Seeing the Light (April 24, 2010)
I took this picture of you at your first birthday party at Meme’s house on April 18, 2010. I love it because it captures your curiosity and my delight in you. Since it was taken on your daddy’s birthday and a few days before I began writing to you, I wanted to include it with this first letter. The week before this picture was taken, you, mommy, daddy, and I were having dinner at a little cafe in town called the Cork & Bean. It was late when we finally arrived, but you were wide awake and ready for an adventure. Tyler and Gina ate as you and I walked around looking at everything and talking to everyone in the cafe. You loved the beautiful overhead lights and wouldn’t stop pointing at them. I love it when you point and ask, “Dat?” I do my best to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity, but sometimes that isn’t easy with the language barrier between us. I try to explain, but you don’t always understand. You get so frustrated when you try to communicate but we cannot understand what you are saying. I am that way with God much of the time; thankfully, He is very patient with me.
Each time you pointed up at the lights, I said, “Light.” Your interest soon moved on to other objects and people in the lively cafe. Folks were watching and enjoying your curiosity. Danny, Mellie, and Maggie were there, and Maggie just delighted in you. We visited each table and then moved to the window. As we looked at the lights of the passing cars, you suddenly pointed up at the lights and said, “Ight?”
I couldn’t believe my ears and squealed, “Yes!!!” You kissed me all over my face and beamed with delight as we shared a special moment. My heart melted and reformed as you kissed me sweet Lillyann. Love is delighting in and connecting to one another, and we did both in that precious moment. I had a similar experience when I first understood Christ’s love on Sunday, April 5, 1964. He is a very important part of my journey, so I want to tell you about the time I understood the light of His love for the first time.
I wasn’t planning to walk down the isle at First Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina, the Sunday after Easter in 1964, but I remember being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and making my way to the isle. I hadn’t told mom, dad, or Pastor Robinson I was ready to make a profession of faith or that I understood what the cross and the resurrection meant for me. I was eleven, in Mrs. Nell Hoke’s sixth grade class at Kenworth Elementary School, and just thinking about mama’s wonderful cooking waiting for me at home.
The Hymn of Invitation was “Love Lifted Me.” As I listened to the words, something happened that I cannot describe except to say that I was no longer in control of my actions. I pushed my way to the isle and hurried down to where Pastor Robinson was standing. I was ready to accept God’s love. I took classes to prepare for my baptism, and on Sunday, April 26, I was baptized into the body of Christ. I didn’t understand all Christ’s sweet love encompassed, but I saw the light of His love. Finding and sharing that light is what the journey is all about.
Seeing Christ’s light and living out His love are two entirely different things. My family were on again, off again Christians, and my childhood memories of church represent a variety of emotions. Daddy liked the business connections, but mama felt out of place in the social crowd at First Baptist. I loved the music, the impressive pipe organ, and my Sunday School experience but remember little else. My connection to the church was not a strong one, but my connection to Christ was, and still is, very powerful and beautiful.
We are not prepared for special moments of understanding, and our lives are never the same after them. My family stopped attending church shortly after my baptism, and I stayed away from corporate worship until after your daddy was born. My attitude toward organized religion was not a good one, but my spirit longed for connection to a body of believers. God designed us for connection, and we find wholeness by being part of something bigger than ourselves. Christ is a body, and we are each a beautiful and important part of His body. Christ’s body is like one of those beautiful pictures made up of thousands of tiny pictures that you cannot see until you look very closely. The closer I get to Christ, the more I see and appreciate the importance of loving others. My connection to Christ enables me to connect to others as He desires. The Holy Spirit connects me to God and others as He creates the body of Christ. God places His hope within each of us when we accept the love of Christ.
I tried many churches before ending up at First Baptist Bryson City in 2005. I allowed my fear and my bad experience with church to keep me from corporate worship. Prejudice keeps me from enjoying the fullness of life God has for me. Let your inquisitive nature help you find your way and don’t judge anyone or any thing based on what others say; find out for yourself. My learning to walk right now is about connecting to others and loving the way God wants so I can be who He created me to be.
God uses unlikely people and places to spread His love. If I stay open, He will speak to me in everything and everyone. A man named Saul saw the light the hard way, which is the way I tend to learn. God used Saul and Ananais to build His kingdom and spread His love in a surprising way.
Saul was a Pharisee who loved religion. He thought he was helping God by opposing the new way of worship Christ was proclaiming. He hunted down and killed those who were listening to Jesus because he felt threatened by Him. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but holding it too tightly keeps me from growing and moving forward. Saul was not willing to change and was determined to have things his way. Ananias was a good man, but he had a hard time believing God would want him to help a man like Saul. He questioned God. I would say that was a silly thing for Ananias to do, but I do it all the time myself.
Saul was going to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light. A voice came out of nowhere and said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was too scared to speak and fell to his knees. This strong man who led so many had to be led because he was blind and frightened. For three days, Saul was could not see and did not eat or drink anything. He was in total darkness. Life without God is darkness; no matter how hard I try to make it bright, it never can be without Him.
Ananais did not want to help Saul because he had hurt and killed many Christians. We have to trust God even when He asks us to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. Ananais did as God asked and touched Saul’s eyes. The scales came off; Paul could see, and he understood. Of all the unlikely people God could have used to spread His gospel, Saul was the most unlikely. Like Saul, I find myself questioning why God could choose to use me to do His work because I don’t always see myself as God does. We look very different in God’s light; in order to see myself and others as God sees me, I have to turn toward Him and let the Holy Spirit help me. Only then, am I able to see who I truly am and see others as God sees them.
Light is a beautiful thing Lillyann, and I pray your life is filled with light and love. When you understand God’s light, you will see it is perfect love. God sees me as I truly am and loves me unconditionally. Saul thought he was unworthy of God’s love. I was that way myself for far too long, and I limited God because of it. No one is worthy of God’s love, which is what makes His grace so amazing. God doesn’t love me because I am worthy or because I deserve it. Saul accepted God forgiveness and His love, changed his name to Paul, and became one of Christ’s most beloved friends and disciples. Paul spread the word about God’s love, and Ananias helped him. I can make a big difference if I let go of what I think is best and let God have His way.
Like Ananais, I sometimes act as though God doesn’t know what He is doing. Children are better than adults when it comes to understanding God’s love; that’s why Christ bids me to have faith like a child. Trust and obedience help me get closer, but they involve letting go of what I want. That is never an easy thing for me to do, especially when I think I know best.
Seeing the light is knowing that God’s love is for me. When I know and embrace that sweet truth, I can’t wait to share it with others. Just as we shared a special moment when you saw the light and understood the connection, God delights and shares a special moment with me when I understand and accept His love. I can’t wait to share His love with you dear Lillyann. Love changes everything, and your love is changing me in a very beautiful way:]
In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]