Differentiated Unity??

Differentiated unity may sound like an oxymoron, but it is a beautiful truth I am learning to embrace. I first learned about self-differentiation eight years ago when a friend introduced me to the concept. He used a pencil and a rubber band to help me understand the difference between unhealthy fusion and healthy differentiation. I don’t pretend to be an expert on family systems, but I have learned to discern how being who I am allows me to connect as God desires.

Fusion creates a tight bond, but it is a bond that doesn’t allow movement or growth. It is the type of connection I preferred because there is a sick sort of safety with fusion. It’s concrete walls are a powerful form of protection. Self-differentiation requires letting go and allowing myself and those to whom I connect the room they need to expand, move, explore, and grow.

God is the ultimate example of self-differentiation. He describes Himself as The Great I AM. He is Who He is, and He always will be. He refuses to fuse, but so many Christians refuse to follow His example. It’s easier to fuse to a group or set of beliefs than it is to have a personal relationship with the Creator and those He created. I have struggled with the notion most of my life. My lack of faith caused me to focus upon what I could do for God and others and avoid differentiation.

Doing is, and always will be, much easier than being. Being requires stillness and trust that God knew what He was doing when He created me. I have to admit I have often believed He must have been having an off day when He created me. My early childhood cemented that belief into my head and my heart. I was not like everyone else. I knew this because my father pounded the notion into my body, and my mother whispered it into my spirit. Difference defined and confined my heart, so I and learned to make others happy by doing for them or making them laugh. It worked by all accounts, except for the one God was keeping in my heart.

I learned about self-differentiation in an honest, loving environment where I could be me and still be loved. I loved the freedom of being myself with someone who understood and encouraged, but I didn’t learn how to apply the learning to all aspects of my life until recently. Letting go is the test of self-differentiation, and anyone who has an adult child understands the pain involved in letting someone you love go so they can become their truest self.

As I watched my son love his family and help clean up after our wonderful meal, I was filled with pride. The mark of a great relationship is not how tightly I hold on to those I love, it is in how willing I am to let them go and grow into who they are meant to be. It is like the quote often attributed to Richard Bach, “If you love something, let it go; if it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”

I never felt closer to my son than I did in a quiet moment when we hugged yesterday. I told him it was the best Thanksgiving ever, and he said that they just kept getting better and better. I will not completely understand self-differentiation until I am with God in heaven, but I experienced a sweet taste of it in that beautiful Thanksgiving hug.

The unity God desires does not come from holding on; it comes from letting go. Differentiated unity makes perfect sense to my heart. It took eight years for me to understand it, but that moment when it settled in my heart yesterday was well worth the wait 🙂

 

 

No Way Out!!

Several months ago, my landlord suggested putting up a privacy fence to create a place for the girls to play and for me to relax. I agreed to buy the fence, and he agreed to put in a concrete patio inside the fence. Through a series of mishaps that began back in April, the fence finally went up last week. I loved it! There was only one small problem; they didn’t have a latch but promised they would order one as soon as possible.

I told them not to worry because I didn’t mind having the door open; in fact, it allowed me to have privacy and a beautiful view. The girls and I enjoyed imagining how the space would look when finished and couldn’t wait to see it finished. They were here yesterday when the men came to install the latch and wanted to go out and watch them. It was miserably hot and humid, so I convinced them to play inside so we wouldn’t get in the workers’s way.

I should’ve followed the girls’ lead because an hour later, as the trucks were leaving, I realized I should have paid more attention while they were working. I assumed the guys would come in and tell me they were finished or have me to sign a release as they had done when they installed the fence, but they simply left. When I got outside, I understood why they had left without letting me know.

They had drilled holes up and down the gate and post as they repositioned the gate to accommodate the single latch they brought with them. It swung out onto the sidewalk and made access very awkward. We had to walk around it to get inside the fence, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I loved the way it opened before, but I was determined to be positive. I’m trying to be more flexible and go with the flow, so this was a great opportunity to practice patience. The girls and I went inside the fence and closed the gate behind us. I realized I had made a big mistake when I tried to get out.

I didn’t panic because I rarely see the obvious and figured no one would install a fence with no way out. The girls were sitting in the lounge chair facing away from the gate chatting away happily, so I decided to take my time and think through the situation. It took two minutes for irritation to give patience an easy path out of that fence. The girls and I were stuck inside inside a fence with no way to open the gate from the inside! I wasn’t scared because the porch was nearby, and I knew I could get over the connecting wall if I had to. I was angry at the men for putting a single latch on the outside of a gate, and I was madder at myself for not noticing!

