Sunday, September 13, 2015

Shells

Shells - by Margot Cioccio
(Written for a service at the Gathering House Church in Spokane Washington)


Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”  I wonder if we are missing something here. Yes, God is big and powerful, but God is love and God is good. Perhaps it is not that we should fear him but rather get over  our fear of him so that we may know him. There is a line between what we fear and what we most want. We want to know God but our fear keeps us from moving past that fear into really knowing him. If we get over our fear of God perhaps that is where wisdom truly begins because then we find ourselves in his presence.  In his presence we are changed. 

My Journal excerpt: I awoke from sleep, having spoken to the Lord about my fears. My fears hold me back from doing things and being who I was created to be. I have discovered the line between what we fear and what we desire is the same line. We must cross over our fear to get to those things we most desire. It is all to often easier to stay where we are miserable but familiar than to cross over into the unknown. What holds me and pins me in? It’s my fear on so many levels. Fear of doing the wrong thing, fear of what others will think, fear of disappointing God, fear of not being able to handle things, fear that I wont like the new thing any better than where I am presently. Fear that I may learn and grow and then no longer fit or belong among the people am around. Fear of having to go on alone. Fear of having to share what I really think, fear of being rejected. Fear of loosing my way, fear of being different, fear of not being understood. There is fear of loss, fear of the new, fear of embracing new ideas and beliefs. I fear loosing my own identity, that being with others with stronger personalities that I will meld into them and loose my individuality. Yet I don’t want to walk alone. I want to share my thoughts and my feelings and to do that I have to let people in. “ 

In my comfort zone, I am pretty secure and confident. Out side of it is where I realize that I have a lot of fear but to grow and move forward, I must somehow take down my walls. My fear was stopping God from taking me further up and further in. I didn’t want to remain in that place of fear so I had to conquer and overcome these fears many others I have not even realized. I had to find the roots to them and dig them out of the garden of my heart and mind.”

Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  How can one have knowledge of the Holy One without crossing over the barrier of fear of the Lord?  I am reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote. Mr Beaver said “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”  The children in the Narnia stories move past their fears and come to know and love Aslan the great Lion. I suppose crossing the line between fear and desire is never safe but we have to trust that we are crossing it with God who is good and who loves us more than we realize.

When I first thought about using shells in this series I thought it might be something about listening to God. You know how if you listen carefully you can hear the ocean in a shell. As I thought about how shells relate to pursuing your dream I had another idea. I realized that we all build walls and have our familiar shells from which we face the world. Our shell may many different things. It could be group of people we feel safe around. It may be our home, school or our church or somewhere we work. It could be our behavior or attitudes. In that shell we feel safe and we know our boundaries. We know what people expect of us and the way we relate to others in that safe environment.

Hermit Crabs are interesting creatures. They have their own semi tough exterior but its not much protection against predators.  To truly be safe they find discarded shells of other creatures and move in and call it home. Eventually they out grow that home and have to go find a new one. If they don’t they will die. If they do they will continue to grow. The same is true for us. We need to keep growing. Parents don’t want their babies to stay in diapers forever. 

I'm growing up and continuing to learn from my mistakes and trying not to make the same ones over and over again, but am I going to live in a shell, or am I just going to hide from everybody and not do anything? I don't think that's the way I should live my life, and I'm not going to do it.  ~ Johnny Manziel

It's when you begin to think about going to your dream that your dream is always outside of your comfort zone. It's always beyond what you've ever done. ~ Bruce Wilkinson

