Wonderland

Wonder is a big part of worship, but I let worry and want keep me from wondering as I should. Instead of letting awestruck wonder fill my heart and life, I waste precious time worrying about whether or not I’ll get what I want. Want and worry go hand in hand, and I find I can’t have one without the other. My wants are right in the middle of my worries. Those worries are a sure sign that I’m focused upon myself rather than God.

When I focus upon God, I’m struck by His majesty,  I’m also amazed by His patient love and find myself seeking His presence. Saying two in the Gospel of Thomas says this about seeking.

“Jesus said, Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. And after they have reigned, they will rest.”

I love the progression Thomas includes in his gospel because I’ve found that seeking does disturb at first. When I get past the disturbance, I marvel as I am able, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reign over the things of this world. The reigning isn’t about controlling circumstances but rather about living in and loving through them. It’s taken a long time for me to come to this place of rest, but the Holy Spirit provides peace that passes all rest I’ve ever known.

Worries and wants are giants that can only be slain by wonder in and worship of a God who loves me more than I can imagine on my own. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the company of those who hear my heart and continue to love me anyway, I can not only absorb that love, I can share it with others. It’s what the Good News of Jesus Christ is all about, and I thank God for the patience He has shown to me.

It’s tempting to stop seeking and simply sit satisfied safely in my own salvation, but that self satisfaction can never take the place of the joy that comes from sharing God’s love. When it comes to temptation, I can test God and try His patience, or I can trust Him and take His advice. Either way, I  find that God never changes, but He can change me if I let Him.

I think I’ll keep seeking, wondering, and worshiping God because I love the peace that comes once I find Him.

Seeking God
Seeking God

It’s Personal!

Matthew 5:21-25 is a very humbling verse that reminds me that Christ not only fulfilled the law; He made it personal. I’m guilty of saying, “You idiot!” when someone cuts me off or veers in front of me in traffic. I immediately go into defense mode and come up with reasons why I have every right to call them names. They are driving like an idiot. They could kill me or someone else. They have no right to do what they did to me. They are at fault, so I can call them anything I want. Idiot is not as bad as some names I would like to call them. The list gets longer while God waits for me to get back to Matthew 5.

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.  Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.” NASB

I can summarize what those verses do to me with one word. Ouch!! They humble each time I think of them. As I was driving home from a wonderful meal with my son and his family, I found myself calling someone an idiot. God placed Matthew 5 in my path earlier in the day. I had been thinking about the way Christ’s life, death, and resurrection changed the way I must look at God’s laws.

Each time I think someone is an idiot, I commit murder. I was thinking that seemed too harsh. Wasn’t Christ supposed to make it easier between God and me. It seemed He was making it harder.  I’m not perfect. I do the best I can. Are you saying that I can’t even think a bad thought when someone almost kills me??

God is faithful to let me rant and rave and rationalize while He waits for me to get the lesson He has in mind. As I drove, I thought about  those scriptures and what God wanted me to learn. I asked for help because I wasn’t going to understand this lesson without some assistance. The Spirit helped me see that as soon as I call someone a name, I take away their humanity. In essence, I murder them. They are no longer Mary or George; they are simply an idiot. It’s easier to deal with an idiot than a real person who has problems. I asked God how I could do that with someone I didn’t know and never would.

His answer was, as always, a simple one. Pray for them. I have learned that sincerely praying for someone who hurts me changes the way I see them. They go from an enemy to someone I truly care about. That changes everything, and I figured it would be much easier with someone I didn’t even know who only caused me a moment of grief in traffic. If I see them as a person in need of prayer, I won’t be angry with them. If I think of them being in my path so I can pray for them, I see God in the circumstances.

The next time I find myself starting to call someone an idiot, I plan to stop, say a prayer, and thank God for placing them in my path and granting me the privilege of praying for them. I plan to do that every day for those who do things that make no sense to me. Seeing them in Christ’s light will not only keep me from murdering them, it will also help me build them up. God reminded me of Ephesians 4:29 in that regard.

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” NASB

We are here to edify and encourage one another, and that includes all in my path, not only those unknown folks who veer in and out of my life while driving. Christ makes obeying God’s laws very personal, and He wants me to stop murdering those who irritate or aggravate and start loving them in a way that gives them and me the new life He has in mind. I can do that with His help, and He made it very clear to me tonight that He’s always right beside me waiting for me to ask for help.

To kill or not to kill? That’s the question God is asking. When He puts it that way, even I know the right answer!

The Allstate Blog
The Allstate Blog

Love is Light Luggage

Today marks my first guilt-free Labor Day since 2002. I left my husband of thirty years on Labor Day eleven years ago, and my heart has been hanging on to a suitcase filled with guilt since then. Letting go of the guilt has been like giving birth in a strange way, but I’m the one coming out of the darkness and on to the shore. I knew better than to enter a marriage based upon guilt, but I did it anyway. The narrow religion of my childhood was an unforgiving birth canal in which I stayed for far too long. It constricted my heart and made me feel guilt going in and coming out of my marriage. There are still many who see divorce as a cardinal sin, and I fell into a pattern of apology and wore my relationship status much like that scarlet letter Hester Prynne donned.

