A Circle Story: The Practice of Listening

Circles are Open Door's way of tangibly training people in the Way of Jesus.  These are the primary spaces in which we become equipped & mobilized into God's reconciling mission of Restoration.  Our Circles take on myriad forms and themes, but a few of things remain the same in each: (1) they are all oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus; (2) they create space for shared life and belonging to occur; and (3) their impact is beyond those who are a part of the Circle.  Learn more about Circles and/or find a Circle by clicking here.

Deborah Benzuly is in a Circle of dynamic women who have chosen to enter into an extended journey with God, each other, and others.  In this guest post, Deborah reflects on one tool that has been especially transformational for her and for those in her Circle.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) I haven’t completely understood or internalized this verse until I entered into a Circle with some amazing women a few years ago.  My original intention was simply getting to know a few other women believers...I had no idea what was in store for me. We've been on a journey through life together: relationships, children, jobs and school. We’ve experienced God’s amazing healing and cultivation in each woman, a true testament to God’s work in us all.

Transformation is what we're about. We have all assumed a posture of growth, to be accountable to one another, and to speak truth and encouragement to one another.  This has not come about naturally, but with intention and purpose from everyone in the group.

It is because of this that I have personally experienced a closeness with these women that I could say I’ve never experienced before with friends.  Each woman brings a unique gifting to the group that I benefit from on a regular basis.  With Kelly, I learn the power of empathy and compassion for myself and for others. Kate has taught me the importance of rest and tangibly incorporating a Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Ashley constantly shows me to embrace God’s love and joy through daily life.  And I have challenged the group to bring learning and ideas into tangible action. Lastly, I have learned how to hear God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit from Melissa.

Melissa has always been the one in the group that seemed to naturally channel the Holy Spirit in forms of encouragement, prayer, images; you name it.  We often joke that she has a direct line to God. She quickly debunked the myth that she was the only one God was speaking to. She normalized her ability to clearly hear God’s voice and speak truth and grace into each one of us into something that we could do too. She framed it as a skill, rather than a gift, as it is something she has learned and has practiced on a regular basis.  It was then that we all had to experience this for ourselves.

We asked Melissa to lead a night of teaching us how to hear for God’s voice. It may sound silly, but the thought of sitting still and silent for more than 2 minutes hoping to hear something was anxiety provoking.  My relationship with God had to this point been one of prayer, however not a conversation. It was during this night that Melissa taught us how to listen for the Holy Spirit.  She walked us through a process of prayer, of breaking any agreements we may have with the Enemy, and asking God what He wants us to hear from Him.  She encouraged us to write anything we heard, saw, or felt, with no censor and no scripting. Then she cut us loose.  In the next 30 minutes, I couldn’t stop writing.  I can only best explain it as an outpouring of love, encouragement, and challenge from God in the form of images, reference to specific scripture, and an audible voice that sounded so much like a loving and tender Father.  When we circled back as a group, I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, and crying.  It was as if I finally listened and God couldn’t stop talking. I had a direct line too, just like Melissa, and that was worthy of celebration, laughter, and tears.  For it was there all along, I just needed to learn how to listen.

 I am so thankful for Melissa having shared this experience with us and tangibly showing and walking us through listening for God’s voice. This has become a regular practice for me and continues to deepen my relationship with the Father. I am so grateful to be in a group that learns from one another, sharpens one another, and loves one another.

Guest Blogger :: Heidi Brandow on the Power of Gratitude

In this post, Heidi Brandow continues our series on Gratitude vs. Grumbling by reflecting on what happens when we become people who pay attention to the activity of God around us as well as the character of God within others and boldly declare what we see. Here's what she writes:

For me the Thanksgiving holiday has always been about family.  Growing up we didn’t live near our grandparents, so it was one of the few times of year we were guaranteed a visit; as grandkids and their grandparents often do, we made the most of every minute. As the years pass, so the seasons of life bring change, but the strong traditions of family and Thanksgiving were written in my heart in indelible ink.

Six years ago I hosted our family Thanksgiving for the first time at my home because my mom wasn’t up to it.  We’d said goodbye to both of my grandparents within six weeks of each other and Grandpa’s funeral was earlier in the week.  It was a bittersweet time – a family together in loss yet celebrating a life well lived. It was a different Thanksgiving; broken, but beautiful. 

The next year I found myself in California – alone with my two small girls.  No house full of family. (No house for that matter!) No travel plans.  I was alone, sad, and, if I am honest, ungrateful. My answer to the “what are your plans?” question: I think we’ll skip Thanksgiving this year.”

It was then I began a journey that would forever change my life.  I discovered that thanksgiving isn’t a day, it is a discipline.  I came across some happiness research that recommended the practice of writing down one thing every day for which you are truly thankful and posting it where it can be seen throughout the day.   I began the practice, with low expectations.  By Thanksgiving, it was working. I spent the holiday with my best friend’s family and friends. I found myself deeply thankful for the sister I never realized I had.  My brokenness was healing.  I began to see beauty around me.  I carried the practice through the end of the year.  By January I was a new person. Signs of new life were apparent and my colleagues began to ask why.

It has become my practice to spend the last two months of the year sharing my grateful posts on Facebook.  It keeps me grounded through the busyness of the holidays, connects me to others who share the practice in November, and prepares me for the New Year.  This year I almost bailed on Facebook in December because I became overwhelmed by the resurgence of negativity.  Suddenly the gratefulness had all ended! No one would care if I didn’t post past November this year - or notice if I just stopped, right? That night I received two separate messages from far away friends.  “The gratitude is contagious” and “The grateful posts encourage me.”  Rejoice in the Lord always. Even when Facebook is negative? Especially then.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; his faithful love lasts forever.” (Psalm 136:1) Over and over in Scripture God tells us to give thanks.  Why? It is obvious that He deserves our praise; but the second half of the verse provides a clue to the lesson my journey is teaching me. Give thanks because it is good for you.  Give thanks because it lifts your heart toward Him and, in doing so, breaks open the division between Heaven and Earth. Giving thanks gives us eyes to see Him in the world around us and arms that are open to His embrace. A grateful heart is a gift from our Creator.  A grateful heart is one that beats in time with His.  When that happens our broken hearts sing and others are invited to sing along.

Where might your journey of gratitude take you and whom could you invite along?