Having a Mama Spirit

Mama died seven years ago, but I still think of her every day. She was, and always will be, more than just my mama. We were kindred spirits who understood and loved one another in a very special way. Mama wasn’t like anyone else, and neither am I. Since her death, I’ve come to accept and love who I am. She would be happy to know that. She warned me about the hurt that comes with being different, but I learned that on my own at a very young age. It was indelibly tattooed on my heart at the age of six.

Knowing I am loved enables me to love myself just as I am and others as they are. Mama was trying desperately to tell me something just before she died, but she was too weak to form the words. I believe she wanted to remind me to just be me and not worry if others didn’t understand. She understood that struggle better than most and knew I did, as well. I’ve changed a great deal since mama died, and I’m happy to say that my heart is finally wide open. I am free to be who God created me instead of who others think I should be. 

The lessons of late have been about being who I am, loving others as they are, and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest. I used to think I had to be who I could never be and try to help others to be the same. That sounds ridiculous now, but it’s been the underlying theme of my life. It may take a while for me to comprehend God’s lessons, but I don’t forget them once I do.

Mama’s name was Mary, and she reminds me of a friend of Jesus with the same name.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42 NASB

Commentaries differ on the meaning of this story, but the lesson God has for me in it is crystal clear. It’s okay to be who I am even if I, or others, do not understand. Mary and Martha are very different, and there is nothing wrong with either. The thing that is wrong in this story is thinking that others should be like me or allowing others to make me believe I should be like them. I can relate to Mary because I love getting lost in God’s Word; not everyone understands that, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.

I thank God for placing those in my path who share their love of God’s Word with me. I could sit for hours talking about scripture. I know the dishes have to be washed, and I will eventually get to them; but when I’m in God’s Word, I can’t see or hear anything else. My mama had a sweet, loving spirit and was often lost in thought. I’m so thankful I am the same way and thank God for giving me a “mama spirit” that allows me to get lost in His Word the way Mary was lost when Jesus spoke.

 

Take a Deep Breath….

I’ve been getting therapeutic massages for the past month to alleviate the stiffness and pain that has plagued me all winter. I have arthritis in my hip, knee, and shoulders, but walking and exercising have always been enough to keep my joints flexible and pain free. The pain began to spread in January, and my body felt like rusting metal left out in the rain. By the end of March, I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t want to go the pain killer route until trying other options.

My daughter-in-law in a wonderful massage therapist who is in business with her dear friend Braden. I decided to give massage a chance before heading to the doctor’s office. I’ve had massages in the past, but I always opted for the “feel good” Swedish or hot stone massages. I had one deep tissue massage years ago and decided it was far too painful to have another. I suppose I wasn’t ready to give up those knots 🙂

The tough winter left me desparate to be rid of the stiffness and pain, so I went to Braden and asked if she could help. She listened lovingly to my concerns and said she believed she could relieve the pain and the stiffness. She warned me that it would not be pain free or easy. I would have to be willing to endure the discomfort, stretch, and relax. I agreed, and we began the treatments the last week of March.

I got relief after our first session, but I soon learned that my muscles weren’t the only things getting a workout. Some knots were rooted in my poor posture, lack of stretching, arthritis, and an injury from an accident a year ago; but more of them came from hidden hurts that needed to come to the surface. I experienced weeping during a massage years ago and was told it was perfectly normal for massage to bring emotional pain to the surface. I went into the treatments determined to let go of all my knots and allow the healing God had in mind take place.

Braden and I prayed that God would use her hands to help me heal and that I would be able to relax and not get in the way. I have a hard time relaxing, and I’m finding that keeps me from fully experiencing much of what God has in mind for me. It is, and always has been, hard for me to be still. I realized yesterday that the choice is mine. I can relax into obedience or let fear stiffen me into stillness. With the Spirit’s help and a loving massage therapist, fear is losing its hold on me.

