Practice Practice Practice by Allison Bown

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In this blog, I have asked and received permission from Allison Bown to print a section of her book, entitled: Joyful Intentionality (pages 30-33). This section so powerfully stirred my spirit and gave descriptive language to what I believe my sister and I have been intentionally doing since we found out that her original breast cancer diagnosed in 2013 had metastasized into her lymph nodes May 2015.

We had been convinced that she was healed following a double mastectomy September 27, 2013. We rejoiced that she was cancer free throughout 2014. We were both stunned by the new diagnosis in 2015. As I headed to the prayer room the day following the second diagnosis, I heard distinctly in my spirit Abba say to me, “Welcome the rain!” 

The bold words in italics will be quotations from Joyful Intentionality. the black basic print will be my thoughts.

Unexpected occasions allow us to practice what we are learning, if we can recognize the opportunity. Just as stillness increases our ability to see God in these situations (Psalm 46:10), fear and panic reduce our ability to interpret the real purpose of God at these times. So, God compassionately allows us to experience various training grounds where we can practice our peace in the midst of turmoil. These equipping sessions are crucial to our growth, because that’s where we discover how many of our concepts of Him have actually become our reality. God is never disappointed if we discover that it’s not as many as we thought because He already knows where we truly stand. He is just kind enough to make sure we understand it, too, so that we can embark on the next part of our development without getting ourselves (or someone else) seriously wounded in the process due to our well-intentioned ignorance.

Some days, Jesus’ disciples feel like my own personal support group, encouraging me that there is a learning curve in this journey. My favorite story is in Mark 4 about their training opportunity during the storm on the lake. After a long day of parables, they piled into a boat and Jesus set the course: “We’re going to the other side.” Then He promptly went to sleep on a pillow (Mark 4:38). I love the pillow! It’s a seemingly irrelevant detail that conveys much. Jesus wasn’t just crashed out after a long day of ministry; He was really comfortably snuggled in, totally at rest.

 Meanwhile, the storm picked up and the boys began to become anxious which means that it had to be a pretty rough storm. Half of them had grown up on that lake and were professional fisherman-they knew how to handle themselves when the waves got big. But that night, during that storm, their best determination was that they were sinking fast and Jesus didn’t care. C’mon Lord! This is no time to go to sleep on the job! We need You to do one of those miracle things.” No doubt Jesus just burrowed into His pillow a little deeper. He knew it was the perfect time to be unavailable. Why? Because it was their turn. It was time to practice.

This  was the next installment of their training, and at least their second opportunity to put their experience of God in action. They’d had a previous occasion when 5000 people showed up to hear Jesus-5000 hungry people. When the disciples suggested to Jesus that the people should go away and get something to eat, Jesus said, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16) . The disciples protested, pointing out how little they had (five loaves and two fish), so Jesus proceeded to demonstrate how to make it more than enough. He had given them an opportunity to practice, and they decided to pass.

But Jesus had no intention of letting them become completely dependent on Him to do ALL the work, because He knew that He wasn’t always going to be physically with them. Very soon, they would need to be able to connect with the Father in the same way that He did. In only a few months, He was no longer going to be physically visible to to them (even though  He would actually  be more present than ever in their lives). So the Lord left open spaces for them to practice taking responsibility for using what they learned from Him. When this training opportunity came around, Jesus made Himself seemingly unavailable. The disciples would each face far worse than a storm one day, and He loved them too much to not give them the opportunity to take their best shot at releasing Papa’s peace into their own relationship with the Father, not His.

Jesus had previously taught them about who would endure in the Kingdom: those who both heard His words AND DID THEM (Luke 6:47). In this parable, Jesus described two men who both built houses, which were probably equally excellent in outward appearance. But the foundations of their houses were greatly different. Jesus described the man who both heard the truth and took action as having created a foundation that would withstand a storm. Before the weather ever turned nasty, that man put the weight of practice on his revelations to see how much of them he had actually become. Truth wasn’t just a concept to him; it was a rock solid reality. Any gaps in his relationship with God were discovered ahead of time and could be filled accordingly. 

The other man’s house probably didn’t seem much different-until the storm hit. No matter how excellent the construction of his home, his lack of foundation left it vulnerable to adversity. Once the waves began to pound and the winds began to blow, it was too late to apply the action which would have secured the faith and trust needed for a storm-weathering  foundation.

For the disciples on the lake, Jesus was offering a surprise session of “Life with God: 101.” It was time for them to discover if they had built a foundation on the rock of their relationship with the Father, or if their foundation was on sandy soil of another’s revelation that had not become their personal reality.

My sister and I were not strangers to the “storm”  of cancer. Our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early forties and told at the time she had about 6 months to live. We watched her struggle with surgery, radiation, chemo, hair loss, swelling, exhaustion, mobility issues and pain for twelve years following her initial diagnosis. She graduated into eternal life at the age of 53. I was age 30 at the time of her death… sister was 28. Yet, my mom began seeking a personal relationship with Jesus after her diagnosis that changed our family dynamic. We were five individuals that interacted around meals and during vacations. Now with Mom battling cancer, we began to practice daily connectedness with each other and God. My Mom started a Sharing Group that continued long after her death. She and my father became active in Lay Renewal through our church. My parents began hosting what we called the God Squad during my high school and college years where local teenagers gathered on Saturday night in our home for fellowship, prayer and Bible study. My parents dreamed together of starting a counseling center to support struggling families and individuals. My mother did not live to see it become a reality, but my father opened it one year after her death: The Mary Lou Fraser Foundation for Families, Inc.  is still serving to date the people of Liberty County and those in surrounding counties in GA. My parents along with Jesus’ disciples  eventually understood the need for practicing their faith daily and they left a distinctive legacy for us to follow. Now it is our turn…….my sister and I. After 6 months of shifting to an organic base diet, juicing and consuming 64 ounces of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, low dose chemo and utilizing a variety of immunity boosting techniques…..the cancer continued to mutate in my sister’s body. A tumor on her sternum required 30 rounds of radiation to reduce it’s size in order to relieve the compression and pain it was causing my sister. Then in April the brain lesions were discovered, requiring three weeks of radiation of  her entire brain. That was the point I began screaming….. C’mon Lord! This is no time to go to sleep on the job! We need You to do one of those miracle things.” I read “Practice Practice Practice” May 2 and I immediately called my sister and read it to her (her husband and two others joined us on speaker phone). We praised God in prayer following the reading for the training He was accomplishing in this set of circumstances. Here is a summary of days of “joyful vulnerability” we have witnessed in this “practice session” the past two months:

