Accepting God’s Love

December 26, 2010

Dearest Lillyann,

It’s the day after your second Christmas, and you’re in Florida with mommy and daddy. I couldn’t be happier for you. All the presents you’ve gotten, are getting, and will get when you get home don’t compare to the beautiful gift of having you, mommy, and daddy together for a whole week. I know your little heart is popping with joy, and mine is too as I write this. Tears of joy are running down my cheeks as I think of it. Love is the greatest gift of all, and time with those you love is far greater than any gift that can be purchased in the world. The gifts of this world are truly wonderful, and I know you love the little train set that I gave you before you left, but I also know you love the time we spend playing with it more. I have more gifts for you when you get home because I love giving you things. I delight in watching you play with them. especially when you try to figure out how to make them work. You remind me of your daddy when you do that:)

Watching you learn and grow blesses me, but I also delight in watching you sleep and just holding you in my arms. When you wrap your arms around my neck and kiss me, my heart melts into a puddle of pure joy.  You are a special little girl who makes a difference in the lives of all you love. That is what love does, Lillyann. It transforms me into something I cannot be without it. It changes me as I give it away and changes me even more when I welcome it into my heart. I’ve never had a problem loving and have the tendency to love with my whole heart, but I have had trouble when it comes to accepting love.  That’s the biggest way God’s love changes me.  I see myself as worthy of love and am able to accept His love and the love of others in a way I was unable to before.  That changes me and those I love, and that’s what accepting God’s love is all about.

God loves giving and loves it when we accept His gift of love and share it with others. He wants more than anything for us to love Him, love one another, and figure out how His love works.  Just as I love watching you enjoy the gifts I give, so does God love it when I accept and share His love.  He loves me so much that He gave His only Son so I could be with Him and experience love unlike anything I could ever imagine on my own.

While your love changes my heart in a beautiful way, God’s love transforms even more powerfully in a way that I cannot put into words. It has been a decade of transformation and a time of tremendous growth for me sweet Lillyann. This last Christmas of the decade, God gave me the gift of  a beautiful image to help me remember that transformation. God is eternal love, and Christ brought that love down to earth on the very first Christmas. The Holy Spirit connects me to God’s love and helps me love others  and myself as God desires. Real love is eternal and isn’t defined by time or circumstances. It always has been, is, and always will be. In fact, God is love.

Let me tell you all about the sweet image God gave me on Christmas morning. I have a chair that was the organist’s chair at the church for many years. I brought it home because I couldn’t bear for it to be thrown away.  Mary Evelyn, who reminds me so much of you, sat in it during the morning worship services for decades. It is a special chair for me because I love to pray and meditate, and it’s perfect for both. I was doing just that on Christmas morning. As I thanked God for all that He gives, I opened my eyes and saw the picture of the orchid  you love so much that’s in the hallway. As I looked at the orchid, I could see God holding a beautiful crimson and yellow butterfly. The crimson was the blood of His precious Son, and the bright yellow the breath of His Holy Spirit. They were connected in a beautiful way and blessed me as I thought of my own transformation.  I thanked God for the beautiful gift of His presence in my own heart.

You know how I feel about butterflies, and God knows how much I love them. Everyone who knows and loves me knows that about me. I delight in them, and so do you!! Butterflies are a symbol of transformation. I have struggled in my cocoon in the forty-four years since I first accepted God’s offer of love. With the help of the Holy Spirit,  I’m letting go and learning what accepting His love truly means. God’s transforming love connects me to Him, His Son, His Holy Spirit, myself, and others. With God, I am a new creature with a changed mind, a new heart, and a fervent desire to connect to and share His Love. It’s taken me a long time to let that beautiful truth transform me, but it is worth every minute of the struggle!

God is the source of all true love. He is everywhere if I will simply seek Him. He is in each of us, but He is also in flowers, birds, butterflies, and all of His creation. Seeing and connecting to His love is what the journey is all about. Love connects us to God, to one another, and to His beautiful world. You and I have a sweet connection, and I feel your love across the miles this morning. I love you in a way that helps me understand God’s love all the more, and I thank you for that dear little one.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:]

Forgiving Like Christ

June 4, 2010

Dear Lillyann,

To grow as God desires, I must forgive those who hurt me. I already knew that about forgiveness, but tonight God showed me how to forgive like Christ. He took forgiveness to a new level, and I experienced peace and joy as never before. I cannot forgive as Christ forgives on my own; I have to have the help of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness frees the heart and allows healing and growth that will not take place without it.