Miserably married folks were particularly irritated by my divorce, and I see now it was simply a case of misery loving company. ‘If I have to stay married, so do you’ was a prevailing attitude. I found myself defined by yet another negative label, and it hurt my heart deeply.  I know now that I put those labels  on my heart, and I found others who agreed with me. It’s been the theme of my heart until this year. I see myself in a new and beautiful light for the first time, and I’ve let go of those hateful labels that weighed down my heart and broke my spirit. Ripping off the labels was a lot like tearing bandages off healing wounds. They didn’t come off easily and took little pieces of my heart with them when they did.

The pieces of my heart that were attached to those labels are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Like skin pulled away with a bandage, they needed to go. It was worth all the pain of the past month to see the beautiful new heart under those labels. God has been creating that heart in me for almost three years, and it’s been a process that brought both amazing love and deep hurt into my path. Last week, God took off the labels when I finally agreed to let them go. He  tossed them in the trash and bid me to look at my new heart through His eyes. I can’t describe how I felt when I saw the new me; I cried cleansing tears of pure joy. Obeying God was the key to my makeover. I listened as never before and heard love. Love changes everything, and that was the lesson my heart so needed to hear in order to heal.

I was stuck in a ridiculous rut for eleven years that took my heart to its lowest level ever. I longed for a way out, but I continued to go deeper into darkness and almost drowned. God had other plans, but those plans could not begin until I agreed to obey Him and Him alone. I let religion define my relationship with God, but He showed me that only love can do that. Love lifted me once again as I found myself drowning in a sea of guilt unable to reach the shore. God put a beautiful lighthouse  on His sweet shore of grace that gave me the courage I needed to fight my way out of the dark waves and find His love and grace waiting for me on the shore.

I’m not sure where my path will go from here, but I know that the luggage I’m carrying now is not the same I carried to this point. Grace, peace, and love are carrying me this time. That terrible load of guilt sank to the bottom of a dark sea and is right where it belongs. I feel like my nineteen-year-old self running in the woods, and that’s just where God wants me to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that God put a trip to Topsail Island in my path this week. My heart feels like a Topsail sunrise!

Sunrise on Topsail Island

Guilt Ridden or Grace Driven?

This journey to find the love God has for me has been a guilt ridden ride that has drowned my spirt, broken my heart, and withered my soul. I found my heart at a dead end for the third time in my life. Dead ends are always clearly marked so as to warn those who may venture down the path.  The same is true for my heart’s journey. I knew the paths did not lead anywhere, and perhaps that’s why I took them. There is safety in a dead end road; at least I know where it goes.  God puts beautifully open, loving roads all along my path, but I’ve never have the courage to take one.

The recent reminder of such a road not taken reminded me that the decision is always mine to make. I can blame on a bad beginning or a naive spirit, but my heart’s journey is determined by my decisions. I, and I alone, am accountable for my choices. That was God’s powerful message throughout the day yesterday. I decided to take a late-night swim after dinner. As I swam, I looked into that amazing western horizon knowing the sun would soon be setting. I realized in that moment that God has been using those stunning sunsets to show me that an end was near. It was the most painful ending yet, but God’s loving grace put on an amazing show before the light in my heart was completely gone.

My heart came through this most difficult season in one piece for the first time in my life, and God’s promise of a new beginning gave me hope as He put me back on His wheel for reshaping. I almost allowed guilt to carry my heart back into a dark hole, but God had other plans. I listened this time and let His sweet grace flow over my heart and around it in a way that swept away the last remnants of my brokenness. It truly was a rush of living water. I’ve always seen myself as damaged goods, and that does comes from a bad beginning that left my heart adrift. Funny that water should continue to play such a big role in my heart’s journey. I’ve been battling it for so very long, but as I swam in the cool, clean water and looked at the beautiful sun last night, I surrendered and began turning in the water. I could feel myself on His potter’s wheel; His hands turning and pulling my heart nearer to His own.

It was a feeling I can’t put into words, but I hope to put it into my life and my love from now on. God removed the remains of a guilt-ridden ride, took me out of a ridiculous religious rut, and put me in a place filled with more grace, peace, and love than I’ve ever felt in my life. It was a new beginning as I gave my whole heart to God and let go of the guilt that has been a thorn in my heart from the moment I came into this world. The lessons of the past six months have been  the most difficult ones in my life, but they have allowed me to let go of guilt and embrace His grace as never before. What an amazing difference His living water makes. I don’t think I’ll be digging any more cisterns for a while. Thank you Jeremiah for the reminder, and thank you God for Your love, Your Son’s grace, and Your Spirit’s sweet peace. Grace driven is so much better than guilt ridden! My heart feels just like this sunset, and I can’t wait to see what sunrise God has in mind.