If you’d had a deep tissue massage, you know the level of pain released when knots are untied. Braden knew I was hurting and felt my muscle tensing when she hit a particularly painful knot in my neck. She quietly told me to take a deep breath and continued pushing on the sore spot. I wanted to tell her to stop, but I wanted healing more. I realized I was holding my breath and bracing for the pain, something I’ve done all my life. I let go of my breath and took in a long, deep breath. I was shocked at the difference it made as she worked the tension out of the twisted muscle.

God never ceases to amaze me with His powerful lessons, but the sweet message that came during my massage yesterday was one I will not soon forget. Relaxing isn’t possible in the presence of fear, but God’s love banishes fear once, and for all.

1 John 4:18 says it best.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” NLT

Love, breath, and spirit are all one. I knew that but didn’t fully know it until that deep breath helped me relax into healing on that massage table. I have been holding my breath expecting punishment all of my life. I’ve felt unworthy of love, especially God’s. I have no problem loving God and loving others. I do love and love completely. I just cannot seem to take in the love as deeply or fully as God would like. He knows love and breathing go hand in hand, so He bids me to take a deep breath and fully experience His perfect love and the love of those around me.

I am struck by the image of the bride in Revelation 21:1-6 and heard two very beautiful messages on that passage last week. My heart was broken when I saw myself as less than a beloved bride, but God made it clear to me yesterday that I have been, am, and always will be His beloved bride. Nothing can ever change His perfect love for me, but I can miss it by holding my breath and believing fear’s vicious lie that I am not a beloved bride. I plan to relax, breathe deeply, and fully experience all the love God has in store for me.

What’s in a Name?

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body, she was filled with grief and frustration. She arrived at the tomb at first light, but it was empty. Jesus was gone. The others went home disappointed, but Mary lingered, longing to know what had happened to the body of her beloved Lord.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). John 20:11-17 NASB

This passage has always tugged at my heart, but it touched me even more deeply this Lenten Season as I witnessed the power of love in a new light. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, but that isn’t surprising. None of us see what is right before our eyes, especially if it is something we are not expecting to see.

Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman in the new movie, stood in Times Square under a giant advertisement for Superman vs Batman wearing a tee shirt with the Superman logo on the front. His face was in lights above him, but no one recognized him. He was responding to criticism about Superman’s trademark disguise. Critics pointed out that glasses would never be enough to hide Superman’s identity from those around him. The experiment proved superman didn’t even need glasses; he could easily hide in plain sight because people do not see what they are not expecting to see.

Mary asked the man she thought to be a gardener what he had done with the body. He simply said, “Mary!,” and suddenly her world was changed forever.  One of the most powerful moments in the Bible, for me, is when she utters, “Rabboni.” She wanted to embrace Jesus, but He bid her not to come near because He had not yet ascended to His Father. Like Mary, I am beautifully changed when someone speaks my name in love. Being known heals and makes my heart whole. No one knows that better than God, and Mary learned its power that morning at the empty tomb.

The first time my son uttered the syllables “ma ma,” my heart melted into a puddle. The first time my granddaughters called me “Gigi,” my heart went to a new level of love. The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class call me “Gigi” when I visit or volunteer, and that fills my heart with joy. They squeal with delight each time they see me at school or out in the community. They act as though it’s been years since they’ve seen me. That delight is what love is all about, and it never gets old.

God delights when He hears His children say His name with love, but His heart is broken when His name is used to justify violence or spread hatred. His greatest desire is to be with us, and to know that we know how much He loves us. When we say His name and the names of those around us in love, His kingdom comes, and His will is done.

A name spoken in love brings joy into the world, and that is what Easter is all about What’s in a name? Everything!!

