Here are all the lessons in love. I pray that sharing my story will give you the courage to tell your own. Sharing has changed me in the most beautiful way. I thank God for the lessons and Lillyann and Mylah for inspiring me to share them. I thank my dear friends and family for loving me, and thank you, John, for allowing me to share the messages God shares with you. It takes courage to share the journey, but God makes it clear that love is meant to be shared, and the journey is much better with company:) The pictures are the only thing missing from this draft, and they are in the posts if you’re interested. God bless, and thank you!!

Honesty is the most important lesson when it comes to love. Nothing is more healing than the truth told with love, so I share my story truthfully with love in the hope it helps others heal and find the courage to tell their own stories. I thank God for everything in my path because it brought me to a beautiful place of peace as I’ve drawn near to Him and to those in my path. I harbor no ill will toward anyone, and I don’t wish to dwell upon any one thing that has occurred along the way. I simply wish to celebrate the life and love God has given me. I invite you to share my journey and begin with “Lessons in Love.” I wrote this on March 27, 2012, 48 years after I accepted Christ’s precious love. I grew apart from God for a long time, but my relationship with Him is stronger and sweeter than ever before in my life.

Lessons in Love

My journey began on October 4, 1952 in the middle of an argument my parents were having about going to a party. Daddy wanted to go, but mama did not. She wasn’t feeling well after moving furniture all afternoon and wanted to stay home. She told daddy she thought she was having labor pains. I wasn’t due for another six weeks, so daddy wasn’t buying her excuse. The argument got heated, and mama’s water broke. Daddy was convinced and took mama to the hospital, so my journey in this world began. They got to the hospital just in time, but the dry birth was difficult for mama and for me. Although I was very early, I still weighed five pounds and was healthy by all accounts. I had no hair, eyebrows, or lashes and resembled a little alien daddy could hold in one hand. Alien is a word that described me well as I’ve often felt like one.

I knew from an early age that I was not like everyone else and assumed that meant something was wrong with me. First of all, I was not a boy. Daddy was disappointed, but mama loved me like an abandoned puppy. The argument coupled with the disappointing news that I was another girl set the stage for my young life. It soon became clear that I didn’t process information the way others did. My mama told me often that I wasn’t like everyone else, and that was going to hurt me. Daddy dealt with his frustration by constantly trying to straighten me out. I’m not sure which helped or hurt the most. Mama and daddy agreed on one thing; I was not like everyone else! I have only recently been able to embrace that beautiful truth and love myself as God loves me.

When I came home from the hospital, I was unable to suck, so mama cut the nipple of my bottle to allow the formula to flow freely into my mouth. Mother was a feeder and believed food to be the cure for everything. She made feeding me a priority. If I was awake, I was eating! I was pitiful, and mama was determined to fatten me up whatever it took. The process was a tedious one, but she persevered. She kept me near her all the time and put a mirror in front of my face so she could make sure I was breathing. Daddy kept his distance. Not only was I a girl, but a scrawny one who had mama’s complete attention. I realize now how much my arrival and early weeks set the course of my journey.

Mother and daddy grew even further apart than they had been before my premature arrival. A bad situation got worse as mama smothered and daddy smoldered. His disdain and mama’s love grew in equal proportion as I struggled to survive in this crazy new world. Warm water was replaced by the dryness of a desert. Water has been a defining force in my life, so it’s appropriate for it to figure so profoundly in my arrival.

I not only survived, I thrived and surprised everyone except my pediatrician who told mama I would be her strongest child. I was a chunky toddler who loved my mama more than anything and feared my daddy. I scurried to mama’s side when he came into the room. My earliest childhood memory is of daddy beating me for wetting my pants. I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, and made a puddle on the black and white kitchen floor. The image of the checked linoleum floor is a very vivid one. Daddy jerked me up by one arm and beat me with an anger I still can feel.

I know there were earlier beatings because my oldest sister told me so, but that is the first I remember. She said they continued until the summer before I turned six. That shocked me, but it explained my recurring nightmare about the pier and the lake. For some reason known only to him, daddy singled me out and made me the object of his wrath. He called me stupid instead of Kathy, and I bore the brunt of his jokes, especially when I lived up to his name for me.

Life changed, and my journey almost ended on the pier at our cabin on Lake Hickory during the summer of 1958. I had nightmares about being under water, and mama explained that I had fallen off the pier when I was little. She went on to say that daddy ruined a suit and pair of good shoes going in after me. She said he cussed and screamed when he got me out. According to her, it was because of the shoes and the suit. Mama’s explanation made perfect sense, so I accepted it and moved on. The dream continued to recur until the truth surfaced during the summer of 2011. My oldest sister helped me piece together the events and find healing. In 2011, the dream came back in a powerful way. It would not go away and was so vivid it took my breath away. I prayed and asked God to show me what He wanted me to see and heal my hurt as He desired. Now, in the dream, there was a man on the pier behind me. His loving presence comforted me, and I realized it was Jesus. I grew more frustrated each time the dream recurred and continued to pray for understanding.

Finally, I called my two older sisters to see if they could fill in the blanks and help me find closure. Linda had no memory of the event because she was too young at the time to have seen much, but Ann recalled the day with great clarity. I asked her to please tell me the truth because it was part of my heart’s healing. I also told her that I had no hard feelings for anyone, and my need to know was not about placing blame. She tearfully told me the whole story after I asked her if I could possibly have made the conscious decision to step into the water. Part of my concern about the recurrence of the dream was the feeling that I wanted the pain to stop, and the water represented a way to escape. It seemed as though I had stepped in on purpose. I saw myself alone on the pier. The feeling of loneliness was overwhelming, and my need to escape pain was very real.

Ann told me that there were people and boats all around me because there was a big party that weekend. I was surprised to hear of the crowd and even more surprised when she described me as the saddest little girl she had even seen. Ann told me that the beatings had gotten worse and were unrelenting that summer. I carried the marks, and Ann carried the anger and guilt. We were all at daddy’s mercy at the lake because of our isolation. The nearest store was a tiny place over a mile away. We had no car when daddy was at work, and the cabin was like a prison during the week. There were parties on the weekend with lots of alcohol and food, but the weekdays were long and lonely.

Daddy was a different man when he drank, but the beatings were more intense during the week. She told me that I was in the midst of a large crowd of people when, just as in my dream, I looked down at the water and stepped in. I don’t remember struggling, but I do remember the feeling of comfort as the warm muddy water surrounded me in my dream. I have no memory of the incident except for the warm brown muddy water.

Ann said that she and daddy were up by the cabin and saw me step in the water. Daddy took off like a shot, jumped straight in the water, and pulled me out. He did ruin his suit and shoes, but his screaming was not directed at me and had nothing to do with his clothes. He was livid that no one noticed a child going into the water. As Ann told me the details, I had a profound sense of relief. My dream finally made sense, and I understood that God wanted me to know the truth that had been hidden in my heart for so long. As she described the sad little girl, I could breathe for the first time since going into the water. So many questions were answered as the truth came to the surface. I connected to the little girl and felt her pain. As the truth about her surfaced, my heart began to heal. The truth is powerful and cruel at times, but it set me free as I listened and absorbed it. I had no anger when Ann told me, and I have no anger now. Daddy had his own demons, and this was about finding freedom from mine.

Daddy lost his job that summer and had to go back to school to train for a new job drafting plans for heating and air-conditioning systems. We moved to a new neighborhood and sold the cabin, and our summers at the lake ended. Daddy stopped beating me, but he continued to call me stupid and belittle me when the opportunity presented itself. I believe he gave up on me after the incident at the lake. He often told me that a child should only be spanked until the age of five because it was too late after that. I had the feeling he believed it was too late for me. Whatever motivated the beatings, it wasn’t my fault. It was something in his heart that never healed. That truth healed and freed my heart in a powerful way, and that encourages me to continue seeking the truth even when it hurts. I had to let go of the notion that I deserved daddy’s wrath. It is no wonder I’ve found myself in unhealthy relationships that left me getting what I believed I deserved or filling my deep desire to be rescued.

As I draw nearer to the anniversary of my profession of faith 48 years ago, I realize that April is a month of great significance in my life. Easter is a big part of what makes it so important. Mama, Tyler, and Lillyann were all born in April. The journey changed, and my lessons in love took on new meaning on April 14, 2009, when Miss Lillyann Rose began her journey on the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama never saw her sweet little great granddaughter, but I know the two of them would have loved one another dearly. Mary Sue and Lillyann are very much alike. Mama began dying as Lillyann began living in April 2009, and my lessons in love began in earnest. Such is the nature of this world. Mama was losing clarity as far as her thinking was concerned, and because she saw her first pictures of Lillyann the day following her birth, she was convinced Lillyann was born on her birthday and named after her mama Lilly Belle Banning. We never told her otherwise because she was so delighted.

My heart was going through changes that I didn’t fully understand. Hindsight is always 20-20. As I reflect on July 2009, I realize my heart would never be the same. The pain of a broken marriage and the hurt of a fairy tale which ended painfully left a deadbolt on my heart. If you don’t love, then you won’t be hurt was my new mantra. God knew that wasn’t going to work. My heart experienced a renewal during Holy Week, and I was feeling again. I sang alone in front of a group for the first time and found my voice; it had been hidden away for many decades waiting to burst forth. What a beautifully freeing feeling as I sang “What Wondrous Love” and “Where You There” in front of the group. My soul and spirit were soaring, and I wanted more of this amazing feeling. I found the courage to start down a path that would change my life and my heart forever. My heart was light and took off in a direction that would lead to the sweetest love and deepest pain I’ve ever known.

Love creates both joy and sorrow in our hearts. Both are necessary for healing and growth. Healing is not about being restored to my former condition, but rather about transforming and going in a new direction. Healing does not mean an end to pain. In fact, in many ways it opens doors that allow greater hurt than ever before. With love, the pain of separation goes to a new level. The greater the love, the more painful the separation becomes. That is the price of love, which is not for the faint of heart. The beautiful lesson in love is that separation causes God to suffer. As I experience the pain of being away from those I love, I get a very tiny taste of the loneliness Christ felt on the cross, the sadness God feels when I refuse to accept His gift of love, and the frustration caused when I ignore His Holy Spirit. That is a sobering lesson that brings me to my knees in humility.

It is again Holy Week, and during our Sunday service yesterday, we read the passion passages together. God’s presence touched me deeply as I listened to the story of His walk to the cross and the love it represents. During the afternoon, I attended a party in honor of a fiftieth wedding anniversary. The lessons during the past few weeks have been about marriage and commitment. My marriage was a poor example of faith and love, so it was good to see what a marriage founded upon a love of God looked like after five decades. As I looked at the photo of a young couple, I realized they still had the same look on their faces fifty years later. That is a blessing I missed and will never experience. That kind of love comes from living with and loving someone for fifty years. True love becomes a strong and beautiful tree that can weather the storms and take pleasure in children from many generations swinging from its branches. The celebration of a long and happy marriage and the Spirit-filled singing and reflection of the evening service brought me to a beautiful place of understanding love more clearly.

I am beginning to understand that following Christ is not a walk in the park, but rather a love-filled journey which brings joy and peace as I learn that His love brings hope. Heartbreak and suffering also accompany love because separation from those we love is painful. Giving up what I want and truly wanting what is best for those I love is the sacrificial love God desires for me to comprehend so I can become the disciple He desires for me to be. I am feeling more challenged than ever in my life; it is impossible for me to love as He loves without His help. There have been many times in the past three years when I have begged Him to let me run away and hide from the hurt, and I know there will be many more.

Last night, however, I did not ask for escape from the pain but for understanding. He made it clear as I cried that I am right where He wants me to be. I understand that pain is not about punishment or penance, and it isn’t about martyrdom. It is about true discipleship and learning. Funny how that knowledge helped me sleep like a baby and wake with a feeling of peace. I know I will stumble as I am not as strong as Peter, as zealous as Paul, or as faithful as Mary. Falling and failing are part of following, and they all stumbled along the way. That brings me comfort as does the fact that He made me just the way I am and has special plans for me. My fervent prayer is that I will look to Him, His Son, His Spirit, and His Holy Word to find His way. He is the God of hope, love, peace, and joy:)

On the 48th anniversary of my acceptance of Christ’s love and forgiveness, God showed me the changes He desires, but I know the process will not be complete until I am in God’s presence. As I practiced “Take My Life,” I thought of my prayers for consecration and sanctification. It is my heart’s desire to be holy, and my prayers are that I will become ripe, ready, and mature. I realize that like the disciples long ago, I do not understand what that means, but I have a much better idea than I did when I first began those prayers. The beauty of God is that He takes my supplications and works them slowly into my heart. I do not know what God has in store for me, but I do know that He is at work in a big way. That blesses me because it means I’ve gotten out of His way so His Spirit can work through me. So many amazing blessings this week, and I know that Good Friday will be better, and Easter will be icing on the cake:)

Here are my letters to Lillyann, messages to Mylah, excerpts from my journal, and posts from my blog at http://www.journeywithgigi.com

The Beginning (April 23, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

I decided to write letters to you on April 16, 2010 while Mere and I were on one of our long walks up Deep Creek. We were talking, as we always do when we walk together, and she suggested I write to you. You and I are both in the process of learning to walk. You are literally beginning to take your first steps alone, and I am beginning a new and exciting journey with the Holy Spirit. God is giving me messages, and I want to share them with you.

Having you here makes all the difference. You encourage me to step out in faith and be who God wants me to be. The most important message underlies all the others; let your heart lead. When I lead with my head, I end up falling on my face. When I lead with my feet, I end up falling on my behind. I am just learning to lead with my heart, and it’s helping me find and keep my balance. It took a long time for me to find the courage to turn around, look to God, and let my heart lead me in His way. Any day now, you will find the courage to begin walking with confidence and find your balance, as well. Trust me, Lillyann, life is never the same after you realize that loving God is all that matters in this life. I am learning to surrender to the Holy Spirit and use God’s compass to find my way out of the darkness.

The path is frightening sometimes, and I often feel alone without a compass. Then, I remember the Holy Spirit who gives me direction. God has also given me the company of beautiful friends and family who give me courage. Life a wonderful journey when shared with those I love. I love you sweet Lillyann, and I invite you to come along on Gigi’s Journey. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, we are sure to have an amazing adventure.

There just aren’t words to describe the love I have for you Lillyann or for God, but I know the Holy Spirit will help me tell you the truth with love as we walk together. Mere would agree that it’s the company that makes this journey a joy, and we both love your company!

In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]

Seeing the Light (April 24, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

The Friday after your first birthday, you, mommy, daddy, and I were having dinner at a little cafe in town called the Cork & Bean. It was late when we finally arrived, but you were wide awake and ready for an adventure. Mommy and daddy ate while you and I walked around looking at everything and talking to everyone in the cafe. You loved the beautiful overhead lights and wouldn’t stop pointing at them. I love it when you point and ask, “Dat?” I do my best to answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity, but sometimes it isn’t easy with the language barrier between us. I try to explain, but you don’t always understand. You get so frustrated when you try to communicate and we cannot understand what you’re saying. I am that way with God much of the time. He knows exactly what I’m saying but knows it isn’t what I need. I’m thankful He is very patient with me.

Each time you pointed up at the lights, I said, “Light.” Your interest soon moved on to other objects and people in the lively cafe. Folks were watching and enjoying your curiosity. Danny, Mellie, and Maggie were there, and Maggie just delighted in you. We visited each table and then moved to the window. As we looked at the lights of the passing cars, you suddenly pointed up at the lights and said, “Ight?”

I couldn’t believe my ears and squealed, “Yes!!!” You kissed me all over my face and beamed with delight as we shared a special moment. My heart melted and reformed as you kissed me sweet Lillyann. Love is delighting in and connecting to one another, and we did both in that precious moment. I had a similar experience when I first understood Christ’s love on Sunday, April 5, 1964. He is a very important part of my journey, so I want to tell you about the time I understood the light of His love for the first time.

I wasn’t planning to walk down the isle at First Baptist Church in Hickory, North Carolina, the Sunday after Easter in 1964, but I remember being overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and making my way to the isle. I hadn’t told mom, dad, or Pastor Robinson I was ready to make a profession of faith or that I understood what the cross and Christ’s resurrection meant to me. I was eleven, in Mrs. Nell Hoke’s sixth grade class at Kenworth Elementary School, and thinking about mama’s wonderful cooking waiting for me at home.

The Hymn of Invitation was “Love Lifted Me.” As I listened to the words, something happened that I cannot describe except to say that I was no longer in control of my actions. I pushed my way to the isle and hurried down to where Pastor Robinson was standing. I was ready to accept God’s love. I took classes to prepare for my baptism, and on Sunday, April 26, I was baptized into the body of Christ. I didn’t understand all Christ’s sweet love encompassed, but I saw the light of His love and knew I wanted it. Finding and sharing that light is what the journey is all about.

Seeing Christ’s light and living out His love are two entirely different things. My family were on again, off again Christians, and my childhood memories of church represent a variety of emotions. Daddy liked the business connections, but mama felt out of place in the social crowd at First Baptist. I loved the music, the impressive pipe organ, and my Sunday School experience but remember little else. My connection to the church was not a strong one, but my connection to Christ was, and still is, very powerful and beautiful.

We are not prepared for special moments of understanding, and our lives are never the same after them. My family stopped attending church shortly after my baptism, and I stayed away from corporate worship until after your daddy was born. My attitude toward organized religion was not a good one, but my spirit longed for connection to a body of believers. God designed us for connection, and we only find wholeness by being part of something bigger than ourselves. Christ is a body, and we are each a beautiful and important part of His body. Christ’s body is like one of those beautiful pictures made up of thousands of tiny pictures that you cannot see until you look very closely. The closer I get to Christ, the more I see and appreciate the importance of loving others. My connection to Christ enables me to connect to others as He desires. The Holy Spirit connects me to God and others as He creates the body of Christ. God places His hope within each of us when we accept the love of Christ.

I tried many churches before ending up at First Baptist Church in Bryson City in 2005. I allowed my fear and my bad experience with church to keep me from corporate worship. Prejudice keeps me from enjoying the fullness of life God has for me. Let your inquisitive nature help you find your way and don’t judge anyone or any thing based on what others say; find out for yourself. My learning to walk right now is about connecting to others and loving the way God wants so I can be who He created me to be.

God uses unlikely people and places to spread His love. If I stay open, He will speak to me in everything and everyone. A man named Saul saw the light the hard way, which is the way I tend to learn. God used Saul and Ananais to build His kingdom and spread His love in a surprising way.

Saul was a Pharisee who loved religion. He thought he was helping God by opposing the new way of worship Christ was proclaiming. He hunted down and killed those who were listening to Jesus because he felt threatened by Him. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but holding it too tightly keeps me from growing and moving forward. Saul was not willing to change and was determined to have things his way. Ananias was a good man, but he had a hard time believing God would want him to help a man like Saul. He questioned God. I would say that was a silly thing for Ananias to do, but I do it all the time myself.

Saul was going to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light. A voice came out of nowhere and said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Saul was too scared to speak and fell to his knees. This strong man who led so many had to be led because he was blind and frightened. For three days, Saul was could not see and did not eat or drink anything. He was in total darkness. Life without God is darkness; no matter how hard I try to make it bright, it never can be without Him.

Ananais did not want to help Saul because he had hurt and killed many Christians. We have to trust God even when He asks us to do something that doesn’t make any sense at all. Ananais did as God asked and touched Saul’s eyes. The scales came off; Paul could see, and he understood. Of all the unlikely people God could have used to spread His gospel, Saul was the most unlikely. Like Saul, I find myself questioning why God could choose to use me to do His work because I don’t always see myself as God does. We look very different in God’s light; in order to see myself and others as God sees me, I have to turn toward Him and let the Holy Spirit help me. Only then, am I able to see who I truly am and see others as God sees them.

Light is a beautiful thing Lillyann, and I pray your life is filled with light and love. When you understand God’s light, you will see it is perfect love. God sees me as I truly am and loves me unconditionally. Saul thought he was unworthy of God’s love. I was that way myself for far too long, and I limited God because of it. No one is worthy of God’s love, which is what makes His grace so amazing. God doesn’t love me because I am worthy or because I deserve it. He just loves me, and that’s the most beautiful truth of all. Saul accepted God forgiveness and His love, changed his name to Paul, and became one of Christ’s most beloved friends and disciples. Paul spread the word about God’s love, and Ananias helped him. I can make a big difference if I let go of what I think is best and let God have His way.

Like Ananais, I sometimes act as though God doesn’t know what He is doing. Children are better than adults when it comes to understanding God’s love; that’s why Christ bids me to have faith like a child. Trust and obedience help me get closer, but they involve letting go of what I want. That is never an easy thing for me to do, especially when I think I know best.

Seeing the light is knowing that God’s love is for me. When I know and embrace that sweet truth, I can’t wait to share it with others. Just as we shared a special moment when you saw the light and understood the connection, God delights and shares a special moment with me when I understand and accept His love. I can’t wait to share His love with you dear Lillyann. Love changes everything, and your love is changing me in a very beautiful way:]

In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]

Finding Your Voice (April 24, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

Finding my voice is a very important part of the journey, and learning to sing this year has been a beautiful part of finding mine. I have always believed I couldn’t sing but wanted to very badly. My music teacher in elementary school told me I was not a violin but a clarinet. He said it with sarcasm and embarrassed me in front of the class. I stayed away from the high notes and sang softy so no one would notice. His cruel remark changed the way I saw and heard myself.

Words are powerful and can do great damage or much good depending upon how they are used. Pastor John spoke healing words when he told me one Sunday evening that I had a beautiful voice. We were working with the youth, and I found myself singing along with abandon. At first, I thought he was kidding. I’m used to folks making jokes that I don’t understand, but I could tell he was serious. Besides, he’s not the type to joke about something like that, and he was a music teacher before he was a pastor. It was the first time anyone ever told me I could sing, so I began to believe I could sing.

John showed me some breathing exercises and gave me a few lessons during Holy Week in 2009. It was a beautiful turning point; I practiced and grew to love singing. Oswald Chambers says it best, “The world does not bid you sing. God does.” (from “The Love of God”) That is a beautiful truth! God does bid me to sing and loves it when I sing praises to Him or hum happily to myself. Singing is a beautiful way to express joy and praise. God loves nothing better than to see me full of joy and hear my voice reflect that joy.

I sang “What Wondrous Love Is This” from the bottom of my heart in front of a group of people during Holy Week this year, and it filled me with sweet joy and peace. Singing, like walking, requires leading with my heart and letting go. I did just that on Friday, April 2, and found that when I wasn’t thinking about singing, I sang beautifully. That’s true in all I do. I know you will love to sing, and I hope you will play an instrument. Papa Jose and Grandma Susie play the piano beautifully. I pray music will become a big part of your life and bless you as it is blessing me.

You took three steps to me and five to your mama at my house yesterday, and you walked even more after you got home. You walked, I started this book, and we had our first time alone yesterday. Walking, like finding my voice, is all about letting go, stepping out, and leading with my heart.

I had another lesson in finding my voice last Thursday. I had lunch with Terry Hanna, a beautiful lady who is a Presbyterian minister. Her beautiful green eyes looked straight at me after she said the blessing, and I could hear God as she asked why I thought I could not be a prophet and hear God’s messages myself. She and I both knew the answer to that question. I am a woman. It was embarrassing for me to realize I was thinking such a thought. One thing I would love to see change is for women and men to be seen as equals in God’s ministry. Folks from many denominations think a woman should not be the lead pastor in the church, and I believe that limits God.

I grew up thinking that women could do only certain things. My father explained that he would pay for my college education if I would agree to be a teacher, nurse, secretary, or housewife. He believed that it was worth the cost of tuition to find a husband who could support me. I smile as I think of how silly that sounds, but it wasn’t very funny back in 1970. I really wanted to be a key punch operator. That was someone who worked with computers which were just coming on the scene. My father pitched a terrible fit and told me he would not pay for something as useless as that!! I gave in and went with my second choice which was teaching. I was blessed and privileged to spend thirty-three years teaching. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be around so many wonderful young people.

It was June of 2008 when I realized for the first time that the Southern Baptist Convention didn’t approve of women as lead pastors. I was shocked because I know Christ does not think that at all. I talked with Pastor John about it, and he said that he did not agree and thought women should be ordained. A young man told me at Vacation Bible School that very night that I would make a good minister. Once again, I could hear God’s voice in his:) I prayed about this new knowledge and talked with my sisters about it. Edie said not to worry about it until it got in my way. She also said to help bring about change. God bid me to be patient.

Ghandi would advise me to be the change I wish to see in the world, but I would change that to the change God wishes to see in the world:) Finding my voice is the first step; speaking it and living it will prove to be much more difficult. Pastor John is a dear friend and mentor; we have been through a lot together. We tell each other the truth with love, and that is what makes our friendship so special. The best of friends tell each other the truth with love and hear the truth with love, as well.

Mary Magdalene helped me understand God’s lesson for me. The people in the Bible are real people who struggled just as I do. I love that about the scriptures, and I hope you will love them too. Mary Magdalene was a troubled women; but when she came to know Jesus, things changed for her. God’s love and truth transformed her in a beautiful way. His love is for everyone, not just for some people or for good people. Like Paul, I’m sure Mary had a hard time believing that love could be for her. I imagine she marveled at the way Jesus loved with a love unlike any she had ever experienced. Kingdom love is true love. It transforms and makes all imitations pale in comparison.

When Mary lived, women had to stand in the farthest corner of the temple to hear God’s word. Women were considered inferior to men, but that is not the way Jesus sees women. Mary was a special disciple and is thought of by many as the apostle’s apostle. I’m sure she made the disciples nervous because women in ministry still make people nervous. Fear causes me to miss hearing God’s wonderful words of wisdom and keeps me from living the life God desires.

Terry Hanna told me about Mary’s gospel and said it contained beautiful wisdom. I didn’t realize Mary had written a gospel. Her gospel is filled with wisdom, but it isn’t in the Bible. Many important pages are missing, and I would love to see them. There are many books of wisdom that aren’t in the Bible. The process for deciding what went into the cannon was a long one that I believe was a honest one. I’m not saying her gospel or the gospel of Thomas should be in the Bible, but I do believe they should be read and studied since both knew and loved Christ. They have words of wisdom worth hearing. People want to silence those who scare them, but God will not be silenced. It is important to speak the truth with love and not worry if others don’t understand or don’t respond as I desire. Not needing a response is important when it comes to speaking or being silent. Finding stillness is the most important part of finding my voice:)

As I read Mary’s gospel for the first time, I was sad that I had never read it before. Mere and I talked about being raised to think that girls could not participate in the worship service. She told me about playing church with her little friends. She went to a Catholic school and knew the Latin masses by heart. She and her friends would make an altar and say the masses in Latin, but they were not allowed to be part of the service. That was only for the altar boys. Girls serve now because change is inevitable. God’s transformation comes with the changes He has in mind for us. Jesus knows men and women are different; God made us that way and loves our differences. He knows those differences are necessary to spread His gospel, and He loves it when we work together. The harmony formed by connecting and loving one another is sweet music to His ears.

Finding my voice has been about much more than learning to sing, but singing was a wonderful turning point for me. It is about hearing God and being willing to speak the truth with love knowing that God forgives. Good friends speak the truth with love even when they disagree. God uses love and truth to bring people closer to one another and to Himself. Nothing is more powerful when it comes to walking in God’s kingdom than sharing the journey with those who hear my heart and speak the truth with love. God helps me find my voice and hear the hearts of others if I remember that♥

In Christ’s Perfect Love, Gigi:]

Walking In God’s Kingdom(May 6, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

There is nothing I can do to get to God on my own, but Christ is a beautiful connection to Him. It isn’t complicated. God is like the sun, which will blind if I look at it directly. God is too much for my heart to take in on its own, and that’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is like the moon which reflects sunlight in a way that enables my eyes to see it. I love to stare at the moon; it is the most peaceful light in the world to me. Christ’s love is the most beautiful love in the world because He brings God’s love to me in a way I can understand. God loved me so much that He became a man so I could love Him and share His love with others.

When I love Jesus and accept His forgiveness, I am able to embrace God’s love and receive His Holy Spirit. God is like the sun; Jesus is like the moon, and the Holy Spirit helps me take it all in. The three are one and work together to help me walk in God’s kingdom even before I get to heaven. My walk begins as soon as I accept His love. Heaven is being in God’s presence and being able to love Him directly. That will be more wonderful than I can begin to imagine or describe to you. When I truly love others and allow them to love me, I get a small taste of heaven. That makes me want more and enables me to love in a new and beautiful way!

God’s love is unlike any other love because the more it is shared, the more it grows. Sharing God’s love is what Danny Byers, a visiting minister, was talking about at our revival tonight. I have to show others that sweet glow of God’s love in a way that will make them want what I have. We are called to help each other find, stay in, and grow in God’s love. It’s what this beautiful journey is all about. He called it nudging one another, and I know God likes nudging much better than judging when it comes to sharing His love:)

The Holy Spirit showed me tonight that the cross is not the destination, but the turning point. Danny drew a diagram on the whiteboard to show that people are at different places when we meet them. I’ve always been afraid to witness to others because I thought I had to get them to the Christ in one encounter. That’s as silly as thinking that I have to convince every man I meet to marry me or every woman to be my best friend the first time we meet. No wonder I was so nervous when telling others the good news of Christ. By connecting and loving them, the Holy Spirit will nudge them and me a little closer to Christ. I just have to let God help me be a loving presence. I also have to let go of my plans and follow His.

Yesterday, as we came down Indian Creek, Mere said that our walks don’t seem like exercise at all. I agree; they are connecting, sharing, loving, and caring. Time goes by so quickly, and we are closer to each other and God as we share the path. Exercise is just a wonderful side effect. Witnessing is walking together and should not feel like exercising. Too many churches and people are exercising rather than enjoying the walk together. If Mere and I focused upon getting to the bridge and complained the whole time, the walk would be torture. It would take forever, and we would feel terrible when we finished. Too often, that’s the way we worship and witness when it comes to God. You’ve got to get to the cross; you’ve got to get to the cross! Then what? Well, I’m not sure, but you’ve got to get to the cross! That becomes a treadmill that leaves everyone frustrated and frazzled.

God puts wonderful people in my path to help me find my way. Danny Byers and Pastor John are helping me in a way I can’t put into words except to say that they’re making my journey better by walking alongside me this week the same way Mere does when we walk. If I walked eighteen miles all by myself each week, I would get the same amount of exercise, but it would be a treadmill and not a journey. A journey takes me somewhere I have never been and is best when shared. If Mere and I let the bugs, snakes, bears, heat or pace of others in the path be our focus, we would miss what God has for us in each walk together. Churches can make the journey to God a dreadful walk on a treadmill. That breaks God’s heart and mine. That mindset leaves people feeling worse than they did before. Walking together in love is what God has in mind, and that makes the journey a joy.

The cross is the most important marker on the journey because it is the starting point. If I get lost, I can always go back to the cross. The cross points upward to where Christ is now. His resurrection is what my salvation is all about, and I love to remember that. As I share the Lord’s Supper, I am reminded of the cross and God’s love. It takes me back to the beginning of my journey and reminds me of the journey Christ took so I could be with God. The journey is about finding holiness, sanctification, and becoming one with God.

That’s where churches create a traffic jam because they want to make rules about who can be sanctified and how to be holy. Those are big words that simply mean getting closer to God and doing my best to be like Jesus. The word holy simply means ripe, ready, and mature. I can’t get there by myself, but if I let the Holy Spirit connect me to God’s love, I will bear the fruit of His Spirit and ripen beautifully. I will experience a transformation that is like those butterflies you and I love so very much. I especially want you to remember that everyone can take the journey to the cross and get closer to God. I only have to let the Holy Spirit be my guide. Never let others tell you that you cannot go into God’s presence. It is only those who stop at the cross who want you to stop too. Christ’s resurrection paves the way to God’s presence. Christ is always at God’s side interceding for me. When I love, obey, and trust God, I get to walk in His kingdom.

We are all different, so our journeys are also different. Never feel inferior if you are not like someone you admire or look up to. Pastor John and the visiting pastor are good friends and love God dearly, but they express their love for Him in very different ways. Our differences make a beautiful composite image of Christ. People are attracted to those who love God with abandon. Everyone is searching for love, and that is what sharing the good news of Christ’s love is all about. Each of us have our own special relationship with Christ. God is love, and His Holy Spirit will make our expression of His love unique and beautiful. Christ’s love is indeed precious and perfect, and I know you will grow to love Him and others in a way that helps you see yourself and others as He sees you. That’s what walking in God’s kingdom is all about, and it makes for an amazing journey.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Being A Friend (April 26, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

The thing I love most about you is the way you delight in everything. It’s the quality I love most in a friend and is exactly how God wants us to be with Him and one another. When you see me, you squeal with delight, and I do the same when I see you! Friends delight in one another even though they may not always be happy. Friends must also go through sad or difficult times, and the squeals of delight become a quiet looks of relief or tender tears of release that come when you know someone hears and understands your heart. That kind of friendship is the most valuable thing in this world. The Bible says it is like the fellowship in heaven, and I believe it.

Pearl Cable is 90 years old today. Pearl lights up when she sees me coming. I love that about her because it makes me feel so loved. She looks for me when she is at the church and embraces me when she finds me. I have many wonderful friends who do just that. I am overwhelmed by the number of people who love me when I try to love them by myself rather than letting the Holy Spirit love them through me. The Holy Spirit is the sweetest friend of all. Jesus sent Him to stay with me until I am in heaven. I can walk in God’s kingdom now with the Holy Spirit’s help. Jesus calls Him the Comforter. That’s a perfect description because His presence is like a warm embrace. He is always there when I need Him. I will try to always be there for you Lillyann, but I cannot always be. I pray you will become good friends with the Holy Spirit and know that you are surrounded by love. We are beautifully connected to one another through God’s Spirit and become one with Him and one with each other through His love.

Working in the church office can be very stressful because I get a lot of love from the people of the church and the community as they pass through. Many times, the troubles they are having overwhelm me because I try to take it all in, process it, and make things better for them. Wanting to make things better is a big problem because only God can do that. It helps Him if I let His Holy Spirit work through me rather than trying to do things by myself. I am just learning that, and it’s helping with my relationships, especially the one I have with God. I cannot fix the problems of others; I can only be a loving presence who listens and speaks the truth with love. It’s not an easy thing to do, but the results are amazing.

We sometimes get love and lust mixed up. Lust is a word mostly associated with sex, but it has to do with much more. Lust is when you have to have something or someone. It is the opposite of love where you have deep feelings for someone, but you don’t want anything from them. It is easier to understand if you look at it from the standpoint of wanting. Lust is selfish wanting. Love is wanting the best for others. I have made the mistake of trying to make others happy by giving, but that leaves me empty. I do love giving you things, but I love being with you even more. It’s why you squeal when you see me, and I do the same. I hope that never changes.

Getting and giving complicate love if we are not careful. When we truly love, we listen carefully and deeply. Pastor John is teaching me about being a loving presence, and that is helping me connect to you in a special way. We have become fast friends because love was there all along; we just had to connect to it. As I learn to listen, I am more open to the love all around me. Connections make this life like heaven if our relationships are pure, honest, and filled with love. I am open to love in a way I never have been before, and you are a big part of that.

Be open sweet Lillyann and always love the way you do now, with abandon. Children love the way God desires. I’ve learned to pull away and stop connecting with my whole heart because my heart has been broken many times. I’m learning how to love and realize that my heart gets a little stronger each time it is broken. I am glad to be loving again. I want to be who God wants me to be, and love is the way only I can. People are attracted to you if you aren’t worried about whether or not they love you back. Give and love openly and don’t worry about those who don’t understand the way you love. Look up to God, open your arms to Christ’s forgiveness and love; then snuggle next to the Holy Spirit. You’ll be amazed at how God’s love will change your life. God will place friends in your path who will help you see yourself as God sees you, friends who hear your heart and let you hear theirs. You are my sweet friend Lillyann. Your heart and mine are connected in a beautiful way, and I love you very much!

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Forgiving Like Christ (June 4, 2010)

Dear Lillyann,

I must forgive those who hurt me if I am to grow as God desires. I knew that about forgiveness, but tonight God showed me how to forgive like Christ. He took forgiveness to a new level, and I experienced peace and joy as never before. I cannot forgive as Christ forgives on my own; I have to have the help of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness frees the heart and allows healing and growth that will not take place without it.

Pastor John went to Gardner Webb last week and heard Fisher Humphreys speak on forgiveness. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I was harboring a lot of anger over the week mama died. I thought I had dealt with the pain and moved on, but I realized that I had a great deal of what John calls inner seething over the hurt and abandonment I experienced that week. That’s what happens when you let things simmer inside. Forgiving like Christ clears the heart and calms the spirit.

I depended upon Pollyanna to get me through the service on Wednesday evening. The children were having a musical, so I put on my happy face knowing I could count on her to help me out. She is an old friend who offers a comfortable solution to everything, and I needed a quick fix.

On Thursday morning, my anger grew worse, but I decided to seethe. Sometimes, seething satisfies as nothing else, and Satan uses it to slow cook my anger. I asked John when he came in from breakfast to tell me what he learned at Pastor School. I needed a distraction, and I love learning about God and His Word. He told me about absorbing the hurt, pain, and anger while giving up the right to retaliate. This wasn’t the forgiveness I knew about. I couldn’t believe my ears; it was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m always amazed when God does that, but I shouldn’t be since He is God:)

I knew the source of my anger. I had hidden the anger away and never faced it because that’s the easiest way to deal with hurt. I was tired of pretending and wanted to hear more about this new way of forgiving. I asked John to walk me through the process of absorbing the hurt, pain, and anger. He said to first name the pain and hurt along with the person who hurt me. Then, ask the Holy Spirit to help me forgive completely and let God absorb the hurt so that it never bothers me again and do the same for the anger. The final step offers the most healing. Pray for the person who hurt me and sincerely ask God to bless them. Give up the right to be right and the need to retaliate.

I was dumbfounded because I had never heard anything like that before. I knew I would go through the process as soon as I got home. I got ready to pray and took down my Emmaus candle. I figured the pain would be as bad as the initial hurt if not more considering the anger had simmered for a long time. I got mama’s prayer shawl, lit the candle, and began to relive the day mama died. As I sat on the bed and started to remember, I got on my knees and asked the Holy Spirit to please help me because I didn’t want to hurt anymore. The sweetest and most beautiful thing happened. I had tears in my eyes as I looked up at the candle.

I held a small wooden cross as I prayed, and beautiful rays of light came from the candle, through the cross, and right into my heart. I could feel my heart healing. The hurt, pain, and anger was replaced with God’s love. I repeated the process with the anger, and it was even more powerful as I let God transform it. This went on for about a minute. I continued to stare at the light as I absorbed the pain and anger from another hurt before blowing out the candle and thanking God for love that transforms hurt and anger into love. What a difference it made in my heart. I completed the process by asking God to bless the person who hurt me.

Pastor John is doing the address at the Baccalaureate service tomorrow. It’s called “The Challenge,” and it’s on forgiveness. I’m looking forward to hearing it and passing it along to others who need the kind of healing I received.

Here’s the message:

Ephesians 4:25-32

THE CHALLENGE

Swain County High School Baccalaureate

June 6, 2010

John Alden Tagliarini

(Much of this message is built on the teaching from Fisher Humphreys at the GWU Pastor’s School, 2010).

Everyone will have advice for you during this time of your life: which school to attend, where to get a job, how to find a wife or husband, how to select your major, where to invest your money, how to succeed, pitfalls which lead to failure, and so on. Worship services like this and graduation ceremonies such as you will enjoy next Saturday provide your mentors, celebrities, teachers and parents with platforms for wise words and observations.

I want to read a passage of Scripture in which the apostle Paul offers some advice to the believers in Ephesus. It may not have been their graduation, but in many ways Paul felt responsible to advise them, just like we parents, teachers, and leaders feel responsible to share our wisdom with you. Listen to Paul’s words to the church for successful living.

[Ephesians 4:25-32]

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 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. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Now I could spend a lot of time reminding you to “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). Honesty is an important principle, and the importance of our community requires us to speak truth.

I could talk at length about how you can have righteous indignation, that is, you can be angry, and yet not sin. Not letting “the sun go down on your anger” is healthy psychology.

We could spend the rest of our time discussing charity and our need to share resources, so that people would not feel the need to steal.

And preachers love to talk about cleaning up our language, avoiding unwholesome words, and speaking those things which help people instead of tearing them down.

Indeed, Paul’s advice to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (31), gives us six words that could form the remainder of this message, if we explored each one individually.

However, I want to focus on the last verse of the passage, and really, just one word of that last verse. Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (32). Here is the challenge; learn to forgive.

“What Desmond Tutu said of South Africa is true of the entire human race: We have no future without forgiveness” (Fisher Humphreys, Pastor’s School Handout, 2010). To make your future the best it can possibly be, learn to forgive!

This challenge may not be aggressive enough for you, but to forgive is the most difficult work you will ever do, and forgiveness promises the greatest return.

What is forgiveness? When someone hurts us, whether through malicious behavior, selfish actions, irresponsibility, or innocently, when someone hurts us forgiveness requires us to absorb the pain they caused and also the anger caused by not retaliating.

Did you hear both parts of that? First, we absorb the pain they caused us. We do not bury it. We do not deny it. We do not deflect it to someone else or reflect it back on the perpetrator. We absorb the pain.

We may find a creative outlet for the energy, but we absorb the pain.If the person’s bad behavior causes ongoing harm to anyone, this becomes abuse. We do have a responsibility to avoid and arrest abuse.

We need the courage to leave abusive situations as soon as we can and to confront abuse when the safety of others demands. Don’t let abuse go unchecked.

However, when we are hurt, the Bible tells us to forgive. And we forgive by absorbing the pain someone caused us. The other half of the work of forgiveness involves absorbing the anger we will feel when we choose not to retaliate.

If we are serious about forgiveness, we will not try to get even. Getting even is justice. Forgiving is grace. Grace is the model left for us by Jesus. As Paul said, forgive “each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (32).

We may refuse this challenge and always seek the most pure justice against those who hurt us. We could always try to get “an eye for an eye.” However, if we do, we will miss the blessings of forgiveness, the joys of grace. I am glad God chose to show me grace, rather than justice.

Think about our model in Jesus. “God, in Christ, voluntarily accepted the worst consequence of human sin, as God’s way of forgiving the world” (Humphries). Just as God forgave us, we forgive one another. We absorb the pain when someone hurts us and the anger of not getting revenge. That’s the challenge.

Someone may object. Someone may say, “this will never work.” “It’s a dog eat dog world out there.” “Don’t be so naive, no one can survive with a strategy of forgiveness.” “You have to look out for old number one!” “Forgiveness is weakness.” I would have to ask, does that mean that Jesus was wrong?

Dr. Fisher Humphreys offers six practical steps to forgiveness:

  1. Identify the offense – this is an internal action completed honestly in your own heart and mind, not public.

  2. Live in a way to do the offender no harm.

  3. Refuse to stoke the fires of anger (talking, thinking about it, planning revenge, etc).

  4. Pray for God’s help – this is a profoundly divine work, aided by the Holy Spirit.

  5. Pray for the offender – start small, “Lord, I pray for ___.” Develop, “Lord, bless ___.”

  6. Be patient – forgiveness takes time.

This challenge requires first that you decide, that is, commit to forgiveness. Belong to a supportive community, which will encourage you to forgive. Try to understand the person who hurt you. Put yourself in their shoes. They are human too.

Remember the consequences of not forgiving – bitterness, illness, rage, stress, lost productivity, torn and broken community.

Think about the future after forgiveness – reconciliation, health, and happiness.

Think about how our anger affects God! The God who forgives us asks us to forgive others. I do exhort you to excel and to never give up, but most importantly I challenge you, learn to forgive.

Amen.

Forgiveness brings such joy Lillyann, and I thank God for the pain and hurt that allowed me to grow nearer to Him. There is an old Spiritual called “Wade in the Water” about God troubling the water so He can free us from illness and oppression. I’ve been listening to that song all week. God does stir up the water, and His healing comes with the stirring.

That stirring reminds me of a story in John 5 about an angel stirring the spring where people came to be healed. Those who got in the water were healed, but those who waited until the waters calmed were not. A crippled man who had no one to place him in the water met Jesus one day. He was healed without even getting into the water.

(John 5:2-9) NASB “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “ Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.”

I love this beautiful story of healing because Jesus first asked the man if he wished to get well. Sometimes, I wallow in my hurt because I don’t want to get well and stop hurting. The pain becomes a part of who I am, and it becomes harder and harder to let go of it. This man came to the pool for thirty-eight years; I remain stuck in my hurt longer than I should and don’t let go until I am ready to be healed. Jesus waits for me to want to be well before He heals me, but He heals immediately when I wish to get well. Forgiveness is the same way. Forgiving like Jesus isn’t easy, but the healing that occurs when I do is well worth the risk. I convince myself that I have every right to be angry and retaliate. He convinces me to love, forgive, let go of my need to be right or to retaliate, pray for those who hurt me. In so doing, I move nearer to His side, find His peace, and feel His love in a wonderful way. His plan is always much better than mine:)

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:)

Accepting God’s Love (December 26, 2010)

Dearest Lillyann,

It’s the day after your second Christmas, and you’re in Florida with mommy and daddy. I couldn’t be happier for you. All the presents you’ve gotten, are getting, and will get when you come home don’t compare to the beautiful gift of having you, mommy, and daddy together for a whole week. I know your little heart is popping with joy, and mine is too as I write this letter and think of the three of you having time together. Love is the greatest gift of all, and time with those I love is far greater than any gift I can purchase. The gifts of this world are nice; you love the little train set I gave you before you left, but you love playing with me even more. I have more gifts for you when you get home because I love giving you things. I delight in watching you enjoy them, especially when you try to figure out how to make them work. You remind me of your daddy in that regard:)

Watching you learn blesses me, but I also delight in watching you sleep and holding you in my arms. When you wrap your arms around my neck and kiss me, my heart melts into a puddle of pure joy. You are a special little girl who makes a difference in the lives of all you love. That is what love does, Lillyann. It transforms us into something we cannot be without it. It changes me as I give it away and when I welcome it into my heart. I’ve never had a problem loving and love with my whole heart, but I have trouble when it comes to accepting love. That’s the biggest way God’s love is changing me. I am beginning to see myself as worthy of love and am able to accept His love and the love of others. That is making a difference in my journey. You are a very big part of that learning!

God loves giving and receiving love. He loves for me to accept Christ’s love and forgiveness, and He loves it even more when I share it with others. He wants more than anything for me to love Him and others. It is what He created me to do. He loves me so much that He gave His only Son so I could be with Him and experience love unlike anything I could ever imagine on my own.

Your love changes my heart in a beautiful way, but God’s love transforms even more powerfully. I can’t put His love into words, but I can love you, me, and others as He loves me. It has been a decade of transformation and a time of tremendous growth for me sweet Lillyann. This last Christmas of the decade, God gave a beautiful image to help me remember that transformation. God is eternal love, and Christ brought that love down to earth on the very first Christmas. The Holy Spirit connects me to God’s love and helps me love others and myself as God desires. Real love is eternal and isn’t defined by time or circumstances. It always has been, is, and always will be. In fact, God is love is the most important thing to remember when it comes to love.

Let me tell you all about the sweet image God gave me on Christmas morning. I have a chair that was the organist’s chair at the church for many years. I brought it home because I couldn’t bear for it to be thrown away. Mary Evelyn Nichols, who reminds me so much of you, sat in it during the morning worship services for decades. It is a special chair for me because I love to pray and meditate while sitting in it; it’s perfect for both. I was doing just that on Christmas morning. As I thanked God for all He gives, I opened my eyes and saw the picture of the orchid in the hallway. You love that picture so maybe you already saw the sweet image I saw yesterday:) As I looked at the orchid, I could see God holding a beautiful crimson and yellow butterfly. The crimson was the blood of His precious Son, and the bright yellow was the breath of His Holy Spirit. They were connected in a beautiful way that blessed me as I thought of my own transformation. Butterflies are the symbol of transformation, so it was the perfect image, as always! I thanked God for the beautiful gift of His presence in my own heart.

You know how I feel about butterflies, and God knows how much I love them. Everyone who knows and loves me knows that about me. I delight in them, and so do you!! I have struggled in my cocoon for forty-four years trying to find love. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I’m letting go and learning what accepting His love truly means. That’s the beginning of the lessons in love God has for me. God’s transforming love connects me to Him, His Son, His Holy Spirit, myself, and others. With God, I am a new creature with a changed mind, a new heart, and a fervent desire to connect to and share His Love. It’s taken me a long time to let that beautiful truth transform me, but it’s been worth every moment of the struggle. Without the struggle to get out of its cocoon, a butterfly doesn’t have the strength to fly. The same is true for me:)

God is the source of all true love. He is everywhere if I will simply seek Him. He is in each of us, but He is also in flowers, birds, butterflies, and all of His creation. This is His world, and He loves it and us as no one else can. Seeing and connecting to His love is what the journey is all about. Love connects us to God, to one another, and to His beautiful world. You and I have a sweet connection, and I feel your love across the miles this morning. I love you in a way that helps me understand God’s love all the more, and I thank you for that dear little one.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi:]

Changing Directions (January 1, 2011)

Dear Lillyann,

We all seek answers, but I am uncomfortable when those answers bid me to change direction. Smart folks look for answers; wise folks search for truth. Thomas, a disciple of Christ’s, says it this way. “If you are searching, you must not stop until you find. When you find, however, you will become troubled. Your confusion will give way to wonder. In wonder you will reign over all things. Your sovereignty will be your rest.” (Gospel of Thomas) I am learning that the more I search, the more questions I have. I’m only beginning to understand the importance of wondering. I think that’s what Thomas is trying to tell me. Like all children, you are filled with wonder. It’s the way God wants all of us to be.

The world is full of quick fixes and easy answers, but they don’t satisfy or give the direction I need. As I’ve searched this past year, I’ve been confused and hurt. Truth often causes hurt initially. Hurt gives way to healing when the truth is told with love. God lovingly continues to give questions and bring me back to the place of understanding that I don’t have to understand. That knowledge changes the way I seek and makes changing directions less fearful. I have the tendency to get comfortable where I am, and that makes me unwilling to change. Fear accompanies change and keeps me from going where God bids me to go. Fear and faith cannot exist together. Neither can love and fear which is why I should not fear if I love and trust God. The lack of fear is a good test for love and faith.

