Friday, February 18, 2011

Spiritual Nourishment

by Suzie Johnson

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!
~~Psalm 105:4

Everyone knows exercise is good for us. It gives us strength; it keeps us physically and mentally fit. Aerobic exercise pumps oxygenated blood to our heart, and cause endorphins to send out good signals from our brain. Okay, that’s the short and sweet version without mention of mitochondria and all those other little organelles that are working in our cells to keep us healthy. The point is exercise is good for our physical and emotional health.

We all know what we’re supposed to do to get that way. Eat nutritious foods, exercise, and stop indulging in too much chocolate. Oh, wait. Sometimes that doesn’t seem very fair. Let’s just forget I even mentioned that part.

So we know we need to do everything we can to keep our bodies as healthy and strong as possible, but what about our spiritual health? How do we give that healthy boost to our soul? How do we stretch our spiritual muscles?

To me, the obvious answers would be to first and foremost pray, followed by studying and having fellowship with other Christians. These are all good and wonderful things that inspire and edify us.

There are no wrong answers if we’re seeking to know God and make Him known – if we’re trying to strengthen our relationship with Him.

When we stretch our spiritual muscles, we’re energized with something almost supernatural, something that makes us want to keep growing, keep striving for that deeper connection with our Lord.

Personally, I know I need to exercise all of my muscles; spiritual and physical. So I tend to combine my exercise with my praise and worship time. And if you know me at all, you know the very best place for me to do that is at the beach. There’s something about the water – the waves, the rocks, and even the seagulls – that fills me, inspires me, and draws me close to God.

Prayer. Praise. Worship.

For years, I had the best place to experience it all.

There is a trail behind the hospital where I used to work, that winds its way along a bluff overlooking several of the San Juan Islands. It is the most awe inspiring trail, path, bluff, beach I’ve ever walked on. It’s a three-mile round-trip.

For me, the starting point was always in the middle. I have a memory card full of Christian Praise and Worship music. So with my ear-buds in, and my favorite songs queued up, I’d go one direction, double back, and then go the other. One way leads into the woods, and the other way leads further up the bluff before coming down near the beach. I always turned left as I began, and I’d walk along the bluff until I was in the woods. At one point, there is an opening in the trees where you’re right over the water, with eagles flying overhead. As the trail journeys into the woods, it winds around until you’re back at that same spot over the water. But as you’re facing in the new direction, instead of facing windswept bluffs, you see the islands, with mountains far off in the distance.

Here’s where it always got magical for me. I don’t care what song was playing first when I started, or even how fast or slow I walked. It was as if God always orchestrated His perfect timing.

Do you know the song, Majesty? My favorite version is by Delirious? I would be walking along listening to these words:

Here I am, humbled by your majesty.
Here I am, humbled by your majesty,
Covered by your grace so free.
Here I am, knowing I'm a sinful man,
Covered by the blood of the lamb.
Now I've found the greatest love of all is mine,
Since You laid down Your life,
The greatest sacrifice.

Now here is where the magic would happen. I’d step out of the woods, often times with the sun beginning to slip behind the mountains, casting gorgeous shadows over the islands, and the music would swell and this same verse would play every time:

Your grace has found me just as I am
Empty handed but alive in Your hands
We sing
Forever I am changed by Your love
In the beauty of Your Majesty.

It never failed. There were a lot of amazing experiences out there, as I communed with God, but the timing of this, the beauty of this…it was just so soul-cleansing, so healing and humbling.

I wasn’t raised in a church where we raised our hands, and I don’t attend a church now that raises hands. But there was something so fulfilling when walking on the trail with the perfect timing of that song and the view and … I just had to raise up my hands every time. I guess you could say I’m a self-taught hand-raiser. I couldn’t not raise my arms up to Him. I know some of the people walking on the trail probably gave me funny looks, but I didn’t care. I did what was in my heart.

I’m not able to walk on that trail any longer, but I am blessed for the years I was able to spend there. I’ve found a new place to walk, also on a bluff overlooking the water, but it’s on the opposite side of the island. Clear or hazy, it’s still breathtaking and my heart delights in every minute I’m able to spend there.

It hasn’t happened yet that Majesty starts to play in a certain special place. Perhaps it won’t again. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. I’m still exercising my physical and spiritual muscles, still walking along with God, and I know He’ll bring other wonderful experiences into my life.

We’re all unique individuals, each inspired and motivated by different things, so it makes sense that we would stretch our spiritual muscles in different ways.

