There’s a Lot to Be Said for Bending

While reading Psalm 116 this morning, I was touched by the image of God bending down to listen to my heart.

“I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” Psalm 116:1-2 NLT

God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth bending down to hear my heart is a beautiful and humbling image that reminds me of James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation.” In his poem, he describes God this way:

“Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;”

Both images personify the love parents have for their children. God’s love is so much greater, but a loving parent is as close as we come to His love in this world.

God doesn’t need to bend down to hear us, and He certainly didn’t need to kneel down in the mud to create us; but both poets knew the power of those images.

God bends and kneels just as we bend and kneel to listen to our children. We want them to feel our presence, and we want to be nearer to them. God knows our hearts better than we do and listens even when our voices are loud with anger or quietly drowning in sorrow. He also knows we will eventually be quiet and hear Him, so He waits for us to finish so He can fill our hearts with His love and desires for us.

When I finally do come to stillness, His loving presence is always waiting. Sometimes that happens in minutes, and sometimes it takes a decade. He waits patiently for me to be still long enough for Him to pick me up, hold me in His arms, and let me know how much I am loved. He loves those sweet moments as much as I do because there’s nothing better than having our children near.

That’s why as long as I have breath, I will continue to pray ❤️

I Beg to Differ….

It’s been difficult to write, read, speak, or think lately as polarizing opinions continue to wreak havoc on my country and my heart. God taught me the importance of differing differently this week.

As Christians, we are not supposed to be fused to a particular ideology, theology, doctrine, or opinion. We are simply to be who God created us to be. It is the sincerest form of praise to Him and the most beautiful witness of His creation and His love for us. As friends, we are supposed to love one another as we are without having to agree on everything. As family, we love unconditionally and without the need to control. Love is not about control; it is as natural as breathing when it is real. When it is controlled, it is like being on a ventilator. You may be breathing, but it isn’t natural or comfortable!

Each of us was created to be different by a Creator Who knows us better than we know ourselves. He could have made us all exactly the same, but He knew better. He could, and can, make us all love Him and one another as He desires; but He knows that would showcase His power rather than His love. God doesn’t want control because He already has it. He wants holiness. That word doesn’t mean perfect; it means maturity, ripeness, readiness to be who He created us to be. Self differentiation allows us to love as God loves.

Fusion is the easiest way to connect, so it is the way most connect. Individuals get lost, and polarization abounds. Our world is fusing and fighting in ways that break God’s heart. It’s bad enough to fuse, but to use His name as the agent of such fusing is inherently wrong. It’s getting more and more difficult to differ, and that hinders differentiation and creates division. God helped me see how differing differently can actually help with the process of differentiation.

I used to feel the need to be who those around me wanted me to be. That need caused me to adapt a Pollyanna approach to living and loving in community. Make everyone happy, and they will love you. All will be right in the world. The world around me will be much more pleasant, and life will be much simpler. That didn’t pan out, so I decided to try being myself and forgetting about whether or not others like me or not. That doesn’t mean being mean; it just means saying what I believe in a respectful way.

God gave me three loving sisters who have, do, and always will love me just as I am. They have surrounded and tried to protect me from the harsh realities of this world all of my life. Their love was a safe harbor for my heart, but God knew I needed more than a harbor. He sent a dear friend who heard my heart and helped me move away from the harbor and into the open sea. It was very scary at first, but my heart found its sea legs and eventually began to enjoy the freedom a non anxious loving presence brings.

I had a discussion with two folks this week about a subject I didn’t realize we disagreed upon. One showed grace, but the other showed rage. I was a bit unnerved by the anger, but I maintained my opinion while giving room for another opinion. When the conversation ended, two of us were still smiling, but one carried her anger with her. I felt our friendship may have been compromised by our difference of opinion, but I didn’t try to fix or convince. I’ve felt that way often during the past year.

I beg to differ because it is in our differing that we learn and grow and change. I long for the day when we can agree to disagree and move on with our lives. When we cannot disagree, we lose so much more than an argument. We lose the ability to self differentiate. Psychologists, medical doctors, guidance counselors, parents, teachers, and ministers will tell you the ability to be who we are created to be is at the heart of living a happy, healthy life.

God made His feelings about self differentiations very clear to Moses and to us. He is Who He is. He is not going to be who we want Him to be, and that is a beautiful lesson for all of us to follow.

God said to Moses, “IAM-WHO-IAM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘IAM sent me to you.’”(Exodus 3:14)

 

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 Little Middle School Attitude

 

I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.

The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.

Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.

It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.

Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.

Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.

I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.