The journey is meant to bring me closer to God. I search for God because deep down inside, I know only He can provide the peace and love I so desperately desire. I can have the facts, accept Christ as Savior, and go on living just as I always have. I can even say that the only difference between me and others is that I are forgiven. I am ashamed to say I have said that. This year, I have learned that changing direction is part of following Christ. If I am to find all God has in mind for me, I must be willing to change direction.

Love is a fire that must be fed. If I ignite sticks, paper, or straw, I get a bright flame that burns brightly, dies quickly, and isn’t very satisfying. That is what quick fixes, lust, and easy answers offer. God knows truth and love are both necessary for understanding and walking in His kingdom. When I let the Holy Spirit combine them, they become a bed of coals in my heart. Then, I am ready for all God has in mind. When I look for and love Christ in others, I feed the fire in a way that transforms. Love enables me leave fear behind, change direction, and continue seeking.

When it comes to loving God, the proof is in the pudding. That’s a funny expression that simply means I may say you can cook, but others will believe it when they taste my pudding. Long ago, when that expression became popular, it was very difficult to make pudding. Today, we have instant pudding, a great example of an easy fix! The proof of whether or not I’m truly changed by God’s love will be in the way I live my life. That means obeying His Word. I pray this year of new direction will result in positive changes for me and those in my path. I hope to be the change I wish to see in the world. That’s from a beautiful quote by a very wise man named Ghandi. I would add that I hope to be the change God wants to see in this world. I suppose Ghandi would say they should be the same!

I am leaving my job at the church because God is bidding me to free my time so He can use me in a different way. I’m not sure how God will use me, but I know the trick to following God’s directions is not looking at my map while He’s talking. God bid me to change directions in 2007 when I left teaching, and that’s how I began my work as a church secretary. He is, once again, bidding me to go in a new direction. This time, I am less afraid:)

I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was five. I played school in the little house that was behind my home. I taught for thirty-three years and loved sharing my love of learning with the students God placed in my path. I had no plans of leaving and would have stayed for many more years, but God had other plans. I didn’t fight with God because I knew I had to leave. Things were happening that went against all I believed about teaching, and children were being treated in a way I could not ignore. I learned a lot as I tried to bring about change even though I wasn’t successful. Oddly enough, a former student’s sweet compliment made me realize I had to leave. She was a grown woman who had a daughter attending the school where I worked. She stopped by to tell me that it made her feel so good to know that I was still walking the halls. I knew I could no longer be part of what was going on, so it was time to let the administration know I was leaving.

They say you know when it is time to retire, and it was crystal clear to me in January of 2007 that I had to leave. I prayed and begged God to bring about the changes I wanted. I looked at my map while He was giving me His directions. I was dumbfounded by all that was happening and humbled by how little influence I had. God cannot use me until I come to a place where His will is more important than my desire for answers, so I gave it up to Him and found the peace that got me through a very difficult time. When the head of the deacon body called to ask if I would consider being the church secretary, I laughed out loud! I told him I would pray about it, but I knew that God didn’t want me to do that. I didn’t have a clue how to be a secretary, besides I was a teacher and knew God would find the right place for me to do just that. I was afraid to leave my comfort zone.

I went to pray with a smile on my face. God’s going to love this, I thought, as if He didn’t already know. I barely got my knees on the floor before I knew God wanted me to take the job. The smile gave way to panic, but that subsided as I hushed and let Him speak. I knew He knew what He was doing and didn’t question Him. The last three and a half years have been filled with beautiful learning and growing. God has blessed me beyond belief as I’ve done this work for Him, and I know He will bless me as I follow His new directions. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I’m nervous about the coming changes, but I know God has wonderful plans and will lead me where He wants me to be. Let me tell you about some people who were willing to follow God’s directions. They found what God had in mind for them, but it wasn’t at all what they were expecting.

A famous group of travelers who set off on a two-year journey to find a king. They used the stars to guide them and trusted God’s directions after they found Him. Those travelers are known as the Magi or the Wise Men. I get to tell the Children’s Story about them this week. I love seeing the sweet expectant faces of the children as I share God’s Word with them because I feel the same way as they do when it comes to God’s Word.

Matthew 2:1-12 The Visit of the Magi NASB

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “ In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: ‘ And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.”

The Wise Men spent two years on their journey to find the child born to be king of the Jews. They were not Jewish but were following the stars which heralded the amazing birth. The people near where He was born didn’t pay much attention to the couple staying in a place where animals were kept and sheep were birthed. The shepherds were told of his arrival and went to see Him, but most folks didn’t even notice. I’m afraid the same is true today. The wise men arrived when Jesus was two years old, and they assumed that everyone would know about this new born king.

They went to the royal palace because it was the most likely place to find a king. They continued their search and eventually did find Jesus. God warned them to go home a different way; they heeded His advice and did not go back by the palace. Herod was furious and decided to conduct his own search for the child. Countless little ones died because of Herod’s jealousy and fear. He had power, and he wanted to keep it. He wasn’t the type to change his direction, and he didn’t listen to God. Wisdom is better than power, so seek it and seek Christ. You’ll be amazed at what happens if you’re willing to change direction when God bids you to go a different way.

In Christ’s Precious Love, Gigi

Messages for Mylah (May 15, 2011)

You Are Loved

I heard your name for the first time last month; it’s absolutely perfect for you. It means My Love Always. You are already loved by many sweet Mylah, and you haven’t even made your official arrival. Your middle name, Isabella, means God’s promise. God’s love never fails, and He promises His love always. People may disappoint when it comes to love and your expectations, but you can always count on God and His promises.

I began writing letters to your big sister, Lillyann, in April, 2010. I wanted to do something different for you. I am leaving my work in the church office in September, a few weeks before you are expected to arrive. God is calling me to write, pray, and study. I also want to spend time with you and Lillyann. While I am not sure where the journey will take me as I go in this new direction, I know God has amazing plans for all of us.

I began studying 1 Peter two weeks ago. I had a very bad attitude when it came to Peter. I saw him as hard-headed and not giving Mary enough credit. I thought he had a bad attitude toward women. When I took the time to get to know him better, I learned that I was wrong. That is always the case when I judge someone before I truly know them.

Peter taught me about love and brought me closer to God, so I will always have a special place in my heart for him. I am not only loved, I am called to love. Peter learned about God’s love and, like me, he did it the hard way. That’s another reason he captured my heart; we have a lot in common in that regard.

1 Peter 1:17-23 NASB

If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

I can sum up the whole of God’s Word in one word-love! The Old Testament says God is love; the New Testament says Jesus loves me, and together they represent a beautiful living love letter written just for me. God’s love is something Peter knew first-hand, up close, and personally. He is the rock upon which Christ built His church, and he holds the keys to heaven’s gate. I’ve always thought of that as a position of power. One who stood at the door and decided who got in and who didn’t. Many feel the same way, but that’s not what Peter does. Peter knows the key to entering God’s kingdom, whether here or after we die, is God’s love expressed through Jesus Christ. He could not keep that wonderful knowledge to himself and knew that I couldn’t either once I got a taste of God’s love. Peter understood the rock upon which God’s church would be founded was Christ’s perfect love. There is nothing in this world more powerful than love. When I realize that beautiful truth, everything changes as I walk in God’s Kingdom now.

Peter tells new believers that God’s plan has always been in place. He knew before He formed the world that it would take His love to make it work. He begs us to love one another as if nothing else matters because that’s the truth. The problem with love is that it involves trust. I have a problem with trusting because it makes me vulnerable. Peter is saying that God is different, and His love is unlike anything I’ve ever known. God sacrificed His only Son to give me access to His transforming love.

I am called to live a new life and love differently. My love will reflect God’s if I look to Christ. Christ is a living, breathing example of God’s love. He connects me to the Holy Spirit and makes the impossible possible. My heart is turned upside down, and my world changes as a result of the changes that take place in my heart. I am re-begotten; that means more than simply born again. It means that I have a new father. My new Father is Love, and Christ offers a perfect example of God’s love in human form. I am to be a witness of His love, and He gives the Holy Spirit to help me carry out His great commission.

God is love, and God’s Word is love. Christ lives out God’s love in an amazing way, and the Holy Spirit enables me to do the same. That’s what Peter is trying to tell me as He reminds me that my new life is conceived in the very heart of God!! How can I hear that and not be affected? Easily. My heart must mature before I am able to understand what God’s love truly means for me and His world. Love must be received; it cannot be forced upon another. God will not force me to love Him. If He did, the very nature of His love would be destroyed. Peter tells me what the prophets said about my old life being as short-lived as grass and wildflowers, but God’s love and His Word last forever.

The beautiful news is that I do not have to wait until I die to receive God’s love. In fact, if I do wait, I miss the opportunity to share God’s love with others. Peter knows the point of God’s love is to share it with others. Love and sharing go together, and that goes against human nature. I guard my heart and hold tightly to those I love out of fear. Kingdom love differs in that regard; the more I love, the more I am loved. God’s love is a love meant to be shared with abandon. Selfish love never survives, and Kingdom love will not survive unless it is shared. That’s the beautiful difference Peter so wants to get across.

In the realm of human love, sharing may mean adultery and infidelity. It means children leaving home and starting new lives with new loved ones. Fear causes fusion, and fusion results in breaking because even human love does not fare well when held captive. God refuses to fuse. Unfortunately, old habits keep us from loving as God desires. I take God’s love and try to conform it and Him. God is the Great I AM. He is Who He Is, and that is what the family systems literature would call self-differentiation. In order to love as He loves, I must follow His example and become who He created me to be. Christ follows God’s beautiful example and remains true to Himself all the way to the cross. When I am who I am meant to be and accept others as they are, I begin to see the beauty of God’s plan for love. Love cannot be contained or held down. Our fear results in the need to control and causes me to miss the kingdom love God so desires for me to have now and in heaven.

It’s important to understand and accept God’s plan for love and love one another as though our very lives depend upon it. Peter is telling me that it is not only my life, but the lives of others that depend upon it. Peter knows the key to heaven here on earth is experiencing God. He knew he was loved and wanted everyone to share God’s love. Knowing I am loved changes me and fills me with the desire to be a witness of God’s love. Know that you are loved sweet Mylah and open your heart to the love God has for you. Don’t settle for anything less in this world because it is God’s world, and He allows us to love here on Earth as we will one day love in heaven.

My Love Always, Gigi

Messages for Mylah (October18th 2011)

In Love’s Wake”

You are growing so quickly sweet Mylah, and I delight in holding you. You, Lillyann, mommy, and daddy met me at the Cork & Bean for lunch on Sunday, and you were just adorable. You slept most of the time, but you were awake long enough to feel the love that surrounded you. The folks in the cafe were all staring at you, and a sweet little boy about the same age as your big sister came over and just stood and looked at you. His parents made him come back to their table, but I told them that he wasn’t bothering us. I know how he feels; I can’t stop looking at you either. You are so very beautiful as is your big sister. You look like her and your beautiful mommy, but you also remind me so much of your sweet daddy when he was little.

My first Letter to Lillyann was about a special time at the Cork & Bean when she was one. This letter is not about a special time at the cafe, even though it was a beautiful time together. It’s another message about love. This time the scriptures that inspired me where from Exodus 33:12-23. They describe a time when Moses asked God to let him see His glory. God’s glory is something we are not able to look upon, and His face is too much for our tiny minds to absorb. God told Moses that He would put him on a rock and cover his face with His own hand as He passed by so Moses could see His goodness. That was more than enough for Moses, and He was reassured that God was with him and would always be with him.

Exodus 33:12-23NASB

Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

God will always be with you Mylah. It is His promise, His Son’s promise, and the Holy Spirit’s promise to accompany us on this beautiful journey. Moses was able to see the wake that followed God. I create a wake when I travel through this world. As I love, I enter the lives of those in my path and leave an impression on their hearts. Just as a boat, truck, plane, train, or any other moving body leaves a wake, so do I. Love opens the heart the same way a boat splits the water. How my love affects another depends upon many things. Love sometimes hurts and cuts deeply into my heart. I may love with abandon and find myself abandoned. I can feel what isn’t love at all. I can miss love completely because I’m not paying attention. There is no way to guard my heart in the wake of others except to trust it to God and let Him help me discern the truth. True love enters unexpectedly and leaves an impression upon my heart that lasts for eternity. God’s love enters my heart when I accept the love He so beautifully offers in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ comes into my heart and helps me understand love and all it can be. He sends His Holy Spirit to stay in my heart and bring comfort when it is broken.

I wish I could say your heart will never be broken sweet Mylah, but that would not be true. I love with my whole heart, and my heart has been broken several times. Each time, it comes away a little stronger and better able to love again. This has been a difficult year for my heart. I was caught in the wake of one who hurt me very deeply last week. I am thankful God showed me the truth even though it hurt me. I am also glad you and sweet Lillyann are here to help my heart heal and grow in new directions. God showed me what true love is this year, so I will never accept less now that I have a new gauge to help measure love. You are surrounded by love, so your name is fitting. Your mommy made up your name, so you are the only Mylah I’ve ever known. I hope you will always remember that your name means you are loved always. Don’t settle when it comes to love because God wants the very best love for you, and so do I!

My Love Always, Gigi:)

Messages to Mylah (January 6, 2012)

A Deep Breath of God’s Love

Acts 19:1-7 NASB

Now, it happened that while Apollos was away in Corinth, Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?” “We’ve never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?””How were you baptized, then?” asked Paul.”In John’s baptism.””That explains it,” said Paul. “John preached a baptism of radical life-change so that people would be ready to receive the One coming after him, who turned out to be Jesus. If you’ve been baptized in John’s baptism, you’re ready now for the real thing, for Jesus.”And they were. As soon as they heard of it, they were baptized in the name of the Master Jesus. Paul put his hands on their heads and the Holy Spirit entered them. From that moment on, they were praising God in tongues and talking about God’s actions. Altogether there were about twelve people there that day.

I love these beautiful scriptures, Mylah, and I hope you will love them too. Paul knew Jesus was the real thing, and he also knew that breathing in the Holy Spirit is what makes Jesus real in our lives. Spirit means breath, and that’s what this message is all about.

You were not breathing when you were arrived in this world, sweet Mylah. I was at my home with your big sister Lillyann, so I did not see Tyler’s face when he realized you were not breathing. Mere told me that tears were streaming down his face, and your poor mommy was desperate to know what was happening. The doctors quickly cut the cord, took it from around your neck, and whisked you from the room. All held their breath collectively as they waited for you to breathe for the first time.

Nothing is more comforting than taking a deep breath of fresh air after you’ve momentarily lost it. Sometimes our breath is taken away; sometimes we suffer from asthma or some other condition that keeps us from breathing. Your breath wasn’t taken away, but your first breath was delayed. I suffered from asthma after being exposed to black mold, so I understand the fear that comes from not being able to breath. It is a feeling of utter helplessness and more frightening than anything I have ever experienced. I know what your daddy felt when he realized you couldn’t breathe was far worse and cannot imagine what must have been going through his heart and mommy’s.

God feels the same pain when we don’t accept His Holy Spirit. It breaks His heart to see us without His love and gasping in vain for something to fill the emptiness. I thank God for your first breath, and I thank Him for every breath you have taken since. Each time I hold you, I take in a deep breath of God’s love, smile, and thank Him.

God is love, and the Holy Spirit is God’s breath. Christ gives His Spirit to comfort us while He is with God. Christ promises He will never leave us. The Holy Spirit lives within us and fills us with the most beautiful sense of peace imaginable. We are one with God and with one another when we love as He loves. The peace, love, and joy He gives cannot be described, but it can be felt. It’s a difficult concept for expert theologians to tackle sweet Mylah, so just remember breath gives life, and God’s breath makes life worth living. The Holy Spirit gives a new way of breathing, loving, and living. A life, as Pastor John would say, is worth living forever:)

God gives me beautiful images as He teaches because He knows I’m a visual learner. I hope to pass those lessons along to you, your sister, and others. The image this morning was the most amazing one yet. I say that each time God gives an image, and I pray I never take them for granted.

At two this morning, God woke me with a simple illustration. I put a Breathe Right strip on my nose before going to bed because the workout earlier in the evening was a tough one that left me a winded and wheezy. I keep the strips and Benedryl handy just in case I have trouble breathing. I rarely use them and keep them mostly as a security blanket. I don’t like those sticky strips and end up taking them off during the night. When I woke this morning, I got rid of the strip and rolled over expecting to go right back to sleep. God had other plans.

The image was Christ breathing God’s love into me and then bidding me to breathe deeply. As I took deep breaths, His comfort surrounded me. Each time I get wheezy, I panic and remember the mold that literally took my breath away. This image was about taking my breath away and replacing it with God’s sweet breath of love. As I lay there breathing deeply, I felt God’s presence in the most intimate way, as if we were sharing the same breath. As with all His images, I am frustrated in my attempts to describe what I don’t have words to describe.

The fruit of the Spirit is love was the message. That goes right along with the sweet lessons this week and reminds me of Galatians 5:22. God wasn’t finished and continued to bid me to get rid of my breath and breathe in His. The love of His Spirit brings joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control when we take our breath away, pray for the Spirit’s help, and breathe deeply. When I emptied my lungs and breathed deeply, something wonderful happened. Each breath became a prayer.

I’m lonely Lord, but I don’t want to be. Spirit, take away my loneliness.

I inhaled deeply and felt the loneliness disappear as love filled the space.

I’m sad Lord, but I don’t want to be. Spirit, take away my sadness.

I inhaled deeply and felt the sadness disappear as joy filled the space.

I’m frightened Lord, but I don’t want to be. Spirit, take away my fear.

I inhaled deeply and felt the fear disappear as peace filled the space.

I don’t want to wait Lord, but I know I must. Spirit take away my impatience.

I inhaled deeply and felt my impatience disappear as patience filled the space.

I’m angry Lord, but I don’t like the feeling. Spirit, take away my anger.

I inhaled deeply and felt the anger disappear as kindness and goodness filled the space.

I don’t trust you Lord, and I know I should. Spirit, help me to trust completely.

I inhaled deeply and felt my worry disappear as faithfulness filled the space.

I want to be in control Lord, but I know that I am not. Spirit, take away my need to control. I inhaled deeply and felt gentleness fill the space as I let go of my need to control.

I have feelings I should not have Lord, and I need your help. Spirit, help me to do the right thing.

I inhaled deeply and felt my lack of control disappear as self-control filled the space.

I knew I could obey in a new and beautiful way.

Each time I took my breath away and let the Holy Spirit fill that space, I felt a sense of intimacy with the Trinity that was better than anything I’ve felt before. Eugene Peterson calls it the Trinitarian dance. I have never been closer to God than at two this morning. I thank God for the early morning dance that filled me as I have never been filled before. I thank Him for bringing me to the place of breathlessness that allowed me to remember the panic of not being able to breathe. It helped me appreciate the sweet lesson and the beautiful image. We need to breathe deeply, and we need to pray deeply too. We need to pray as often as we breathe because prayer is more essential to life than breathing.

As I write this message, sweet precious Mylah, I humbly recall that you were not breathing when you arrived in this world. I cannot type or think that without crying tears of gratitude to God for giving you that first sweet breath. That image will always remind me not to take love for granted. Enjoy each breath Mylah and never take a single one for granted. Take a deep breath of God’s love, know that you are loved, and love with all your heart. God does indeed promise to love you always, and so do I. Each time I hold you, I smile, thank God you are breathing, and take a deep breath of Christ’s precious love.

My Love Always, Gigi:)

Birds of a Feather (July 2009)

Mama and I are birds of a feather. Our journeys will be forever woven together. We share a bond beyond mother and daughter and are kindred spirits with similar hearts. Here’s a glimpse at Mary Sue Holden. She is a powerful part of my journey, so knowing her will help you know me a little better. She never drove a car or worked outside the home, but she made our house a home and loved me dearly. She was my first taste of love in this world, so she has a lot to do with the way I love.

Lillyann and Mylah remind me of mama all the time. I know she would love them dearly because she loved all her grandchildren and great grandchildren dearly. She once told me that you haven’t lived until you have a grandchild. I agree wholeheartedly. I loved mama dearly while she was with me; I love her even more now, and I know I will love her in a way I can’t imagine when I join her in heaven:)

Mama always makes me think of birds. She was fascinated by them in a way I’ve never known anyone else to be. She also loved her black lab, Mig, as a child, and asked me frequently in her last year if Mig would be in heaven. Mama was like a child in so many ways, and she was truly concerned about seeing Mig again. I told her that I wasn’t sure all the people I thought would be in heaven would be there, but I was sure that Mig would be:) That made her smile and reassured her as she prepared to go home. My father tolerated no pets other than birds in his house, so mama had birds when we were growing up. She fed wild birds, watched birds from the kitchen window, and had birds in the house. Mother loved her birds and would, much to the frustration of my father, let them out of their cages. She would talk to them while they sat on her finger or rode on her shoulder.

Those birds, especially Pete, loved mama because she delighted in them and would sing when they sat on her shoulder. Pete was a green parakeet who flew at the sound of daddy’s voice, but he would sit on mama’s shoulder for hours and look longingly at her and sing happily. Daddy was always trying to capture Pete and insisted that he stay in his cage. Pete knew mama enjoyed his company, and he loved her. They both ignored daddy! Pete and his companion Repeat would stay out of reach when he was around. I think part of mama’s attraction to the birds was the fact that they irritated daddy:)

Like mama and her birds, God gives us the freedom to sit in the palm of His hand and looks at us with delight when we love Him and sing along. We must choose to get out of our cages and sit in the palm of His hand if we are to find the peace He desires for us to find in life. The cage is a safe place where we think we will find security, so is hard for us to leave it unless we get Pete’s attitude. He had no trouble getting out of that cage and got to the point where he would squawk until we let him out. Daddy finally learned that if he would be very still and talk lovingly to Pete, he would sit on his finger too:)

I went into a tail spin the week mama died. The world didn’t make sense anymore; I lost my bearings and was more out of balance than ever in my life. I was hurting, but God offered this beautiful image a few weeks after her death to help me see the importance of getting away from the cages in my life. You don’t have to be in the cage to be held captive. Pete and Repeat were examples of that. Getting out of the cage inside the house is great, but flying outside in the open is something my heart has only recently experienced. I know God will continue to show me His way and help me get where He wants me to go. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (KJV) “Be still” would be the only tattoo I can imagine myself ever getting. The verse is tattooed on my heart, and I am beginning to understand what it means. It’s so hard for me to be still, but I pray I will get better so I can hear and heed and obey in a way that blesses and glorifies God. He is to be exalted! He is God after all, and that is something I keep forgetting as I try to do things on my own, slip inside another cage, or settle for flying around inside the house. God prefers the open air, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot myself lately:)

Flave’s Field

Granddaddy Flave Hart Holden’s farm was located near Brevard in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The soil in his field was a sight to behold. The black, rich dirt could grow anything, and God used that image to teach me an important lesson. I’ve seen myself as a potted plant, a spindly one at that, but God sees me as a fertile open field. Flave Holden’s farm still stirs powerful childhood memories and is a perfect example of the kind of growth God has in mind for my heart. Daddy used to tell us that you couldn’t leave a hoe or shovel out in granddaddy’s field overnight because there would be two of each when you woke up the next morning. The richness of the soil in his field was due, in part, to the fact that it was nestled next to the French Broad River and the Pisgah National Forest. His was unlike any other garden I’ve ever seen.

Flave was a Baptist preacher, a farmer, and the biggest kid I ever knew. He loved to play, and I loved him. He always had a smile on his face, wore thick glasses and was a very big man. There was a silent strength in him that comes from one who has deep faith in God. He loved to play the piano and sing hymns with abandon. We would follow along as he played the shape-note hymns. And I grew to love our time around the piano with him. I followed him around like little puppy when I visited his farm.

I once caught him in a very private moment that gave me a glimpse at the love he had for the land God had given him. Granddaddy didn’t know I was watching as he looked lovingly at a the black rich dirt he was crumbling in his big hand. As the dirt fell, I sensed that this field was more than a place to grow food. He loved that dirt and what it represented. It was life itself and connected him to his God in a way that I am only now beginning to understand. He knew God was the giver of life, and he was a good steward of the land God entrusted to him. He also knew God delighted in watching His children grow as much as he loved to see the vegetables in his garden ripen. Both are well worth the trouble of tending them.

God prefers plants in a field, birds in the open sky, and fish in His waters. We insist upon putting birds in cages, fish in tanks, and flowers in a pot. We so want to contain and control and take His creation and make it our possession. We even attempt to define and limit God. Granddaddy knew who owned the land and gave thanks to God for allowing him to harvest His fruits, both in the field and in the church. Unlike Flave, I’ve always gravitated toward a cage, a tank, or a flowerpot. My heart didn’t venture into open spaces. There is safety and security in a cage, so fear kept me from allowing my heart to accept the kind of love that grows in the open. My witness suffered because of my inability to open my life and my heart in the way God desires. Love and truth go hand in hand, and neither will be contained.

The image of Flave’s field blesses me beautifully, and I love that God used it to teach a powerful lesson. He is patient, kind, loving, but most importantly, so aware of who I am and how I learn. That is the most beautiful blessing of all. God knows me, loves me, and gives me the courage to love Him and others as I’ve never dared before. We each love God in a unique way. I’ve learned to focus upon my relationship with God. It’s best to let others see the love I have for God because it is too difficult to explain using words. That is what witnessing is all about. When a friend is hurting, I listen and love. I need not do or say anything. A loving presence models God’s love and helps His kingdom come on eart as it is in heaven. Pastor John has been trying to teach me that powerful truth for a very long time, and I am beginning to understand the concept.

God is the Master Gardener and will provide all I need to grow into His disciple if I will simply yield my will and let Him do the tending. He sees potential in me just as Flave saw it in the dirt that ran through his fingers. The fruit of Flave’s field filled our table as we carried home carloads of the delicious vegetables it produced. I especially loved the fall when his apple trees were full of ripe fruit. There was nothing quite like the soft pink apples that grew in front of his home or the big white mushy ones that grew near the barn. Knowing God loves me and wants me to be the fruit of His Spirit humbles me and changes the way I live and love. It gives my heart the same feeling of freedom I found on Flave’s farm. A yielding field allows the Gardener’s plow to break and take away all that hinders growth. God’s plow has cut deeply at times, but the results have been well worth the pain.

Calling Out To God

Calling out to God is my way of making sure He is still there. That may sound silly, but maybe Lillyann can help explain. She spent the night with me the week before her third birthday and woke up at three in the morning. She came into my room quietly asking “Gigi?” I assured her I was still there and put her in bed with me. She snuggled closely and fell right back to sleep. She didn’t need anything. She wasn’t scared, and she really knew I was there. She just wanted to check and make sure; more importantly, she wanted to be near. I lay there for a long time holding her, listening to her breathe, and thinking of how much I love her and how sweet it was to have her next to me. It made me think of praying. I pray often and love to be in God’s presence. I know it makes Him feel the way I did when Lillyann came looking for me.

I call out to God in a variety of ways many times a day. I whisper “God?” around three in the morning myself when I wake and need company or reassurance. I cry out when I’m hurting, argue when I’m angry, plead when I’m scared, ask a quiet question when I’m confused, or whisper a soft thank you when I remember He is always there. Like Lillyann, I need to be reminded of His presence. Calling out comforts no matter what circumstances surround me. His presence is all I ever need; I wonder why I pray for anything else. My desire to be with God is at the heart of my relationship with Christ and with others. God is the ultimate loving presence. Pastor John continues to remind me that I can be such a presence in the lives of those I love. It is what I’m called to be in His world. So simple yet so very difficult at times.

I’ve learned many lessons in love over the course of my life, but the lessons have became more intense in the three years after mama’s death. God sees my potential and beauty, and His love helps me love Him, myself, and those in my path. What a difference it makes when I find the courage to risk reaching into the hearts of others and into my own to find the love God has for me. Finding that love is the point of my journey.

A great friend is one who knows me at my very worst but still sees and loves the very best in me. That level of love changes me and allows me to experience kingdom love now. God not only loves me that way, He shows me how to love the same way. Just as I go to God when I am, hurting, troubled, or out of options, I can go in the same way to a friend who hears and understands my heart. It isn’t easy to open up and expose my feelings. It’s why I clung to cages for so long. I could hide and pretend all was well, but I wasn’t able to love as God desires. Love and truth go together and cannot be separated. Honest communion combined with love, allows me to walk in God’s kingdom now. I believe children understand kingdom love and walk in God’s kingdom until we teach them otherwise.

I think of myself at Lillyann’s age and wonder how it is possible for anyone to take out their frustrations on someone so tiny and vulnerable. I am struck by how fragile Lillyann’s little body is next to mine. She trusts me to love and care for her. The thought of hurting her is beyond me, and I would die keeping someone from hurting her. I thank God she and Mylah are surrounded by those who love and cherish them. The beauty of being re-begotten is that it means to get a new Father, one who draws me near when I find myself alone or fearful. A Father I can cry out to in the darkness and trust to hold me closely until my fear subsides. I am loved in a way that allows me to be who He sees in me. Through reaching out and loving, I am able to see beauty and potential as it is reflected in God’s heart and the hearts of those I love.

Letting God

Lillyann taught me a funny, but powerful, lesson on letting go so God can give me what He has in mind. I am learning that differentiation, or letting go, isn’t about losing love. It’s about letting God get rid of all that keeps me from loving as He desires. Fusion is unhealthy and causes feelings that do not belong in my heart. God knows that He can’t give me what He desires until I let go of what I want and trust Him. He literally used a very sweet example to teach me that as we celebrated Tyler’s thirty-second birthday.

We had just finished our meal, and Lillyann wanted the little gummy bunnies she usually has for dessert. She went to where I keep them and got a pack. I told her that we had a very special dessert planned. Gina had made Tyler a wonderful chocolate mint birthday cake, and I had chocolate mint ice cream to go with it. Lillyann’s favorite ice cream in the world is chocolate mint chip, so I knew she would quickly put those gummy bears right back where she got them. Instead, she began to wail and say she didn’t want birthday cake, she wanted gummy bunnies!!

Tyler stepped in and told her that she was not getting either if she didn’t put the snack back. Her wailing got louder! He started to count; when he got to two, she turned off the waterworks and behaved as if nothing had happened. I had to grin and think how like her I am when it comes to what I want and what God has in mind for me. God had gotten to two with me the week before when I pitched a fit about getting what I wanted and how unfair it was that I couldn’t have it! I am so thankful He used humor rather to teach a lesson I so needed to hear.

As Lillyann looked at the rare and beautiful treat, she squealed with delight and ate heartily. With her mouth full and face covered, she chatted away about how wonderful it was. We all looked at one another and laughed out loud! No one mentioned that she almost settled for gummy bunnies, but I was thinking of how much I miss or almost miss that God has for me because I stubbornly hold on to my desires. I seek immediate gratification and think I know what’s best for me instead of trusting God who has something wonderful in mind.

I have never tasted a cake as delicious as the one Gina made, and the fact that she wanted to make something special for Tyler had a lot to do with it’s amazing taste. God showed me that His plan for me is much better than mine. He will amaze me even more than mommy amazed Lillyann and all of us with the special birthday treat. If I go with what I want, I’ll miss out completely on what He has in mind. I’ll get gummy bunnies instead of a cake lovingly prepared and topped with ice cream!

God placed Henri Nouwen in the path to finish the lesson before I went to sleep. “True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self. It is a love in God. The pain you experience from the death or absence of the person you love, then, always calls you to a deepest knowledge of God’s love. God’s love is all the love you need, and it reveals to you the love of God in the other. So the God in you can speak to the God in the other. This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.” (The Only Necessary Thing) Wow! No wonder I slept like a baby. His healing is beyond what I can understand, and His love is more powerful than I will be able to imagine until I am in heaven. Till then, I look forward to drawing nearer to Him and to those I love as I answer His call for a deeper love of His Word and a closer walk through intimate prayer. So thankful for a patient, loving Father.

What’s in a Sixteenth?

As a child, I was fascinated by the fact that I was one sixteenth Chickasaw. I wasn’t sure what that meant even as I heard the story tracing the connection to my great-grandmother’s husband’s family. It gets complicated when we try to trace our heritage. I guess the child in me knew how silly it was, and the wonder in me wanted to know why we didn’t have the same information on the English, German, Danish, and Scotch-Irish ancestry. How much of each was I? I always wondered what the other fifteen sixteenths were:) I learned the why when mama explained it to me without meaning to. Mama was a beautiful woman, and her native heritage manifested itself in her features. Her mother, Lilly Belle, had a long braid down her back that she rolled into a bun each morning and untangled each night. She had even more of those native features that intrigued me.

Mother was angry after a visit to see daddy’s family. I realize now those visits were difficult for her because we only visited daddy’s family when we took our trips to the mountains. Visits to the Banning side were few and far between, and I know that hurt mama. I already told you how wonderful Granddaddy Holden was, but his wife Anna was nothing like him. She wanted children out of her sight and had no tolerance for their nonsense. She had been confined in a wheelchair as long as I knew her. She almost died when daddy was a young man, and the story goes that her hair turned snow white and she couldn’t walk after the illness. It left her a bitter woman, and her anger spilled over into the lives of those around her. I suppose that bitterness was at the root of the comment she made when she first laid eyes on me. Mama told me in her own anger that Anna took one look at me and declared that there was no colored blood on their side of the family. She used an ugly and offensive adjective that I refuse to use. I’m not sure why mama told me what Anna said, but the more I learned about the world and its need to define and qualify, the more I understood. I knew why folks had kept track of how much of my blood was Chickasaw and why they weren’t as concerned about what those measurements were in regard to my ‘white’ heritage. I have never endured the hatred of discrimination personally, and I surely cannot begin to imagine how those who have must feel. I am very proud of and thankful for all of my ancestors because they are part of who I am, and I have grown to love who I am.

Daddy hated that I always left my shoes by the door upon entering the house. It wasn’t out of courtesy, but because I had waited all day to get the hateful things off my feet. He would fuss about it constantly and tell me that my feet were “Indian.” I was glad about that and wished the rest of me was. I have always disliked clothing and shoes, but that was more about confinement than blood. My heart was in a cage, but my body didn’t have to be! As I grew older, I delved into Native American history and got carried away with the Battle of Little Big Horn and Custer’s last stand. I braided my hair and wore moccasins for a time. Again, part of my fascination was surely in irritating daddy. Another very real part was my desire to discover who I was. I knew I was different; mama and daddy both agreed on that. Maybe it had something to do with the sixteenth that was Chickasaw.

We are all made of carbon, and our blood is one color, the same color as Christ’s precious blood that fell to the earth and seeped deeply into its very core. I do wish we all could embrace that color as the color we are and let go of the need to qualify. It is so freeing to see my body as a beautiful creation and not worry about its ingredients. Can you imagine for a moment sitting down to a meal lovingly prepared by a world renowned chef and only thinking about the ingredients and whether or not I could make it myself. Try as I might, I cannot recreate that which has already been created. I cannot recapture a moment or even a delicious meal because the people with whom I share it and the circumstances surrounding it work together to create the moment.

The world constantly tries to recreate God without success. I’ve been trying to recreate myself my entire life. I’m happy to be in a place where I love myself just as I am. We sang that hymn today, and it was a beautiful blessing. The message from Mark 7:1-23 was “What’s in Your Heart.” It really is the only thing that matters, and God blessed me as I heard the message and sang the sweet hymn. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that God doesn’t need for me to recreate me or Him. It’s best to be still and enjoy what He’s already prepared and not worry about the how. (pun intended:)

Here’s “What’s in Your Heart”

WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART?

Mark 7:1-23

John Alden Tagliarini

September 2, 2012, Labor Day

We are receiving nominations for deacons. Every year, whether in conversation or in preaching, we cover the same sort of questions. “Why have deacons? What do deacons do? Who is eligible to be a deacon?”

People answer these questions differently. We apply different criteria. We try to discern whom to nominate based on what we know of potential servants. People have been observed throughout the year, and their behavior caught someone’s eye, for better or for worse. The calling, the vocation of deacon, puts a person under constant scrutiny. Deacons join preachers in the glass house of public opinion.

The disciples were learning a new vocation, a calling to service. While getting on-the-job training with Jesus in ministry, some of their actions generated questions. And scribes and Pharisees knew how to ask the tough questions!

However, questioning the actions of the disciples, these Pharisees and scribes revealed a fatal flaw. Jesus answered their question by asking about our deepest motivations. What’s in your heart?

Let’s read the story. [Mark 7:1-23]

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem,and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed.(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, [e]given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”

The Heart of Man

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He *said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” NASB

Lord, thank You for calling our attention to our inward being. Purify our hearts so that whatever flows from your servants is beautiful. Amen. It was an audience with Jesus by representatives from Jerusalem. In Baptist life, which boasts of no clerical hierarchy, we may have trouble sensing the importance of the moment.

This day, the District Supervisor, the Bishop, representatives of the Presbytery, maybe even the Secretary-Director of the Baptist State Convention came to town and gathered around Jesus. They knew the scandalous news was true. Some of these officials had actually seen some of the disciples of Jesus eat their bread without a ritual washing of their hands. Who would think that people would be watching to see whether or not you wash your hands? Actually, when raising children, it is a common question, after a bathroom break or before sitting at the table, to ask if hands have been washed. In fact, as children are learning good hygiene, it’s an appropriate question. ! But this was not a matter of checking the disciples’ restroom habits. Ritual cleansing was a clear and long-held practice of the cult. Religious people knew what to do, and they performed their rituals in ways that showed others how faithful they were.

Regrettably, for some people, even church attendance may be nothing more than a ritual cleansing of the hands, done so that others can see how religious we are. Perhaps a person carries the Bible every day so he or she can be seen as faithful, but he may never read it, much less might she walk in the grace of God.

The appearance of faith begs the question of the reality of faith. How do we know if there is a reality behind the show? “Would this person be a good deacon?” Knowing their hearts, Jesus answered the question by quoting a Scripture, exposing their hypocrisy. Jesus turned to Isaiah.

Before God exiled Israel to Babylon, Isaiah warned Jerusalem of a coming judgment. God promised that the human tradition of wisdom they had relied on would perish. The inhabitants of Jerusalem tried to draw near to God with their words, but they removed their hearts far from Him. So, God pronounced a judgement upon them (Is 29:13, 15).

We define hypocrisy in just such terms. With lips that speak of love and devotion while the heart considers corruption, hypocrites destroy godly witness, disrupt a welcoming fellowship, and empty worship of meaning.

The Scripture Jesus quoted also said that the people worshiped in vain by promoting human ideas as though they were godly ideals. In our human understandings and applications of doctrine too often we neglect the intentions of God.

The apostle, James, clarified this. James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Hearing and knowing and talking a lot about the Bible or theology does not assure that we are following Jesus. ! James said, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27). ! Jesus offered another example. It was apparently widespread to find and use the Corban loophole. With this legal finagling, sons could claim that the resources necessary to help their parents were dedicated to God. Receiving permission not to use those resources for their parents, they dishonored their parents by ignoring Commandment Five of the big Ten. As they maneuvered to protect their investments, they invalidated the word of God. I know of no clear parallel to this in today’s economy, but we do not lack from other examples of parsimony – stinginess. Consider how carefully we guard our stuff while wasting excess food and throwing out tons of paper. Consider our response when someone we don’t think deserves it receives help from our tax dollars. Do I really need to go there?

Jesus changed the subject. Now, calling the crowd close to hear Him well, Jesus moved to the heart of the matter. This is all a matter of heart. Talking now about foods, Jesus said, “whatever foods we eat, whether with clean or impure hands, does not make the difference in our holiness” (Mark 7:5, 15, 18-19, paraphrased). The real issue is what is in our hearts.

Again, with this food example, I know of no clear parallel in today’s food world for most of us. Yes, many Jews still observe dietary restrictions, as do Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons, among others. And, yes, most of us in the western world prefer insects to be nowhere near the table. We think bugs are unclean. I look elsewhere to relate to this example. One example which occurs to me is our usually unspoken restrictions about marrying outside our race. I am glad Pat was willing to marry someone of Italian heritage! But, again, the issue is what is in our hearts. Watch and listen for what comes out as a person speaks and acts. These things reveal the inner character of that person. So, are we ready to consider the list Jesus offered? Earlier, Jesus indicted these experts in the Law for breaking Commandment Five. Now, Jesus lists twelve characteristic sins of the heart which involve all of the final five commandments.

Let’s hear the list slowly. From the heart proceed the following evil thoughts: Fornications, the root word gives us the word for pornography. Thefts, the root word gives us the word for kleptomania. ! Murders, Not just killing, but murder. Adultery, With adultery and murder, I think of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount where He equates anger and lust with murder and adultery (Matt 5:21-22, 27). Then, Jesus named “deeds of coveting” (Mark 7:22). How mild that sounds. The word is literally, greedinesses. Does anything define a spirit of greed more than our market mentality? Next is wickedness which is another word for iniquity, or sin. Deceit, which simply means lying. Sensuality, which can be translated, lewdness. The word, Envy, translates a phrase which is literally, an evil eye. Slander, literally blasphemy, either against God or another person. How do we talk about another person who is also made in the image of God? Then there is pride, not the reasonable pride in a job well done, but the arrogance, the hubris of a self-centered life. And finally Jesus says, foolishness. This is a lack of moral judgment – calling good evil and evil good. Did you hear the commandments? Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not lie. Thou shalt not covet.

And, if we think we’ve done pretty well with these commandments, Jesus included a few deal breakers such as foolishness, arrogance, lewdness and slander. Oh friends, these are the things which come out of us when we drop our guard and sometimes even when our guard is up. Indeed, sometimes we try to guard ourselves by using these very sins.

These are the evil things, “the evil thoughts” (21), which make the cleanest hands into filthy mitts. All these sins involve our relationships with other people. All these sins hinge on proper attitudes, affections, and attentions. They reveal character!

At this season of the year, we are responsible to nominate persons to serve as deacons. Prayerfully consider what the actions and speech of a person reveal about his or her character. Humbly confessing our own sin, let us look for things which reflect Jesus, such as humility, hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness. Above all, in Jesus Christ we trust God to forgive us. We honestly inspect our deepest beings, and we confess every sin.

The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He [Jesus] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Christ Jesus came to change us, to cleanse us from the inside out. Whether or not we serve as deacons, let us confess our sins and receive His grace.

Lord, purify our hearts so that whatever flows from your servants is beautiful. Amen.

307 “Just As I Am”

The Power of Touch

During a recent mission trip, I was touched by the power of touch. I had the privilege of giving shoulder massages to mothers who had just come out of drug rehabilitation. As I began rubbing, they began talking, telling me their stories. Sharing our stories is one of the most powerful ways we touch others and allow them to touch us. I told one mother with a one-month-old daughter that I was not a professional masseuse. She turned, looked up at me, and quietly said, “I just want someone to touch me.” I was humbled and deeply touched by her words. I didn’t say a word and touched her as she touched me. It takes so little to make a big difference. What a privilege to touch and love her as God intimately connected us to each other and to Himself. That’s what He does when we open our hearts and give Him our hands♥

I’m a hugger, and all who know and love me know that I love to touch and be touched. I don’t know if I’ve always been that way, but I am now! There is something special about physical contact, and I need it to survive. I wasn’t surprised to find that animals must also have it. Studies show that being touched lowers our blood pressure, improves our outlook, reduces stress, and connects us to one another in a special way. Animals will not survive without it even when they have all the food, water, and safe shelter they need. I believe people are the same, but there are no official studies to prove it. There are, however, many examples all around us of those who need to be touched.

God created me to connect in love so I can have the peace He desires until I reach out in love and honest communion and touch those around me. That not only means those who are nearby, but those across the world. I am able to connect to children half a world away through various missions. That is amazing and becomes a miracle if I go on an international mission trip and be a physical presence. Love cannot be contained and won’t survive in a vacuum. Love and touch go together. A hand on my back, a hug, or simply someone holding my hand changes the direction of my day. The lack of touch has the opposite effect.

I was vividly reminded on that mission trip that not everyone is touched and many who are touched are victims of abusive touch. The fingers of this world are often too rough, as Langston Hughes reminds me in “The Dream Keeper.” I need to touch others and allow them to touch me. There is no medicine in this world that heals the way a loving embrace does. A hug from my son lifts my spirit and fills my heart. I thank God for the beautiful loving man he has grown into. It doesn’t surprise me because he was a beautiful loving child:) When Lillyann and Mylah kiss and hug me, my heart melts. I get hugs from loving people all throughout the week. What a blessing it is to receive hugs from former students as they come into my path and to feel the warm embrace of a friend who truly hears my heart. It is heaven on earth and makes walking in God’s kingdom possible now.

When I left teaching and began working at the church, I decided I would treat myself to a massage once a month. Trish was my masseuse, and we became very close. Physical touch creates intimacy, and Trish’s touch was so healing. She could wipe away stress and bring my body to a place of sweet peace in the space of an hour. Once, as she was massaging me, I started to weep. Tears literally poured from my eyes. It wasn’t the same as crying, and I wasn’t sure what was happening. I told her I was sorry; she said not to worry and bid me to relax. I found out later that stress can be carried deep in our muscles, and massage can bring it to the surface in a powerful way that causes spontaneous weeping. I felt so good after that session and learned a great lesson, as well. Touch releases emotion in me when I am touched and when I touch.

It isn’t easy to touch and be touched. Some folks do not like it, and I have to be aware of that as I reach out. That is where that loving presence comes into play. Listening is the most beautiful way to touch, and having someone hear my heart is the most wonderful way to be touched. The Holy Spirit is God’s touch. It is a touch that transforms my heart and allows me to touch others as He touches me, and that is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. God’s touch has taught me to touch and be touched as He desires, and that has changed the way I live and love.

God’s Kneading

God used kneading bread to help me see differentiation in a new light. It is not only being myself, but also being one with God and others. Before I can do that, I have to let go and trust God with my heart. Fusion confuses and is the basis for unhealthy relationships. God’s lessons in love help me see what love is and isn’t. Many folks see being single as being alone and tell me I should find someone. I understand exactly and would have agreed wholeheartedly with them a year ago. I haven’t changed my status in regard to relationship, but God has changed my heart. Christ died that I might become one with Him as He is one with God.

Whether single or married, oneness with God creates beautiful intimacy. I’ve yearned a lifetime for someone with whom to have that intimacy, and it turns out that He was right there all along. God got lost as I attached in unhealthy ways. Nothing is more lonely than being married to the wrong person, and I thank God for helping me find the courage to leave. There is nothing more beautiful than the union of two kindred spirits. Marriage is God’s design, and it is what He desires. It took me twenty-nine years to realize that God wants what is best for me, and He did not sanction my marriage. It was not a match made in heaven. Accepting that allowed me to let go of what I thought was right, trust Him with my heart, and change direction.

Christ’s precious and perfect love allows me connect without fusion and experience love and freedom I cannot achieve without God. I can’t describe it, but I can borrow a phrase from Oswald Chambers who calls it “at-one-ment.” Atonement is achieving a deep intimacy with God and others while remaining who I am meant to be. Christ is the perfect model of atonement, and I simply have to look to His love for direction when it comes to relationships. There is an amazing sense of peace and connection that comes when I refuse to fuse and connect in ways that allow my heart to experience the freedom God desires.

While kneading the bread for communion tomorrow, I realized I just know when the dough has been kneaded enough. The sticky mess is transformed into a satiny smooth ball when it is ready to rise. Those who know and love me know that I love making and eating bread. The kneading is the best part because the dough is warm in my hands and smells heavenly. I love feeling the change that takes place within my hands while I knead. It’s hard to tell someone who doesn’t make bread regularly when to stop kneading. Put simply, when it stops hanging on to the counter and to me, it’s ready to rest and rise. The same is true for me, and I’ve been reluctant to let go lately. I know I can’t live the life God desires until I let Him knead me to the point of letting go. Then, He can get my heart ready for what He has in store. I can rest and rise and love as He desires.

Today is Labor Day 2012. On Labor Day ten years ago, God gave me the courage to leave my marriage of twenty-nine years and walk the path He had in mind for me. I climbed out of the abyss in which I found myself, made my way through a dense fog, and finally got to the place where I could see love in God’s light. I’m not the person I was ten years ago. In fact, I’m not the person I was yesterday! I thank God for the changes His love brings to my heart. He’s been kneading my heart for almost forty years, but it’s feeling pretty satiny smooth right now:)

Stolen Marbles

Doing the right thing is simple until I start to rationalize. Then I get into dangerous waters. The scripture from Mark 7 this week is a stark reminder that it’s what’s inside that matters most. I’m thankful the Holy Spirit convicts me when what’s inside doesn’t go along with what’s right. When I find myself saying “I know, but…,” I know I need a heart check. I recall a night long ago when I learned an important lesson in making things right and not waiting around to do it. God knows I’m human and make mistakes; He also knows those mistakes are wonderful opportunities for growth. It all began with some marbles I believed I had every right to steal.

Although I can’t recall the specific month or year, I remember a cold evening when daddy and I woke up the neighbors in the middle of the night to return a bag of stolen marbles. It was after midnight because mama and daddy were asleep, and they always watched the eleven o’clock news before going to bed. I had been crying since nine, so it seemed an eternity passed before I finally got the nerve to wake up daddy. That was not something I did lightly!

I slipped into my parents’ bedroom and began crying hysterically. When I finally composed myself, I began confessing to my father. I had stolen Eugene’s marbles and had to take them back. Daddy must have sensed my sincerity and was used to my odd behavior, but I’m sure he was taken aback when I woke him from a sound sleep babbling on about marbles.

The story spilled out as I told the details between sobs. Eugene was much older than me and picked on me mercilessly. He was the neighborhood bully and my friend’s older brother. He deviled us all day and won most of my marbles. I saw his marble bag and made up my mind to take it. With much malice and forethought, I stole his marbles and took them home. My revenge wasn’t as sweet at eleven as it had been earlier in the afternoon, and a sense of dread overtook me as I realized what I had done. I had to get those marbles back to him, and I couldn’t wait until morning.

I braced myself for what I knew was coming and was shocked when daddy didn’t send me back to my room. He didn’t yell or tell me to keep the *#%& marbles and go to sleep. Neither would have surprised me, but what he did next threw me for a loop. He calmly got out of bed, put on his coat, pulled on his shoes, and told me to do the same. I ran to my room, got on my coat and shoes, and met him in the living room.

Daddy and I walked across the street in silence. He had a firm grip on my hand, and I had a firm grip on Eugene’s marbles. When we got to Eugene’s house, daddy let go of my hand and rang the doorbell. We waited on the porch while the house came to life. Lights came on and Reverend Couch appeared at the door. He was in a confused and ruffled state, and I forgot for a moment the somber reason for the visit as I took in his appearance. I had never seen him in casual attire, and I was used to his trademark white suit and straw hat. I suppose I thought he slept in a suit:)

Daddy preceded to tell Dexter that I needed to speak with his son. We waited on the porch again while Dexter got Eugene. I’m sure he thought Eugene the criminal and must have wondered what he had done this time. He was twice my size and had a mean streak. Dexter must have been unnerved having Foy Holden on his doorstep after midnight with his little disheveled daughter in tow. Daddy also had a reputation in the neighborhood, and there was no love lost between him and the reverend. At the time, however, I was only concerned with the punishment that was coming. My guilty conscience got me to this place, but I knew I’d be on my own as soon as as the facts were in the open.