Pastor John went to Gardner Webb last week and heard Fisher Humphries speak on forgiveness. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was harboring a lot of anger over the week mama died. I thought I had dealt with the pain and moved on, but I realized that I had a great deal of what John calls inner seething over the hurt and abandonment I experienced that week. That’s what happens when you let things simmer inside.  Forgiving like Christ clears the heart and calms the spirit.

I depended upon Pollyanna to get me through the service on Wednesday evening. The children were having a musical, so I put on my happy face knowing I could count on her to help me out. She is an old friend who offers a comfortable solution to everything, and I needed a quick fix.

On Thursday morning, my anger grew worse, but I decided to seethe. Sometimes, seething satisfies as nothing else, and Satan uses it to slow cook my anger. I asked John when he came in from breakfast to tell me what he learned at Pastor School. I needed a distraction, and I love learning about God and His Word. He told me about absorbing the hurt, pain, and anger while giving up the right to retaliate.  This wasn’t the forgiveness I knew about. I couldn’t believe my ears; it was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m always amazed when God does that, but I shouldn’t be since He is God:)

I knew the source of my anger. I had hidden the anger away and never faced it because that’s the easiest way to deal with hurt.  I was tired of pretending and wanted to hear more about this new way of forgiving. I asked John to walk me through the process of absorbing the hurt, pain, and anger. He said to first name the pain and hurt along with the person who hurt me. Then, ask the Holy Spirit to help me forgive completely and let God absorb the hurt so that it never bothers me again and do the same for the anger. The final step offers the most healing.  Pray for the person who hurt me and sincerely ask God to bless them. Give up the right to retaliate.

I was dumbfounded because I had never heard anything like that before. I knew I would go through the process as soon as I got home. I got ready to pray and took down my Emmaus candle. I figured the pain would be as bad as the initial hurt if not more considering all the anger that had simmered for so long. I got mama’s prayer shawl, lit the candle, and began to relive the day mama died. As I sat on the bed and started to remember, I got on my knees and asked the Holy Spirit to please help me because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. The sweetest and most beautiful thing happened. I had tears in my eyes as I looked up at the candle.

I held a small wooden cross as I prayed, and beautiful rays of light came from the candle, through the cross, and right into my heart. I could feel my heart healing. The hurt, pain, and anger was replaced with God’s love. I repeated the process with the anger, and it was even more powerful as I let God transform it. This went on for about a minute. I continued to stare at the light as I absorbed the pain and anger from another hurt before blowing out the candle and thanking God for love that transforms hurt and anger into love. What a difference it made in my heart. I completed the process by asking God to bless the person who hurt me.

Pastor John is doing the address at the Baccalaureate service tomorrow. It’s called “The Challenge,” and it’s on forgiveness. I’m looking forward to hearing it and passing it along to others who need the kind of healing I received. 

Forgiveness brings such joy Lillyann, and I thank God for the pain and hurt that allowed me to grow nearer to Him. There is an old Spiritual called “Wade in the Water” about God troubling the water so He can free us from illness and oppression. I’ve been listening to that song all week. God does stir up the water, and His healing comes with the stirring.

That stirring reminds me of a story in John 5 about an angel stirring the spring where people came to be healed. Those who got in the water were healed, but those who waited until the waters calmed were not. A crippled man who had no one to place him in the water met Jesus one day. He was healed without even getting into the water.

(John 5:2-9) NASB “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “ Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.”

I love this beautiful story of healing because Jesus asked the man if he wished to get well. Sometimes, I wallow in my hurt because I don’t want to get well and stop hurting. The pain becomes a part of who I am. It becomes harder and harder to let go. This man came to the pool for thirty-eight years; I remained stuck in my hurt longer than I should have and didn’t let go until I was ready to be healed. Jesus waits for me to want to be well before He heals me, but He heals immediately when I am ready. Forgiveness is the same way. Forgiving like Jesus isn’t easy, but the healing that occurs when I do is well worth the risk. I convince myself that I have every right to be angry and retaliate. He convinces me to love, forgive, pray for those who hurt me, and move on. His plan is always much better than mine:)

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Being a Friend

April 26, 2010

Dear Lillyann,

The thing I love most about you is the way you delight in everything. It’s the quality I love most in a friend and is exactly how God wants us to be with Him and one another. When you see me, you squeal with delight, and I do the same. Friends delight in one another even though they may not always be happy. Friends must also go through sad or difficult times, and the squeals of delight become a quiet looks of relief or tender tears of release that come when you know someone hears and understands your heart. That kind of friendship is the most valuable thing in this world. The Bible says it is like the fellowship in heaven, and I believe it.