When I realized there was no way out, I let my frustration show. The girls noticed something was going on and asked what was wrong. I told them everything was okay, but I was going to have to climb onto the porch and open the gate from the outside so they could get out. The girls watched as I made my way onto the porch, and they had a lot of questions when I opened the gate for them. They were tickled by my awkwardness, but impressed by my agility. We all laughed and decided to go back inside 🙂

The lessons of late have been difficult ones. God knew I was feeling trapped by more than my new fence and saw a teachable moment. He used the gate to help me learn the importance of making sure there is a way out before I go barreling into something. I will remember that lesson each time I open the gate and go into my beautiful outdoor space. I do believe it will be a beautiful space filled with lots of happy times, just not right now.

Sin is like a malfunctioning gate, but God’s forgiveness offers a way to escape. Yesterday, I walked right through that gate without giving getting out a second thought. I have always had the tendency to do just that in life. God knows my heart better than I do, and He knows I frequently get myself into situations with no way out, but He also knows I know to ask Him for help. He will always let me go where I choose, and He knows that I will get locked in a bad situation if not careful. I can pretend I’m not trapped, get mad and blame others for my misfortune,  or admit I’m wrong and let His forgiveness open the way to His will. Climbing that little barrier humbled and humiliated me, but I am so very thankful it was there. Otherwise, I would have had to break down a door or scream until someone heard me. The path to the porch offered a way out. God’s amazing grace offers the same.

Like the girls watching as I went over the little wall, God is impressed when I am willing to be humbled in order to get where He wants me to be. He also finds the humor, and helps me find the humor, in the learning process. I know from teaching that a little humor goes a long way when it comes to retaining knowledge 😉

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.

Searching for Satisfaction

Mealtime was the best part of the day when I was growing up. Mama always had delicious food on the table, and we knew to be seated before daddy so we could begin as soon as he sat down. We shared food three times a day every day. Saturday night was a special night, so we ate in the dining room. The fare was almost always steak cooked to perfection on the grill daddy built on our closed in back porch. The smell of charcoal drove the neighbors crazy during the winter, but daddy was determined to enjoy a very rare steak every Saturday night. He was in charge of the grill and the fare on Saturdays.

Sunday lunches were also eaten in the dining room. They were mama’s cooking at its very best. Pan-fried chicken with rice and gravy was my favorite meal, but I also loved her Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Mama was the gravy master. The streets of heaven may be paved in gold, but the rivers and streams are definitely filled with her amazing gravy. Mama had a gravy for every meat. Deliciously rich brown gravy accompanied her roast beef, and I can taste it anytime I encounter a Parker House Roll.

All mama’s breads were homemade. She made biscuits, cornbread, and wonderful yeast bread each week, but her special homemade yeast rolls were for special occasions. Her Parker House Rolls would literally melt in my mouth. She put a slice of ice-cold butter inside each before baking  them to perfection. I could eat a dozen in a sitting. Food was mama’s way of expressing herself, and she expressed herself beautifully three times a day.

I awoke every morning to the aroma of her handiwork. Coffee was the first smell to come down the hallway from the kitchen, and bacon and/or sausage followed closely behind. I loved to guess what might be on the table. My favorite breakfast was a bacon and egg sandwich grilled in butter. I also loved sausage links and pancakes smothered in syrup and melted butter. Whatever we had, it was always great. I don’t remember ever eating anything I didn’t enjoy except when daddy was cooking seafood one Saturday night and made me eat an oyster. It went down my throat, but it didn’t stay in my stomach for long. Daddy didn’t force me to eat anything else after that.

Mealtime in my childhood home affected the way I look at food and the way I feel about eating alone. For the past twelve years, I’ve eaten many meals alone. It never has, and probably never will, feel right. I find myself munching and grazing as soon as I finish a meal. I know I’m searching for the satisfaction I got from those childhood meals, but it was not food alone that satisfied my cravings. The fellowship around the table is what made those times so filling. Mama’s food was amazing, but sitting down with my family and spending an hour eating and talking allowed the food to settle and satisfy.

We always had desert when everyone was finished. Mama brought coffee for herself and daddy, but we usually had a glass of cold milk with our delicious sweet treat. I left the table with a sweet sense of satisfaction that I don’t find when I eat alone. I have put on some extra pounds over the past year, and most the calories have come from searching for the satisfaction I felt when I sat at the table with my family. Things have changed drastically since the fifties and sixties, and it’s hard to get two people to find time to sit down for a meal. It’s important to take time at least once a week to sit together and share a meal with loved ones.

The little girls are in the habit of coming to my room for breakfast each morning, and I love having a little taste of that sweet table fellowship I remember from my childhood. The picture is from Leave it to Beaver. We certainly weren’t the Cleaver family, but we did feel a little like them three times a day 🙂

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

A New Perspective

I’ll be moving into an apartment in town in a few weeks, and my granddaughters have been less than excited about it. My son and his family are building a new home, and I decided to rent rather than build beside them. We’ve all lived together in a big house for the last two years, and Lilly told me that my new house had to be in walking distance of her new one. She said she liked my house now because she could walk to it inside her house. I like that too, but I’m also looking forward to having my own space.

