Trust in God–even in hard times (or poor weather)

Lately I’ve been working on lots of creative projects.  One is serving as coordinator for a Christian spirituality blog for Easter Lutheran Church.

At the same time, the weather has been pretty crazy this winter. I say winter, not spring, because yesterday we had serious snow swirling around and it’s currently 11 degrees F.   Again.

…and so it was, I enjoyed this post by Pastor Paul Harris about trust in God, no matter how wacky or trying things may be (for me, even poor weather–which is a much easier cross than others have):

May the God of all hope
fill you with joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 — Romans 15:13

In my late teens I had a great struggle with the Christian faith in which I had been raised.   After rejecting Christianity as both irrelevant and untrue, I found myself in a terrible disquiet of heart.  How could I live in a world without God; a world with neither moral nor spiritual guideposts?

After many turns and twists of mind and heart, I …

READ MORE at —>>  (March 24, 2014 entry)


Budding leaves--Trust in God--Julie McCarty


May the good Lord bless you with faith, trust, and perseverance.

Until next time, Amen!


The Prayer of Agony

If you are feeling a little blue, or overwhelmed, you might enjoy this post I just wrote for “Easter Prays,” the spirituality/prayer blog for Easter Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Eagan, Minnesota:

Jesus said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)

Amish Quilt

In our culture, it can be tempting to think that Jesus’ life was always easy. After all, he was the Son of God. We tend to think because Jesus had miraculous powers, public popularity, and immense wisdom, that he must have been happy all the time.

However, the gospels paint a picture of a man who also experienced others’ rejection, family misunderstandings, ministry fatigue, and grief.

       READ THE REST–>>

Les Misérables: Who do you belong to?

Les Miserables This past weekend I enjoyed Les Misérables, the 2012 movie fresh out on DVD. As most of you know, Victor Hugo’s story is swimming with meaningful themes. One could explore how Les Misérables focuses on the power of truth, redemptive suffering, compassion for the poor, devotion to God, forgiveness, letter of the law vs. spirit of the law, or a host of other spiritual themes. 

One theme that caught my attention this weekend is this: Who do you belong to?  That is to say, who are you, in your deepest, truest person?  (Who am I?)

To understand what I mean, watch for how Jean Valjean struggles with these questions throughout the movie. At the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean has been in prison for 19 years, a sentence that began because of stealing a loaf of bread to feed starving family members. From the perspective of Javert, the ruthless prison overseer, Valjean is nothing but a stinking criminal, a “dangerous man,” whose only name is his prison number: 2-4-6-0-1.

And, unfortunately, the prison experience has indeed made Valjean’s heart embittered and filled with hatred. He has come to the conclusion that an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the way to live. Upon his release, he is given identification papers which label him for life as a criminal.

Finding it impossible to find an honest living with the label “dangerous man,” Valjean likely would have remained forever in his angry 24601 identity, if not for a churchman’s simple, yet bold act of mercy. This freely given kindness pierces the bitter armor of Valjean, who comes face to face with the realization of who he has become, a man of hate and revenge.

Standing on the threshold of new possibilities, Valjean must decide if he will continue to live the life of “24601,” or become a person who values his soul, the way the kind bishop viewed him.  Valjean sings “my life he claimed for God above” and “my soul belongs to God.”

Valjean vows to become a different person, and he truly does reform his life. However, that is not the end of wrestling with “who am I?” and how to live the moral, spiritual life. (Would that life were that easy!) He will have to ask these questions again and again, throughout the rest of the story.

( Taste test the movie at  .)

This week, Holy Week 2013, is a good time for each of us to ask, “Who am I?” Do I see myself as ultimately belonging to God? If so, how does that belonging to God influence the choices I make, here and now?

Easter Church--Hill focal pointJesus stayed true to the person God intended him to be. He did a lot of good upon the earth, but in the end, the world made him pay the price for following his divine calling. We who call ourselves Christians will also, at times, find ourselves paying the price for following Jesus. It is the way of things. Jesus reminds us:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

We journey this week with Jesus, to the cross, knowing that our lives will not be free from crosses. But we can trust in the promises of Christ, knowing that death does not have the final say. In Christ’s death there is also Christ’s resurrection–and the promise of new life for us as well.

Violet Gravatar of Julie McCartyUntil next time, Amen! 

P.S. Giveaway coming soon: Watch for upcoming giveaway of a brand new, free DVD of Les Misérables here on Spiritual Drawing Board blog or Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty.”

What kind of crosses are you carrying?

Today’s reflection in Liturgical Press’ Give Us This Day explores the kinds of crosses we carry–some of which are really not the cross God wills for us to have to endure. Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr writes:

Many of the crosses we choose to carry are not redeeming. To name just a few: living with resentment, withholding forgiveness, needing to be in control, being unwilling to learn from others, selfishly demanding my own way, remaining imprisoned in addictive ways of living.*

Many times we don’t even realize we are carrying these types of crosses. When it comes to light that “we are carrying a cross of our creation–carved out of our own foolishness,”*  we can see it as a sign of spiritual growth. Some of the suffering in our life is not sent by God, but rather a result of our own attitudes or a natural result of our sinful choices.

