spiritual Journey is uniquely your own. You may have figured out by now that there is no One-Size-Fits-All, road map for your journey to a relationship with God. I kind of wish there was. It would be so much easier to just open up Spiritual Enlightenment for Dummies, and follow the instructions!

Spiritual formation (another term for Spiritual Journey) never occurs in a straight line. We can't just do a few specific things in a certain order and become a mystic! Sometimes the spiritual journey feels like an uphill hike, sometimes like a leisurely stroll, and sometimes it feels like you're backtracking (or even falling off a cliff!) There are stops along the way where you have to catch your breath, and other places where you have to run to keep up!

That is why
a labyrinth is a terrific metaphor for your spiritual journey. The path in a labyrinth twists and turns; sometimes getting close to the center and then abruptly turning away. Along the path you may encounter other people and walk beside them for a time, and other times you may walk alone.

The goal of walking a labyrinth is to reach the center - a metaphor for communion with God - but then walk back out, by the same path you came in.

That may seem counter-intuitive, yet it perfectly describes the spiritual journey! People do not live in a constant state of enlightenment. We may become spiritually aware, or have an encounter with the Divine, but we still have to return to our lives in the world. The difference is that we can take our spiritual awareness with us. The journey never ends.

Come to The Oasis Renewal Center and walk our labyrinth with me!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Can you see the Forest or just the trees?

We’ve all heard the expression “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” It usually refers to someone who is so wrapped up in the details of something; they cannot see the whole picture. And this really happens! In 2008, satellite imagery found the outlines of an ancient Mayan city in Guatemala, and in 2013, another Mayan city was “discovered” in Mexico – just 15 miles from a bustling town.

Why didn’t anyone know those ancient Mayan cities were there? Because the buildings and temples were covered with 1,000 years’ worth of trees, dirt, and jungle overgrowth - people thought the tree covered ‘hills’ were just that - hills! The nearby residents were too close to see the bigger picture, and in this case, couldn’t see the Mayan cities for the trees!

Sometimes when we are too close to something enormous, we simply cannot see it.  This is why people need a Spiritual Director or a Spiritual Coach. We are often “too close” to our own lives, and we cannot see God working in and around us!

A Spiritual Coach, is someone who comes alongside you to observe how God is at work in you, and bring it to your notice. A Coach can help people discern where God is calling them, reveal their hidden need for time with God, or identify why their prayer life seems stuck. Contrary to the title, a  Coach doesn’t tell anyone what to do – your relationship with God is not a formula or a program to follow.  However, they can often see the bigger picture and help you see beyond the details.

So what does a Spiritual Coaching session look like?

At The Oasis Renewal Center, sessions may look a lot like a friendly conversation over a cup of coffee, between you and me (I am an RCA-trained Spiritual Coach.) But in the middle of this conversation, I might notice that there is a theme running through your dialogue, and ask questions to help you clarify that theme; connecting it to the direction God is leading you.

Or perhaps your session will occur while we are taking a walk. During the conversation, I may sense an underlying emotion that is being avoided when you talk about your faith. I might say something like, “It sounds like you are disappointed with God; that God didn’t ‘show up for you’ in the way you imagined He would. Is that what you are feeling?”

Sometimes we already have the answers we are looking for, but we can’t find them until we hear ourselves speaking. Often just talking about our faith practices with a Coach will help us identify that answer. For example, Simon was concerned that he kept getting distracted during his prayer times, and mentioned that he prayed at his desk where his computer is. Just as he was saying this, he realized that he allowed the incoming email tone to divert his attention! I (his Spiritual Coach) asked him how he might avoid that particular distraction, and his solution was simply not to pray near his computer; to find a different location for prayer! He knew the answer all along, but by talking it out with me, he “discovered” the problem, as well as the solution!

If you are having trouble seeing the forest for the trees, why not schedule a Personal Retreat and add a Spiritual Coaching session or two? A few days spent in the beautiful setting of The Oasis Renewal Center will change your whole outlook, and a Coaching session just might change your whole life! Check our calendar for available dates, and schedule your retreat online. Hope to see you soon!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Deacon David's update

The Oasis Renewal Center has been open a year now and we are amazed at the blessings God has given us, and we are so grateful for all of the help we have received along the way.  Thank You!

Susan and I are now living in Sonoita full time and making the adjustment to a simpler, more focused life.  We were without internet service for several days in July - seems the satellite system does not work in the rain and the Monsoons have started.  There have been lots of other challenges along the way.  Yet we know we are called to serve and we have never been so happy together.  We have made the Oasis our calling and our mission and we have been richly blessed.

