Kissing God

The message yesterday was about the difference between forms of worship and worship itself. Pastor Jeff used the vivid image of kissing to describe our response to God’s love. He explained that giving his wife a kiss every evening is one way to let her know he loves her. He went on to describe how worship can become a routine little kiss if it is only about the kiss. Worship comes in many forms, and love is expressed in a variety of ways. The point of the message was the heart behind the kiss makes all the difference, and the same is true as I worship God. The message opened up a flood gate in my heart that reminded me of the kisses I’ve received and how they reflect the way I’ve worshipped.

As a young teen, I remember my first kiss. It was at a neighborhood party when we were playing spin the bottle. If you’re too young to know that game, I’ll explain. Soft drinks came in glass bottles then, and we would take an empty bottle and place it on the floor. We sat in a circle around the bottle, and some brave soul gave the bottle it’s first spin. When the bottle stopped spinning, the person spinning it had to kiss the person the bottle was pointing to. Baron was spinning, and my heart was pounding. He was so cute, and I was praying that bottle would point to me. When it did, I got my first kiss. It was so sweet and led to a brief, but beautiful little romance. I thank God for those sweet, innocent kisses that made me want to be kissed. God wants to be kissed too, but I’m afraid I’ve not been a very good kisser when it comes to responding to His love. When I think of my very first kisses, I am reminded that sometimes my worship is all about me being kissed.

Sometimes, kissing is simply a stepping stone. I’ve had too many experiences with those kisses. Many were harsh experience that left me feeling emptied and used. Perfunctory kisses are superficial at best and apathetic at worst, and I’ve experienced what seemed a lifetime of them. I’m only kissing you because I have to in order to get what I want. Those kisses are the worst, but I’m sorry to say that I’ve kissed God the very same way. I’m enduring this because I know I have to. When I think about those years of worship, my heart sinks. I did what I had to do, and that is not what love, worship, or kisses should be about.  I’ve had kisses that were filled with passion but still simply a stepping stone. No matter what form the perfunctory kisses take, they still are all about getting what I want. Being on the receiving end of those kisses isn’t pleasant, and I’m sure God completely understands because I’ve kissed Him far too many times with what I want in mind.

The best kiss comes from two hearts filled with love, and there aren’t words to adequately describe the feeling it gives. Fairy tales try to capture the feeling of true love’s kiss, but it cannot be understood until experienced. Kisses that connect hearts heal as nothing else can and leave me wanting everyone to know the feeling. Love no longer is about me. It becomes about the other, and that is what worship is all about. God’s heart is filled with love for all, and magic happens when my heart connects with His. Kissing God is like kissing others; it can be perfunctory or it can be perfect. The choice is mine. It’s always perfect on God’s side, so I’m the one who has to change the way I kiss. When I love God with abandon and join with others to praise and worship Him, it is the ultimate kiss that makes me forget about me and focus upon God and the love He has in mind for His world. As I sat by the fire singing praise songs last night, I was kissing God with abandon. It was an exquisite feeling that left me wanting more. It’s precisely what worship is meant to do to the heart. Form may vary when it comes to worship, but love is steadfast and grows each time I praise God from the bottom of my heart.

Compete or Complete?

Lillyann is four and getting her first taste of competition as she learns to play soccer. Yesterday, at practice, she didn’t take the ball away once and told her mommy on the ride home, ” I don’t like taking…I love everyone and it’s not nice to take!” Would that the world had her attitude about playing together and that her attitude would extend to sharing toys:)  We teach children to play nicely and then tell them it’s okay to forget those rules when competing. All’s fair in love and war applies to sports and to worship.

Christians, unfortunately, fall into the same patterns of competing against one another rather than coming together in completing the work Christ began. What should be a loving encounter becomes a fierce competition. I’ve been in groups that focused upon who’s doing the most and working the hardest. Fighting about who’s in charge and who has control takes the focus away from God. The need to be right or in control turns hearts from completing to competing.