When Eugene showed up at the door, I began to think about what he might do to me. He tormented me daily for doing absolutely nothing, and I could only imagine what he was going to do when he found out I had stolen his marbles. My confession sounded more like wailing that bordered on hysteria. I finished, hung my head, and waited for the worst. Reverend Couch was known for his fiery sermons, and I was surely going to get one now. No one said anything, so I said I was sorry and gave Eugene the marbles. Daddy and I turned and crossed the street. Dexter and Eugene went back inside the house.

I remember looking up at daddy. He wasn’t looking at me, but he was grinning from ear to ear. My burden was lifted. Was a pardon possible because I had done the right thing by making a full confession? Could daddy actually be proud of me? I realize now that daddy was grinning because he got Eugene in trouble and rattled the reverend’s cage. There was nothing daddy enjoyed more than that. Whatever the real reason for the grin, I thought it was because daddy was proud of me. I’m sure he was glad I did the right thing and was proud of me. I’m thankful he got out of his warm bed and took me across the street in the middle of the night. I slept like a baby when I got back into my bed and learned a powerful lesson in confession and not waiting when it comes to doing the right thing.

That lesson is even more powerful as I recall it today, and I thank God for placing the memory in my path this morning. When I wake in the middle of the night thinking about something I should be doing or something I shouldn’t be doing, it is still a good idea to wake up my Father, confess what’s on my heart, and not wait until morning to do the right thing. It puts a grin on God’s face when I tell Him what He already knows and has been waiting for me to acknowledge. Lesson learned, again!

Motivation to Change

Change is a difficult challenge when it involves difficult choices. Security and pride keep me from embracing the change God desires for me. Surrendering starts the transformation, but getting to the place of surrender is the hard part.

Security is linked to safety, and I cling to what I know in a desperate attempt to remain safe and secure. The irony is that my tendency to stick with the known threatens the very safety I try to protect. When I settle, I lose sight of change. I’m slowly learning to let go and trust God when change is in my path.

To give God the chance to change me, I must first be willing to step out of my comfort zone. Rearrangement, not change, occurs when I refuse to make that move. Stepping into the unknown puts me in a prayerful state of mind and requires faith in God and understanding that He is God, and I am not. That is exactly where I need to be, but as with so much in my life, it’s that first step that keeps me from growing and changing as God desires.

Moving away from the comfort of what I know is very difficult, even when I know it is wrong and hurting me. I stay in a bad situation simply because I worry that I may end up in a worse one if I attempt to change. More often, I am simply afraid to admit that I am wrong. Do I think Christ whined to God when He left heaven to be my change? Can I imagine Christ wondering why I couldn’t just follow the law set down before me. Did he think it unfair because He had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die for me? Would He have asked God to think of an easier way? I cannot imagine any of those scenarios. Christ knows better than I the difficulty of stepping out of a comfort zone. He left the beauty and security of God’s presence to make possible the single most powerful change ever. All the advancements made by man pale in comparison to the change that occurred when Christ returned to Heaven.

If Tim Cook came along and offered me a great deal on a new Mac or Donald Trump had insider information about a real estate deal, I would be all ears and willing to do whatever they suggested. Christ offers change that ensures more security than I can imagine, but I think it sounds too good to be true. Besides, I don’t deserve it. I am right on both counts, and that’s what makes His change so amazing.

God asks me to surrender and trust Him. I have to let go of what I know in order to do that. Giving up control requires faith. I would rather go in circles for decades than admit to God that I need His help. I find legitimate excuses for not changing, but God answers each with His patient love and His fervent desire for me to love Him.

When I stop struggling and surrender, God is faithful to lift my burden and lighten my spirit. What a beautiful release it is to let go and trust Him with my transformation. I would never step off a plane in Hong Kong, signal a taxi, and tell the driver to move over and let me drive. That would be ridiculous, but I do worse each time I set out on my own and leave God on the passenger side.

Several years ago, I was in San Francisco and went to Chinatown. It was Chinese New Year, and I got caught up in a group of revelers dressed in a large red dragon costume. They were setting off firecrackers in front of each store so the owners would have good luck in the coming year. I began to panic as the firecrackers got closer and the dragon cut me off from my friends. I lost sight of my colleagues in a sea of foreign faces and began to panic. When faced with danger or lost, I cry out for help. When in a ditch, I am much more open to help or advice. The challenge of change is to have that attitude before I become lost or in a ditch. Successful people know the importance of change, but Christ asks for surrender, something successful people do not find as comfortable. Pride must go before a change, and that’s the problem.

Like a child in the backseat, I bombard God with questions as I surrender. When will I get there? How much longer before I can stop? Do you know where I am? Am I there yet? I’m hungry! I’m lonely! I’ve done a great deal of backseat driving during my life and am amazed God hasn’t pulled over and thrown me out. The good news is that He has infinite patience and will wait for me to accept the changes He has in mind. The incredible thing about God is that He could very easily take control, but He loves me too much to do that. If I think of the second ‘c’ in chance as my need to control and change that ‘c’ to ‘g’ for God, then I’ll find that giving up control is not as hard as I thought. When I take a chance, God will make a change.

Pride keeps me from giving God the chance to change me. The Israelites were moaning and groaning about how good things used to be and worrying about their problems. Boy, does that sound familiar. Memory is an odd thing, and studies tell me that I have selective memory when it comes to my past. What I remember is very often not what actually happened. If I am looking for excuses, I remember the bad and blame others. If I fear change, I remember the good and leave well enough alone. Pride hides itself in words like tradition and esteem if I am not careful, and fear forces me to forget my faith in God.

Six years ago, one of my third grade Sunday School students taught an important lesson. We were studying God’s power to protect, and they were making little shields to demonstrate that God can protect us from everything. I ended the lesson with a question that would allow the students to recount what they had learned. I asked, “Is there anything that God cannot protect us from?” I knew the answer to that question and waited for them to respond. I looked at the sweet faces sitting around the table and waited for the long, enthusiastic “NOOOOO!!!” I knew was coming.

When Salina’s serious little yes came unexpectedly from my left, I did what any master teacher would do in that situation. I asked her to explain so I could quickly reassure her that God could protect her from whatever concerned her. She very quietly said God won’t protect us from saying no to Him. You could hear a pin drop in the room as the students and I pondered her response. All eyes were focused on me at that moment, and I did what a teacher who is willing to learn from her students but wanted to save face would do, I pretended her answer was just the one I was looking for:) I said, “EXACTLY!”

My need for security, my inability to give up control, and my pride will cause me to say no to God, and He will allow me to do just that. Whatever my reasons and however right they may seem to me at the time, I can choose to say no to God. Transformation only occurs if I choose to give God the chance to make me who He created me to be. I am so thankful He reminded me of that six years ago and more thankful He reminded me again today. Lessons learned have to be revisited because change is ongoing. Relearning is as powerful as learning something for the first time 🙂

Love and Balance

Love and balance go together. Finding the center, where God’s love abides, keeps my heart in balance and helps me love as God desires. Pastor John shared his work on intersections with me, and it became the framework God used to teach a lesson in balance. I’ve missed the mark and lost my balance when it comes to love. I’ve never been treated like a bride, but I realize that’s because I’ve never seen myself as one. The first step to being seen differently is for me to see myself differently. As God changes me, I’m beginning to see myself as He does. God used an evening gown to show me that I am not only a bride, but also His beautiful daughter. I’ve never felt as balanced or beautiful in my life as I did when I put on that dress! I love it when God uses visual aids and props to get His message across, and He used both with this lesson!

Balanced love and healthy relationships occur when I am centered in Christ’s love. The center, or intersection as Pastor John calls it, is the destination. Getting close to God is essential, but if I get so close that I lose my connection to others and my sense of identity, then I am lost. If I get so far into myself that I don’t need God, I lose my connection to Him and to others. The center is where God and I meet and is a place of peaceful balance. It allows me to love God, myself, and others in a way that brings wholeness and holiness. I will move up, down, right, and left as my heart navigates this journey, but understanding each level keeps my heart balanced.

Listening is not the same as hearing the heart. God and those dearest to me hear my heart. I go to dear friends and God when my heart is hurting and I’ve come to the end of my rope. He waits patiently, hears my cry, and wonders why I keep forgetting He is God and already knows the deepest desires of my heart. He helps me to search the depths of my heart where He waits for me. When I join Him there, He helps me reacquaint myself with all I have forgotten or perhaps never knew about myself and Him. That makes a difference in the way I see myself and allow myself to be treated.

God used a beautiful gown to help me see myself in a new light. A large part of the learning has been about loving who I am. What a revelation and transformation God made with my heart when I went to have my dress fitted before my son’s wedding. I was alone when I tried on the dress. Rita ran to Michael’s and planned to be back before my fitting. As God would have it, Laura was finished early and ready for me forty-five minutes before my appointment.

Silly me had just learned from Rita that the alterations would be anywhere from $70 to $100 depending upon what had to be done, and Laura told me that it would take four weeks for the work to be completed. Once again, I felt stupid but gave it up to God and decided not to let it ruin my day. I was excited to try on the dress and felt just like Cinderella. I was a little sad that Rita wasn’t there; but God was, and Laura looked and behaved just like a fairy godmother. I’m sure that was intentional on God’s part:) I put on the dress and immediately felt beautiful. I didn’t have on any make-up, and my hair was wild-as usual! I went out to hear what had to be done to the dress and braced myself to hear the cost of alterations. I wish I had a photo of Laura’s sweet face when she looked at me in the dress. Her eyes lit up, she smiled sweetly, and said, “I don’t need to do a thing to that dress! It’s perfect just as it is.” I could hear God saying He loves me just as I am.

I have never felt more beautiful in my life. It’s the way I should have felt on my own wedding day. I felt like a bride as I walked around with Laura looking for the perfect shawl. Folks from another wedding party were watching as she had me try on a variety of shawls, wraps, and jackets. I could have kissed her when she said, “None of these will do!” Surprising, since she does work there and was speaking loudly enough for others to hear:) She looked me right in the eye and told me firmly, but lovingly, that I had to find a large scarf with black and tan and beige to match my shoes. I grinned and looked her in the eye and said, “Like the jacket you have on!” She looked down, laughed out loud and said, “Exactly!!”

It didn’t surprise me when Rita and I walked into Dillard’s and saw the perfect scarf marked down from $28 to $8:) She said, “Wow,” very quietly. I smiled, looked up, and said, “Thank you God:)” Before I went to bed, I just had try on the dress with the shawl. I had my computer out and decided to take a photo to see how it looked. It was late, and I was ready for bed with my hair a mess and no make-up. What I saw surprised me even more than when I was in the shop with Laura. It was just God and me, and it was so sweet and intimate as He told me to look and see what He saw.

In my living room all alone, I found the abandon to do just that. All I could think was God truly has brought beauty from the ashes. Cinderella was appropriate in that her very name implies the ridicule she got from others for the ashes on her face. Ridicule has been part of my life as I have allowed others to define me. God made Himself perfectly clear yesterday as He lovingly showed me Who He is and who I am. I saw myself in a new and beautiful light. I’m a bride, His bride, and He loves me. I best not forget that in the future. It was just what a daddy should make sure his beloved daughter understands about herself.

God changed the way I saw myself, and He did it in the sweetest way ever. I love that my hair was disheveled, my face scrubbed clean, and my feet bare when I took the photo. Those who know and love me best know that is just the way I love to be. Suddenly, I felt changed from the inside out. I know in the very depths of my being that it is not only okay to be the way I am; it is, as Laura and God reminded me, a perfect fit for me! I am His beloved and beautiful daughter.

Here’s the photo I took with my computer:

Here are charts God helped me to fill in. They helped me find balance and peace, and I pray they help you too.

Love & Balance

God

7 Know

6 See

5 Speak

Loves Too Freely 4 Experiences Love Refuses to Love

3 Do

2 Feel

1 Be

Self

*At level one, nothing but self matters. Love is about self, and I do not need God. There is satisfaction in that I don’t need anyone else. It is very satisfying, but very lonely.

*At level two, the connection is still about self, and sex is the way love is expressed. Lust is confused with love. Self is not as satisfied as I connect to others but expect them to make me feel good.

*At level three, the connection is fused and confused by doing. Enabling takes place. It is all about what I do for others. Love and action are confused. The satisfaction is about being needed, and that depends on others acknowledging my sacrifice. Self is not satisfied unless praised. Not really about others, but getting away from self.

*At level four, there is balance and self-differentiation. God, others, and self come together in a balanced mix. He is who He is, I am who I am, others are who they are, and love flows through all in a way that causes a close connection without fusing. Self and God are satisfied. It is a place of joy and peace.

*At level five, I put my feelings into words and express my love for God and others beautifully, but it is imbalanced because there is a distance between me and others. I’m closer to God but further from others. I talk about love, but I do not experience it as God desires. Self is becoming less important and is not satisfied.

*At level six, I see love in others, but I am more distant from them. I am closer to God and more in tune with Him. I feel very near to God. I have images and visions of His love, but love is not manifested in my life or self. I need others less and less and spend more time with God alone. Self is even less important and less satisfied.

*At level seven, I know God deeply and am in His presence in a powerful way. I feel one with Him but further and further away from others and self. I don’t want or need others, and I am lost in the process. It is a beautiful feeling, but a lonely one. Self isn’t important any more and is in the way. Not satisfied and frustrated with limitations of self.

Balanced love and healthy relationships occur when I am centered. The center, or intersection is the destination, not the top. Getting closer to God is essential, but if I get so close that I lose my connections to others and my sense of identity, then I am lost. If I get so far into myself that I don’t need God, I lose my connection to God and to others. The center is where He and I meet in perfect harmony and become one. That allows me to love Him, myself, and others with all my heart. I will move up, down, right, and left as my heart navigates this journey, but understanding each level will help me stay where God wants me to be.

Here’s another little chart that helps me stay balanced.

God

devotion

generosity love honesty

affection

Self

Love is a beautiful combination of generosity, affection, honesty, and devotion. God gives beautiful balance to our hearts by bringing us to the center where He resides♥

Limiting God

More than anything, Mark 6:1-13 reminds me of the importance of listening and obeying with a humility that can only occur as I allow the Holy Spirit to change my mind. I also learn not to worry if I don’t get the response I expect when telling others about Jesus and His love.

Here’s a beautiful message that touched my heart and helped me come to understand that truth. How tragic when we limit what God would do. “It’s Just Jesus”

IT’S JUST JESUS

Mark 6:1-13

Dr. John Alden Tagliarini

July 8, 2012

I’ve heard preachers scold people who were not responding as they thought they ought. One evangelist came to Lakeland, where the churches had worked and prayed together for a community revival. When, after a couple of nights, neither the attendance nor the response suited the evangelist, he lit into the faithful who were present. He was literally preaching to the choir, of which I was a part, and arguing that our lack of response to him was a lack of response to God.

Perhaps he was right. However, the personality of this individual and the tone of his rants destroyed any message he hoped we would hear, and the week ended without a discernible visit from God. You might argue that God’s absence was in fact God’s answer. But was God answering our lack of faith or this preacher’s lack of faith? Or, was it both?

Jesus came home to visit. His disciples with Him, He taught in the synagogue as was His custom on the Sabbath. Let!s hear the story. [Mark 6:1-13] Lord, help us accept You, Your authority, and Your life. Amen.

Coming home with His disciples, Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus offered His hometown an opportunity to respond to the Good News.” Assuming it’s the same instance, in the Gospel of Luke we read that Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus identified Himself as anointed by God!s Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor, . . . to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus challenged the “business as usual” attenders at the synagogue with an astounding good news that would turn society upside down. He promised to “set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).

Overwhelmed, those listening questioned the where, the what and the how of Jesus. They knew Jesus, the carpenter. They knew His mother, Mary. They played ball with His brothers and courted His sisters.

“It’s just Jesus” they were saying. How could He have such powerful insights? Who gave Him the credentials to promise hope? How could this local boy do miraculous works of power? ” We think we know all we need to know about who Jesus is. We’ve read about Him in the New Testament. We’ve studied His words in Sunday School. Perhaps, we’ve even experienced His forgiveness.

However, when Jesus shows up and challenges our traditions or “sot-in-our-ways” modes of being, don’t we react like the folks of Nazareth?

Are we not inclined to take offense when His word calls for change in the ways we think? “This has worked for me for years; what do I have to repent of? Why would I want to change.”

The folk at Nazareth took offense at Him. Hearing what Jesus says about our ways of doing and being, we can feel threatened. When Christ calls for greater vision or more relevant language or new ministry, we can feel threatened.

But, Jesus didn’t argue. Neither did He “preach to the choir.” Jesus simply responded that the prophet does not get respect in his hometown. His comment begs the questions. Does familiarity always breed contempt? Does this story argue against long tenures? Can a preacher go home or stay long enough somewhere for it to become home, and still be effective?

None of this is the point. It’s not about me, or the evangelist in Lakeland. This is about the people of God missing the blessings of God. Jesus was dusting the soles of His feet off, and the witness against the people of His hometown was complete. “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5). There may be no more tragic a verse in the Bible than this.

Going past the disturbing language that their unbelief actually limited the work of God in Christ, let!s consider what happened.

Did the ministry of Jesus stop there? Was Jesus defeated in bringing the Good News to the region? Was the Nazareth revival a total shut- down of grace? No, no, and no! Jesus did heal a few, and though He was rightly amazed at their unbelief, Jesus kept on going. Mark says Jesus, “was going around the villages teaching” (6).

Friends, these people limited their blessings, not the power of God! Jesus continued His ministry elsewhere. Jesus always plows new ground, looking for a fertile place to grow faith.

Now, the teaching ministry of our Lord grew to the point of multiplication. Jesus would distribute discipleship through the twelve who had been following Him for so long. Twelve is a number that reflects the tribes of Israel. It is a number that suggests complete governance. We associate twelve with the church. Twelve was the number of fellows who followed Jesus closely enough to be called and sent as apostles.

The number two also calls for attention. Jesus sent the disciples to minister in pairs. Christ shares His work of discipleship with us, and Jesus wanted the disciples to share ministry with each other. When a believer joins arms with at least one other believer in service, he or she is obeying Christ.

I know of no “lone-ranger” Christians who have ministries of value to the kingdom. If God places a work on your heart, He will bless someone else with the same burden, and together we will touch the world.

Then, Jesus gave His disciples “authority over the unclean spirits” (7). He could have given them safety. He could have given them special technology. He could have given them buildings and music and Sunday Schools and programs, but no, Jesus gave the disciples authority over unclean spirits.

Do we have the same power, today? May our doctrines and devices and denominations never cause us to forget that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Authority is related to power. With this authority, Jesus empowered the disciples to mission. Let Paul remind us of how power works. Humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” Paul prayed three times for the affliction to leave. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Friends, the disciples went out under the authority of Jesus, empowered to preach and to heal. Their humble obedience confirmed the power of God with which He authorized them. What did that look like? Jesus commanded the twelve to travel with the minimum of supplies. Believers rely on God, not on personal resources. This demonstrates humility and requires trust.

When coming into a town, Jesus told them to stay in the first place of hospitality. A person serving the Lord enters opened doors rather than fearfully condemning those who close doors. And believers don’t trade up for personal advantage by flitting from patron to patron. Humility and trust shine through this sort of obedient, humble, grateful service.

Yes, we will encounter those who don’t want to know about our Jesus. Indeed, people who refuse grace will try to snare us in their fears, and we will need to know how to proceed. Jesus told the twelve to dust their feet off “for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11).

The significance of “moving on” is more powerful than any extended debate, argument, bumper sticker, or political action. Some of us seem to enjoy the dusting off process so much that we stay amidst the churning cloud of dust, and wait around to write our opinions in what settles.

The testimony against those who reject grace is in the moving on, not in the dusting off. Dusting off is simply the sign that you are moving on. Today the sign might be finding new friends, changing the topic, or at least, not getting sucked into the fear and lack of faith of the world.

Thus, the disciples continued their mission, preaching repentance, a change of mind. The message does not change, but it is about change. Don’t be offended! Change your mind about who Jesus is and what He teaches.

In Christ Jesus, God’s word of grace may challenge our traditions and cherished ways. In the words of one preacher, Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This same Jesus whom the hometown folk rejected calls us with the same word, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

With authority, Jesus blesses us and anoints us to call others to repentance. He invites us to join hands with others in ministry which anoints and heals.

May we be found humble and obedient as we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, His authority, and His life. Amen.

Take My Life, Lead Me, Lord”

I have always struggled with stillness, listening, and desperately needing a response. I’m thankful God speaks to me in a way I can understand. The past three years have been the most difficult and most beautiful years of my life. God has stretched my heart in ways I could never have imagined ten years ago. He has released this captive and given me sight. It all boils down to Christ’s authority. As John says in the message, “Their humble obedience confirmed the power of God with which He authorized them.” That came off the page and struck my heart.

When I don’t have the humble obedience of Christ, I am saying it’s just Jesus. That keeps me from moving on and Him from performing miracles in my life. The message for me is about moving on. Moving on doesn’t mean leaving behind or forgetting or running away; that’s always been my struggle. “Thus, the disciples continued their mission, preaching repentance, a change of mind. The message does not change, but is about change.” That is what God has been trying to get across to me. Metanoia is something I’ve tried to achieve on my own, but it is the work of the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 12:9 is so very true for Paul and for me “power is perfected in weakness.” Knowing who Jesus is requires that I know who I am and who I am not.

I wept when I heard the message and realized that I limit the blessings God has in mind for me. I must believe Christ is who He says He is and be who He created me to be. It breaks my heart to think how often I don’t do either. My faith is hurt by my unbelief. I love God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, but each time I doubt that He knows what He is doing or resist the changes He attempts to make in my heart and my mind, I limit His blessings. I keep trying to be strong and to do things on my own, and that weakens my faith and puts me right where the folks in Christ’s hometown were.

Christ gets too familiar to me, and I forget the power that raised Him from the grave is within me. That and the fact that He places others in the path to share the work and the journey give me hope. His power, His authority, His love, His life are available to me, and I shudder to think of Mark 6:5 and pray that I never do anything that will cause Him to “do no miracle” in my life. God forbid that I get in His way or that my lack of faith keeps me from hearing and obeying Him. He does “turn society upside down.”He certainly does that to me every time I remember who He is. I heard a powerful message from Dr. Danny West at a revival in our church. He said upside down was just the right position to be in when it comes to God because it keeps my feet firmly planted in heaven:)

Black Eyes and Broken Hearts

Lillyann and Mylah both got their first black eye within a week of one another. Both involved difficult lessons, as do all black eyes. Little Mylah was first and learned that a slick round metal surface does not provide the same grip as a solid wooden one. She grabbed the pole on her bouncy station and whirled around and down to the floor. She was shocked, I’m sure, to learn too late that she didn’t have the support she expected. Lessons learned the hard way stick with us, especially when accompanied by a black eye! She’s too little to notice her black eye or feel embarrassment, and her injury wasn’t as severe as her big sister’s. So I imagine she didn’t think much more about it except to learn not to use the bouncy bar for support in the future.

Lillyann’s accident was far worse and left a real shiner under her left eye. She put her legs through the legs of a kitchen stool and found that gravity can be a painful thing as the top of the stool hit her square in the eye. There is particular pain in that area, and it always leaves a mark when you’re whacked there! The mark remains as a reminder and serves to humble as folks just have to know how it happened. It hurts our pride to have to relive embarrassing moments over and over until all is faded and forgotten.

Fist fights normally leave such a mark, and it is seen by some as a purple badge of courage:) Lillyann certainly didn’t think that about her eye, and I got the impression that she was embarrassed by the whole affair and would rather not discuss it. I dropped the subject because I know just how she feels. I don’t recall ever literally having a black eye, but I’ve had more than my share of lessons that humble. You find out who your true friends are when you have a black eye; they wait for you to tell them the story and don’t ask if you don’t tell.

A black eye sets the stage for a good story and makes us the center of attention whether we want to be or not. When did you get it? How did it happen? What does the other guy look like? Those questions start a tall tale that embellishes the truth and ends differently depending upon who’s doing the narrating. Boys seem to sport the injury more often than girls, but I don’t have any proof of that. Tom’s Guide for Gadgets does report this: “But did you know that boys playing with their Wii are more likely to be injured than girls? Patrick O’Toole, Robert Miller and John Flynn did a study as part of their work for the division of Orthopedics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that boys accounted for 49 out of the 92 motion-control-related injuries. That seems about even to me:)

Playing and living involve injuries, so the more I’m willing to put myself into either, the more likely I am to get a black eye or a broken heart. God’s call for witnesses involves getting out into the world, getting a black eye, getting humbled, and getting right back out and doing it all over again. The same is true for love except you end up with a broken heart rather than a black eye. The trouble with a broken heart is that it can be easily hidden. I know the girls will have many spills as they learn what does and doesn’t work when it comes to holding on and climbing, and I know one day they will have the same spills and lessons when it comes to love. I hope they keep on grabbing and climbing and loving anyway.

The best stories, no matter who is telling them, come from those who are willing to live and love and get black eyes and broken hearts. If I never have either, then I’m not living or loving. When those injuries come from doing something silly, stories are replaced by prayers that no one saw it happen!

Black eyes and broken hearts are part of life, and lessons that humble will continue as long as I reach out, grab on, and try to make a connection. It’s best to be like we are at Mylah’s age and learn quickly, forget as quickly, and then move on. The more I nurse my hurt, the more it hurts. Being able to laugh at my mistakes is icing on the cake and makes for a much better journey. I learned early in life to laugh along with everyone else when I make goofy mistakes. That’s easier with black eyes than it is with a broken heart. Black eyes and broken hearts heal, and the lessons learned from them help me navigate the journey. Laughter takes a little of the sting out of humbling and makes the journey more enjoyable. Having friends who cry and laugh with me is one of life’s most beautiful blessings.

Can I Get a Witness?

This message from Isaiah 6 touches and heals my heart in a deep way. The message “Call for a Witness” wasn’t what I was expecting, and I found myself humbled by it. God gives me the space to fall apart, and that’s a big part of answering the call to be His witness. I have to fall apart to get to the place where God can use me. I must confess that my way is, as the message says so powerfully, “bankrupt.”

When I hear God and truly understand, He helps me see where my life can use a little change and helps me bring about that change. That enables me to not only accept, but tell others of His grace, love, and forgiveness. Answering God’s call requires that I give up my plans and get rid of my need for approval. It goes against my nature, but it reveals His glory in a way that is better than anything I can do on my own. There is “holy hope” when I let go of my need to be in charge and allow Him to take me where I cannot go without Him and do what only He can do through me.

Here’s the message:

THE CALL FOR A WITNESS

Isaiah 6:1-8 (-13)

Dr. John Alden Tagliarini

June 3, 2012

We may become too comfortable doing church. Sweet songs of praise, feel-good sermons, friends, family, a sense of order and belonging may satisfy our need for security and healing. It may be that this is how it should be.

Or, there may be a greater call, waiting to be uncovered as we worship God. Perhaps, God wants us to recognize our sin, admit our need, and to engage more deeply in a ministry of hope. One day at his church, Isaiah saw God in a life-changing encounter. Let’s read the story. [Isaiah 6:1-13]

Lord, speak to us of Your glory. May we answer Your call to ministries of hope, regardless the immediate outcome. Amen.

The first word to us in this chapter identifies a time of political loss. The dead king Uzziah had ruled well, successfully, and was king for 52 years (2 Chr 26:1-5). We can imagine that Isaiah grieved over his death. The mention of the king”s death places the call of Isaiah in the calendar. The mention of King Uzziah also contrasts with this revelation of God who is the ultimate ruler of the world, “the LORD of hosts” (3).

An election year reminds us that leaders come and go. Some are beloved; some are hated. Some have done well; others have done poorly. King Uzziah was dead, but God was still on the throne. Not only does the presence of the Lord fill the temple, but He is praised by heavenly creatures. Our worship of God mirrors what the heavenly hosts do perfectly. Perfectly holy and filling the whole earth with His glory, God reigns even when earthly kings pass away. The voice of heavenly worship shakes us to our foundations. And, like the smoke that day, the Holy Spirit fills the people of God with His inescapable presence.

Worshiping, we perceive God’s glory. We know that no loss of earthly leadership can stop the rule of God. We know that no gain of earthly leadership can limit God. We begin to recognize a fundamental difference in earthly powers and the power of God.

Isaiah confessed his personal sense of ruin. “Boy am I in trouble! I am done for! My lips are dirty and everyone around me talks the same way!” (5, paraphrased). His confession was not about vulgarity, as bad as that language is.

With his confession, Isaiah recognizes the reality of a bankrupt way of life, a life that promotes our own power and plans our own leadership.

Language that talks about presidents as though they were saviors and candidates as though they were deliverers is profane and soils the lips which should be praising God. His vision of “the King, the LORD of hosts” (5), convicted Isaiah of his former speech which, perhaps talking more politics and power than faith, failed to glorify God. He confessed his unclean lips.

Then, “with a burning coal” (6), the seraph brought a message of forgiveness to Isaiah. Isaiah, “your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven” (7). Forgiveness is a divine answer to sin. Let the reality of our sorry speech, reflecting our pitiful human plans, sink in. Let us see the glory of God! Respond to His holy presence with confession! Receive the forgiveness of God! At this point, God called for a witness. Could God have been speaking to some else? “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (8), the Lord said. Isaiah answered, “Here am I. Send me!” (8). I hear You, Lord, loud and clear; I’ll go! I understand . . . or do I? The mission to which God calls us might not be all we expect. Telling people that the way they’ve understood their world is all wrong will not be well received.

Calling people to trust in God when all their lives they’ve trusted their own hard work and political savvy and education or scientific insight flies against conventional wisdom and even common sense.

Telling the story of a God who transcends the realms of man’s control sounds strange to the ears of economic theory and the eyes of military intelligence. Hearts weaned on the promises of rugged individualism find it difficult to trust the grace of divine sovereignty. So, Isaiah was to enter a ministry of irony where people “keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand” (9). Why would God slow the progress of seeing, hearing and understanding? Why would God create this barrier to the return and healing of people?

Understandably, Isaiah wanted to know just how long this was going to go on. God’s answer would not satisfy most of us. The Isaiah ministry of irony was to go on “Until the cities are devastated and without inhabitant . . . and the land is utterly desolate” (11). As long as we maintain our own stuff, our houses and lands our politics and plans, we will fail to see the provision of the holy, holy, holy God whose glory fills the earth.

The ministry of irony becomes a mission of loss. Whether or not we must lose our goods literally depends on our hearts. However, this much is inescapable. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).

Jesus told Peter, “Get behind Me Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God!s interests, but man!s” (33). Jesus was going to the cross, and Peter wanted Him not to. Peter did not understand that his loss would be physical, but his gain spiritual. Remember what Jesus promised, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).

For most of the people in the year of King Uzziah”s death, the people to whom Isaiah would preach, all would literally be lost, farm and home and palace and temple. But friends, the good news leaves us with a holy hope.

The Lord told Isaiah, “though they would undergo fire, a percentage of the people would remain. After all was over there would be “the holy seed in its stump” (Is 6:13). After the leveling of a forest fire, burnt stumps will spring forth with fresh twigs of hope.

Though many will insist on following the ways of the world, God will preserve His people. God is on His throne and continues calling for us to witness to His way of being and doing in this world, however contrary it seems to us. God’s way in His world recognizes our fears and pain, but offers holy hope. May we give up our claims to earthly kings and wisdom and insight and control and stuff. May we confess our trash talk of human dominance and turn in faith and humility to the Lord of hosts.

Amen.

486 “Lord, Here Am I”

Left Alone

God takes my weakness and turns it into strength if I trust Him to do what He does best-the impossible!My greatest weakness has always been my need for approval. As long as I can remember, I’ve tried to make up for the fact that daddy was disappointed in me. My life revolved around my need to be loved, and I tried to please others rather than God. That took a toll on my heart, my body, and my spirit; it kept me from receiving what God has in mind, and left me alone.

If I were to write the story of my love life, it would be called Left Alone. In focusing upon pleasing and gaining approval, I’ve given my heart to those who won’t, don’t, or can’t love me the way my heart and God desire. I’ve never loved as God desires because my heart hasn’t been where it needed to be. Loving Christ was a right choice in my love life, but I turned from His love for a long time because I knew He didn’t approve of the mess I had gotten my heart into.

As long as I focus on doing everything for everyone, I don’t have to face my own weaknesses. It’s easier to be a suffering saint than let God deal with my demons because I have to admit I have them before I can ask Him to help me get rid of them. I have to be humbled, and God will take it from there. The problem is the humbling that allows me to face them and Him.

My choices in regard to love have been about avoiding rejection. If someone will not, does not, or cannot love me, I don’t have to worry about losing them because I never really have them. It is far easier to just fix and help because loving involves hurting. That’s something I learned early in life, but God has brought me to a place of healing. I’ve learned that while love does involves hurting deeply, the joy it brings is well worth the risk. God will show me the love He has in mind if I keep my eyes and heart on Him and follow His Son’s beautiful example.

It is far easier to please people than to sincerely and purposefully love them. It is so simple to let fear keep me from risking rejection or worry make me wonder about the response or the lack of it that comes when I open my heart. I’ve looked for love and acceptance in many places and even seen them as the same thing at times. Love accepts me the way I am and doesn’t expect anything of me except to share a loving presence. I can do just that if I trust God to know what He is doing when it comes to love. I know that makes Him smile and say “Trust me. I know what I’m doing. I am love after all.”

A Changed Heart

Repentance turns my heart in God’s direction. Metanoia does the same for my mind and is the first step in letting God change my heart. Metanoia isn’t possible without God any more than a clean heart is. I have tried to find my way to the change God has in mind for me but have been frustrated by my inability to get where only He can take me. I shouldn’t be surprised that it took so long to come to a place of peace because I’ve taken the long way around my entire life.

When I took Lillyann home yesterday, Gina had given Matza and Cookie a bath and cleaned the house. Matza is a short and very stocky English Bulldog, and Cookie is a long and very lean English Pointer. They are as different looking as any two dogs can be, but they are kindred spirits and best friends. I had to smile as I looked at the cute odd couple that fill their home with love and laughter and have won my heart as well. I told Gina how wonderful they and the house looked and laughed as I added for a few minutes anyway:) Houses, children, and dogs get very dirty very quickly. All require constant attention and cleaning. I know that about houses, children, and dogs but God reminded me today that the same principle applies to my heart and mind.

As Rita and I hiked in the downpour this morning, the sweet rain soaked me and cleansed beautifully. There is nothing that compares to rainwater for the skin and the hair, and mama told me that she and her sisters would collect it a large barrel to use for washing their hair. We decided to laugh and enjoy the shower, and it felt amazing. There is a sweet fragrance that follows the rain, and Rita noticed it as the sun came out and we were finishing our walk. A favorite song of mine compares that fragrance to the name of Jesus, and I couldn’t agree more. His presence was obvious as we walked this morning. I felt Him in the sunshine, rain, and the sweet fragrance after the rain. His love cleanses and clears my heart to bring about the changes He desires. Like the downpour this morning, there is sometimes no where to go and no place to hide. I’ve had that feeling this week as God has bid me to write. I’m glad I went with His flow, which has felt a lot like that downpour this morning.

God brought my heart into the open, and His living water washed like that cleansing rain. Both were just what I needed, just when I needed them. I love that about Him:) The field cannot bear fruit without a little rain, and neither can my heart. I’m soaked, and it feels great!

The message “What’s In Your Heart” from last week touched my heart and was, like the rain, just what I needed, just when I needed it. It helped me let God have His way with my heart this week, and I’m so very thankful I did. I pray it blesses you as much as it continues to bless me as I allow God to cleanse and change my heart as only He can.

Here’s the beautiful message:

WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART

Mark 7:1-23

Dr. John Alden Tagliarini

September 2, 2012, Labor Day

We are receiving nominations for deacons. Every year, whether in conversation or in preaching, we cover the same sort of questions. “Why have deacons? What do deacons do? Who is eligible to be a deacon?”

People answer these questions differently. We apply different criteria. We try to discern whom to nominate based on what we know of potential servants. People have been observed throughout the year, and their behavior caught someone’s eye, for better or for worse. The calling, the vocation of deacon, puts a person under constant scrutiny. Deacons join preachers in the glass house of public opinion.

The disciples were learning a new vocation, a calling to service. While getting on-the-job training with Jesus in ministry, some of their actions generated questions. And scribes and Pharisees knew how to ask the tough questions.

However, questioning the actions of the disciples, these Pharisees and scribes revealed a fatal flaw. Jesus answered their question by asking about our deepest motivations. What’s in your heart?

Let’s read the story. [Mark 7:1-23]

Lord, thank You for calling our attention to our inward being. Purify our hearts so that whatever flows from your servants is beautiful. Amen.

It was an audience with Jesus by representatives from Jerusalem. In Baptist life, which boasts of no clerical hierarchy, we may have trouble sensing the importance of the moment.

This day, the District Supervisor, the Bishop, representatives of the Presbytery, maybe even the Secretary-Director of the Baptist State Convention came to town and gathered around Jesus. They knew the scandalous news was true. Some of these officials had actually seen some of the disciples of Jesus eat their bread without a ritual washing of their hands. Who would think that people would be watching to see whether or not you wash your hands?

Actually, when raising children, it is a common question, after a bathroom break or before sitting at the table, to ask if hands have been washed. In fact, as children are learning good hygiene, it’s an appropriate question. But this was not a matter of checking the disciples’ restroom habits. Ritual cleansing was a clear and long-held practice of the cult. Religious people knew what to do, and they performed their rituals in ways that showed others how faithful they were.

Regrettably, for some people, even church attendance may be nothing more than a ritual cleansing of the hands, done so that others can see how religious we are. Perhaps a person carries the Bible every day so he or she can be seen as faithful, but he may never read it, much less might she walk in the grace of God.

The appearance of faith begs the question of the reality of faith. How do we know if there is a reality behind the show? “Would this person be a good deacon?” Knowing their hearts, Jesus answered the question by quoting a Scripture, exposing their hypocrisy. Jesus turned to Isaiah.

Before God exiled Israel to Babylon, Isaiah warned Jerusalem of a coming judgment. God promised that the human tradition of wisdom they had relied on would perish. The inhabitants of Jerusalem tried to draw near to God with their words, but they removed their hearts far from Him. So, God pronounced a judgement upon them (Is 29:13, 15).

We define hypocrisy in just such terms. With lips that speak of love and devotion while the heart considers corruption, hypocrites destroy godly witness, disrupt a welcoming fellowship, and empty worship of meaning.

The Scripture Jesus quoted also said that the people worshiped in vain by promoting human ideas as though they were godly ideals. In our human understandings and applications of doctrine too often we neglect the intentions of God.

The apostle, James, clarified this. James said, “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Hearing and knowing and talking a lot about the Bible or theology does not assure that we are following Jesus.

James said, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:26-27).

Jesus offered another example. It was apparently widespread to find and use the Corban loophole. With this legal finagling, sons could claim that the resources necessary to help their parents were dedicated to God.

Receiving permission not to use those resources for their parents, they dishonored their parents by ignoring Commandment Five of the big Ten. As they maneuvered to protect their investments, they invalidated the word of God. I know of no clear parallel to this in today’s economy, but we do not lack from other examples of parsimony – stinginess. Consider how carefully we guard our stuff while wasting excess food and throwing out tons of paper.

Consider our response when someone we don’t think deserves it receives help from our tax dollars. Do I really need to go there?

Jesus changed the subject. Now, calling the crowd close to hear Him well, Jesus moved to the heart of the matter. This is all a matter of heart. Talking now about foods, Jesus said, “whatever foods we eat, whether with clean or impure hands, does not make the difference in our holiness” (Mark 7:5, 15, 18-19, paraphrased). The real issue is what is in our hearts.

Again, with this food example, I know of no clear parallel in today’s food world for most of us. Yes, many Jews still observe dietary restrictions, as do Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, and Mormons, among others. And, yes, most of us in the western world prefer insects to be nowhere near the table. We think bugs are unclean. I look elsewhere to relate to this example. One example which occurs to me is our usually unspoken restrictions about marrying outside our race. I am glad Pat was willing to marry someone of Italian heritage!

But, again, the issue is what is in our hearts. Watch and listen for what comes out as a person speaks and acts. These things reveal the inner character of that person. So, are we ready to consider the list Jesus offered? Earlier, Jesus indicted these experts in the Law for breaking Commandment Five. Now, Jesus lists twelve characteristic sins of the heart which involve all of the final five commandments.

Let’s hear the list slowly. From the heart proceed the following evil thoughts: Fornications, the root word gives us the word for pornography. Thefts, the root word gives us the word for kleptomania. Murders, Not just killing, but murder. Adultery, With adultery and murder, I think of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount where He equates anger and lust with murder and adultery (Matt 5:21-22, 27).

Then, Jesus named “deeds of coveting” (Mark 7:22). How mild that sounds. The word is literally, greedinesses. Does anything define a spirit of greed more than our market mentality? Next is wickedness which is another word for iniquity, or sin. Deceit, which simply means lying. Sensuality, which can be translated, lewdness. The word, Envy, translates a phrase which is literally, an evil eye. Slander, literally blasphemy, either against God or another person.

How do we talk about another person who is also made in the image of God? Then there is pride, not the reasonable pride in a job well done, but the arrogance, the hubris of a self-centered life. And finally Jesus says, foolishness. This is a lack of moral judgment – calling good evil and evil good. Did you hear the commandments?

Thou shalt not kill.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Thou shalt not steal.

Thou shalt not lie.

Thou shalt not covet.

And, if we think we’ve done pretty well with these commandments, Jesus included a few deal breakers such as foolishness, arrogance, lewdness and slander. Oh friends, these are the things which come out of us when we drop our guard and sometimes even when our guard is up. Indeed, sometimes we try to guard ourselves by using these very sins.

These are the evil things, “the evil thoughts” (21), which make the cleanest hands into filthy mitts. All these sins involve our relationships with other people. All these sins hinge on proper attitudes, affections, and attentions. They reveal character.

At this season of the year, we are responsible to nominate persons to serve as deacons. Prayerfully consider what the actions and speech of a person reveal about his or her character.

Humbly confessing our own sin, let us look for things which reflect Jesus, such as humility, hospitality, generosity, and forgiveness. Above all, in Jesus Christ we trust God to forgive us. We honestly inspect our deepest beings, and we confess every sin.

The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He [Jesus] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Christ Jesus came to change us, to cleanse us from the inside out. Whether or not we serve as deacons, let us confess our sins and receive His grace.

Lord, purify our hearts so that whatever flows from your servants is beautiful. Amen.

Just As I Am”

(I’ve been nominated to be a deacon for two years now, but I haven’t been elected. There has never been a woman deacon in my church, and I find that hard to accept at times.)

Babble On:)

Nothing excites me as much as God’s love unless it’s His grace. I have the tendency to babble on when I talk about how much I love Him, and that’s just what happened in Mark 7 after Jesus healed the man who couldn’t hear or speak. Folks just couldn’t be quiet. If only my faithfulness was as great as His grace, then miracles would be common place. My weak faith limits God. If I had stronger faith, then things would be much different in my life and in this world. I settle when I should be dreaming. I give up when I should be believing. It’s part of my need to be in charge and follow my plans. My lack of faith is, and always has been, a problem. My choices reflect my faith, and I pray they will lead me nearer to God and to those in my path as I tell my story of how He changed my heart and my mind.

When surrounded by those I love, I have the tendency to babble on as joy bubbles up inside me:) My dear friend Ethel is the same way, and so are Lillyann and Mylah. I love that about us:) I have learned this week that it’s okay to babble on when I’m filled with love, and nothing makes me babble on the way Jesus does. He makes joy and peace bubble up in my soul, and I just can’t not talk about it. I know that’s improper grammar, but it’s the truth. Like a babbling brook, I just can’t stop myself. The beautiful lesson this week is that I’m not sorry about that any more! I’ve always apologized for my enthusiasm and for babbling on, but I plan to stop that terrible habit immediately! It feels great to say that:)

I’ve always felt I needed to contain my excitement, but I’ve noticed that Ethel, Lilly and Mylah, don’t even try to put a lid on their enthusiasm, so I plan to follow their lead:) I am learning to enjoy the love God places in my path. It’s very freeing to love with complete abandonment. It’s what children do and what God loves for me to do. Letting go of the need for approval puts babbling into perspective. I once believed I needed to stop my babbling and be quiet. I even thought Out of Babble On might be a good title for my autobiography. I would have to make sure Walter Brueggemann approved, but I think he would advise me to keep on babbling:) I don’t need to get out of Babble On, I need to enjoy the state of delight I feel when in the presence of those I love, especially God.

Worrying about approval creates a strange tension that causes me to pause and stammer when I think too much about what I am supposed to say or do. My sister Edie and I talked about just that yesterday. Walking on eggshells to avoid those in the path means I’m around the wrong folks. Those who truly love me let me be me. If I feel I have to be a certain way, say a certain thing, or do something in particular to please them, then that’s a sure sign that love is no where near.

Giving up the need for approval also changes the way I deal with response. I’ve worried far too much about what others think and how they will respond if I open up to them. I am learning that results and responses are God’s concern, not mine. I plan to leave them in His capable hands and enjoy the journey while delighting in those I love. Love is not to be taken for granted or hidden away. It is a gift from God and should be treated as such. I thank God for love that makes me babble on with abandon.

A CleansingFlood

A cleansing flood

Purges self as

Spirit rushes through.

Carried by the current

No longer clinging

Finding comfort in letting go.

Transparency Makes Me Vulnerable

The vulnerability honesty creates is humbling, but the freedom it affords is well worth the humbling. It’s the honesty God desires, and it opens me in ways I am only just learning to appreciate. Honesty and love have always gone together. When I love honestly, I become transparent and open to those I love.

People don’t always accept or appreciate that level of love because transparency isn’t for everyone. It’s well worth the risk of not being loved to find the kind of love that comes when you find someone who hears and understands your heart. The beauty of loving God is that He has always loved me and is simply waiting for me to accept His love. His love is deeper than my heart can understand on its own, but Christ bridges that gap and allows me to experience God’s love and walk in His kingdom now.

To prepare me for the level of love He desires, God first shows me the deepest part of my own heart and allows me to see what He sees. With His help, I can see what is keeping me from loving Him and others as He desires and being who He created me to be. Seeing and understanding His love fills me with hope and grounds my heart so I am able to experience the fullness and the cleansing that creates the transparency that comes when I let go of myself and praise Him. Praise releases my spirit and allows it to flow with His.

The plate God fashions in my heart is clear and ready to hold His fare. The transparent nature of love lets me, God, and others see my heart more clearly. It’s what being known and knowing God, myself, and others is all about. When I know Him, I cannot help but love Him. The same is true as I come to know myself and others through honest communion. It makes walking in His kingdom possible. I am perfected by His love, and He becomes closer than my very breath.

The beauty of God is that He knows me completely and still loves me. The same is true of friends with whom I share honest communion and transparent love. I can relax in His presence and theirs. Why God, the Creator, would care whether or not I love Him is the biggest mystery of this journey. I know He does, and that changes everything. Can I even begin to walk in God’s kingdom in the presence of such love? Of course I can’t, not alone. The amazing news is that I can walk in it with the help of the Holy Spirit. God’s love for me, Christ’s amazing grace, and the Spirit’s loving presence enable me to not only live and walk in God’s kingdom now, but to also love in it.

I wish I could say that I stay on the right path all the time, but I can’t. I fall victim to fear’s tight clasp far too often, and worries fuel fear’s fires and leave me consumed at times. God is real and causes fear to flee. In the presence of God’s love, it has no choice but to do so. Christ purchased my inheritance at a very high price, and it cannot be taken from me. I can, however, forget I have it.

I cannot go where God desires as long as I fall victim to fear and allow insecurity to block my path. I must remember that I’m not alone on this journey. Christ is always waiting with arms extended, ready to love honestly and help me do the same. Transparency makes me vulnerable, but it brings me near to One who transforms vulnerability into openness and gives God free reign with my heart.

More Than Just a Walk:)

For over three years now, Rita and I have taken long walks in the woods. From our first walk, I knew I was with a kindred spirit and beautiful friend. Rita is so much more than family, she is an honest, loving companion who shares my journey at the deepest level. Our honest communion and true love for one another make a walk with her so much more than just a walk. It’s great exercise in beautiful surroundings, but sharing honestly with love is the most important quality of those early morning excursions by the creek. As we walk and talk, I feel a connection that is rare in this world.

Friends who hear my heart are my most valuable assets. They allow transparency necessary and open my heart. It’s more than just a matter of confidentiality, it is true connection at the heart level that allows me to find the courage to be myself. It’s friendship that doesn’t judge or advise, just loves and listens. I’m a very wealthy woman when it comes to friends because I have several such friends who love, listen, hear my heart, and understand me. The thing that sets Rita apart is the amount of time we spend together. Some weeks, we spend as much as eight hours walking and talking in the woods. Time is a precious commodity, and retirement affords the luxury of having time to spend together. We also exercise together two additional nights and share a beautiful family.

Each time I see Rita, I delight in her! That’s what makes our friendship so special and our walks more than just walks. I don’t care if we’ve seen each other every day for a week or haven’t seen one another in two weeks, I have the same reaction. Delighting in one another is what God desires, and it makes life more than just a life. It makes the walk a sweet journey and helps me live a life, as Pastor John says, worth living forever:)

Rita and I are often apart as travel and winter cause gaps in our time together. When we reconnect, we just pick right up where we left off as though no time has passed. That’s self-differentiation at its best, and I love that most about our relationship. We are who we are and enjoy our time together. There is a natural flow to both our walks and our friendship. She has a very big heart and welcomed me right into it the very first time we met. She does that to a lot of folks, and I was saddened when she lost one of those dear friends recently. She loves with her whole heart, and so do I. I thank God for placing her in my path and don’t take a single step we take together for granted. Thanks to friends like Rita, I get to walk in God’s kingdom now and enjoy fellowship like that above:)

Window of Opportunity

When I find myself in a situation where sin paralyzes me or I’m not where I should be, God gives me a window of opportunity to make a gracious exit. A dear friend and I were at a play one evening and decided to take the opportunity given. It was terrible production and physically uncomfortable to boot. When intermission finally arrived, we made a dash for the door and headed to the car. We both laughed out loud as we reveled in our freedom like two convicts who had just escaped from prison! God gives the chance for a gracious exit, but the window of opportunity closes quickly. If I hesitate or mull it over, I miss the chance to get away.

