Off the Deep End!

Depth has been at the heart of God’s lessons this week, so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when He reminded me of the time daddy threw me into the deep end of an ice cold swimming pool. I smiled as I recalled that image this morning, but there was nothing funny about it when it happened.

I was almost ten years old, and we were visiting my aunt and uncle who lived in a small cabin nestled in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Aunt Edith and Uncle Dave had no electricity or running water, so they had an outhouse instead of a bathroom. I didn’t know Uncle Dave was a wealthy man until after he died. Aunt Edith didn’t know they had money either. When she realized she had over a million dollars, her response was, “I don’t care what anybody says, I’m buying a washer and a dryer!!” She was as sweet and innocent as Dave was mean and spiteful. She ended up sharing her money with all of her sisters and brothers because she believed it to be the right thing to do. I could just imagine Uncle Dave flipping over in his grave!

Uncle Dave didn’t spend money on anything but land, and he bought a lot of it. One of his properties was a hunting lodge with a pool. Daddy and Dave took my sisters and I over for a swim during one of our visits. I didn’t realize it belonged to my uncle. I figured he either knew the person who owned the house or was simply trespassing. The lodge was deep in the woods, and the pool was not heated. The water had to be sixty degrees or less on that cool fall afternoon.

I’m not sure why daddy threw me into the deep end of that pool, but it was probably because he wanted to teach me how to swim. Daddy and Uncle Dave enjoyed drinking white lightning when they got together, and I’m sure they dipped into Dave’s stash while we were at the lodge. Whatever the catalyst, I found myself suddenly catapulted through the air and submerged in an unwelcome icy bath.

Choking and splashing, I thrashed the water violently until I reached the side of the pool. I got out shivering in shock while trying to figure out what had just happened. I was used to trying to figure out what I had done after being beaten or drop kicked across a room, but daddy hadn’t hit me since I went into the lake and almost drowned at five.

The cold water brought back memories of a different time when the muddy water of Lake Hickory drew me under and almost ended my life. I walked willingly into that warm water and hadn’t struggled at all. Daddy jumped in and jerked me out of the water then, so why in God’s name had he so mercilessly thrown me into the deep end of this frigid pool.

I got my answer when I surfaced and saw Uncle Dave and daddy laughing out loud. Dave may have told daddy to throw me in, or daddy may have come up the teaching strategy on his own. Either way, I learned to swim that day. The crash course worked, and I swam in survival mode for the next fifty years. When I moved in with my son and his family a few years ago, the house came with a beautiful pool. I learned to relax and swim, even in the deep end, because I didn’t want my fear the water to become my granddaughters’ fear.

Last month, I relaxed and let the warm, soothing salt water lift my body and my spirits as I swam with abandon in my sister’s beautiful pool. Relaxing works wonders when it comes to swimming, and it’s also great when it comes to loving as God desires. I’m learning the more I relax, the deeper I can go 🙂

I Beg to Differ….

It’s been difficult to write, read, speak, or think lately as polarizing opinions continue to wreak havoc on my country and my heart. God taught me the importance of differing differently this week.

As Christians, we are not supposed to be fused to a particular ideology, theology, doctrine, or opinion. We are simply to be who God created us to be. It is the sincerest form of praise to Him and the most beautiful witness of His creation and His love for us. As friends, we are supposed to love one another as we are without having to agree on everything. As family, we love unconditionally and without the need to control. Love is not about control; it is as natural as breathing when it is real. When it is controlled, it is like being on a ventilator. You may be breathing, but it isn’t natural or comfortable!

Each of us was created to be different by a Creator Who knows us better than we know ourselves. He could have made us all exactly the same, but He knew better. He could, and can, make us all love Him and one another as He desires; but He knows that would showcase His power rather than His love. God doesn’t want control because He already has it. He wants holiness. That word doesn’t mean perfect; it means maturity, ripeness, readiness to be who He created us to be. Self differentiation allows us to love as God loves.

Fusion is the easiest way to connect, so it is the way most connect. Individuals get lost, and polarization abounds. Our world is fusing and fighting in ways that break God’s heart. It’s bad enough to fuse, but to use His name as the agent of such fusing is inherently wrong. It’s getting more and more difficult to differ, and that hinders differentiation and creates division. God helped me see how differing differently can actually help with the process of differentiation.

I used to feel the need to be who those around me wanted me to be. That need caused me to adapt a Pollyanna approach to living and loving in community. Make everyone happy, and they will love you. All will be right in the world. The world around me will be much more pleasant, and life will be much simpler. That didn’t pan out, so I decided to try being myself and forgetting about whether or not others like me or not. That doesn’t mean being mean; it just means saying what I believe in a respectful way.

