Category Archives: Spirit Seeker Sunday

Just Kiddin’ (Not really. I messed up.)

You may or may not know that I have a lovely part-time job that is an incredible gift and only feels like real work once a month when I have to get there at 7:30 to sing at the early service. (So not a morning person.)

The job is as a staff singer at a lovely Lutheran congregation. We sing wonderful music, like Bach and Handel, and just got new choir robes. (Hang in there. This relates to my mistake.)

I arrived this morning thinking that Advent starts the Sunday after Thanksgiving–which it often does–and prepared to put on my purple stole. (I actually paused briefly earlier this morning when getting dressed because I couldn’t help but think how my red earrings would clash with the lovely purple stole once the robe went on.) I arrived at church only to discover white stoles on the choir robes.

White??

“Isn’t it the first Sunday of Advent?”

Now Advent is confusing for lots of folks for reasons exactly like this. Not everyone celebrates Advent in the same way or on the same weeks. (I think the Irish actually do a six week Advent.) But much of the traditional church in America celebrates Advent beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

NEXT WEEK.

Not today.

Ooops. And I bought my candles and everything.

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STOP! Don’t light that first candle yet! Hahahaha!

Not to mention telling everyone to get that Advent devotion so they can start reading it today.

Only it’s a four-week devotion designed for the four weeks before Christmas and there are still five weeks. Not four. Because Thanksgiving comes on the fourth Thursday every November and there are five Thursdays this year, not four.

Have a headache yet?

So if you’re using my devotion this year for Advent, I’d encourage you to hold off on starting it for one more week so it will last the whole time, even though I know You’re chomping at the bit to get started. (Or you could start and leave room for all those times you miss a day ’cause you’re busy.)

And if you haven’t downloaded your free copy–there’s still time!

Look at that. Maybe it was meant to be. And here you thought you might miss out.

Now here’s the next confusing issue. I was told today no purple stoles for Advent. Next Sunday we’re wearing blue. Last year it was purple. But that was before we got the blue ones. My research shows that some churches choose purple for Advent, some do blue. Others do something else entirely.

So maybe there’s another point to be made. Advent is not about doing it all right. I don’t think there is right way except maybe this one thing: Celebrate Jesus.

Whenever, however, with whatever colors you like.

And if you’re like me and love the opportunity for stillness with Him in the busy month of December, part of that celebration just might include candles and devotional thoughts. If that’s you, I hope you’ll join me this year in reading Soul Scent: Flourish Selections for Advent, which is still available for *free download* on my website.

 

Blessing,

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Soul Scents: Flourish Selections for Advent offers four weeks of devotional thoughts, Scriptures, and prayers for meditation and worship in the weeks before Christmas. If you’re celebrating Advent with candles, you can use Sunday’s reading for reflection as you light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. It also includes a scripted prayer and suggestion for worship. Monday through Friday’s daily readings focus on concepts like Christmas memories, the Christmas tree, the Cross, celebration, nativity, and worship. On Saturday journal questions prompt reflection on the week’s worship experience.

Soul Scents: Flourish Selections for Advent is taken from weeks nine through twelve of the Soul Scents: Flourish thirteen-week devotional book. Additional content for reflection during the lighting of Advent candles and at the end of week is included only in this special holiday edition.

(Selections for Advent is available as a free pdf on my website, www.paulamoldenhauer.com/gifts. If you prefer to read on Kindle, you can get your copy there for 99 cents.)

 

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Why I love Advent–Which Starts Sunday! (And a free Advent devotional book for you.)

The ribbons and bows looked funny on that avocado plant, but my little brother and I beamed at our parents, showing off our “Christmas tree.” To their credit they didn’t reprimand us, but the delight my nine-year-old heart hoped to see in their eyes was pain instead. They hated to disappoint us, but they couldn’t encourage such “pagan” behavior. See, I was raised with the belief that Christmas and all its trappings were not of God. Jesus was from God. He was sent to save us. But Christmas was not His birthday, and the Christmas tree was nothing more than leftovers from people who worshiped a false god.

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My first Christmas tree

It was to be another forty years before I owned my first Christmas tree. Perhaps this is one reason I dearly love Advent worship. The process to shedding the beliefs of my childhood and learning to celebrate at Christmas has been long and confusing, but the search has also been pure gold. Since I wasn’t raised with traditions around the holiday, my heart hungered to understand why people did what they did, what God thought about it, and what was right for me.