On the other hand, the author also observes that some crosses we carry may have spiritual value. These crosses mysteriously participate in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. What made Christ’s suffering redemptive was not the pain or agony, but that he bore the suffering out of his great love for us.

Cruicifix--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA. All rights reservedLent is the perfect time to ponder this question: What kind of crosses am I carrying? If you are like me, some of your personal suffering is really a result of choices you’ve made, or perhaps the attitudes you have. If I enter into a situation like a lion about to pounce, then it is likely I’m going to bring about more suffering on myself (and others!). On the other hand, if I enter a complex situation with the mind and heart of Christ, I may still suffer for speaking the truth, but what I say will be spoken with love, for the ultimate good of others.

Love sometimes involves being willing to suffer for another person’s sake, and that is the kind of suffering that mysteriously participates in the work of Christ on earth today. We may give up something we want to provide for our children. Perhaps we sacrifice a relaxing evening at home in order to pack food boxes for the hungry. We may take an unpopular stand on the job because of our commitment to Christ’s ethics of love and suffer as a result. When I think of these examples, crosses born out of love for another, I think of the words of Jesus:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt. 16:24)

I like to paraphrase it this way:

Jesus says to us today:

If you want to be my disciple, to call yourself a Christian (“Christ-follower”), then you must be willing to set aside your self-centered self, take up your own cross, and come, follow me.

The next time you are talking a walk, journaling, praying at church, or just driving alone in your car, think about this:  What crosses are you carrying? Which ones are endured because of love and which are really due to your own self-centered choices? Would you like to lay some of them down at the foot of the Cross of Christ? Tell God in your own words whatever you think about the crosses in your life–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t be afraid to be honest with God no matter what. As they say, “God’s a big man–he can take it!” 

Until next time, Amen!

* From page 153 of Feb. 2013 issue of Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press), quoted from Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr’s book Abide.

Saint Valentine’s Day Message

A wise pastor reminded me that Valentine’s Day can be a difficult day for some people. You may feel alone, or may have lost someone you loved or thought you loved.

Below is a watercolor painting I made one day while I was just playing around with the colors and techniques. Today I added a Valentine’s message FOR YOU!

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

Thank you, God, for your unconditional love!  When we feel sadness, remind us that you are always there for us.

Until next time, Amen!

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable by Christine Valters Paintner

Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. –John 21:18

Have you ever thought about moving beyond your comfort zone as a type of spiritual practice?  Is life drawing you to something new, but you are hesitant? Is God inviting you to another way of serving others or giving of yourself, but you are reluctant or procrastinating?

In her column on, Benedictine Oblate and “online Abbess” Christine Valters Paintner explores the way that moving beyond our comfort zone could be called a spiritual practice. Here’s the link:

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable.

(If the link above doesn’t work, try googling “spiritual practice of being uncomfortable”.)

Thanks to the “online Abbess” of Abbey of the Arts for challenging us to listen and act when the Spirit invites us to new ways of thinking and behaving–and thanks to for allowing the sharing of columns.

Until next time, Amen.

Psalm 16–Path of Life

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

When we visit family in Arizona, my husband and I enjoy taking hikes in wide open, preserved desert spaces. Living in Minnesota, it is easy to forget just how tall the saguaro cactus can be, so here is a picture of my husband standing beside one for a little perspective (click on picture to enlarge):

Sometimes our journey in life can feel like a walk through a vast desert, filled with prickly plants and sharp stones. We can feel lost in the wilderness, a place that on the surface seems dead and lonely. The hot sun may drive us to the ground with lack of energy–or dust storms may cloud our view and choke our lungs.

Although it may look lifeless, the desert is indeed filled with living things–it’s just that it takes some learning and experience to find these things when you are new to arid environments. Besides the first things that come to many minds (poisonous snakes and insects!), there are also the lovely song of the cactus wren, gorgeous sunsets, and the sweet smell of sagebrush after the rain. Desert brush and cactus can even provide edible food and drink if you have a sharp knife and know where to look. There are also the raw materials for making soap, baskets, pottery, and soothing balm (aloe).

In the spiritual life, sometimes we suddenly discover God has transplanted us to a “desert”–that is, an unfamiliar territory that seems boring, dull, and lifeless, or maybe even scary and dangerous. We may feel upside-down, inside-out, or just plain lost. Nothing feels normal.

Yet, like the desert, there is often hidden life found where we least expect it. In the spiritual desert, discovering this new life may take longer than we would like. But no matter how bleak or desperate it may seem, God promises to show us the “path of life,” to bring us joy once again–the joy that is found not in worldly things, but in being in God’s presence. Whether we feel this presence or not, we can trust that God will never leave us, no matter what happens.

We may feel “lost,” but deep down inside, God is ever showing us the path that leads to spiritual life, eternal joy in God’s presence. We can trust that this joy will  resurface again one day.

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11

Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Aerobics

For reflection or discussion:

Have you ever experienced a period in your life when things seemed overly difficult, frightening, or confusing? What helped you through that time? Looking back, can you find anything good that God brought about as a result?