Here are some of the highlights from the last year:

  • ·        In 2013 we had more than 25 guests come stay with us and grow closer to the Lord;

  • ·       This year we have had several larger groups, including 9 pastors one weekend and a church group of 8 adults, 5 kids (and a dog!) on another;

  • ·        In April we held a Men’s Retreat which was spectacular and transformative. All of the men who attended came away feeling closer to God and with a clearer understanding of His call in their lives;

  • ·        We had several individual and small group retreats through the spring; so far we’ve had more guests in the first half of this year than we had all last year!

  • ·        Roxy and Zorro proven their worth time and again as therapy dogs; providing unconditional love to everyone they meet.

We continue to work at making the Oasis a quiet, relaxing and safe retreat for those who want to get closer to God.  We finished the process of drilling the new well even after the drill rig almost sank into the mud! 

We have also been working on the walking paths and gardens around the property. The Oasis is located on 16 rolling acres, covered in Oak and Juniper – teeming with wildlife. Our walking paths provide the opportunity to pray and reflect in solitude or with others.  We now have more than a mile of walking paths.  This fall we will be planting raised garden beds, and installing irrigation and drains.  Next spring we will plant a variety of fruits and vegetables that will feed us and our guests. 

We have been blessed with so much support and are very grateful to all of those who have helped.  Our goal is to continue to improve the property and the amenities to create a restful and worshipful place for everyone who wants to be closer to God.  We received more than $30,000 in donations in the past year from a number of generous donors.  This year we are hoping to fund several new projects and every donation helps, no matter how small. 

If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider volunteering some of your time to help us at the Oasis.  We will provide lodging and great meals in exchange for some help around the property.  There is plenty to do no matter what your skill level.  And up here in the mountains the weather is fantastic and cool, unlike the Valley of the Sun (or the “Surface of the Sun,” as it is fondly referred to during the summer).  Come visit!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why God is like GPS

* This post originally appeared on That Reformed Blog.

As far as I can tell, God is a being of few words. God speaks to people on a need-to-know basis and doesn’t seem interested in providing all the details to us humans when God leads us somewhere. Jesus was notorious for saying simply “Follow me.” I’m guessing that Jesus himself didn’t get a lot of detail when God told him to head into Jerusalem. I think God has always been this way.

When God told Abram to leave Haran and head toward Canaan, there were precious few details. The first sentence in Genesis chapter 12 pretty much sums it up: The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

God promised that He would make Abram a blessing to all of the people on earth, but God didn’t really provide any further details.  And apparently Abram wasn’t the kind of guy to worry about such things, because verse 4 simply says, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.”
Of course, we all know the rest of the story. Abram went where God led, grew old, had his name changed to Abraham, had a couple of kids, became the patriarch of three of the world’s great religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), yada, yada, yada. 

So here’s the thing. Would you have packed up and left, if you were in Abram’s shoes?

Obedient faith isn’t as easy as it sounds. And I’m sure all Abram’s neighbors thought he’d lost his mind.

In Matthew 19 and in Mark 10, we find the story of a rich young man who really wants to be seen as obedient and faithful. He asks Jesus what he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus of course tells him to obey all the commandments, and the young guy proudly states that he has always done that, since he was a child. Then Jesus tells him, “Sell everything you own and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

That particular young man couldn’t bring himself to do that. He couldn’t leave everything behind and go where God was leading. 

So again, I ask: Would you have sold everything you own and followed Jesus, if you were in this young man’s shoes?

Obedient faith is appealing on some level, but downright terrifying on another. 

For the past six months or so, my husband and I kept getting the feeling that we were being called by God to make a huge change in our lifestyle. The “sell everything you own and follow me” verse kept popping up whenever either of us read the Bible, spoke with other people, or even watched TV. It was getting kind of annoying, to be honest. I felt like I was being hit over the head with a 2 x 4. 

So we did it.

In truth, we didn’t sell everything we owned. 

We gave it away. 

And actually, we did keep a few things – books, some clothes, pots and pans, family photos, our bedroom furniture. But at the end of May, we gave away about 75% of our possessions, put our house up for sale and moved from Scottsdale, to a tiny rural town in southeastern Arizona called Sonoita. When I say tiny and rural, I mean it’s really a spot where two roads happen to cross, halfway between Tucson and the border of Mexico. There are more cows than people here.

God told us to move here and operate The Oasis Renewal Center, a small Christian retreat center. There really is no other way to explain it! God didn’t give Abram any details, and God didn’t give us any either, other than telling us to go. 

My husband says it’s like the difference between Mapquest and GPS. With Mapquest you can see your entire route from point A to point B before you even leave, with all of the minuscule details of the trip highlighted. Some of those details crack me up: Turn left out of your driveway and proceed to the corner of your street, before taking a right on Main Street.  Really?

God operates more like GPS. With GPS you don’t get the complete picture ahead of time. All you get is a disembodied voice that suddenly says, “In 500 feet, turn left.” That might be helpful if I knew how far 500 feet actually was. Inevitably, the next thing I hear is “Recalculating. Make a U-turn, then turn right in 100 feet.”

