A Long, Dry Spell

OasisI felt like dry bleached bones in the desert when I found myself in God’s powerful presence yesterday. In that encounter, I learned pain is preferable to numbness, and nothing is worse than separation from God.

The images in Ezekiel 37:1-14 have always intrigued me, but those bones came to life in a powerful way this week. Verse 14 says,  

“‘I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.” (NASB)

Romans 8:11 was also a vivid reminder of God’s power.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (NASB)

These scriptures and the story of Lazarus in John 11 surrounded my heart with a refining fire unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. So very thankful for the promise of His redemption in Psalm 130:7.

O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.” (NASB)

My heart has been bruised, battered, broken, and abandoned; but it has never been burned the way it was consumed last night. Dry bones and the death of Lazarus have a new meaning most clearly expressed in Romans 8:5.

“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,” (NASB)

Life can only come from God. I’m easily animated; those who know me know it takes very little to excite me. I love that about me and pray it never changes. God didn’t break my spirit with His lessons this week, but He brought me to an important crossroad and made me decide whether I wanted the life He had for me or the one I had in mind.

I’ve never believed I deserved love, and that has gotten in God’s way. When I made it clear that I wanted His way, He burned away all that was in His way. The emptiness was numbing, and I was taken aback by the stillness. I look forward to a beautiful fleshing out that will replace the dry numbness of these sun-drenched bones as the Son drenches my heart with the sweet living water of God’s Word.

There is life after death. In fact, there is no life without death. I didn’t like the refining fire, the dryness, the separation, or the terrible numbness of God’s lessons this week; but I love knowing that He is clearing my heart for a reason. God’s lovingkindness is an oasis in the desert. My spellcheck says lovingkindness isn’t a word. I have to agree; it’s much more.

 

Life or Death?

Choices can be confusing, so I like it when they are simplified for me. I want to choose without being overwhelmed. God’s lessons this week have been crystal clear. He offers two choices, and I can have one or the other.  I can have the life He wants for me or not. It’s completely up to me. Love and fear will not abide in the same place. Anger and peace cannot coexist. Unforgiveness and grace do not mix. Insecurity hates trust, and comparisons kill gratitude. I cannot have control and surrender at the same time. Living in the flesh prevents me from living in His Spirit. The choices are simple, but I have the tendency to hesitate and complicate things. When I stop and think, I get into trouble. When I trust and love, the right decision is much easier.

My small group is reading “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Eunice. God is using the book to help me see clearly that my issues are, as Nicole says, “joy stealing and love sucking.” I love that phrase because it creates a vivid image of what fear, anger, unforgiveness, insecurity, comparison, and control do to my ability to love as God desires.

Letting go of control allows me to surrender.

Gratitude puts comparison in its place.

Insecurity falls away when I remember God is trustworthy.

God’s infinite grace reminds me of His forgiveness and opens the door for my own.

The peace that passes understanding comes when I let go of my death grip on anger.

Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.

Spirit reminds flesh of its temporary nature, and resurrection living becomes possible.

Life or death? God leaves the choice up to me.

New Kind of Lent

As I listened to a message called “Rhythm of Kindness” this morning, I realized I wasn’t very kind to myself. The entire service encouraged me to get into a rhythm of kindness and think seriously about how kindness can become a natural part of my life. Lent begins on Wednesday, and I have been praying about how to observe this most holy time.

On Ash Wednesday last year, Lillyann asked if I would come to her church. I told her I would come one day. She said, “Will you come tomorrow?”

I told her there wasn’t a service until Sunday, and I would go then. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a one-time visit, but God had something else in mind. As I prayed about Lent and what God would have me do, I knew I had to give up control and let Him lead. I wasn’t expecting Him to ask me to change churches. I was active in my church, loved my ministers, taught Sunday School and chaired several committees. I couldn’t just up and go; I needed time to transition.

God had different plans, and I went with His. I knew after my first visit I was where God wanted me to be. I’ve been there for over a year, and I marvel at all God has done in my life in a year’s time. I still have connections with my previous church and volunteer there one day a week. The two churches are coming together for outreach in the community, and God continues to bless in ways I could never have envisioned. I would still be transitioning if I had gone with my plan.