God has given me many such windows, and I’ve ignored as many as I have taken. The most frightening thing about God is that He will let me go my way, ignore His advice, refuse His love, and miss the opportunity to get out of that window before it closes. My problem is that I insist on tarrying, questioning, and dragging my feet. I am happy to say I’m getting better at getting out when God bids me go. Fear is what causes me to miss the opening in the first place, and I’m learning that fear flees when faced with God. The closer I get to Him, the less fear gets in my way.

Windows of opportunity open both to let me escape from my mess and to allow me enter in to what God has in mind. Fear keeps me from both windows and causes my spirit to become stale. Stillness is not about doing nothing but rather about constant motion. The beauty of a still, pure spring is the motion taking place beneath the surface. Purity comes from movement, and it is the same with my heart. God wants me to keep moving and enjoy the journey. He also wants me to pay attention when He opens those windows and doors along the way. God doesn’t want me to miss the opportunities He places in my path, but He won’t decide for me. He knows that most opportunities only come around once in life, and the window I miss will change the course of my life and the course of the lives of those I love. I do not exist in a vacuum, and my choices make a difference in the world. I miss most windows because of inaction, which is a choice. In fact, inaction puts my choice in the hands of others. Making no decision is the worse decision I can make.

Taking Stock and Letting Go

Letting go requires taking stock. Until I know what’s in me, I cannot begin the process of getting rid of what no longer belongs. Junk distracts and keeps me from being who God desires for me to be, and I am the only one who can discard it. I heard someone say on Oprah years ago that the best thing you can let go of is the idea that things could have been different. At first, I thought that was ludicrous, but the more I thought about it, the more I had to agree. Letting go of that notion clears a vast amount of room in my heart. Empty space is what God must have, but it leaves me exposed and uncomfortable. It’s not easy to clear and clean when it comes to my closet, but it’s next to impossible with my heart!

I sometimes watch “What Not to Wear” and see the pain that comes when closets are emptied and clothing is thrown in the trash. On the outside looking in, it seems a no-brainer to throw out the old and let the experts give you advice on what to wear and the money for a new wardrobe. Even when I know the results will be better, letting go of what I find comfortable is never easy. On the show, trusting the hosts is the key. I have wondered if anyone ever says no, and I’m sure they have many. I say no to God, the Creator, on a daily basis!! Again, fear causes me to miss so much, so I’m not sure I would be any more ready for the makeover than those on the show. The better question to ask myself is why do I refuse God’s offer to give me a makeover. He offers life in His kingdom now, and He is God. Surely I can trust Him with my transformation.

I cleaned out closets and drawers yesterday, and I would love to have had Clinton and Stacy’s honest feedback as I decided what stayed and what went. Having someone help me see myself in a new light requires brutal honesty, but it helps me make changes that make a difference. The willingness to let go after taking stock is what causes the real change on the show and with me. The change I see in the eyes of those who have been transformed brings tears each time I watch the show. The faces of those who loved and intervened is icing on the cake as they see the beautiful transformation. The most joyful part of my journey is seeing loved ones see themselves as I see them. It’s the same for God when I finally see in myself in His light. Before that can happen with God, I have to face that frightening 360 degree mirror. My heart doesn’t fare any better than my body when I stand before God, but I come away ready to change. Knowing I have God’s help and loving friends who truly care makes the looking, taking stock, and letting go possible.

I took lots of things to charity yesterday and got closets and drawers cleared of all that was simply taking up space and getting in my way. I had things in my heart that needed clearing out as well, and they were much more difficult to identify and discard. God helped with all the cleaning and clearing I did yesterday. It really all boils down to realizing who I am and who I am not. All that I got rid of yesterday didn’t fit or wasn’t me and needed to go. That was true for the closets and my heart:)

Spirit

In the unseen breeze

Aspen leaves rustle quickly

Mighty pine stands still.

The Right Gift

Mylah’s first birthday is Sunday, so I was shopping for her gifts yesterday. Gifts are important, and I don’t take them lightly when they are given to me or when I give them. Those who know me well know what delights me, and I know the same about them. I don’t always know ahead of time, but I know the right gift when I see it. Along with a willingness to search, I must be mindful when God puts the right gift into my path.

Gifts which involve giving myself are always the very best ones. When I was just beginning my journey and had very little money, I would give coupons to friends that could be redeemed for house cleaning, cakes, babysitting, or some other act of love. Acts of love are the always the right gift. I loved fulfilling the promises on those coupons as they were redeemed, so the gift gave back to me. Now that I have more resources, I buy gifts and sometimes give cash. I go backwards in regard to gift giving when I trade time for money. Time is always the right gift and something we have far too little of when it comes to those we love. No gift is greater than time.

My most cherished gifts are those made with love. I still have the sweet Mother’s Day gifts Tyler made for me when he was young. The little clothes pin butterfly and popsicle stick heart are on my refrigerator to remind me each day that the love that went into them is still in them now. I treasure them and would grab them should a disaster cause me to have to evacuate. The perfect gift usually surprises me when I find it as much as it surprises the one who receives it. Those are the ones I let God pick out. I’m still surprised when a gift He selects is just the right one. I know He knows what He’s doing, but I love that it still delights me each time He reminds me. I believe it also delights Him:)

I hope Mylah likes the gifts I found for her. I can’t tell you what they are because that would ruin the surprise. Actually, she wouldn’t find out or even know the difference, but I still want her to be the first one to see them. The beauty of babies is that they love whatever you give them. I could put something I’ve already given her in a box, and she would squeal with delight when she opened it:) I could put nothing in a box, and she would delight in opening it. I love that about children; the older I get, the more I’m getting to be like them. In fact, my memory is such that you could actually wrap up something I already have, and it truly would be a surprise! One of the joys of growing older:)

Giving something that you’ve already given reminds me of a special Christmas when I did just that for Tyler. He was away for his first year of college, so money was tight. I got some new things for him, but I really didn’t have the resources to get much other than the necessities. It seemed sad that he wasn’t going to have a fun present, so I decided to go to the attic and get all his favorite toys out of hiding. As I cleaned GI Joe sets and Ninja Turtles, I smiled and thought of all the fun he and his friends had with them. The remote control car needed charging before I could run it around the house, so I charged the battery and polished it up. The toys kept coming, and I enjoyed each building set and action figure as they reminded me of different legs of the beautiful journey he and I share. Ernie and Freddie Bear took me back to the beginning of his sweet life, and I cried tears of joy as I thought of Ernie waiting for him when he came home for the first time, and Freddie Bear arriving on his first Christmas in Hickory. I was also reminded of the beautiful gift God gave me when Tyler came into my life. Watching Tyler play with all his old toys was the best gift that year and avoiding that remote control car was icing on the cake!

Lillyann and Mylah still play with Ernie, Bambi, Lion, and Freddie Bear; and I use Tyler’s little blankets and pillow with them. Lillyann knows to be very careful with those special toys and loves to hear how daddy loved them. The right gift is the one that is still around decades after it is given. What makes it the right gift is the fact that love not only went into it but also stayed in it. I have to admit that I still go get Ernie, Freddie Bear or a little blanket when I need a hug. I also sometimes sleep with mama’s prayer shawl, a sweet gift my sister gave me after mama died. I cherish the love it represents, and it comforts me in a special way when I wrap it around me.

My home will never be featured on a design show because my decor consists of gifts that are special to me. They may not match or fit a certain theme, but I feel the love they represent and find comfort in each. Experts would surely rid the rooms of all those precious gifts if I gave them license to do so and would even consider them clutter. I know better and plan to leave them just where they are because they reflect my heart and bring love and joy into my home. I hope little Mylah enjoys her gifts, but I hope more that she feels the love that went into them.

I can’t think of gifts without acknowledging the most perfect gift ever, and that is the love Christ brought down on the very first Christmas. He laid down His life in the single greatest act of love ever, and He did it just for me. God’s love, Christ’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s peace are gifts I cherish more than all others combined. They are gifts that are unique in that once you truly get them, you cannot help but give them away. The more you give them away, the more you have them. They also last forever and can never be snatched away. Now, if that isn’t the perfect gift, I don’t know what is:)

Beautiful Beneath

My soul a quiet pond

The Spirit settles

Allowing me to see

Beneath the surface.

The Gift of Perspective

On a mission trip this summer, a friend shared a line he uses when pulling someone over for speeding or some other infraction. He is a former student, a highway patrolman, and a dear friend. Mike exhibits a strong sense of authority, but he also extends grace in all He does. I thought of him yesterday as God taught me a powerful lesson.

Occasionally, Mike has to deal with a driver who is angry or upset about being pulled over. As they rant or rave or cry or scream, he calmly tells them, “Ma’m, or Sir, let me give you the gift of perspective.” As he kindly, but firmly, reminds them of the seriousness of the situation and the consequences of their actions, tempers usually calm as that gift helps them see the bigger picture.

God pulled me over yesterday afternoon and gave me the gift of perspective. I was blubbering on again about how much I wanted something I couldn’t have, and He listened patiently as I prayed in the quiet sanctuary. I’ve had the conversation with Him before; in fact, I’ve been pulled over for the same offense many times. I sang the same sad song thinking perhaps this time I would get a different response. I’m sure Mike misses many of those who speed and break the law because He can’t be everywhere all the time. I’m sure he has repeat offenders who try to pull the same thing with him, but I’m sure it doesn’t work. God doesn’t miss a single infraction and must get tired of me trying to sneak past Him or cry when He pulls me over. Like Mike, God stops me because He cares and doesn’t want me to end up in a crash.

Tyler got his first speeding ticket on prom night and called me up to his room the morning after to tell me the news. He asked me to sit on the bed and said he had something he had to tell me. My mind raced, and my heart sank. I imagined the worse as I waited for the bomb to drop. He just handed me the ticket and didn’t say a word. When I read it, I began to cry. Tyler began to explain, saying he would pay for the ticket and the insurance increase. I stopped crying and immediately turned to face him. I asked if he really thought I was crying over insurance! I explained to him that a Jeep on a curvy road at the speed on his ticket could have resulted in a fatal accident, and I was simply thankful I wasn’t picking out which suit he would be wearing for his funeral service. He paled and looked down at the bed. He received the gift of perspective. He handed me his license. I asked him to write a thank you note to the patrolman who wrote the ticket thanking him for saving his life. He did, and life went on until the next gift came along:)

Gifts of perspective are the most difficult ones because they involve looking at what can happen if I don’t stop and think about the consequences of what I’m doing. Once I poured out my heart and stopped sniffing, I was able to see more clearly. I felt better knowing God heard my heart even though I knew I was not going to get away without His gift of perspective. I’m glad because my heart needed the lesson His perspective clearly taught. As long as I travel, I’ll be getting those gifts of perspective. They remind me that eternity is much longer than my brief stay here on earth. God’s plan frees me to love as He desires and live the life He has in mind. God is faithful to stop and give me the gift of perspective and help me avoid the crash that can occur when I get ahead of Him and forget that His rules for living, like the ones for driving, are designed to make my journey a joy for all:)

Bodies of Water

Falls rushing

Crashing loudly

Powerful cleansing.

Pool waiting

Sitting calmly

Beautiful filling.

Better Plans:)

I was very excited yesterday about my plans to take Lillyann to lunch and shop for a special birthday present for Mylah. We were going to the Cork & Bean for a crepe and then search for the perfect big sister gift. I could tell on the ride to my house that she was less than enthusiastic about my plans, but I decided to give her time to warm up to them. I knew she’d come around to my way of thinking.

As we neared town, I asked if she wanted to shop first. She said she wanted to play at my house first, so we headed up the hill. She wanted to play with her doctor kit, so we started putting together the doctor’s office and hospital. I got dishtowels for our blankets, and we went to work getting everything ready. I enjoyed watching as she slipped easily into her role. She decided we would have a special wing for butterflies, so we rearranged and went in search of more butterflies. Not difficult in my home:) She looked at me while she was fixing lunch for the patients and said she didn’t want to go to a restaurant to eat.

I usually have plenty of food on hand, but my refrigerator was bare. She was so sincere and sweet about it, so I asked what she wanted. She said mashed potatoes! I did have potatoes in the bin and decided that I could round up a meal if that’s what she really wanted. There’s a payoff for every choice, so I told her that I would have to go in the kitchen to cook while she played by herself for a little while. She said that was okay and added that she wanted to make something for Mylah. I told her that was a great idea and got some things together so she could work at the kitchen table while I prepared lunch.

She made a sweet little noise maker with an orange Gatorade mix container and some little smooth river stones. She made designs with a blue sharpie, and I grinned as I watched her attention to the task at hand. She also made two beautiful cards with more drawing and lots of stickers. We may not have been playing together, but we were chatting away while we shared the same space. It was so sweet to listen to her talking about how much Mylah was going to like her present. My heart was as warm as it’s ever been!

As we enjoyed a simple, but wonderful, lunch of lima beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and cherry-berry tea, I had to smile. I told her as we ate that she had some very good ideas when it came to lunch and the present for Mylah. She just smiled and said proudly, “Yeah!” You would think I might suggest the homemade gift after my lesson on gifts, but I needed a sweet reminder. Lillyann gave me just that yesterday as I remembered that it’s the time together that makes a meal special, and it’s the love that makes the present perfect. So thankful for my little mentor! I can’t wait to see and hear Mylah play with the present from her big sister.

After her nap, she wrapped the present with a little help and put it and the cards in a pink bag. I loved watching her proudly hold the gift and comment that it wasn’t too heavy. She was so proud, and I don’t imagine that shopping trip would have produced the same feeling as the little homemade gift. We rushed home so she could head to the movies and see Nemo with mommy and daddy while I played with Mylah. When they returned home, Mylah was beside herself with joy. I know Lillyann gets tired of having to share things with her little sister, but I also know that she loves it when Mylah squeals with delight when she sees her. I’m just glad I have a front row seat and get to see it all. Lillyann certainly had better plans than I did. I’m glad I came around to her way of thinking:)

The Sound of Fall

Leaves begin to fall

Beautiful carpet unfolds

Crunching as I tread.

Stop and Ask For Directions

Yesterday would have been my fortieth wedding anniversary if I hadn’t found the courage to leave. I needed courage to admit I was wrong and accept that God never has, and never will, sanction marriages that are not of His doing. Before I went through the ceremony forty years ago, I knew with all my heart that it wasn’t what God wanted. It wasn’t what I wanted either, but I believed it was something I had to do. Two wrongs never made a right, but I thought God expected me to correct my mistake. Marriage seemed the logical way for me to do that and maintain my pride at the same time. I know how silly that sounds now. I didn’t listen to God and went with my plans rather than admit I was wrong, swallow my pride, accept God’s forgiveness, and move forward.

I thank God for giving me a beautiful son and cannot imagine life without him. God brings beauty and love out of my wrong turns. I am most amazed by that characteristic of my Creator. He knows I am going off in the wrong direction and will not stop me, but He will use the circumstances in my life to continue to teach and draw me near. The rub is that the lessons change and are always more difficult when I insist on having my way. My problem is not being able to admit I am wrong. Admitting I’m wrong is the point when I veer off the path. Like those who stubbornly refuse to stop for directions, I pretend I know where I’m going and don’t need help. Repentance is simply knowing I’m heading in the wrong direction and making a turn in the right direction. It took thirty years for me to realize that two wrongs don’t lead to the right path! God wants me on the road and in the field living life and loving Him, myself, and others. As long as I wander in circles waiting for those two wrongs to add up to a right, I will not arrive at the destination God has in mind for me.

I’ve always allowed others to define me rather than looking to God who created me to tell me who I am. The most beautiful way He does that is to first show me Who He is. I have come to know Him as a loving Father, an expectant Groom, and a dear Friend, I see the Trinity as a beautiful Three in One. God wants the best for me, and that involves becoming one with Him. Staying in a bad relationship limits God. He is all powerful, but He will allow me to limit Him. That is what confounds and frightens me the most about God. I get to choose whether or not to let Him has His way in my life. He will take my bad choices and redirect my path; GPS will do the same when I get off course. The big difference is that GPS can be inaccurate, but God is always right when it comes to direction.

Until I let go of my pride and let Him lead, I can’t find His way. I know in my heart that I will get where He wants me to go if I will simply stop doubting and start trusting Him to forgive me for my bad choices and help me start making good ones. He promises to direct my path if I will acknowledge Him in all things, and I believe Him. The key to being on the right path is to stop making wrong turns and ask God for directions when I find myself lost:)

My Heart

Taken, but not held.

Borrowed, but not caressed.

Cherished, but not captured.

Fall Rain

Unexpectedly

Rainfall gently cools the earth

I pause to listen.

A Blind Hog and an Acorn:)

I always have been a very slow learner when it comes to life lessons. Book knowledge flows in effortlessly, but I find the obvious difficult to absorb. I suppose it’s why daddy called me stupid and why I keep getting blindsided. I am an incurable optimist who sees life through rose colored glasses. That works except when it comes to those unexpected lessons, then I feel like a football player flat on my face in front of the crowd after being blindsided. I get the wind knocked out of me on a regular basis, but hope still springs eternal. I usually dust myself off, laugh with the crowd, and get back on the field.

There is an old saw that says, “Even a blind hog will eventually find an acorn.” That pretty much sums up the lessons last week. Those who know me well, know that when I finally do get it, I don’t forget it! Learning may come slowly in some areas, but lessons learned the hard way stay with my heart. The best learning comes when I find myself face down. I cannot learn those hard lessons from reading books or listening to a lecture. They can only come from living. I’ve had many such lessons along the way. Some leave me laughing, and some leave me crying. Both leave me with resolve and an acorn of truth.

Mylah and Lillyann taught a powerful lesson in perspective yesterday. I needed the lesson and the distraction, and they gave it as only children can. God pulled me off the field this time for a serious talk. I know He has wonderful plans in store for me, and He’ll keep using those sweet little tutors as He gives me the opportunity to learn and grow alongside them. Mama warned me over and over that I wasn’t like everyone else, and that was going to hurt me. She realized I had inherited her very large blindside.

Seeing the truth is the only way to be free, but it blindsides when I’m not heedful. The trick is to come off the field, take that acorn of truth God places in my path, and plant it deeply in my heart. The process humbles but reminds me to listen, trust, and obey God. Unlike me, He does know what He’s doing.

Reflection

The quiet pool rests

Reflecting the bright blue sky

Beautiful mirror

Moonlight

Reflecting the sun

Filling the night sky, moonlight

Dispels the darkness

Thank You, I Think:)

Teaching middle school for thirty-three years gave me a deep appreciation for the English language. I love the way middle schoolers use words, and nothing thrills me more than seeing the transformation that takes place in eighth grade as those young teens begin to understand the nuances of language and learn to express themselves in ways that make sense to them and to others. They leave the dense fog in which they’ve been trapped for three years and start to take ownership of words. Until that transformation, language is a challenge for them and for those with whom they communicate.

I especially remember compliments I would get from students who dearly loved me but had difficulty putting their good intentions into words. I believe good intentions actually do pave the road to perdition, but those middle school good intentions always made me smile. Once, when I changed my hairdo, a young man told me that my hair didn’t look nearly as bad as it did before. I paused for a moment and quickly said thank you, but in my head I added I think:) I got lots of those middle school compliments, mostly about my age and my hair. I accepted them as sincere efforts at being polite and practice in expressing themselves effectively. The words “for your age” usually began or ended their attempts. Once I realized that middle school students clump everyone over thirty into the same category, my pride was appeased.

The only thing that matters about words of encouragement or compliments is the heart handing them to you. Those students were sincere and loving, so I was thankful for each one. The same comments are not nearly as endearing when they come from adults, but it’s still the nature of the one speaking that is important. Good natured folks often say things that cause me to bristle, but I just remember those middle schoolers and say what we always say in the south. “Bless your heart!” If you’re from the south, you understand. If you aren’t, it would take too long to explain:)

Words carry great power and should be taken seriously, especially when I’m angry. I tend to let my anger get the best of me when my pride is bruised or my heart is broken. I say things I don’t mean but fortunately it is usually only the walls who witness my weakness. I’m thankful to have close friends who hear my heart and listen to my hurt pride without judging. A loving response helps me find perspective. Pride steps aside as the voice of reason enters the heart. Humor also helps when I get a response that reminds me of my middle school days:)

I do miss being around middle schoolers, but reminders of those sideways compliments and twisted words of encouragement put me right back in the beautifully upside down world where words just don’t come out the way one expects. So to all compliments made by those who haven’t quite mastered the nuances, thank you, I think:)

Pride

Some say pride comes before a fall

I say that order is all wrong.

The fall comes first and then the call

Of pride who sings an angry song.

Heart and Soil

Clay pot

Broken and forgotten.

Mud pie

Stirred and left to dry.

China vase

Admired and put away.

Fertile field

Plowed and allowed to yield.

Seriously?

I went to a luncheon for senior adults today. Someone challenged me and asked what I was doing there because it was for seniors. I proudly told them my age much the same way I did when carded for buying alcohol in the early seventies. I am proud of my age and all the discounts that come with it:) I’m counting down excitedly the way I did at fourteen because I can’t wait to get Social Security! It’s even better than getting a driver’s license. Of course, I may not say that when my license is taken away for being too feeble to focus.

Being a senior is a serious matter to some, and I do notice that things are changing:) My body doesn’t move as fast as it once did, and my mind is like a cluttered desk much of the time; but I’m loving the freedom I have. Getting older means grandchildren, and I thank God for the privilege of being able to help with my sweet grandbabies. They keep me young, but I also feel my age after carrying Mylah or trying to keep up with Lillyann. What a joy those aches have become.

Retirement allows time to study and read and write, and I love doing all three.The learning over the past four years has been the most powerful to date. My head and my heart have been stretched beyond what I could have ever imagined as I delve into God’s Word in a way I cannot describe. Having the time and opportunity to do that makes getting older a blessing.

Falling into seriousness was the topic of the luncheon today, and Jack Hinson said it was the definition of sin according to the speaker at a lecture series he attended. He warned of the dangers of taking myself too seriously. The Baptist in me felt the need to repent as I’m very guilty of doing just that. Seriousness is important when it comes to a task, a job, or an appointment. I want my surgeon and my banker to be serious as they operate on my body or invest my money. I need to be serious about what I do, but not about who I am. There’s a big difference, and that’s where sin sneaks in.

It’s that pesky little self that gets in the way when it comes to seriousness. Self can always use a dose of silly, especially when hurt, angry, or weary. Laughter lets down my guard and lets in healing. It has been proven to be effective in the healing process, and there is even a branch of medicine called Humor Therapy. That doesn’t surprise me at all because I know I always feel better after a good belly laugh, and that sweet sigh that comes afterward releases tension like nothing else. I believe it is your body asking your self, “Seriously?:)” and self giving in and laughing along:)

I also know the opposite is true. When I cry, even for a little while, I am physically and emotionally spent. My head and heart ache, and I feel as though I’ve been wrung completely dry. There are different studies on crying. It can be a release and a relief, but it can also bring tension, sinus troubles, and stress. I think the difference must be if there is an end to suffering in sight. If there is none, the hurt gets worse. If there is, then crying gives relief. My head still hurts, so I suppose that’s not a good sign. It does help to have someone hear your heart and be a loving presence even if you know the hurt isn’t going away. A true friend offers a shoulder and feels your pain. I believe it is in the sharing that both laughter and crying offer healing.

I just can’t help myself when it comes to crying or laughing. Both are important release valves God put in place to help me deal with stress, and laughter gets rid of that serious little self that wreaks havoc on my heart and messes with my mind. I thank God for laughter and for tears. They remind me that I am human and that Christ shares the same flesh and knows the pain and joy that comes with it. That is a marvelous mystery that makes me mindful of the love that He expressed with His flesh. I am eternally grateful to have a Savior who laughed and cried just as I do. That changes the way I love and live my life.

Rain

Sprinkles softly causing me to pause.

Falls steadily causing me to stare.

Pours heavily causing me to duck.

Stops suddenly causing me to smile:)

Sitting on the Shelf

The china doll looks down

Wanting to play on the floor.

She sees the other toys

And wishes to be like them.

Daddy’s Coming!!

I watched the girls yesterday afternoon while Tyler got tires for his truck. I’m used to seeing them squeal with delight when mommy comes home, but I’ve never had the privilege of seeing them greet daddy. It warmed my heart as I witnessed the sweet homecoming.

After a long afternoon of playing together and eating some pasta, I could tell the girls were getting tired. Around five, Tyler said he was almost there. I told the girls that daddy was coming, and they ran to the window next to the door and stood together waiting. As I looked at them looking and waiting and calling out, “Daddy’s coming!” and “DAA?” I smiled and thought how I should have the same posture and joy when it comes to Christ. Suddenly, they were energized and waiting together for something wonderful.

When daddy’s truck pulled in front of the window, they looked at each other and squealed with delight as if Santa himself was arriving on the lawn. Actually, I suppose he was:) When Tyler opened the door, my heart melted as I watched the girls looking up and calling out as if they hadn’t seen him in a month. He smiled that beautiful smile of his, hugged Lillyann, and picked up Mylah. He had great news! Mommy was right behind him. Again, those squeals of delight filled the room! I couldn’t help but join in myself:)

The lesson the little ones taught yesterday was about expectant joy. Too often, I allow the rough fingers of this world to make my heart weary. I should get in the window where the sun is shining brightly and squeal the good news that Christ is coming!! I plan to keep the sweet image of those two precious girls standing in the sunlight searching for daddy’s truck near my heart when I get weary in the future.

Freedom

Truth, love, and peace

Free the spirit, heart, and soul

Mirroring Christ’s power.

God’s Mosaic

When it comes to love, capturing comes from letting go not from holding on. Love sets my heart free and holds it closely at the same time. Freedom is the key when it comes to the heart. It cannot survive and will not thrive when held tightly. Love caresses and lets go, and the heart is forever captured in the moment when I know I am loved.

Knowing I am loved releases my heart and allows it to move into the open space God has prepared for it to grow. Growth requires room, and I believe that is why love so often fails. There is the need to own that invades the heart when faced with love. Confusion results when fusion with another becomes the goal. Identity is lost in human attempts to become one.

Becoming one is the goal in relationship, especially when it comes to God. True love allows differentiation. In a mosaic, each piece is individually beautiful. When the pieces are put side by side, they form a wonderful new image. That’s how it should be with love. The oneness God desires is a body that loves one another and Him as they maintain the identity He gives to each. So often, love becomes a conglomerate mess and individuals become lost in the mix.

Wholeness in the heart is about maintaining identity and allowing love to join the uniqueness of individuals like those pieces in a mosaic. God will create the image if I will be who He created me to be and reach out in love to Him and to those in my path. It’s a wonderful feeling to be connected by love and know that I am part of something bigger than myself while still maintaining the beauty only I can add to God’s creation.

I may not be able to see the magnificent creation God is making, and that is where I must let go of my need to understand and simply love and trust Him to do the rest. Honest communion is what causes love to be a mosaic rather than a conglomerate. It provides a perfect space for hearts to grow and connect in a way that gives God the room to create His masterpiece.

Walking Through

A dear friend reminded me this week that “faithfulness may be measured not by what one feels in a given moment as much as by how one walks through that moment.” He added that it is the way I walk through the difficulties that will change the way I travel in a profound way. I know my walk is the classroom in which God teaches, and my motto has been “What’s God’s message for me in this experience?” The teacher in me also understands that the greatest lessons are those which come from my mistakes and poor choices. The notion that God will take my sin and transform it into something beautiful is a new thought that sets my heart free and captures it at the same time.

Hiding and running have given me comfort in the past when I found myself in the midst of circumstances which confound me. It is in the confounding that I find wonder. Thomas taught me that. I don’t have to understand the journey; it is, in fact, the traveling without the need to know when, where, what, and how that makes the walking through a powerful time of learning, healing, and connection. It is the need to know that makes the entire journey miserable for me and those around me. Nothing ruins a trip more than someone who constantly worries or lets the navigation cause them to miss the sweet fellowship.

Relationships made along the way make the journey a joy and the ride a relevant one. It isn’t about getting there or finding the way but rather enjoying the journey and forging friendships. We are all connected whether we want to be or not. I cannot dismiss those with whom I disagree. I can walk around them if they get in my way, but I must acknowledge them and identify what is creating friction in my heart. When I bristle at someone’s comment, I have to see what is in my heart that is giving the surface for it to create that friction.

The opposite is also true. When I find a kindred mind or heart, there is something in my own heart that desires connection. I can relate to the positive and want to attach to it. I have a dear friend who loves God more than anyone I know. He made me want what he had. Henri Nouwen says God will connect to God, and that’s at the root of those beautiful connections God allows so I can walk through the difficulties as well as revel in the beauty. I get to choose whether to connect to the positive or let the negative cause me to run and hide. I’m learning to embrace the love God places in my path and step around the negative.

I’ve never walked through fire or been on a bed of nails, but I have navigated some treacherous territory. Knowing that God and others love me enables me to walk through in a way that draws me nearer to the Source of all love. I have come to thank God for the sleepless nights when I argue or negotiate with Him about continuing down the path He sets before me, and a big part of the learning has been the way I feel when I make it through that tunnel or across those hot coals. I’m glad He cares enough to listen quietly and loves enough not to acquiesce. I’m also eternally grateful for those He allows to walk beside me.

Posture

When it comes to praying

God sees my posture.

Others notice too.

People see my piety;

God just sees my heart.

Importance is Relative:)

When I read Mark 9:30-37, I think of how the disciples mirrored what the world so wants to know. How important am I? We all want an answer to that question from God, our loved ones, our employers, and our friends. The disciples argued about just that:

Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn’t want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive.” They didn’t know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it.They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, “What were you discussing on the road? The silence was deafening—they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.” (The Message Eugene Peterson)

I love the way Jesus teaches. He first asks a question for which He has an answer. Confession is necessary to clear the heart and mind so He can begin. That’s true for the disciples and for me. I understand that deafening silence all too well; it is the beautiful open space God gives for growth. It seems like an abyss when I’m not ready to admit any wrongdoing or wrong thinking. Space is freeing, but only when truth is allowed free reign.

Jesus never answers my questions with a simple yes or no. Like the one He gives His disciples, answers are designed to make me come to knowledge. He doesn’t impart; He saves that for those who know it all and stand in judgment of others. He doesn’t work that way, and it bothers those who want easy answers and quick punishment. Christ is clear in His answer and gives food for thought, as always with Him.

Being first is still important, and it tears at the heart of God’s work. Divisions limit God and His work. Who gets to be the leader? Who will be in charge? Who will make the decisions? The answer to all those questions is obviously God, but man has the need to define and create a hierarchy when it comes to serving Him. Such a shame in that it causes His work to take a back burner to our plans. I wish the body of Christ looked more like Him, and it would be wonderful if we were more concerned with following than leading.

With the election coming near, division has reared its ugly head and is tearing our country apart. It’s hard not to get caught up in the anger this year. I’m used to the mudslinging that goes on, but this election goes well beyond the mud and is cutting right to the heart of this country. It breaks my heart, but it has taught a wonderful lesson as I’ve found myself floundering and falling right into the fray at times. I am reminded of the answer Jesus gave a group of followers falling into the same trap. He isn’t like the world, and I need to remember that. He isn’t running for office or sanctioning either candidate. He is bidding me to be last and to embrace the little ones who have the right answers until the adults teach the wrong ones. There’s a lot of bad teaching going on right now as those little ones mimic and mirror what they see before them. God forgive us all for that!

Crumbs

My heart sits and hopes

Like a little pup

Waiting for a crumb.

Beneath the table

It lies patiently

Never giving up.

Like Minds

It is impossible to completely surround myself with like-minded people unless I join a cult, and even then I am sure to find those with whom I disagree. God’s presence in heaven is the only place where all minds and hearts will be tuned to the same beautiful song of praise. If only that kind of kinship could be found here on earth. It is rare to find a kindred heart in this world, so I count myself blessed to have found several.

Like-minded in this world so often means joining forces, and I have had my belly full of those forces of late. That isn’t what kingdom kindred spirits is about, and God isn’t on either side. Those with whom I can share my deepest thoughts and desires know my heart even before I tell them. Honest communion frees the heart, and kindred hearts kindle a fire within the soul lifting it to a new and beautiful level.

When I am with a kindred spirit, my heart is light and my spirit soars. That is the sign that like minds and hearts are connected. The world is never going to be what God designed it to be until it stops worrying about taking sides and finds the sweet center where God abides. The journey is about going through the world in a way that leaves goodness and mercy behind me. I believe the last line of the twenty-third psalm is about just that.

Nothing creates more tension than folks with an agenda, and no one understands that better than God. I am guilty of knowing what is best and trying to convince others of the same. It is the very root of rebelling, and it puts me at odds with God as soon as I head down that path. A set heart is a hard heart. I’ve had one and never want another. Freedom is fearful if I forget that God never leaves or forsakes. He changes my definition of like minds and kindred hearts and gives me the courage to keep walking and the inspiration to find His beauty along the way.

Porch Swing

Rusty chain squeaking

Breeze freeing

Wooden boards creaking

Stress fleeing

Laws and Locks

Laws and locks are for honest people and do little to deter those determined to break them. If you’ve ever spent one a day in a courtroom, you know it bears no resemblance at all to the dramatic scenes depicted on the big screen. It is a waste of time designed to wear down those who follow the law.

My wallet was stolen from my car two years ago, and I got a taste of the judicial system at work. A former student stole my wallet which had fallen out of my purse and on to my front passenger seat when I stopped by the drug store earlier in the day. I worked in the church office, and two men had come by to talk with Pastor John. When I noticed my wallet was missing, I stepped in to him it was missing and that I was going to retrace my steps and would be right back. I wanted him to know it was gone, but I didn’t want to accuse anyone without evidence. He understood my message and took note.

I called from the drugstore to let John know my wallet was indeed missing. By the time I returned to the church, I found him waiting for me in the parking lot. What happened prior to his waiting was something I really wish I could have seen. After my call, one of the men drove by the church and waved at him. Well, that was too much for John, so he hopped in his car and took off up the road. It’s a dead end road, so he knew they would have to come back out the way they came in.

He found one of the men at a worksite and pulled his Prius sideways in the drive to block the exit and got out. I would love to have been a squirrel in a nearby tree and watch the action! After John finished talking, the fellow was contrite and decided to throw his stepson under the bus. He told John where he could find him. The police were notified, and John returned to the church parking lot to await my arrival.

When I heard the story, I couldn’t help but grin even though it was very serious business by the time I got on the scene. All I could think of was John in his Prius blocking the road and confronting the suspect. The policeman was also a former student and had found the culprit and my wallet by the time I heard the story of the dramatic capture. He confessed to the crime and took the police to the places where he had hidden my credit cards and wallet. Unfortunately, the cash had gone to buy pizzas for his friends. I got a call from the policeman saying that the culprit wanted to come by the church and apologize to me. I love that about being an old teacher:) They drove up in the squad car, and I reached in the back seat and gave him a hug and thanked him for telling the truth. I also told him all was forgiven.

I turned my attention to my former student who was wearing the uniform. I asked him what would be the best thing for me to do. He quickly said I needed to press charges to teach him a lesson. So, I filled out the necessary paperwork and began the complicated process. It seemed like an open and shut case to me, so I figured I’d have my things back quickly and not even have to cancel any credit cards. That just goes to show how little I know about law:)

I appeared in court as summoned and expected the process to be very simple. He had confessed, apologized, and taken the police to the stolen items. He even cried because he was ashamed he had stolen from me. How hard could it be? Well, I learned the answer to that very quickly. Delays are the order of the day in a courtroom. Keep putting it off and eventually folks will just lose interest or give up on getting justice. I stayed the course and continued coming for three more appearances. Lawyers got involved; DA’s were called in, and justice was dying a slow, painful death right in front of me. I spent three days sitting and waiting and wondering what in the world was going on.

On the last day, my patience was worn thin. I decided to just quit and walked out of the courtroom. As I was walking down the steps in front of the courthouse, I was telling myself and God that I had tried; that was enough, wasn’t it? I passed some men sitting on the steps smoking. They starting making disparaging remarks and using profanity. I thought to myself surely they aren’t talking about me. Are they?? Then I noticed the sheriff heading around to the back entrance. I threw caution to the wind and took off after the big black van. I should add that I know and love the sheriff. I knew he would hear my plea for help and sympathize with me, and I could use some sympathy.

The sheriff invited me to join him as he went in back entrance of the building, much to the dismay of those with him. He listened patiently to my story and told one of the men with him to take care of me. It’s amazing how those slow wheels began to spin. I found myself in a room being asked what I wanted. I stated that I simply wanted the truth to be told. Either my former student or his lawyer or both of them were going to have lie in front of me. It was their choice. I only wanted the truth, my wallet, my credit cards, and my money returned. They agreed to pass along the information to the defendant and his lawyer.

In a few moments, I was told the defendant had agreed to plead guilty. I could go back to the church and not worry about it anymore. That process took almost a year, and it has been over a year since the guilty plea. I still don’t have my wallet, my cancelled credit cards, or my $34.00, but I did get a lesson worth much more. Laws and locks get in the way of honest folks, but they don’t really bother those determined to break them.

God would say, “Welcome to my world dear.”

Both Sides Now (Sincere apologies to Joni Mitchell:)

Hope and promises of change

Tales of honor in exchange

Advertisements getting strange

Elections are that way

But now they only block the sun

They rain and snow on everyone

So many things I wish were done

Elections block the way

I’ve looked at them from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

In their delusions I recall

I don’t like lies at all

But now it’s just another show

They leave us crying as they go

And if you dare, don’t let them know

Don’t give your vote away

Seen politics from both sides now

From give and take, and still somehow

In their delusions I recall

They really have no love at all

Oh but now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed

Well something’s lost but something’s gained

In each election day

Seen elections from both sides now

From WIN and LOSE and still somehow

In their delusions I recall

I really don’t like lies at all

I’ve looked at lies from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It’s in delusions I recall

I really don’t like lies at all

Taking Sides Simply Divides

Jesus never took anyone’s side but God’s. That kept His heart whole and His mind clear. Taking sides breaks the heart, clogs the mind, and frustrates the body of Christ. The singleness of Christ’s allegiance and love is a beautiful example to follow. Unfortunately, even the disciples had trouble doing that. It is human nature to take sides and choose teams.

When I was young, I was always the last one picked for any team. I was small and hated it when we played a game that involved choosing teams. I knew I would be the last or next to last no matter what the game. I always played hard and tried to compensate for my size. It never worked, but I kept trying. The sweetest compliment I ever got was from a student when my intramural class was getting ready to play one afternoon.

Dusty came up to me before homebase and looked at my clothing and shoes. He said, “Mrs. Proctor, you’re not dressed out!” I was always dressed to play and loved being part of the team, but I had a big meeting right after school and wouldn’t have time to change before going. I loved that my students loved for me to play alongside them and looked forward to the games and activities as much as they did. However, I wasn’t prepared for Dusty’s next remark.

He was seriously concerned as he told me adamantly that I was the team’s third best player, and he needed for me to be ready to play. I didn’t smile, but I sure wanted to. I knew Nick must have been second on Dusty’s list! I also knew Nick would have been first on his list with Dusty second:) He inspired me so much that I decided not to worry about the silly meeting and quickly ran to get ready for the game. We often didn’t even keep score during those games designed to build community, but I was so lifted by Dusty’s estimation of me that I played harder than ever before. Funny how the way others view us affects our performance.

I think of Dusty when I think of how Jesus feels about my doing the work God places before me. God chose me and other silly humans to be on His side, and Jesus makes it clear that He needs all of us and sees us in the same way Dusty saw me. He bids me to get ready because He needs me. That is a mystery I don’t suppose I’ll understand until I’m in His presence, but it inspires me to do my best because He believes in me. That truly does affect my performance and attitude in a miraculous way!

The scripture this week is a beautiful reminder that the disciples behaved much like those kids picking teams when I was young. That leaves folks feeling left out or last picked. Jesus, like Dusty, comes to me and to all who serve Him and says just what Dusty said, “I need you, and you’re not dressed out!” He says it seriously, sincerely, and with a look that makes me drop the reasons or excuses I have for not getting out in the field, get ready, and go on that field with new life knowing that He believes in me and knows I can do what He needs for me to do.

The Pharisees take a beating in the Sunday School classes and children’s stories, but Mark reminds us that the disciples weren’t any better. That’s a great lesson for me to remember. It’s easy to point fingers at those who aren’t like me, but it’s not much fun to see myself in those disciples. Jesus knew they needed a reminder that we are all on the same team, and every member of that team is important. It’s a great reminder to me, as well. Here’s what Jesus had to say to a group who were concerned about taking sides.

Mark 9:38-50

The Message Eugene Peterson

John spoke up, “Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn’t in our group.”Jesus wasn’t pleased. “Don’t stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.“On the other hand, if you give one of these simple, childlike believers a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck.“If your hand or your foot gets in God’s way, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.“Everyone’s going through a refining fire sooner or later, but you’ll be well-preserved, protected from the eternal flames. Be preservatives yourselves. Preserve the peace.”

Jesus sure doesn’t mince words when it comes to dividing His body. Preserve the peace indeed! Taking sides causes the body of Christ to be divided, and Jesus hates that because it hurts God’s work. How I wish we could understand that simple lesson and stop sizing up one another and deciding who’s on God’s team. Now, I don’t think we need to rank the members as Dusty did, but I do know that feeling I am important part of God’s work gives me the courage to take the field.

The work Jesus has for me is much more important than the intramural game we played that afternoon, but the sweet lesson I learned from Dusty helps me remember to get dressed out and be ready for all God has for me to do each day. We are all on the same team and must see everyone as important if

God’s work is to be done the way He desires.

Meant to Be

When I look at my son and his bride to be, I think of the journey they have already had together. The theme of their wedding is “Meant to Be,” and that is exactly how I would describe their love. Love Will Find a Way is another title that would be an appropriate description of a relationship that has weathered storms and come through each stronger and more beautiful than ever. I thank God for the sweet family that fills my spirit and blesses my heart each time I’m with them.

Lillyann told me all about her role in the wedding yesterday. She was very serious about the petals she will distribute as the senior flower girl. She indicated that Mylah would be helping her:) She and Mylah are sure to steal the show and divert all the attention. I told Gina it was the only problem I saw with the wedding. Their little dresses are adorable, and given that they look great in play clothes, I can only imagine how they will look in them. Lillyann is also fascinated by the big cake after seeing a picture of it. Her eyes got very big when she saw it, and she immediately wanted to know when she could have a piece:)

Gina and Tyler haven’t taken the traditional route when it comes to marriage and family, but they have shared a beautiful journey that has brought them to a sweet home in the country, two adorable little girls, and a love I envy each time I’m around them. God has great plans for them, and I thank Him every day for what He’s already given. I have had a beautiful daughter-in-love for several years now, and I don’t plan to ever call Gina my daughter-in-law. It’s great to have a ceremony and papers making their union legal, but it’s much better to know that they share a special love that is meant to be. Gina and I are connected by love, and that’s the way I will always see her.

Love finds a way even in the most non traditional relationships. In fact, I believe it may have a better chance when the journey doesn’t take the traditional route. There is, after all, nothing normal or traditional about love:) That’s what makes it so amazing. When love is meant to be, it will find a way. I so very grateful my son found love, and it lifts my heart to see him love the sweet woman and two adorable little girls God placed in his heart and then in mine. It’s love squared, and it’s wonderful!!

Loving Lathe

The two-edged sword in Hebrews 4:12 isn’t a weapon designed to kill or maim; it is a loving lathe. As a wooden bowl turned by human hands, my heart is transformed into something beautiful as God applies His Word. The scars and hurts become unique designs as the lathe cuts deeply guided by loving hands that see what I cannot♥

I have a friend who turns wood, and I am amazed each time I see the results of his turning. I thought the process was controlled more by the saw than his hands. I didn’t realize how much effort went into actually turning the wood, which is all about the hands of the one creating the work of art. That struck me and made me think of the powerful words in Hebrews. The turner sees what others cannot. Like the carver, he sees beauty that the rest of us miss. I know the same is true for artists, musicians, writers, cooks, and all who create.

When I remember that God is the ultimate Creator, our relationship becomes clearer in my heart and mind. He made me! I know how I feel when I make something. I love it and just can’t keep myself from looking at it, holding it, reading it, and sharing it with others. What God feels when He sees me as His creation is so much bigger than I can imagine. I did get a small taste of that feeling when Dr. Han put Tyler on my stomach after delivering him. I looked at the tiny, wiggling life laying on me, and my heart changed forever. He was crying, and I touched him and told him how much I loved him. His little eyes couldn’t focus, but he turned to me and stopped crying. He knew my voice and felt my love. I was as close to God as I’ve ever been in my life in that moment. I was only a very small part of the process that went into God’s creating Tyler, but that glimpse humbled and still does each time I recall it.

God applies His loving lathe to cut away all that isn’t what He wants me to be. He knows that hidden in the mess of my heart is a beautiful bowl made unique by the brokenness and scarring. Without that brokenness, the bowl would be a perfect piece, uniform and able to be mass produced. I don’t like those bowls made into matching sets for the table. Imperfections make my heart one of a kind, and God takes them and turns them into His work of art. That changes the way I see myself and my Creator.

God sees hope where I do not. He sees joy where I do not. He sees love where I do not. If I give Him free reign, He applies His loving lathe to my heart. His hands gently guide my heart as the chips come loose and fall to the floor. There is great pain in the process, but the result is well worth the hurt. I have to believe that He is God and knows what He is doing and let go of what I cannot see. Only then will I find the joy, hope, peace, and love that His restoration allows. Only then will my heart become the one of the kind work of art it is meant to be. Ephesians 2:10 reminds me that I am God’s workmanship in Christ Jesus, and that amazes me even more than those beautiful wooden bowls do:)

The Heart of Encouragement

Encouragement is not giving someone courage; it is seeing into the heart of someone you love and helping them see the courage that is already there. It’s what love does when it joins with truth, and there is nothing stronger in this world. That beautiful combination enables me to do what I don’t believe is possible and help those I love do the same♥

The dictionary defines encouragement as “support that inspires confidence: support of a kind that inspires confidence and a will to continue or develop.” The etymology of the word comes from the Old French “to make or put in” and the Latin “heart.” Encouragement comes when someone truly knows my heart and helps me know it better. When love and truth intersect, a sweet balance causes me to find an inner strength that gives me courage I cannot find alone. God’s love and Christ’s truth allow the Holy Spirit to breathe life into my heart.

Courage occurs when my heart comes to life. I am revived and ready to move forward. Christ’s power is in His meekness and humility. It is what I find when I get to the center of my heart, and it “inspires confidence and a will to continue or develop” just as the definition states. For the first time in my journey, I have the confidence to go where God desires without worrying about what others may think. That’s very freeing and allows me to let go of my notions of courage and go with His.

The Need to Lead

When I think of leadership, I think of all the workshops and classes I’ve taken over the course of my life. Most had to do with education, but all leadership lessons are the basically the same until you come upon the teachings of Christ who leads very differently. His lessons in leadership stay the same and don’t change with current fads. It’s why they still clash with the world’s view of what makes a good leader. The world’s lessons feed those with a need to lead, and I’ve always had that need. I realize that whether I was trying to fix someone or prove something to myself or others, I felt as though I had to lead.

Getting to the bottom of my heart has been a difficult part of my journey. As I’ve gotten there with God’s help and the help of loving friends, I am surprised by what I find. I should have known that the journey to find self wouldn’t be pleasant. Otherwise, Christ would not tell me I have to die to self before I can follow Him. As difficult as it is, finding self does make it easier to do just that.

I have redefined myself several times during my life. Each has left me wanting to know exactly who I am. As I posed that question to someone in frustration this week, I realized God was directing the question to me. He has been waiting for me to decide and was all ears. Soul searching is never easy, and the outcome is much the same as that of finding self. The soul is seldom subtle, and when I go delving into it, I always come away shocked by what I find.

The good news is that such searching humbles and causes me to pause long enough for God get in a word or two. While dazed, I hear His still, small voice loudly and clearly saying that I need to remember Who He is and who I am. His model for leadership hasn’t changed. Jesus was not, and still is not, your typical leader. He will not be when He returns. He does not measure up by the standards of this world any more now than He did before. He doesn’t have the need to lead, and He didn’t seek out leadership positions or teach seminars on how to be a successful leader. That bothered the leaders of the day and would bother them even more today. His authority comes from God; that is, and always will be, His bottom line on leadership.

Jesus has a leadership style all His own, and it is the most effective one ever known. He doesn’t set out to lead; He sets out to love. Love is the impetus behind His leadership, and no matter how confounded the Pharisees or the disciples got, they just couldn’t get around that love of His. His love let those who hated Him have His life, and Satan thought for sure he had won the war when it came to leadership. Christ’s love brought Him back with even more power than He had before, and the war was won once and for all. There is no way to understand the love that put Jesus on the cross and brought Him back; it can only be accepted with the understanding that it cannot be understood. What a leadership strategy! Love, listen, and let go of the need to lead. The secret to successful leadership is knowing Who’s in charge, and it always will be. God doesn’t need any more leaders. Christ has His authority and will always have it. He needs those who will follow His lead humbly and without grumbling. Anything else is unacceptable.

Will the world like it? NO! Will it make me popular? NO! Will it get me elected to positions of power? NO! Will it help me win friends and influence people? maybe:) Will it connect me to the Source of all Love and true power? Definitely!

I know the world will always have hierarchies, and positions of leadership are necessary when it comes to organizations. God’s design is a body, an organism, and there is no hierarchy when it comes to a body. Whole and working together is what God desires. When it comes to God’s kingdom, there’s only one Sovereign, and the position is already filled. We are asked to follow, not lead. A simple seminar if I ever heard one:)

Stillness

Humility creates a stillness that stops and allows God the space and time to reveal Himself to me. Humbling comes when I see Who He is and who I am not. The humbling God allows is very freeing. Once I get over the initial shock of those lessons which bring me to my knees, a peace comes over me that is indescribable. Like a child in awe, I am ready to be quiet, give God my attention, listen to what He has to say, and learn the lessons He has for me.

God never humiliates, but He does humble. I’m very good at taking the ball and running with it; in fact, I’m a lot like Forest Gump when it comes to running with the ball. I don’t know when to stop and end up humiliated when I realize I’ve gone too far. The message yesterday was about God’s disciples being humble. It is the single greatest attribute for those serious about serving God.