A couple of years ago my job at this church ended. I was challenged to take a period of time to really pray and seek the Lord about what was next. I felt the Lord calling me to do something new and different but I didn’t know what. I knew it was something out side of my familiar safe comfort zone of the church. How could I use my spiritual gifts and talents outside of the church. For 30 some years I had done art, music and ministry. So I spent almost 6 months trying to figure out what I might possibly do. Counseling, Nursing, Art Therapy, Teaching, Missions, Massage were some of the ideas I considered. Really none of those ideas excited me all that much at the time. They all sounded like a lot of work. Rob gave me books and so did others. I read them all and didn’t feel any closer to knowing what to do than before. Some days I felt like throwing all the books against the wall. Why wouldn’t God just tell me what He wanted me to do? I don’t like the in between places, the are really uncomfortable. I felt adrift in an ocean of possibilities. I was waiting for God to tell me what to do. God was waiting on me to decide what I wanted. I got a lot of good ideas from the many books but it was a book my dad gave me called What Should I Do with my Life? in which I finally found something that really clicked. It said towards then end of the book
“Here’s my point” usually, all we get is a glimmer. A story we read or someone we briefly met, a curiosity. A meek voice inside, whispering. Its up to us to hammer out the rest. “ ~ Pi Bronson  In that moment I realized I was looking for a revelation not a glimmer. Once I started to look for the glimmers, I realized that there was a glimmer around the idea of massage. I had been drawing pictures of hands for months. I kept finding verses like

Zechariah 8:3 that said So I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not fear, let your hands be strong.”  One day flipping though my papers I noticed there was an open house at a massage school so I called and made a reservation to attend. While I was at it I called some other schools.  Once I decided on a direction the rest came together very quickly.  I found the school I wanted to go to and just needed to figure out how to pay for it. Even that answer came unexpectedly. September two years ago my life changed in so many ways and I began a new adventure. Today back in the prayer loft there are shells with glitter on them to remind to look for the glimmer as you look for that next larger shell so you can keep growing. Change is often frightening and uncomfortable - in the end its worth it to be able to keep growing. There is one picture in my illustrated journal that I goes along with the idea of moving out of your old shell. My journal will be back in the prayer loft if you want to take a peek at some of the other drawings from my journey to find a new life.

Lord help us to over come our fears and to notice the glimmers’ so that we may continue to go forward with you on this grand adventure called life. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Stones

STONES - By Margot Cioccio 

Written for a service at the Gathering House Church in Spokane WA. 

Rich Mullins writes in his song Hold Me Jesus “I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than take what you give that I need. I beat my head against so many walls I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees.”

Last week before the service I shared with a close friend what I would be sharing in these readings. The topic of dreams is upbeat and positive right? Not if you've had a dream that died. My friend and I both have suffered numerous deep disappointments and set backs on this journey to follow God. 

In both our cases it was certainly not for lack of trying or for lack of faith.  

King David wanted to build a temple for the Lord. He collected vast amounts of supplies and devised wonderful plans, and God said no - sorry your hands are too bloody. I’ll let your son build it. God does say no sometimes to our dreams and he doesn’t always explain why.

I sat at one of these tables last week and my friend and I both got all teary at the thought of having to discuss the subject of dreams. Maybe you too have dreams that you need to grieve and release to the Lord. Today my reading is called Stones. We can do a lot of things with stones. In the bible young David used three smooth stones to slay the giant goliath. I think it was more his faith in God than in the three tiny stones. David had learned some things while tending his fathers sheep all alone in the wilderness. He faced some mighty trials out there with only God to turn to. Loneliness, lost sheep, lions and bears. You might look at all those things and think ‘thats not the blessing of God…. but what if all those hardships are what prepared him to be the best of Israel’s kings.  Laura Story put it well in her song called Blessings. “'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops, What if Your healing comes through tears? And what if a thousand sleepless nights Are what it takes to know You're near? What if my greatest disappointments Or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst This world can't satisfy? And what if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are Your mercies in disguise?

When I was a very young woman, I had come from a broken home. You many think my dream small and perhaps it was. I simply wanted to get through college and marry my high school sweet heart and have a family of my own that wasn't broken. I was young but I was sure he was the one. We went off to the same college. The first year was ok - we would be fine then we would break up, then get back together only to do it all over again. I always had hope that we would eventually grow up and make it work, College year 3 he moved with his family to another state. He met someone, she got pregnant and he did the right thing and married her. I locked that dream of a life together away with the part of my heart that contained it and just moved on.

I buried it so deep that, many years later when I realized I didn’t have any dreams of my own I couldn't hardly remember it. I kept having visions of an old chest that was wrapped with chains. It would rattle and shake. I was terrified of what might be in it. If I ever got brave enough to open it. It was about that same time that that young man and his mother both independently found me on face book. That chest rattled and shook even louder. It’s a long story but God was able to work some long over due healing in all of our hearts. I am thankful for that healing.

