Rejoice!!

When I hear the word rejoice, I immediately think of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It is a favorite and familiar song that lifts my heart every time I hear it.

This song makes me want to sing and defines worship for me. Worship begins with love. Love leads to faith, and faith is the stage upon which I rejoice. Singing is a natural response when it comes to worship, but I learned from a terrible music teacher in fourth grade that I could not sing. Up until that moment, I sang with abandon. After his ugly comment, I mouthed the words in public and stopped singing when alone.

During Holy Week in 2009, a dear friend helped me see myself as a singer and gave me the courage to sing in front of a small group. I never felt more alive in my life than when I was singing “What Wondrous Love is This” and “Where You There.” Mama died a few months later, and life took an unexpected turn. I sang in worship and when alone, but I didn’t pursue singing the way God wanted me to. I had the desire to sing, but I lacked the courage. Hateful words have deep roots.

Singing, loving, rejoicing, dancing, and worshipping are best done with abandon. All of them should be done whether anyone is watching or not, and all should come from a deep place in the heart. Last night, God reminded me how much He loves to hear me sing. Like the parent of a little child, nothing delights Him more than hearing His little ones sing with abandon. He also showed me that the only time singing, loving, rejoicing, dancing, and worshipping are inappropriate is when they are about me and not Him.

I could relate because nothing is more off key than singing done to shine a light on the singer. I’ve heard singers who performed perfectly but left my heart feeling flat. I’ve also heard performances that were not perfect that caused my heart to soar toward heaven. The point of all worship is to glorify God. When we do that together, it is magical.

I love the time I spend alone with God. Sometimes I sit quietly and listen. Sometimes I talk to Him. Sometimes I sing, and sometimes I dance! A solo is beautiful, but it is a taste of heaven when voices join in sweet harmony. That harmony doesn’t depend upon everyone singing in the right key; it happens when hearts are tuned in one accord.

Lillyann spent the night last night and warned me when we went to bed that she did not like getting up in the morning. According to her, it would be a problem. I told her I could handle it 🙂 I heard her singing in the bathroom while I was writing this post. Again, God’s timing always amazes and usually amuses me!

I went in, and she was washing her hands and singing sweetly. She stopped singing and looked up at me sheepishly. I told her to keep on singing and told her she was up fifteen minutes early and singing! She grinned, and I told her to blame it on the cinnamon buns. She laughed and asked if they were ready.

As we were driving to school this morning, I told her how much I loved to hear her sing. I also told her that nobody love to hear us sing more than God. While we waited in the line of cars, I told her about my fourth grade music teacher’s remarks and the effect they had upon me. She said, “That’s horrible!!” I told her I loved to sing now because someone else encouraged me to sing. She said, “That’s good.” I heartily agreed 🙂

She was singing again while putting on her shoes before we left; I decided to capture that sweet moment because she didn’t stop when I walked over.

 

 

 

Make Room

Making room for God requires letting go of self. That doesn’t mean I can’t be me; it simply means I can’t keep all of my stuff. When I moved into my tiny apartment in town, I had to downsize considerably. The home I shared with my son and his family for two and a half years was over 5,000 square feet. My new place is 550 square feet. My bedroom and bath were larger than my apartment, so I had some serious downsizing to do.

Taking stock of my belongings wasn’t easy, do I did it while the kids were away on vacation. I made three piles: treasures to keep, things to give away, and things to sell. Two of the piles were easy, but the one in the middle brought me to tears. I love books and had hundreds of them, but I knew they would never fit into my apartment. The same was true for all I had accumulated over the years. After agonizing over each possession, the largest pile held treasures I wanted to keep. I decided to deal with the other two first because they were easier on my heart.

The pile to sell was easy. I felt great after taking several car loads to a nearby consignment shop because I was going to get paid for letting go. I was energized and ready to tackle the give away pile. It was fun to think about who would love and appreciate the stuff I no longer needed. I started with materials and books from my classroom. I had given away a ton of materials when I retired. I left most everything behind in my classroom when I retired, but I did take special books and units with me just in case I decided to teach again.

I knew several wonderful young teachers, one a former student I knew would put my things to good use. She was elated, and that encouraged me to press on. It was time to deal with that troubling treasure chest at home. I made a new pile of things for my son. That was fun and made a big dent in the pile, but there was still the treasures to keep pile!

I decided to take a break and do some praying. God knew this was a hard process, and He knew that was more about letting go than sorting out. Not having room is convenient when it comes to homes and hearts. There is a certain safety in not having space because it keeps me from inviting in the new or stepping into the unknown. If I don’t have time or space, I don’t have to worry about growing. We all know that growing pains are very real and apply to more than teenage joints and muscles.