God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat.  Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.

Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.

A Different Kind of Lent

The Lenten Season has always been a challenge, but the past three years have been particularly difficult ones for me.  God’s call to leave a familiar church family came as the Lenten Season began three years ago. I was confused, but I obeyed. I was confounded by His call to leave corporate worship altogether eight months ago, but I was spent and didn’t question His motives. I wasn’t the only one confused or confounded by His call. One man told me last month that I should stop using God as my excuse for not going to church. Others bid me to go somewhere, anywhere!!

I was tempted to give in to their bidding because I have the need to make others happy, but God and I share a sweet connection that’s stronger than any other relationship I have. I’ve lost a few friends over the past three years, but I’ve gained many more. I would not give up one moment of the special time God and I have shared over the past eight months, but I would gladly give up all of the guilt I felt for not being in church even though I was told by someone who cared not to feel bad about not being anywhere.

My frustrations reached a breaking point last month, and I found myself faced with fork in the road. I could give in to the pressures of well-meaning friends or go where God wanted me to go. I know God well enough to know that He will let me go wherever I want to go, but I also know myself well enough to know that usually doesn’t end well. I decided to break away, trust God, and take the unknown fork.

There is a part of me that has a hard time accepting the level of love God offers, and that confounds me more than anything else. There’s no doubt in my mind that God loves me more than I can begin to imagine, but a nagging little voice continually pipes up to remind me that I don’t deserve His love. There’s a seed of truth in that naysayer’s pitch, but thankfully, Christ’s precious love and God’s amazing grace put that seed in the proper place.

I had my own timeline in regard to corporate worship. I was taking a year off no matter what, but last week, a friend asked me to visit her church. It is across the street from my new apartment, another big change in my life within the past year. I wanted to wait until June to reenter a church community. I was determined to stick to my plan, but her warm invitation felt so right. I longed for community, so I accepted her invitation. It ended up being a beautiful blessing, and I could imagine God grinning as my plans came unglued in the midst of His.

I wasn’t surprised by God’s timing, but I was surprised by His theme. He made it clear on this Ash Wednesday that He wanted me to forget about giving something up and start thinking about getting something new. That sounds like the beginning of a beautiful time of reflection to me.

 

 

The Gift of Grace

The dictionary definition of Christian grace is “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” That’s as close as words can come to the heart of grace, but God’s gift of grace is beyond words. Like love, grace must be felt on a deep level before the heart and mind can wrap themselves around it. The way to know if I understand grace is to see how it is extended in my own life.

God’s grace is taken for granted, ignored, expected, and sometimes demanded, but humble acceptance is the only appropriate response when offered the gift of grace. It is the time of year when gifts are given and received. Awkwardness comes when I don’t receive a gift from a loved one or when an unexpected gift catches me off guard. I’m learning to give and receive grace, and that means not worrying about a response at all.

God grace is given with love and without expectation. He loves our attempts at giving, just as I adore each little gift Lillyann and Mylah fashion for me. The notes, drawings, and special treasures they give bless me, but they don’t compare to a heartfelt embrace or a sweet “I love you Gigi.” Those are true treasures! God feels the same way about me. My meager offerings bless His heart, but time spent in His presence means more.

I was reminded vividly yesterday of the importance of sweet intimate moments. They won’t satisfy a selfish soul, but they always delight a selfless spirit, especially when they come unexpectedly. Having my mind set on a particular gift or time with a loved one will always disappoint, but accepting the beautiful gifts God places in my path always amazes me. Letting go of what I want leads to more than I could ever imagine on my own. Tyler learned quickly not to ask Santa for a long list of specifics. He always got the best gifts when he asked Santa to surprise him. I’m learning to tell God the same thing.

The Potter

Clay

Muddy

Messy

Sinking

Trapping

Self

Lust

Love

God

Lifting

Transforming

Gracious

Beloved

Potter

Still, God, you are our Father.
 We’re the clay and you’re our potter:
 All of us are what you made us.”

Isaiah 64:17-18 (The Message)

Advent begins this week with a beautiful message of hope from Isaiah. The image of God, the Potter, is one that gives me great hope. My heart, on its own, is a muddy mess; but in the hands of my loving God, it becomes a vessel designed to hold and share His Son’s precious love. God never forces His transformation. He waits for me to relax in obedience and let His embrace create a new heart in me.

Psalm 51:10 goes perfectly with Isaiah’s beautiful image.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
 and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (NIV)

Isaiah 64

 

Beloved

Fear has had my heart in a death grip for over forty years, but I listened, learned, loved, and laughed my way to a place of sweet freedom this week with the help of loving family and friends. I didn’t realize how afraid I was until I got teary during a conversation with my daughter-in-law on Friday morning about their plans to build a new home. They want me to build next to them, but fear made it clear to my heart and my head that was never going to happen. I told my son I didn’t want to borrow money, and I had no intention of building or buying a house. I was going to rent a small apartment in town, and that was that. I told myself it was to keep from compromising him financially, but the real problem was not trusting God to provide. 

I started Friday morning thinking I would hit a brick wall, and ended the afternoon with dreams of walls going up on my new house. God used a series of seemingly unrelated events to transform my heart. I continue to be awed by God’s grace, but I know He smiles at my surprise the way I do when Lilly and Mylah squeal with delight when I surprise them. I never tire of those squeals, and I’m sure God doesn’t either.

Last night, a group of ladies of all ages gathered to eat, enjoy one other’s company, and dance with abandon! Dancing the night away was God’s celebration of my freedom from fear. I didn’t recognize the songs, artists, or words last night, but I did dance with joy to healing rhythms that transformed my heart. Those who know me, know I love to dance. Nobody knows me better than God, so I’m not surprised He arranged the special gathering of sweet friends. My knee may be hurting, but my heart is healed. I would say I feel like a new woman, but I think I feel more the girl I was back in 1970.

The 1970 Me

 This is my senior picture at Hickory High School back in 1970. God placed it in the path on Thursday afternoon when He bid me to look back and remember what my heart was like before it got caught up in fear’s tangled web.

I’ve been leading a study on Stasi Eldredge’s book “Becoming Myself Embracing God’s Dream of You” for ten weeks. Going through the book with a group of loving ladies has given me the courage to let God have His way with me.

The journey from fear to freedom is never an easy one, but it’s necessary if I am to live and love as God desires. It’s hard to describe the way my heart feels outside of fear’s tight grip, but I know the young woman in the yearbook photo understands completely. The world is stretching out before me just as it did back in 1970. I made terrible mistakes, and I let those mistakes define me. I don’t plan to do that again because I like God’s definition of me best. I am His beloved, and I plan to live and love in a way that shows I believe that to be true.

Beloved

Worth the Effort?

Worth the Effort?I love searching for shells, smooth stones, and sea glass on Topsail Island. I keep my treasures on a wooden tray in my bedroom because the girls love playing with them. Looking at the shore for shells relaxes me as nothing else can. I love cleaning and sorting my stash because I wonder at the beautiful diversity before me. The entire process heals my heart and soothes my spirit.

I had to laugh while Edie and I were out searching. She’s younger and far more agile than I am, so she bends and stands back up easily. She was bending over, finding beautiful shells, and handing them to me at a rapid pace. I found myself watching her rather than the shore. I wasn’t getting my normal stress relief, but I was getting a kick out of her generosity. When I began pointing out shells and telling her to pick them up for me, she cut her eyes at me as only she can; but when she saw my grin, she knew I was messing with her. We both laughed and experienced an even better kind of stress relief.

Combing the beach takes a lot of effort; in fact, there are those who do it for a living. A decision has to be made in regard to each object in the sand. Is it really worth the effort bending over and picking it up with cost me?

God made it clear this week that He loves all His children and bends over backwards to pick up each and every one of them. He starts with the broken ones because they need His love the most, but He never wonders for a moment whether or not they are worth His effort. He knows they are!

I was humbled when I realized loving like God would mean picking up every tiny piece of shell on all the shores in the world. I couldn’t do that on one stretch of Topsail Island in a lifetime. I can, however, make an effort to pick up some of His broken children by being a loving presence in their lives. It takes effort, but it is worth bending my heart down and picking it back up again to experience the kind of love God desires for my heart. We wiggle out of His hands or bite like those pesky little gnats on the beach, but God picks us back up and loves us anyway. He always will, no matter what.

I could spend a lifetime searching for the perfect shell, but God knows I won’t find it if I pick up every shell on every beach in His world. They is no such thing as a perfect shell or a perfect person. He did, however, have one perfect Son, who made the effort to bend down in loving obedience so He could pick me up off the shore. I wiggle when I’m worried and bite when I’m angry, but He loves me anyway. He holds me especially close when I’m hurting because He understands my pain like no one else can.

I plan to tell Lilly and Mylah about all the shells, stones, and pieces of glass I found while at Topsail Island; but I want them to understand that shells, like people, need more love when they are broken. I think we’ll make a little shell hospital so we can wrap up the little hurt shells and give them the extra love they need.