The more I grasp the concept of stillness, the more aware of God I become. The more I understand the body of Christ, the more I pull away from the busyness of this world. That busyness becomes irrelevant when I experience His stillness. I’ve always been a person who had to be doing something all the time. I have come to learn that busyness can keep me from stillness, and that comes between God and me. So often in my relationships I over do and under be. It has been at the root of my problems connecting with God and to others.

Stillness is movement that creates harmony as I allow God to direct the action. Henri Nouwen calls the sweet movement “holy leisure.” It isn’t literally being still but rather being at peace in the midst of movement designed to bring a closeness to God. I’ve always had a hard time being still, and it’s caused me great stress while making my way through life. I’ve changed as I’ve grown to understand how peace and movement are beautifully connected. I no longer feel the need to be busy or fill the empty space with my voice.

Being humble is about seeing how silly my plans are when placed next to God’s. My handiwork looks like Lillyann’s sweet little drawings I so love to watch her create. She was drawing intently the other day, and I loved it when she described her subject in the process of creating her art. When she changed directions and started asking me to guess what she was drawing, I began to panic. My best guesses were falling short! Thank goodness she only thought I was a bad guesser. I love that about kids, and God loves that about me. My intentions are wonderful, and my efforts are intense when it comes to doing what I think God wants me to do. Humbling helps me relax and let Him draw out the plans and describe them as He goes. It humbles me in a very different way when He shows me His handiwork, asks if I like it, and tells me that He made it just for me:)

Disciple

Serious still servant

Lookinglistening loving

Awakened alert able

Vested varied valued

Empty empathetic excited

Peacemaking or Placating?

If you have ever uttered the words, “There, but the grace of God, go I,” then you will appreciate the lessons I learned yesterday. I get blindsided so often that I’m no longer shocked when I find myself face down in the mud wondering what just happened. Unexpected hits are never easy because pride takes the worst lick. Broken pride takes longer to heal than anything else, but the humbling that comes from the healing is worth the hurt.

God reminded me yesterday that being blindsided can be a very positive thing when He is the one behind the hit. If there are bullets flying in the room, my best friend is going to blindside me and take me to the ground. God did that yesterday and even laid on top of me to make sure I didn’t get up until it was safe to leave. God has helped me dodge bullets before, and He has pulled me out of the water more than once. I am grateful for His willingness to step in and save me when I’m in trouble.

When I come through an almost accident or a situation where I didn’t go somewhere I had planned on going and later found that something terrible happened, I utter the phrase “There, but the grace of God, go I.” It humbles in a way nothing else can, and I am all ears when I hear someone telling the story of how that could have been me. God often teaches me with visual aids because He knows that’s the way I learn. He showed two vivid images yesterday that took my breath away and left me thanking Him for His grace and His patience with this stumbling disciple who doesn’t get it until face down on the ground.

I have the tendency to want to fix and do and help others, and that is not what God has in mind. It is easier to do for others than be still and draw near to Him, and that’s why I choose placating over peacemaking. Peacemakers are blessed. Placaters are not. It’s easier to placate, and it’s something I’ve learned to do very well over the course of my life. The problem with placating is that it is never enough. That was what I heard and saw clearly yesterday as I learned a lesson I needed to learn.

Making selfish people happy only makes me and the ones I’m trying to placate miserable. It’s at the heart of enabling, and I’m an expert when it comes to that, as well. Appeasing has always been appealing to me because it gets immediate gratification for the one I appease and for me. That is hard to hear as are all of God’s lessons, but it is necessary if I am to learn the important difference between peacemaking and placating.

Peacemaking isn’t possible until I am at peace with God and with myself. Peace cannot spread if I do not have it in my heart first. It isn’t something I can give to another, so it doesn’t go along with placating. There is an endless source of peace in God’s love, and He so wants me to tap into it and pass it along. Satan deals with placating, and he will convince me that giving and doing and trying to make others happy is what God wants me to do. That’s where the bullet comes in. If I continue to follow the placating path, I’ll be face up from the wounds inflicted, so I’m thankful God blindsided me yesterday.

It’s not fun being face down in the mud, but it’s better than the alternative. Mud is great for my face, and when I’m all cleaned up, I can say with all my heart, “There, but the grace of God, go I!!”

Not Holding On:)

I had one of those sweet aha! moments yesterday as I left the church after communion. I realized that my heart wasn’t holding on to anything. I thought I might just take flight! All my life, I’ve held on to one thing or another in fear of losing my balance. I lost my balance as a very young child and never found the courage to stop holding on and let my heart walk on its own. My heart walked on its own yesterday, and it was awesome. On the last day of my fiftieth decade, I finally understand what Maya Angelou meant when she said, “The fifties are what you’re meant to be.” I also know why my sweet little Mylah gets so excited about walking without holding on!

I’m not sure what all happened, but I do know that I let go of the need to be anyone other than who I am. God’s timing is always amazing, and I had to smile as I got in the car and headed to my hair appointment. I love sharing the Lord’s Supper because I never feel as close to God as I do during communion. I suppose that’s why it’s called communion. Honest communion sets the heart free in the most beautiful way, and my heart was feeling more free than ever.

A free heart allows time with those I love and makes life worth living.I spent the afternoon and evening with Mylah and Lillyann, and there’s no place my heart would rather be than with those two sweet little girls. It was a privilege to play and then lay beside each as they drifted off to sleep. Mylah plays with my hair while drifting off, and Lillyann plays with hers. I play with my hair too, so we are kindred spirits in that regard:)

Children always have time to love and play, and that’s what makes them so amazing. It’s why they have balance while adults are always juggling, looking at watches, checking phones, and doing things. Children delight in those they love and have all the time in the world for them. Adults miss so much because they are rarely present either physically or mentally. It’s the way of the world, I suppose. Thank God for children who have no concept of time and live in the present. Time creates imbalance when used unwisely, and holding on to the past or fretting about the future takes me away from the center.

Everyone is given the exact same number of minutes each day; how that precious gift from God is spent determines the level of peace and balance in life. That was another powerful lesson this week that went along with the one on placating.

Christ is the heart of my heart and gives my heart balance when I remember that. My need to lead, to be loved, and to please are canes I’ve used for support because I didn’t trust my heart. I know Christ has always had my heart balanced in His. I’m not sure what God has in mind for my next decade, but I go into it knowing who I am and Who He is. I am not holding on to those canes any more and feel just like little Mylah as she delights in her new found freedom. Look out sixties because here I come:)

The Lady Doth Protest Too Much, Me Thinks:)

I love Shakespeare because His words tickle me:) I have always loved the quote, “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” I thought of those words this week at a time I needed to be tickled. Powerful truth lives in the words of Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. Protest in this context isn’t what you might think. Wikipedia describes it well, “The phrase’s actual meaning implies the increasing likelihood of suppressed feelings for the contrary of that which is being argued.”

Too much protesting is a sign that something is amiss, and the more I protest, the more likely it is that I’m guilty of what Shakespeare is describing. Unfortunately, I can relate! I protested too much and listened to far too much protesting this week. God used the line from Hamlet to teach lessons about placating and holding on. Shakespeare always gives me food for thought and chewing on his words reminds me to catch myself when I find myself protesting too much. My fear of imbalance and failing when it came to love kept my heart from being balanced. My need to lead and be who others needed for me to be kept me from being who I am.

As I begin my sixties, I plan to seek peace and be myself. Like Mylah, I’m new at navigating without holding on. We both are squealing with delight and optimistic about our new found freedom. I may fall and fail or get pushed down as little Mylah did yesterday when Lillyann got too rough with her, but I plan to shake off the dust and get right back up again just as she did.

The fifties have been a decade of finding, and I’ve found a lot. I began the decade leaving a terrible marriage, and I begin the new decade by celebrating my son’s marriage, a full circle of sorts. I see love and life in a new light and feel better about relationships than ever in my life. True love thrives on truth, and that is the best way to describe the lessons learned. Honest communion set my heart free, and I’ve finally found the courage to be myself and speak my mind honestly without worrying about what others may think. My problems with love stem from my fear of being who I am and not speaking the truth with conviction. A middle child tends to keep peace at any cost. That’s not true of this middle child any more; that’s not the kind of peace I’m pursuing:)

Truth stops the protesting that Queen Gertrude noted and enables me to find my voice and speak that truth with love. Knowing the truth about myself brings sweet stillness and peace and makes silence much simpler. I’m looking forward to seeing how this new freedom will affect my heart and my life as I let go of the baggage I’ve been carrying for six decades. I know it will help me live, as my dear friend puts it, a life worth living forever and love in a way worth loving forever too:)

Happy sixtieth birthday to me! It is a happy one indeed, and I honestly believe from the very center of my heart that the sixties are going to be the best decade yet:)

Unexpected Gift

Coming face to face with death was not what I expected on my birthday, but God had me do just that. I watched a sweet saint go into God’s presence yesterday afternoon and was awed and humbled as never before in my life. I wasn’t with mama when she died, but even if I had been, it wouldn’t have been the same experience because I was in an altered state and unaware of what was going on around me during that time. Yesterday, I was able to observe calmly and was touched deeply by God’s unexpected gift. It caught me off guard and caused a stillness unlike any other as I held my breath and watched as Edith took her last breath. She was so like mama, so my heart was immediately carried away in a flood of emotions that took me to my car and followed me home.

Being in the presence of death was a lesson I will not soon forget. Life is a vapor, and ethereal took on new meaning as I shared the room with death. Life is tenuous and a mere blink when compared to the eternity within which we live. That was the lesson as God captured and held my attention tightly in those few frozen moments.

Mama left a hole in my heart when she died. I think of her often but particularly miss her on my birthdays. She always made sure they were very special. She was like a child herself and loved celebrating birthdays. She would sometimes hide my present under the bed so I could open it as soon as I awoke. One year, I got a Barbie doll! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that lean lanky doll in her black and white swimsuit:) I remember birthday cakes and parties and feeling like a princess all day long. I felt very like a princess yesterday morning, but in the hospital room yesterday afternoon, I knew I was a bride.

Edith had waited patiently for Christ to come for her and grown weary in the waiting. I thank God for allowing me to see her wait come to an end. She isn’t anxious any more, and she is in the presence of more love than she or I could ever imagine. As I worked on last minute details for the wedding, I was reminded of the excitement a wedding brings. The bible study yesterday morning also reminded me that I am Christ’s bride. That changes the way I wait. I am to be preparing for His coming just as He is preparing a place for me in His Father’s House. I know He’s doing a much better job than I with those preparations, but I plan to improve on my preparing.

I thank God for the beautiful, unexpected gift of stillness in the presence of His love that touched my heart. Death helped me see life and love in a new light. It’s easy to get weary in the waiting, but knowing that Christ is also waiting eagerly helps me puts everything into perspective. It sometimes seems like a long wait, but if I wait as an expectant bride or a child on Christmas eve, the wait is not a weary one.

Building Bridges Instead of Burning Them

I have burned a few bridges in my life, but I have also repaired a few which seemed irreparable. When my injured pride comes in contact with my self defense mechanisms, bridges go up in flames. God placed vivid images in my path this week to teach me the wisdom of building bridges rather than burning them. Burning a bridge is necessary when a toxic relationship threatens my well-being or causes me to compromise on my beliefs, but I can turn from an irreparable relationship without having to set fire to a bridge. A simple dusting of my feet and moving on is more than enough.

At the root of burning a bridge is the fear that I will go back over it, not the fear that the one inflicting the hurt will come back over. I know I’m not the only one who fears returning to a bad relationship, but I was shocked by the lesson God gently taught me this week. When there is danger, a bridge needs to be burned. When at war, a bridge needs to be burned. Most other spans should be left open because connections are important to God’s work, and relationships are at the very heart of His kingdom.

Redefining relationships is much better than going to the extreme measure of burning a bridge. Burning bridges is a very old military technique that may have begun with Julius Caesar when he built two massive bridges over the Rhine in 55 BC in a show of power meant to inflict fear in the Germanic tribes nearby. He ordered both burned when those tribes didn’t react as he expected. He decided discretion might just be the better part of valor and burned those bridges to keep the peace and his property:)

I have burned three bridges in my life, but only one involved valor of any measure. I have to take a stand and burn a bridge when things are very wrong and compromise my values in a way that is unacceptable. However, a less extreme measure is as effective without the collateral damage and should be taken when possible. Jesus advised His disciples to wipe the dust from their feet, not to burn the bridge when folks did not accept the truth. There is a big difference in the two strategies, and wiping the dust off my feet and truly moving on is the most effective way to deal with a situation when a relationship is irreparable. The other two bridges were burned out of fear. Fear represents a lack of faith in God, and I realize that dusting my feet is more than enough if I believe God is who He says He is, and I have truly become who He desires for me to be. Burning bridges is an extreme measure that should be reserved for keeping peace and building relationships, not ending them. I guess we all can learn a lesson from Julius Caesar in that regard.

I saw the results of a burned bridge this week, and it was painful to watch. It is much easier to see the truth in someone else’s life than in my own, so God let me see the collateral damage of such drastic measures. Bridges may span great divides or simply stretch over a marshy area, but all offer a way out as well as a way in. There are people and places which need to be avoided, but to permanently cut off an individual or group is something to carefully consider. God knows better than I how terrible that can be. Separation from God’s love is the definition of hell, so any fires there involve burning the God’s Bridge. I’m thankful His Son is His Bridge. Becacuse of that bridge, I can be in His presence, experience His forgiveness, and be surrounded by His love. His bridge makes me humbly mindful of all bridges and causes me to pause before lighting any torches.

Pastor John introduced me to Fisher Humphreys’ view on forgiveness, and I learned that giving up my right to retaliate and praying for those who hurt me is the way to forgive as Christ forgives. That level of forgiveness helps me build new bridges, restores bridges I’ve burned, and keeps me from burning any more. I can hold on to my stubborn pride like a torch, look down at the cold cinders, and feel smug about being safe and right if I like; but I believe God would rather have me take the path His Son took. He prefers building bridges and restoring the ones I’ve burned rather than setting any new fires:)

The Worth of Weakness

Hebrews 5:2 says of the high priest “he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;” (NASB) Those words show clearly the worth of weakness. We are all are weak, but we are not all are willing to admit our weakness. Society discourages weakness, and meekness is not a valued trait. That is never more obvious than during an election year!

We are all human beings, and the author of Hebrews is saying that is a good thing. Acknowledging weakness builds a bridge between us as we share the suffering sin inevitably brings. Jesus is a compassionate Savior who can relate to my sin because He carried it with Him to His cross.

Human beings are vulnerable and weak and always will be. In recognizing my own weaknesses, I am able to relate to the those in my path. At the heart of God’s truth, if I am willing to hear it, is the inescapable fact that I am a sinner. I must come to a place of knowing and understanding that to accept the forgiveness He offers and begin to walk in His kingdom.

God became human so he could relate to us, and that is at the root of Hebrews 5:2. Even more compelling is the description of Christ’s prayer in verses 7-10

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”(NASB)

When I think of Jesus crying out to God and learning obedience from His suffering, I am humbled and comforted as never before. As I cry out, my tears are caught by hands that hear and sympathize as only those who have traveled the same path can. Christ never sinned, but He did take on my sin and understands my heart in a way that makes me want to obey and experience the joy He has in mind for me. He knows exactly how it feels to want God to reach down and fix problems and take away pain, but He also understands that won’t work in the long run.

Fixing and enabling teaches dependence not obedience. It is human nature to want to fix weakness instead of allowing it to takes its natural course and create the environment necessary to learn obedience. Nothing hurts more than seeing our children hurt, and God knows that better than any one. Nothing hurts our children more than making the path too easy and taking obstacles out of their way. It’s a most difficult lesson, and even Christ cried out for His Father to take away His cup. Obedience is not about control. In fact, it’s about letting go of control. That letting go leads to joy, and that’s why God won’t take away our suffering. He knows it’s necessary in order for us to learn obedience and find the joy He has in mind for us.

While there is no end to the cycle of sin, suffering, and obedience as long as I am in this body, there is also no end to the joy that comes when I respond with an obedient, trusting heart. That’s the abundance God promises when I understand the worth of weakness and humble myself in obedience to Him.God’s Holy Spirit will help me when it comes to obeying, and that will lead to joy. Coming face to face with my imperfections is part of His perfect plan. It is what knowing God is all about:)

Who’s In Charge?

Who’s in charge? The answer to that question is a sobering one. I am. God will not take charge of my life, and He will not make me love Him, listen to Him, or obey Him. It’s my choice. God presented the opportunity for me to teach that lesson yesterday. I teach high school Sunday School, and that’s a difficult time and a turning point in the life of a believer. The faith of my father and/or mother must become my own if I am to form a relationship with God. So many young people don’t make the transition well and end up wandering from the church body and the faith without ever experiencing a deep, personal connection to God. I hope to help young people find their faith and form a personal relationship with Him.

I taught middle school for thirty-three years, but that did little to prepare me for the teaching I’ve done during the past three years. However, I do recognize a teachable moment when I see one, and I saw one yesterday as I grew frustrated while trying to get students to focus upon the scriptures at hand. The scriptures were very important, but God had another lesson in mind.

God will let me be in charge. He won’t force me to listen, learn, or obey, and I made it clear to the class that I wasn’t going to force them to either. The most frightening aspect of God’s love is that He doesn’t force me to love Him and lets me say no. It hurts Him deeply, and it hurts me deeply, and that’s true anytime love is not returned. Trust and truth are essential when it comes to love. I wish I could help my students avoid the pain in life, but I know it’s part of their journey. Some things must be experienced, so I decided to give them the control they wanted. I left the room and closed the door behind me. I wanted them to understand that God will do the same.

You don’t have to ponder for very long when wondering why God doesn’t force us to do what He wants. That isn’t love, and love is His perfect plan. Loving because I have to is worse than not being loved at all. Sitting in a classroom doesn’t cause me learn a thing. Obeying out of fear causes me to learn hate. Those with lots of money and power pay or force people to agree with them and do what they want, but that never works in the long run. I hope the students learn the sobering truth at the heart of being in charge.

The beauty of obedience is that it takes a big load off my mind. I’m learning it’s okay if folks aren’t as excited as I am about God, and I no longer feel responsible for getting others to love Him or His Word. Loving God and letting Him make a difference in my life is all I can do. Hopefully, that will make a difference in the lives of others. Knowing I don’t want to be in charge is acknowledging that He is God and I am not. God will let me be the god of my own little world, but it’s never as much fun as I think it will be:)

 May I Have Your Attention Please!

As I watched Lillyann and Mylah yesterday, I was struck by their need for my attention. That isn’t a problem because I give them my full attention when I’m there. My heart goes out to momma and daddy who have to also juggle school, work, and household chores. The problem is that each wanted my undivided attention:) I was frustrated until I realized God was using those sweet little girls to teach a serious lesson.

With all the preparations for the wedding and the mixed-up schedule, Lillyann was feeling a little left out. I was also more frazzled and got impatient myself. Children are not the only ones with the need for attention, and God showed me that I am very like Lillyann when I don’t get attention from loved ones. Time is relative and so is attention. Like Lillyann, I forget that everyone doesn’t have the time I do, and I’m not the only one vying for their attention. I’m old enough to know better and don’t have the excuse of being three:)

Since I retired completely last year, I find myself feeling more and more like Lilly when folks don’t have time for me. I pout and fret when I’m by myself because I’m the only one invited to my pity parties. Lilly is honest and open and invites everyone to hers:) I know it sounds silly, but watching Lilly feeling left out today made me realize that I feel the same way at times. I stay busy and help with the girls, but it isn’t the same as having a full time job, school, and children. I was reminded of that today.

I plan to repent and remember that I have more time than most as well as the freedom to decide what I want to do with it. That’s the beauty of and the problem with retirement. I’m so thankful to have the time to help with those sweet little girls and to volunteer. It is a blessing to have time and freedom, but I have to remember that others do not have the same luxury.

The need for attention is at the heart of most problems when it comes to relationship. I’m not the only one who feels the need for attention, but I felt pretty guilty yesterday as I watched Lillyann acting out and saw myself. I may act out differently, but the results are the same. It’s not easy to see myself as a three-year-old who’s having a bad day; but that’s the image God chose. It was an effective one that embarrassed and humbled, and I plan to take what I learned and apply it to my walk.

When I focus on myself and the attention I need, I will always be disappointed. When I remember that time is relative and some have none to spare, I’ll think before I expect it from others. I’ll also be mindful that there are those in nursing facilities or home alone who have an abundance of time and would appreciate some attention. They also love lavishing attention on others.

Children want the same thing we all want-time and attention. When I have time, I expect others to have it too. In a perfect world, time would be more evenly divided as would all resources. In heaven, time doesn’t matter because God has everyone’s undivided attention. No one there worries about getting attention because they’re too busy giving it to God. When I’m giving attention, I think much less about getting it. When I give God my undivided attention, my problems concerning time and attention fade away. That was the beautiful lesson yesterday:)

While I Wait

What I do while I wait for God

Is entirely up to me.

I can sit and complain.

I can stand and divide.

I can lie down and quit.

I can look down and cry.

I can look out and judge.

I can look up and smile.

What I do while I wait for God

Is entirely up to me:)

I am only beginning to understand the deep joy God has in mind for me. It is not a lighthearted happiness that comes from circumstances or pretending all is well but rather a fundamental joy that comes from the overwhelming sense that God’s hand is holding me up when I can’t hold myself. I can then look up and smile at Him knowing that He knows me, and I know Him. That gives joy a whole new meaning♥10/10/12

Ordinary Time

In the Christian calendar, the time that falls outside the distinctive liturgical seasons is known as Ordinary Time. There are 33-34 weeks of Ordinary Time which fall between Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. In Latin it’s called Tempus Per Annum or time throughout the year. The term comes from the word “ordinal,” which simply means counted time and has nothing to do with the ordinary or mundane.

As I went through the busy day yesterday, I thought about how my own time is counted. I go from season to season much as the church calendar does, but it is the time in between those busy seasons that make up most of my life. Talking with a friend, sharing a meal, playing with the girls, reading, and writing would be considered ordinary time in my life.

Counting time is a big part of my life. Counting down from one holiday or special event to another is very like that liturgical calendar, but I miss the ordinary time in life if I focus upon counting down. When it comes to my calendar, the ordinary time is the most precious time of all. I understand the concept of the liturgical calendar and use it as I study and pray; but when it comes to living my life, I plan to make sure I develop a deeper appreciation of that ordinary time between special events.

Holidays and special events cause many to sink into a state of despair and depression. I think everyone can relate to that or to the post celebration blues that follow a special day. I thank God for the celebrations on the liturgical calendar and on my own, but I pray that I will gain a greater appreciation for the ordinary time in both and be mindful of how I wait for God. How I wait is entirely up to me, and I can smile if I remember that God has me in the palm of His hand. I rarely remember that when I’m marching off on my own. Mylah learned to march this week, and her goose step is hilarious:) I go off with my own goose step, and I am thankful that God sees the humor in my marching around as I see it with Mylah’s. Even Lillyann had to belly laugh when she saw her little sister’s serious stepping:)

Joy takes on a new meaning as I learn patience in waiting and understand that suffering is an important part of the process of finding the fundamental joy that so differs from the ha ha happiness I often seek Pollyanna happiness which leads to the deepest despair of all. The deep joy God has in mind is not lighthearted happiness that comes from circumstances or pretending all is well but rather a fundamental joy that comes from the overwhelming sense that God’s hand is holding me always. I don’t truly get that until I am made aware that I’m not holding myself. That’s where suffering enters in. As I come to that level of learning, I can smile knowing that He knows me and I truly know Him. That is what joy is all about.

Suffering teaches obedience, and obedience leads to joy. A simple path, but one on which I am given the choice of coming to know God and finding His joy or turning my back on Him and blaming Him for my hurt. There are times when I wish I didn’t have the choice; but then I realize that choice is about the obedience that leads to joy and knowing God intimately, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Heart of Diamonds

Like a diamond, my heart has many facets. God used that image to teach an important lesson yesterday. He has been cutting away at my heart for decades, and sometimes the pain is more than I can bear. Yesterday, He showed me His handiwork on my heart, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. God has always seen what I could not when it comes to my heart. I’ve made many mistakes in regard to love, but God is love and knows what He’s doing when it comes to love and hearts. He continued to cut and polish even when I resisted. The beauty of a well-cut diamond is that it becomes more beautiful as it is turned and held up to the light. My heart was turned all around yesterday in God’s light, and I saw love, hope, peace, and joy beyond anything I could have imagined on my own.

According to Wikipedia, when it comes to shaping diamonds, “Cut does not refer to shape (pear, oval), but the symmetry, proportioning and polish of a diamond. The cut of a diamond greatly impacts a diamond’s brilliance; this means if it is cut poorly, it will be less luminous.” I understand and appreciate that more after yesterday:)

The scriptures this week are from Hebrews 4:12-16

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

When I’ve read those scriptures, I have always imagined God with His scalpel cutting away at my heart in a loving and skillful manner. That is a beautiful image and one that is accurate given that the Greek word for two-edged sword in the passage is similar to a scalpel. I know the wedding today is all part of the image involving a diamond. In the hands of a master diamond cutter, a rough piece of worthless rock becomes a priceless masterpiece. In the wrong hands, a priceless jewel becomes a pile of useless dust. I’m thankful God knows what He is doing. His love has a precision that the world’s best diamond cutter envies.

God sees beauty where I cannot. He’s been carefully cutting and polishing my heart for sixty years. He placed it in the perfect setting yesterday and bid me to take a look. As He held my heart up for me to see, I saw love all around in the faces of my family, and I also saw Him in the beautiful mountains that I know He made just for me. He was waving and smiling broadly everywhere I went yesterday. I love it when He shows off, and He definitely did that in a big way yesterday. We all love seeing our handiwork and want others to see it too. God is no exception:)

I thought you might think I was exaggerating, so I’m including a photo:) Can you see God in the background? He’s always there, but sometimes I don’t notice. Can you imagine that?

Gigi, Gigi Susie, & Meme:)

A Servant’s Heart

The wedding yesterday reminded me of the value of a servant’s heart. There were several beautiful examples as I looked around the room last night and perused the photos this morning. Rita is officially family now, but she has been a dear friend and kindred spirit for much longer. She exemplifies the servant’s heart and is as selfless as anyone I’ve ever known. Her son, Kevin, is the most kind and giving man I’ve ever seen. My son showed his true character in the beautiful vows that showed his love for God and his precious girls. As he waited patiently, I thought of Christ who does the same when it comes to me:)

There was a lot of waiting yesterday, but Rita calmly went about taking care of all the details so others could have the spotlight and enjoy the wedding. I learned many valuable lessons from her last night. The most important was on focusing upon what is truly important. She held Mylah while she slept and took her home with her for the evening. She watched and beamed as those in the room enjoyed all she had done to make a special occasion more memorable. She not only understands exactly what Christ meant when He called us to be servants, she is one:)

While others were frazzled, she was calm. While others were impatient, she was relaxed. Rita will always be close to my heart, and I pray that I will grow to be more like her as we share the path. I thank God for the lessons and the love I got yesterday. Good waiting is about knowing what is important, but it is more about what you think of yourself and others. Rita clearly thinks of others, and I love that about her. I saw the same selfless love in my son as he did a great deal of waiting yesterday. He smiled and listened and let his bride have her day. I love that about him.

Kevin, or Pepe as the girls lovingly call him, quietly took care of so many tasks that I lost count. He always does that, and I forget sometimes to acknowledge his selfless and sacrificial love. That’s so true of those who quietly take care of what needs to be done without wanting or getting any credit or attention. I admire Kevin and told him years ago how thankful I was that he is in Tyler’s life. He made sure Gina and Tyler had a beautiful wedding, and I love him for that. His mom is a dear friend, and he is like a son to me.

As we danced last night, I’ve never been more proud of Tyler or closer to God. I love this photo because Rita, Kevin, and Tyler are all in it. The moment was a special one for Tyler and for me, and Rita is enjoying it as much as we are. Kevin was busy taking care of the endless details that made the evening so special That’s what love is all about, and I was privileged to be surrounded by it.

Between God and Me:)

Love is the only thing that matters when it comes to a wedding. Tyler and Gina’s wedding was a perfect example of that. I almost let all the activities and busyness of the week come between God and me, and I almost let His lesson in love slip away. I’m glad He persisted, and I’m thankful I finally understood His lesson last night. Weddings have the tendency to be busy, and this one was no exception. In the midst of the madness, God managed to quiet my spirit and touch my heart as never before. The images and lessons were clear, and His message was unmistakeable. All came together in a powerful way, and I found peace-filled relief as I listened to Him.

There comes a time when the only choice is letting go, and that letting go allowed me to draw nearer to God this week. I have a choice when it comes to doing and having what God desires. I can be obedient, or I can make the process more difficult for Him and for me. I do that by rationalizing, ignoring the obvious, and delaying Him with my persistent questions and need to know. Lillyann helped with that lesson this week:) The lessons were obvious and would have been comical had they not cut so very deeply into my heart.

I was powerfully reminded that the things which get to me most are the ones which touch upon a sensitive spot in my heart. That sensitivity is always about my refusal to learn a lesson or see a truth about myself. If someone particularly angers or irritates, that indicates there is something in them which I refuse to see in myself.

I got myself into a dither over nothing this week and didn’t like what I heard and saw, but I learned the truth God wanted me to see. The truth often hurts, and the pain of recognizing that I share the quality that brings judgment when I see it in others is beyond humbling. It is devastating. God is faithful, so when I was humbled and flat on my face before Him yesterday, He gently led me to a place of understanding. I am thankful that He is faithful to take my humility and use it to teach. Last night as I cleaned, I found healing in a way I cannot describe effectively.

I opened windows as I cleaned, and the air that came through them felt like the Holy Spirit Himself airing me out. I couldn’t get away from that October breeze no matter where I went in the house, and I’m glad. It cleared my heart and my sinuses:) I was as tired as I’ve ever been in my life when I got home after dark, and I had to smile when I realized I was breathing was better. I love it when God does that. I slept like a baby after the physical activity that was such a blessing to me. Last night was icing on the beautiful cake this week.

Speaking of cake, we never got to the groom’s cake at the wedding. Things were hectic, and it was left unnoticed. If it had been an ordinary cake, I would have tossed it, but it was a heavenly work of art, so I brought it home and put it in the refrigerator. I wanted to save it, so I cut it into pieces to put in the freezer for the kids. I decided to have a piece, and it was amazing! I have never eaten a better chocolate cake in my life!! I can’t wait until Tyler and Gina taste it this evening. I plan to have some waiting for them and know they will enjoy it even more than I did.

Difficult lessons are difficult for a reason. Most lessons God has in mind are not easy, but they are the ones I most need to learn. That late night chocolate was literally a sweet sticker God put on the week to let me know that He noticed that I did something hard and learned something valuable as a result. My students know how I feel about stickers, so they’ll understand just what I mean. Whether it’s one of Lillyann’s little yellow stars on the refrigerator, a smiley sticker in school, or an A on an important entrance exam, it all adds up to the same feeling. I did what I was supposed to do, and in so doing learned a valuable lesson. It’s nice when someone notices, and God never fails to notice because He is God the best teacher ever. Obedience does indeed lead to joy.

Here’s my facebook post this morning and the amazing image that helped me remember that when it comes to a groom and his bride, love is all that matters. The same is true for God and me, and I don’t plan to let anything come between me and my God:)

This beautiful image captures the love between Tyler and Gina. Just as with this wonderful couple, nothing must come between Christ and me. I let the waiting of this world and the scurrying around do that sometimes, but Gina and Tyler taught me that love is all that truly matters when it comes to a wedding. My favorite moment in the wedding was when they expressed that love to one another in the vows they prepared. “I vow to let nothing come between us, God, and our children, and hold this beautiful family under God as my guiding light from now until eternity.” When I heard that, my heart could only say amen and pray the same for all of us. Thank you Aaron for your sweet patient love that captured the image that sums it up so beautifully♥

When it comes to weddings, nothing matters but the love between the bride and groom:)

Stillness

Stillness is ever waiting

For me to slow down my pace

To stop and take a moment

And forget about the race.

Often I have to be forced

To wait for a circumstance

Or be worn by weariness

To offer stillness a chance.

When I do stop to notice

I can hear a raindrop fall

And take in the tenderness

Of the One behind it all.

Mylah High:)

When Gina came home from class yesterday, I stayed while she feed Mylah. Lillyann is sick, and I wanted to give her some special attention while Mylah nursed. Mylah is in the difficult process of weaning, so she was cut off before she was ready to stop. I love the sweet expression on her face after she nurses. I call it a Mylah high:) Her eyes are glassy, and her countenance expresses joy and peace and love all rolled into one. She has complete contentment, something for which we all search. My journey has lead me to many substitutes when it comes to finding the satisfaction my heart, body, soul, and spirt so crave. Yesterday, as Mylah and Lillyann slept on top of me, I finally found it. I learned this week that listening to and obeying God connects me to Him and His love in a way that is much better than a Mylah high:)

It’s easy to point fingers at those who do drugs because they are illegal and most folks don’t use them. It becomes a little harder to point to those with alcohol addictions and impossible to point at those who use food to get high. Workaholics are rewarded by society, and those who do everything because no one else will are dubbed saints in the church. We each have a drug of choice, but it never comes near the sweet satisfaction Mylah gets from nursing. God’s love is the only potion known to man that is better than mama’s milk. There is an unlimited supply; it’s free, and there are no harmful side effects. So why isn’t everyone running out to get some?

The problem is connecting and staying connected to the sweet source of God’s love and doing His will rather than mine or the world’s. Christ connects me to God’s love, and His Holy Spirit and Word keep me connected and help me find His will. Like everyone, I’ve tried many paths to contentment. They all left me either stuffed and miserable or drained and starving. Food is the safe drug of choice because churches not only condone gluttony, they encourage it. Fellowship around the table is essential to relationship, but the gathering often is more about filling than fellowship. The practice of having the Lord’s Supper together as a way of connecting to God and to one another has evolved into a plethora of platters filled with things that satisfy our bellies and have little to do with worship. Gluttony has become the sin of choice out of both convenience and frustration.

The world is like that platter of tempting food, and God’s will is the simple loaf and cup often overlooked. His will becomes my project done on my time with with due credit and accolades expected. God’s simple will sits on the back burner. Activities replace relationship and it comes down to I’ll do it if you feed me. I’ll get around to it after work if I’m not too tired. I’ll do what’s expected if there aren’t any shows, games, practices or better offers in the way. I’ve chosen to do and do rather than drink in God’s sweet nourishing love, draw near to Him, and do His will. Mylah will nurse anytime, anywhere, and any way. I pray I’ll have the same attitude when it comes to doing God’s will from now on.

Mylah needs nourishment, but she also needs the intimacy of mama’s presence. The same is true when it comes to God. He is Jehovah Jireh and will provide for all my needs, but He is also Adonai. Mylah is learning the hard lesson that she must transition to solid food and was absolutely adorable holding on to a little piece of cornbread and strutting around like a big girl yesterday. I spilled milk all over her shirt and scared her half to death when I had a bottle malfunction. I’m sure she was wondering why I even bother with the bottle when there is a perfectly wonderful alternative available. I wonder the same thing when I think about how God is on the back burner for so many when it comes to getting high. Mylah will eventually let go of the bottle and learn that it’s really mommy’s love that makes nursing so special. She will always have that. Her name means “My Love Always,” and mommy made it up:) God’s love is always there. Listening to His sweet voice and doing that which He places in my path is meant to help me draw nearer to God’s love. Love is what I have always sought, and in finding God’s, I’ve found my source of contentment.

I feel just the way Mylah looks each time I study God’s Word, pray, do His will, or just take time to be with Him. It’s even better than a Mylah high. As I do what God places in my path, I understand exactly how Mylah feels when she nurses. When I try to placate or pacify with that which the world places in my path, I feel just like Mylah did with milk all over her and the floor. God has shown me over the past week what it feels like to be closely connected and taking in His sweet love. As I have done His will and seen the results in my own heart and in the lives of those I’ve touched, I have achieved an even better high than Mylah.

I’m not getting weaned; I’m just getting started. I’m addicted and pray that Mylah and Lillyann also get addicted to doing God’s will because it allows the fruit of His Spirit to grow beautifully. There’s nothing like it in this world:) The alternative is a sick belly that leaves me feeling the way Lillyann did yesterday. Nothing can satisfy when the tummy is twisted in a knot, and that’s what doing the world’s will feels like. Doing and doing just to do creates a big a pile of do do, and that isn’t pleasant for anyone. The way to tell the difference is the bellyaching that comes from the do do in doing my will or the world’s. There is peace that’s better than a Mylah high when I’m doing God’s will.

God’s will isn’t difficult to find. Mother Teresa used to ask those who wanted to follow her and do what she did if there was no one in their home, their family, their neighborhood, or their community who needed them. She told them when there were none there, to come and find her. That was enough to humble, and I thought of her this week as God has reminded me of the many in my path who need a loving hand. Doing God’s will doesn’t bring attention or accolades, but it does bring the sweet sense of satisfaction that leaves me with glassy eyes and a state of contentment. Knowing my contentment will be complete when I come into His presence and spend eternity with God changes the journey and puts a bounce in my step as I walk in His kingdom now:)

When A Door Closes….

I ended up on the Road to Nowhere this afternoon instead of my regular aerobics class. As I walked toward the door to the church, I just couldn’t go in. I had been outside with Mylah and Lillyann earlier in the day, and I did not want to go home and sit. I needed to exercise, but that door was definitely closed. I decided to call Rita and see if she wanted to walk up Indian Creek.

Rita lives on the Road to Nowhere and wanted me to come to her house and see her new curtains. She said we could walk down the driveway and take a short walk afterward. We ended up walking and talking for an hour. The views were breathtaking as was the walk on the extremely steep grade. It was just what my heart needed. God used the change in plans to teach me a very important lesson. When a door closes, the world opens up. I had to smile as He took the blindsiding I got earlier and used it to open my eyes to His handiwork and His will.

The lessons this week have been powerful ones about my family and my world. I’ve allowed myself to be confined and defined in ways that constrict and come between God and me. Today, He showed off on a wagon ride with the girls and an unexpected trip to Nowhere. For those of you unfamiliar with the famous Road to Nowhere, here’s a link to some amazing photos that will help you understand what God had in mind for me today, and what I would have missed if I had gone in that door and done repetitive exercises indoors: The Road to Nowhere

As I walked and talked, I looked at the beauty around me and realized that nowhere is the perfect destination. I talked earlier in the morning with a friend about the frustrations that come with not knowing what’s next in the path. God’s will isn’t about settling down in a building, mapping out a life-long plan, and then sitting back comfortably to wait until He comes or I go. It is about getting out into the world, finding His beauty, loving my family and friends, and taking time to just be with Him. I am guilty of sticking to the safety that the same routine offers, and God made it perfectly clear today that the lessons this week have been about changing that.

The irony is that folks literally travel from all over the world to ride on The Road to Nowhere. It’s only one example of the beauty God places directly in my path each day, and I marvel at how I can ignore it. The girls wagon ride was another example of my not noticing the spectacular right before my eyes. Here is the view they see each day when they go out to play. Lillyann’s room looks out on some amazing views, and the horses are just icing on the cake. Her room is all about horses, and we played horses while I was there today.

How in the world can anyone take that view for granted? God would like to hear my answer to that question:) The girls ran to the kitchen window several times today to look at the horses, and I went with them and enjoyed the horses and the girls’ delight in them. Sometimes, God has to close a door to get me out into His world. He bid me to come out and play today, and I’m glad that two little girls and a closed door nudged me in the right direction. Now, I pray I will do it on my own each and every day as I set out on the road God has in mind for me even if it isn’t the one I had in mind or is clearly marked “The Road to Nowhere:)”

I have to add another picture that I believe God would want me to include as I had a nice conversation with the fellow across the street from the kids before I headed home. I should have listened to what he and God were saying to me, but I stubbornly went down my own path to do the same repetitions I always do for exercise instead of getting outside on this spectacular day. I’m glad God closed a door so I could get out into His world and enjoy all He had in mind for me today. My new friend is very handsome and is filled with good old common horse sense. I love that in a man:)


The Nearest Exit

I always find the nearest exit when I’m in a hotel or a theater. I’m not sure why it’s so important in those places in particular, but I relax when my escape route is clear. I was reminded of that habit as I looked for the nearest exit for my heart for the second time this week. God opens and closes doors when it comes to my heart, but He also allows me to do the same. It’s a beautiful example of the freedom He gives as I walk in His kingdom. He showed me this morning that forgiveness is His escape route of choice. It is very near, but pride and fear keep me from opening it and allowing His healing to come in.

Lillyann is three and fascinated by shutting her door and locking it so Mylah cannot come into her room. I’m the same way at times when it comes to forgiveness and find myself in the same position as Lillyann did yesterday. She decided to go into mommy and daddy’s room and lock the door. I told her she could stay in there while Mylah and I played if she wanted to. In her hurry to get out, she found she couldn’t get the door open. There was a very brief moment of fear as she worked on the knob. I let her try to open it because I knew she needed to know how. It only took one more try before she got it open. She was both relieved to get out and happy that she opened it herself. I thought of her this morning as God reminded me to be careful about closing and locking doors. I can’t move on if I shut myself in or allow fear from keep me in or out of a place.

It’s necessary to move forward, and that may mean wiping the dust off my feet and not returning, but I’ve had enough locked doors and enough dust to last a lifetime. Like Lillyann, I sometimes want to shut a door and lock it, but like her, I quickly miss what’s going on without me:) God placed those in my path this week who have hurt me deeply and broken my heart. Coming face to face with them is the only way to deal effectively with the hurt, and God knows I need to do that. He also knows I need to unlock the door myself. The truth puts pretense in its place and allows the heart to let go of the need to retaliate. It’s what forgiveness is all about, and God reminded me this morning that forgiving as Christ is the nearest exit when it comes to my heart. It enables me to truly let go and be who God wants me to be.

Taking the exit God desires is never easy, but it brings me nearer to Him, and that’sright where I want to be. I got caught up in frustrations and fears yesterday, and I didn’t like what I saw or felt. When that happens, I know I’m off center and need to take the nearest exit and get right back where I belong. It doesn’t take much of a whirlwind to throw my heart off balance, but God offers an entrance to His presence if I’ll take the nearest exit find my way back to Him. He also knows it’s best for me to learn how to unlock that door myself:)

Stumbling is Humbling

One of my favorite verses is Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” That is the underlying theme this week as God has taken the circumstances in my path and used them to teach lessons as only He can.

Last night as I listened to Robbie Campbell describe the living conditions in the Dominican Republic, I was humbled and ashamed at the excess in my own life. There is more than enough for all in this world, but the hoarding that takes place keeps food from the hungry and fresh water from those who thirst. I always pray that God will let me hear Him as I go into a service or study His Word. The most important thing I heard last night was something I used to preach to my classes, there is something only I can do, and if I choose not to do it, it will be left undone. God calls each of us to do a work for Him that only we are able to do. That humbles and sobers as nothing else. There are those who will be hungry if I do not notice, those who will die from thirst if I do nothing, those who will not know of Christ’s precious grace, if I do not live it out in my own life. There are also those who will die never reaching an intimate level of relationship with others or God if I do not reach out, and those who will give up without the encouragement I am here to offer.

God has prepared the path, but I must stay the course. I thank Him for dear friends who help me stay on track and keep me accountable. The messages this week have all been about the importance of forming relationships that go deeply into my heart and allow the honest communication necessary for that accountability. Love draws me nearer to God and helps me be a loving presence to those already in my path and those who will come into it. I’ve ignored the obvious when it comes to missions and missed opportunities to make a difference in my family and community by getting off the course God has prepared. I have stayed on the surface when it comes to relationships out of fear of being hurt again. I thank God for helping me see His will and hear His call; I pray I will find and stay at the depth He desires in regard to my heart. With His help and the help of those trusted friends sharing my journey, I know I can be the loving presence He needs as I learn and grow even in my stumbling. Perhaps I should say especially in my stumbling! Stumbling is humbling:)

Unrequited Love

God has more in mind for me when it comes to love, and He made that clear with a powerful image and lesson my heart so needed this morning. His love is the perfect example of love, and He knows the desires of my heart because they are the same as His.

I can’t control circumstances or people and wouldn’t even if I could. My choices in regard to love have been ones that reflect the way I see myself. It is hard to break old patterns and stop listening to those voices from my past that say I am not worthy. My sisters advise me to stop listening to them, but there is comfort in familiar tunes.

Unrequited love is something God knows all about. Christ went to the cross with a love so beautiful that it needed no response. He knows response is up to the one loved. I am learning the same. Circumstances close doors, but they do not change hearts. I’ve been trying to change my heart in the face of those closed doors and asked God this morning to do what I cannot. He did just that as He helped me understand the cause of my heart problems.

I had a very unstable environment in childhood when it came to love. The unhealthy attachments between in my early life planted seeds of dysfunction in my heart. I realzie my ex-husband wasn’t the only one with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I see that my intense need to be accepted and loved comes from the unstable start my heart had in this world, and that knowledge is healing.

When I hurt but cannot find the pain’s source, I can think of nothing else. I’ve had a terrible pain in my heart for sixty years, but with God’s help this morning, I finally found the thorn in the core of my heart that was causing that pain. Letting God work that thorn to the surface was excruciating, but it was worth the suffering to put an end to the dull aching throb that came with every beat.

Many say unrequited love is necessary for creative works of art, music, and literature; Mary Ward calls it “the poetry of frustration.” That is truth in that I understand first hand. God understands it better than anyone. His Son’s willingness to love completely and sacrifice all for those who would never even notice is the ultimate when it comes to unrequited love. Expressing love without worrying about response is the way He loved, and it is the only way to love. Sacrificial love is the highest form of love, and unrequited love will always inspire. There will always be pain when it comes to love because by its very nature, love brings the greatest suffering as well as the greatest joy to life.

Seeing and understanding the truth allows me to love and live differently. Change is always difficult even when it means the absence of familiar pain. My heart is sore and may always be from the truth God applied today. I had breakfast with a fellow yesterday morning who showed us a place on his finger where a piece of metal had worked its way to the surface after an accident in Vietnam twenty years earlier. We all marveled at the miracle. I know the thorn in my heart would never have made its way to the surface without God’s intervening hand, and I know God knew that little piece of metal would be ready to the surface at the same time I would ask Him to work the thorn in my heart to the surface. He knows I’m a visual learner, and I love having an object I can see and touch to help me understand. I am amazed at how He works and teaches until He reminds me that He is God and does know a thing or two about love and me:)

Rest in Peace

God’s healing brought a new rest to my heart, and the lack of restlessness is a beautiful feeling. He left my heart as sore as it has ever been, but it isn’t broken or aching any more. The soreness, like the rest is a new sensation that causes me to pause as I notice the absence of aching. I’m not sure how long this soreness will last, but I pray the rest will never leave. There is nothing better for the body, soul, mind, and spirit than rest. I believe it is the stillness in Psalm 46:10. I’ve tried to find that sweet stillness but have been frustrated by its fleeting nature as I have caught a moment but been unable to hold it.

This rest is more than a moment; it is a state of being unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I struggled last week as God worked out the hurt buried deep in my heart. The exhaustion of the week along with facing the choices I have made in regard to my hear took the last bit of stubbornness and the need to retaliate right out of me. I was as depleted as ever on Thursday evening after aerobics, and I was ready to find a secluded spot and hide away. The beauty of God’s timing is that He placed that facing in a week filled with reminders of one beautiful choice I have made when it comes to love.

My son Tyler is an amazing man, and I love him more than life itself. When he puts his arms around me and tells me he loves me, my heart is never better. God knew I would need his sweet presence as I went through the ‘surgery’ He had planned for my heart. He also knew that having those sweet girls would help put my mind and heart right where they belong. Lillyann spent the night with me last night, and I love falling asleep with her next to me. She and Mylah know just how to soothe my heart, and God has made sure they were near me all week. Gina was a beautiful bride in my path this week, and she reminded me of what God wants for me when it comes to love. I haven’t ever seen myself as a bride. God does, and I plan to see myself in His light from now on.

It’s never easy to face my mistakes, but it is especially difficult to be confronted with so many in such a short time. I suppose it’s like the surgeon saying, “while I’m in there, I’ll just take care of…..” Well, the Master Surgeon took His two-edged scalpel, and while He was already in my heart, decided to go ahead and take care of all that needed cutting away. The soreness is similar to the feeling I get when I haven’t walked or exercised in while, and I call it good soreness. I welcome it as it reminds me to be mindful and remember that it is easy to fall back into those destructive patterns if I listen to the wrong voices.

The rest since Thursday has been just what my heart needed. My mind and body haven’t minded it either:) True rest is what God promises in Isaiah 26:3, and it is what my heart desires. I love that scripture, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You.” That’s the peace and rest that allows me to be still and know that He is not only God, but He knows what He’s doing. Handing over my heart was not easy because it meant giving up my desires and embracing His. When I felt the rest that followed, I knew I had no desire to go back to the old restless aching. Just as walking in His kingdom doesn’t have to wait until I die, neither does resting in peace. I can do both now, and that’s a lesson I loved learning:)

With Me Always

When I began this journey,

You were there.

In the midst of my darkness,

You were there.

In the silence of my heart,

You are here.

In the peace that comforts me

You are here.

Balance in a Spinning Room

Being sick has given me a new appreciation of being well. I’m spoiled when it comes to sickness as I am rarely ill. I was reminded vividly in the wee hours of the morning that it is very frightening to be alone and sick, especially when it involves the loss of balance. As the room and all in it spun around me, it was very like a bad dream. I have only had vertigo once before in my life, and I thought I was having a stroke. The same thought occurred to me this morning as I struggled to stay centered.

The center is essential to both my physical and spiritual balance. God used the vivid example to remind me how very delicate balance is. When potassium levels are low, it seems the world is coming apart. One banana eaten in tiny bites was enough to bring back my equilibrium this afternoon. If it were only so simple with my soul, spirit, and heart. Just as my heart had major adjustments this week, so have my soul and spirit. My body is getting better, and the chicken broth for supper gave me hope for a better day tomorrow. God gives me hope when I remember that obedience, like those slices of banana, bring balance to my soul and help me to forget about understanding the why by simply focusing upon the what.

A few weeks ago, Gina told Lillyann to be nice to Mylah. Lillyann immediately asked why. Gina told her, “Because I said to.” Lillyann replied with conviction, “I said what I meant and meant what I said!” Poor God deals with billions of three-year-olds every day, and I’m one of them:) Obedience has been the message this week. Many who know me would say I am very obedient, but like Lillyann, I constantly want to know why I can’t have this or why things can’t be the way I want them to be. I also hold on when I should let go. God is helping me let go and listen to Him. He is faithful to hear me, and I pray I will become more faithful to listen to and follow Him.