  1. The brain radiation began on my 61st birthday May 3.

  2. Traditional Chemo began on my sister’s 59th birthday May 11

  3. During the third week of radiation to the brain, my sister and her husband hosted the rehearsal dinner for their youngest son’s wedding

  4. Though unsteady and weak, my sister danced the mother/son dance at the wedding reception the following day

  5. She went home from the wedding and spent the next week totally dependent on her husband’s strength for her mobility needs

  6. Despite the lack of physical strength, my sister radiated hope, faith, love, heavenly peace, and joy in the midst of the cancer storm

  7. At the beginning of June, her strength began to return slowly allowing her to use a walker around the house 

  8. June 11 she was in the emergency room and  following a CT Scan was told the cancer was widespread in her, chest, lungs and bones

  9. I arrived for my June visit upon her return from the hospital. We consulted her oncologist the following day. He commented, “They probably indicated you were ready for hospice. We are all on death’s doorstep. The chemo is working let’s stay the course.”

  10. We enjoyed a week of doctor visits, laughter, puzzles, movies, fellowship, prayer, good food, family, a book entitled: Storm Sisters and the ministry of silent presence just being together. I returned home on June 18.

  11. The practice continues as we live out the promise from Jeremiah 29:11 "I know the plans I have for you. Plans to proper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future."

I've often wondered: what if Peter, James, John & Co. had reacted differently? What if they had recognized their opportunity to practice what they'd learned? I imagine one of them speaking up.  "Hey Guys, let's surprise Him! We've watched Him do the miracles, and we've done a few ourselves. The Father is bigger than this storm, right?" The other disciples nodded in agreement. "Remember that man who built his house on the rock? He survived a storm like this because he didn't just hear the Word-he did it! Let's do it! Let's release the peace of God to this storm by speaking to it."

Who knows which one of them would have said the actual words? Maybe they all would have declared peace together. But we will never know what could have happened, because that night? They missed it. They lost their opportunity to personally speak to the storm, to let their relational peace surpass the natural power of the waves. They never got to see the look that would have been on Jesus’ face when He opened His eyes, winked at them and said, “Good job boys. You’re getting it.”

That night on the lake, Jesus finally had to abandon His comfy pillow and remind them that they only needed a little bit of faith. He spoke to the storm and stilled it, showing once more what happens when life on earth is as it is in Heaven.

True to the gracious and patient nature of God, there would be other occasions  in the disciples’ future when the unexpected was happening, and they would be given another chance to take action using what they had learned, combined with Who the Father had become to them. Though the Gospels show us that they missed several opportunities, they would eventually become champions with the help of the Holy Spirit. It is highly encouraging to me that the guys who turned the world upside down didn’t get it right the first time through-or the second, or even the third. But they still got it…..because they had been (and stayed) with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

I don’t know how the future will unfold in the cancer storm in which my sister and I walk currently. However, we are proclaiming God’s goodness  and faithfulness as we walk hand in hand spiritually along the narrow mountainous pathway illuminated by His presence within us. We may not enter Heavens’s gates together, but we will walk together spiritually until one of us graduates. We are on the look out for all the treasures Abba has hidden along the path for us to find……the greatest treasure and source of our journey is God’s abiding presence with us. God promised me in Habakkuk 3:19 (Sherry’s Translation based on the Amplified Version) one month before my mother entered eternal life…….  “I AM your strength, your personal bravery, and your invincible army.; I will make your feet like hinds’ feet and through My Holy Spirit provide the grace for you to walk [not stand still in terror, but to walk] and make spiritual progress upon my high places of trouble, suffering and responsibility.

It is an earthly fact that my sister is dealing with Stage Four Cancer. The cancer is widespread in her body presently. The enemy has invited me to a pity party in the Valley of Despair. I have declined the invitation. I choose to view the situation as training for a glorious future that my sister envisions this way: I am being called to go behind enemy lines in the world of despair, disease and darkness. "I am being sent in to rescue those who are on the brink of despair and pull them back up into the light of God’s love…….. to a place where God’s love overwhelms with peace, purpose and beauty……to a place where they can rest, heal and be restored." 

I am an honored witness to her daily practice of LIVINGin the light of God’s love where God’s love overwhelms with peace, purpose and beauty”… is an awesome wonder to behold I assure you…..sacred ground that I have the privileged to walk one week of every month. 

After I read “Practice Practice Practice” to my sister & Co. May 2, I headed home and look what I saw in the sky that I interpret as God’s approval. In my spirit I heard, “Good job, gals. You’re getting it.”

Direct Link to purchase Joyful Intentionality by Allison Bown

John Stetzer