 

The Advent devotional readings became one of my favorite things, and I’m always on the look-out for a good devotional book—one that makes me think about worshiping Jesus and celebrating not only His birth, but what He came to do.

When I wrote Soul Scents: Flourish, which is a thirteen-week devotional book about my journey out of spiritual, emotional, and mental abuse, I didn’t expect a month’s worth of writing to center of Advent worship, but it’s what God placed in my heart to write. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Captivity of heart, mind, and emotions is the result of abuse and my heart has fought for years to fight out of the captivity connected to my Christmas worship.

Advent cover smallThis fall, as I worked on my Christmas novella series, Tinseled Tidings,  the Lord prompted me to pull out the weeks of Advent worship and off them free on my website. I am pleased to do this. I like to think of it as giving a Christmas gift to all who will receive it! (You can get yours by visiting for free at my website.)*

As I wrote these devotions I found myself typing, “I was created to celebrate. The trappings of Christmas are simply an expression of this need to worship, to sing, to dance. What I really seek is complete freedom to be who I am, to praise my God in abandon, to enjoy every ounce of beauty I can find, without majoring on minors or intense self-evaluation of the rightness of every choice.

From the beginning of my life the enemy tried to steal this identity from me. Children of celebration don’t do well with strife, but I was surrounded by it from day one. They need free expression and movement and beauty. As a child, religion created within me a mistrust of the aesthetics. The culture I was raised in didn’t give much credence to the arts. In the early years movies were considered evil. Dance classes a sin. And much of art inappropriate. Beautiful spaces were not particularly appreciated. There was a prevailing attitude in the church of my childhood that poverty was more acceptable than riches. Too much emphasis on outward adornment was also suspect. As a religious culture, there was a scarcity in our ability to celebrate, to embrace the abundance of the gifts God offered us. Christmas was but a tiny piece of a prevailing attitude that found suspect anything that included too much celebration, too much joy, too much beauty—too much abundance of any type.”

As the words flew from my fingers I grasped something big. I wrote, “It isn’t just Christmas the enemy has tried to steal from me. It is life!

The right to be who I am and breathe my own air the unique way He created me to do it!
You see, I am a child of dance and song. I am a child of celebration. From the beginning the enemy has sought to steal this from me. He has tried to exploit my desire to please God by turning it into striving instead of joyful surrender and praising advancement. He tried to twist the deep parts of my personality, the “old soul” that is me to make me melancholy instead of simply reflective and insightful. He tried to poison my sanguine temperament with hopelessness.

But he has lost his battles. His schemes are crushed into the ground. Where he sowed pain and despair my Jesus came in and poured His healing blood and turned all that evil had planted into seeds of faith. My Jesus watered those seeds with the showers of blessings and storms of trial and the every-single-day-new-hope of His Light. The seeds are bursting forth in blossoms, and the garden of my heart where He dwells is fragrant with grace. The turtledoves have arrived and coo their love song there in my garden heart. The garden my Lord planted for His enjoyment. Here there is hope. There is dance and song and celebration. For I am His child, created for joy.”

As I share those words** with you today, passion rises, jumps, screams out of my body asking, “how about you?” Where has the enemy stolen your joy? Taken away your worship? Lied to you, forcing you into a box of unending self-examination and rules or held you back from enjoying abundance?

My friend we are FREE.

Remember the truth of the beautiful carol, “In His name all oppression shall cease!” and join with worshipers of the ages singing:

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim! ***

May God meet you in joy and freedom this Advent season. I hope you’ll download my *free* Advent devotion and let me be a part of that.

From my heart to yours!

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*If you prefer to read on Kindle instead of downloading the free pdf, Selections for Advent is available on Kindle for 99 cents.

**Taken from week 2 of Soul Scents: Flourish Selections for Advent

***O Holy Night’s original verse by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847, translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893)

 

Giving Away 21 Days of Love and More

20160620_142135Have you ever sensed internal growth as a result of reading good fiction? My friend Kathy Ide believes strongly in the power of story. As an editor and the founder and director of The Christian Pen, Kathy is also well connected to the authors she loves.

From her passion came a beautiful four book set of fiction lovers devotionals. Kathy and I reconnected recently when I served as faculty for PENCON, the professional conference for editors. When I told her how much I loved her idea of combining fictional stories with devotional thoughts, she immediately gifted me two sets–one to give away and one to read!