I’ve left gatherings feeling just like little Lillyann felt after her soccer practice. Love is lost in competition, but the great news is that it’s found in completion. Last night, I felt a beautiful sense of completion as I sat with a group of women ranging in age from nineteen to ninety-one. There was a powerful connection that gave me a beautiful taste of heaven. Each of us was on a different journey, but we paused for a moment to share our journeys, our love for God, and our love for one another. He was in charge of the meeting, and that completed in a way that helped us move forward, fueled by the love we shared.

Love is about celebrating our differences while sharing our common love of God. It is expressed and experienced differently. Sharing love isn’t about determining who is loving the right way or the most. No two children are alike, and that is often the source of competition within families. Those differences can be seen as a source of division, or they can become the basis for completion. The choice is up to us. God’s family will only be complete when we turn from competing to completing. That requires loving in a way that radically differs from the world. Christ changes my definition of father, home, and family. That changes the way I love and allow myself to be loved.

I am not capable of loving or accepting love as God desires on my own. Christ knows competition is the greatest enemy of wholeness, so He makes sure I have the help I need to move from competing to completing. I wonder how my life and the lives of all Christians would look if we forgot about competing and let God’s love complete as we share it openly and honestly with one another and the world. The glimpse I got last night made me want more, and I pray I will live out God’s love in a way that makes others want the same.

Lillyann

Oz and the Tin Man

God used the tin man from The Wizard of Oz and Dewey Bunnell’s song The Tin Man to teach a powerful lesson this morning. I suppose the release of the movie this week had something to do with the vivid image and sweet song God used to teach His lesson in love. I marvel at how He uses everything in my path if I stop long enough to listen and learn.

I love The Tin Man and hearing it this morning was a blessing. The melody caught me and lifted me up beautifully. Rising up was the image Dewey Bunnell had when writing those lyrics. God’s used the image of spiraling upward a great deal during the past year, so I smiled when I read the author’s comments about his song, ‘Spinning round, round, round, smoke glass stain bright colors…’–that’s all just purely kaleidoscopic imagery. The melody definitely dictated those words, because it was a swirling, rising thing.” Sounds like spiraling upward to me.

Take a moment to read the words and listen to the song written by Dewey Bunnell

The Tin Man

Sometimes late when things are real

And people share the gift of gab between themselves

Some are quick to take the bait

And catch the perfect prize that waits among the shelves

But Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man

That he didn’t, didn’t already have

And Cause never was the reason for the evening

Or the tropic of Sir Galahad.

So please believe in me

When I say I’m spinning round, round, round, round

Smoke glass stain bright color

Image going down, down, down, down

Soapsuds green like bubbles.

The beauty of poetry, especially when set to music, is that it takes on different meaning depending upon the heart of the individual listening. The same is true when it comes to God. I can relate to the tin man because I’ve spent a lifetime searching for my heart. God reminded me this morning that it’s right where it’s always been, inside of me. God doesn’t give me anything I don’t already have. Christ brings His sweet Spirit into my life so I can see who He created me to be. My heart’s journey has been a difficult one, but I’ve finally come to a place of spinning upward. Those old images are going down, down, down as my heart spirals up, up, up. Like Sir Galahad searching for the Holy Grail, it isn’t about the Cause; it’s about the result.

As long as I am in this world, my heart will continue to be broken. It’s what happens to hearts when they love. The tin man was strong on the outside and had a perpetual smile. I’ve been there myself, but I’m glad God cracked opened that hard shell and exposed the soft, pliable heart that has always been inside. The tin man’s famous line, “If I only had a heart” is replaced with “I only have a heart.” The lesson for me this morning was that it’s all I’ve ever needed, and I’ve had it all along. That heavy tin is on the ground where it belongs, and it feels great to finally be rid of it!

This is my 361st post, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence 🙂 Coming full circle takes on a new meaning as I begin to spin upward.

