What and Why Are You Learning?

Do you ever find that some questions people ask you cause you to dive deeper for the answers? It has been good to reflect on questions I have been asked about why I chose to enter and continue in graduate school while in my late sixties. So, as I think through my answers, it helps me once again to reflect on important questions about why I choose to do what I do. We can find it all too easy to just do, without reflecting clearly on why we do what we do or think what we think.

Why did you decide now, to go back to school?

Longing to continually grow deeper in my walk with God and service to others, I entered seminary in 2018, when I was sixty-four years old. I was drawn to the study of spiritual formation, deeply believing that too many Christians go through motions of religion while lacking the depth and joy flowing from intimacy with God. They long for more. I longed for more. I desired to learn further ways to grow toward the image of Christ and delight in our relationship. I love to learn, and though I had read and studied my Bible for decades, I thrilled to the deeper teachings I learned through my biblical studies classes. I savored and put into practice what I learned in my spiritual formation studies.

God answered many prayers encouraging me to pursue this venture. During my studies, I was working in the ministry and providing care for my wonderful husband, who passed from a progressive neurological disease called Multiple System Atrophy in November 2019. It was an extremely difficult time. My studies, combined with daily life and suffering, not only drew me into a more intimate relationship with God but also put on my heart a desire to keep learning. I thrive best when learning new things.

I believe I am called to teach. It feels good to know my calling…. what I feel uniquely qualified for and what makes my heart sing. For over forty years, as a women’s minister, I have taught the Bible to those wishing to develop faith or to grow in their faith, helping them apply biblical teachings and principles to their daily lives. I have taught workshops in areas of spiritual growth to audiences large and small, in-person and online. I also love to teach through writing. After my first book, I thought I was done with writing, but fifteen books later, God keeps putting more on my heart.

As an older woman who has experienced many transitions in life including a loving marriage of forty-five years to caretaking and then widowhood, raising children and now enjoying adult relationships with them, grandparenting eight grandchildren, adopting a teenager from Eastern Europe, changing jobs, moving, losing parents, being held at knife-point, and being struck by lightning, my experiences are many and allow me to relate to various ages and backgrounds. At this stage of my life, I still desire to help change the world for Christ through teaching, mentoring, and writing in various settings and places. I long to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God…but I still have so much to learn. I want to see more and more women learning and teaching, as they offer such a valuable perspective.

God answered so many specific prayers as I sought His guidance about this decision to go back to school. I want to keep on learning and then do some adjunct teaching when I finish my doctorate. I’ll be about seventy years young then.

Why did you choose to study spiritual formation? What is it? How did you benefit and how can what you have learned benefit others?

Spiritual formation is the process of God working in our lives to transform us into His image. We make ourselves ready and available through spiritual disciplines for God to transform us. We learn to find spiritual rhythms of life so that we can be still enough with God and hear him. We build intimacy with Him that refreshes, directs, and fills us in every way. We can often let busyness, ego, and the noise of life keep us from truly walking with God and finding rest for our souls. Spiritual formation is holistic. We let God transform us day by day through our love for Him and our unity with His Spirit. He changes us with ever-increasing glory through our thoughts and emotions, our relationships, our intellect, our life calling, our physical health, and our stewardship. That covers a lot of areas…our whole beings.

As I keep learning, I desire to offer workshops, teaching, training, and writing that encourages others to bring these areas to Jesus, letting Him transform them all. While I have learned some excellent tools and ways of thinking, I believe these are only useful if they help me and others draw closer to God for the sake of others.

 Have you enjoyed it?  Immensely. As I learn, write, and teach I feel the pleasure of God. I thrill to learn, to be closer to God, and to serve others more effectively. I have been blessed with outstanding professors, and even though I study online, my partnerships with fellow students have led to some wonderful new friendships. As I sat by Wyndham’s side during this time I have been in school, and since he could not talk I would tell him things I was learning and read him my papers, which he enjoyed. He was proud of me for this endeavor, which means so much to me. His encouragement spurred me on, and my studies during the hardest season of my life were strangely, a sort of lifeline for me.

 If you could summarize, what are the main things you took away?

It’s good to reflect on this question. The rate of learning is so fast that at times I felt like I was drinking from this.   I realize that as I learn, I must stop to reflect and apply what I am learning to my life, otherwise it is of little value. I also realize that knowledge is helpful, but only if it makes me more Christlike, more loving.  I definitely learned how much I don’t know and how judgmental I have been. The windows of my perspective are clearer, and I have let go of the fear of questioning. The Bible can stand up to questions. I am much more equipped to know and share my core biblical and life convictions and have also better learned the thought processes of those who share some differing core convictions. I have learned from so many people, and strive to treat them with respect and personal vulnerability. I have built some solid friendships with a few classmates and a professor who has enriched me. I have read more books than I can count, and have grown from each one. Next time, I’ll begin sharing some takeaways from each class. I pray that we are all forever learners.