I began 21 Days of Love during a recent get-a-way with my best friends from college.2016-06-16 16.57.29

It was the perfect light reading for the setting–great little short stories with powerful takeaways.

If you’d like to win the set of these beautiful, hard-back devotionals, 21 Days of Love, 21 Days of Joy, 21 Days of Grace, and 21 Days of Christmas, leave a comment and an email address. I’ll draw a name from the comments here and on social media and send the books to the winner!

Enjoy!

Until Next Time,

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He Is . . . I Am

IMAG0626Identity. We have no clue how it drives our lives. How it shapes our daily, minute-to-minute choices.

Today’s post is an invitation into my journal, my musings. I’m just audacious enough to believe God meets me there, when I’m quiet in my recliner, snuggled beneath my fuzzy blanket, journal and pen in hand. (He meets me other places, too. Increasingly I believe there is no divided secular and sacred space. There is only space. And where there is space HE is. But I digress.)

On that day, pen in hand, I talked with Him about hopes. Fears. Dreams. About feeling unqualified, unworthy, and other “un” words.

He said, “I Am your qualifier. I Am your worthiness. I Am has brought you through the experience you need to do what I Am has planned.”

I told Him I knew the journey was about His ability, not mine, and I surrendered to His plan. Then I added, “I am afraid.”

“No,” His tone was gentle. “Do not use ‘I Am’ for identity statements. I Am is ME in you.”

Often I say things like, “I am overwhelmed. I am tired. I am afraid. I am inadequate.” Since this conversation with Him I’m trying to break that habit.

Am is a linking verb. In English class they taught me that whatever is on the other side of “am” renames “I.”

God reminds me not to give myself names that are outside of who HE is within me. HE is never inadequate or afraid or overwhelmed. In the book of John Jesus told His followers, “I am in you and you are in Me.” If God indwells me (and isn’t this the crux of Christian thought?) then His resources and character are also inside of me. Besides, God promises in Romans 8:29 that He is remaking me to be like Jesus. That makes me think that using identity statements about myself that differ from who Jesus is contradicts the work God is doing. I want to lean into the process to be MORE like Jesus, not to push against it!

That said, I don’t think God wants me to pretend I don’t have real emotions. However, I do think He wants me to see them as just that. The other day I caught myself saying I was overwhelmed. Just saying it made me act even more as if it were true.

My new goal is to change my verbiage from “am” to “feel” when dealing with negative crap that isn’t part of who God is. So . . . I feel overwhelmed, but I know the God who lives inside of me can handle anything. Sometimes situations seem hopeless, but God is a God of hope, and with Him nothing is impossible. Hard tasks can make me feel inadequate, but God is always up for any challenge. And HE lives in and through me.

But God . . . what a difference those two little words make. In Him I am a whole bunch of stuff that is glorious.

How about you, my friend? Been saying or thinking “I am” statements that whisper identities you really don’t want to take on? What thought patterns can you change by a twist of verbiage and the addition of “but God?”

Until Next Time,

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*If you’ve not been around much Jewish or Christian theology, there’s a whole new depth brought to those words, “I Am” based on an experience with God and Moses. Moses, the guy who led the Israelite slaves out of captivity in Egypt, was one of those guys who felt unqualified with a glaring “UN.” When He asked God His name, God called Himself, “I AM.” Jesus also made a bunch of identity statements using those two little words, “I Am.”

Writing this post reminded me of another time I pondered those two little words. At that time I wrote 10 devotionals based on those musing, and because of this post added them to my website in hopes they might encourage you. Maybe you’d like to bookmark the devotional page and spend the next ten days thinking about what God means when He calls Himself, “I Am.”

Fighting for Grace

Can I let it all hang out?

My fight to breathe in grace?

Some people are recovering alcoholics; I’m a recovering perfectionist. Which means, at its root, I’m a recovering religious legalist.

My desperate desire is to please and follow God. I want to be sweet and love Him and be loved by Him.

But as much as I long for perfection in this, I just can’t be perfect.

Sometimes I’m salty, not sweet.

20140526_133259My kitchen floor issue is still not resolved. We’re pulling up boards trying to find all the water, trying to let things dry out. I’m struggling to manage kitchen duty (and we’re one of those families that rarely eat out, don’t use pre-packaged food, and consume LOTS, so kitchen duty is a big deal) in a difficult situation.

Yesterday I chose to bake banana cake, Seth’s favorite. He’s home from college and well, it’s one of our love languages. And there is never a reason around here to do a single recipe, so of course I doubled it.

