Purity

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (NLT)

When King David prayed this prayer in Psalm 51:10, he was asking God to help him get back on the right path. I love his supplication because it comes from a repentant heart. To me, that is the highest level of purity we humans can achieve. King David was not a perfect or a pure man, but he was a man after God’s own heart who wanted to be near his dear Lord.

Christ was pure in every sense of the word, the ultimate unblemished Lamb suitable for the proper sacrifice to God, the Father. We can stumble along the path Christ lays before us, but we will not achieve true purity until we are with Him in heaven.

Until then, God asks us to have the courage to walk along the path His Son walked. I like to think it is like taking the first step on a snow covered road. I hate to be the first to trod on the purity of that path, but I remember what is underneath the white covering and step out.

Like a beautiful snow covered path, Christ’s sacrifice covers the ugliness of our hearts with a purity only He can achieve. Unlike the snow, Christ’s covering is permanent. He wants us to trust Him and walk bravely in the same places we have always lived but with a light heart knowing our paths are covered with His Holy Spirit’s presence.

There’s nothing more fun that being the first one out on a snowy morning and frolicking with abandon in newly fallen snow. The animals usually beat us to the path, but sometimes, we get to experience the world in the light of the sweet purity of a winter wonderland. If we tune our hearts to God’s sweet presence each morning, we can get an even greater sense of wonder without the cold 🙂

Expectation

Expectation takes its lead from my heart. If I’m expecting gloom an doom, that’s exactly what I get. If I’m expecting to get what I deserve, that’s what I get. I spent most of my life thinking I deserved less than God had in mind, and that’s exactly what I got. I love this image of the girls right after they helped put up the Christmas tree because they are excitedly expecting the wonderful things to come. My heart has grown to expect the same.

Advent should be a season of great wonder and excitement. God’s Son came down to be with us, and He’s coming again!! If Christians had half the excitement about that good news as these little girls have about the prospect of Santa Claus coming, the world would be a very different place.

Waiting is never easy, and that is particularly true for little ones at this time of year; but when we wait in the sweet anticipation of knowing God loved us enough to send His only Son and loves us enough to send Him again, we become like children who believe with all their hearts that something amazing is coming! That makes us smile and squeal the way these two little ones did when the Christmas tree was finally up.

I pray my heart will always be like a child waiting for something beyond my comprehension but real enough to make me squeal.

Love

No one can snatch me from God’s hand, but I am free to hop out at any time. He will let me wander for as long as it takes for me to create my own kingdoms, make my own mountains, and plan my own projects. He waits because Love is patient.

God doesn’t close his hand around me because love cannot be forced with a fist. He knows only an open palm works when it comes to love. He is the ultimate example self-differentiation and waits for His children to find their way back to Him. Love requires openness and freedom; otherwise, it will wither and die. God knows that better than anyone, so He never forces or coerces. He refuses to fuse. I must do the same if I am to love Him and others as He desires.

When my kingdoms crash, my mountains topple, and my projects fail, I find comfort in God’s loving hand. He doesn’t gloat or fuss or say, “I told you so. I knew you’d be back!” He simply loves. His love never changes or moves and is best described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffereddoes not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” NASB

 

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.

 

 

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 🙂