Lilly will be six in a few months, and I wonder when that little toddler was transformed into a girl who uses words like ‘cool’ and ‘dude!’ I’ll only be a few miles away from their new home, but that seems like a long way to little Mylah. She’s three and said, “Gigi, I already miss you!” They both touch my heart in places no one else ever has or ever will.

Lilly was washing her hands in my bathroom last week and came out grinning from ear to ear. She looked at me and said, “Mommy said I get your room when you move!” She proceeded to do a little happy dance, and I burst out laughing. Suddenly, she was no longer a little lawyer trying to get me to stay. She was a big girl getting her own room! Mylah didn’t look very happy about the new arrangements, but I know she will enjoy the changes once she gets used to them. I know I will too.

Change is never easy, but a shift in perspective helps with the transition. Philippians 3:21 explains the change that comes when I trust God. He has the power to change me, but I must have the courage to let Him.

“He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (NLT)

God could make me whoever He wants me to be at any given time. He has the power, but He won’t use it until I’m ready. I am ready, and I know little Lilly is too. Mylah will be soon enough 🙂

Lillyann

 

Holy Hierarchies!

Jesus put a child among His disciples to help answer their concerns about leadership. He hears them arguing about who will be in charge and wants them to hear His heart on the subject. It is the way of the world to want to climb up the hierarchy, but Jesus didn’t operate that way. He said the least would be the greatest and the first would be last. That didn’t make any sense to the men who followed Him, and it still doesn’t makes sense to some.

Hierarchies exist in churches and denominations, just as they do in the world of business. Even little family churches have a chain of command. The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but they were afraid to ask any more questions. I imagine they were a bit embarrassed by being caught in a conversation about power.

Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. (Mark 9:30-41 NLT)

John changes the topic in hopes of getting approval from Jesus. He tells Him they stopped someone who was casting out demons in His name. Jesus made it clear to the disciples that whoever is not against us is for us. I so wish the Christian community could get that through their thick heads. His disciples are still arguing over who’s right, who’s wrong, who knows best, and who’s in charge. Some things do not change, and I know that breaks God’s heart.

We are all part of the same body, and I pray that one day we will behave in a manner that doesn’t go against the intentions of Christ to unify and bring peace to His body. Christ came so we could be one as He and His Father are One. That happens when we quit worrying about getting up the ladder, being the leader, and taking charge.

climbing the ladder

 

Proud Daddy

It is the deep desire of every heart to be dearly loved. Mark 1:10-11 gives me a glimpse of God’s love for His Son. Jesus knew He was dearly loved, and His message for me is so am I.

As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (NLT)

As a child, I longed to hear those words. Christ provides a way for all of us to hear them. We must, however, be willing to come to a place of repentance and plunge deeply into His precious love. Baptism is a symbol of obedience, and obedience is the sign of true repentance.

Repentance isn’t about punishment. It is about the change that comes when I truly believe I am a dearly loved child of God. I love the way Mark gets that message across in his gospel. Eugene Peterson describes Mark in The Invitation.

“An event has taken place that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world, and he can’t wait to tell us about it. There’s an air of breathless excitement in nearly every sentence he writes. The sooner we get the message, the better off we’ll be, for the message is good, incredibly good; God is here, he’s on our side. Mark says he even calls us ‘family.'” (p. 162)

Each time I read or pray the Lord’s Prayer, I marvel at its opening words. “Our Father” is the way Jesus told us to address God, The Creator. I like pause and let those words sink into my heart. God is my Father, and He dearly loves me. My obedience brings Him joy, and that brings me joy.

I so wanted to be dearly loved by my father. I secretly wished for daddy to be proud of me, but I knew he wasn’t. He constantly belittled me and even called me  “stupid.” He seemed anything but loving or proud, but I came to see him through the lens of Christ’s precious love before he died. I’m so thankful I was able to tell my daddy that I loved him and knew that he loved me.

God loves to hear how much I love Him, but He prefers hearing that I know He loves me. When Jesus came up out of the Jordan River after being baptized by John the Baptist, God was a proud daddy who could not contain His joy. He had to let Jesus and all present know how much He loved Him and how very proud He was of Him.

Baptism marked the beginning of the ministry of Jesus Christ. God knew where it would lead and so did Christ. God dearly loved His only Son for His willingness to obey unto death, enabling all His children to know they were dearly loved.

I only have one son, but I know he knows he’s dearly loved. There is nothing that delights me more than knowing he loves me. I fixed a plate for his lunch yesterday, and he sent a text thanking me when he sat down to eat it. It’s the kind of thing he always does, and that makes me a very proud mama.

Seeing him love and delight in his daughters is the most beautiful blessing of all. His girls know they are dearly loved, and that legacy of love is all that matters in this world and the next. I thank God for my loving son, and I thank Him for His loving Son whose precious love changes everything.

Tyler & Me at 33