In my devotional blog that now has nearly 600 post I found one I had written called the secret place. I want to share a bit of it with you. “I have always thought of the Secret Place as being some place wonderful, hidden in the Lord like a secret garden. Today I had a whole new perspective on where the secret place is. I was asked recently about my hopes and dreams - I was unable to give an answer and that has bothered me for the last several days. So I have been pondering. Why don't I have an answer and why does the question bother me?

I realized today as I was praying and pondering that there was a place in my heart that I have kept locked up and hidden. A place of secret dreams that I had chosen to let die because I came to realize that I could not have them and have my relationship with the Lord. My relationship with the Lord won out. Yet it was a great dream to let go of on my part and it was tangled up into much of my hopes and other dreams. So I locked them all away.  Today I realized that that hidden place in my own heart is the "Secret Place” where the Lord longs to meet me in a deep way. So today I allowed the Lord into that secret place. He walked around the place with me without any condemnation. He allowed me to grieve the loss and helped me to bury it in him.

John 12:24
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

It really doesn't matter how big or little your dream may have been. When I wrote the post called the Secret place I was not able to talk openly about what had happened.  I shared some of  it with Rob and our Intern at the time on a long drive home from a conference. Rob was right at the time to tell me to look how God had protected me.

There is only so much of a tale that can be told in a reading like this. I had buried and locked away my heart and never allowed myself to feel the pain or grieve the losses. I chose to go on with life and just not feel things as deeply as I had once been able to feel. I was never going to hurt like that again. That day in the secret place with the Lord I began to allow myself to feel those very old losses. They hurt just as much even after years of being locked away.  Some pain is good - we need to feel it to heal and to begin to feel more than just numb again.

More recently I sat one day by the Spokane river. I would pick up a stone and I would allow myself to feel my frustration, hurt, grief, pain and disappointment. I put it in that particular stone. When I got ready to let it go and be done with it. I would hurl the stone out into the water where I could never get it back. It took a number of stones to work through the dream of being full time ministry on staff at a church. Letting go of that dream that I had pursued for many years in many places is another story but it led me discover a new dream. I'd like to tell you these decisions to lay down something familiar to be able to follow the Lord into something new and unknown, is easy. But as Rob will tell you being a Christian isn’t for cowards - moving on with the Lord means allowing him to deal with our broken stuff.   

There are stones back in the prayer loft and a big basin of water. I invite you to choose a stone and place upon it your sorrow, or broken dream, your grief or that thing you know you need to let go of. When you are ready cast it into the basin as an act of letting it go. It is a step on the journey to discovering a new dream, we must first let go of the old broken ones. 

I’m so sorry this will be hard for some of you. I can tell you it is worth it. If this is not hard for you today will you pray and support those who are having to release things to the Lord. 


The journals and feathers are back there again this week. If you want to share about your big dream, or the lack of one, or what you are releasing to the Lord. I invite you to be real and honest before the Lord and if you can with each other. 

If you are reading this on-line you can take any stone use it in a similar way casting it into a near by body of water or a bucket of water in your home when you are ready to release it. You are welcome to share your big dream, or about a lost dream or your thoughts on this post in the comments. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Feathers

by Margot Cioccio
(Written to share in a Sunday service at the Gathering House in Spokane Washington.)

“Not long ago and not far away, a Nobody named Ordinary lived in the Land of Familiar. Every day was pretty much the same for Ordinary. In the mornings he got up and went to his Usual Job. After work, he ate almost the same dinner he’d eaten the evening before. Then he sat in his recliner and watched the box that mesmerized most Nobodies on most nights. 
Sometimes, Best Friend came over to join Ordinary in front of the box. Sometimes Ordinary went to his Parents and they watched together. 