So I’m curious. Is there something special you do that blesses you and fills your soul with joy as you praise God and stretch your spiritual muscle?

Majesty: Words and music copyright by Martin Smith and Stuart Garrard, 2003
Photos copyright Susan D. Johnson

A Pillar of Cloud

by Suzie Johnson

How many times have you heard someone say they wished God were standing right in front of them so they could ask him what to do? Have you said it yourself? I know I have.

Would it really make a difference? I know we all want to shout a resounding, “YES, of course it would make a difference.”

But would it really?

Consider Adam and Eve for a moment. They walked with God in the garden. Side by side.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
~~Genesis 3:8

Somehow, I missed this the first twenty or so times I read this. They walked with God in the garden. They spent time in his very physical presence. At least, we know for sure Adam did, because God brought the animals to him so he could name them. And Genesis 3:9 says God called out to the man, “Where are you?”

It seems as if God was used to interacting with them on a regular basis. Yet they still were faced with temptation and gave in.

Now consider the Israelites as they fled the Egyptians. They were constantly in the presence of God. He appeared to them as a pillar of cloud by day to guide them on their way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light. Exodus 13:22 says, “Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”

How reassuring that sounds. I just love the image it conjures up in my mind. A pillar of cloud. Can you imagine walking through your day with God going ahead of you in the pillar of cloud, leading the way? Standing watch over you at night in his pillar of flame?

I wonder sometimes…if Adam and Eve hadn’t of sinned, would God still be walking beside man in the physical sense? Would that make a difference in how we respond to everyday situations? It didn’t make a difference to the Israelites. They still sinned and disappointed the Lord.

When I recently read the scripture of God appearing in a pillar of cloud, I thought back to my childhood. I remember so many times where I would lay on a grassy hill on a sunny day, watching the fluffy white clouds roll by and imagine all kinds of animals in their shapes. I’m sure you did that, too.

I can remember looking for God in those clouds, trying to see him, trying to see his angels, never realizing at that time, that he was right here in front of me. Always with me. And later, living in me.

I pray that my eyes, that your eyes, that the eyes of those we love, will be open wide and able to see him walking with us.

Just for fun…do you ever look for shapes in the clouds? If so, what was the most memorable one you’ve seen? Or what was the most recent one you saw?

Friday, February 11, 2011

If you’re a fan of a good Texas love story, you’ll want to be sure to read the latest book in Sharon Gillenwater’s The Callahan’s of Texas series: Emily’s Chance.

If you haven’t read the first book, don’t worry. You’ll still be able to pick this one up and read it without being confused. But when you’re done reading, you’ll want to rush out and buy Jenna’s Cowboy, because once you’ve read one book in this series, you won’t want to miss any of them.

People in Callahan Crossing have a lot of pieces to pick up after a fire destroys much of the town. Emily Rose Denny is there to work on the town’s historical museum. And though Chance Callahan doesn’t see how restoring the museum will help the town recover after the fire, he’s glad to help, and even more glad that Emily is here to stay for a while.

The romance between these two characters evolves naturally and delightfully, and the book is filled with touching moments between Chance, Emily, and his parents. She doesn’t have the best of relationships with her own parents, and yet she fits into Chance’s family so perfectly.

Emily tries to keep herself from falling in love, knowing she’s only in town for the duration of the job. When it’s over, she’ll pack her suitcase and head for the big city, where she’ll try to land an even bigger job. But will she find that God has led her to this town for a different purpose?

When she makes a shocking discovery while restoring the museum, it causes Chance to question everything he’s ever believed in. And as he helps with the project, he hopes to convince Emily to give up her dream of being a curator at a large museum in Dallas and stay in Callahan Crossing—with him.

I love the small-town feel of this book, as well as every book Sharon writes. The setting is so vivid, I feel like I’m right there. The characters are so real; I can picture them laughing, talking, and interacting with each other. Sharon never fails to bring a smile to my face and evoke at least one tear from my cynical eyes.

Like I did, you’ll fall in love with these characters, and the charm of Sharon’s natural storytelling voice. And be sure to watch for Megan’s Hero, the next book in The Callahans of Texas series, available in June.

Though she lives in Washington State, Sharon Gillenwater grew up on a ranch in West Texas. It’s hard to take the girl out of Texas, and that’s why she’s so good at creating her small-town Texas settings. You can visit Sharon’s website at:

To read my review of Jenna's Cowboy, click here: