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In Sight of the Shepherd

ttronslien-9405Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (But I do, Lord. I want all kinds of things, especially things I don’t need.)

He makes me lie down in green pastures; (Yet I don’t rest. Or graze. I am active and busy, looking for tastier food, searching for more than you offer, filling my hours as I see fit.)

He leads me beside quiet waters. (And yet I am so thirsty. Why do I thirst?)

He restores my soul; he guides me in the path of righteousness for his name’s sake. (I feel fragmented, not restored, not always. The path isn’t always easy to find. Why do I wander and lose sight of it? Do you let me go?)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil (Oh, but I do. I fear every day. The world seems so big and dark around me) for you are with me (Are you? I’m on the precipice again and can’t see your face);

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (In the dark of the night, where do I go for comfort? Why does it flee from me? Some days the anxiety overtakes me, and comfort isn’t to be found.)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; (And yet I hunger. I don’t relax. Enemies surround me and come for my life. I have no appetite for a feast, but I faint in need of it.)

You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Then why do I look in that cup and see the bottom, staring up at me?  Why do I feel empty or alone or unprotected sometimes?)

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (But do I dwell now? If goodness is following, why do I run and hide so it can’t catch me?)

Still waters. Green pastures. A place to dwell. Comfort. Safety. A feast. But I resist, a roaming sheep. Hear my repentance, oh God, for not being a lamb, a child quiet at the breast. For running a frantic search for other things, listening for other shepherds. For running like a dog, to and fro, sniffing the wind for new scents. Your promises are life and love and security, yet I wander the stony cliffs, hanging from the edges, fearing a fall, when resting within your sight would bring me safety forever. Return to me the tender trust of a little lamb, toddling after its shepherd on scrawny legs, hiding beneath his robes and peering out in safety, tucked in the shepherd’s arms when the path is too rough to travel on his own legs. The lamb trusts, and he knows only warmth and security. I wish to be the lamb again, every day, hearing only your voice, following with no fear. Help me to let go of myself and be the lamb abiding in the shepherd’s care.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Smoldering Bones

file000535737211Seems blogging these days is largely the domain of young moms. Beautiful, spunky young moms who seem to have a lot of answers. Or very educated men, professors and scholars of all ages, also with answers. Or how about those with a bone to pick who want to steer a person in the right direction. And, of course, those people have lots of answers.

Then I toss my hat in the ring. Woman in her forties. Children mostly raised. Not an expert at anything, and glaringly lacking at answers. But here I am.

I’m also not the greatest sharer (is that a word??). Being vulnerable isn’t easy, but I’m working on it. Might be the biggest reason God wants me to do this. Having no answers also isn’t easy, not when it seems everyone else knows something. In my four decades, what I’ve learned best is that I don’t know much. But that’s what I have to share, so I need to do it.

I graduated with a degree in writing. Summa cum laude. With honors. I could write sensual romance, and I would make money. I could join the ranks of DIY bloggers or budget bloggers, and I might have large followings and be able to monetize my blog. Perhaps my dream of moving out of the suburbs and onto a big piece of land, my dream since I was eight, would come true. (See? I can share after all!!)

However, like the prophet Jeremiah, every time I open my mouth, God comes out. My fiction includes Christian romance with teen/college-age heroines and heroes. I write historical fantasy with a Christian bent. Let’s get real here. Nobody does that. It’s writing career suicide. And yet, Ruins on sunset over the ocean. Nature composition.whatever my plan when I start, most of the stuff I write comes out that way. It appeals to few. (I do have a couple non-genre-bending series in the works, including a contemporary Christian romance series, so perhaps God has taken pity on me, and I will put out something with more mass appeal. We’ll see.)

I don’t have a great niche for blogging except I’m old. No international adoptions in my past. I don’t have ten kids; I have four. No special needs kids. No time spent living abroad in missionary capacity. I don’t homestead or live off the grid. The only reason to read what I write is that God keeps saying Write Down Your Story. Maybe that means someone out there is supposed to read it.  Or perhaps I’m supposed to read it, and God will use my story in written words to speak truths to me that I missed the first time around.