Happy Easter 🙂

 

 

 

A Special Kind of Love

God is love, but He is a special kind of love. He isn’t the hearts and flowers love found in romance novels or Valentine’s Day cards, but He does understand our need for such love. He is covenant love, and that is unlike any other love. I can miss experiencing covenant love if I allow myself to get tangled in my own desires, but I can know the depth of its beauty when I trust God with all of my heart. He will never force His love upon me because that would destroy His very nature, but He does give the perfect example of covenant love in His Son, Jesus Christ.

No one loved Jesus more than the apostle John, so a great place to get an idea of covenant love is by looking at what he says about it in John 3:16-17

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (NLT)

The two verses together give a beautiful definition of covenant love that even my little third-grade Sunday School class could understand. When I ask if their parents would die trying to save them, they gave a resounding “YES!!” in unison. They also agreed that their parents would risk their lives for others. Several had fathers who were law enforcement officers or soldiers, so the idea of putting your life on the line for someone else was familiar to them. My next question was no less confusing. When I asked if their parents would offer up the lives of their children to save someone else. Their “NO!!” was even louder than their earlier “YES!”

I told them I, too, would risk my life to save others; my son was at the top of my list of those I would die for, and they were on it, as well. I made it very clear that there was nothing for which I cared enough to give my son’s life. They completely understood and marveled that God could love them enough to give up His Son’s life to save them.

Verse sixteen is the most familiar in the Bible, but verse seventeen is just as powerful. God not only loves us more than we are capable of understanding, His Son didn’t come to judge us. He came to save us. That’s covenant love in a nutshell. There is a special Hebrew word for such love-hesed. It is the word used beautifully in Isaiah 54:10.

“For the mountains may move
    and the hills disappear,
but even then my faithful love for you will remain.
    My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”
    says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (NLT)

To love with God’s loyalty is not possible for a mere human being, but Jesus did it beautifully. His precious love encourages me to try, and that trying is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Christ’s love reflects His Father’s love and puts all other love into perspective. Romance is great, and brotherly love is powerful. Our hearts need all kinds of love to grow as God desires, but covenant love is necessary if I want to walk in His kingdom now.

Covenant love isn’t in all our relationships. It is very special and should be cherished and nurtured when found because it is a sweet taste of heaven. I thank God for allowing me to experience such love; it changes everything. Covenant love isn’t an easy love to embrace and can easily be lost. God knew how difficult it would be for us, so He sent His Son and His Holy Spirit to help us experience its wonder.

Christ’s precious love comes from God, the Father, and the seeds He planted over two thousand years ago in His Son’s heart still flourish in those willing to let them take root in their own hearts.

Swimming in the Kingdom

I’ve been afraid of the water for almost sixty years; so when my granddaughter Lilly asked me yesterday why I didn’t like to swim, I decided it was time to be honest with her. I had skirted the issue before when she had noticed my reluctance to get into the water, but I was ready to tell her the truth. I told her that I almost drowned when I was her age, and that made me afraid of water. She said, “Didn’t you know how to swim Gigi?”

I told her I didn’t know how to swim at the time but I did learn later. She wanted details, so I told her that my father threw me into the deep end of a pool a few years after I almost drowned. He was determined to get me to swim, and he was tired of waiting. Sink or swim is an effective method because fear is a powerful motivator. I was already afraid of the water, so it made sense to use that fear to help me learn to swim. Lilly was sad that I didn’t like to swim because she’s a little fish who loves the water, but now she understood why Gigi stayed near the edge and always had a noodle near by. She offered to help me swim better. Her sweet offer makes me want to swim better because it comes from her heart.

God knows I am a visual learner, so He used the image of a country club pool to help me understand my struggle with the water and my search for community. I don’t belong to a country club; but there is one near my sister’s home, and she is a member. Club members may bring visitors as long as they don’t overstay their welcome, and I’ve gone with her a few times. I don’t recall a time when I ever felt unwelcome, but I was definitely unwelcome at the pool in my dream.

