Why the Truth Sets Us Free

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) is a verse I quote when I want the truth of others to set me free. I believe this verse is more about coming to terms with the truth in my own life.

Truth is easily distorted, and some argue that we have our own version of the truth. Twisting the truth gets me off the hook temporarily, but getting off the hook never sets me free. More often than not, I am dropped into a dark hole that’s worse than the hook.

The first step on the journey of finding the truth is admitting I’m wrong. Only I can take that step, so the first step is a lonely one.  It is a narrow gate to pass through, but it opens up quickly.

Christ waits patiently on the other side of that gate. The journey becomes more bearable, but far from easy. After admitting I’ve said, thought or done something wrong, I have to turn and go in a new direction.

Reparation comes next. God knows that a simple sorry is never enough when it comes to sin. We all know the effect fast, forced apologies have upon us. They’re worse than the original offense.

Truth is about sincerity, and that must come from a deep place in my heart. I was particularly sickened by the news last week as I watched the truth being battered around like a pathetic ping pong ball in a grotesque game of politics.

I can’t know someone else’s truth, but I know that when I am honest with myself, others, and God, I experience a freedom unlike any other. The truth sets me free because it helps me see that I am not perfect. That puts me in the perfect position to call upon One who is. Admitting I am wrong is the most difficult thing in the world, but nothing is sweeter than the peace and freedom that truth brings.

 

 

 

Negativity is Like Kudzu!

A little negativity is like a little kudzu; there’s no such thing!

A little negativity is like a little kudzu; there’s no such thing! If you don’t know about kudzu, let me introduce you. The plant is also known as Japanese arrowroot and was brought to the mountains of  western North Carolina decades ago in hopes of controlling erosion. Its rapid growth controls erosion very effectively, but it destroys everything in its path in the process. Negativity does the same if allowed to propagate.

Here are a few pictures of the kudzu in my neighborhood:

 

Once it takes root, kudzu is virtually impossible to stop. Stolons (runners) form new plants faster than its seeds. It kills all existing vegetation by blocking light. Covered vegetation and buildings lose their identities and become grotesque caricatures of other-worldly creatures.

Negativity spreads in the same manner. A little seed or runner seems harmless enough at first; but if left unchecked, it will block the light and alter the landscape of my heart.

Both negativity and kudzu require fertile ground to grow; so the next time negativity shows up at your door, remember these images of kudzu and ignore the knock!

Embracing Joy 🦋

Joy has been the subject of God’s lessons all week, so I wasn’t surprised that the service at The River of Life this morning was about just that.

I’ve been reading “Daring Greatly” this week and was taken aback by the notion of foreboding joy being a common shield against vulnerability.

Brene Brown describes her findings in Chapter 4.

“…having spent several years studying what it means to feel joyful, I’d argue that joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel. Why? Because when we lose the ability or willingness to be vulnerable, joy becomes something we approach with deep foreboding. This shift from our younger self’s greeting of joy with unalloyed delight happens slowly and outside of our awareness.”

I completely connected to the notion of foreboding joy as she described her own experiences and the experiences of the people she interviewed. When something wonderful happens or all is going very well, I begin to think something bad is getting ready to happen. It’s a ridiculous notion, but I was clearly guilty of putting up the foreboding joy shield to protect myself from vulnerability.

The good news is that hearing her describe her struggles helped me see my struggles in a new light. She goes on to give hope to those of us who are guilty of worrying that the other shoe is about to drop.

“Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.”

She goes on to say that our culture assists in the doom and gloom scenarios we rehearse. Awareness is the first step to change, so I was overjoyed this morning as I sat by the river and had a sweet talk with God about my foreboding joy shield.

He has always known about it, and He and I both know it’s forged in fear. We both know that fear doesn’t feed on the vulnerable; it feeds on those who think they need a shield. It was freeing to let the river sweep away my shield this morning as I thanked God for lessons learned.

Brene Brown says, “While I was initially taken aback by the relationship between joy and vulnerability, it now makes perfect sense to me, and I can see why gratitude would be the antidote to foreboding joy.” 

So do I! I plan to practice gratitude and embrace all the joy that comes into my life 🦋

Joy on the River 8-26-18

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)

 

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.

 

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 🙂

 

 

More Than Just a Dream

I always sleep well, but I was surprised to awaken this morning and see that I had slept for ten hours! I blame it on the rain. We have been dry for a very long time, and the smoke from forest fires has filled the air for weeks. Those drops of rain were precious and long awaited, so hearing them last night sent me into a slumber filled with dreams.

I’ve always had vivid dreams, but the dreams this week have been especially powerful ones. Earlier in the week, God gave sweet resolution to a recurring nightmare I’ve had for decades. I’ve experienced three such dreams in my life. One began after I almost drowned at age five and lasted until I was fifty. Another, about not being able to get out of a building, started in college, and ended a month ago. The third began in my thirties and ended this week.

The dream about getting out was a particularly troubling one because the same theme recurred, but the locations varied from decade to decade. I would be in college, in church, or some other large building. In all the dreams, I was unable to find my way out. Stairways would collapse. Doors would not open, or they would lead nowhere. The dream always went from frustrating to frightening and ended with my giving up on getting out and waking up. God brought resolution to that dream six years ago with a vivid set of concrete steps I recognized but ignored. I went my own way, so the dreams continued until last month.

The last dream is one that haunted my rest for over four decades. I desperately need to go to the restroom, but I cannot find one that works or one that is private. I always dismissed the dream as simply a way for my body to wake me up so I could go to the bathroom. I know now there was much more to the dream. This week, God helped me see the dream was about my fear of intimacy. I keep a distance when it comes to relationships and tend to have relationships where time, distance, or circumstances keep intimacy at bay. The dream this week ended in a way that made me realize that those illusive restrooms were simply symbolic of my need to hide when it comes to loving as God desires.

It is easier to love from a distance than it is to share life in an intimate way. God made that clear in a very humorous way that I will not share because it’s far too graphic. It’s hard enough for me to share as much as I am sharing; so I’ll keep the details to myself. I know those images will make me smile when I find myself needing to remember the powerful lesson God has been trying to get across for so many years. The teacher in me would call it an AH HA!! Moment. God chose to make it a HA HA!! Moment so I would remember it when my heart starts to look for a place to hide. I know, and used to tell my students, that humor increases knowledge retention by thirty percent. It’s why we did a lot of laughing in my classroom. God knows I love to laugh, so it’s the best way to get me to remember.

I thank God for the dreams and visions He has always given and used to help me find His way and learn His lessons. His patience is beyond anything I can imagine, but His results are worth waiting for. The teacher in me admires His strategies, and the student in me is always amazed and most always amused by them. The child in me is so very thankful for a Heavenly Father who knows and loves me better than I know myself.

I have always been a dreamer, and no one knows that better than the One who created this little dreamer. It follows that He would use dreams to get my attention. After all, sleep is the only time my heart is still enough to listen.