Parents today like expert advice. They like new techniques. I don’t have those, but I can tell you what worked for me. And what didn’t. There are fancy new Bible studies out there with lovely photos and poetic prose about living the best spiritual life ever. I can tell you about falling on my face a million times but still sticking the course. I can talk about failure. I can talk about doubt. I can talk about victories and silver linings. I can say it with correct grammar and decent sentence structure, but beyond that, all I can do is keep it real and put it out there.

If you want all the answers or young, pretty bloggers or great inspiration, this isn’t the place. If you want someone who some days wants to throw in the towel and write what sells, envies success, you’re closer. If you want to read about a common soul with a lot of miles, including regrets, defeats, victories, joys, and tears, then welcome. It’s not always a pretty course, but it’s mine. I’d love to hold your hand and walk a few miles in the sunshine–and the rain–and chat about things.

And even if you don’t, I’ll still be here saying them.  When I don’t, it’s a fire shut up in my bones, or so says Jeremiah (chapter 20), and holding it in is worse than letting it out. I’ve quit blogging more than once, but I always get sent back here. So here I stand. Better than having smoldering bones.

A young girl shows a man where to put the boxIf you want to try my genre-bending fiction, check it out on this site or visit my author’s site www.JillPenrod.com.  view Mt Merapi from cangkringan, sleman, Indonesia

The Post Where I Talk in Public

file7871287265571I’ve talked about the conference I attended on the Holy Spirit. A lot. It made an impression. One sign of how big an impression happened the day after the conference, and that’s today’s tale.

I got an email a few hours after the conference stating those of us who attended could share our insights the next day during Sunday worship. In front of everyone. Now, my church isn’t huge, but that doesn’t matter. I struggle to talk in groups of three, so I saw the email, laughed it off, and went about my business.

Only I’m a blogger. A novelist. I have this thing about words. In my head I began to organize thoughts and create a short speech about what the weekend meant to me.

But I can’t stand up and say that, God. Are you kidding me?

What did you learn?

It doesn’t matter what I learned. I’ll have a panic attack. I can’t talk in front of everyone. There’s no way.

But what did you learn?

That you love me, always and forever, no matter what. That I’m a daughter. That you want to heal my life and use me.

Wait. Say that last part again.

That you want to heal my life?

Jill…

Okay, okay.  That you love me and and made me and, um, want to use me.

… 

Fine. But it will be awful. I just want you to know that.

So, church rolled around the next day. I had gone over the gist of my story five thousand times. If I found the courage to stand up, I knew what I would say. Truth was, I had been moved that weekend. Set free. Held close. Hugged by the Spirit himself. And that’s the kind of thing a person is supposed to share.

The pastor asked if anyone who attended the conference wanted to share. A couple did. And then, with what has to be the biggest spiritual push in the history of the world, I was on my feet. I tried to look around without seeing anyone, but I saw some genuine surprise. And my husband–I could feel him startle beside me. Giraffes could have paraded down the aisle and startled him less. (The post image above makes more sense now, doesn’t it??) After I finished and sat down, he put his hand on my back, and it said Good for you. I had no idea you would do that, but I’m happy you did. And if you have a heart attack in the next five minutes, I’m here to catch you.

I have no clue what I said. The speech made sense in my head, so maybe I kept to the script and it made sense to those who heard it. Maybe it was mumbled gobbledygook. But I did it. And that, dear reader, is more miraculous than physical healing. It’s nearly as miraculous as walking on water.

After service a few people thanked me for saying something. They are my family. They knew I had climbed out of my comfort zone. I’d entered a zone several galaxies off center. Maybe, if what I said made sense, the fact that it came from me, the silent girl, increased the impact of what I had to say. Regardless, it wasn’t awful. I didn’t die or make a fool of myself. The Spirit told me I was a daughter and he loved me. Then the body hugged me and shook my hand and agreed.