Sunshine + Rain = Amazing Sunset

A Heart Lift

Photo from baileypottery.com
Photo from baileypottery.com

In the hands of an expert potter, wet clay is molded into a beautiful open vessel. In God’s loving hands, my heart is pushed, squeezed, and pulled upward in the same manner. When the pot isn’t what the potter wants, He throws it back onto the wheel, applies water, and starts over. God has stretched, squeezed, pushed, and pulled my heart as never before this month. He’s caught all of my tears and applied them to my heart in order to get it ready for His loving hands. I’ve been digging my own cisterns instead of depending upon His living water, and those cisterns were as dry as they have ever been this week. God used Jeremiah’s vivid images of pottery, cisterns, and fountains to teach important lessons in faith, peace, love, and hope. God’s Word may tear down, pluck up, and destroy my heart, but God builds it back in a beautiful way bringing me ever closer to His love, His Son’s grace, and His sweet Spirit’s peace. God’s molding leaves my heart, like the potter’s vessel, open and ready to be filled from His life-giving fount. God is love, and love changes everything. Knowing I’m loved gives me the courage to be still and let God have His way with my heart and show me the peace He has planned for my path. The heart lift that results will be worth all the squeezing, pulling, and pushing.

Fountains & Cisterns

Forsaking a filled and flowing fountain for an empty cracked cistern sounds ridiculous, but that’s just what Israel is doing according to Jeremiah 2:13. It is what all of us do at some point in our lives. No matter how big or beautiful the cisterns I dig for myself, they will never hold water or compare to the living water Christ’s love provides.  Jeremiah 2 is referred to as “Judah’s Apostasy.” Apostasy is the renunciation of a religious faith or an abandonment of a previous loyalty, and digging my own cistern amounts to doing just that.

“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.” NASB

Loyalty becomes tricky when a conflict occurs. That’s true in day-to-day life, and it’s true in my relationship with God. Faith in God provides that beautiful flowing fountain that never runs dry. Faith in my own ability or in anything other than God leads to a cracked cistern and a very dry soul. Only God can satisfy my thirsty soul. In verse 12, Jeremiah relays God’s heart, “‘Be appalled, O heavens, at this, And shudder, be very desolate,’ declares the Lord.” 

Appalled and desolate are words that aptly describe the situation in which Israel finds itself, and they also describe the personal idolatry that results when I dig my own cistern.  Digging cisterns is a natural reaction when I think I know what’s best for me. I love Jeremiah’s imagery, but his message is always one that tears the very core of my heart. This week’s scripture hit particularly hard, but his image of living water offers tremendous healing. God lets me continue digging cisterns as I try to find a way to get my way, but He prefers that I stop digging and drink from His fountain. The choice is mine because even the sweetest water would not satisfy if forced down my throat. It is only in the dryness of my broken cistern that I find a thirst for God that nothing else will satisfy. He knows I have to dig a few cisterns before I can appreciate His fountain. There is great peace in realizing I can put down my shovel and relax.

Broken Cistern

Living Water

Starting Over

Jeremiah 18:1-6 paints a vivid picture of a potter taking a jar that didn’t come out the way He wanted, crushing it back into a lump of clay, and starting over. God tells Jeremiah He can do the same with Israel. He can, and has, done the same with me. Hear the passage.

The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “’Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.’ So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message:  ‘O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.'”

It is a harsh passage, but one that contains great love and hope. Just as a potter can remake a jar, so can God remake me. That’s preferable to being tossed to the floor and swept away. God’s used the image of pottery and clay many times as He’s taught difficult lessons in love. My heart has been a clay pot thrown to the floor, a lump of clay, and a fragile china vase. It’s back to the lump of clay, but I’m learning that’s the best place for it to be. With loving hands, God will reshape and make it something better than it’s ever been. I trust Him and am learning that the more flexible I become in those loving hands, the easier it is for both of us.

When I read these scriptures, I can’t help but see the image of a lump of clay fighting and wiggling in the potter’s hands. I have only made one pot in my life, and I absolutely loved it! I took a workshop called “Journey of the Creative Spirit” back in 1999, and I got to go to a potter’s home and make a mountain face pot. I was handed a slip of paper upon arrival and told that would be the emotion I had to bring out of the clay. I got surprise and here is my creation.

Surprise Pot

While working on the pot, I found myself captured by the creative spirit and lost all track of time. I treasure my little pot because I think it may be reflect what that jar in the scriptures was feeling before the potter crushed it into a lump of clay or it may be how it felt after seeing God’s work. I had a terrible time with the ears of this pot and had to take them off more than once. I’m sure God can relate! It reminds me to make sure my ears and eyes stay open to all God has to say and to use my mouth to sing His praises. The girls love the pot that sits in my bathroom and holds my brushes. I figure it has the right expression considering what my hair looks like when I wake up =0

God allows me to start over each and every day, and that is a blessing for which I shall be eternally grateful. He also reshapes my heart when needed, and that fills me with great hope. I can find peace in the path knowing that God is there to reform my heart when necessary.