One of my friends is 90 years old today. Pearl lights up when she sees me coming. I love that about her because it makes me feel so loved. She looks for me when she is at the church, and embraces me when she finds me. I have many wonderful friends who do just that. I am overwhelmed by the number of people who love me and sometimes want to back away or even run away. I try to love by myself rather than letting the Holy Spirit love through me. The Holy Spirit is the sweetest friend of all. Jesus sent Him to stay with me until I am in heaven. I can walk in God’s kingdom now with the Holy Spirit’s help. He is called the Comforter because His presence is like a warm embrace. He is always there when I need Him.  I will try to be there for you when you need me Lillyann, but I will not always be. I pray you will become good friends with the Holy Spirit and know that you are surrounded by love. We are beautifully connected to one another through God’s Spirit and become one with Him and one with each other through His love.

Working in the church office can be very stressful because I get a lot of love from the people of the church and the community as they pass through. Many times, the troubles they are having overwhelm me because I try to take it all in, process it, and make things better for them. Wanting to make things better is a big problem because only God is able to do that. It helps Him if I let the Holy Spirit work through me rather than trying to do things by myself. I am just learning that, and it is helping my relationships, especially the one I have with God. I cannot fix the problems of others; I can only be a loving presence who listens and speaks the truth with love. It’s not an easy thing to do, but the results are amazing.

We sometimes get love and lust mixed up. Lust is a word mostly associated with sex, but it has to do with much more. Lust is when you have to have something or someone. It is the opposite of love when you have deep feelings for someone, but you don’t want anything from them. It is easier to understand if you look at it from the standpoint of wanting. Lust is wanting selfishly. Loving is wanting the best for those you love. I have made the mistake of trying to make others happy by giving, but that leaves me empty. I do love giving you things, but I love being with you even more. It’s why you squeal when you see me, and I do the same. I hope that never changes.

Getting and giving complicate love if we are not careful. When we truly love, we listen carefully and deeply. Pastor John is teaching me about being a loving presence, and that is helping me connect to you in a special way.  We have become fast friends because love was there all along; we just had to connect to it. As I learn to listen, I am more open to the love that is all around me. Connections make this life like heaven when our relationships are pure and honest and filled with love. I am open to love in a way I never have been before, and you are a big part of that.

Be open sweet Lillyann and always love the way you do now, with abandon. Children love the way God desires. I’ve learned to pull away and stop connecting with my whole heart because my heart has been broken many times, but it gets a little stronger each time. I am glad to be loving again and not worrying about getting hurt.  I am just learning to be who God wants me to be and to love the way only I can; I hope you learn that more quickly than I did.  People are attracted to you if you aren’t worried about whether or not they love you back. Give and love openly and don’t worry about those who don’t understand the way you love. Look up to God, open your arms to Christ’s forgiveness and love; then snuggle next to the Holy Spirit. You’ll be amazed at how God’s love will change your life. God will place friends in your path who will help you see yourself as God sees you, friends who hear your heart and let you hear theirs. You are my sweet friend Lillyann, and I love you so very much.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Walking in God’s Kingdom:)

May 6, 2010

Dear Lillyann,

There is nothing I can do to get to God on my own, but Christ offers a bridge from me to Him. It isn’t complicated. God is like the sun, which is so bright I cannot look at it directly or I will be blinded. God is too much for me to take in on my own, and I cannot be in His presence without first going through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the moon which reflects sunlight in a way that enables my eyes to see it. I love to stare at the moon; it is the most peaceful light in the world to me. Christ’s love is the most beautiful love in the world because He brings God’s love to me in a way I can understand. God loved us so much that He became one of us so we could love Him and share that love with others.

I want to be in God’s presence and love Him, but my heart just can’t take it. That is where Jesus comes in; He died on the cross so I could experience God’s love. When I love Jesus and understand and accept the forgiveness of the cross, I can embrace God’s love and receive His Holy Spirit. God is like the sun; Jesus is like the moon, and the Holy Spirit helps me take it all in. The three are one and work together so I can be in God’s presence and feel His love even before I get to heaven. That is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about.  It begins as soon as we accept His love. Heaven is being in God’s presence and being able to love Him directly.  That will be more wonderful than I can begin to imagine or describe to you. When we truly love one another, we get a small taste of what heaven will be like. We can walk in His kingdom now and love in a new and beautiful way!