3-Minute Prayer Break–Say Yes by Bob Franke

The Advent/Christmas season is a blessed time for all, but sometimes it can be a painful time for those who experience separation from loved ones (as, for example, in time of war) or death of close friends or relatives.

When Mary said yes to the angel Gabriel (see last post), it was surely an exciting and joyous time, even if there was the terrifying side of being chosen as mother of the Son of God. It is right to celebrate the joyous event of the Incarnation, but sometimes we forget the high price Mary paid to follow through on her commitment to God.

In her obedience to God, Mary almost lost Joseph. Surely some people ridiculed her for having a child out-of-wedlock, perhaps even more so if she tried to explain about the angel’s involvement. Later, she and Joseph would face the labor of birthing in Bethlehem, away from familiar surroundings. They would have to flee as political refugees to a foreign land to save their child from death. One day, Mary would see her beloved child put to death on the cross.

Saying “yes” to God carries the great joy of new life and resurrection, but sometimes we Americans forget what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “cost of discipleship.” Following Christ is not always easy.  

Below is a 3-minute prayer break, a mini-time-out from the busyness of holiday preparations. The song “Say Yes” by Bob Franke (name rhymes with Yankee) reminds us to stay true to Christ even when the going gets tough. (Thanks to Barbara Keffer for sending it to me! And, of course, thanks to Bob Franke for such an inspiring song.)

If you are receiving this message via e-mail, the YouTube video may not appear. You can find it by visiting YouTube and typing in the search window these words: say yes by bob franke . It’s worth the effort.

May God grant you a peace-filled Christmas and bless you in 2012!

Until next time, Amen!

Light the Night Walk

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.  –Matthew 25:40 (NAB)

Many of you have been praying for my dad, who lives in Arizona and is struggling with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. I am so grateful for your prayers!

"Bobski" (my dad earlier this year)

Since May, Dad (called “Bobski” by his friends) has been doing an intense regimen of chemo that involves long stays in the hospital in Arizona, where he lives.

This past week, my husband and I spent time visiting Dad and other family members. It felt so good to put my hand in his and think back to the days when I was his “little girl.”

I firmly believe that God does not target people for suffering, but rather hopes that seeing others suffer, we will do something to show our love for others and make the world a better place. My dad certainly does not deserve this suffering of Burkitt’s lymphoma any more than anyone else does. If I could, I would remove Dad’s current pains, just as he would have removed my illnesses as I was growing up, if it had been in his power.

But God can bring about something good out of our suffering. In this situation, my family has created a team to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walk” on this coming Saturday. Light the Night Walk is a walkathon to raise money to provide free information and family support groups to those affected by these diseases, life saving research to end blood cancers, and other similar services to families affected by leukemia and lymphoma. We are not able to prevent my dad’s condition, but we can work together with the hope of helping others or maybe even one day preventing these diseases.

If you would like to make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Dad’s honor, you can support “Bobski’s Team” by clicking here.  (You should see the same picture of Dad as in this blog post.)

Until next time, thank you for your prayers and support–and Amen! 

Building Bridges with Books

Since the last blog post, I’ve been thinking: What have I learned in the period since the tragic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001? Is there anything good in my life that was brought about by something that was otherwise an evil deed?

(I don’t believe God causes evil, but that sometimes, when you look back over a long period of time, you can find something good that God brought out of an otherwise bad/evil situation.)

In reflecting on this question, the thing that surprised me most is how much I’ve learned about Islam, that is, people called Muslims. It’s not that I even know that much about Islam, but before 9-11, I knew nothing about it. Absolutely nothing.  If it hadn’t been for 9-11, I doubt I would have ever wondered about this major world religion and its devout believers. 

Looking over the past decade, I discover that I’ve read a number of books I never would have thought to read otherwise–and a number by Muslim authors:

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, by Asar Nafisi;
  • The Kite-Runner, by Khaled Hosseini;
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, also by Khaled Hosseini;
  • The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, by Irshad Manji;
  • Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter, also by Asar Nafisi);
  • The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew –Three Women Search for Understanding, by Ranya Idilby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner;

These books do not represent all sides of the Muslim world–they just happen to be the ones I read. As I said, I didn’t exactly plan it that way. I just observe this when looking over the past decade.

These books gave me windows into other people’s worlds, realms that were completely unknown to me. Reading stories or the personal experiences of others was far more engaging than merely reading theological textbooks (although those have their place). My reactions to various parts of these books covered the full gamut of human emotions: sometimes I was laughing or crying, sometimes feeling shock, anger, outrage, or empathy–and always, always, I learned something.

This doesn’t take away the evil or tragic dimension of what happened on 9-11–and particularly not for those who lost loved ones–but for someone like me it shows that God can bless us in unexpected ways.

Until next time, Amen! 

Spiritual Aerobics

1. Can you think of a time in your life when God brought something good out of something that was in other ways a bad situation?

2. Is there something positive you can do today about a situation that is otherwise sad, trying, frightening, or painful for yourself or someone else?