I have a long way to go when it comes to giving God control, but the forty days of Lent helped me take a big step in the right direction. That’s what Lent is about. It isn’t about denying as much as it is about changing. It is most often associated with giving up and doing without for forty days and then going right back to whatever was given up. Punishment, not love.

For me, Lent has always been about punishment. Love has been the same. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I’m growing and learning that love is so much more. The things I need to give up during Lent are things I need to give up period. If I give up something for forty days, I can do without it forever. If I do something positive for forty days, I will develop a good habit. Losing control has been painful, but very good for me. I’m glad I let go, listened, and allowed God to change me. I plan to do the same this year as I heed His call to be kind to myself. I’m hoping it will be a habit that sticks with me.

I don’t have a problem being kind to others, but I am very uncomfortable being kind to myself. The message this morning touched my heart and helped me see that I must be kind to myself before I can be kind to others just as I must love myself before I can love others. It’s about filling up before going on a trip. If I don’t have enough fuel, I’ll end up stranded. That’s just what happens with compassionate lovingkindness. I need to fill up so I will have enough kindness to share. I often feel depleted and defeated, and I realize it’s because I don’t take the time to be kind and loving to myself.

It’s easy to become bitter when you are always doing for others, and I find myself having a little pity party when my heart is on empty. I plan to use the image of a full car ready for a new adventure as I go through Lent this year. I plan to make a concerted effort to be kind to myself every day during Lent. This is certainly going to be a new kind of Lent; since Lent is about growth, I’m thinking I will experience new growth in the process. I still plan to fast and pray and look closely at what needs to go, but I plan to do it in a way that shows kindness and love. Here I thought last year’s Lenten season was a challenge. This year promises to be even more challenging, but I trust God to know what He’s doing. He is God, and I’m looking forward to all He will teach me about compassion in the next forty-three days.

bekind-rowenamurillo-1
bekind-rowenamurillo-1

You Aren’t Going to Keep That, Are You??

I never tire of watching Lillyann and Mylah interact. God showed me last night that I often share with Him the same way they share with one another. They are still learning, and so am I, the difference between giving away and lending. Mylah and I were watching “The Jungle Book” while Lillyann visited with Mere. She would hold out a little Cheerio for me and then quickly put it in her mouth if I tried to eat it. It’s a little game to her, but it’s a little game that taught an important lesson. Sometimes, if I’m quick enough, I can get that little Cheerio before she has time to snatch it back. She doesn’t like it at all when I do that and sometimes gets upset. I’m the same way with God.

When I give something to God, I find myself saying, “You aren’t going to keep that, are you?” I’m ashamed to say that I’ve let go as little Mylah and reacted with the same frustration when He does keep it. Giving things to God involves truly letting go. Mylah will offer and offer and even push a Cheerio in my mouth if I shake my head and say, “No thank you!” She wants me to want it so she can snatch it away, put it in her own mouth, and then giggle. It’s all part of her game, and I am guilty of sharing with God in the same manner.

I want to give all to God, but I don’t want Him to keep it. It’s easy to give away what I don’t want or need but harder when it’s something I want. God often gives back what I have given Him, but it is not the same. He gives my space and stuff a new dimension and does the same for me. His ways are higher than I can imagine, and I’m slowly learning to truly let go and not push my Cheerios into God’s mouth when He isn’t playing the way I want to play:)

Lillyann came home last night loaded down with goodies from her day with Mere, and she handed Mylah some things she had gotten for her. When Mylah wanted Lillyann’s precious flashlight, the atmosphere took a turn for the worse. Mere and I had to convince Lillyann that Mylah was just going to play with it for a little while. She relaxed a bit, but I could tell that she wanted to make sure she was going to get it back. Again, I saw myself in her trepidation. All worked out well when I put the little light back where it stays, and we settled in to finish the movie and “share” Cheerios:)

If God offered me the opportunity to go back to Ash Wednesday, I wouldn’t change a thing. The space and stuff I’ve given Him have made room in my heart for what He has in mind. The lessons have been hard ones, and the hurt is still healing. Learning to trust Him and walk in His kingdom in a way that glorifies Him has been, is, and will continue to be, worth the hurt that came, comes, and will always come when I share as He desires.