Sweet Perspective

As I watched Mylah fall asleep in my arms after a full morning of play, I thanked God for the sweet perspective she and Lillyann give me. Since coming home from Topsail Island, I’ve had a new sense of direction. I knew I needed a sunrise when I went to visit my sister, but I didn’t know why until this week. What I needed was a new beginning, and the amazing sunrises on Topsail Island were God’s way of telling me it was time to head home. I was sinking in a sea of guilt, and my heart needed to stop floundering on the shore and head to higher ground.

Each morning I was on the island, God arranged a spectacular sunrise. I needed to stop, rest, and be filled before beginning the next leg of this journey. Bad choices left my heart filled with hurt and guilt.  Neither are part of the love God has in mind for His children, and that lesson was crystal clear each morning as I started my day in His presence. I’ve drifted from His presence often on this journey, and I’m sure I will again before arriving home; but I was as close to Him as I’ve ever been while on Topsail Island.

Life is about loving and connecting to others. I’ve made too many unhealthy connections, but I pray I’ll listen as God shows me a new way of connecting in regard to relationships. I see now that I am His daughter, and that makes me see me and His love for me in a whole new light. Tuesday evening as I met with a small group of women interested in drawing nearer to Christ and to one another, I knew I was right where God wanted me to be. The women ranged in age from nineteen to ninety-one, yet we all were in sweet accord. I’ve never felt anything like it before, but I have the feeling it’s only the beginning of what God has in store for my heart.

I was tossed upon the shore in a way that left me out of breath and gasping for air, but I’m breathing and connecting deeply for the first time in a very long time.

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Glorious Day

My sister’s home on Topsail Island is named Glorious Day. I love the song by Casting Crowns, and I love the thought that every day is a glorious day when I open my heart to the love God places in my path.

The ocean fascinates me, and I get lost in its vastness each time I stand on the shore. My heart has been lost in some form of water since I was five and stepped off the pier in an effort to escape the harsh hands of the world. I’ve been searching for the shore ever since.

My heart was lost a sea of guilt as vast as the ocean. Just as rip tides carry unsuspecting swimmers far away from the shore, so did the tides of guilt pull my heart far away from God’s grace. I could not hang on to the guilt and embrace the grace at the same time. I had to make a choice.

I came to a place of letting go last month that allowed my heart to come back to the surface and find it’s way back to the shore. It’s tempting to stay on the shore, but I knew I had to begin my journey home. God made it clear that journey involved moving forward and traveling with others. As I drove home from the shore, God reminded me of the love He had, and would continue, to place all along the path.

My ten days away were all glorious ones. All days are glorious when I remember the love that lifted me from the water and brought me to the shore. The same love will surround me every step of the way on this beautiful journey home.

Glorious Day

The Journey Home

I knew I was home this morning when I awoke to the sounds of Lillyann and Mylah squealing. I’ve missed my sweet morning wake-up call while I was away from home. Traveling reminds me that home is truly where my heart belongs. I’ve always  loved coming home, and that was never more true than it was this week. I loved the beauty of Topsail Island, and it was wonderful to see my sister. However, I’ve never been happier to see the mountains than I was on Friday.

For over a week, I’ve struggled with God’s image of coming home. I just couldn’t wrap my heart around the lesson God had for me. I was getting very frustrated this morning as I continued to miss the message. I decided to leave it alone, stop trying so hard, and just wait it out. That usually works when I hit a stumbling block. I was shocked this morning when Pastor Jeff began talking about Jesus telling His disciples He was going home. I hope I am always surprised and delighted by the way God works.

The message today reminded me that I attach my definitions of father and home to heaven rather than letting Christ’s definitions shape my vision. I did, at least, understand that God was referring to heaven when He was bidding me to come home. Going home can be difficult, as Pastor Jeff reminded me this morning. Our homes and fathers are imperfect and always will be. I had to unpack my feelings about my father and home so I could embrace the Father and the home Jesus is trying to get His disciples to see. I’m sure they struggled as I did; in fact, they must have struggled even more because they had Jesus right in front of them. They could reach out and touch Him, so I’m sure they did not want Him to go anywhere without them.