God’s love is unlike any other love because the more it is shared, the more it grows. Sharing God’s love is what a visiting minister was talking about at our revival tonight. I have to show others that sweet glow of God’s love in a way that will make them want what I have. We are called to help each other find, stay in, and grow in God’s love. It’s what this beautiful journey is all about.

The Holy Spirit showed me tonight that the cross is not the destination, but the turning point. The minister drew a diagram on the whiteboard to show that people are at different places when we meet them. I’ve always been afraid to witness to others because I thought I had to get them to the cross in one encounter. That’s as silly as thinking that I have to convince every man I meet to marry me or every woman to be my best friend with one encounter. No wonder I was so nervous when telling others the good news. In seeing what God is doing for me, the Holy Spirit will nudge them and me a little closer to Christ. I just have to let God work in my life and be a loving presence. I also have to let go of my plans and follow His.

Yesterday, as we came down Indian Creek, Mere said that our walks do not seem like exercise at all. I agree; they seem like sharing and loving and caring. Time goes by so quickly, and we are closer to each other and God as we share the path. Exercise is just a wonderful side effect. Witnessing is like walking together and should not feel like exercising. Too many churches and people are exercising and not enjoying the walk together. If Mere and I focused upon getting to the bridge and complained the whole time, the walk would be torture. It would take forever, and we would feel terrible when we finished. Too often, that’s the way we worship and witness when it comes to God. You’ve got to get to the cross; you’ve got to get to the cross! Then what? Well, I’m not sure, but you’ve got to get to the cross! That leaves us and those to whom we witness frustrated, and God’s kingdom doesn’t come on earth as it is in heaven as He desires.

God puts wonderful people in my path to help me find my way. The visiting minister and Pastor John are helping me in a way I can’t put into words except to say that they make the journey so much better by walking alongside me this week, just the way Mere does when we walk together. If I walked eighteen miles all by myself each week, I would get the same amount of exercise, but it would not be a journey; it would be a treadmill. A journey takes you somewhere you have never been and involves sharing the path. If Mere and I complained and fussed about the bugs or the heat or the pace of others in the path, no one would want to walk along with us. In fact, we would discourage those who were thinking of walking. Churches can be like that when they make the journey to God sound like a walk on the treadmill. That breaks God’s heart and mine. If we stop at the cross, we leave people feeling worse than they did before.

The cross is the most important marker on my journey because it is the starting point. If I get lost, I can always go back to the cross. The cross points upward to where Christ is now. As I share the Lord’s Supper, I am reminded of the cross and God’s love. It takes me back to the beginning of my journey and reminds me of the journey Christ took so I could be with God. The journey is about finding holiness, sanctification, and becoming one with God. That’s where churches create a traffic jam because they want to make rules about who can be sanctified and how to be holy. Those are big words that simply mean getting closer to God and doing my best to be like Jesus. The word holy simply means ripe, ready, and mature. I can’t get there by myself, but if I let the Holy Spirit connect me to God’s love, I will bear the fruit of His Spirit and ripen beautifully. I will experience a transformation that is like those butterflies you and I love so very much. I especially want you to remember that everyone can take the journey to the cross and get closer to God. I only have to let the Holy Spirit be my guide. Never let others tell you that you cannot go into God’s presence. It is only those who stop at the cross who want you to stop too. Christ’s resurrection paves the way to God’s presence. Christ is always at God’s side interceding for me.  When I love, obey, and trust God, I get to walk in His kingdom. 

