A Heart Adjustment

Yesterday I finished an intensive three-week course at our church called the Life Training School (LTS for short). It covered basic foundational teachings about who God is, how He functions, and what it means to walk with God in every area of our lives, teachings that were both simple and incredibly profound. While it presented good information, the course was more about genuine encounter with God than it was about knowledge. We joked that perhaps it should be called the Life Transformation School instead (which is actually what I originally thought LTS stood for already – oops), after we heard testimony after testimony (around fifty of them) of how God had encountered individuals during those three weeks. Someone aptly compared the course to a three-week chiropractic session for the heart, where every time we met, God shifted something else back into alignment with His ways and character.

Some of the testimonies we heard were incredible and there’s a part of me that still struggles with comparing myself to others, comparing my testimony to theirs. The final night we met, though, as I reflected on what God had done for me during the week, I pictured myself handing God my testimony, small and handwritten, and Him saying “It is enough”. So here it is – not as funny or flashy as some, but uniquely mine and a testimony of a real God working in real ways in my life.

LTS Testimony*

I showed up at LTS, unsure of what exactly to expect. Because I knew I would be coming straight from work most evenings, I was a little afraid that I would be too tired to receive or really engage in the teachings. God met me so faithfully each time we gathered, though, even on the nights when I walked in tired or distracted by the day. I feel like the realization of His faithfulness in meeting me, even when I did little more than get myself into my seat, set the stage for some of the most significant shifts in my heart during the course.

A huge part of LTS for me was learning to embrace the simplicity of choosing God. The teachings about bitterness and about the walls we build around ourselves highlighted the impact of my choices. Although I realized how some of my choices led to years of hurt and wrong-relating, I was deeply encouraged by the realization that just as that hurt came from simple choices, I can just as simply choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. I can choose to believe what God says rather than the lies I have heard. Over and over, I can (and did, during these three weeks) choose life instead of death. Not that this will always be easy, but it is simple. It does not require me to figure it all out (I appreciated Graham’s analogy, comparing our ability to receive from God without understanding exactly how He works with our ability to eat and receive nourishment from food without understanding all the complexities of how digestions works). As someone who tends to overthink and overanalyze, this was a significant realization for me.

LTS also drew out some lies that I still believed about who God is as a Father. In particular, I realized during that first week that I still believed that God plays favorites. Of course, if you had asked me, I would have told you I believed that God loves all His children equally. As I listened to and processed the teachings about God as Father, though, I began to realize that the way I lived and the ways I interacted with certain people revealed a persistent belief that God really does like some people more and that I would always be excluded from a certain measure of His affection. During LTS, I repented of this wrong belief about who God is and chose to believe the truth that God is a good Father and that as a good Father, He loves all of His children. During my one-on-one prayer time, God affirmed His love for me and for the unique ways that He has made me. At one point, He showed me a picture of His hand pulling a rolled up sheet of yellowed sheet music from a box and spoke to me about the beauty of the song that He has is singing through my life, a song that He specifically and very carefully chose for me. That picture drove deep the reality that “God made me the way He likes me and He likes me the way He made me.” I believe that as I learn to walk more securely in that truth, it will not only affect the way I interact with God, but will also impact my marriage and other significant relationships in my life as I continue to let go of striving and other aspects of the persona I have built up to protect myself.

*This is the testimony I wrote and handed in at the end of the course.

Shed Your Shoes

This weekend over a hundred of us from the Boiler Room caravanned out to Prairie Star Ranch for the annual spring retreat, a refreshing blend of vacation, family reunion, and deep times with the Lord. We had sweet moments of worship together, powerful clusters of prayer for one another, large meals together, a bonfire every night, and hours of free time to wander through woods and along lakes. My sunburned neck bears witness to the hours I spent outside, surrounded by beauty. My heart, likewise, was deeply marked by the personal ways that God reaffirmed my identity in Him over the weekend and highlighted several places in my heart He wants to sift.

After lunch on Saturday, I found myself with a large chunk of free time, so I meandered down around the lake. To be honest, I was grumbling to the Lord a bit about how I just wanted to feel loved (more and more lately I have been aware of this desire rising up in my heart – and recognizing the ways I tend to respond to that desire – so the Lord and I have been working through that together).

Eventually, still grumbling a bit, I moved away from the Lake and into the woods. As I wandered down the path, I remembered how, as a child, I had loved exploring the words around my grandpa’s cabin in central Michigan. I spent hours there, wading in the creek, balancing on logs, and collecting colored stones, wildflowers, and tiny frogs, treasures of the woods. As I recalled those memories, I felt God encouraging me to explore like a child again.

So I rambled down towards the stream, where I found a pile of shoes discarded along the banks. I could hear children’s voices and laughter from around the bend. Remembering the Lord’s encouragement to explore like a child, I shed my own sandals and waded into the stream. I followed it until I found the cluster of Boiler Room children, feet submerged in the water as they scooped up tiny frogs. There were hundreds of these frogs along the stream. They hopped into the leaves and jumped into the stream every time we took a step, the patter of dozens of tiny bodies launching and landing sounding like raindrops. I marveled with the children at the frogs’ tiny webbed feet, the mottled brown and green of their backs, and the kicking motion they made as they swam away through the water.

It was while we waded through the stream, collecting frogs, that we saw them: mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, though. Morel mushrooms. We spotted just a few at first, their spongy tops jutting out from the bank of the stream by an old dead tree.

I pointed them out to the children and one exclaimed, “Those are the ones my dad likes!”

When we went closer, scrambling up the muddy bank to reach them, I saw that there were more than just a few. I could see dozens of them scattered around the tree, peeping out from under leaves and barely hidden behind logs.