Jesus used the best examples in this world to try and get across the love He so wanted them to know was waiting for them. As I told Jodi this morning, I’ve been looking at home and father from the wrong perspective. I understand God, the Father’s loving home much more clearly that ever before if I think of my own son coming home. It doesn’t matter what he’s done or where he’s been; I want to see him and love him. There is nothing in this world I love more than seeing Tyler after being away from him for a while. God feels the same way about me. I’ve been thinking about past hurt and the difficulty of going home in terms of how I would be welcomed. Looking at it from a different perspective healed my heart in a very beautiful way this morning.

Christ’s precious love brought me to the shore and cleared the path for me to go home long ago on the cross. His grace and love are all along the way home, and His Father’s love is waiting for me at the door of heaven. He’s waiting for me to come home so He can do what I do each time I see my son, my precious grandbabies, or any one of my dear family and friends. I can imagine that love now, and that changes everything. I know the way I feel about my son coming home is a drop in the ocean compared with how God feels when He sees me coming home, and that makes the journey home worth all the stumbling and getting lost.  It makes me want to jump for joy the way my little girls do when they see me. Lillyann literally jumped into my arms yesterday when I was waiting for her at the Play Lodge, and Mylah did the same this morning after church. Children delight in coming home and seeing those they love after being separated for an hour, day, week, or month. It doesn’t matter to them how long they’ve been away. They just delight in seeing a loved one, and I plan to take their attitude as I continue on this journey home.

This picture of Tyler and Lillyann reminds me of how God will feel when I get home 🙂

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Hearts Breaking Open

God placed this in my path this morning, and I want to pass it along. There is great healing in hearts breaking open at ground zero, and I pray this from Maya Angelou helps open yours as it helped open mine in a beautiful way. I fear 9/11 has become a symbol of closing rather than opening. I pray we will see the love extended and the hearts bared bravely on a day that forever changed us all. I choose to believe that the love shown was what changed us and pray I will open my heart to ground zero today and every day. Thank you Michael Collins for the vivid reminder.

IN MEMORY OF 9/11 :
With out their fierce devotion
We are fragile and forlorn
Stumbling briefly among the stars.
We and our futures belong to them
Exquisitely,our beliefs and our
Breaths are made tangible in their love.

Let us remember all the bravery, “exquisitely tangible,” all the public and anonymous heroes, in a time when “serving and giving for others rose above every other concern. Think about all of the giving. Those uniformed and civilian servants who risked their lives for others on September 11, on the flights, in the Pentagon, at Ground Zero in New York;teachers who comforted children and waited till all were safely accounted for (we lost 47 parents of our Lutheran school children that day);pastors and parishes who kept their doors open and sat with the public,listening to their lament for months;those around the world and throughout our church who sent stuffed animals,cards, letters, money, expressions of prayerful compassion, visits; ironworkers, truck drivers, chaplains, counselors, volunteers, all who worked at ground zero, at the morgues, at the site in Staten Island during the longmonths of rescue, then recovery; military chaplains and those who serve in our armed forces; those who lost loved ones, friends, businesses and worked at the dignity of living every day with sorrow. Walking the streets of Manhattan, going on the subways, a different spirit prevailed. All this heroism and sacrifice and shared sorrow made us open to one another. The open window reminded us that for a time we were one metropolis, not divided by inner city\suburb or race or class;that for a time our synod and national church lived in unity of prayerful purpose, transcending the things which vex us and divide us. We were neighbors, sisters, brothers,friends to one another, almost outside of ourselves and our narrow self interests.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I haveloved you. No one has greater love thanthis, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)

At Ground Zero when the remains of a child of God would be found something remarkable would happen. All activity would cease. The pile would gentle down to silence. Withbowed, uncovered heads everyone at Ground Zero would show their consummate respect for life as the remains would be lovingly brought out from the rubble. Let us remember, with bowed heads and respectful silence, the heroes, the servants, the extended act of giving which surrounded all of us us.

And let our hearts break open to the ground zeros of today…

Maya Angelou

Maya