Balance is tricky whether it is in the head, the heart, the body, the soul, or the spirit. Finding it without God is impossible. Finding and focusing upon God brings balance back in a beautiful way. With Him, I can find focus in a spinning room and obey in a spinning world:)

Redefining Relationships

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, time is quickly consumed. Time with God becomes a quick plea here and a quicker thank you there. I’m beginning to understand the concept of praying without ceasing, and it isn’t at all what I expected. Being in God’s presence is the goal of prayer; being present with those I love is the goal of relationship. Words become less important as that presence increases. Being present is something with which I’ve struggled my entire life. I’m only beginning to experience the peace that prolonged presence makes when it comes to my relationship with God. I’m also learning that redefining relationships is necessary as I change and grow as God desires.

I’ve always thought of prayer as a time of getting on my knees and asking God for help and thanking Him for all He does for me. When I look at that from a relationship standpoint, I’m appalled. It shows a selfish, one-sided relationship that isn’t at all what God desires. Nothing shows love more than spending time together in honest communion or sweet silence where nothing needs to be said. God desires just that in our time together. Like me with God, there have been those in my path who take and never give. I’ve wasted a lifetime of love trying to make miserable people happy. It isn’t noble at all but selfish on my part as I become a martyr and get everyone’s pity. That’s a hard truth to see and absorb, but it’s one that God brouht to my heart.

Real relationships require self-differentiation, and that means I have to become who God created me to be before I can truly connect to others. In order to do that, I must let Him cut away all that isn’t who He created me to be. As a sculptor cuts away marble to bring out the beautiful image inside, so does God cut away at me until the beloved daughter He sees inside comes to the surface. That process is a painful one because unlike marble, I wiggle and resist the sculpting! The stillness of Psalm 46:10 is required for God to do His work, and I’ve found that God will bring stillness when I ask. I am learning to pray differently, and the results are powerful. I’m finding that honestly and fervently praying that His will, not mine be done is causing true change in my heart, soul, spirit, and body. I am beginning to see the results of His chisel, and it is amazing.

The need to please is gone. The need to fix is gone. The need to pretend all is well is gone. In the process, I find that guilt is no longer a source of motivation. I no longer feel the need to be who others expect me to be. I am the beloved daughter of God and love Him as never before. Love is the root of my obedience now, and I can live out that obedience in a way that will bring joy to me, others, and Him. I feel as if I’ve gotten off a treadmill and gotten on to a beautiful path. The journey isn’t a guilt-ridden run to nowhere; it is a walk in His kingdom that forms beautiful relationships based on honesty and love. My relationship with God is first, and it must be the model for all my relationships if the redefining He desires is to take place.

Redefining relationships is not an easy task. Some will go as they are clearly not what God desires and are toxic to me and to others. Some will dissipate because they will not survive the changes in me. Others will flourish and grow as God desires. Those are the ones I plan to nourish. There will be wonderful new relationships along the way, and I look forward to each of them. Redefining relationships requires that I look to God first and let Him redefine me. The rest will fall into place as I love and obey Him:)

Have Mercy

Mercy is at the heart of forgiveness and grace. The dictionary defines mercy as “kindness or forgiveness shown especially to somebody a person has power over.” The Jesus Prayer asks for mercy. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.” The phrase “Have mercy!” is one used in a number of ways, some having nothing to do with Jesus or mercy. Mercy is something I say lightly even when praying until I stop long enough to take in what it means in regard to my relationship with God and others. Having mercy shows others the difference Christ makes in my life and is essential if I am to be the witness He desires for me to be.

God has power over me and over all in existence, yet He choses to be merciful. When I pray the Jesus prayer, I am humbled in a way that makes me want to be merciful. I have to think about those I have power over when I think of mercy. I’m not in a position that gives me power, but like everyone, there are those in my path who afford me the opportunity to show mercy. When I’m with my grand daughters, I can be merciful and show grace. When someone is waiting on me in a restaurant or a shop, I can be merciful. When I’m teaching, I can show mercy. I can also show mercy to someone who has mistreated me or been unkind to me. I have the right to retaliate, but if I chose to forgive and be kind, I take the opportunity to show mercy.

Showing mercy brings me closer to God who is the source of all mercy. When I pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” I add the phrase “and please help me to be merciful to those in my path.” Knowing what mercy is and praying for mercy is only the beginning. I have to have mercy, or the prayer is empty and the word useless. The same goes for grace and forgiveness. As I extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness, I draw nearer to God and to those in my path. I am to learn only one thing during this brief little blink of life in the midst of my eternal journey, and that is love. I am here to learn to say to God, to myself, and to those in my path, “I love you” and show I know what that phrase means in the way I live out my life here on earth.

Love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and mercy are words easily spoken. Unfortunately, living out the concepts they represent is much more difficult than uttering the words. I pray I will live out love, peace, grace, forgiveness, and mercy in my life as Christ taught. I am human and know I will fall short of the lofty goal, but I will come a lot closer if I make it my aim to show them to others instead of simply sitting back and asking God to show them to me.

Christ’s Simple Rules

Cleaning up is much easier than clearing out. So often, I simply clean and rearrange. Clearing out makes room in my closet, pantry, heart, and head. Rearranging doesn’t work because the space remains full. When I truly clear away, there is room for growth. When there is room for growth, there is opportunity for change. Whether it’s outdated clothing, food I don’t eat, or rules that limit, it’s all about making room. Christ does some powerful cleaning up and clearing out when it comes to rules.

God requires space in my heart, but He will not take it. He insists that I do the clearing before He does the filling. The only time self plays an important role in doing God’s work and answering His call is when it comes to discipline. I have to obey if I am to reach the self-differentiation necessary to connect as God desires. Discipline is the rub!

Discipline is difficult to define; there many directions those definitions can go. Here are a few:

the ability to behave in a controlled and calm way even in a difficult or stressful situation”

the practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior

punishment designed to teach somebody obedience”

the system of rules used in a religious denomination or order”

All of the above are perfectly good definitions of discipline, but only one puts the responsibility in my hands. Practice, punishment, and system refer to discipline being taught or followed. I like“the ability to behave in a controlled and calm way even in a difficult or stressful situation”in that ability indicates competence, intelligence, natural tendency, or gift. Those are personal and something I have or can attain.

Self discipline is more about common sense than anything else. Knowing the rules in a school, church, business, or country are important. It is also important to know whether or not you agree with those rules before you follow them. That is especially true when it comes to a religious denomination or order. Many people belong to churches without even knowing the beliefs important to the group. While there is no church or other organization with perfect rules, there is a body with them. Christ’s rules were simple, and He showed a group of Pharisees who thought they had the rules down pat a set of rules that caused them to be quiet.

Christ’s rules involve loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving others as myself. That isn’t complicated until I get to the love my enemies part or love when I am not loved back part or the be willing to give up my selfishness part. Christ’s simple rules have nothing to do with which translation of His Word I use. If I’m in doubt, I should go to the original Hebrew or Greek:) They do not say who can and cannot be a member or a minister. They do not say what percentage goes where; one hundred percent of all I have and all I am is God’s. His rules put the responsibility on me and my heart where it belongs.

I tire of rules and regulations especially when they separate and create arguments. I really hate it when they give folks the right to pass judgment on those who follow a different set of rules. So, in the interest of cleaning up and clearing out, I’m clearing out all but Christ’s simple rules. Too many rules will make me like the Pharisees who used rules to punish, judge, and divide. God forgive us when we do the same.

Like a Trembleur

Like a toddler learning to walk or a drunk trying not to hit the floor, I found myself seeking balance again this morning. I had a relapse after pushing myself to do too much and eat too much far too quickly. That’s a lot of too’s, but you get the idea. In the wee hours of the morning, I was afraid something was amiss, and when I tried to get up, it turned out my fears were well founded.

I have a friend who turns wood, and he is working on a trembleur. I had no idea what that was until he showed me a piece he had made that was similar but not the right dimensions to cause the trembling or wobbling which gives the piece its name. I was fascinated by the wiggly object and felt an immediate kinship as I am a wiggler myself:)

Making a trembleur isn’t easy and requires very patient hands, steady rests, and solid nerves. That leaves me out of the process. It was used as a test in France to see if a turner could become a journeyman. It seems an apt test, but one I’m sure many did not pass the first time around.

Trembleurs are attached to a base that allows the carving to wobble freely without falling down. I thought of how like a trembleur I am when it comes to balance and falling down. If I attach myself firmly to Christ, the wobbling becomes dancing, and the trembling becomes prayer. The lessons this week have been about stillness and prayer. I needed the virus, the vertigo, and the trembleur to get the point God has been trying to get across to me. I love it when He puts just the object in my path that I need to see and feel to get the message He has in mind. I’m a visual learner and a kid at heart and love art that moves.

God expects me to move, as well, but He also needs for me to be still. The base of the trembleur brings stillness and stability that lets the wood dance. Eugene Peterson calls the sweet indwelling of the Trinity the Trinitarian Dance. I have felt that beautiful filling and much prefer it to the spinning rooms that have accomp this virus. I still tremble when I come into God’s presence, and I hope I always do. Knowing to whom I pray brings that trembling. Knowing how much He loves me turns the trembling into a worshipful dance:) God also knows how very much I love to dance!

Friends Who Pray Together…

Job 42:10 says, “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Praying for and with those in my path is so very powerful, and it is the call God placed on my heart two years ago. The power of intercession was clear as Ethel drove me to the ER yesterday afternoon. While I was retching away, she was praying fervently. Her hand on my shoulder and her sweet utterances surrounded me and reminded me of the love such prayer represents. When God clearly called me to pray and study, I am ashamed to say that I was disappointed. I wanted to do more than pray and study, so the wrestling match began between Him and me. I kept adding this and adding that to His call because I thought it needed beefing up.

I can’t think of many kids I can outwrestle, and even little Mylah can wear me down and pin me to the floor, so I’m not sure why I thought I might win this match with God. He wrestles as one who knows His strength and has confidence in who He is. He puts His hand lovingly on my head and lets me swing away until I get tired of fighting or He holds me as He held Job until I breath that sigh of repentance and release. Again, being face down puts all things into perspective:)

The scriptures for the past two weeks came, as always, just when I needed them. They humbled in a way that left me wondering why God puts up with my willfulness. I know the answer to that question; I’m His child, and He loves me dearly. The same reason we put up with the willfulness of our own children. Knowing that is a big part of the lessons this week. As I’ve struggled with a simple virus, I have been touched by the outpouring of love offered at so many levels, but I have also come to a place of repentant humility in regard to God’s call.

Jesus is my priest and intercedes on my behalf unceasingly. He sits next to God and prays for me. The Holy Spirit utters prayers that I cannot begin to understand much less voice for myself. As I listened to His message this week, I was struck by just what that means. Ethel’s fervent prayers and sweet touch made a difference. Rita’s willingness to come and get me, take me home, get my medicine, and do chores I needed to do touched me deeply, as well. Sharon drove to a hospital in another city because she thought I was there. That also touched my heart and healed in a special way. My prayer partners lift me up in a powerful way as do so many others. I am, indeed a very wealthy woman.

Having someone who prays with and for me is the greatest gift I can ever hope to receive in this life. Jesus knows my heart better than anyone, and He and the Holy Spirit are constantly praying and lifting me up before God. I have a friend with whom I can share everything without judgment. Sharing prayer with love is as good as it gets, and friends who pray together do indeed stay together. Job was restored after praying for his friends because God knew he had learned the greatest lesson of all; I am here to pray for those in my path and be a loving presence. Job’s friends had forsaken and judged him, but he prayed for them anyway. He was blessed beautifully as a result of his unselfish love for them.

The week filled with silence, fasting, and dizziness left me reeling at times, but I found balance in the reeling when I realized that a call to prayer is a call to be like Jesus. He made it perfectly clear today that when I think praying is not much of a call, I am dismissing His own call. That sobered, humbled, and got my attention. I don’t plan to dismiss His call ever again or try to make it what I want it to be. The irony is that I used to tell my mama when she cried and said, “All I can do is pray” that it was all any of us could do. I keep saying that my autobiography should be called “Take My Advice; I’m Not Using It” because I do know better. I just don’t always live in a way that indicates that I do. I’m thankful for His patience:)

I have a new attitude when it comes to praying and studying as I understand that God’s call is His and not mine. That was the most powerful message this week. When Lillyann says the blessing at the table, she puts one hand on her mouth and says, “Thank you God.” I believe she knows more about prayer than I do. I also know that kids know a lot more about everything until adults start teaching them to be like them:)

Share a Prayer

This prayer written by a seventeenth-century nun blesses me each time I read it, so I share the prayer this morning in hopes that it blesses you as much as it blesses me.

Keep Me Sweet Lord

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from getting talkative, particularly from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. Keep my mind from the recital of endless details-give me wings to come to the point.

I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others’ pains. Seal my lips on my own aches and pains-they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint-some of them are so hard to live with-but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

I don’t know the name of the dear nun who penned this prayer, but I am thankful she had the courage and humility to put into words what I needed to hear. I love it when God does that:)

Sweet Side Effect:)

Side effect is defined by Bing as “a usually undesirable secondary effect produced by something.” Usually is the key word; the side effect I’m talking about is a very positive one. As I pray, I notice a sweet side effect that helps me understand Christ’s call to prayer. When I pray for someone who has hurt me or treated me unfairly, I notice that my attitude towards them begins to change. It’s a slow process that requires more than one dose of prayer to get the desired result, but the beautiful feeling defies description.

I see why Jesus sits at God’s right hand and prays for me unceasingly. He knows those prayers change me and bring me closer to God. When I understand that, I am also drawn near to those who have been at arm’s length or further away. Barriers are broken, priorities change, and suddenly the distance is absorbed by the love that intercession frees. There is nothing more powerful than intercession or Christ wouldn’t be doing it.

As I told my class this morning at church, if you’re looking for a financial advisor, shopper, lawyer, or sugar daddy, you need to find another savior. This One is about the business of praying and lifting me up to God. So many look to Christ to get and do and fix. He loves and prays. Others need a superhero who is going to vanquish and kill. He loves and prays. How can I ask if that’s enough. As I’ve come to understand Who Christ is and Who He isn’t, I have come to know it’s more than enough. Prayer is the least and most any of us can do.

It’s only taken me sixty years to come to that understanding, but I’m thankful to finally get it. The fifties allowed me the space to find out who I am and begin to understand Who God is. I’m thinking the sixties are going to be more about what I am here to do. The call to prayer came at 57, but I kept God on hold for two years. I prayed during that time but not as He desired. I came up with my own to-do list and ignored His. I’m humbled that He never hung up on me but rather waited lovingly for me to understand the nature and importance of His call. I often wonder if the human life span is getting longer because it’s taking us longer to figure out what it is He’s trying to teach us while we’re here:) I say that as the slowest and most stubborn learner I know.

I’ve been sixty for almost a month, and I have to say it’s been an eventful twenty-five days. The lessons have been difficult, but the learning has been amazing. Change may be the theme for this decade, and that’s okay with me. Whatever God has in mind, I want to be open and ready to hear and respond with love. The good news is that I’ve lost ten pounds and can wear clothes I haven’t worn in years! I wouldn’t recommend the diet plan to anyone, but I have to say that I learned that I have to make some changes when it comes to what and how much I eat. Another positive side effect!

Change is good, and I know the sixties are going to be wonderful. Lessons in love are pointing me in the right direction, and my heart is changing. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks:)

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep…

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray dear Lord, my heart you’ll keep.

If I should cry before I wake

I pray my hand you’ll gently take.

Please stay by me and dry my tears

Until you chase away my fears.

Stay with me till the morning light

And meet me here tomorrow night.

Amen:)

Loving Deeply

Relationships in my life have been like stones skipping across a pond. Staying on the surface and passing through without ever stopping and allowing love to deepen. Brief touches kept relationships from digging too deeply into my heart and would have caused me to skip through the entire span of my life with only a a drop or two of love had I not stopped and let God take my heart to a new level, one that went down and not up as do most graduations. God desires deep connections, and lessons this month were all about deep connections and the impact they have on who I am.

I’m fortunate to have those who hear my heart and know me deeply. It is the love God desires for me. True love allows me to speak my heart and hear the heart of those I love. I have always had a special connection to my son, and no one loves me as he has and does. His quiet hugs fill my heart, and he hears my heart without having to hear words. I love that about him and the fact that he shows up when I most need a hug from an understanding heart.

God has blessed me with friends who, whether next to me or miles away, hear me, know me, and love me anyway:) I have a prayer partner who loves God and His Word more than anyone I know and shares that love with me. There aren’t words to adequately describe the effect that love has on my heart and the way I love and live. It makes me believe I can be who God created me to be while drawing nearer to Him and to those in my path.

In terms of the world, I’m not a wealthy person. In fact, I live a very simple life compared to most. I don’t own a home and drive a five-year-old compact car:) In terms of love, I’ve wandered aimlessly most of my life seeking someone to fill a void no one can. God has shown me that love is not something or someone I should be seeking but rather something I was born to express. In an environment of honestly expressed love, I am able to express it myself. When love is unconditionally given, fear flees. When I am accepted for who I am, faults and all, I can love and accept myself and others in the same manner. Such is the power of love, and such have been the lessons this month which have brought my heart out of the darkness where fear would have it stay forever.

Hope and love go hand in hand, and that has never been more obvious to me than it is now. The freedom that comes from accepting and expressing love that expects nothing in return creates an amazing space in which love responds obediently and finds joy that cannot be found any other way. The pieces of my heart have come together beautifully, and I am whole and ready to live and love as God knows I can. I love it when God brings things together beautifully even if I have to fall apart first:)

Simplicity

Finding simplicity in this complicated world is next to impossible. It’s illusive and quickly flees as soon as I reach for my planner. Simplicity is essential when it comes to witnessing, and opportunities are lost as I rush in and complicate God’s plan with my wonderful ideas. His plan is a simple one to which I add my own bells and whistles. The first step in finding simplicity is renewing my relationship with God. Connecting to God allows a wonderful fullness that spills over and enables my witness to become His.

Connecting to God is as important to my heart as drinking water is to my body. Being dehydrated last week reminded me of what happens when I don’t get the water my body needs. My spirit also gets dry and craves the living water Christ offers. Sabbath is is a long cool drink of living water that gives me the strength and love I need to connect to others. God refills and restores my sluggish soul and spirit as I take the time to be near Him and drink in His love. As I’m recharged, His love spills over into all I do. A beautiful regenerative cycle begins.

My life has been about making others happy and attempting to fix whatever’s wrong. It’s no wonder I found myself emotionally and physically spent. That’s not the way Christ loved, so I didn’t follow the model for expressing love God so graciously gives me. Perhaps it’s just the nature of a middle child. I see clearly the futility of that cycle now, and I’m glad to be out of it and into a regenerative one. True love knows that fixing and doing debilitate and end up hurting rather than helping. I’ve done enough enabling in my life to know it doesn’t work.

Loving is so much more than enabling. Love spurs me to do for those I love, and Jesus makes it clear that all are to be loved. I find I am actually doing more for others than ever and enjoying it more as I let God lead and ignore the pull for attention and the yank of guilt. Taking them out of the equation leaves a beautiful open space for love. Love requires space; that is another simple truth I’ve learned this month. Love grows, blooms, and is able to form deep roots when given space, and love that grows deeply is love at its very best. Love that does indeed last forever:)

Going With His Flow:)

Flow has a number of meanings and many applications. All refer to a source and continuous movement which beautifully describes love as it’s meant to be. Love flows from God’s heart and causes love to spring forth in mine. God is the source of all love, and Christ’s manifestation of God’s love is the single greatest expression of love ever.

Like the living water in John 4:14, love not only flows into the heart, but it also creates a spring from which love will flow continuously and spill over into the world around me if I receive His love. 1 John 4:7-9 says it well.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” NASB

Loving God and not loving others is no more possible than jumping into a lake and not getting wet. It can’t be done, and that is the sobering message in 1 John 4. It is a simple statement that makes me check my own heart. If God’s love is in me, it will spill forth beautifully into all I say and do. If obligation, guilt, or need motivate me, my heart will be dry and weary. Love is the most powerful force in all the earth, and water is a great comparison when it comes to strength as we have seen in Hurricane Sandy.

Dryness cause death, and lust rots the heart. Sourness, bitterness, hatred, and jealousy bring out judgment as misery looks for company in kindred spirits or somewhere to point and direct attention away from it. The sad state of the world today is due, in large part, to the fact that many do not know the Source of love, hope, and peace; but nothing creates a more miserable state than Christians who do know God but refuse to go with the flow of His love or attempt to contain and define it in ways that cause stagnation.

The beauty of God’s love is that there is more than enough for all to have an overflow. In fact, the only way God’s love will flow is when complete access is given so it can do just that. God will not force me to let His love flow through me, and I do not have to accept the fact that Christ’s precious blood starts the flow. When I do accept Christ’s love and let God’s Spirit open those flood gates, it is similar to the flood Noah encountered when it comes to what it does to me and my heart.

Earthly floods destroy everything in their paths. God’s love makes that flow look like a trickle. His love also destroys everything in its path, but it’s a beautifully cleansing feeling. The only thing in God’s way is my stubbornness and need to be in charge. High waters show me how little power I have; God’s love does same. Being swept away forces me let go of all to which I cling.

The flow of God’s love in my heart over the past two weeks has not been like the juggernaut created by hurricane Sandy which is unstoppable and destructive. God’s love is stoppable, and that’s the most frightening thing about it. He lets me get out anytime I want and gives free reign until I’m willing to hand those reigns to my heart over to Him. That’s what I did, and the result has been purging in more ways than one:) God uses all circumstances to teach the messages He has in mind for me. He used a nasty virus and a hurricane to help me see Hebrews 9, Mark 12, 1 John 4, and John 4:14 in a new light.

God’s love brings life to my love and healing to my heart. I can’t take a little here and give a little there. I have to decide to jump in and be completely immersed, which not only soaks but also creates a spring in my own heart. Love will not be contained or cut off; by its very nature, it must flow and flow freely from a pure Source. God’s love is the Source of the spring He has in mind for my heart. Christ came down and tapped that spring when He took my place on the cross. Knowing His love is the Source of all love allows me to go with His flow:)

Petty or Peaceful Pace?

Macbeth’s indifference in regard to the death of his wife reminds me that life without God is indeed a petty pace filled with strutting and fretting on a stage. The best of intentions still pave the path to hell and keep me from spending time in God’s kingdom. The frailty of life was vividly brought home to me this week as I was reminded that my time on this earth is very brief. God provides a peaceful pace that takes tomorrow and yesterday out of the way.

Here’s a reminder of Shakespeare’s famous lines:

Macbeth:To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,To the last syllable of recorded time;And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,And then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.

A century is a mere blink in the vast expanse of eternity, so life is brief as well as fragile. God allows me chose whether my blink will be a wink, a nap, or a space filled with His love. My life can signify nothing as Macbeth bemoans. It can be played out with sound and fury or pass unnoticed. The good news is that it can also be filled with God’s love. It’s my choice. I cannot grow nearer to God and not grow nearer to those in my path. I cannot grow nearer to those in my path without changing the way I look at the world. I cannot change the way I look at the world and not change the way I live and love.

This journey is designed especially for me, and I don’t mean that in a selfish way. God gives me time and space to apply His love. What I do with His gift is up to me. I am very grateful for the lessons He gives and for the freedom to decide how I will live. Love cannot exist without choice; freedom and truth accompany true love. Trying to get others to love me has caused a great deal of damage to my heart. Being a loving presence has nothing to do with winning friends and influencing people, and that’s a relief:) It’s taken a long time and a lot of help, but I get finally get it. I don’t regret the way I’ve learned or the fact that it took so long. I have no desire to fret about the slowness or strut about the understanding.

My pace has been petty for sixty years, and my mistakes have been numerous. God’s pace is peaceful, never petty, and a life lived with Him will be the same. Tomorrow creeps into the petty pace when God isn’t in the picture. When He’s Lord of my life, then today doesn’t leave room for tomorrow or yesterday. The present literally becomes just that, a beautiful present given each morning that I get to open and decide how to spend. Worry and regret will creep in if I open the door to tomorrow or yesterday; but if I keep my focus upon God’s sweet presence, I can live life at a peaceful pace and enjoy every moment of what my dear friend would call “a life worth living forever.”

Regifting:)

Regifting is something we’ve all done. It’s not considered proper etiquette and can be very embarrassing when one is caught in the act of regifting. The biggest faux pas is not removing the original tag before passing along the gift. God’s love is a beautiful example of just how different His kingdom is from the world. Regifting is appropriate, and the tag should never be removed before passing along His love.

God’s love is meant to be given again and again. It grows each time I pass it along, and it’s very important for me to make sure those who receive love from me understand the source of that love. God’s love flows from a source deep within and will continue to flow as long as it’s given away. I cannot hoard it, and I cannot stop the flow and say I’ve had enough. It must keep flowing, and I must keep up with that flow. There’s the rub as Shakespeare would say.

God’s love is like the manna He sent to His children in the desert. It was fresh and new each morning and meant to be consumed and shared. If stored, it rotted. Love is the same way. If I try to hold on to it, I lose it. If I trust God to provide, accept it gratefully, and pass it along to others, it will bless me and those in my path. The world encourages me to hold tightly and claim ownership when it comes to love. God’s kingdom is about walking, moving, sharing, loving, and giving Him credit for all. The world is about running, getting, holding, hoarding, and taking credit.

God offers sweet manna each morning when it comes to my heart. When I see that, the day becomes a beautiful gift given in pure love. He wants me to accept His love with joy and share it in the same manner trusting it will always be there. I get to choose whether or not to accept it, and I get to choose whether or not to give it away. If I hold on, I end up with a rotten mess. If I don’t accept it, I end up with a dry and empty heart. If I accept and share it, I get a taste of heaven and learn His gift must be regiven. That makes the journey takes a new and beautiful turn:)

The Company One Keeps

Judged by the Company One Keeps” has been a favorite poem since a friend shared it with me decades ago. I would recite it to my middle school classes because they could relate in that they know things are never as they appears to be. I agree, and the poem reminds me to be cautious when judging. Here’s the poem:

Judged by the Company One Keeps

by UnknownFrequently attributed to Benjamin Hapgood Burt.

One night in late October,When I was far from sober,Returning with my load with manly pride,

My poor feet began to stutter,So I lay down in the gutter,

And a pig came near and lay down by my side;

Then we sang “It’s all fair weather when good fellows get together”,

Till a lady passing by was heard to say:“You can tell a man who boozes,By the company he chooses”,And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

My students loved the poem for the same reason I do; there is a ring of truth to the simple, silly lines. So often, the one who seems so good and innocent isn’t who they appear to be. That’s true in middle school, and it’s true as long as we live. God placed the poem in my path this morning to teach a lesson and bring a smile because He knew I needed both after a frustrating evening.

Judging isn’t my job, and God makes that very clear on many occasions as He lays out His plans throughout His beautiful word. It’s the only sin that comes with a disclaimer. “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1 NASB The ten commandments do not carry such warnings, and I believe it is because judging falls into a special category when it comes to sin. Ranking sins involves judgment that hurts God’s work. Judging is playing God, and that is best not done.

I justify judging in many ways and often use the fact that someone hurt me as an excuse to pass judgment. That seems reasonable, but if I am to love my enemies, I must also give up the right to judge them along with the right to retaliate. Judgment and retaliation go together, and that was made clear as God taught a tough lesson in love, forgiveness, and the importance of non judgment when it comes to living peacefully, walking in His kingdom, and being the loving witness He so desires for me to be. Fear is at the heart of judgment and will keep me from doing His will if I become its victim. Sometimes, I need to slowly walk away and not worry if others do not understand.

Some lessons pull the rug out from under me, but they leave me flat on my face, humbled, and ready to pray. Being still and being quiet are two skills I have yet to master, but God knows how to get and hold my attention in a way that helps me see things from His prospective. I see His point much better when face down, and it’s also much easier to be still and quiet in that position.

So far, the sixties have been a challenge. I’m hoping that, like March, they will go out like a lamb as they’ve certainly come in like a lion!!

Fountain of Youth:)

Spending the day with Lillyann and Mylah yesterday was a dip in the fountain of youth. The reason for the revival was staying in the present moment. When I’m with them, we eat, play, love, and nap:) That may not be a catchy title for a novel, but it’s a great plan if you want to live life as a kid:) I needed the girls yesterday, and I’m thankful to be with them today and tomorrow. Sometimes, I just know I am where I am meant to be, and yesterday was a perfect example of that feeling. I love it when God does that, especially after tough lessons.

Lillyann likes to pretend she’s a puppy, so Mylah and I got into the game and walked her, fed her, and patted her on the head. It was so funny to watch them playing. Mylah shrugs her little shoulders and just beams when she gets into the pretending and understands what’s going on. She looks so much like mama when she does that, and it blesses me to see the connection. Tyler snuck in on us as we were playing last night, and the girls just went wild. It’s nice to be somebody’s rock star:) I love watching my son play and love his girls; there is no greater joy for my heart.

I may have been dipped in the fountain of youth yesterday, but I was ready for bed by 8:30:) That may be why kids have more energy than we adults. They sleep ten to twelve hours each night! I think I’ll start following their example and see what happens. Kids stay in the present until adults start giving them reasons to dwell in the past or worry about the future. The fountain of youth is possible when I spend time in the present and stop letting tomorrow and yesterday creep in and steal my peace. Focusing upon the simple things and remembering to pray and play keeps life what God created it to be, a time to love and connect to one another. I am so very thankful to have the time and opportunity to do just that with my sweet little grand daughters. God uses them very effectively to teach beautiful lessons. Thank you God:)

This Little Piggy:)

When I put Lillyann to bed last night, I was whipped and thankful to lay down beside her and relax for a moment. She wanted a story, but I told her that Gigi was just too tired to read a book. She said, “Read a story without a book.” Of course, I couldn’t resist that sweet little request. I love children and envy the way they express themselves:)

I wasn’t thinking of Odysseus when I started to spin a tale about two little piggies, but I thought of him as I drove home. He searched the world for decades only to find that all he sought was waiting for him at home. As the story began, Lillyann relaxed because she loves piggies, and she loves being the main character. Here’s the story of those two little piggies who found happiness in each other as they shared the journey and made their way home.

Two little piggies named Gigi and Lilly set off to see the world. They crawled out of the mud, climbed over the fence, and decided to see what was beyond the farm. They snacked on vegetables from the garden, tiptoed past the farmhouse so as not to wake the farmer and his wife, and made their way to the road.

They wondered about the strange surface on the road but decided to take a chance and see where it led. They walked and talked along the way and were so excited to be going on an adventure. They started to get a little bit scared; but they were together, so they just talked and walked a little faster. Houses got closer together, and the vegetable gardens disappeared. “What will we eat?” worried Gigi, but Lillyann told her not to worry. They would find something. They sang to take their mind off their tummies.

One night, they noticed lights ahead. “I wonder what that means!” said Lilly. Gigi wondered the same thing and was worried about those lights, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to scare Lilly. They were very tired and hungry when they walked into the city, but there was food everywhere! People petted them and made sweet sounds as they walked by. One lady picked up Gigi, but Lilly stepped on her toe. She dropped Gigg and ran off screaming.

They were very careful when it started to get dark and stayed close together. They made their way through the crowds and found all sorts of sweet treats. Candy corn and chocolate were their favorites, and they ate like little piggies always do:) When they snuggled up to go to sleep that night, they started to cry because their tummies hurt, and they missed mommy, daddy, and Mylah.

In the morning, they decided the city was not for them. They found the road that brought them there and started back home. The trip home was fun because they talked about their adventures as they walked, and they knew where they were going this time. They were not scared any more, and squealed together when the vegetable gardens started to pop up. Carrots and cabbages were just what they wanted! Their tummies settled down, and they started to skip. Before too long, they recognized their farm and began to run.

Mylah, the tiny baby pig, was the first to see them, and see started to squeal and clap her little hooves together. Mommy and daddy came to see what was going on, and they jumped up and down and hugged Gigi and Lilly! It was time for all piggies to be in bed, so they jumped over the fence and got into a big piggy pile in the soft, warm mud. Lilly was happy to be home. She listened to the piggy snores, smiled, and drifted off to sleep.

The End:)

The Face of a Friend

Love is found in the face of a friend.

Soul is reflected in the eyes of a friend.

Spirit is lifted in the smile of a friend.

Heart is healed in the ears of a friend.

Love is found in the face of a friend.

Love’s Simple Gestures

Simple gestures convey love in big ways. Love prefers common ground to extravagant displays. A word, a smile, a loving look, or a listening ear causes love to bloom and grow at a sweet, steady pace. Look to romance novels if you want love that doesn’t exist anywhere except in the imagination of those who have never known true love, but look to the everyday if you want to find true love worth loving forever.

When I think of true love, I think of Carl shaving Ann’s hair when it began to fall out during her chemo and telling her she how beautiful she was after a half century of marriage. True love changes the heart and grows stronger with each simple gesture. I think of Wayne talking about Brenda with that silly grin he still has after fifty years:) I think of Charles patiently caring for Kay as her memory slips away. I think of Jack lighting up when he talks about Dorothy who has been with God for a while now. Nothing extravagant in the way they display love, but all show a connection to God that makes those simple gestures so much more than the love this world promotes.

None of the couples I know who exemplify true love will ever be the subjects of a made for TV movie, and their stories will not be on the best seller list. I’m afraid no one would watch or buy because we want passion, and sex sells! The irony is that true love is much better than sex. True love withstands the trials of time and moves mountains, but it does so one loving gesture at a time. Unfortunately, we are a throw away society that wants immediate gratification. We toss and turn in life and in bed because we just cannot get the satisfaction Mick Jaggar screams about.

The body screams like Jaggar, and the inner voice of the heart is drowned out in the process. I suppose it’s human nature to want what I want when I want it and yearn for that which I cannot have, but I’m slowly learning that asking for God’s desires to become mine has quieted my body’s screaming and allowed my heart to sing a new song. I’m learning that love is quiet and best expressed simply. God’s love is the key to all love. Sharing His love is what makes simple loving gestures so profound. If God is in a knowing look, a held hand, a smile, or a listening ear, then true love’s soft voice is loud and clear and changes the heart forever.

Revelation

Revelation was always a book of gloom and doom that frightened me, so I avoided it like the plague. I just couldn’t understand the imagery and felt lost any time I delved into John’s revelation. Several years ago, I heard Dr. Robert Canoy from Gardner Webb University discuss the book in a way that touched my heart and opened my eyes. I invite you to listen to the five-part study of this beautiful book and pray it blesses you as much as it blesses me. Revelation now fills me with hope, and I believe that’s just what God has in mind:)

Special thanks to Dr. Robert Canoy for allowing me to share it.

Revelation Study-Dr. Robert Canoy-Part 1

Revelation Study-Dr. Robert Canoy-Part 2

Revelation Study-Dr. Robert Canoy-Part 3

Revelation Study-Dr. Robert Canoy-Part 4

Revelation Study-Dr. Robert Canoy-Part 5

Spirited:)

On my way to Deep Creek yesterday, I saw a group of horses running and kicking up their heels. I had to pause and take in their spirit. I thought of how often the word spirited is misused to mean willful when describing a child who processes differently or has a lot of energy. I prefer to think of spirited as jumping for joy as love springs from the heart:)

Sometimes my spirit gets worn and weary, and I don’t feel like jumping for joy. Lately, my spirit has been willing and wanting to jump, but my body hasn’t been cooperative. The recent bouts with nasty viruses has left me lighter in weight but feeling much heavier as I have had to stop when I so wanted to go. My patience has been sorely tested! I realize that my tiny taste of common bugs pales in comparison with surgeries and illnesses of loved ones, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that I have been seriously compromised in any way.

God has, however, given me cause to pause and allowed me to appreciate the hikes and workouts I took for granted and dearly miss. That’s been a humbling lesson of late as I try to slowly get back into my walks and workouts. I did a mile in the park and a very light workout when I got home and was worn out and frustrated by my lack of energy. I have a much deeper appreciation for the beautiful gift of good health. I’ve been very blessed indeed!!

The beautiful horses yesterday reminded me that my spirit soars when outdoors on a beautiful day, and nothing makes me want to kick up my heels more than spending time with kindred spirits. The horses were playing and enjoying life together; that’s what spirit is all about. I’m learning that we all express spirit differently, and that has been the most freeing lesson of all. I am learning to let people be who they are and embrace who I am even if others don’t understand. It’s okay to kick up my heels all by myself or enjoy watching others frolic while I rest:)

Not being able to do what I usually do has given me a new perspective on spirit. My spirit must come from God if I am to maintain the freedom that love so beautifully brings to it. Knowing I am loved is the first step, accepting love and seeing myself in the light of that love is the next. Reaching out in love is the last and most precious step. In the reaching out and loving, I become more than I am alone. That makes my spirit run and jump and kick up its heels. It’s what love does to the spirit, and it is a most beautiful combination:)

Still Ready

To be ready to do God’s will, my heart must be still. The human heart is never physically still, and the healthy heart will beat anywhere from 40 to 100 beats per minute depending upon age, size, condition and activity levels. It is the strongest and most important muscle in my body. The stillness God requires isn’t about motion or muscle; it’s about focus and love.

Worry is the biggest obstacle when it comes to my heart being still. The Greek word translated as ‘worry’ in Matthew 6:25-33 means “split attention or divided concern.” That makes perfect sense when I think about my own tendency to worry. If I think about God and truly believe He is who He says He is, then my attention is no longer split. If I pray “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done” with my whole heart, my concern is no longer divided. When I read the beautifully reassuring words from Matthew, my worry turns to stillness as faith replaces fear.

For this reason I say to you,do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”NASB

What other words do I need? I am learning to read God’s Word with a stillness that centers my focus and so centers my heart and life. The stillness lasts as long as my focus:) I’m doing better in many ways, but I have a long way to go before I stay still. Perhaps that will only come when I am in heaven. When I experience the sweet stillness that comes when my focus is completely upon God, I get a tiny taste of what is to come. It’s more than enough to make me want more!

The world is great at grabbing my attention and taking it away from the sweet center Christ provides, and my concern is easily divided when I fall into the trap of listening to voices other than God’s. Knowing I can do nothing without Him and everything with Him reminds me to keep my focus upon Him and seek His kingdom and righteousness first, last, and always with a single-heartedness that will help me be still and know He is God. It also helps me to eagerly await His return in a way that helps His kingdom come and His will be done. That’s what walking in God’s kingdom is all about:)

Baby’s Breath

Sweet the sound

Of contented sighs

As an innocent baby

Naps peacefully:)

Watching Mylah sleep blesses me so very much:) 11/13

Fighting Fires:)

I have the utmost respect for firefighters and cannot imagine what being one must entail. I don’t claim to know anything about that difficult calling, but I could relate as I tried, in vain, to put out a lot of little fires while keeping the girls last night:) I say that figuratively and with a smile because they reminded me of how a little spark can ignite a new fire just when I think I have things under control. If I take the please and appease approach to life, I better be prepared to fight fires!

I imagine a very important lesson in real firefighting must be to never assume all the sparks are out:) The girls had a very tough evening last night, and I did a terrible job of keeping them satisfied. I got one problem solved and another suddenly popped up. I realize today that trying to appease was my problem. It’s impossible in the best of situations and should never be my goal. As a mom, I know that; Gigi, however, is sorely tempted to please and appease. I am just learning that lesson in love, and God reminded me this morning that those lessons apply to grandbabies, as well. Ouch!

I know from experience that being a pleaser or appeaser isn’t even good for the moment, and I also know it will come back to bite me on the behind if not careful. My behind was sore on the drive home last night, and my pride was wadded up and whimpering on the floor. I felt like a complete failure when Tyler came in from a very long day to find a crying baby and a contrite big sister. I explained the problems and confessed my confusion in knowing any causes. I smiled as I said it must be me, but there was an element of truth in the statement that left me humbled.

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, so I have a much clearer view this morning. I was a lot of the problem as I juggled two little girls wishes and wants and tried to make both happy. Mylah is going through the weaning process, so I literally couldn’t satisfy her wants. I just held her and offered love. Lillyann was still excited about a wonderful afternoon with her little friend, and she just couldn’t get her feet back on the ground. I wasn’t able to help either find satisfaction.

I love the way God uses all to teach and did a little whining and crying myself when I got home. I can relate to the sweet girls and to mommy and daddy who were tired and needed a little love themselves. As I watched them take one girl each and love on them, I thanked God for the sweet little family who fill my heart and teach me wonderful lessons in love.I know today will be a better day as I remember that pleasing and appeasing only offer temporary fixes. I plan to play, be present, and not start any fires myself:)

Sisterly Love:)

Mylah and Lillyann were so precious yesterday as they loved one another. I’m helping them find ways to play together since there is only one me and because it is what God desires. Jesus taught us to love and live together, so technically I’m teaching them to walk in His kingdom. The lessons in sisterly love work sometimes. May God say the same about me! Lillyann loves to feed Mylah, so I let her help feed her this evening as I got dinner ready. It was so cute to watch them delight in each bite. It was the highlight of my week for sure:)

There are always challenges in loving one another, but yesterday filled me with hope. The mind of a three-year-old is pretty self-centered, but so is the mind of a thirty-year-old, a sixty-year-old, and an every-year-old for that matter:) Lessons in love this week were also about perspective, and I had to remind myself not to expect too much too quickly. Everything is relative, and relatively speaking, I feel great about the lessons in sisterly love. As always, God had lessons for me in that department this week:)

Having an agenda is not always a good idea, but it was today. After the difficult evening on Tuesday, I decided to focus upon getting their attention and teaching a little at the same time. We cut out paper dolls, and the girls just squealed when they saw the little people connected in rows. Lillyann wanted puppies, elephants, and giraffes too. We took the idea and made fencing for our play farm. Having plans made a big difference in the day and was fun for all of us. The teacher in me had to grin and think duh! I love it when God teaches me the obvious gently, something I need to remember:)

As we all learn to love, we must let each other be who we are. That and being honest are the most important lessons when it comes to love. I know I’ll make many more mistakes, but I also know I’ll learn from those mistakes if I’m willing to admit to them first. It is at the core of all learning, especially when it comes to God’s love. I thank God for my sweet little mentors and believe they would make wonderful teachers one day if that’s what they decide to be. It really doesn’t matter what they do as long as they do it with love. The same is true for all of us:)

Change of Heart:)

Change is never easy, but it is especially difficult when it comes to the heart. The closer the change gets, the more profound the effect. I hold more tightly to those things at the very center of my heart, so they must be wrenched away to clear the path. God knows change involves pain. His plan for my salvation hurt Him to His very core. I am learning that when I put things into His perspective, I am humbled and embarrassed by the comparison.

I have always been the last one to get the joke, especially if it was on me. I used to get angry with the battering I took from those jokes which are never funny, but I learned to laugh along and became adept at taking it to the next level. The comedian in me learned that self-deprecation gets a lot of laughs, so I beat everyone to the punch line and became a great clown.

The lessons this week have been tough ones, but ones I needed. The tendency to beat myself up is still very near the surface, and I have trouble discerning when I’ve crossed a line. I want to be who God created me to be. People who know and love me know how easily I’m hurt. Mama preached one lesson to me – I was going to be hurt because I wasn’t like everyone else. As I found myself questioning and crying this afternoon, I realized that I have to turn off that recording, along with daddy’s, and start listening to God.

I get so angry when I doubt myself, and God let me cry and worry for a while before interrupting this afternoon. He reminded me that I am His beloved daughter. He created me and knows what He is doing. He made it clear that He has had enough of my self-deprecation and doubting. The message was loud and clear and went right to my core. I am not like everyone else, and that’s exactly how He wants me to be. It doesn’t give people the right to hurt me, and that goes double when it comes to me!

The lesson hit hard today, but I’m thankful because my heart needed jarring. The trouble with jarring is the spilling that takes place as a result of it. I didn’t like what I saw because it wasn’t what I expected. God gave me a beautiful heart and expects me to see it as He sees it. The hard lesson today was that I still see myself as flawed. God showed me that my heart deserves the very best, and I am not damaged goods!! I’m learning that we all need to be loved, and we are all different. It is in those sweet differences that God can be seen most clearly.

I know mama was trying to keep me being hurt as she had been hurt, but I’m afraid her warnings simply made me see myself as damaged goods and caused me to flee from love. I am loved, and that message was brought home in a powerful way this week. I am loved. I am lovable, and I matter:) Thank you God; I needed to hear that!

Do You Want to Be Healed?

Love grows in open spaces and must have room to flow freely if it is to be what God designed it to be. Confinement, clutter, and clogs keep love from its natural course. A quiet spring is the image God most often gives me when He is teaching me about love. He knows I am a visual learner and provides powerful examples that help me see His point. The stillness of a spring is due to the constant movement beneath its surface. Continuous cleansing provides pure, sweet water to those who come to drink.

Hearts, like springs, must provide space for love to flow gently. My heart has been a waterfall and a babbling brook making lots of noise but never holding love as a spring holds water. The secret of a spring is that it doesn’t hold on. It is a beautiful irony that I am only beginning to understand. I’ve been blessed to have a very healthy body, and I’ve recently been reminded that isn’t a given. The serious illness has been within my heart, and God has taken my journey inward so He can provide the healing I need to live and love as He desires.

The heart’s journey sets the pace and the tone for life. Rather than dealing with my heart, I ignored the problems and focused upon that which I did well. That is, after all, what we are taught to do. Accentuate the positive:) So Pollyanna joined forces with the self-deprecating comedian in me, and my life became positively hilarious. I would put a smile there, but I know how very sad that combination is. Making others happy and causing them to laugh hid my hurting heart and helped me survive.

When Christ healed, He always asked the person if they wished to be healed. I never noticed that until a few months ago when I was studying. In the process of healing my heart, He put the same question before me yesterday. It seems a silly question, but I learned that it is the most important question any of us will ever answer. I’ve been in unhealthy relationships all my life and have experienced the comfort of the known hurt. Yes, this is a bad situation, and I’m hurting; but I know what it is. I don’t know how to be in a healthy relationship. All were clear signs I didn’t wish to be healed, and that stopped me in my tracks yesterday. I do trust God; it’s me I didn’t trust. I was afraid to let go.

In order for my heart to heal, I have to be willing to step into the unknown. Christ understands the difficulty of letting go of the known. Children don’t report abuse because they don’t know what will happen when they do. Adults do the same. It boils down to the lesson I learned yesterday. I have to know that I am loved, I am lovable, and I matter before I can be healed. Letting go of hurt seems like a no brainer, but it is impossible when I don’t believe those three statements. They give me the courage to want to be healed.

Knowing I’m truly loved and lovable opens the way for love to move through my heart as water flows through that beautiful spring. Knowing I matter gives me the courage to tell Christ that I do wish to be healed and mean it. That allows God to do what He does best:)

What Did I Here Come For?

I had a list of things to do after Lillyann’s visit today, so I took her home and began my quest. I looked for my list after dropping her off and realized I had left it at home. I decided to relax and enjoy the day. It’s been a week filled with difficult lessons, so I let go and forgot about what I had planned. I headed to the jewelers because it was time to do something I had been trying to do for a decade. I had my engagement and wedding rings with me, and I was ready to let them go.

I went in but wasn’t sure the small town jeweler would be able to help me. When I asked about the transformation, the beautiful young lady helping me smiled and said it would not be a problem at all. The first design she showed me was absolutely perfect! God read my mind and my heart, and the beautiful gold heart design reflected the changes in my own heart and the lessons this week. Perfect, I’ll take it!

I don’t know anything about diamonds or settings, so I wasn’t thinking of size and fit as I fell in love with the sweet design. After explaining the process to me, the stone had to be measured to see if it would work. It was perfect! I couldn’t believe how quickly all was coming together and then I remembered that God was along. He was just showing off today. He often does that after tough lessons and brings sweet comfort just when I need it. He encourages me to keep learning, and the ring was a beautiful and unexpected example of just that.

When I left the jewelers, I decided to head to “Jack’s Mountain Home” and get a new Life is Good tee shirt. I needed a new tee even though it wasn’t on my list. The ring wasn’t on the list either, and look how that turned out! The first shirt I saw was a pink one with “Hello Love” on the front. Perfect, I’ll take it! The day continued to get better as I went from one store to the next with no agenda and no list.

I looked at my list sitting next to the sofa when I got home. I hadn’t gotten a single item or done a single thing written on the sheet. I may not have gotten the cute, cozy sleepwear, but I got something that did make my heart feel as warm and cozy as it’s ever felt. Lately, I find myself asking, “What did I come here for? Why did I walk in this room? Where was I heading?” more and more. The joy of growing older is that I am getting to the place where I smile, figure it must not have been important:)

The Right Setting

I was brought up to believe that women were inferior to men. In fact, my father had a saying, “Water is the second most destructive force in all of nature!” which begged the question, “What’s the first?” He would laugh and say, “Women!” He also had a list of occupations suitable for women. It included housewife, secretary, nurse, and teacher. I wonder at times how I came from childhood with any sanity! I suppose Pollyanna and Joan Rivers helped me wade through the muck.

The world has always struggled with a woman’s place, and I’ve wondered at the worry that is wasted over such nonsense. I know fear sits at the center of the worry, and I do wish that men and women could both see the importance of making God’s presence the priority rather than trying to find the proper setting for women or men. The right setting for men and women is at God’s feet. The jockeying for positions closer to the feet only hurt the work and take away from the worship.

If we look to Christ for our answers, He made it clear that the last would be first. Women were definitely forced into the background when He walked the earth. He had a different attitude that is obvious in all the gospels. He saw only the hearts of those around Him and didn’t divide. Christ brings oneness and unity that puts all of us in the proper setting.

When I saw the beautiful gold heart at the jewelers yesterday, I knew it was the right setting for my diamond. God used the rings to remind me that He wants the right setting for my heart, as well. My heart has been in wrong settings all my life, and I’ve put it on the shelf and left it hidden to protect it from further hurt. The beautiful lessons this week gave me the desire for a new setting. I can leave the diamond on a shelf and my heart hidden, then neither will be what God has in mind for them. I marvel at how God uses all things for my good:)

Hearts need to be loved, and diamonds should be worn. I love that I will soon have a beautiful reminder of that on my right hand:) The jeweler explained that the right setting is essential and the right placement even more important. He was very serious about his work, and I could hear God as he talked to me about wanting the setting to be just right before making the placement. I imagined God looking over me with the same concern. I could even see Him with a jeweler’s eyeglass looking deeply into my heart with the same excitement of the jeweler with whom I entrusted my diamond. I smiled and imagine the jeweler wondered what I was thinking. I was thinking it was such a relief to have someone else setting my diamond and even better to have God setting my heart:)

What Is It About Cooking?