We picked a few to bring back with us, carrying them like fragile trophies as we waded back down the stream. As we splashed back through the water, the Lord began to speak to me about how this is the way we treasure hunt with Him, when we become like children. We cast aside our shoes and our grown-up agendas to simply explore, delighting in even the simple things: the slippery brush of moss under our feet, the flutter of frogs’ feet on our hands, a crayfish scuttling through the water. In the midst of this, we find treasure.

Later that afternoon, I returned with a friend to collect more of the mushrooms. We filled a produce box and had still only gathered about half of them. The following day, a group of us returned again and collected the rest, filling more bags and boxes to carry back home. I felt like this treasure, though a personal gift from the Lord, was meant to be shared, so I set aside a few for Derek and I and invited people to come take what they wanted of the rest.

When we came home Sunday afternoon, I cleaned my mushrooms and soaked them in salt water for a few hours, then sautéed them in butter with asparagus and tortellini. They were incredible, so tender and full of flavor. Delicious.

Another Anniversary

This weekend we celebrate the Kansas City Boiler Room’s five-year anniversary (as well as the eleven-year anniversary of the first 24-7 prayer room launching in Chichester, England). We threw a birthday party to celebrate, complete with worship, stories about the beginning of the 24-7 prayer movement and the Boiler Room, slideshows of (sometimes ridiculous) pictures from the past five years, a piñata for the kids, and a fair amount of good food.

I had heard some of the stories before, but some chapters of the Boiler Room’s history were new to me. As I sat and listened to these stories about a small group of passionate twenty-somethings trying to love Jesus and each other, I was so aware of how new we are here to this community, of how we’ve stepped into a place already pulsing with a history of vibrant relationships and crazy God encounters.

And yet, Adam was right in saying that these aren’t just their stories, belonging to their small group of friends; these are our stories. And in some ways, these stories are a piece of my story. The Boiler Room community and the larger 24-7 Prayer community have been a part of my journey with the Lord long before we moved to Kansas City.

Before I even moved Toledo, before I ever heard of the Boiler Room or had any clue that something like 24-7 prayer existed, God was using them to set the stage for my encounter with Him. The year before I moved to Toledo, Luke Gilkerson, the campus minister of ACT (Active Christians Today) at the time, read Red Moon Rising and God began to birth in him a vision for prayer. In the early fall of 2005 Derek (obviously not my husband yet; I didn’t even know he existed at that point!) sat down with Luke and they exchanged stories of these crazy prayer movements that God was doing, Derek sharing about IHOP (the International House of Prayer) and Luke sharing about Red Moon Rising and 24-7 Prayer. ACT had their first 24-7 prayer week and moved into a season of a focus on prayer and intimacy with God.

And so in the fall of 2006, I came in to ACT, a searching, academic-addict who wasn’t sure what she believed about much of anything but who desperately wanted to find an authentic experience of Christian community. When Luke shared some of the revelation he’d received about the importance of spending time with the Father, the truth of his words cut straight to my heart and I was floored by the realization that I could do nothing, no great work or service, more important than spending time with God. A week later I signed up for an early morning prayer slot to give it a try. There in that little basement room, I met Him in a more profound, more real way than I ever thought possible. I encountered the stunning reality that God was there in the room with me and that He wanted to speak to me. It changed my life completely (how could it not?). Suddenly, in that encounter with God in the prayer room, the story of 24-7 prayer, with it’s network of friends and communities spanning countless nations, became my story, my history, too.

That experience produced a hunger in me for God’s presence as I returned to the prayer room day after day, even after the prayer week ended. I longed to see others encounter God in a real and personal way, to experience that same beautiful intimacy with him. Eventually I left school but returned to ACT to work as a prayer intern for a semester. Over the following months (years) as I helped with and prayed into prayer week after prayer week, I followed the story of 24-7 through newsletters. Through the shifting and struggles of my final year in ACT, when I ached with a desire to see passion and faithfulness arise there again, itched with frustration at the apathy around me, and wrestled with my own hurts and loneliness, those stories were a source of hope and encouragement to me. So much of what I read put words to the longings in my heart. I seriously considered joining Transit that fall (apparently I inquired about it in the midst of their transition from Kansas City to Madison) and at one point sent Wendy Andrews a rather lengthy, somewhat desperate e-mail asking for prayer. As I paced through the empty prayer room and carried the torch of prayer largely on my own for that season, it encouraged me knowing that there were other people with the same passion who were standing with me in prayer, even from across the country.

Later, when I had moved on to the Lewis House, 24-7 prayer popped up again in my life. George and Sarah had gone to visit the Stockbridge Boiler Room in Grand Rapids and brought home a copy of Punk Monk, chronicling the story and vision of the Boiler Rooms. They liked it enough that they ordered copies for everyone in the house and we read through it together. Once again I found the words echoing the dreams and longings of my heart. We began putting together prayer and soaking rooms in the house (my favorite was our prayer closet, a literal “boiler room” complete with a hot water heater!) and hosted several 24-7 prayer times. Though it was just a season there, God used that time to solidify my certainty that I am called, in whatever context I find myself, to the place of prayer and to creating a space for people to encounter God.

When Derek and I followed God’s calling to pack up our lives and move to Kansas City this past March to join the Boiler Room community, in some ways it felt like the most natural continuation of the story God has been writing in our lives for years.

So on Sunday, as we gathered with the Boiler Room to celebrate their birthday and hear their story, my heart soared in thankfulness for the way God has used the faithfulness and vision of this little band of friends to bring fruit not only in their community, but in lives and communities all across the nations. Including mine.

May God continue to bless this community and their devotion to Him and one another!