With God’s help, I was able to let go and grow into my tiny apartment with room to spare. I absolutely love my new home because it is filled, but not full. Simplifying was satisfying and opened the door for a similar transformation in my heart. My apartment and my heart are loving the openness. God is loving it too because His Holy Spirit has enough space to dance. That makes both of us very happy. My grand daughters are happy because they also have space to dance and play. Making room in a house or a heart isn’t an easy process; but once you create a little open space, you want more of it and will never be satisfied with crowded again.

Patience

Patience is a virtue that took over sixty years for me to grasp. It took a lot of patience on God’s part to teach me the importance of patience. Stillness and patience are kindred spirits, so it’s not surprising they came into my heart at the same time. I’m not claiming to always be still or patient, but I do have a greater understanding of both thanks to God’s lessons of late.

I’m learning to wait in a different way, and I believe that is at the heart of Advent. My busyness kept me from the patience and stillness needed to wait as God desires, but that was my own doing. Busyness is the perfect hiding place, and that was just what I was looking for. God, however, had something much better in mind.

Busyness kept all that was whirling around me from crashing down on me. Like staying in front of a wave on the shore, those breakers could not catch me if I kept moving. God knew I would have to face the waves eventually, and He knew they would break me. He also knew I must come to a stop on my own, so He didn’t force me. He just held my hand and picked me up after they hit.

Fear of the waves and a lack of faith kept me from experiencing the stillness and patience God knew would bring me nearer to Him, but He also knew it would only work when I chose to stop. As I told my grand daughter, God doesn’t cause the bad things that happen to us; He simply holds and loves us while they are happening. Like mommy and daddy, He is there to make sure we know we are never alone. She liked, and understood, that kind of love as only a loved child can.

In the same conversation, she asked if she could ask God for things. I told her God heard our prayers and would answer them, but we don’t say give me this or give me that to God. Her response was, “No, that’s Santa!” I grinned and said, “Yeah, and there’s a big difference!”

I love learning from my grand daughters, but I’m afraid they didn’t offer much help with patience and stillness. Children are wiser than we, but they are still novices when it comes to patience and stillness -particularly at this time of year 😉

They do, however, sit  beautifully still when there is something worth waiting for or watching. This photo of the girls is a beautiful example of just that.

 

Thankful

Embracing that which is in my path is giving me a grateful heart. I’ve wasted too much time fretting over what might have happened or what isn’t happening, and it’s kept me from enjoying what is. This Thanksgiving was the best ever because I savored every single moment.

One of the sweetest moments was when I held my new grand daughter while sitting between her big sisters. My heart was as complete as it’s ever been, and that caused me to pause and offer thanks to God in the stillness of that moment. Most of the moments were not still ones, but the stillness I was feeling didn’t require me or those around me to be still.

Thankfulness requires mindfulness, and mindfulness requires stillness. I’ve struggled with being still for most of my life because I saw it as something I had to do rather than something I could be. Relaxing into obedience is not sitting still and being quiet. I learned at an early age to do that or suffer the consequences. It took every fiber of my being to accomplish the feat, but fear is a powerful motivator.

The stillness God has in mind is not about sitting still or being quiet. It is about letting go and trusting God to know what He’s doing. True stillness allows me to see and hear things I never noticed, and that is allowing my heart to listen in a powerful way.

Hearing God, hearing my own heart, and hearing the hearts of others is what stillness is all about. I am very thankful to finally understand that beautiful truth.

 

Longing…..

Three years ago I had the privilege of watching the release of seven sea turtles on Topsail Island, North Carolina. The turtles varied in size, but their longing to get back to the sea was the same. I don’t remember the names of all of the turtles or what circumstances caused their journeys to be interrupted, but I do remember the last, and least, turtle because he was close enough for me to see the deep yearning in his eyes. I’m thankful for the image I was able to capture because it serves as a reminder of that miraculous moment.

Leonardo was the smallest turtle, and his flippers began flapping vigorously the moment he spotted the ocean. They did not stop beating until he was placed into the water. He was revving up his engine for a fast getaway and wanted to hit the ocean swimming. As I watched his handler trying to hold on to him, I understood the necessity of the restraints around the larger turtles. They needed four adults to carry them to the water. I’m sure ten strong men would not have been able to hold the largest turtle if his giant flippers were free to flap like little Leonardo’s.

This amazing pageant of healed turtles returning home humbled me in a powerful way. I was so happy for the turtles and so very thankful for volunteers, like the lady in line, who are willing to provide help and hope to injured travelers on their way home. I was watching a miracle and sharing the experience with those around me. It was a small crowd because the release took place the day after Labor Day. Tourists had returned home, and children were back in school.

