Family

Familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also give birth to the level of affection we are created to experience. The difference is whether I let fear or love lead the way. 1 John 4:18 says it best.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Families fall apart when fear forces them to fuse together. They connect beautifully when love allows them to be who they are. God created us to connect, and our hearts cannot survive without those connections. The most valuable thing the homeless have lost is not their addresses; it is their family connections.

The family systems theory concerning differentiation of self makes a great deal of sense, and I believe God is the ultimate example of how it works. He makes it clear that He is the Great I AM. That isn’t as much about being all powerful as it is about being exactly Who He Is. I believe He wants each of us to be the amazing individual He created us to be, so we can  connect and live in community as He desires.

The Bowen Center has this to say about the negative effects of unhealthy interdependence:

“The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

You can read more at https://www.thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/differentiation-of-self/

Family brings a sense of belonging, and Christ made it very clear that His family is open to all. That doesn’t mean He sanctions abusive behavior. Abuse is the worst form of fusion, and it breaks God’s heart to see His children hurting. Parents and children alike understand the pain of such breaking. Society suffers alongside broken families. God has the power to make us love any way or any one He wants, but He knows better than to force love upon His children.

Family isn’t an easy word to define; but like love, I know it when I feel it. God has helped me see myself as He sees me, and I am so very thankful for a birth family who loves me just as I am. I can’t imagine life with my three sweet sisters and their families, my son and his wife, or my three adorable little grand daughters; but I also thank God for brothers and sisters who are related beautifully by the common thread of love. I am thankful for connections that surround me like a warm, cozy blanket and melt my heart into a sweet, still pool of peace.

Reaching out isn’t easy; it is much simpler to fuse into small groups who share a common love. It is easier still to form groups with a common hatred, and we all know examples of how that destroys families, churches, communities, and countries. It is easiest to simply stay out of sight and not connect at all. That lets you off the hook when it comes to grieving over the loss of a loved one, but it also leaves you with a deep sense of longing that is the worst pain of all.

God loved us enough to send His only Son. I haven’t reached that level of love and doubt I will understand it until I am with Him, but I have learned that God will provide connections that are good for my heart when I relax into faith and trust Him to know what is best for my heart.

Jesus was born into a beautiful family, but I’m sure His earthly family was filled with individuals who were far from perfect. This morning, I was imagining what a large family gathering might look like when He was a young boy. I bet He had a crazy aunt or uncle who made Him smile, and I’m sure there were squabbles and even a feud or two. That didn’t stop Him from loving them, and it doesn’t stop Him from loving us. I also know with all my heart, that He must have looked around when all were gathered in one accord, smiled, and said to Himself, “This reminds me of Home.”

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 🙂

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.