I am not moving on to the spiritual speaking circuit any time soon. But I’m starting to understand what it means to let God heal me and love me and use me. It’s rough sometimes. God doesn’t make it easy because the enemy doesn’t make it easy, and this is a kingdom at war. But it’s good. I don’t feel as much fear any more about sharing what’s happening in my spirit, in my life, in my walk. I’d rather do it with a couple friends or in a digital capacity where nobody has a face, but it’s good to know whatever he asks, he gives encouragement and pushes to make it possible. He’ll never drop me in a situation and leave me. He has my back, sometimes literally with the touch of a loving husband, sometimes spiritually.  But he doesn’t leave me alone when I do what he asks, and that’s good enough for me.

 

Next steps (The Date: part three)

dreamstimefree_662199I headed to day two of a conference about the Holy Spirit (check out day one here), less worried than the night before but still a little anxious, because that’s what I do.  I sat with people I knew this time, and I listened and waited while someone explained words of wisdom and healing prayers. Sometimes he gives us specific messages that will build up those around us. Sometimes he wants to use our prayers to heal others of their afflictions.

A woman from my church approached me that morning and suggested God had spoken to her about me, and she thought God wanted to heal me of my physical trouble here at the conference, my diabetes.  Strangely, although I would have loved that, I didn’t think it was the case.  But again, I know the mean girl in my head says I’m not worth much, that something huge like healing a decade-old chronic illness was more than God would do for me, and I’m trying to shut up that girl, so I pursued my friend’s words and asked her to pray for me.

Within five seconds of the prayer, I knew I was right, and this wasn’t about diabetes.  And I knew she’d heard from God about me, even though she had a couple details wrong.  As she prayed, she mentioned the belief that God was about to use me for something, to grow me up and send me out, and she prayed that things in my way–like a chronic illness–would be removed, that stumbling blocks and hindrances would be removed.

But I know me.  Diabetes is a pain, but it isn’t what stops me from doing what God wants.  If anything, it adds something to my life by humbling me and causing me to think through my priorities.  Doubt slows me down.  Fear slows me down.  Lack of trust, too.  They were what I wanted healed when I’d walked through the doors on Friday night, and now a woman of God was praying for them to go, even though she didn’t quite know that.

After my friend prayed with me, she took me to the front and asked another couple people to pray with me, and I admit I was afraid.  One of the men who was about to pray with me kind of scared me to death.  He is a wise man of God who seems more in tune with the Spirit than most people.  I had been afraid of him ever since I’d met him, because I was sure he’d look at me and say What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  You’re a pretender, a false Christian playing at being a daughter.  Go away.

But I approached him.  He put his hand on me.  And one of the first things he said was The Holy Spirit is all over you.

Bingo.  I could have gone home at that moment, because I’d gotten what I’d come for. I needed to hear that.  I feel a little bit ashamed that I didn’t trust those words from the Bible, that I had to hear them from somewhere else before I truly bought into them, but I guess that’s why God puts us in community, to encourage each other to believe truth.  And I believed.  And the tears poured.  And the man praying with me talked to me a bit, and I think he realized where I needed healing, because he asked for God to send me more joy, deepen that knowledge that I was loved, give me more of everything the Spirit has to offer.

It was an amazing weekend.  I wish I could remember every second of it. I wish my family had attended.  I walked out renewed, knowing that yes, I have things laid before me, likely things that aren’t easy for me.  One result is that I’ve chosen to blog again and share what God does in my life.  Another has to do with deepening my prayer life.  Being more diligent in the Word, both studying it, meditating on it, letting it–and the presence of God–infuse my life in new ways. Being less fearful of people so I can perhaps again hug a stranger or pray with someone and share words from the Spirit with him or her.

I don’t know what’s coming, not in the short term.  But I’m more confident of the long term than I’ve been in a very long time.  I’m a daughter.  Dad has plans for me.  Time to stop making excuses and listening to wrong voices and let his love for me drive me.  As someone said recently, the Spirit is all over me.  And that should affect every bit of my life.