I was standing near a woman deeply connected to this moment, but she was standing with the crowd and not with the volunteers. I could tell by the tone of her voice and her knowledge about the process that she was not just an observer. She told me the direction the turtles would swim and where they were headed. She also talked about the turtles as if she knew them well and loved them deeply. She represented the love that kept the hospital going. I wondered if she had known Karen Beasley, perhaps she was her mom. Whoever she was, she helped me see that more than turtles were being released that day.

I was on the beach that afternoon because God allowed my sister and I to overhear plans for the release as we waited in line for our afternoon coffee and smoothie. A lady who worked at the Turtle Hospital was telling her friend about it while we waited in line behind her. She was very gracious when we asked for details and told us when and where to be the following day. My sister was unable to go but insisted I go and tell her all about it.

Advent is a time of sweet longing as we await the arrival of Christ while remembering His birth. I can only imagine what those who witnessed that beautiful miracle first hand must have felt. I am still in awe when I think of those majestic turtles plunging into the ocean and making a sharp right turn as their built-in GPS directed them to the Gulf of Mexico. I got to see their longing satisfied, and it was amazing. Seeing the Messiah fulfill God’s promise is more than I can begin to fathom.

I long for the day when my spirit is released, and I am able to be with God; but I also long to be more aware of the miracles He places in my path each and every day. As I watched little Leonardo flap his wings in sweet anticipation, I found myself wanting to abandon all, jump in, and swim to the Gulf with him.

His longing was contagious! I pray mine will be too.

You can read more about Karen Beasley’s legacy at http://magazine.wfu.edu/2014/07/10/karen-beasleys-legacy-save-the-turtles/

Hope

Advent is a season of hope which takes my faith to new heights each year as I celebrate Christ’s birth and anticipate His second coming. Life is filled with ups and downs, but hope brings a beautiful place of balance. I wrote this poem years ago, but it still resonates with my heart. I look forward to all God has in store, and that is what hope is all about.

Hope is the spark that lingers

Long after the fire seems lost.

He remains to remind us

To go on, He paid the cost.

 

We are prone to forget Him

Until nothing else remains,

But He sits waiting patiently

To ease our heartaches and pains.

 

 

Rest in Peace

Change is never easy, but pliability brings peace to the process. When mama died five years ago, my heart was a pile of shattered clay that I tried, in vain, to put back together. Mama’s death was an expected one, but that didn’t make it any easier. We longed for her pain to end and even questioned her lingering for so long. My heart hung on to her even though I knew she longed to be with her beloved Lord. Part of the problem was that I wanted to go with her. Mama and I shared a special bond that began at my birth and continued after her death. I still feel her loving presence, and I’ve learned to rest in it.

Lillyann was born the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama thought she was born on her birthday because that’s when she saw the first pictures of her. She also believed she was named after her mother Lillie Belle. We all let her believe both. Three months after Lillyann entered the world, mama left it. She never saw her sweet great-grandbaby in person, but she loved her all the same. Mama loved with her whole heart, and that caused her a great deal of grief. She told me over and over that other people weren’t like us and that would break my heart one day. I carried her fear of being hurt into all of my relationships. As a result, I connected to those who could not, would not, or did not love me the way my heart needed to be loved. Over the past five years, love has entered into my life in new and beautiful ways that have allowed my heart to rest in love. I know I am loved and see myself as God’s beloved daughter.

The powerful lessons this week have been about trusting God to change the desires of my heart and then resting in His love. I’ve never been one to rest or trust, so it has been a challenging week. I’ve prayed fervently for God to make the desires of His heart the desires of my own, but I realized this week that I have to trust and rest before that can happen.  I’m not sure when or how it happened this week, but my heart rested into a pliable peace that was very much like the feeling you get when you notice a terrible headache is gone.  I knew in October that resting and relaxing were going to be an important part of the learning this winter, but I wasn’t sure how God would get me to do either. I was thinking hibernation, but that isn’t at all what God had in mind.

Resting in peace is associated with death. I prayed fervently for mama to find such rest when she left this world. One rarely finds peace in this world; but just as we can walk in God’s Kingdom now, we can also rest in His peace before dying. It never occurred to me that rest was related to obedience until a friend reminded me that relaxing into obedience is part of the journey toward holiness. I learned this week that I can rest in obedience, rest in hope, rest in peace, rest in grace, and rest in love. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can rest in all things. Once I allowed my heart to rest, I felt the pliable peace of Philippians 4:7, and it changed everything.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Christmas is the season of peace on earth, and there is still nothing that brings peace into our hearts like the pure unconditional love of a child. God knew that when He devised His plan for peace on earth. His Son’s precious love captivates our hearts as we remember His birth. May the pure love of Immanuel bring pliable peace to all our hearts this season.