Release & Restore

I didn’t realize when I started a new exercise class on Wednesday morning that God would use it to teach a very important lesson. The class, called Release and Restore, is designed to find and release stress in the lymphatic system. It involves using various balls, one with sharp spikes, to work out the tension in muscles and release built up toxins that cause soreness.

The exercises look innocent enough, and the music is meditative; but the pain that comes when the balls meet the stress is excruciating. I had the urge to scream, but my instructor bid me to relax, breathe, and push into the painful area. It’s a lot like the truth when it hits a spot in my heart. I want to cry, scream, and avoid the pain; but I know I can’t.

My muscles will never be sore if I don’t exercise, and my heart will never hurt if I don’t love. Both will atrophy and eventually feel nothing at all. My instructor is a beautiful young woman filled with lots of compassion. She looked at me with sympathy and said, “You didn’t realize you had so much tension, did you?” She was right; I didn’t, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know at that point.

The exercise class worked the tension out of my muscles and left me sweating and sore. God’s lesson worked the tension out of my heart and left me crying and tender, but both workouts left me breathing easier and understanding my need to heed the hurt in all my muscles. Since the heart is the strongest and most important muscle in my body, I have to pay very close attention to its sore spots. My exercise instructor is giving me the tools and techniques to help me work out the toxins and relieve stress in my body, and God is giving me the same for my heart.

The Holy Spirit is an amazing Instructor, and Christ’s precious love works God’s Word into my heart in a way that allows His grace and love to bring peace that’s even sweeter than the release I felt in my shoulders, hips, back, legs, and neck on Wednesday. God knows I am a visual learner who needs an object lesson, and He had a powerful one this week. I hope I remember to let Him release my pain and restore my heart every single day. If I should forget, I’ll get a powerful reminder every Wednesday morning from my new little blue friend 🙂

Spiky Ball

Working God’s Word Into My Heart

Luke 6:48-49  is a beautiful scripture that explains why some folks either don’t like to read the Bible or read it without joy while others can’t get enough of it.

“If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” (The Message)

Studying the Bible is like self-examination. It’s wonderful when the Word works its way into my heart, but it’s terrible when over analyzed. The Word of God is the only literature that is literally alive. I have books I’ve read ten times or more, but there’s no comparing them to the Bible. As I began my study of Mark this week, I was reminded of how much I love his Gospel. I said the very same thing a few months ago when I went through the Gospel of John.

Every time I read Jeremiah, I am awed by the way the prophet’s poetry touches my heart. David’s psalms reach into my soul, break my heart, or lift my spirit depending upon where my heart is at the time of my reading. Revisiting a book of the Bible is like meeting an old friend. My love for them bubbles to the surface, and I cannot contain the emotion they stir up in my soul. Last Sunday, Pastor Jeff challenged us to read the Bible together this year. He asked that we not look at the challenge as a chore but rather as a way of getting closer to God. I had to grin because I’ve been there and knew just what he meant. I appreciate God’s Word more than ever before in my life and lose track of time when I’m in it.

To me, the Bible is a beautiful love letter read over and over until the pages grow soft and the ink fades. There is tragedy, pain, and hurt in the pages, but that’s what makes it real. Love isn’t about getting what I want; it’s about sharing the hurt and the joy with someone who hears my heart. God’s Word does that beautifully as it points to Christ’s precious love, a love so amazing and real that it takes my breath away. I marvel each time it works its way into my heart.

A friend told me today that the ladies in her Bible study discussed the fact that we might live to experience a time when our Bibles are taken away from us. I told her that isn’t a problem if the Word is in our hearts. It can’t be taken from my heart from anyone other than me. It isn’t the printed book I cling to but rather the healing Word that lives in my heart. The Holy Spirit gives the Word life. I have a relationship with God’s Word just as I have a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God.

Arguing over what a passage means is the best way to keep God’s Word from taking root in my heart. I love the book “The Blue Parakeet” by Scott McKnight. In it, he discusses the ways in which the Bible has been picked apart by those who would use its precious words to promote their agendas. It’s like taking a love letter and breaking down the syntax or picking out grammar and spelling mistakes. That ruins everything. Jesus fulfilled the law and became the Word. He knows the Word intimately. He is my model when it comes to God’s Word. Satan knows God’s Word well, but he hasn’t allowed it to be worked into his heart. It’s all in his head, and that’s obvious in his encounters with Christ. He is the perfect example of using God’s Word to promote his personal agenda. God forbid that we ever follow his example!