We are all different, so our journeys are also different. Never feel inferior if you are not like someone you admire or look up to. Pastor John and the visiting pastor are good friends and love God dearly, but they express their love for Him in very different ways. Our differences make a beautiful composite image of Christ. People are attracted to those who love God with abandon. Everyone is searching for love, and that is what sharing the good news of Christ’s love is all about. Each of us have our own special relationship with Christ. God is love, and His Holy Spirit will make our expression of His love unique and beautiful. Christ’s love is indeed precious and perfect, and I know you will grow to love Him and others in a way that helps you see yourself and others as He sees you. That’s what walking in God’s kingdom is all about, and it makes for an amazing journey.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Finding Your Voice

April 24, 2010

Dear Lillyann,

Finding your voice is a very important part of the journey, and learning to sing this year has been a beautiful part of finding mine. I have always believed I couldn’t sing but wanted to very badly. My music teacher in elementary school told me I was not a violin but a clarinet. He said it with sarcasm and embarrassed me in front of the class. I stayed away from the high notes and sang softy so no one could hear me.  His cruel remark changed the way I saw and heard myself. Words are powerful and can do great damage or much good depending upon how they are used. Pastor John spoke healing words when he told me one Sunday evening that I had a beautiful voice. We were working with the youth, and I found myself singing along with abandon. At first, I thought he was kidding. I’m used to folks making jokes that I don’t understand, but I could tell he was serious. Besides, he’s not the type to joke about something like that, and he was a music teacher before he was a pastor. It was the first time anyone ever told me I could sing, so I began to think that I just might be a singer. John showed me some breathing exercises and gave me a few lessons during Holy Week in 2009. It was a beautiful turning point; I practiced and grew to love singing. Oswald Chambers says it best, “The world does not bid you sing. God does.” (from “The Love of God”) I love that beautiful truth! God does bid me to sing and loves it when I make a joyful noise in praise to Him or hum happily to myself. Singing is a beautiful way to express joy and praise. God loves nothing better than to see me full of joy and hear my voice reflect that joy.  

I sang “What Wondrous Love Is This” from the bottom of my heart in front of a group of people during Holy Week this year, and it filled me with sweet joy and peace. Singing, like walking, requires leading with my heart and letting go. I did just that on Friday, April 2, and found that when I wasn’t thinking about singing, I sang beautifully. That’s true in all I do. I know you will love to sing, and I hope you will play an instrument. Papa Jose and Grandma Susie both play beautifully. I pray music will become a big part of your life and bless you as it has blessed me.

You took three steps to me and five to your mama at my house yesterday, and you walked even more after you got home. You walked, I started this book, and we had our first time alone yesterday. Walking, like finding my voice, is all about letting go, stepping out, and leading with my heart.

I had another lesson in finding my voice last Thursday.  I had lunch with a friend who is a minister. Her beautiful green eyes looked straight at me after she said the blessing, and I could hear God as she asked why I thought I could not be a prophet and hear God’s messages myself. She and I both knew the answer to that question. I am a woman. It was so embarrassing for me to realize I was thinking such a thought. One thing I would love to see change is for women and men to be seen as equals in God’s ministry.  Folks from many denominations think a woman should not be the lead pastor in the church, and I believe that limits God.

I grew up thinking that women were to do only certain things.  My father explained that he would pay for my college education if I would agree to be a teacher, nurse, secretary, or housewife.  He believed that it was worth the cost of tuition to find a husband who could support me.  I smile as I think of that now, but it wasn’t very funny back in 1970.  I really wanted to be a key punch operator. That was someone who worked with computers which were just coming on the scene.  My father pitched a terrible fit and told me he would not pay for something as useless as that!! I gave in and went with my second choice which was teaching. I was blessed and privileged to be able to spend thirty-three years teaching mostly middle school.  I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be around so many wonderful young people. 

It was June of 2008 when I realized for the first time  that the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t approve of women as lead pastors. I was shocked because I know Christ does not think like that at all. I talked with Pastor John about it, and he said that he did not agree and thought women should be ordained.  A young man told me at Vacation Bible School that very night that I would make a good minister.  Once again, I could hear God’s voice in his:) I prayed about this new knowledge and talked with my sisters about it. Edie said not to worry about it until it got in my way. She also said to help bring about change.  God bid me to do the same. Ghandi would advise me to be the change I wish to see in the world, but I would change that to the change God wishes to see in the world:) Finding my voice is the first step; speaking it and living it will prove to be much more difficult. Pastor John is a dear friend and teacher; we have been through a lot together. We tell each other the truth with love, and that is what makes our friendship so special. The best of friends tell each other the truth with love and hear the truth with love, as well.  

Mary Magdalene also helped me understand God’s lesson for me. The people in the Bible are real people who struggled just as we do. That’s what I love about the scriptures, and I hope you will love them too. Mary Magdalene was a troubled women; but when she came to know Jesus, things changed for her. God’s love and truth transform in a beautiful way. His love is for everyone, not just for some people or for good people. Like Paul,  I’m sure Mary had a hard time believing that love could be for her. I imagine she marveled at the way Jesus loved with a love unlike any she had ever experienced. Kingdom love is not like any other kind of love. It transforms and makes all other love pale in comparison.