Whether I’m mindlessly kneading dough or trying a new recipe, cooking is great therapy for me. Writing is cathartic, and I love the cleansing it offers my heart, but cooking excites my soul. Cooking brings me closer to the food I eat and to those with whom I share it. That’s what makes cooking such a joy for me. Now, if I could only get that same feeling from cleaning up afterwards. I did have a friend who told me about his parents doing dishes together after the evening meal. It was a special time that always ended with a dance. That’s a beautiful expression of love if I ever saw one:)

My mama was an amazing cook, and food was always a source of sweet comfort in our home. We ate at very specific times, and we were all gathered at the table waiting when daddy came home each evening. Daddy finished work at five, came straight home, washed his hands, and expected the food and us to be ready when he sat down. No matter how simple the fare, it was always delicious. I believe mama could make cardboard taste great.

Grandmother Banning spent several months out of the year with us, and she always drank a big glass of water with her meals. She believed in drinking lots of water, and she believed in the power of beets. Every time we had them, she would try to convert my sister Linda who thought beets tasted like dirt and refused to eat them. I loved them, ate them heartily, and preached their goodness right along with Grandmother. I still think of Lilly Belle when I have beets, and that’s very often:)

Eating together is a wonderful way to connect, and conversation around the table complements all food. I love eating with Mylah and Lillyann because we have the sweetest talks at the table. Lillyann loves to talk; I can’t imagine where she might get that trait:) Mylah jumps right in and tries to follow along. Lillyann and I both noted that she understands all we say; she just can’t find the words to interact yet. It won’t be long before she will be the one doing most of the talking, and I look forward to hearing her voice her opinions. There’s nothing that blesses me more than fixing food for them and enjoying it with them. I know just how mama felt as she filled us beautifully every single day. I especially love it when Lillyann feeds Mylah, and they love it too. It’s definitely a bless-bless situation.

Mama loved cooking and prepared something special for every meal. I woke each morning to the sweet smells of a wonderful breakfast. That’s a perfect way to start the day, and I didn’t realize how very fortunate I was to have something prepared with love each morning until I left for college. I missed mama’s morning magic and still do. Families don’t get together to eat as they used to, and that’s a shame. There’s a lot to be said for gathering together around the table, and I believe we lose something special as we grab here and go there. I know it causes me to eat more and enjoy it less, and I’m sure others experience the same.

Cooking is creating. I don’t cook as much as mama did, but I do cook when I have time. I made some very simple pumpkin muffins from my Old Salem cookbook yesterday. They were just right and got me in the mood for Thanksgiving. Pumpkin is something I use seasonally and so is turkey. I’m not sure why because I love both. I suppose I’m not the only one who neglects them the rest of the year. Maybe that’s what makes Thanksgiving such a special time.

Cooking brings a flood of wonderful memories that touch my heart and lift my spirit. I miss mama, but I feel her presence each time I make bread or share something I’ve made with others. I thank God for all the love mama gave me, and I thank Him for the sweet meals she so lovingly prepared and shared with me. I learned from mama that love is the secret ingredient when it comes to cooking:)

Love is Meant to be Shared:)

The community Thanksgiving service reminded me of the importance of gathering together in worship. I love it when the churches join to give thanks and share a simple meal. It is what worship is all about. Like all families, God’s sometimes is too busy to stop and enjoy one another.

As I was thinking of cooking earlier today, I was reminded of the importance of spending time with those I love. Life happens and love often falls by the wayside in the process. Time is a precious commodity, and commitments call us away. God’s sweet lesson today was cherish each moment of love I am given.

Love isn’t about time or even being together. It’s about knowing one another deeply, and that encourages me as nothing else can. I sometimes long for more than God gives, and I know that shows a lack of faith and a selfish nature. Being with those I love lifts my spirit and soothes my soul. My heart is whole when it connects to God’s love in another. That is what love is all about, and I thank God for helping me come to a place of understanding and embracing it. I suppose it’s natural to want to hold on to those special moments, but then they wouldn’t be special would they?

It’s taken me a long time to find and appreciate God’s love. The more I understand it, the more I am able to let it flow through me. God is love, so He knows what He is doing when it comes to love:) I need to remember that when I get whiny and want what I want when I want it. God designed love to be shared, so I plan to cherish each moment God allows me to spend with those I love.

Be Tending:)

I’m looking forward to being with Mylah and Lillyann today. I don’t know what we will get into, but I know we will “be tending.” That’s what Lilly calls pretending, and she loves it! She interjects as we play that we are just “be tending,” and sometimes adds, “aren’t we?” if she needs clarification. I was thinking this morning that be tending with kids is as good as it gets. Adults are not as adept at be tending as are children, so I’m glad to have a wonderful mentor in Lillyann.

Adults prefer drama to be tending, and that is no fun at all. Be tending is all about playing, and drama is all about attention. It belongs on the stage, screen, and between the pages of great novels. Everyone loves a great leading lady, but no one likes a great drama queen.

There are a number of theories when it comes to what goes into the making of a drama queen. I agree with the ones that point to a narcissistic or substance abusing parent who pays little attention and requires a behavior to get to a crisis level before they even respond. Children learn that drama is the way to attention, and that carries over into adult life. It’s like the little boy who cried wolf or an annoying car alarm; no one pays attention to either. We can turn off the TV, leave the theater, or close the book; but it isn’t that simple when drama enters everyday life.

Pretending is healthy, and I encourage Lillyann to pretend:) It is a safe way to explore the world and exercise the imagination. It is also a good opportunity to explain right and wrong. I have always had an overactive imagination. It offered escape as a child when I didn’t want any more attention. My sister once told me that I got all the attention in the house. I realize that was true. Mama smothered me and daddy took out his frustration on me, so I was always getting some form of attention. That left me wanting to run and hide most of the time, and I still have that tendency.

I have to make a conscious decision not to hide, run away, or let circumstances turn into drama. I have learned to ask God to redirect my thoughts when they get out of control. God uses my imagination and circumstances for good, but Satan abuses and points to the nearest exit. The choice is mine, and that’s a powerful lesson. The process requires lots of prayer and effort. When I find myself thinking the worst and rehearsing a tragedy in my head, I ask God to take over. The sooner I give Him control, the sooner I find peace.

God uses my vivid imagination to pretend with the girls and with what my dear friend describes as sacred imagination. That’s when I give my thoughts to God, and He uses them to teach me sweet lessons in love. It allows me to play with God in a beautiful way that isn’t “be tending” but walking in His kingdom now and eagerly anticipating His return. God can use all things for the good if I hand them over to Him. Satan would like for me to stay in tragedy mode, but God makes it clear that life is a comedy. That doesn’t mean mean funny or without hurt in the world of theater or in life; it simply means all ends well. God promises a beautiful ending with Him in heaven, and He also promises to be with me always. Knowing that allows me to find the peace, joy, hope, and love God provides for the journey:)

What’s Wrong With Worrying?

Worry seems harmless enough. Doesn’t it show that I’m staying on top of things? Isn’t it a sign of maturity and responsibility? Shouldn’t I be thinking ahead and solving problems? Isn’t it important to ponder past mistakes? The answer, according to Matthew 6:25-33, is a clear no!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” NASB

The scriptures from Matthew’s gospel make it perfectly clear that God does not want me to worry. I’ve learned to see worry as a measure of my faith. Fretting shows a lack of faith, and worry is a sin. That keeps worry at a distance. If I believe God is who He says He is, worry has no place in my life. That’s very easy to say, but I’m afraid it isn’t as easy to live out. Seeking God’s kingdom and remembering Christ’s righteousness help me hang out with the Holy Spirit and tell worry to take a hike:)

My stubborn need to be in control and know what is coming are the seeds at the center of my worry wart. God promises to be with me always, and that is more than enough to calm my fear. Fear flees in His presence. Living in the moment is sometimes very unpleasant, but knowing that God shares the hurt reminds me of another beautiful promise.

For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:30 NASB

There are many more examples of such reassurance in God’s Word. Joel 2:21-27 tells me He is in with me, and He is my God. I still fall prey to fear and let worry take up space in my heart and mind, but I’m learning to look to His Word and let it surround me. It embraces and stills as nothing else. Keeping God’s Word near my heart and in my head is the best way to learn from and find joy in this amazing journey:)

God’s Presence

Temple veil rent

Blood spilled and spent

Paving the way

For me each day

To enter in

Despite my sin.

Growing Pains

My heart holds fast to the past

Not allowing me to grow.

My head races on ahead

With my heart and soul in tow.

My heart is stretched to breaking

By the tug of war inside.

My spirit tries to balance

While fighting the urge to hide.

My soul just wants to follow

Its tendency for pleasure,

But spirit wins the battle

And seeks life’s truest treasure.

My heart, mind, soul, and spirit

Turn in the same direction.

Growing pains are forgotten

In Christ’s perfect reflection.

A Grateful Heart 🙂

God’s grace fills my heart with the desire to worship Him with humility and gratitude. Thanksgiving is a time to stop for a moment and give thanks for God’s love and grace. Like Christmas, the world complicates Thanksgiving in attempts to make it something other than what it was intended to be.

The Chickasaw in me has mixed feelings when it comes to the holiday and would like for it to be about accepting differences and understanding that we need those differences. I believe that was at the heart of the first Thanksgiving. We cannot make it in this world without help. As those early Native Americans came to learn, giving someone a hand often leads to them taking a leg, an arm, and a heart.

I suppose it is all part of human nature, but Thanksgiving is a time to think of thanking in a new way. We gather to remind ourselves that we have been given much and we are here to give. The lessons this year have helped me when it comes to giving. My giving has been unhealthy and left me depleted. I’m learning to give in a different way, and I’m finding that I am blessed and filled by healthy giving. It’s a lesson that changes in my heart.

Thanksgiving is about helping and giving my heart to those in my path. I’ve learned hard lessons, as have we all, when it comes to helping. I’ve been duped and taken more times than I care to recount. In those situations, I remember the first Thanksgiving. The intentions were good, and hearts were in one accord as they were all in the same boat. Giving is about knowing that we are all God’s children and in the same boat. I’ve learned that it isn’t about fixing and fusing. Understanding that changes the way I give and live:)

Gathering at church this morning and with my family this afternoon will remind me to be grateful for the love God has placed in my path. I hope I will also remember and give thanks for the fact that we are all beautifully different and bring something special to His table. God needs for me to love others, differences and all; that is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Knowing that God is in all and loves all makes the holiday truly a holy day as I see others as God sees them and give as He desires.

The lessons of late have left me speechless and filled with wonder. They remind me of an image from years ago when God showed me that Christ is a beautiful mosaic made up of all His sweet children. At a distance, I see my loving Savior. As I draw nearer to His side, I see others in Him. That changes the way I look at the world, and it changes the way I see God. We are all His beloved, and Christ’s precious love binds us together as nothing else can. It fills my heart and spills over into the world if I leave it alone and let it flow through me with the help of the Holy Spirit:)

Grace and Gravy:)

Thanksgiving breakfast was wonderful, as always. The hum of fellowship provides beautiful background music for the food that brings a flood of memories and sweet comfort. Wayne’s gravy is as close to mama’s as it gets, so I feel her sweet presence at the gathering. There’s just something about gravy that reminds me of grace. All the elements in a meal may be wonderfully prepared, but gravy that makes the meal special. God’s grace, like that wonderful gravy, covers all and leaves me feeling loved in a very special way.

Anytime I have grits and gravy together, which isn’t nearly often enough, I think of Evelyn Tooley Hunt’s poem “Mama is a Sunrise.”

Mama Is a Sunrise”

by Evelyn Tooley Hunt

When she comes slip-footing through the door,she kindles uslike lump coal lighted,and we wake up glowing.

She puts a spark even in Papa’s eyesand turns out all our darkness.

When she comes sweet-talking in the room,she warms uslike grits and gravy,and we rise up shining.

Even at nighttime Mama is a sunrisethat promises tomorrow and tomorrow.

I cannot read that poem without thinking of Mary Sue. Mama warmed just like grits and gravy every morning, and I thought of her today as I ate food lovingly prepared by those willing to get up a early and serve others. It’s what love is all about, and love is what makes the grace and the gravy so special!

I don’t know or care if the streets of heaven are paved with gold, but I’m thinking the lakes are most likely filled with mama’s gravy. Grace and gravy have a lot in common, so I believe the connection can be made without offending any theologians. I know God would agree because He knows how gravy prepared with love makes a meal very special. He also knows His grace makes love special and warms my heart even more than mama’s grits and gravy:)

Bringing in the Sheaves:)

Psalm 126 is the perfect song for Thanksgiving, and so is the hymn it inspired. “Bringing in the Sheaves” was written in 1874 by Knowles Shawl. His words were set to George Minor’s music in 1880, and a wonderful hymn was born. I marvel at the ways God’s Word sprouts and spreads. I haven’t sung the old hymn in many years, but I was reminded of it as I read Psalm 126 last night.

Psalm 126:5-6 says “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

People have been replaced by machines in the field, but the message in Psalm 126 and the hymn remind me that God’s harvest is still personal and requires His children working together to bring the sweet news of salvation to the world.

Sowing is the hard part of the harvest and involves tears. Reaping brings great joy, and weeping waters the seeds. Growth is painful and never gets easier, but I must continue to grow as long as I am in this world. Age both helps and hurts the growth process. Maturity shows me the necessity for growth, but age stiffens more than my muscles when it comes to sowing, growing, and reaping as God desires.

I’ve been stiff lately, and I know it is due to a lack of yielding. I’ve come to a place of deciding if I’m going to go to the next level or stay where I am. The choice is mine. When growing stops; dying begins. Joy departs, and rotting replaces reaping. “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” I prefer reaping to rotting, so I want to keep growing.

I can’t go into God’s field choosing what I want to reap or worrying about what happened to the seeds I’ve sown. God’s field is ripe for harvest, and that’s all that matters. The song and the psalm use “we” and “those,” both plural. The harvest is best done together. It is God’s field, and He deserves all the credit and the glory. I am here to bring in sheaves with joy and glorify God in the process.

Planting a seed is important, but there are many factors which contribute to a seed’s growth. That is especially true in God’s field. The only thing that matters is to “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” John 4:35 NASB

Growing impatient while waiting for the harvest, wondering if the seed I planted is part of the harvest, and worrying about which field I’m in get in way of the harvest and take joy away from bringing in God’s sheaves.

It’s easy to become weary when reaping, but it helps if I grow while I wait. If I simply sit back, settle, and become complacent, I will miss the beauty of the process God has in mind for my growth. Seeds take time to mature, and that’s why there is so much joy in reaping. The growing season mirrors the season of my own heart’s growing. There is a time to sow, a time to nurture, a time to wait, and a time to reap. Resting and quitting are very different ways to wait. I love this line from the poem “Don’t quit” by an unknown author. “When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.”

Growing disciples is a beautiful process that requires deep personal connections in order for roots to reach deeply into Christ’s love. His love feeds and flows beautifully if I open my heart and develop relationships that allow me to walk in His kingdom and help with His harvest. Christ’s precious love makes me come rejoicing as I bring in the sheaves. Sharing it with others is what the harvest is all about:)

Loving Wholly!

Wholly means completely and to the exclusion of all else, and God’s message for me this morning was that He wants me to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, spirit, and strength. In other words, He wants me to love Him wholly! I have the tendency to hold back when it comes to love. I’ve let the deep hurts of my past cause me not to trust love, even God’s. That sounds silly when I say it out loud, but God knows it is true and wants more for me.

God reminded me this morning that the Holy Spirit will help me love wholly if I will just let Him. I love the Holy Spirit and am amazed by the holy mystery that allows Him to bring comfort and love in ways I cannot understand. He is teaching me to be a loving presence and redefining love for me, and I have made progress. God showed me this morning that I have much more to learn when it comes to love.

Whole is better than half. We all know what happens with half:) I’m guilty of being half and part and some when it comes to love. Growing in regard to love means having the relationships He has in mind for me. I’ve settled for less because I’ve not been willing or able to wholly love myself or God. I’ve loved those who cannot love me because it was safe. I thought it would hurt much less to love that way, but I was wrong. God gives me the choice of moving on or wallowing in my pain.

God is whole and gives all when it comes to love. Commitment isn’t about enabling or fixing, and it is not to be part time. I’ve been deeply hurt when it comes to connecting, and I’ve allowed that hurt to lead my heart. A whole spirit, soul, and heart is required for the love God desires. Some is not acceptable when it comes to love.

I can’t pick and choose with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are whole and holy and want the same for me. Holy means spiritually pure, and the goal of this journey is to head in that direction. God gives a choice at each fork and intersection, and I have to decide which way to go. That decision is based on desire and readiness. The past two months have been a time of wrestling with God that has left me worn, weary, worried, but ready to listen to God.

When God teaches, it’s always about getting to the core of my heart. It involves getting to the place of spiritual exhaustion that causes a sigh of release and repentance. Turning in a new direction involves change. I like to think of myself as progressive and forward thinking, but that is sorely tested during times of change.

I usually cry out to God during those times of twisting! It’s more appropriate than yelling “uncle” when wrestling with God. When I’ve had enough wrangling, He shows me what I need to see before I can move forward. It’s never easy to see, and I wrestle to avoid what I know is coming. I have kept love at arm’s length all my life, and God showed me that isn’t what He wants. He used Thanksgiving in powerful ways to help me see the importance of wholly loving and living.

Each time I come to a difficult leg of the journey, God provides sweet assistance in the form of family and friends who love me, and He always gives me a beautiful reward when I finally get it. I’m having lunch with one of my dearest friends today. I haven’t seen her in seven years, and I know the lunch isn’t a coincidence. Ali hears my heart across the distance, and we are sweet kindred spirits. She knows and loves me in a way I can’t describe. Actually, I can; she loves me wholly:) She has been an important part of my journey, and God placed her in my path at a two crucial intersections. It’s perfect that she would be here as I’m encounter another. God knows just what I need just when I need it, and I love that about Him!

Tedious Trudge or Joyful Journey?

What’s the first thing you seek when you awake? If you’re like most, it’s a cup of coffee or something to eat. I have started to linger in bed and talk to God before I start my day. My day is much better when I start it with Him. If I am worrying or whining, our time together isn’t time together at all. Worry makes it all about me, and that ruins the moment. The day goes from bad to worse. I seek Him first thing in the morning and thank Him last thing in the evening.

Yesterday was a perfect example of being in His presence all day. I didn’t worry once, and God showed me how beautifully that affects my journey. Anytime I end up doing the children’s story, I know there is a lesson God is trying, without success, to teach me. I have the story today, and it’s about worry:) I’ve read and prayed over the scriptures for two weeks, and Pastor John shared the message God gave him about the powerful passage on seeking. I finally get it, and it is a transforming lesson indeed!

I hadn’t thought of the connection between worrying and seeking until John shared the message with me. Worry and trust are closely connected. If I worry, I don’t trust. If I trust, I don’t worry. It’s a simple message, but one with which I’ve struggled my entire life. Christ knows that worry causes me to miss God’s kingdom, and that makes life a tedious trudge instead of a joyful journey. God lets me decide which path to take, but He prefers I let go of worry and embrace the joy God’s kingdom has for me. Holding on to worry keeps me from seeking God’s kingdom; that makes me let go of worry as if it were a hot coal and seek God in a whole new way:)

Last night, I was getting my sparrow and lily ready for the story this morning, and I was struck by the notion that worrying forces me to live life in a backward way. If I focus upon food, shelter, clothes, taking, making, getting, and doing, I don’t have time to seek God. Can you imagine what God’s world would look like if we all sought Him first? It would be His world and not ours. It would be His life and not mine. It would truly be “His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven:)” That was part of the powerful lesson this week.

So why do I worry? I worry because I don’t trust God. It’s as simple as that, and God will not let me add any ‘if’s, and’s or but’s to that lesson. I have been known to take a perfectly wonderful lesson God teaches and add a little something to it, and that’s worse than worrying. That’s playing God, and it gets me into more trouble than not trusting Him. I’m humbled when I think of His patience with me and very thankful He sees me as a child learning to walk in His kingdom. Otherwise, I’d be in big trouble.

There is nothing worse than worry. It causes the past and future to invade my present. It makes me old, wrinkles my face, sours my stomach, disrupts my sleep, ruins my health, and keeps me from God’s presence. Wow, do I need any more convincing? I finally got God’s message on Thanksgiving day, and that was perfect timing on His part. Seeing Ali after seven years was icing on the cake yesterday. I told her she was my sticker this week, and what a wonderful blessing it was to hug her tightly and reconnect beautifully.

Worry causes me to look at the clock, think about the cost, wonder if I’m able, etc… Thanksgiving 2012 will go down as the week God put worry in its proper place-behind me! I pray I will remember the lessons from Matthew 6:25-33 as long as I live. I know I will as I seek Him in prayer, look to His Word, and see His world as He desires. God certainly did His part in making the lesson this week memorable, and I know if I will put Him in His proper place-in front of me, the journey will be a joy-filled walk in His kingdom that will help me draw nearer to Him and those He places in my path:)

Seeking God

Seeking God is so much more than simply seeing Him; it is an endeavor to find His love and His will in my life and His world. God is love, and love has a very special quality. It connects as nothing else. When I look for and find God in those around me, I experience the beautiful connection love offers. It is what walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Seeking is intentional, active, and often painful, but well worth the effort when I find and embrace the love it brings.

Accepting God’s love allows it to flow through me. I have several friends with whom I have a deep connection, and that blesses me as nothing else. My son and I have a sweet connection, and the love I have for him and his family connects us beautifully. If God is the center of a relationship, it will be a taste heaven. If I am separated from someone I love, it is a taste of hell. I need to feel both in order to understand God and myself more fully.

Seeking God’s kingdom seems simple enough, but it is far from easy. It requires a level of faith I am only beginning to understand and a level of honest communion that tests my trust. I know it is what God desires for me, and that gives me the courage me to keep on seeking. Courage and love walk hand-in-hand.

Finding God opens new doors but closes others. Repentance is about turning, and turning means a new direction. It isn’t easy to leave old habits, but when I realize they keep me from experiencing the joy that comes from obeying God, I can move forward and live the life God has in mind. Love is transformed and transforming as God has His way with my heart. All transformations involve demolition, and the process takes time and energy. Understanding my need for repentance is what makes seeking so difficult. The beautiful result makes me forget what I was like before, and that’s when I know I’m heading in the right direction:)

A New Song

Sing to the Lord a new song;

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

Tell of His glory among the nations,

His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;

He is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

But the Lord made the heavens.

Splendor and majesty are before Him,

Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;

Bring an offering and come into His courts.

Worship the Lord in holy attire;

Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Say among the nations,

The Lord reigns;Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;

He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar, and all it contains;

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.

Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy

Before the Lord, for He is coming,

For He is coming to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

And the peoples in His faithfulness.

Psalm 96 NASB

This beautiful psalm is perfect for the beginning of Advent as I anticipate Christ’s coming. Too often, I find myself singing the same old song and praying the same old prayers. This psalm lifts my heart and spirit and makes me want to join the forest and sing for joy.

Do I really think about Christ returning? I love the thought of Emmanuel and the sweet baby in the Christmas manger, but I cannot leave Him there or on the cross or in His ascension to heaven. He is coming again, and that makes me sing with great joy:)

I suppose it’s the judging that causes me to pause. I worry about how He will find me and what I will have to show Him. As soon as I say that, I remember that He is God and loves me more than I have room in my heart to hold or faith enough to understand. Judgment is going to come with Christ, but so is His love for me. He knows, and I am learning, that this journey is about drawing near to Him and helping others do the same.

Sharing the journey is not easy because it opens my heart in uncomfortable ways, and that often gives me the urge to hide. The beautiful lessons of late have been about the difference in love in His kingdom and the world’s. Love is shared in heaven in ways it isn’t shared on earth. On earth, we hold tightly to love until it becomes lust. In His kingdom, love binds and frees at the same time. Kingdom love heals my heart and allows it to accept and give love in a way that unites and spreads.

It’s taken three years for me to understand the beautiful difference loving in God’s kingdom makes, but it’s been well worth the pain involved. All learning comes at a price; it forces me to change. That change is necessary for the growth needed to live and love in His kingdom. My heart has grown at least three sizes in three years, and it has never felt better. I thank God for loving friends and family who see me as He does and help me see the same. It allows His kingdom to come and His will to be done in my heart, and that makes me sing a new song,“and worship God in the beauty of holiness.” KJV

His Ways:)

Jeremiah 33:16 says, “In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the Lord is our righteousness.”

Christ”s righteousness is at the heart of God’s ways. I cannot live the life God has for me until I acknowledge that it is Christ’s and not my righteousness that identifies who God is and who I am. I am His, and my vain efforts to get good enough to enter His kingdom keep me from His ways.

Works flow naturally and beautifully from my obedient heart if I love as God desires. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to make others happy. The futility of my ways left me depleted and those I helped bitter. Embracing kingdom love causes obedience that leads to joy. I’ve mentioned before that I believe the key Saint Peter holds to the gates of heaven is his amazing love of Christ. Peter loved the Lord and saw His righteousness first-hand.

Psalm 25:4-5 says,

Make me know Your ways, O Lord;Teach me Your paths.Lead me in Your truth and teach me,For You are the God of my salvation;For You I wait all the day.

I’ve loved these verses for a long time, but I’ve seen them in a new light this week. My walk cannot be separated from His righteousness. As I draw nearer to Him, I am humbled and blessed in seeing who He is and seeing who I am in the light of His righteousness changes me and my path. His paths and ways are about His kingdom, and that is where my journey must take me if I am to continue to draw near to Him and love as He desires.

I wish I could express God’s message for me this morning, but I am having trouble finding the right words. God is bidding my heart to go from its self-help freeways to His simple paths. Coming out of the hectic and nerve-wrecking traffic of a busy freeway and walking on a beautiful country road is as close as I can come to the image God gave this morning. I can breathe and see clearly what was whizzing past me before.

There is comfort in knowing I am completely surrounded and never alone on those freeways. The intimacy of a country road can be intimidating, but I am able to connect and love His way. I was forced to slow down this month and found myself fretting and frustrated. God reminded me that I’ve been praying for His ways, His paths, and His kingdom to come, and He was simply answering my prayers:)

As Mylah and Lillyann fell asleep on me last night, I breathed a prayer of thanksgiving for the pace of His path and the beauty I held in my arms and my heart. Understanding that Christ’s righteousness forged the path He and I are on together caused my heart to relax and take in the moment and the view. I looked down at the two sleeping angels in my arms, out at the beautiful Christmas tree filled with decorations from the past and present, and up at the full moon shining in the window. I was surrounded in a new and beautiful way, His way:)

Good For My Soul

The forgiveness Christ offers makes confession good for my soul. The difficult part of confession is letting God show me the areas of my life and heart that need clearing out and cleaning up. Like an attic or basement rarely visited, the places where sin hides in my heart need an opened door, a light turned on, and a good airing out.

The scriptures and lessons this week opened the door, shed God’s light on my shortcomings, and allowed His Spirit do some much-needed work. Like in a forgotten attic, I found things I thought long gone. God bid me to take stock and clear out this week. I cannot get rid of what I’ve forgotten I had, and that’s why an inventory is essential.

God lets me leave sin tucked away, but He will help inventory the contents of my heart when I’m ready for His help. I did ask Him to help me this week and was humbled by the pile of junk He laid before me. He will help me find the junk, but it’s up to me to decide what goes. I can resist or say not now, and I often do that when faced with a mess I’m not in the mood to clean. Turn off the light, shut the door, and leave it alone for now. I was ready to face the mess, so I asked God to lend a hand.

Once God brings those things which don’t belong from the bottom of the pile, it’s easy to let go. Seeing sin is like smelling garbage; it motivates me to take action and make changes. My heart feels like an attic that’s been cleaned and rearranged into a beautiful new living space where cherished treasures are seen, and the junk is history. It’s a great feeling once I’m finished:) God provides a wonderful Counselor in His dear Son and a great Comforter in His sweet Spirit. The three working together make for an amazing design team:)

Confession is good for my soul. Truly letting go means acknowledging sin for what it is, getting rid of all excuses to keep it around, and letting God redesign the space as only He can. Honesty is the key to cleaning and letting go. It isn’t easy; I feel as if I’ve been in a week-long boxing match with an angry gorilla. That’s what monkey mind becomes when confronted and asked to leave. Those racing thoughts do not go away willingly, but they do take off when they come face to face with God. The peaceful eleven hour sleep last night was well worth the battle:)

God uses those in my path to help me recognize the need to clean. When I find myself offended or irritated, I must look deeply at that person and at myself to see what is in them that I am denying in myself. It’s like pulling teeth without novocaine and involves a level of honesty and pain that is too much to handle alone. I never like it when I see the same thing in myself, but I have to see it before I can toss it. I know I’ve truly gotten rid of the junk when that person no longer gets to me. I can then move on, and that frees space in my heart and my mind.

Freeing is the word I would use to describe the lessons this week. Confession freed my heart and mind, and God redesigned both spaces. That’s a wonderful feeling that makes me want to empty more space! Empty space can be daunting, but it is much better than clutter. Space takes on new meaning when I let it be an empty canvas upon which God can paint His hope on my heart. Paint away Lord! Paint away:)

Coming or Going?

Advent is a season of longing as we look to Christ’s second coming. That involves embracing the ancient anticipation of the Messiah and celebrating the sweet Nativity of Jesus. So often, Advent ends with the first coming and ignores the second. Tales of woe and fears of being left behind have tarnished our longing and caused us to leave the second coming behind in our Advent celebrations. Advent is a season of joy and hope that should be at the very center of Christmas.

When discussing the second coming with a group of young people recently, many expressed concern that Christ might come before they were ready. They wanted to live out their lives first. That made me think about my own thoughts on the matter.

Wanting to live out my life is part of my journey, and the thought of Christ coming before I’m ready is natural. Like Ricky Bobby in Taladaega Nights, it’s safest to stick to baby Jesus in the manger. I do love the manger, and the very thought of Imanu’el brings great joy to my heart. When Jesus returns, He will be God glorified. Am I prepared for the grown up, glorified Christ and the going His coming will involve? That’s the question that makes me want to run back to the manger with Ricky Bobby!

The point of Advent is hope, but hope gets lost in buying frenzies and seasonal depression. I pray my heart will stop and linger and long for Him this year. Instead of sugar plums dancing in my head, I pray for visions of love and hope and peace that play out in my everyday life as Christ desires.

The best news is that I don’t have to wait for Christ’s second coming to begin walking in His kingdom. Everyday is Advent if I look for Jesus in the everyday. I believe that comes a lot closer to the reality of His return than the fear-filled dramas written by men. Christ will not be an infant when He returns, but He will be the same sweet Lord He was, is, and will always be. His character never changes, and His love remains steadfast. That gives me hope and causes me to anticipate His return everywhere, everyday:)

New Beginnings:)

It’s December 1st, and the month promises to be an amazing one. God has made it clear that He has new beginnings in store for me. Yesterday, I went to see the home I will share with my son’s sweet family beginning on January 1:) For a decade, I’ve lived alone as my journey involved a new beginning on September 1, 2002 when I left my marriage of twenty-nine years. I’ve done a lot of hiding during the past decade, but I’m ready for the open spaces God has in mind for me.

As I toured the beautiful house, my heart felt right at home. I’m ready for company, and I can’t think of anyone with whom I’d rather share a home than my son and his family. Lillyann was so excited that Gigi was going to be living with her, and little Mylah gave me a smile that took me back to when her daddy was her age. Living together is what God has in mind for His children, and my grandmother lived with us for six months out of the year until she died.

Grandmother Banning was a big part of my life. I loved sharing meals with her, and I used to sit in wonder as she braided her long hair each morning and twisted it into a bun. She would unwind her bun and take out the braid each evening before going to bed. I can still hear her humming and singing as she sewed. She loved to sew, and mama had to tear the hems out of pillow cases and clothing to keep her busy.

During my mini-skirt phase in the sixties, grandmother would pull at my shirt as I walked by and ask if there was a hem that could be let out:) Lilly Belle Banning was a quiet presence who sewed and helped with household chores. I don’t recall playing with her, but I know we interacted. I pray that I will be a loving presence in the lives of Lillyann and Mylah and plan to play and enjoy the precious time I have with them. I know God will continue teaching me through them. I know I am in for some graduate studies with those little professors, and I look forward to the learning:)

Three years ago today, my heart made some serious changes as I learned I could love and walk in God’s kingdom before I got to heaven. The journey took a turn that challenged my heart but taught it the importance of honest communion when it comes to loving and living as God desires. Love is not as complicated as we humans tend to make it. God is love, and He wants me to love Him and those in my path. It isn’t rocket science, but it does require a level of honesty that would have made me shrink away three years ago.

The lessons in love prepared my heart to open up and give God the space He desires. I had to smile when I saw the windows in the house. Natural light flooded the rooms, and breath-taking views of beautiful mountains were at every turn. I could not only see God as I looked in and out of those windows, I could feel His love pouring into my heart like the sunlight pouring into the rooms. Arthur Brisbane said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll use one rather than try to describe the scene.

God not only opened doors, He place some amazing windows in my path yesterday. I love it when He wows me, and He definitely wowed me yesterday. I may just stand and stare out the windows and pray that I never take Him or His beautiful handiwork for granted. The open floor plan, the windows, and the beautiful pool overwhelmed me, but the look on Lillyann’s face when she squealed, “I’m so excited!” and Mylah’s sweet grin were the best features of the home.

I love a new day, a new month, a new year, and a new song! God’s timing is always perfect, and His plan is so much better than my own. Jeremiah 33 and Psalm 96 have reminded me this week that God is a god of new beginnings, and He has a special one in mind for me. That makes me want to squeal like Lillyann:)

God’s Timing:)

God’s timing has more to do with my readiness than His delaying. I often say that God’s timing is perfect, and it is. I usually mean that He’s making me wait for some reason, helping me grow, or teaching me patience. That’s true also, but I’m learning that God’s timing is directly related to the state of my heart’s readiness. He’s always ready to teach, guide, and give me the wonderful things He has in store. I am not, so He’s the one who’s doing the waiting! Knowing that puts me in a different state of mind and heart:)

As I think of all God put before me this week, I am humbled. Jeremiah 33 has blessed me over and over, and verse 9 grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let it go last night.

It will be to Me a name of joy, praise and glory before all the nations of the earth which will hear of all the good that I do for them, and they will fear and tremble because of all the good and all the peace that I make for it.’” NASB

God’s love has demanded my attention this week, and I have literally trembled at all the good and all the peace He has made for me. These words from “The Wonderful Cross” say it perfectly, and Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin sing it beautifully!

Love so amazing, so divine,Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

God doesn’t just bid me come, His love captures my soul and attention in a way that makes me tremble in wonder and look to Him. When I do, He shows me who He is and who I can be with Him. I see myself as He sees me, and that brings me to my knees in gratitude for His grace.

Knowing I am loved is a mirror that allows me to look deeply at His love and express it to Him, myself, and those in my path. His love is so different from mine. I understood enabling, fixing, pitying, and waiting upon, but I never knew true love until God planted its seed in my heart three years ago. It grew, flourished, and brought me nearer to Him.

Readiness is one definition of the Greek word translated as holiness, and that simple truth helps me see love in a new light. Knowing that God is waiting for that readiness in my heart changes the way I live and love. I’ve been waiting for Him to do something, but I see that I am the one who must get ready. I’ve long since stopped using the word coincidental because I know nothing is coincidental when it comes to God. He does wait for me, but He also knows when I’m going to be ready. He knew the seed He planted on December 1st three years ago would bloom yesterday. Amazing:)

Seeking Answers or Looking for Validation?

Seeking answers and looking for validation are two very different quests. Answers are for going and growing; validation is for parking and barking. Love seeks and lets God take the lead. Lust looks for a pat on the back and follows self satisfaction.

I’ve looked for validation far too often in my life. The need to be right, to be loved, to be needed have kept me from the kingdom of God and held me in the confines of selfish need. Validation placates; answers bring peace. They may look the same on the outside, but they lead me in opposing directions. Seeking answers helps me break free and find His desires. They are so much better than my wants:)

Self is strong and pulls me off track, but God is stronger and pulls me back when I cry out to Him. I found myself wheezing and unable to sleep at three this morning. God is faithful to use my tossing and turning as a teachable moment if I let Him.

Tossing is a sign that my mind is too busy to return to sleep, and that is a sure sign that I’m looking for validation. Satan is in charge of validating, and he knows a busy mind is always connected to a busy body:) He gets me into placating mode and brings out his rationalizing gear. Between the two of us, God cannot get His Word in edgewise. God doesn’t push. He waits.

Conversations with Satan placate and pacify. They contain mostly I this and I that. Capital I’s make wonderful fenceposts, and soon a white picket fence surrounds me, and I’m right in the middle. I like to be right, and that’s what validation is all about. Being right makes me feel safe and sound and satisfied, but God knows it doesn’t provide answers or make the changes He desires in my heart.

God’s answers tear down fences forged with I I I I I! He silences the me me me me song! He bids me to sing a new song and live a new way. He asks me to love as He loves. If I listen, I learn that forgiveness replaces my need to be right with a desire to be light. The world has more than its share of those who are right but is in great need of those who will be His light.

The choice is mine, and that causes me to toss and turn at times. Validation is tempting because answers are not always what I expect or want to hear. Answers lead to more questions, and that is what life-long learning and walking in God’s kingdom is all about. Those who have all the answers stop learning, and that is worse than death. I pray that I will leave validation to parking tickets. I’m not ready to park or pack up and pray I never am. I am ready to move forward, seek answers, and trust God to continue teaching His lessons in love:)

Listening is Relative

When it comes to listening, there is nothing better than a soundboard. bing’s definition is “a board to increase resonance: a thin sheet of wood placed under or above the strings of a musical instrument to increase resonance. On a violin it is the top of the instrument” I love that definition. I’m also intrigued by the list of synonyms bing offers: friend, soul mate, alter ego, sister, brother, amigo, intimate, best friend.

A listener can be a sponge, a marble slab, a baseball bat, or a sound board. I had to smile when I saw the synonyms because they were not at all what I expected, but they do make perfect sense if you are or have a sound board in your life.

A sponge takes everything in and gives no feedback. They are heavy-laden as they leave because they absorbed it all, but they offer nothing in return. I’m left as empty as they are full, and that isn’t a good feeling for either of us. It is the most unhealthy type of listening.

A marble slab is beautiful but isn’t absorbing a thing. A set smile or a look of concern gives an impression of sincerity where there is none. It’s more about let’s get this over with so I can move on. The experience leaves me empty and them completely unaffected. There is no real interaction, so I’m left feeling worse than before.

A baseball bat immediately takes a swing at the information. Whack! They know exactly how I feel because they’ve been there and done that. In fact, it was much worse for them. They know exactly what I should do, offer a simple solution, and walk off feeling as though they just hit a home run! I’m left wondering what just happened as they strut off the field.

A sound board creates “amplification of a sound, e.g. that of an instrument or the human voice, caused by sympathetic vibration in a chamber such as an auditorium or a singer’s chest.” That sounds a lot like love to me:) If you are or ever have been a sound board or had the privilege of having one, you know love is the sympathetic vibration in the heart that makes listening a truly powerful connection.

Being a sound board is not as easy as being that slab of marble or as fun as whacking that ball out of the park, but it is the most beautiful feeling in the world when someone hears my heart and understands it. It’s just as good when I do the same for them. It is rare to find a sound board in this world because it takes time and means connecting at a deep level. Several years ago, a dear friend told me I was a wonderful sound board. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time, but I could tell by the tone that it was a good thing. I know now just what it means and consider it a beautiful compliment:)

Nudging is Better Than Judging:)

I was shocked and embarrassed as fear spilled out of my heart yesterday. I wasn’t expecting the sudden flood of emotion when I talked with a friend about a situation that concerned me. It hit a nerve that made me realize I still have a lot of healing to do. They say when you’re jarred, you see what’s inside. I wasn’t prepared for the fear that came spewing out. It was like hitting an artery!

I was thankful to have a sound board and honest communion as I struggled to get out of the quick sand that was surrounding me. I was drowning and didn’t like or understand it at all. I thank God for providing the space I needed and the tears that cleansed and released my heart.

It’s important to make room, and that’s what happened yesterday. God cleared, cleaned, and showed me the need to move on. Twain said a virtue not tested is not really a virtue, and I believe the same is true for fear. I don’t know I have it until my heart is confronted. It is frightening, so it helps to have company who understands. Hearing is the heart of witnessing and givess a needed nudge toward God.

Stumbling provides opportunity for growth, and lessons which hit a nerve are the ones that stick with me. God knew I was ready to face the fears lingering from past hurts and move forward. He knew I needed a nudge yesterday. I once heard a minister say we are here to nudge one another. To nudge and be nudged is much better than to judge and be judged. It is at the heart of walking and witnessing in God’s kingdom.

The most difficult part of facing fear is seeing the need to move on. God’s ways are higher than mine, and I am learning that I don’t have to understand them. He doesn’t expect me to, but He does expect me to obey His precepts and live according to His Word. I cannot bend, stretch, or make them or Him fit into my plan. I have been guilty of doing just that.

When stuck at a fork in the road, a loving nudge is necessary. I can ignore the nudge, go my way and rationalize my decision. I can see the nudge as a push and get angry, or I can allow the nudge to move me gently in the direction God desires. The choice is mine, and Shakespeare would say, “therein lies the rub:)

When I Cease, God Brings Peace

Yesterday while I listened to Mylah sleeping, I noticed my headache was gone. I rarely have a headache, but this one had persisted for almost three days. My heart goes out to those who suffer from migraines; I can’t imagine their pain. I had a simple sinus headache, and it was getting to me. I love it when I notice an annoying pain is gone. I’m sure it is never the exact moment when it stops, but it is a sweet moment that gives a new appreciation for being pain free.

The dogs, Lilly, and Mylah were all asleep, and I soaked in the sleepy sounds that surrounded me. I was thanking God for the sweet girls that fill my heart as nothing else when I realized my head wasn’t hurting any more. I know the headache was not only from my sinuses. The tension brought on by the fear and the tears earlier in the week started the twisting that left me wrung out and exhausted. The girls unwound me and allowed the tension to break. My nose began to run, and my head and heart relaxed for the first time in three days.

As I sat in the sweet stillness, I noticed my fear was also gone. That was icing on the cake, and I smiled at how God used all for my good. I thought about going home and resting rather than heading to church; but after a visit to the new house with the girls, I wanted to sing and pray and hear God’s message. Between the girls and the worship, God changed my direction. My sinuses are still irritated, and I look as though I’ve been in a boxing match; but my mind and heart are at peace:)

The lessons this week were painful ones, literally and figuratively. I wasn’t surprised when the message last night was about repentance. Metanoia means “to change one’s mind, repent, from; a transformative change of heart.” That has been, is, and will continue to be the goal on this journey. Change is ongoing, and I pray that I will get more flexible as God transforms my mind and my heart to be more in line with His. The twisting is much less painful when I relax:)

The word for repent used at the end of the book of Job is a word that describes the sigh of release that someone who is being held gives when they stop fighting. When I cease, God brings peace. That is what repentance is all about, and it surely does transform my heart and change my mind in ways I cannot describe. Thanks be to God:)

Simple Worship

I love First Tuesday Communion and Prayer because it is a perfect example of simple worship. The first worship services involved sharing the Lord’s Supper and pausing to remember the mystery of Christ’s gift of salvation. We get further and further away from that sweet simplicity in our worship services. The intimacy of the First Tuesday meal touches my very soul, and I told a friend yesterday that I wished all our worship was as simple and beautiful.

I look at the church publications and get dizzy with all the plans. Plans for this, plans for that, plans for this month, plans for next month, and plans for six months down the road. I get overwhelmed as dates run together. It is important to have opportunities for fellowship, and I enjoy being part of many of those activities, but the message on Wednesday night reminded me that we are here to proclaim the good news.

Perhaps it’s a sign I’m getting old, but I found myself wishing this week that worship was less complicated. As we sang “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” Wednesday evening, I felt a sweet sense of His Holy Spirit as our hearts and attention turned away from all the busyness and bustle for a moment. God often ends up with a moment here and a moment there. I wonder at His love and patience and pray that I will let the things of earth take their proper place.

Worship gets to be work and arranging and planning when it should be stillness and turning. Repentance allows the turning, and turning enables connection. Obedience opens the door to both peace and joy when I stop listening to the squawking noises of those determined to distract and let the still, small voice have center stage. As long as people gather together, there will be a battle for attention. Jesus didn’t need accolades or attention so He didn’t seek a favored spot on the stage. He turned His attention to God, and that’s what simple worship is all about:)

Comforting Smells:)

Turkey soup is simmering on the stove, and apple cider is mulling beside it. Both are comforting smells. Smell is the most basic sense and evokes a host of emotional responses that literally take us back in time. I love the smell of turkey cooking because it reminds me of Thanksgiving dinners with the family. Turkey is healing all by itself, but thoughts of family bring an added measure of comfort. Turkey soup warms right to my core and helps me sleep. There are chemical reasons for that, but there are also strong emotional ones.

Smell is associated with the most ancient and primitive part of our brain. The research in our reactions to smell shows that it isn’t the smell that brings a response as much as our expectation of the smell. If we are told the aroma we are going to smell is a pleasant one, we are likely to find it pleasant. The suggestion we receive sets our mind, and our expectation causes mood to improve. I love lavender and have it all around my house. It relaxes and soothes and helps me sleep. I wonder at that since it is a smell I associate with my father, and he brought anything but peace to me as a child.

I can vividly remember going into the bathroom when he was shaving. We only had one bathroom so there were often several in at one time, especially in the morning as we all got ready for school and work. Daddy used lavender aftershave, so it was present each morning. It’s a powerful smell and one used in aromatherapy for relaxation. Maybe the smell is stronger than the association, or maybe God was using a little aromatherapy to calm my fears:)

Cooking smells bring comfort, and vanilla is at the top of the list when it comes to scents found to be pleasing. Mama said she and her sisters would put a drop of vanilla extract behind their ears when they went on a date. It turns out they were wearing a fragrance men still find more alluring than expensive perfumes. Cinnamon and pumpkin pie are also known to get a man’s attention in a powerful way:)

There is a new fragrance out on the market, and it’s the scent of Pizza Hut. I suppose in the future, there just might be a turkey perfume and even one that smells like bread baking. I used to love the commercial where the ladies were out on the town and one was attracting men like crazy. When asked her secret, she simply opened her purse, showed the others a slab of bacon, and said it worked every time:) I believe she had the right idea.

Whatever the science behind smell, I know that I’m enjoying the smells coming from the kitchen right now. I love to cook, and I love to share my cooking with others even more. I guess I inherited my mama’s cooking gene. There was nothing Mary Sue liked more than cooking up and serving great food, and she did it better than anyone I know. When Mylah and Lillyann are playing in their little kitchen, I see a lot of mama in them and can smell the sweet memories of the love that went into every meal she prepared. I take a deep breath and sigh contentedly:)

The Foolishness of Fighting Alone

When I try to do things on my own, I end up in a terrible mess. That is never more true than when I think I can handle my sin without help. I set myself up for a fall if I think I can do what only Christ is able to do. Bravado leads to destruction, and courage kills any chance I have at righteous living if I attempt to battle Satan alone.

Ephesians 6:12 is a vivid reminder that should be memorized by those who like to do things for themselves or think they can save someone else.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” NASB

Being saved does not make me God, and that becomes painfully clear when I attempt to do what only He can do. When faced with evil, my job is to swallow my pride and cry out to God. He hears my cries and brings peace. If I start a fight I cannot finish, I am in for a bad bruising or worse. Pride comes before my fall when it makes me think I can handle everything on my own.

Matthew 11:30 is another verse to keep in my heart.

For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”NASB

When I allow God to be God, my burdens become light as He takes then and turns them into lessons that nudge me a little closer to Him and to those in my path. Before I can give him those burdens, I have to deal with my pride. With pride out of the way, humility has room to take root in my heart. Then, I can truly walk in God’s kingdom and not stomp all over it!

Sickness and Witness

The girls were sick today, and it just broke my heart. I’d so much rather be sick than see them sick. That was true with my son, and it’s doubly true for them. It breaks my heart when they aren’t well. I know God feels the same way when I am hurting, and Christ went to the cross with a love that couldn’t bear to see us suffer. He died so I could live, and that’s sacrificial love.

I know I can’t keep the girls from getting sick, but I really hate it when they catch something from me. It is what happens when we love and live together. Making close connections means sharing what we have, and that’s better than not connecting and not getting anything. I’m sure we will all be better in a few days, but that doesn’t make me feel any less guilty for exposing them to this nasty cold.

Witnessing is also about exposing others to what I have, but what I spread when telling the good news about Christ changes lives and lasts an eternity. Unlike my cold, I want to spread the gospel with those in my path. When I find myself hesitant to share Christ with others, I remember to reserve that attitude for contagious conditions not worth sharing.

There’s a time to be open and a time to hold back. When I have a cold, I need to be prudent and not share the germs. When I have the opportunity to spread the good news, I need to share it with abandon. Living and loving involve sharing the good and the bad, and sometimes I can’t avoid sharing those nasty germs. I have the choice when it comes to sharing God’s love. The best news is that God’s love spreads even faster and more effectively than cold germs. Sickness and witness are similar in that they are about spreading what I have, but the results are very different;)

The Innkeeper’s Daughter

Lillyann brought “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” to me yesterday and wanted to hear the story. She got in my lap, and Mylah quickly followed suit. The book is beautifully written by Carol Greene, so the girls did not move a muscle as little Abigail and Meangoat terrorized the neighborhood. I could tell Lillyann was anxious about the outcome when she asked if Abigail was ever going to be nice.

Abigail changes when she finds a sweet baby in her family’s stable. Knowing she is loved changes the way she behaves. The girls loved the story, and I loved sharing it with them. Jesus’s love does make a difference and saves me from my mean self. It even changed Meangoat in the story, and Lillyann was especially thankful for that:)

I love children and envy their sense wonder. As I watched the girls sleeping yesterday, I also envied their peace-filled sleep. Last night, I ended up sleeping for ten hours straight. That isn’t the norm, but I believe my exposure to wonder, love, and the sweet peace of watching them sleep must have been part of my own peace-filled sleep last night. I was shocked when I saw light coming in the window and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the clock.