God gave me three loving sisters who have, do, and always will love me just as I am. They have surrounded and tried to protect me from the harsh realities of this world all of my life. Their love was a safe harbor for my heart, but God knew I needed more than a harbor. He sent a dear friend who heard my heart and helped me move away from the harbor and into the open sea. It was very scary at first, but my heart found its sea legs and eventually began to enjoy the freedom a non anxious loving presence brings.

I had a discussion with two folks this week about a subject I didn’t realize we disagreed upon. One showed grace, but the other showed rage. I was a bit unnerved by the anger, but I maintained my opinion while giving room for another opinion. When the conversation ended, two of us were still smiling, but one carried her anger with her. I felt our friendship may have been compromised by our difference of opinion, but I didn’t try to fix or convince. I’ve felt that way often during the past year.

I beg to differ because it is in our differing that we learn and grow and change. I long for the day when we can agree to disagree and move on with our lives. When we cannot disagree, we lose so much more than an argument. We lose the ability to self differentiate. Psychologists, medical doctors, guidance counselors, parents, teachers, and ministers will tell you the ability to be who we are created to be is at the heart of living a happy, healthy life.

God made His feelings about self differentiations very clear to Moses and to us. He is Who He is. He is not going to be who we want Him to be, and that is a beautiful lesson for all of us to follow.

God said to Moses, “IAM-WHO-IAM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘IAM sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

 

Welcome

A welcoming attitude opens the door to community the way a welcome mat invites folks into a home. I put my welcome mat inside the house because I don’t want those who visit to think they have to clean up before they can come in.

I’ve been in homes that made me want to take off my shoes, and I’ve been in homes where they actually asked me to remove my shoes before coming in. That puts a damper on the welcome and sends the clear message that I need to watch what I do and where I do it. That isn’t the message I want to relay to my friends, family, and guests. I want them to feel welcome to come in as they are and not worry about the state of their shoes or their hearts.

I feel the most welcome in the homes that welcome me as I am and don’t expect me to leave all my dirt on the mat before coming in. I told my Sunday School class yesterday that I felt welcome and at home in a way my heart has been craving. They laughed out loud when I told them about telling the pastor I couldn’t help with communion last week because I wasn’t dressed properly. He had the same reaction, so I laughed and helped.

I’ve always felt I had to live up to the expectations of others, and that hasn’t worked out well for me or them. A lot of my feeling unwelcome came from a deep-seated need to please. I am slowly changing in that regard, and that has a lot to do with my new sense of belonging. God placed a beautiful community directly across the street from my new home and prepared my heart for it, but I had to take the first step.

Doormats come in thousands of styles from simple to extravagant, and they say all manner of things, but I prefer the ones that simply say “Welcome” and don’t make me feel guilty for leaving a little dirt on them.

Welcome is a two way street that is more about being comfortable with myself than the way others invite me to come in. When I am who God created me to be and allow others to be the same, I can enter any home with a comfortable heart even when I am asked to take off my shoes 😉

 

Family

Familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also give birth to the level of affection we are created to experience. The difference is whether I let fear or love lead the way. 1 John 4:18 says it best.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Families fall apart when fear forces them to fuse together. They connect beautifully when love allows them to be who they are. God created us to connect, and our hearts cannot survive without those connections. The most valuable thing the homeless have lost is not their addresses; it is their family connections.

The family systems theory concerning differentiation of self makes a great deal of sense, and I believe God is the ultimate example of how it works. He makes it clear that He is the Great I AM. That isn’t as much about being all powerful as it is about being exactly Who He Is. I believe He wants each of us to be the amazing individual He created us to be, so we can  connect and live in community as He desires.

The Bowen Center has this to say about the negative effects of unhealthy interdependence:

“The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

You can read more at https://www.thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/differentiation-of-self/

Family brings a sense of belonging, and Christ made it very clear that His family is open to all. That doesn’t mean He sanctions abusive behavior. Abuse is the worst form of fusion, and it breaks God’s heart to see His children hurting. Parents and children alike understand the pain of such breaking. Society suffers alongside broken families. God has the power to make us love any way or any one He wants, but He knows better than to force love upon His children.

Family isn’t an easy word to define; but like love, I know it when I feel it. God has helped me see myself as He sees me, and I am so very thankful for a birth family who loves me just as I am. I can’t imagine life with my three sweet sisters and their families, my son and his wife, or my three adorable little grand daughters; but I also thank God for brothers and sisters who are related beautifully by the common thread of love. I am thankful for connections that surround me like a warm, cozy blanket and melt my heart into a sweet, still pool of peace.