Next time you read God’s Word, let it wash over you like a stream of living water. It sometimes cuts deeply into my heart, but it opens up a beautiful space each time it does. God’s Word isn’t always just what I want to hear, but it is always just what I need just when I need it.

I love that about it!

Working God's Word Into My Heart

You Can Always Get What You Want!

Mick Jagger assured us in the seventies that we couldn’t always get what we wanted, but we could get what we needed if we tried. The truth is that you can always get what you want, but it comes at a price. Rhonda Bryne tells us in The Secret that we have the power to manifest our heart’s desire. I believe she’s right. The problem is the cost. It doesn’t take an extensive research project to prove that it’s possible to get what you want. Every spoiled child and adult in the world has proven that to us over and over again for free. Getting what we want only leads to misery, and we don’t need a study to prove that either.

God can give us everything we want, but He knows that would make us miserable. He could also force us to do exactly what He wants, but He knows that would make Him miserable. The lessons of late have been about obedience, and they are never easy ones. I want what I want and struggle with God when what I want and what He knows is best for me are not the same thing. All good parents and teachers understand the feeling well.

I laugh each time I think of my nephew Ben telling Tyler that he didn’t have to do what I asked him to do. He was two and running away from my sister Edie as fast as he could. I was at the kitchen table telling Tyler it was time to get ready for bed. Ben stopped running long enough to yell, “You don’t ha to Tider!” Tyler looked surprised, and I did my best to hide the big grin on my face. Ben was right, and I knew it.

The fact that I don’t have to do what God asks me to do is what allows me to grow when I choose to obey. God and I both know that obeying out of love is the only way for me to be who He knows I can be. Without love, I become a drone. Christians who become drones are miserable and make those in their paths miserable too. Misery does, indeed, love company. Love also loves company, but the connection is so much better and lasts forever.

Getting what I want means turning from God and living in the darkness. Darkness is darkness and no amount of money, fame, or fortune can change it into light. Only God can do that. He shed His Light upon the world in a way that changed everything. Understanding His Love and embracing His Truth brings hope, and hope is better than anything I can manifest on my own. Sure, I can write myself make believe checks and make collages of the life I want, but Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many plans are in a man’s heart, But the counsel of the Lord will stand.” (NASB) That lottery money will soon be spent, those possessions will fall prey to rust and dust, and fame will soon fly away. Love lasts forever!

If I go with God’s plan, I will have eternal life with Him, and I can walk in His kingdom now. That doesn’t mean I’ll be prosperous, but it does mean I will have love, joy, and peace. When God’s counsel takes root in my heart, it bears the fruit of His Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 promises, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (NASB) Money, fortune, and fame don’t come close to love. Love cannot be manipulated or manifested. It comes when I understand that there is something much better than what I want.

Lust is about getting what I want, and it is the second most powerful force in this world. The universe will give you just what you want, and there will always be those who pick up the slack for selfish, spoiled folks who insist on their way because they make others miserable when they don’t get it. Love means not getting what I want and not giving others what they want. Lust wins many battles, but the good news is that love has already won the war!

This photo is from "Spoiled Kids Get Worse Grades in College" by Laura Hamilton.
This photo is from “Spoiled Kids Get Worse Grades in College” by Laura Hamilton.

I’m not surprised 🙂

I’m Not Letting You Go!

Yesterday, Lillyann had a meltdown after I sent her to time out for taking a toy away from Mylah. I had seen her pitch a fit before, but this was a big step above a fit. I didn’t want to grab her or use force to sit her on the couch, so I decided to just hold her until she stopped fighting. It wasn’t easy because she was determined to get out of my arms. I told her I loved her and was not going to let her go until she stopped struggling. I don’t want Lillyann to obey me because she’s afraid of me. That’s what corporal punishment does; grabbing and jerking are the same as spanking and are all about proving who’s stronger. Obedience that comes as the result of fear doesn’t work for long. Children learn to fight and bully others when those tactics are used on them.

When Lillyann finally got tired of wiggling, she relaxed in my arms and cried out her frustration. I continued to hold her and tell her I loved her. I thought of Job and the word used to describe his repentance. Obedience and repentance go hand in hand. Both are about realizing God knows what’s best for me. Lillyann stopped crying and told Mylah and me she was sorry. She gave me the sweetest hug ever, and my heart just melted. I know from parenting and teaching that I can force children to do what I want, but that accomplishes one thing. I prove I’m in charge. It makes me feel better but does very little to help the child.

It would have been easy to scare Lillyann into doing what I wanted her to do, but  I wanted her to learn a different lesson. If I let her storm and stop and scream around the room, the tantrum would have gotten louder and gone on for much longer. It hurt me physically to hold on to her, but when she stopped struggling, it was worth all the effort. God could make everyone do exactly what He wants, but He knows that isn’t what love is all about.

Repentance simply means to turn. Like Lillyann, I struggle when I’m frustrated and don’t want to obey God. I fight and squirm in God’s arms all the time, but He won’t let me go until I relax in His arms. Pastor John explained the word “nacham,” as it is used in Job,  to me when I was struggling with God. He told me the best way to describe the Hebrew term was to think of a child wrestling to get out of his father’s arms. The father holds on until the child stops struggling. The sigh of surrender that comes when they finally stop fighting is nacham. That image continues to help me understand that repentance is not about guilt or God proving He’s stronger. It’s not about being bullied into behaving. It is about coming to a place of peace and accepting the comfort God’s arms always offer. It’s about obeying because I love Him, not because I’m scared of Him.

I want Lillyann and Mylah to understand that God’s arms are always around us. When we struggle, they are uncomfortable; but when we let go and trust Him, there is nothing more comforting in this world. I’m so glad that God says to us, “I’m not letting you go because I love you and always will no matter how hard you wiggle!!”

I'm not letting you go!
I’m not letting you go!

Thawing Heart

Raging fire quenches the desire.

Freezing rain douses the fire.

Arctic air freezes the rain.

Salty tears melt the ice.

God brings beauty from the ashes,

Cleansing in the rain,

Stillness in the ice,

And healing in my tears.

Thawing Heart

Reflect or Refract?

Reflection is defined as ” something that shows the effect, existence, or character of something else.” That definition made me wonder how my life shows the effect, existence or character of God. I fear I refract God’s image more than I reflect it, and that’s something I hope to change in the coming year. It’s very humbling to think that God manifests Himself in the lives of His children.

There’s an old saying which asks, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I would add another. Do you resemble Christ enough to be recognized as one of His brothers or sisters? No one reflected God’s love and light as Christ. I’m thankful God doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Christ did that in my place and allowed God to see His image each time He looks at me. He does, however, expect me not to bend, twist, or break His image as I live out my life.

Refraction is similar to reflection, but there is an important difference. The image is changed as the wave passes through a medium such as water. The straw in this glass is an image that helps me remember that I can break and distort God’s precious love if I’m not careful.

Refraction

The straw doesn’t appear to be connected, and that is what happens when the individual members of Christ’s body refract rather than reflect His love. Instead of letting God be God, His children insist on using Him for their own good. If I use God’s name or image, I better do so with a great deal of caution. I am not God, and I certainly do not need to defend Him. He doesn’t want His children to fight over who is right and who knows or loves Him best. That creates dysfunction in all families and breaks a parent’s heart to pieces.

I know the right thing to do. Two-year-olds know it. When right is refracted, it becomes what I think is right or what I want to be right. That causes a distortion much like the straw above. Doing the right thing is rarely easy, but I cannot twist the right thing to suit my needs or desires. James 4:16-17 describes what happens when I refract instead of reflect.

“But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” NASB

Arrogance is about being right. Obedience is about doing right. There is a big difference that changes the way I see myself, God, and others. More importantly, it changes the way others see God. It is my fervent prayer that I will reflect and not refract God’s love in the coming year. Brokenness and distortion lead to arguments that tear Christ’s body into jagged pieces. Wholeness and clarity cause the oneness Christ came to make possible. The Holy Spirit smoothes jagged edges and makes unity a beautiful reality in my heart and in a world with far too many rough edges.

I have a dear friend who teaches science, and she would add, “and when it diffracts,there is an apparent bending of waves around small obstacles and the spreading out, which allows God’s light to shine from oneself~to other.” I agree wholeheartedly Anne Watkins 🙂