 

 

The Date: Part Two

file0001046475835In my last post I was heading out for a conference about the Holy Spirit, and I knew this was a date. I felt that same anticipation, the same excitement, and the same fear I might feel going out with someone new. Well, the hour arrived, and I hopped into the car and drove to a church I didn’t know, alone, to attend a conference that scared me because I didn’t know what to expect.

I spent a good five minutes in the car before going inside, but I was instantly met with people I knew. One asked me to sit with her, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. For some reason, I knew tonight had to be me and Him. We were going to have a conversation, and I expected tears, and I do tears better alone.

The first night of the conference was about the gifts of the Spirit and included an opportunity to pray with people who manifested those gifts. I went to pray with a few, including the gifts of faith and wisdom as well as a woman who prayed that I could learn to use intercessory prayer. Each person who prayed with me held my hands or touched my shoulder. I listened to every word, because I knew tonight the Spirit had something to say. The prayers were that the Spirit would bless me with these gift to build up the body. I wanted that. But I wanted something much more personal, too.

I don’t remember every word said to me, although one man warned me about doubt, which was the main reason I was here. He assured me it would creep in and told me to place it at the feet of Jesus. I almost laughed, because I was past the point where doubt was creeping.  It was kicking in the door, and instead of placing it at Jesus’ feet, I tended to serve it tea and offer it the guest room. His words were powerful in their simplicity.  You’re not the only one, the Spirit said.  Lots of people doubt.  But I can handle it and remind you that you’re mine if you’ll only listen.

My other strong memory of that night was the physical touch. Hugs, hands held, touches on the shoulder–there is so much power in physical touch. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Jesus so often touched those he healed, or that people touched his cloak. I’m not great at instigating touch, but that night I felt it, that we don’t only connect with our sisters and brothers through words. Touch is vital. I long to be a more physical person, a more compassionate, loving, touching person who can soothe a hurting soul and offer God’s hope.

As I was standing in line to pray with one of the leaders, I noticed the woman behind me was in tears. I’m not the kind of person who approaches strangers easily.  I struggle to approach friends, if you want the truth. But I saw this woman crying, and the words that popped out of my mouth were completely not mine, although I loved them. I was glad to have said them, even though it wasn’t my idea. “I don’t know you,” I said, “but can I give you a hug?” And she said yes.  And I hugged a perfect stranger–who is also a sister with whom I will spend eternity–and we talked. I was making small talk with a stranger. The entire scene bordered on miraculous.

I left that night filled with excitement. I went home and talked a mile a minute to my adult and teen sons, who simply stared at me the way sons will do. Yep, Mom’s still weird.

The next morning I would start again, only this time the subject was hearing words from God and the gift of healing prayer. I was still nervous, but not like I had been. I’d had the best date night ever (apologies to my husband, but I think it’s okay to play second fiddle to God when it comes to dates.), and I was looking forward to the next one. I felt closer to God, closer to the Spirit, but still, I felt perhaps the Spirit had more to say. Tomorrow there would be healing, and I knew I needed healed. I’m a diabetic, but that wasn’t the healing I needed. Sure, I thought it would be awesome if that was God’s plan, but it wasn’t what I expected.

I couldn’t say exactly what I needed, though. Tonight I’d felt close to God. I’d felt like a daughter. I’d felt like a bride. But there was another day, and I was certain there was more to hear, more to experience, more room to grow. Whatever I needed, I went to bed that night sure it would happen. Mostly sure it would happen. Hoping it would happen and fearing it wouldn’t, because that was the heart of my problem, the fear, the mean girl in my head saying tonight was a fluke. Tomorrow you’ll see that nothing has changed and God isn’t going to bother with you, to take the time to heal or rescue or care about you. He might want your obedience and your life, but he doesn’t truly care about the details of your soul. He has better things to worry about.

You already know it didn’t turn out that way. The details of my soul matter. So do the details of yours. And I’ll finish up this story with my next post, the last post about my great date weekend with the Holy Spirit.