 

The Best Change Ever

Change is never easy, and I think that’s why this season of Lent has been so very difficult for me. So many changes in such a short time left me out of balance for a bit. This morning, as the sun broke through the dark clouds and filled the house for a few special moments, I had to smile back at God and thank Him for all the lessons. Those teachers who push me to the point of true change are the ones I most remember. I don’t normally have a lot of affection for those teachers as they are getting me through a difficult lesson, but I truly appreciate them when I finally get it.

The best teachers are the ones who care about me, and that means understanding that I may not understand or like the lessons they know I truly need. Good parents are not always popular, and neither are good teachers. Jesus is the best teacher ever, and He knew the lessons coming at the cross were going to break His followers’ hearts. He also knew they would lead to stronger discipleship and greater love than they had ever known. They would need those lessons when He was no longer with them, and we still need them today. Without the separation that came with His death, His resurrection would not have been possible. He knew that then, and He knows that now.

The lessons this season of Lent have been about separation more than anything else. I didn’t understand what God was doing and even became angry with Him at one point. This morning, I’m thankful for His patience with me. Hanging on to that which He bids me to release keeps me from experiencing all the good He has for me. My intentions get tangled up in His will if I try to pick and choose or keep one foot in my way and one foot in His. Then my feet, like those good intentions, keep both of us from doing any good. He made it clear that I need to clear my heart and stop trying to convince Him to let me keep this or hold on to that.

God is the Master Teacher, and the change He has in mind is the same change He had in mind on that beautiful morning when Christ rose from the grave. He wants me to experience resurrection living and loving. This morning I celebrate Christ who gave up all to God on my behalf. The result was the single greatest change this world will ever know. I am thankful that He is still a god of hope who gives me the chance to change and live a life worth living forever:)

Seeing the God in Others:)

If you’ve ever had someone see the good in you that you cannot see in yourself, then you understand the power of seeing the good in others. Seeing the good in others is seeing the God in them. Christ helps me do just that and connect in a way that changes them, me, and the world as God releases His Son’s precious love into His world. The message on this last day of Lent is the importance of that connectedness and the compassion that results when His love is recognized and released.

I am designed by my Creator to connect, and I cannot be who He wants me to be until I make the connections He has in mind. Having someone take time to help me understand Christ’s love by seeing the good and God in me gives me the courage to carry out His call to do the same for others. Love and worship must be shared. The body of Christ is connected by His love. When I think about Easter, I am reminded of the resurrection and humbled to think that the powerful love that brought Christ out of the grave is in my own heart and the hearts of all who accept His offer of love.

Christ’s love stays hidden in many, and I’ve certainly hidden it away in my own heart. Bringing His love out of the darkness and into the light of relationship changes everything. Having someone recognize that love and bring it to the surface with honest communion transforms me and allows the resurrection living and loving God has in mind for me. Jesus did not stay in the grave, and His love will not stay locked away in my heart. The grave could not contain His love, and neither can my heart. Christ’s precious love is meant to be shared, and it will be whether or not I participate in the process of sharing it or not.

Love cannot be imposed on others. To love out of fear or force goes against God’s very nature. Before I can see His love in others, I must first see it in myself. That comes when someone sees what I cannot and helps me come to the place of seeing it myself. It’s a sweet revelation that prompts me to want to do the same for others. The process is a painful one that takes time, but it is well worth the hurt to experience the delight that comes from loving as God desires. It brings out the very best when a dear friend sees the worst but still loves the best in me. Releasing God’s love into His world and helping others do the same frees the spirit and heart to connect and serve in God’s world in His way.

It’s been a crazy Lent this year, but on this Holy Saturday, I’m seeing the beautiful light at the end of the tunnel. The light is Christ’s love, and He’s waiting there for me with a sweet resurrection smile of delight on His face. God reminded me this morning that I serve a risen Savior, and that makes all the difference in the way I love and connect in His beautiful world:)  Happy Easter!!

Praising The Razing:)

Razing is literally taking something to the ground, and that’s just what God’s done with my heart this Lent. He started on Ash Wednesday and has been demolishing in ways I still don’t understand. I do understand that I don’t have to understand, so I suppose that indicates a little growth. The messages this week have all been about community, and I’ve been humbled by the questions they have raised in my heart. God created us to be in community, and I’ve struggled with that my entire life. I’ve seen my inability to connect as God desires in the bareness left by His razing. He made it clear that I have to deal with that before He can go any further with the building He has in mind.

I do not plan to spend another moment figuring out why I haven’t made connections as I should have, and I do not plan to ponder the problems which may lie ahead. God made it clear to me today that it’s time to move forward, forget past hurts, and let go of future worries. God is God and will work out all the details. He isn’t asking me to do the building, only sweep away the fear-filled failures so I can see the bigger problem with my heart.

He used the image of tearing down a rotten wooden structure and then building a brand new one on the massive termite colony that caused the other to crumble. It will be fine for a little while, but it will eventually fall. It is a familiar pattern. God will take care of my heart problem, but He wants me to acknowledge it first and give Him the license to dig deeper. It was not fun to sweep away the failures because it meant facing them one by one and forgiving myself for each. I did, however, find great peace in handing over the excavation to His loving hands.

God took my heart down to the ground and me with it the past few weeks, and now He is insisting on digging even deeper. It is much easier to give Him the space to dig now that everything is gone, and there is sweet freedom to the emptiness before me. Like the show Extreme Makeover, demolition is necessary before a new structure can be built. Watching the demo may be fun, but looking at the vast emptiness is frightening. I am excited about what God will do with the space now that it’s empty, I have no doubts that it will be much better than what the folks on the show see when Ty says, “Move that bus!!”

Until then, I’m praising His razing and not worrying about the results. God has a much better imagination than I do, and He knows what’s best for me. I marvel at God’s timing but then I remember that He’s been waiting for me to give Him the space so He can do the remodeling He has in mind. It was my prayer on Ash Wednesday, and it is my prayer this Good Friday. I pray it will always be my prayer. I might just see a tent when God moves that bus:) Whatever I see, I plan to shout “Hallelujah!!” at the top of my heart!

Picking, Pecking, & Pointing!

God’s didn’t give us His Word for picking, pecking, and pointing purposes, and it breaks my heart to see it used that way or as a battering ram. It is designed to bring us together, not tear us apart. I have never understood why some are so determined to use it in ways that show very little love. When asked which commandment was most important, Jesus humbled all of us with an answer that left those who understand His point less willing to peck, pick, and point. Matthew 22:36-40 says,

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the “Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” NASB

Jesus knows that all fall short in following these two commandments. He also knows that we use God’s Word to point at those who have different sins than our own. If asked on a game show the favorite pastime of Christians, I would push the buzzer and yell nit picking! Satan absolutely loves that about us because it keeps us from focusing upon those two important commandments. We point at sins that are “worse” than ours so we will feel better about our own and then back up our hate-filled opinions with God’s Word. I may overeat, but I don’t do drugs. I may do drugs, but I don’t commit adultery. I may commit adultery, but I don’t murder; I may commit murder, but I don’t judge. You get the idea. The bottom line is that none of us love as Jesus asks us to in Matthew 22, so we all fall short of God’s glory and have no right to point any of our fingers at anyone else.

I wonder what the world would look like if Christians took those two great commandments to heart and lived them out in our own families, neighborhoods, and countries. It would be a very different world. I know we’ll continue to argue over technicalities until Jesus comes again just as the Pharisees argued over the law before He came the first time, but I also know that we will not be arguing over them once He returns. He will not be taking questions because He has already answered them all, and He will not be zapping the list of folks we have for Him to zap. He will love, and the whole world will see Him in His Father’s glory. No trials or explanations will be necessary. If we allowed Him to have His way with our hearts now, the same would be true. I have a long way to go before I love as Christ loves, and I am humbled by His mercy, grace, and patience with me. So glad He doesn’t love the way we do or we would be in big trouble!

Ahhhhh….

The girls are sleeping peacefully, and I’m watching the snow. I can’t help but look as winter gives her last performance of the season. It’s been a difficult winter in many ways. I’ve been besieged, broken, and bewildered during this first winter of my sixties. Since my birthday in October, I’ve been inundated with change and numbed by all God has placed in and taken out of my path. I’m thankful for where He has brought me, but I wouldn’t want to relive these past six months!

As my world and heart are settling into a new routine and a new home, I thank God for the blessings He’s given. I didn’t always recognize them as blessings when they presented themselves, but I do now. Hindsight is notoriously clear; so as I look back, I see His hand at work in wondrous ways. His hand is always at work in wondrous ways, and I pray that I will see Him in each moment and I learn to be still and trust Him more completely.

The fifties were all about finding myself, and the sixties are proving to be all about finding God, which means losing the self I found in my fifties:) Today, I awoke with the sweetest sense of relief. I’m glad the kids were at Meme’s and Pepe’s because it gave me the chance to be alone with God on this quiet, snowy morning. This winter has been cold and dark for me in many ways, but God has used all to show me that without the darkness, light means nothing, and without cold, I cannot appreciate His warmth. I’ve learned to look to Him, and Him alone for my light and warmth. He is the Source of love, and love is the light and warmth for which my heart yearns. Like all God’s lessons, I already knew that, but I needed the reminder He’s given me.

The path to the praying life is off to a very rocky start, but God brought me to a place of rest and peace this morning that made me smile and breathe out a long ahhh……. God knows the importance of stopping to rest along the way, and He knows when I need a break. The snow He provided put my plans on hold as snow always does. I’m thankful for the snow and for the sun that’s coming soon. I plan to enjoy both and learn to thank Him in all things, especially when I don’t have a clue what He’s doing because it is then that He surprises me the most and the best. I love that about Him:)

Finding Fulfillment

Fulfillment is an interesting word which means to “make full, put into effect, meet the requirements, bring to an end, measure up, convert to reality, or develop the full potentialities of.” When I think of the word, I think of Christ. His coming was about finding fulfillment, and all those definitions apply to Jesus as He fulfilled God’s Word. The beautiful lesson God had for me today is that fulfillment is right in front of me and has been all along.

I have looked in many places and people to find fulfillment, but they all left me wanting. If I look to others to fulfill my needs, I am not only disappointed but also angry when they don’t meet my needs. It’s a big problem with the world, especially within the church. I cannot expect a church or minister to do what only God can do. It was a problem for Jesus, as well. He did not fulfill the needs of the religious leaders of the day, and that created as big a problem for them as it does in the church today. I can’t point accusing fingers at anyone because I am as guilty as those Pharisees when it comes to expecting Jesus to conform to my wants and needs.

My only hope is finding the fulfillment Jesus brought to God’s wonderful Word and loving as He does. My love must be for all His children. Praying brings a universality to my heart when I see myself as part of His beloved. Knowing that His beloved are all who live in His world changes the way I look at needs and fulfillment. God’s love isn’t about competition or picking favorites. It is inclusive in a world that cries for exclusivity. No wonder there is such conflict in this world!

The same conflict will exist in my own heart if I cannot open it wide enough to love all as they are. Expecting others to conform to my way of thinking is looking for fulfillment in the wrong place and will lead to great disappointment. Only Christ’s fulfillment will help the heart of this broken world find what it needs and stop the anger that comes from pointing fingers at those who fail to fulfill. Until we truly understand that fulfillment has already come and is waiting for us, those fingers will continue to close hearts.

Living the praying life means making enough room in my heart for the entire world. I suppose I should have realized what God was going to do with all that space I gave Him, but He caught me off guard, as usual. I love it when He surprises me with the obvious:)