When Mary lived, women had to stand in the farthest corner of the temple to hear God’s word. Women were considered inferior to men, but that is not the way Jesus treated women. Mary was a special disciple and is thought of as the apostle’s apostle by some. I’m sure she made the disciples nervous because women in ministry still make people nervous today. Fear causes us to miss hearing wonderful words of wisdom and living the life God wants for us. A friend told me about Mary’s gospel and said it contained beautiful wisdom. I didn’t realize Mary had written a gospel, and that upset me. Her gospel is filled with wisdom, but it isn’t in the Bible. Many important pages are missing, and I would love to see them. There are wonderful books of wisdom that aren’t in the Bible. The process for deciding what went into the cannon was a long one that I believe was a honest one. I’m not saying her gospel or the gospel of Thomas should be in the Bible, but I do believe they should be read and studied since they were close to Christ and have words of wisdom worth hearing. People often try to silence those who scare them, but God will not be silenced. It is important to speak the truth with love and not worry if others don’t understand or don’t respond as I desire. Not needing a response is important when it comes to speaking or being silent.  Finding stillness is the most important part of finding my voice:)

As I read Mary’s gospel for the first time, I was sad that I had never read it before. Mere and I talked about being raised to think that girls could not participate in the worship service. She told me about playing church with her little friends. She went to a Catholic school and knew the Latin masses by heart. She and her friends would make an altar and say the masses in Latin, but they were not allowed to be altar boys. Girls do serve now because change is inevitable.  God’s transformation comes with the changes He has in mind for us. Jesus knows men and women are different; God made us that way and loves our differences. He knows those differences are necessary to spread His gospel, and He loves it when we work together. The harmony formed by connecting and loving one another is sweet music to His ears.   

Finding my voice has been about much more than learning to sing, but singing was a wonderful turning point for me. It is about knowing God not only hears, but also forgives us. It is about hearing God and being willing to speak the truth with love.  Good friends speak the truth with love even when they disagree. God uses love and truth to bring people closer to one another and to Himself. Nothing is more powerful when it comes to walking in God’s kingdom than sharing the journey with those who hear and speak the truth with love. God helps me find my voice and hear the hearts of others if I remember that♥

In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]


Seeing The Light:)

Seeing the Light (April 24, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

Gigi & Lillyann

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:] 

Letters to Lillyann: Introduction:)

Shortly after Lillyann’s first birthday in April, 2010, I decided to write letters to her so she could hear my heart.  Thought you would like to hear the introduction to those letters before I shared the first one. The journey is better when shared honestly with love, and it is with love that I now share. Thank you for sharing the journey:)

April 23, 2010

Dear Lillyann,

I decided to write letters to you on April 16, 2010 when Mere and I were on one of our long walks up Deep Creek. We were talking, as we always do when we walk together, and she said I should write for you. The idea to put that writing in the form of letters came today. You and I are both learning to walk. You are literally beginning to take your first steps alone, and I am beginning a new and exciting journey with the Holy Spirit. God is giving me messages, and I want to share with you. This is a turning point for me, and having you here makes all the difference. You encourage me to step out in faith and be who God wants me to be. The most important message underlies all the others; lead with your heart. When I lead with my head, I end up falling on my face. When I lead with my feet, I end up falling on my behind. I am just learning to lead with my heart so I can keep my balance and find God’s way.  It took a long time for me to find the courage to turn around, look to God, and let my heart lead. Any day now, you will find the courage to begin walking with confidence and find your balance, as well. Trust me, Lillyann, life is never the same after you realize that loving God is all that matters in this life. I am learning that surrendering to the Holy Spirit means using God’s compass to find my way out of the darkness and allowing His light to fill my heart. The path is frightening, and I am often alone without a compass. The Holy Spirit gives me direction, and the company of beautiful friends and family to give me courage. That makes life a wonderful journey. I invite you to come along on Gigi’s Journey. With the Spirit as our guide, we are sure to have an amazing adventure.

There just aren’t words to describe the love I have for you Lillyann or for God, but I know the Holy Spirit will help me tell you the truth with love as we walk together. Mere would agree that it’s the company that makes this journey a joy, and we both love your company!

In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]