 

Saturday Studies, Monday Musings, and Wednesday Welcomes

My blog will take on a new format, at least for a while. As often as possible, I plan to post personal thoughts on Mondays, share blogs, profiles, and writings of others on Wednesdays, and on Saturdays share things I have been learning.

My graduate studies over the last couple of years often felt like a drink from a fire hydrant. I recently reflected back on the classes I took and some of the books I read. I won’t bore you with some of the tomes of required reading, but today will share some of my favorite books from the past year and a half.  I simply love to read and to learn. Some books I listen to while in the car, some I read on Kindle, but most books I like to hold, underline, and dog-ear the pages in such a way that I can’t even sell them to a used bookstore. It doesn’t really matter, because I hate to part with books anyway. It’s just a thing. I so “get” Paul’s desire for his books.

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.
I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Tim 4:11-13)

I have an annoying (to me) habit of reading several books at the same time… on Audible, on Kindle, and with several always open on my coffee table. I’m not sure this is a good practice, but it happens.  If you have read some of these, I’d love to hear your favorites and what you gained from them. A few of these I have not finished, and three I wrote. 🙂 I put an asterisk by my favorites, though that was difficult. Also, I organized them under the categories of spiritual formation, personal and church growth, service, history, Bible study, suffering and heaven, women, next-generation, and writing. I find book recommendations super helpful, so feel free to send your recommendations along.

Whenever I am asked about what I have learned in my graduate studies and why I went back to school I sometimes haven’t known quite how to answer. So, in future Saturday posts, I plan to share (interview style) reasons I went back to school, and some takeaways from each of my classes. Summarizing the classes has been a helpful exercise for me, and hopefully, some of my takeaways will encourage you, too. I realize Saturday’s posts might not be your cup of tea, so if not, hopefully, some of the other days will be more encouraging for you.

Book Recommendations from 2020 and early 2021 by topics

Spiritual Formation

A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly

Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster

Discipline for the Inner Life by Bob and Michael Benson

Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland and Ruth Haley Barton

Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God by Ruth Haley Barton

Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank Laubach

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer *

Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton *

Living God’s Word by Duvall and Hays

Living in Christ’s Presence by Dallas Willard

Prayer by Richard Foster

Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser *

Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton

Satisfy Your Soul by Bruce Demarest *

Seasons of the Soul by Bruce Demarest

Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland Jr.

Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster *

Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton *

The Allure of Gentleness by Dallas Willard

The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes *

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

The Good and Beautiful Community by James Bryan Smith

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith *

The Kingdom Life by Dallas Willard, Keith Meyer, and others

The Kingdom of God vol 3 by Tom A. Jones

The River Within by Jeff Imbach

The Transforming Power of Prayer by James Houston

When the Soul Listens by Jan Johnson *

With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray *

Personal and Church Growth

40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole

A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

All the Feels by Elizabeth Thompson

Discipline for the Inner Life by Bob Benson Sr and Michael Benson

Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero *

Get Your Life Back by John Eldridge

God is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places by Krish Kandiah

God of the Towel by Jim McGuigan *

Holy Ambition: What it Takes to Make a Difference for God by Chip Ingram

Margins: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swensen *

Self to Lose—Self to Find: A biblical approach to 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil*

Spiritual Discipleship by Gordon Ferguson

The Call by Os Guinness *

The End of Me by Kyle Idleman *

The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning

The God-Shaped Brain by Timothy Jennings

The Master Plan of Discipleship by Robert Coleman (I find this helpful every year)

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by Comer *

Think Like Jesus by George Barna

Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden

Wednesdays with Wyndham: Godly Wisdom for Everyday Life by Jeanie Shaw*

With by Skye Jethani *

Service

A Spirituality of Caregiving by Henri Nouwen

Come Be My Light by Mother Teresa *

In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving by Jeanie Shaw and Friends*

 History

Markings by Hammarskjold

Becoming by Michelle Obama *

John Wesley: Optimist of Grace by Henry Knight

John Woolman’s Journal by Ernes Rhys

Reviving the Ancient Faith by Richard Hughes

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi *

The Life of Alexander Campbell by Douglas Foster

Bible Study

Abusing Scripture: The Consequences of Misreading the Bible by Manfred Brauch

“Bema Discipleship” Podcast by Marty Solomon *

Exploring our Hebraic Heritage by Marvin Wilson *

Jesus: King of Strangers: What the Bible Really Says about Immigration by Mark Hamilton

Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture by Scott Duvall

Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James *

Misreading Scripture Through Individualist Eyes by Richards and James

Origins by Douglas Jacoby and Paul Copan (Kindle) *

Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg *

Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann

Searching for a Pattern: My Journey in Interpreting the Bible by John Mark Hicks *

Spirituality of the Psalms by Walter Brueggemann

The Beast that Crouches at the Door by Rabbi David Fohrman

The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight

The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter *

The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi by Robby Gallaty

The IVP Bible Background Commentary (good resource)

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey

Suffering and Heaven

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

All Things New by John Eldridge *

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Majors

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa Terkeurst

Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey *

Preparing for Heaven by Gary Black

Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb *

The Problem with Pain by C.S. Lewis

The Sacred Journey: Finding God in Caregiving by Jeanie Shaw and Friends (coming soon) *