In the first dream, I was swimming happily with a dear friend who was a member of the club. It was a beautiful image of how I would so love to feel in the water, but the sweet moment was cut short by an angry voice screaming from the side of the pool. I saw a man pacing back and forth, telling me that I did not pay dues and should not be in the pool. I was rattled by his rage and started treading water so I wouldn’t sink.

His wife has a different concern. She is yelling instructions because I was not treading water the proper way. I tried to follow her instructions, but fear got the best of me when I noticed all the angry faces and heard loud voices screaming for me to get out of the pool! I stopped treading water and started sinking. Now, this was a familiar feeling.

I found strange comfort in sinking, but loving hands lifted me to the surface. A calm presence guided me to the safety of the side. I was clinging to concrete, coughing water, and wailing like a two-year-old. When I stop sobbing, I noticed a man kneeling in front of me. He looked down with loving eyes, and I realized I knew Him. He was the same man who had been on the pier fifty-eight years ago when daddy pulled me out of the lake. He looked over my head and said, “This all belongs to My Father, and I’ve already paid your dues. So enjoy it.” The dream ended abruptly, and I woke wondering what it all meant.

This morning, the dream picked up where it left off last week. The kneeling man was bidding me to look behind me. I thought He meant the country club belonged to His Father, so I expected to see the same scene I had seen before going under the water. I knew the man was Christ and imagined He meant He would help me deal with the angry mob, but He had something much different in mind. His sweet, loving presence made me forget about the danger of letting go and gave me the courage to turn around. I saw an image I could not have imagined on my own.

Crystal clear water stretched as far as I could see in every direction. The beautiful body of water was filled with people of all sizes, shapes, and colors. They were swimming, floating, talking, walking, or simply sitting. There were no paddle boards, boats, tubes, noodles, or floatation devices. There were no sides to this pool, and the temperature was perfect.

Everyone, including me, was suspended in water that felt like a warm, loving embrace. I moved and felt the sensation of freedom. I dove under the water and saw legs all around me. There was no kicking, thrashing, or splashing because they was no need to struggle or impress in this pool. Fear wasn’t present in this body or in mine because I was connected to Love that flowed through the water and each of us.

When I came to the surface, I looked around and noticed Christ laughing and clapping His hands with delight. He had been waiting fifty-eight years to watch me swim. He was loving every moment, and so was I. Everyone smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but smile back. Such a different scene than the one at the other pool. This was kingdom community at its best.

When I awoke from the dream, I was as rested as I’ve ever been. I smiled when I realized it was morning, and my very first thought was Psalm 51:12.

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit. “(NASB)

There is joy in His salvation, and love is His kingdom. His Holy Spirit will sustain me with a willing spirit if I will simply let go of my fears and swim with the heart of one who trusts His love to keep me afloat.

 

 

Following in Faith

I’m the world’s worst when it comes to directions. I get lost easily and panic when I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings. Today is Epiphany, so it’s fitting that God would bid me to head home in a different direction. He knows how hard it is for me to change direction, and we both know it’s because I let fear get the best of me. Matthew 2 has been in my path for the past few weeks, but it took on new meaning yesterday.

“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (NRSV)

2015 was filled with changes in direction that left me reeling and feeling lost. The problem, as always, was in trying to find my way instead of yielding to God’s. The Magi traveled a great distance to see the Messiah; whether they were from Prussia or some other exotic location, their journey was a long and difficult one filled with the unfamiliar.

When God warned them not to go back to Herod, they willingly changed direction. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to do what they did. They knew the importance of pleasing the ruler of the region, but they listened to God and ignored Herod. It was customary to bring gifts and show respect for kings when traveling to or through their kingdoms, so they were doing much more than changing their travel plans. They risked insulting the reigning king because they knew Christ was a new kind of king. Some folks are insulted when you change direction, and that has been the most difficult lesson of late. I worry far too much about what others think, and that gets in God’s way. Following God may mean disappointing others, and that’s more uncomfortable than heading down an unknown road.