I have to say that on one level, being obedient and faithful and going where God is leading has been enormously gratifying and very freeing. I love the view of the surrounding mountains, the stunning sunsets, the hummingbird that nests by our front door, and the complete and utter lack of traffic. God is present here, and I am constantly amazed at how clearly I can hear the Holy Spirit speak in the silence of our back patio. We have been given the opportunity to welcome people into our home and allow them the chance to relax and connect with God.  It is both very humbling and an honor at the same time.

On another level it has been downright terrifying, and a true test of patience. The house we live in now has no closets, and is much smaller than our old house. The monsoon rains arrived with a vengeance, soaking all the boxes we had temporarily stored in our garage. Apparently the rain affects satellite internet transmission, so our internet coverage is sporadic, at best.  I still can’t find my hairbrush, and I’m not sure if it got packed or given away. And lots of people we left behind in Scottsdale think we lost our minds. 

Nevertheless, we clearly heard God telling us to move to Sonoita and open a retreat center. And so far, we have not heard, “Recalculating. Make a U-turn…”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I apologize for my recent absence from the blogosphere.

My husband and I recently moved from the very trendy, bustling city of Scottsdale; to a tiny, rural town in southeastern Arizona called Sonoita. When I say tiny and rural, I mean it’s a crossroad halfway between Tucson and the border of Mexico. There are maybe 800 people living in the general vicinity, and not a stop light in sight. 

Along with all the other lifestyle adjustments I’ve had to make - a smaller home with no closets, actual cowboys living nearby, a skunk who believes our dogs to be hostile invaders, and the nearest Target being 30 miles away – I am learning the ins-and-outs of something called Satellite Internet.

Apparently when you move to a rural area, the cable company no longer knows how to find you. They could look on Google Maps (our house is there! really!) but apparently they haven’t thought of that. So cable internet is not available in this area. OK, no big deal - I went online via my phone to find out what my options were. 

My options were 1) No internet, or 2) Satellite Internet. That was it.

The online ads for satellite internet were promising. “Faster downloads!” “Broadband on demand!” “Leave dial-up behind forever!” (Dial-up?!? Is that still a thing?) I signed up.

The satellite dish arrived the next morning with a friendly, chatty guy who hooked everything up and gave me the grand tour: basically, there’s a dish on my roof, which is connected to a modem in my office, which we hooked up to the WiFi router. I was good to go!

My home page popped right up on my screen! Emails arrived in my inbox! This is good, I thought. And then I tried to load my Oasis Renewal Center website. It. Took. For...ev…er. Well, I thought, maybe it’s just that particular server. So I tried to bring up the national news. By the time the news page loaded, three countries in the Middle East had disarmed, signed a peace treaty, broken it and bombed one another. 

This. Is. Slooooow. Internet.

OK, then. I have deliberately simplified my lifestyle, and am trying to live a more balanced life. Slower internet is just one of those things that I will have to get used to, I decided. While I wait for pages to load, I can do deep breathing exercises. This will center me, and lower my blood pressure, right? A win-win! Besides, who needs instant access to Facebook, Twitter and Not me! Breathe in….breathe out….
Three days later, the annual monsoon arrived. The Arizona monsoon is an amazing phenomenon. Rain and cooler temperatures cause the desert flowers to bloom, and the grass to turn green. The sky becomes an ever-changing panorama of captivating colors like purple, orange and red; and gives rise to enormous white thunderclouds that tower above the mountains. Those clouds open up and we get most of our yearly rainfall during the monsoon. 

As I breathed in the scent of fresh rain, and pulled on a sweater (It had cooled off to 67 degrees on the 4th of July) I opened up my laptop and… nothing. The little WiFi icon read, “no internet access.” Hmmm. 

I called Customer Support. The perky woman with the Mumbai accent on the other end of the phone asked me if it was raining where I was. (Really?) I explained that it had rained earlier, but the sky was clear at that moment. 

She said, “Well, sometimes rain can disrupt the satellite reception. The problem should resolve itself when the rain stops.”

Now, I’m no expert on computers or the internet, but I wondered; exactly how did that work? Did the internet signal waves get pummeled by large, intimidating raindrops, turn around and run home? Did lightening vaporize the satellite signal? Was the satellite programmed to shut down in case of rain? Would an umbrella help? Or maybe all those digital 1’s and 0’s just slid off the wet satellite dish? If so, there should be a large pile of them in the backyard. 

This is insane! How can rain knock out the internet!? 

Oops, almost forgot. Breathe in….breathe out…
Anyway, I guess I’ll get back online after the monsoon, assuming “the problem resolves itself when the rain stops” sometime in September. Meanwhile, I’ll be here. Breathing.