I’m leaning over floor boards that have been pulled up and stepping into cracks of sub-floor to try to work without further damaging my beautiful boards. (There’s a point.)

I’m ready to put the bananas in the batter, but Stephen pulls out a spoon and has a taste, one of his favorite things since childhood. His face scrunches up in distaste. I scoop a little into my mouth. It’s terrible. We add more sugar. No improvement. I taste the sugar. It’s bitter. Salty. I have no idea what 20140526_134405happened, but it was good for nothing but to be thrown away.

And I can’t help but think of myself like that canister of sugar. I want to be sweet. I’m supposed to be sweet. But I’ve been salty.

And something as non-life-changing as a dishwasher leaking under my favorite floor is what is tipping me over the edge. (There’s plenty of more important stuff I’m navigating, and I seem to handle that. But my floor! My beautiful floor!!)

I was mostly salty at God. I said some nasty stuff about Him to a friend. I don’t like to talk bad about those I love, and it hurts that I did.

And sometimes when I’m a jerk I think I should be thrown out like I threw out that salt. If I’m not sweet, I’m not doing my job, so just toss me in the trash.

But I KNOW that is my old mindset creeping in. Legalism. Pride. I’ve never been sweet all through every moment, and I never will be. It’s not my goodness that makes me close to God, it’s HIS.

My behavior is not going to separate me from God because Jesus’s behavior when He offered Himself on the cross is what connected God and me in the first place. It’s what keeps me connected long-term.

But I felt that old self-censure creeping in. That inability to believe I was worthy of His love when I was so nasty. That secretly He was a God who would withhold His gifts because I wasn’t being a good daughter.

So I typed a plea to a safe circle of friends asking them to pray, to help me hold onto Truth and not give into the old thought patterns. I wrote, “I know know know that God’s blessings are not dependent upon my perfection. I know that He forgives freely . . . I have been really angry with Him and acting like an entitled jerk. I’m struggling to get over my anger and to also to believe what my head knows, that I was forgiven for the awful things I said to and about Him even as I said them.

I know if one of my kids talked that way to/about me I would have been really hurt, yet I expect God to just take it from me and still open the floodgates of heaven and help me. It seems wrong.

Then I wonder about grace and unconditional love, and I suspect the root of my struggle is actually about not opening my heart to this grace, to this forgiveness, that my self-censure is returning to old crap . . .”

And one of my friends replied with the Truth and grace I already knew but struggled to receive, “There is NOTHING you can say to Him that hasn’t already been said. NOTHING you can do that hasn’t already been done. Peter argued with the LORD all the time. Paul was a murderer. David was an adulterous AND murderer. Abraham was a coward. Moses had no faith. Joseph was prideful. Jacob wrestled with the LORD to the point he had to have his hip dislocated.

“Paula, there is NOTHING God sees but your heart. It is a human heart that struggles with everyday life, yet when push comes to shove still leans on its Creator. Your relationship is so close that you can be honest with your God. DO NOT look at the Father-child relationship you have in human terms. God’s love is NEVER performance driven. Think of all the heroes we read about in the Bible and they all messed up big time. But they had one thing that the LORD loved more than anything–honesty before their King. That, my dear, sweet Paula, is what you have. Don’t let the enemy tell you otherwise.”

And so for the past two days I’ve told myself what I already know: God’s love is never performance-driven.

God’s love is never performance-driven.

God’s love is never performance-driven.

Always God’s love is mine, given freely, spilling all over me without measure. I don’t have to be a perfect child to access it. Even when I blow it He loves me.

He loves me.

He loves me.

He loves me.

And instead of casting me aside when I’m salty, he patiently remakes me into His image.

20140526_134248I baked those cakes over again, using good, sweet sugar. And they were the blessing I hoped they would be.

The blessing I want to be and often fall short of.

But GLORY-BE (southern roots showing here) like cakes I, too, can be remade.

Say a prayer for me, my friends . . .

Until next time,

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Spirit Seeker Sunday ~ Practical Tips to Break the Food Addiction

OUCH: “When the desire for treats is triggered by difficult emotions, it’s not really a desire for treats. It’s a thinly veiled attempt at self-medication . . . our souls are thirsty and ravenous . . . if we fail to . . . fill our souls with spiritual nourishment, we will forever be triggered to numb our loneliness with other temporary physical pleasures . . . this issue is bigger than emotions; it’s really about spiritual deprivation . . . and self-medicating with food . . . vicious cycles I must avoid.” Lysa TerKeurst

One of the best parts of my journey to health has been discovering some of the “whys” behind my eating choices and learning to be mindful of those when I want to reach for food. It’s amazing how the realization that I’m trying to fill an emotional need with something that won’t satisfy, but will instead derail my goals, gives me strength to walk away.