Reaching out isn’t easy; it is much simpler to fuse into small groups who share a common love. It is easier still to form groups with a common hatred, and we all know examples of how that destroys families, churches, communities, and countries. It is easiest to simply stay out of sight and not connect at all. That lets you off the hook when it comes to grieving over the loss of a loved one, but it also leaves you with a deep sense of longing that is the worst pain of all.

God loved us enough to send His only Son. I haven’t reached that level of love and doubt I will understand it until I am with Him, but I have learned that God will provide connections that are good for my heart when I relax into faith and trust Him to know what is best for my heart.

Jesus was born into a beautiful family, but I’m sure His earthly family was filled with individuals who were far from perfect. This morning, I was imagining what a large family gathering might look like when He was a young boy. I bet He had a crazy aunt or uncle who made Him smile, and I’m sure there were squabbles and even a feud or two. That didn’t stop Him from loving them, and it doesn’t stop Him from loving us. I also know with all my heart, that He must have looked around when all were gathered in one accord, smiled, and said to Himself, “This reminds me of Home.”

Homeless

Over 500,000 people spend the night in shelters, cars, or on the street. A fourth of them are children. Numbers have decreased in some areas since 2015, but they are still far too high. There are many reasons for homelessness, but I tend to latch onto the ones that make me feel less guilty about the desperation they face. They are drug addicts; they are alcoholics; they brought it on themselves; they are lazy. All these are excuses help me sleep soundly in my nice, warm bed at night.

The truth is much deeper and more disturbing. The homeless are lost in a world that barely notices them. Most suffer from mental illness, have serious addictions, financial losses, or have a heart or body that is broken beyond their ability to heal. They are caught in vicious cycles that never seem to end. Most Americans are only three months away from being on the streets themselves, and a job loss or catastrophic illness shortens that time dramatically.

During this special time of the year, our attention is turned toward a young couple who found themselves searching for a place to sleep. Away from home and expecting a new baby any day, they desperately needed a place to rest after their long journey. The only place available was a cave where lambs were birthed. Appropriate in that Christ was, is, and will always be, the Lamb of God.

Mary and Joseph were not homeless, but they did experience the angst of being away from home and not able to find a place to sleep for the night. Christ was born out in the open where animals were sleeping, yet His humble beginning marked a turning point for this planet. When I see those forced to sleep out in the open with open arms and an open heart, God creates a new turning point in my own heart that puts both me and the planet a little closer in line with His heart. That vicious cycle begins to look more like the loving circle His heart desires.

Purity

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (NLT)

When King David prayed this prayer in Psalm 51:10, he was asking God to help him get back on the right path. I love his supplication because it comes from a repentant heart. To me, that is the highest level of purity we humans can achieve. King David was not a perfect or a pure man, but he was a man after God’s own heart who wanted to be near his dear Lord.

Christ was pure in every sense of the word, the ultimate unblemished Lamb suitable for the proper sacrifice to God, the Father. We can stumble along the path Christ lays before us, but we will not achieve true purity until we are with Him in heaven.

Until then, God asks us to have the courage to walk along the path His Son walked. I like to think it is like taking the first step on a snow covered road. I hate to be the first to trod on the purity of that path, but I remember what is underneath the white covering and step out.

Like a beautiful snow covered path, Christ’s sacrifice covers the ugliness of our hearts with a purity only He can achieve. Unlike the snow, Christ’s covering is permanent. He wants us to trust Him and walk bravely in the same places we have always lived but with a light heart knowing our paths are covered with His Holy Spirit’s presence.

There’s nothing more fun that being the first one out on a snowy morning and frolicking with abandon in newly fallen snow. The animals usually beat us to the path, but sometimes, we get to experience the world in the light of the sweet purity of a winter wonderland. If we tune our hearts to God’s sweet presence each morning, we can get an even greater sense of wonder without the cold 🙂

Expectation

Expectation takes its lead from my heart. If I’m expecting gloom an doom, that’s exactly what I get. If I’m expecting to get what I deserve, that’s what I get. I spent most of my life thinking I deserved less than God had in mind, and that’s exactly what I got. I love this image of the girls right after they helped put up the Christmas tree because they are excitedly expecting the wonderful things to come. My heart has grown to expect the same.

Advent should be a season of great wonder and excitement. God’s Son came down to be with us, and He’s coming again!! If Christians had half the excitement about that good news as these little girls have about the prospect of Santa Claus coming, the world would be a very different place.

Waiting is never easy, and that is particularly true for little ones at this time of year; but when we wait in the sweet anticipation of knowing God loved us enough to send His only Son and loves us enough to send Him again, we become like children who believe with all their hearts that something amazing is coming! That makes us smile and squeal the way these two little ones did when the Christmas tree was finally up.

I pray my heart will always be like a child waiting for something beyond my comprehension but real enough to make me squeal.