For the most part, not much happened in Familiar that hadn't happened before. Ordinary thought he was content. He found the routines reliable. He blended in with the crowd. And mostly, he wanted only what he had. Until the day Ordinary noticed a small, nagging feeling that something big was missing from his life. Or maybe the feeling was that he was missing from something big. He wasn’t sure. The little feeling grew. And even though Nobodies in Familiar didn’t generally expect the unexpected. Ordinary began to wish for it.” ~ Bruce Wilkinson  The Dream Giver

It has been 12 years since I first read the book the Dream Giver. At the time it rocked my world. I found my self asking “Why don’t I have any dreams?”  That question nagged at me like Ordinary I knew something big was missing from my life, or maybe the I was missing from something big - I didn’t know. That nagging started me on what has been a very long journey to discover why my dreams were lost and to learn to dream again. 

The readings I will be sharing over the next 5 weeks will be bits of that story. Each week the prayer loft area will have a different little token for you to take with you. I hope with this series to inspire all of us to dream again, or if you have dreams to perhaps dream a little bigger. 

When Pastor Rob asked me to do some readings a while back I admit that I wasn’t particularly inspired. He said I could use any of the 300 I had already written. I did get a few things written while on vacation. I knew I wanted to use some sort of tokens each week, jewels, feathers, shells, stones and scrolls. In truth the inspiration that tied it all together didn’t really happen till I was walking around Hobby Lobby yesterday. Its not that Im being irresponsible and waiting till the last minute. I have been thinking and praying about it for several months - it just lacked a common thread. When I have done prayer lofts in the past there is usually something that I believe God leads me to that is my “Ah hah!” item or moment that causes the idea to suddenly make sense to me. Yesterday it was the purple candles with the feather and jewels that you will see back in the prayer loft. It was in that instant that I realized that what I needed to share was about my journey to discover my own dream. 

It all started when I realized that I didn’t have my own dreams. I’d like to tell you that I figured it out in a week or two but it has taken me many years to unravel. I think what I have realized is how ordinary things like jewels, feathers, shells, stones, scrolls and lives begin to sparkle in a new way when God breathes upon them.  I have watched those sparkles and followed them like little bread crumbs. Pennies remind me to Trust God, sometimes its finding Lighthouses in the strangest places - reminders that God will lead me through every storm. Lately I have been collecting feathers as reminders of God’s care. I even found a peacock feather one day in Manito park. These little tokens remind me of God’s amazing love. Little gifts he leaves for me.


Where I have felt God presence of late, has more often been in the cathedrals made of trees during my daily walks. I have sat on a stump or a log and listened to the chorus of birds and joined them in singing thanks and praises to God. Then listened quietly to what God is saying in that moment.

Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end singing praises with birds. I want to share a story about St. Francis. “ Francis spotted a great number of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him. He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they didn’t move.

Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: “My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”

At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic. Then he gave them his blessing.

How does this tie in with finding my dreams you may be asking. I have rarely seen God roll out the entire plan for anyone. He gives us little bits and waits to see what we will do with what he has shown us. Will we believe and trust and move forward taking a step of faith or will we put our dreams aside thinking its too big and I am fooling myself to think God would pick me for such a task. Will we like Francis leave our friends to follow God even if its to preach to the birds. 

In the book The Dream Giver it reads “Then one morning Ordinary woke up with the words echoing in his mind: What your’e missing you already have….” Could it be? Ordinary looked and looked and then he discovered that in a small corner of his heart lay a Big Dream. The big Dream told him that he, a Nobody,, was made to be a Somebody and destined to achieve Great Things. Jumping out of bed Ordinary discovered something else - a long white feather resting on the sill of his window. Where did it come from? What did it mean? With a jolt of excitement, Ordinary decided he’d been visited by the Dream Giver. “

With each feather I find on my walks I am reminded of the Father who cares for common sparrows and paints the fields with flowers, surely has not forgotten to care for me. I am reminded that God does not withhold his blessings for just the elect but lavishes them about freely for the entirety of his creation to enjoy.  Psalm 119 says 1The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

Back in the prayer loft are some white glittered feathers that I hope will speak to you in a powerful way,  reminding you of Gods continual care of you and of your Big Dream. 

I hope you will visit the prayer loft and take a feather, but even more I hope you will begin to have a conversation with God about where you stand with your Big Dream.