Sometimes it is now as simple as a quick prayer breathed to the Lord, telling Him I want Him to fill my needs, not food.

It was harder earlier in my journey. Maybe because the cravings were more physical than they are now-metting with agent 2-along with being emotional, which they still are. During that time period I found a cup of licorice spice or peppermint tea helped curb the cravings and still felt like a treat. I could sip my no calorie tea and do something else I enjoyed rather than eat–like read a book, write in my journal, chat with a friend, or play on Facebook. I read later that peppermint tea curbs the appetite when you’re hungry and Licorice tea (I like Stash Licorice Spice) curbs sugar cravings!

God is sweet to give us great tasting, no calorie options. Early in my journey I also found that taking a walk when I got a craving was a great alternative. Once I started walking I no longer felt hungry, and the time it required often took me to the next scheduled meal, so I didn’t think about snacking between.

The other cool thing is that walking never fails to connect me back to God. I hear the birds and am grateful for the beauty of their song–and next thing I know I’m thanking God for the gift. Or the sun shines or me, or the sky is a brilliant blue, or I see a flower, a tree, a mountain . . . or I simply feel the fresh air upon my face. Nature draws me to the Creator. Another cool thing that often happens as I walk is that He’ll prompt me to prayer or I’ll use the time to listen to Scripture on the audio Bible app on my phone.

The last few weeks we’ve talked about spiritual practices and how they relate to weight loss, but God created us mind, body, emotions, and spirit. We also need tangible, practical, physical plans to help us succeed in our journey to breaking the food addiction.

What practical plan do you have for the next time you are tempted to self-medicate with food?

Father,

Help me not to self-medicate with food. Give me what it takes to break the cycles of food addiction. Free me to enjoy my life, not just my food. To find freedom not in eating anything I want, but in choosing a fuller life over a fuller tummy. Help me to turn to You when I am tempted to self-medicate. Be my healer. Show me healthy alternatives to my addictions, even if for a while they are simply distractions. But in the long run, draw me to Yourself.

Being practical in overcoming the need to self-medicate with food

PS. I truly believe my Benew products have reduced cravings and helped my physical self in this journey to break the food addiction cycles.

Spirit Seeker Sunday ~ Sitting in Silence

Sitting in silence . . .IMAG3148

How often do we truly sit in quiet, seeking God’s presence and agenda? I don’t know about you, but sitting and silence aren’t so easy for me. I can sit–and talk, or write, or read, or watch TV or . . . but in silence?

A few weeks ago a friend encouraged me to set a timer, turn on music that makes me feel loved, and simply sit in silence with God, inviting Him to love me. My execution has been sporadic with varied results from profoundly beautiful to annoyingly distracted.

I find it comforting to be reminded that the Holy Spirit prays for me even when I don’t know what to ask for. God Himself prays to Himself on my behalf, asking the Father to help me know Him in increasing measure.

I like the idea of being still to connect with God’s love. I also like the idea of practicing silence for the purpose of discerning His presence and His agenda. I do this often in a prayer group I’m in. We don’t mind stretches of silence as we seek Him. But I find it harder when I’m alone.

IMAG3162Before I began the weight loss journey the only time I truly faced the Truth that God had an agenda for my body that didn’t include obesity was in the silence and vulnerability of the night. I believe now that the Holy Spirit was calling me to pray, nudging me to ask the Father for help with this very real issue of defeat in my life.

Times of introspection, prayer, and silence are invaluable to the weight loss journey. What if we asked God some hard questions and sat in silence a few minutes each day until we got the answers we sought?

What if we said, “God, why do I struggle with my weight?” or “Lord, please show me the root cause behind why I feel powerless to change in my body.” Or maybe, “Are there specific health or nutritional choices I need to make to help me with the journey to losing weight? If so, what are they, God?”

Then we waited a while. In silence. And if He chose not to answer right then, what if we whispered, “I’m still listening, Lord,” and sought to keep an open heart to His answers as we returned to our routines?

Lord,
Teach us to discern Your presence, Your voice, Your heart. Reveal what we need to understand about our relationship with food–and heal us.

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