The Scars that Shaped Me by Vaneetha Risner

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Women (The are the most recent I’ve read, though I have a bookshelf and Kindle full of nearly a hundred books from my studies)

A Woman Called by Sara Barton *

Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles by Kathy Keller

The Bible and Gender by ICOC teachers

The View from Paul’s Window: Paul’s Teachings on Women by Jeanie Shaw *

Women in God’s Mission by Mary Lederleitner

Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal by Carroll Osbourne

Women Serving God by John Mark Hicks *

Next Gen

Faith for Exiles by David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock *

Intergenerational Christian Formation: Bringing the Whole Church Together in Ministry, Community and Worship by Holly Allen

Meet Generation Z by James Emery White

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

Writing

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Style Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams

Mark it Down

This past Saturday marked one year since my amazing husband died. I wondered how the day would feel. Would I celebrate his one-year heavenly birthday, mourn his loss, look at pictures, relive the horrible day, all of the above, or something else altogether? While we commemorate certain holidays, many life transitions (both the encouraging and the oh-so-hard ones) often pass by us unmarked. Un-commemorated. Unconfronted. I believe this often makes transitions more difficult to pass through, leaving us emotionally stuck.

I note in the Bible how often transitions, big and small, were commemorated. Stones of remembrance were stacked. Feasts were held. Garments were torn. Bread was broken. Altars were built. I find it helpful to mark transitions rather than just letting them slide by. It helps me, although I realize that people have different ways of processing transitions. This is not a “one size fits all” thought process.

I knew I did not want to simply dread this one-year anniversary so in preparation, I talked with God about what might be most helpful. Perhaps the Spirit put some thoughts in my head, but by whatever means they arrived, they were helpful. Saturday was deeply meaningful and special.

I considered that as a family it might help us to “mark” the day. So, on Saturday we each took several hours for a spiritual retreat. We went out in nature, Wyndham’s favorite place to be on this side of heaven. God blessed the day with unseasonably warm, gorgeous weather. One of us went to a riverside, another to the cleft in a rock at the reservoir, and several others to the ocean. I went to our special beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea, a place where we had spent many Mondays walking, praying, talking, dreaming, and planning. It felt more inspiring than sad to be there. As I felt the sun warming my face and the waves gently sliding over the sand I sang, listened to spiritual music, read, journaled, prayed, and listened to learn. We all began our times with an intent to still our hearts–to breathe in as we invited the Spirit to fill our hearts and breathe out the distractions and anxieties. It is truly hard to be so still of heart that we can hear God well. At least it is for me. As we each “retreated,” we reflected and journaled some of the following questions:

  • What do you most remember Papa saying to you that you carry with you? What do you think he would most want to say to you today?
  • What do you think God would want to say to you today?
  • What is at least one way this very hard year has most helped you grow spiritually?
  • What is a scripture or song that has helped sustain you this past year?
  • What are your best memories from this year?
  • What are you most grateful to God for as you think through His work in your life this year?
  • What are a few of your favorite thoughts/hopes about heaven?

This was a helpful, meaningful exercise for me, and for each of us. We also commemorated November 21 as our first annual “Pay it Forward for Papa Day.” In honor of him, we would each decide to do some special good deeds in honor of him. This was fun, meaningful, and fitting.

We ended the night with a several-hour Zoom call where we each shared the meaningful highlights from the day. It was honest, vulnerable, full of laughter, and full of tears. I treasure that time.

I also took a few pictures of my time at the beach. I captured a father and child frolicking hand in hand, sharing pure joy. I felt grateful to have a Father who takes my hand. I accompanied this view with the song “Precious Lord, take my hand…lead me on, let me stand….Through the storms, through the night, lead me on to the light…precious Lord, take my hand, lead me home.” Not sure if the lyrics are correct, but they work for me.

I then saw kayakers set out through the sparkling water to a destination I couldn’t see. This scene reminded me of my new journey…one in which I must trust God because I don’t know exactly where it will take me.

I then noted a young couple who walked toward the water and ever so calmly and gently glided their swimsuit-clad bodies into the ocean without even a second’s hesitation. They walked in as if the ocean was bathwater and floated neck-deep in the frigid 51-degree water. (Yes, I Googled the temperature.) After about ten minutes of their stillness in the water, I lost track of my prayers and tried to remember my college life-saving class techniques just in case I would need to retrieve hypothermic floaters. Fortunately, they calmly and slowly walked back to shore and dabbed themselves with towels. As I had watched them walk into the frigid water without hesitation I thought of the song “Oceans,” and the lyrics spoke to me. Can I walk out that calmly or would I be wailing and screaming with the discomfort?

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.

Though it has been an inexpressibly hard year, perhaps it has been a year where I have grown most. One step at a time. God has greatly blessed me beyond what words can convey. I am deeply grateful. I pray you will have a meaningful Thanksgiving as you count your blessings.