“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
I was 8 years old when I was invited to join a neighborhood family for a concert in the big town of Eugene, Oregon. They were going to see Keith Green at Mac Court. He was a Christian recording artist who I listened to on an almost daily basis. My brother had a few of his records and because I was finally old enough to put on the turn table myself I played all the Keith Green records all the time. So when I had permission to go I was so excited. It was my first trip to Eugene, and my first concert.
Mac Court seemed huge! We were in an upper tier, but we had a great view. I remember Keith coming out in his red Hawaiian shirt, worn jeans, and Birkenstocks. He sat down at his grand piano and played my favorite, “Rushing Wind.” I clung to every word out of his mouth and every note that he played. He spoke of God in a way that I had never heard before. He held such reverence for God while talking about real life stuff.
One of the things that stayed in my mind was his deep love for reading the Bible. He said that we should know God’s. We should devour it like a delicious meal. We should eat and sleep it. I took that to heart. The first thing I did when I got home was to ask my mom if I could borrow her bible. That night I slept with it under my pillow and sat it next to me during breakfast. (Remember, at this time I was only eight years old.) The following weekend I showed up at a slumber party with my mom’s bible in hand and couldn’t understand why no one wanted to read it with me instead of playing the usual sleepover games of Bloody Mary and hide and seek. I was barely reading more than a chapter book at that point in my life, but I believe that God’s Spirit placed something on my heart that has stayed with me my whole life.
Fast forward to my 30th birthday. I had just given birth to our second child, and I was on staff at a church that had never had a staff member go on maternity leave. I had been running a Sunday morning children’s program that focused on worship and what it means to worship God 24/7. This class fed into an 80 member children’s choir that I directed. Over the years I had grown a small group of volunteers through the parents of the students, but there was still a lot of work that I needed to do to make sure our Sunday morning class ran smoothly and that we were prepared to lead worship for services every couple of months. All this to say, I was burning out. I didn’t end up taking my maternity leave, as we needed the money. I only missed two Sundays the weeks after our daughter was born. I’m not proud of this. It’s just where I was at the time. My priorities were off, and I was paying for it.
As I sat quietly during a lull in my birthday party I thought, “Lord, if this is what following you is like, then I’m done. If you are there, light a fire under me so I know you are there.” And then, no joke, I heard a voice say, “You don’t me because you don’t spent time with me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my word.” My eyes popped opened wide and I looked around the room. I was physically alone, but it was obvious that God was present. I remembered my eight year old self who wanted to sleep and eat with that bible. I thought of my ten year old self that joyful knelt before the pastors during confirmation. I thought of my high school self that loved assisting in worship and working at a summer camp filled with God talk and prayer. Where had she gone?
The next morning I grabbed the one year bible off of our shelf and sat down during the kids’ nap time and opened it to Genesis 1. I grabbed a spiral-bound notebook and a pencil. I asked God to open my eyes and heart to what he wanted me to learn. I wrote down verses that stood out to me. I wrote down a prayer when I was finished. I did this for two months, and then I started getting inspired to draw or paint what I was reading during my bible time. I started filling journals with art. I started filling notecards with verses and themes that stood out to me. I did this for a year straight.
By my daughter’s first birthday I was still exhausted. I had a one year old after all, but I didn’t feel burned out. I wasn’t asking God to prove that he was there. I knew he was there because I was spending time with him. I knew him because I knew his word. This has turned into a life long journey for me. Over the past couple of decades, yeah, I’ve alluded to my age, I have followed some kind of read through the Bible in a year plan. I haven’t read it every day of the year, but I have read at least 90% of the readings. It has been life changing. It’s affected my faith, my prayer life, my relationships, and my art in ways that I never would have imagined.
This year I started over again on January 2nd. Not on the first, but that’s okay. This year I am reading through the New Testament in 90 days. It only takes about 15 mins a day. My plan is to do this four times throughout the year. My hope is to end the year with a better understanding of what it means to follow this directive from Jesus that we read in Matthew chapter 22:
‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’”
I think that my eight-year-old self would be amazed to hear all the ways she would come to experience the presence of God in her life, especially through spending time in his word.