If the Wise Men had ignored God’s warning and done what was expected of them, God would have found another way to protect His Son. He didn’t need them, and He doesn’t need me to carry out His plans. He lets me participate so I’ll learn and grow nearer to Him. I don’t always listen, so I miss important lessons. I prefer the safety of the familiar, but God’s lesson this week has been that safety is only an illusion. The safest road is the one He is on even though it is seldom the most familiar. Faith is trusting God even when others insist they know what I should do. Epiphany is seeing the light of Christ’s precious love and having the courage to follow it in faith.

 

 

Heartburn and Heartbreak

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I think that’s a lot of sexist nonsense; but God did manage to get to my heart through my stomach this week, so maybe there is something to the old saw.

I’ve suffered from acid reflux for three months, and it’s driven me to distraction. The nagging burn of stomach acid in my throat was becoming common place because I opted to eat what I wanted to eat, carry antacids around with me, and accept the burning as my new normal.

My father used to tell me that I was born hungry and would die hungry. I told him I planned to eat as much as I could in between. I was born prematurely and couldn’t nurse or suck a bottle, so mama cut a hole in the nipple of a bottle and let the formula flow into my mouth a few drops at a time. She was afraid I would choke, so the process took forever. According to daddy, she fed me every five minutes. He attributed her obsession with feeding with my obsession with eating. That theory made perfect sense because I turned to food when I was hurting, and I ate all the time.

Weight was never a problem when I was growing up. I was tiny in elementary school and stayed a constant 110 pounds throughout high school and college. I ate heartily, five meals most days. The first time I gained a lot of weight was when I was pregnant with my son, but most of that came off as soon as I got home. My sweet son filled a void that needed filling, so I put all my energy into loving him. In my forties, a slower metabolism and a broken heart took a terrible toll on my heart. I couldn’t keep up any more. In fact, I didn’t want to keep up any more.

My heart’s hunger has always been greater than my stomach’s desire to be filled; so when the two pains merged, food became my drug of choice. I cooked and served and pretended all was well. Mama taught me much more than how to cook. Her death left my heart in a lurch I’ve been trying to crawl out of for six years. I gained twenty-two pounds trying to recreate the comfort of her unconditional love. The more I tried, the more I failed. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I kept on doing it because I couldn’t face the truth.

Thanking God for acid reflux may sound bizarre, but that’s exactly what I found myself doing yesterday. If you’ve ever had acid reflux, you know it will not be ignored. It’s been nagging me unmercifully for three months, and I finally had enough on Tuesday.

I love researching, so I took to the internet to find answers. I was tired of hurting and ready to change my ways. I found a list of foods that cured and a list of foods that caused acid reflux and decided to give it a try. On Wednesday, I ate only foods that cured and avoided all foods that caused. I couldn’t believe the difference and kicked myself for waiting so long to do the right thing.

God used my relief to remind me that my heart needed relief as well. It had been broken for a very long time and it was affecting my health and my happiness. I took a hard look at my heart habits and realized I had some changes to make. No one knows my heart better than God, so I turned to Him for answers.

It isn’t easy to give up what I want. I missed having coffee, chocolate, and cheese on Wednesday, but I did not miss the terrible burning that came with their consumption. It is human nature to want what isn’t good for me, but God showed me that what He wants for me is so much better than what I want for myself. His lists for living aren’t designed to punish or deny; they are designed with a full heart in mind.

My heart and belly have been full of good things for the past two days, and I’ve lost a pound in the process. I wasn’t thinking about my weight on Wednesday. I simply wanted the pain to stop. God showed me that doing the right thing is the simple solution for both heartburn and heartbreak.

I had to laugh when I thought of Paul in Romans 7:19 last night. I decided to eat a little chocolate before heading to bed, and I immediately regretted that decision.

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

Maybe writing that little verse a few hundred times will help me remember to stick to the good list when it comes to my tummy and my heart 🙂