Love makes the world a different place, and that’s what “The Innkeeper’s Daughter” is all about. God’s love came down to where I am in the form of an innocent child, and it is for everyone. Children make a beautiful difference in this world when we listen and take time to hear what they have to say. When I model the girls wide-eyed wonder and join their giggles of glee when we play, joy and love come together in a way that is appropriate for this special time of year. So, take the time to wonder and giggle today. You’ll thank God for it later:)

Holding Her Own:)

Little Mylah is learning to hold her own around big sister Lillyann, and I had to laugh as she held tightly to a little snowman Lillyann was dying to get her hands on. The little grin on Mylah’s face as she walked down the hall realizing she was going to get to keep it was priceless:)

Meanwhile, Lillyann is learning diplomacy and managed to trade a Santa for the snowman. They are learning to play together well, and there is nothing I love more than watching their interaction. The ride home Tuesday was a hoot as the girls giggled and squealed all the way. They had little tea lights and were pretending to zap each other. Each zap was followed by squeals of hysteria. There is nothing sweeter than get-a-long giggles, and my heart was full as I listened in and loved every silly moment.

I know the girls will become even closer as they grow up together. They already love each other so much, and I know they’ll miss one another next week while Lillyann is in Florida. Separation makes us appreciate those we love, and I know there will be lots of hugging when Lillyann gets home in time for Christmas. Mere and I will keep Mylah occupied, and having mommy and daddy all to herself will be good for Lillyann as they enjoy Sea World and family in Florida.

Learning to stand up for yourself is important, and Mylah’s doing very well in that department. There are times when I have to hold my own and not let others take advantage. Diplomacy is also essential when it comes to living together. It’s important to learn the fine art of give and take. I’m not worried about either girl and know they will be wonderfully different individuals who are closely connected. I thank God for giving me a front row seat and allowing me to be a big part of this special time in their lives. It’s a sweet privilege, and I plan to savor every moment:)

Ring of Truth

I had the diamond from my engagement ring placed into a beautiful new setting and picked up the ring today. It was important to let go of the past and move forward, and the new ring was about doing just that. I marveled at the beautiful heart that brought tears of joy and release as I put it on my finger.

There are times I feel I haven’t made a lot of progress when it comes to my heart, but there are other days when I know I’ve come a long way. Settling for less than what God has in mind has always been a problem for me in regard to love, and God reminded me to look to Him when it comes to love. Truth is at the heart of love, and I am learning to be honest and open even when breaks my heart.

Listening is a new skill for me, and I’m learning to discern His will. Sometimes it’s the most simple thing in the world, but it becomes complicated when I put my wants into the mix. Hearing His truth involves breathing in His Holy Spirit. I am beginning to do just that and realized today that I hold my breath far too often when it comes to His Spirit. Having access to the Holy Spirit is not the same as truly embracing Him and allowing Him to occupy my heart.

When I let God’s Spirit into my heart, He makes it beautiful. I haven’t cherished my heart, so it’s no wonder it hasn’t been cherished by others. Being wanted is a great feeling, but being cherished is much better. God made sure I saw the difference today. Lessons in love are never easy, but the beautiful ring God placed on my finger will serve as a vivid reminder to cherish my heart and love as He desires. His kingdom will come if I let Him start with my heart. There’s a ring of truth in that if I ever heard one:)

My Heart Goes Out to Connecticut

The tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut seems unreal. Like a terrible nightmare, it leaves me thinking it can’t be true. Kindergarten is a safe place. Rural Connecticut is a safe place. Suddenly, the world isn’t the same. I don’t imagine it ever will be the same; in fact, I hope we are not the same after this slap to the very heart of all we hold to be sacred and safe.

I imagine we will have answers in the coming days, but I doubt any of them will make sense to us. Sense is relative and, and I guess the young man who carried out this horrific crime saw some sense in his actions. Satan is adept at convincing those who are hurting that hurting others will help. It doesn’t, of course, but there is truth in the old saying that misery loves company. There is an epidemic of misery in this world, and it breaks my heart that innocent little ones bore the brunt of one man’s frustration and hurt.

There is no way to protect our children and grandchildren from all harm, but we can give them hope. God offers hope to a world without hope. Christ understands the pain of senseless killing; He died at the hands of those who were hurting and misguided. Death is not the final word thanks to His sacrificial love.

My heart goes out to Connecticut and to all those who will face this Christmas season without their precious little ones. I cannot begin to imagine their pain, but I know God can does. May He surround those hurting and remind all of us that evil is defeated by love and forgiveness. That level of forgiveness is not possible in the human realm, but it is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

God bless those in Newtown, Connecticut and may we all hold those we love a little closer tonight.

We’re In This Together

John Donne’s famous poem “No Man Is An Island” is worth a second look this week.

No Man Is An Island

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.


Each is a piece of the continent,


A part of the main.


If a clod be washed away by the sea

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.


As well as if a manor of thine own

Or of thine friend’s were.


Each man’s death diminishes me,

For I am involved in mankind.


Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,


It tolls for thee.

Each death does indeed diminish each of us, and that was made crystal clear as we watched the horror unfold before us this week. The bell tolled many times for me and for each of us yesterday, and I thought of the poignant ending to Donne’s powerful poem. Do I really believe that mankind is that connected? I should. God created us to connect, but we separate, choose sides, hide, and mind our own business. It’s what’s wrong with the world. Oneness is God’s plan. Individuality is what Satan prefers.

Each day 21,000 children die in this world. “The silent killers are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses, and other related causes. Despite the scale of this daily/ongoing catastrophe, it rarely manages to achieve, much less sustain, prime-time, headline coverage.”(Global Issues)

The numbers numb, and the statistics cause us to run for cover if we forget to see ourselves as “involved in mankind.” I suppose the fact that we could do something to prevent the 21,000 daily deaths makes us uncomfortable. Out of sight, out of mind keeps the horrible statistics from haunting me. Haunting is the word I would use for this terrible week. The images have literally haunted and left me reeling.

John Donne didn’t write his poem to make us cower and cover our faces. He wrote it to remind us that we are all in this together. We are stronger when we connect because we are closer to one another and to God when we understand the point of this poem. Christ called us to love God and one another. When we grasp that truth and remember that we are not islands, we will walk in God’s kingdom with the light and life that Christ brings into this world.

John 1:1-5 has helped me so very much today:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” NASB

The darkness does not comprehend the Light, but it does flee from it. Let your light shine in a way that will disperse the darkness, and live the life Christ makes possible for all of us. I will attend two funerals this week, and my heart hurts from the losses close to home as well as those far to the north and around the world. The bell tolls for me, and its tolling has caused my heart to tremble this week and remember that I am not alone. That is a comforting thought if I remember Who is the author and perfecter of my faith. I’ll leave you with those words of comfort from Hebrews 12:2

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” NASB

Joy Is Ours to Keep:)

This is the Season of Advent, and today’s candle represents joy. Joy is ours to keep, and no one can take His joy from us. The season began with the candle of hope. Hope is always present and is God’s promise forever. His peace surpasses all comprehension, and His love is assured. Philippians says it beautifully.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NASB

The Lord is near! That gives my heart hope, peace, joy, and love. I can allow Satan and others to steal any one of these precious gifts of God, and weeks like this one certainly open up the door and give those thieves access. Jesus will close that door of grief and heartache and sit with me until the pain subsides. He knows that pain weakens and leaves me vulnerable. It’s why He came to make a better way, one where hope, peace, joy, and love abound and are mine to keep forever. If they are stolen for a time, He will help me retrieve and hold on to them.

Obedience leads to joy, and that’s the key to finding and keeping joy alive in my heart. Joy isn’t ha ha happy, and it isn’t Pollyanna optimism. It is His presence in the midst of disaster, sadness, and whatever else befalls me on this journey. He won the war, and I can shout from the depths of my heart because of that victory. He is coming again, and that is what Advent is all about. He has not left us and assures that He will be with us always. There’s joy in connection. There’s joy in knowing I am loved. There’s joy in knowing that this world isn’t the final word.

Obedience requires trust, and that means stepping out in faith and believing that God is who He says He is. When I do that, fear flees and worries wither away. I don’t have to understand as I obey; I simply have to trust God. Proverbs 3:5 says it best:

Trust in the Lord with all your heartAnd do not lean on your own understanding.” NASB

The teacher in me wants to understand before I obey, but the Christ in me says trust Me. I argue at times and fall prey to worry, but Christ’s sweet voice keeps whispering softly in my heart. When I get still, those gentle words calm my spirit and bring joy to my soul. Singing praises allow joy to flow down and up and all through me. It’s tempting to weep and wail, and I’ve done my share of that this week, but songs of joy lift. Hope, peace, and love join in, and the chorus becomes a heavenly one:)

God’s Ways Lead to Peace

Psalm 25:4-5 is my prayer this morning. The psalm is a sweet source of comfort when I am confused or troubled. Like The Lord’s Prayer, it takes the focus from my worries to His ways. That brings the peace I seek.

Make me know Your ways, O Lord;Teach me Your paths.Lead me in Your truth and teach me,For You are the God of my salvation;For You I wait all the day.” NASB

My sleep has been fitful this week, and I know many others share my restlessness. I’ve come to see the time I awake in the wee hours of the morning as a time of prayer. This morning was especially powerful as I felt God’s presence and peace fill my heart as I acknowledged my weakness and His strength.

I try to fix things, and I feel better when I know specifically what to do. As I’m getting closer to God, I’m finding I must let go of my old habits and embrace a new way of living, loving, and praying. It isn’t easy, but Psalm 25 helps me see myself as a student and not a teacher. God is a master teacher, but I’m not an ideal student much of the time. My goal in the coming year is to become a better student. It is what being a disciple is all about. If I am to be Christ’s disciple, I must be willing, open, and obedient. I must also be willing to trust Him and change my way of doing things.

Trust is at the heart of learning, but I often lean on my own understanding rather than trusting God. I know I am making progress when I see how silly my ways are. That is a great indication that learning is taking place. Learning changes my mind and my heart, and my life is different as a result. When I live and love in God’s way, I realize the futility of my way. It’s like getting a dishwasher or washing machine after doing dishes and laundry by hand. Can you imagine going back to hand washing dishes and laundry?

I don’t long for the days when clothing was washed in a creek and hung on a line. God used that image to show me the difference between His ways and mine. I waste a lot of time running around in circles when I simply need to be still. To become the disciple He needs for me to be, I must believe His ways are higher than mine. Isaiah 55:9 says it simply and beautifully.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,So are My ways higher than your waysAnd My thoughts than your thoughts.” NASB

The Holy Spirit helps me with perspective. If I find myself tossing, turning, or running in circles, I look to God’s Word and find balance and peace. It’s much easier to give up my ways when I remember His ways lead to peace, and that’s my desired destination:)

Shared Grief

Love blooms and spreads beautifully when shared. It is meant to be shared, but grief is also meant to be shared. It is often awkward to share grief, but it is so important that we do because it diminishes when shared. It’s not easy to open my heart and let others see and share my pain, and it is as hard to hear hurting hearts. Love and grief go hand in hand. Without love, there is no grief. Losing a loved one causes deep grief, but sharing that grief in love disperses it and makes way for healing and peace.

Holding on to grief causes its roots to go deeply into the heart. Many hearts are broken by those roots, and many are encased and hardened by them. We have seen the results of a hardened heart this week, and none of us will ever be the same because of it. Having grief in the open as in Newtown, Connecticut forces sharing. People all over the world are praying and sharing the grief of those who have lost loved ones. I pray we will be mindful of all who suffer around us.

Jesus said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 NASB The fixer in me wants to keep others from weeping. I like to fix and solve and make it all better. I am learning that is not what I am here to do. Being a loving presence is up to God. His Spirit gives me access to His love. It is the most powerful force in existence, and I can tap into it. That allows me to share the pain of grieving hearts and share my own grief. It changes me and the world.

I am only just beginning to understand love and all it entails. This week, I’ve been poignantly reminded that grief is meant to be shared. I don’t have to understand grief; I just have to open my heart, express it, and hear it in the hearts of others. Jesus shares my grief and hears my heart. The Holy Spirit allows me to do the same with those in my path. Fixing and doing are easy outs that make me feel better but do little in the way of true connection. Loving requires exposing my heart, and that requires trust. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I can find the connections God desires for me and live a life, as my dear friend would say, “is worth living forever:)”

Healing Words

The past week has been a horrendous one in regard to senseless deaths, and I’ve attended two funerals in two days. That’s far too many, especially when one is a young man who took his own life. The funeral today offered healing words that lifted my soul and gave me hope.

The healing power of truth told with love and forgiveness is the heart of the message this afternoon. There is nothing more powerful in all of creation. Loving in God’s kingdom involves honesty and forgiveness. We can begin doing it right now, and that is the miracle Satan hopes we’ll never learn or forget if we figure it out.

Satan makes a lot of sense when he bids us to stand our ground or run and hide. He knows we love to hear that we are right and should retaliate. True forgiveness means giving up our right to be right and to retaliate. Satan will even arrange a fan club for us, but a stadium full of fans can’t bring the peace loving and forgiving as God does.

The only solace in a time of grief is extending grace and loving as Christ. God feels our grief was a beautiful part of His message today. He understands our grief as no one else can. He doesn’t want us to hide or deny it. He wants us to feel it and absorb it because it is part of who we are. Those who heal best after a tragic death are the ones who feel deeply and forgive completely.

I pray that as a nation we will feel deeply, forgive completely, and give up our right to retaliate. I don’t think we have to give up our right to bear arms, but I do think we have to think carefully about putting assault rifles in the hands of everyone. We also must think about ways to protect our most fragile citizens. That includes our children as well as those who are mentally ill.

There are no easy answers when we cry out why, and that was part of the message today. We want to know why, but it is more important to have faith. God’s Word is very healing lifts a burden from my heart better than anything else. Grief was dispersed in a beautiful way as God’s healing words penetrated the hurt, lifted the spirit, and heal the heart:)

Healed Holes

The way to find my way is to open my eyes. The way to find God’s way is to open my heart. That means hearing and having faith when I can’t see my way. Not seeing my way is a prerequisite for seeing His:) I always take the long way around when it comes to learning, and that convoluted path gets frustrating at times; but it’s worth the extra miles when I finally get it:)

On Monday evening, the sunset was the most beautiful I have ever seen. The day was a cold, dreary, and very rainy one. I had a funeral in the afternoon, and a visitation in the evening. Around 5:30, I noticed a beautiful glow and turned to look out my kitchen window. What I saw, took my breath away. I quickly turned off the lights and stood by the window to watch God. In an hour, a dense fog descended. Visibility was terrible as I made my way to the visitation. It was a difficult two-hour ordeal that left my heart aching. I know the glimpse of God was there earlier to remind me that He was with me, and I held on to that thought throughout the evening.

On Tuesday afternoon, the funeral for my sweet former student who took his own life was a time of healing. As I heard God’s Word, I felt the ragged edges of my heart begin to come together. As I found myself surrounded by so many loved ones, I felt God”s presence in a powerful way. Immanuel! God with us. What a beautiful plan! His way became clear as I let go of my grief and let Him fill those holes with His love.

Grief opens the heart as nothing else if allowed to run God’s course. God helps me feel the hurt, absorb it, and let the holes in my heart stay open. Those healed holes, as I call them, allow love to flow more freely. It’s like having an ear pierced; the hole heals, and I can put in an earring. Without God’s help, the holes in my heart remain raw and ragged and sore or become covered with a terrible scab that becomes a scar that closes it forever.

I think holiness is having healed holes that open my heart in a wonderful way. Last night, as I listened to the sweet voices of children singing songs about Christmas, I felt whole and holy indeed. I was surrounded by little ones yesterday, and God blessed as love poured in and out of my heart as it only can when I am with children. Tears are part of healing, but so is laughter:)

Grief will always be part of my life if I plan to love, and God certainly has loving at the top of His list when it comes to living. Laughter will always be part of my life because no one has a better sense of humor than God. He designed us to love, and that means both tears and laughter. I need both, and God is always there to cry and laugh with me. Those who truly love me do the same.

God shares my journey and shows me His way. He knows it and me by heart:) I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a picture of the sunset, but God has another sweet former student do that for me. Stacy’s photo is a glimpse of what I saw Monday evening.

 

Cry Out to God

I have alluded to the service for Andy several times in my posts this week, so Pastor John graciously agreed to share his notes so I could pass along the healing words that helped me so very much as I searched for answers this week. For those of you also seeking to understand why, I pray you find comfort in these words. This brief post is but a very small shadow of the powerful service. I wish you could hear the message of truth and forgiveness spoken with love from the heart of Andy’s and my dear friend.

December 18, 2012

John Alden Tagliarini

(Taken from the service for Andrew Ivor “Andy” Parris)

Why?” Moses asked, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt?”(Exodus 32:11 NASB)

The psalmist asked, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”(Psalm 22:1 NASB)

We have to ask, “Why God?”

We have to ask, “Why, Andy, did you take your own life?”

And, we have to admit to no satisfying answers.

In fact, the only answer I can find here is to encourage you – in whatever trials you are going through – I encourage you to know that suicide is not the answer. Call someone, call out to God!

We usually acknowledge our lack of vocabulary as we try to address circumstances such as these. Then, without sufficient words, we continue speaking as if the sound of our voices might somehow sooth our souls and prompt some insight regarding the meaning of it all. My sense is that God is grieving with us. His anger is kindled over the evil results of our deeds.

God gives life. God desires that we enjoy abundant life. Yet, God also gives free will. The consequences of our choices sometimes leave scars. Jesus bears just such scars. His hands, His feet, His side, His brow show the results of evil running its course. Yet, God forgave, and He forgives! This is the only grace I can offer this afternoon, God’s love.

Someday, God will bring into His world the fulness of abundant life which He began in Christ Jesus. Until that day, let us find ways to affirm life, to accept others, to listen deeply and to stand firm against all that destroys the life God intended. Let us trust God to heal our hurt, to love and to forgive.

Speaking as we have of love and life and suffering and pain, God reminded me of the picture painted by the prophet Isaiah of the suffering of our Lord. Though stark, Isaiah’s words are laced with hope. It is the hope that God heals us through the suffering of our redeemer. It is the hope that Jesus bears our sins away.

Let us hear the word of the Lord.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
 And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
 He was crushed for our iniquities; 
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, 
Each of us has turned to his own way;
 But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all 
To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
 Yet He did not open His mouth; 
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
 So He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:4-7 NASB)

As a result of the anguish of His soul,
 He will see it and be satisfied;By His knowledge the Righteous One, 
My Servant, will justify the many,As He will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:11 NASB)

In Christ Jesus, God bears our sins away and offers forgiveness and love and comfort.

With the psalmist, we ask, “Why?” The psalmist answered his own question with honest trust in his God. He said, “O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed” (Psalm 22:2-5 NASB)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you”(1 Peter 5:6-7 NASB)

Whenever God’s people are hurting or are in trouble, they call out to Him for deliverance. The people of Israel experienced times when it felt as though all the blessings of God, all the good work of growth in the Promised Land after Exodus from Egypt was wasted, and that God had rejected them. Yet, the people called upon God. They prayed that God would shine His face upon them in renewed blessings.

Hear some verses from just such a psalm of petition.

Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
 You who lead Joseph like a flock; you who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!” (Psalm 80:1 NASB)

..stir up Your power 
And come to save us!” (Psalm 80:2b NASB)

You have fed them with the bread of tears,
 And You have made them to drink tears in large measure.” (Psalm 80:5 NASB)

We cry out to God today. “O Lord of hosts, restore us; Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved” (Psalm 80:19 NASB)

We have an affirmation of faith, penned by the shepherd David in Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd,
 I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; 
He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul;
 He guides me in the paths of righteousnessFor His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,


I fear no evil, for You are with me; 
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;


You have anointed my head with oil;
 My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,


And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. “ (Psalm 23 NASB)

The Gift of Love

John 10:27-29 are the most comforting words in the Bible to me.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” NASB

Along with the comfort comes a sobering reminder that I must follow when I hear Christ. It is, and always will be, true that no one can snatch me from His hand; but it is also true that I can hop out anytime I want. He will let me wander as long it takes to create my own kingdoms, make my own mountains, and plan my own projects.

Christ doesn’t close His hand around me because it would become a fist. His open palm allows me to be who I am. God is the ultimate example self-differentiation, and His love only exists in an open, honest environment. He doesn’t force or coerce, and 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 crawl back into God’s loving hand. He doesn’t gloat or fuss or say, “I told you so.” He loves. His love never changes or moves, and it 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 suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” NASB

This is a season of love, and as we light the Advent candle of love tomorrow, I pray our hearts will remember the love that brought Christ down to where we are. There is nothing that compares to it. May we trust His love and love Him and others as He loves us. That means letting go, being who we truly are, and allowing others to be the same:)

God created His kingdom with love, and this is a season designed to celebrate His love. His love is the greatest gift ever given, and it becomes the greatest gift we can give to one another. Let love lead the way this Christmas when it comes to giving because it is what we all need and want.

Expect the Unexpected

With God, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. He always surprises me and then helps me see that His plan makes perfect sense. I’ve learned to love and accept His lessons as beautiful gifts. I’ve also come to love His methods.

God uses the unlikely to accomplish His will because the likely would want the credit. It is only when I learn that I can do nothing without God that He can begin to work through me. I am more surprised than anyone when God allows me to be a vessel for Him.

The prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi best describes the plea of those unlikely souls who seek to do God’s will in unexpected ways.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

The beautiful prayer turns me around and the world upside down. If I live this prayer, I can expect to find the unexpected lessons God has for me. Jesus lived the words Saint Francis penned, and I pray we will all seek to do the same.

God uses the unlikely in unexpected ways. He is full of surprises and the Master Teacher. There is never a dull moment with God because I can always expect the unexpected. That’s what makes learning, living, and loving in His kingdom fill me with wonder. Like a child, I am constantly awed by all God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

I used to be a planner and liked having everything laid out before me. God knows, and has shown me, that lifestyle won’t work in His kingdom. Faith is about trusting when I don’t understand. Believing when I can’t see, and knowing God loves me no matter what. That requires letting go of the need to know and letting God have a clear, clean vessel with which to work.

It’s taken a long time for me to let go and trust God completely, but I’m learning to love the way He surprises me with beautiful lessons that catch me off guard and make me shake my head and ask, “How did You do that?” The answer is always the same, “I am God; I love you, and I know what I’m doing:)”

Light Hearted

My heart is light, and that’s a new sensation for me. I am learning and growing in ways I never could have imagined on my own. God placed John 3:21 in my path last night, and it blessed beautifully.

But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” NASB

The beautiful verses before this one command a great deal of attention, and I love them dearly; but this one set my heart free. I know I’ve read it many times, but as I read it last night, it seemed I’d never heard it before. God’s Word is alive and often catches me off guard. It never ceases to amaze me, and I love that about it.

Truth is the heart of love. I was brutally honest with God last night, and He placed the comforting words before me. Truth brings me to the Light where I can be His vessel. Peace came as my soul settled and left me in a sweet puddle at His feet. He lets me cry out, and when I do, I always find myself empty and ready to be filled.

I slept like a baby for over ten hours after a cup of warm camomile tea and a hot shower. Truth brings out my deepest feelings, and that includes my deepest fears. God catches each tear, feels each fear, and calms my heart and soul with His presence. The service yesterday morning and an afternoon of Christmas baking was very therapeutic:) Preparations for the sweet gathering with family on Christmas and thoughts of time with Mylah and Lillyann today lulled me to sleep. I could feel mama’s presence as I settled into bed, and my heart breathed a sweet sigh of healing release.

Being light headed is not a good thing, but being light hearted is a wonderful feeling. It’s like floating. I had to smile as I drifted off to sleep because I knew I was experiencing true self-differentiation. I wasn’t fused or confused any more. Tethers were gone. The truth set me free, and it was the most exquisite feeling I’ve ever felt. I want more of it, and I know the way to get it is to practice the truth, come to the Light, and let God manifest His deeds through me. Amazing:)

God’s Light

Luke 1:78-79 beautifully describes God’s light. Christ does “guide our feet into the way of peace” and bring us from darkness into God’s light. I thought of the sweet verse last night during the candlelight service.

By the tender mercy of our God,the dawn from on high will break upon us,to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,to guide our feet into the way of peace.” NRSV

The lights dimmed as we sang Silent Night, and soft candlelight filled the sanctuary. The glow from our candles reflected God’s love in our hearts as His Spirit joined them to Him and to one another. It is what Christmas is all about. God with us. Immanuel. He was in our midst, and the silence was broken by a prayer and then the singing of Joy to the World.

We held our candles high and proclaimed the joy in our hearts. Darkness was dispelled! Again last night, I had the dreamy feeling of light heartedness. I could get used to that feeling and the sweet peace-filled sleep that came with it. I slept better than a kid last night because Christmas Eve is one night children don’t usually sleep well:) I slept more like a teenager on Christmas break!!

I thank Christ for guiding my feet in the way of peace and making God’s light available to me. Christmas is a time to celebrate His light and remember His path leads to peace. May the words of Luke 1:78-79 bring light and peace into the world.

God Is Love

1 John 4:7-16 is a favorite scripture because it gets to the heart of love. It is easy to say God is love, but do I hear the sobering words of verse eight. If I don’t love, I don’t know God. Plain and simply stated, that verse calls for a life of love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” NASB

Christ gives access to love. If I decide to abide in love, God will abide in me and I in Him. That’s the miracle of Christmas. I’m afraid love is often lost in the lust that surrounds the season meant to celebrate true love.

There are close to five hundred references to love in the Bible, and that didn’t surprise me at all. God is love, and His Word is a beautiful love letter that I read over and over again. Each time I read it, it thrills and fills like a warm spring rain on a frozen tundra.

The world wrings me out and sometimes hangs me out to dry, but God is faithful to fill and refill. In fact, I am learning that love is about being filled and emptied and refilled. It isn’t riding a crazy roller coaster or a sitting on the mountaintop alone with God. It is getting into the world, seeking the truth, and connecting to God in others. God is love and exists in all who love Him.

I have friends with whom I have the sweet connection of Christ’s love. It is the most precious thing in this world, and I thank God for allowing me to share my journey with those who share a love for Him. Henri Nouwen says that God will connect to God. Christ’s love connects me to His love in those in my path if I will open my heart and let Him lead.

Sharing God’s Word and love is what I am here to do. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I hope to do just that. Christ came to give access to God’s love, and that is the miracle of Christmas. I pray that 2013 is a year filled to the brim with God’s love. May we share our journeys with one another in ways that allow the honesty to love through laughter and tears. Tears and laughter come and go, but love lasts forever.

Preparing for God’s Presence

The path which leads me through this world is a very tiny part of my journey, but it is a very important part that prepares me for God’s presence in heaven. This leg of my journey is about learning to love, and the lessons learned allow me to begin walking in His kingdom now.

The lessons in love this week have reminded me of the simple truth that God is love, and he who doesn’t love doesn’t know God. Sobering lessons indeed. Love isn’t complicated and is described beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

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 suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” NASB

Love never fails, but people often do because we are imperfect. Attempts at love keep me humble in that regard:) God knows the struggles I face when it comes to love, and He hears my heart as I struggle. I take love and try make it what I want it to be, and that is as silly as taking God and making Him what I want Him to be. I’m guilty of that too.

God is patient and rejoices with the truth. He never fails and neither does true love. As God reveals Himself to me, I see love in a new light. Christ’s precious love is the life and the light behind love beautifully expressed. Christ is the living, breathing heart of God’s Word and stands as the ultimate example when it comes to love.

When I drift off course, I turn to God’s Word. He shares His journey with me and invites me to come along and abide in Him. When I accept His invitation, He abides in me. That abiding becomes the most beautiful connection possible on this side of heaven, and I can have it with Him as well as those with whom I share His love.

The world tempts and tries to fill me with a variety of cheap imitations, but once I taste love in God’s light, my heart will not settle for anything less. My journey here presents a perfect path to prepare my heart for love. My path has been a convoluted one which has left me reeling at times, but it has led to a greater understanding of just who God is and who He wants me to be.

As a minister once told me, all we can do is nudge a little closer to God and help others do the same. Wise words which aptly describe this path which prepares me for God’s presence:)

Moving On:)

With all the moving preparations, I find myself between two homes. Both are bare and crying out for those things which make a house a home. The new house is a beautifully blank canvas and already feels like home. I noticed a few sweet, pink strokes in the hallway downstairs yesterday, and they reminded me of my little housemates. I smiled as I thought of Lillyann and Mylah running and squealing through the house.

The girls love the house and so do I. It’s filled with light, and I wonder each time I’m there which light I’ve left on. The skylights and windows bring in so much natural sunlight that you don’t need anything else on a sunny day. The girls will take care of the sunshine on cloudy days:) They are, without a doubt, the best part of my new home.

Since I left my husband a decade ago, I’ve lived alone. The solitude provided a safe place and the necessary space for me to grow, but I’m ready to live in the sweet community God has so graciously placed in my life. I’m sure there will be challenges for all of us, but I know our love will add to the glow already present in the beautiful home.

Being between the two homes is a little unnerving, and I find myself waking with thoughts of how, when, what, and where. I settle back down when I remember that the most important feature that makes this beautiful house a sweet home is who. I know who is going to be there and Who provided it for me, and that is all that matters.

The girls are coming over today while mommy and daddy move boxes and clean the carpet. I know they are wondering about the changes taking place at their house and at Gigi’s, so I decided to fill the empty spaces in my apartment with their toys. I know they will like the new decor:)

Transitions are part of the transformation God has in mind, and I know He has wonderful plans when it comes to lessons in love. Love is about living together, and I’m ready to move in, move on, and love as God desires. We are designed for community, and I’m excited about the company I’ll be keeping because nobody teaches lessons in love more effectively than children. God knows that better than anyone. He knew only a baby could satisfy this world’s longing to be loved.

Power Pointing

John 1:1-5 amazes me as I think of God’s Word becoming flesh. Jesus took God’s Word and fulfilled it in a way that changed everything. Hear the amazing scripture:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” NASB

Powerful words indeed! The whole of my salvation rests in the first verse, and the last verse describes Christ perfectly. I’m humbled by the notion that darkness didn’t and still doesn’t comprehend the Light. I find myself stumbling in the dark holding on to my little match when there is a flood light at my disposal.

Why God puts up with me would be the first question for Him if I didn’t already know the answer. Jesus made it crystal clear that He loves me, and that love brings life where there is death, love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness, and hope where there is hopelessness. God does not force His Light or Love upon me. He doesn’t put me in a chair, aim a blinding light at my face, or interrogate me to the breaking point. His love simply shines in a way that invites me to come near.

Christ is the Light, the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Love, and the Word made flesh. He gives me the choice of accepting or rejecting Him. I often try to do things on my own, and that little match of mine burns the dickens out of my fingers! I’m learning to let go of my match and point to His Light. It’s better to bask in His love than worry about burned fingers. I don’t have to provide the light or be the light, I just have to turn toward it, reflect it, and help others do the same. Once I bask in His sweet Light, nothing else will satisfy my heart or soul. The Light creates a desire to tell others about Him. Verses 6-8 go on to say:

There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.” NASB

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be the Light, he simply and powerfully pointed to the light. Witnessing is about knowing who I am and who I am not. A good witness points in a way that causes others to find Christ’s life-giving light. It’s what true love is all about, and John loved Jesus. His testimony is still bringing folks to His Light.

I cannot be the Light, but I can tell others how much I love God and live a life that reflects His Light. It’s not only polite to point in Christ’s direction, it’s exactly what God has in mind for His witnesses. There’s power in pointing if I make sure it’s Him and not me getting the attention:)

Sweet Simplicity

As I cleaned, packed, and unpacked yesterday, I thought of how much stuff I have. Ten years ago, I made an important step in the right direction. It was freeing to leave my stuff behind, but I wouldn’t have if I had been given a choice. I have accumulated more stuff in the past decade, but I find it much easier to let go now. I have learned not to attach to stuff, and that’s a beautifully freeing feeling.

Stuff complicates and gets in the way of simplicity. I plan to make sure that I don’t get buried by the desire to hang on to anything other than God’s love. Now is the perfect time to pass along those things I don’t need and find new uses for what I do have. There’s a sweetness to simplicity that I crave more and more.

At the heart of simplicity is knowing what’s important and letting go of all that isn’t. It has taken a long time for me to come to that place of understanding that, but I suppose it’s all part of growing up. Christ knew what was important and lived a simple life, and so did John the Baptist. God’s message was, and always will be, a simple one that appeals to simple folks.

My life will change dramatically in the coming months, and I’m looking forward to the lessons and the love that God has in store. I pray I will remember that simplicity makes life much sweeter and allows God the space He needs. I’m finding that I literally have to stop what I’m doing and look at the view from time to time. As the sun set yesterday, I realized that I didn’t need to worry about hanging my pictures on the wall. God already painted amazing landscapes at every window that change by the second. I also don’t think I’ll worry about cable:)

Psalm 116:6 says, “The LORD preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.”and Psalm 119:130 says, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.” As I humbly look to God’s words for light and understanding, I will be brought low. It is a good low that puts me in the perfect position to learn from and love Him. We are all “the simple;” we just don’t all know it. I’m learning that simple is a good thing, and simplicity is very sweet:)

The Sound of a House Becoming a Home:)

As Mylah slept on my shoulder this afternoon, I listened to Lillyann playing Candy Land with Mere. The sound of her sweet little voice echoing down the stairway was music to my ears. Mylah’s sleepy breathing almost lulled me to sleep, but I stayed awake because I wanted to hear the sound of the house becoming a home. Love was all around, and I basked in it. The atmosphere was bright and the day was beautiful even with the steady rain outdoors.

Pepe and daddy came in with a load of furniture, and Pepe smiled his beautiful smile and closed the doors so Mylah could sleep. I listened to all the activity and held Mylah close while she slept. I decided not to put her down because I was afraid she’d wake up. Tyler came into the room to check something and didn’t see us there. He was asking Rita a question when he noticed us.

It was time for Mylah to wake up, and she had been stirring a little. She heard daddy’s voice and popped awake, and exclaimed DA!! She and Lillyann act as though it’s the first time they’ve seen mommy or daddy each time they see them. I love that about them! They love being surrounded by people they love, and their enthusiasm is contagious. Lillyann is so happy I’ll be down the hall from her and Mylah. She looked at the sweet nightlight Ethel gave me for Christmas and said, “Now I can find you when I wake up and want to come to your room.”

I told her that was exactly what the light was for. I can’t decide if the beautiful views or the sweet children are more distracting. Between the two of them, I may just play and stare out the window for the rest of my life. That would actually be okay with me because each time I see the girls or the views, I thank God. Needless to say, I’ve been thanking Him a lot lately. That’s been a very positive thing, but it’s also why I’m a little behind on my unpacking:)

The kids stayed at the house tonight for the first time, and I will be completely in very soon. I love the new house. What a pleasure to witness it become a home this afternoon as happy voices and a sweet sleeping baby’s breath filled the entire space with love. The house breathed in the sounds and let out a sigh of relief. I did the same. The sounds of love are what make a house a home, and I thank God for allowing me to witness the transition this afternoon. It was a privilege, a blessing, and a taste of what heaven must surely be like.

Embracing the New:)

I love beginning a new year. I seldom go out on the town and usually end the old year sound asleep, but I love waking up to a brand new year. Like a blank canvas or sheet of paper, the new year begs for me to begin a new story, a new painting, a new song, or just a new doodle:) It doesn’t matter as long as it’s on a clean slate.

Getting stuck in old habits is a common problem, but I’m learning to get rid of the old habits that keep me from moving forward. I catch myself slipping backward at times, and it’s great to toss out those thoughts that don’t belong. As I pack and move to my new home, I love letting go of stuff I don’t like, need or want. Like the new year, the new place begs me to begin anew. I love having a big blank canvas and am embracing the emptiness as I clean and prepare for the new furnishings.

Moving is a lot of work, and I’m sore right down to my bones. I’ve been sleeping like a baby after all the physical labor, the laughter, and thoughts of living with my son and his sweet family. It is the stuff of peace-filled sleep.

I was astounded by the quiet at the house. I’m used to traffic and noise, so the silence got my attention while I was there alone for the first time. I stopped, looked out the window, and thanked God. I have to say that I am praying more often than ever in my life. I can’t help but pray each time I walk by a window, hear a loved one, or look at the girls running around the house. God answered my prayer for deeper understanding of His love in a beautiful, unexpected way:)

Mylah went to the wire rack where I kept their little books at my apartment and gave me a puzzled look. I decided to put their books in my bookcase under the beautiful stairway and use the wire rack for my books. When Mylah brought my copy of “Practice the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence, I asked her what she thought of his ideas on living in God’s kingdom now.

She smiled that sweet little smile of hers and dropped it on the floor. Kids know how to practice the presence of God until we teach them to pay attention to us!! There were no pictures in this book, so she tried Langston Hughes and dropped it too. We quickly showed her the mountain of books ready to go in the bookshelf by the rocker. She found one she recognized, grinned, and handed it to me:)

Gina and Rita created a beautiful place for reading while I played with the girls. I absolutely love it! It’s a perfect example of what a difference it makes when you let go of the old and embrace the new. Books are in place, and all’s right in the world. It was a smart move to get the play area ready first:)

The Treasure in MyChest:)

Matthew 6:19-21 says,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” NASB

My heart is a treasure chest. What I put in it is entirely up to me. It’s been taken, shaken, broken, and stolen as I’ve allowed other than His love to occupy the space. When I fill my heart with God’s Spirit, Christ’s love allows me to hear Him and clean out the clutter. The message is clear that God is near and love comes from above. Life is about loving, and love is the greatest treasure in this world and the next.

No one can steal Christ’s love, and it never rusts or rots. The measure of His sweet treasure is that it grows as it’s shared. Caring and connecting is not about taking and raping, trying and lying, or using and abusing. It is allowing the Spirit to show me the love in all God creates. Jesus gives access to God’s love through His Holy Spirit when I’m ready to accept it and let it flow through my heart.

Once I know God’s love, the desire to store or stack up cheap imitations is gone. I’m learning to leave my treasure chest open because God’s love is meant to be taken and cannot be stolen away. My heart’s been like a storage locker filled with junk left to the rust and dust that comes when I let Satan convince me that doing, fixing, enabling, and pleasing are what love is all about. That is true when it comes to the treasures of this world, but God’s kingdom is about a different kind of love and storage that creates a beautiful open space that invites His Spirit to flow through and fill at the same time:)

I Want What You’ve Got!

When it comes to relationships, there is no way to duplicate what happens between two people. Christ never changes, but each relationship with Him is different because each of us is unique. Folks sometimes say, “I want what you’ve got. How do I get it?” There are two people in every relationship, and I’m the only one who can have what I have with Christ or with anyone else in this world. God loves us the same, but we respond to His love differently. Each person I love, I love differently.

There are a plethora of people with advice on how to do this or improve that, and I’ve tried many of them to no avail. I’ve also given advice because I knew what needed to be done; I just didn’t seem to be able to do it myself:) In fact, I used to say that the title of my autobiography should be, “Take My Advice – I’m Not Using It!”

If there is a secret to success, happiness, or love, I believe it is honest communion with God, myself, and those in my path. The truth is not easy to hear or to speak, and it often comes at a great cost. I have to stop believing the lies and open my eyes to what God has for me. God’s love gives space and reveals truth. That sets my heart free!

John 8:31-36 says it best.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him,“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus answered them,“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” NASB

Sin is what keeps me from truth and love, and it destroys relationships by disguising itself as truth and love. “Therein lies the rub” the Bard would say:) Sin either rubs the heart raw or hardens it. Both keep the heart in a state of hurt or numbness putting Christ and others at arm’s length. I can’t love someone if sin has a hold of my heart.

I’m learning that I can walk in God’s kingdom now and have what He wants for me, and that makes this life a wonderful one. God makes it clear to me that I cannot have what I see in others because I am not them. I have tried to duplicate what I’ve seen in others or, God forbid, what I’ve see in the media. No one is like me; God made me to be who He created me to be. Therefore, I am the only one who can relate to Him and others as me. The truth is all about being who I am meant to be and loving God as only I can.

The world encourages me to want what others have. Wall Street’s bottom line depends upon my frustration in that regard. The Holy Spirit has a different bottom line and breathes God’s love and light into my life when I accept Christ’s offer of God’s love. He opens my eyes and lets me see the truth. Once I get a glimpse of truth and love, I can easily let go of the lies that surround sin and the need to be someone other than who I am. Christ peels back the layers and helps me see my heart and His so we and I can have a wonderful relationship. Wanting what others have leads to misery. Embracing what Christ has leads to love. Christ’s love allows me to hear His heart and the hearts of others, and that is what love is all about:)

Sweet Encounters on the Path

I’ve been disconnected when it comes to media the past few days. In fact, I washed my phone last night and lost the last little thread of connection. God used all to teach an important lesson in connectedness. The old me would have fretted and fumed and fussed at myself for not being clear with the cable company, not pursuing the new provider, and especially for not checking my pockets before washing my jeans last night:) I’m not who I was, and I’m not who I will be one day. I am, however, learning to be still and let God work through my mistakes.

God works in our decisions, and we blame Him when things go wrong and take credit when things go right. I’m learning that God is always speaking, but I’m not always listening. God is always present, but I’m often someplace else. God lets me make my own choices, and they are not always in line with His desires. He is faithful to speak the truth and hear my heart, but I am seldom still enough to listen to His advice. Not having any distractions was a wonderful blessing, and I thank God for the peace that filled me as I slept media free last night.

Last night was the last night in my apartment. I’ve had three apartments since leaving my husband a decade ago. All were small safe havens and beautiful hiding places; but none have been a home. The new home is open and large and filled to the brim with the sound of living and loving. Mylah and Lillyann love the open spaces for playing and running. Cookie and Matza love the sun-filled living room and mostly bask there unless someone comes up the drive. Then, they do what they are supposed to do, sound the alarm:) I’ve never lived in a home with dogs inside, so this is an adjustment for me. I love the sweet, lazy English Bulldog and the energetic, happy German Pointer. They already know me, and I have the feeling I’m going to get to know them much better as we share a home.

We are designed to love and live together, and I thank God for the opportunity to be close. Last night as I walked to Meme and Pepe’s house, which is just down the road, I was thankful to be nearby as Ann’s mother Susan makes her way to heaven. She is dying, and my heart goes out to Ann as she cares for her at home. Grandma Susie is the strongest, sweetest woman I know, and everyone who ever met her could not help but love her. She has suffered at the cruel hands of Parkinson’s Disease for a decade has been unable to stand upright for years. She taught a music lesson on Friday before having a stroke later in the evening. What a blessing it is to have gotten to know and love her.

I was walking back home after sitting with Susan and Ann when I saw Tyler, Gina, Lillyann, and Mylah coming to see Gigi Susie. I knew Lillyann would wonder at her being straight on the bed as she has been bent for so long, and I prayed she would she her as sleeping peacefully. I saw a beautifully strong woman who loves God and her family. I knew that God had all of us in His hands as I looked over at the beautiful lights in town. I stood for a moment and enjoyed God’s presence. I felt at one with Him, with my sweet family, and with those in town.

I was surprised by a large SUV filled with a family from India sitting in the driveway as I came near the house. When I made my way to where they were, they told me they were surely lost! I had to grin and think the same thing, but when they showed me the directions to the home they were renting for the week, I smiled and pointed to a house a few yards away. Their faces lit up with a mixture of relief and joy, and they thanked me profusely. As I walked up the drive to the house, I thought about the scripture this week. It is Epiphany today, and we remember those who traveled a long distance and found a great King in a tiny child. God reveals Himself to me each and every day, and I pray I see and hear His will in each sweet encounter on my path.

Breathing In:)

I’ve been out of my regular loop this week as I’ve been busy getting moving into the new house. There are still many boxes to unpack, but my bedroom furniture came yesterday, and Tyler worked late getting it all together! The girls and I have been sleeping on mattresses on the floor in my room this week as Tyler worked long hours and Gina helped care for her grandmother. Last night, mommy and daddy were here, so I was alone for the first time since Saturday. I missed the sweet pillow talk that lulled me to sleep each evening and brightened my spirit each morning. It’s been over a decade since I’ve shared a bed with anyone, and I loved the sweet snuggling.

This morning, I’m breathing in, relaxing in God’s Spirit, and enjoying His presence. The Holy Spirit is the breath of true life and love. That’s been the beautiful lesson this week. The Greek word for Spirit is the same word used for wind and breath. I have taken in deep breaths this week as both I and this beautiful home have experienced new life.

Life and love without the Spirit is like being on life support. Life and love with the Holy Spirit is breathing in God. Christ’s precious love enables me to be one with Him, with God, and with the Holy Spirit so I can love as He loves and live the life He has planned for me. It isn’t about being independent; it is about stopping my struggle, relaxing in His love, and allowing His Spirit’s indwelling to be as natural as breathing.

It is next to impossible to teach someone how to breath. There are methods that improve lung and heart capacity, but breathing is an involuntary function closely tied to the heart. The same is true when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Love changes, and there is a new freedom. I no longer need a respirator! I can breathe in God’s own Spirit thanks to Christ.

It has been a week of transition for me, and I finally understand the importance of breathing in His love. The best way to describe the lessons this week would be to say I feel as though I’ve come off the respirator and am breathing on my own. Breathing in God’s Spirit is a choice, and I’m the only one who can decide to pull the plug on trusting any other form of life support other than His love.

Sweet Susan’s passing yesterday was a big part of the lessons this week. As I watched her loved ones care tenderly for her at home as she wished, my heart saw love expressed in an amazing way. They allowed her to let go and breathe in God’s Spirit in the most powerful way possible. Breathing her last breath here surrounded by those she loved made the transition to her new and final home a beautiful one.

It’s been a week of amazing lessons in breathing, living, and loving; I thank God for loving me enough to send His only Son so I can breathe in His Spirit and live a life filled with His precious love. Breathing is about living, and living is about loving. Christ helps me live a life worth living forever where loving comes as naturally as breathing:)

When Sleep Won’t Come…

Neither Mylah nor Lillyann could sleep this afternoon. After wrestling with them for half an hour, I told them if they didn’t take a nap they would have to play together while I read. Funny how not taking a nap motivated them to cooperate:) I didn’t read because I enjoyed watching them play instruments, draw, and enjoy each other.

Lillyann’s drawings amaze me. She drew an umbrella, a horse, a dog, and a little person. I was surprised in that I could tell what each was:) As they drew together, Lillyann complimented and encouraged little Mylah. Maybe not getting a nap is a good idea=) They will surely sleep well tonight after a long afternoon of playing.

Things are still in boxes, and our mattresses haven’t gotten here yet, but I told Pepe today that I was enjoying the closeness of camping on the floor. I love living with the kids and thank God for the sweet lessons in community. Family is special, and I love every moment I spend with mine. We are getting settled, and I look forward to being able to look back on this time of transition as a turning point in all our lives. I’m learning this week to savor and enjoy each bite of life God places in my path. My journey has slowed and deepened as we’ve settled into a sweet routine. I cooked my first meal in the new house at lunch today. It was simple fare, but the sweet company made it very special. I look forward to many meals around the table and many days like today when I savor those sweet connections that make life worth living forever:)

Perfect Pace

Hectic pace

Frantic race

Crowded space

Christ’s grace

Open space

Relay race

Perfect pace

Sweet Settling:)

As I’m getting settled in to my new home, it’s becoming a very sweet space. I love the openness and the light. Everywhere I look, I’m overwhelmed by the views. God is at every window, and I love watching Him show off.

I never imagined myself living in a house this size, and I figured I’d be very old and unable to live alone before I lived with my son’s family. What a beautiful surprise this home has been for all of us. There is nothing sweeter than hearing the house come to life as the girls wake up or come home. They took a stroller ride over to Meme and Pepe’s earlier, so I’m alone with Matza. The sweet bulldog is whining and wishing they and Cookie would come back. I knew just how she felt and started to join in:)

There is a sense of peace in this place, and it has a lot to do with love. God designed us for community, and I’m beginning to see why. Honesty is the key when it comes to loving and living together, and I thank God for the honest communion that surrounds me here.

Life and love are meant to be shared, and God has given me the opportunity to share as I never imagined. I’ve spent a lifetime striving, driving, and doing when I should have spent more time simply being:) His Spirit needs emptiness. I used to think that meant wearing myself out. It may mean getting wrung out, but it’s a wringing that feels wonderful when I relax:)

The settling this week has been sweet as I’ve done just that. I haven’t sweated the little stuff, and that’s made a world of difference. The most important thing about the settling this week has been the company. Everything else is just icing on the cake:)

Simple Lessons in Love:)

My heart melted yesterday when Mylah said “Gigi” and grinned sweetly at me. She asks about mommy and daddy when they aren’t here, and I tell her that mommy’s in school and daddy’s at work. I told her today that Gigi was right here, and she said, “Gigi.” We were both surprised when she said it and grinned with delight in each other. Lillyann immediately began to try to get her to say Lilly. Her sweet attempts caused her tongue to flap around, and we all three giggled with glee:)

Loving them is such a blessing. It is the simple gestures, the loving touches, and a sweet shared moments that define love. Funny how the little word caught me off guard and caused such delight. Experiencing those little moments is better than discovering gold or finding a rare gem; they are the riches God places in the path that we miss if we get tangled up in busyness. Children get frustrated with adults because they understand the importance of those moments and wonder why we don’t.

I used to believe that achieving and doing were what my time in this world was all about. I’m learning it is more about being. The achieving and doing are part of the path, and God uses all my experiences to bring me where He wants me to be. A listening obedient heart is the key to discernment, and I am finding that keeping the girls helps me be still and know that He is God.

Yesterday, I didn’t leave the house and had the girls from early morning till late in the evening. As I saw and heard of the deluge that descended upon the town, I thanked God that we didn’t have to venture out. I had to get both out on Monday in the terrible mess, so I was grateful for the sweet day inside. My journey has taken a wonderful turn, and I love being with the girls. They are the best little mentors I ever had and are teaching me very important lessons with their simple gestures of love.

Love, like life, is more about simple gestures than about the grandest of achievements. When I think of it, I’ve always known that in my heart. Busyness gets in the way of being, and those little gestures get lost in the shuffle. I’m thankful for a career that kept me very busy, allowed me to make a difference, and provided the means for me to stay with my sweet granddaughters and learn God’s simple lessons in love first-hand:) It’s the best learning of my life. Like dessert, God saved the best for last!!

Miracles & Believing Go Together

As I looked at 1 Corinthians 12:1-12 this evening, I was surprised by the fact that some theologians believe that we are past the age of speaking in tongues and miracles. They are respected theologians, and I know they are sincere in their beliefs; but I beg to differ. The Southern Baptists can call me charismatic if they like, but I believe we are simply past the age of believing.

As we get smarter and think we know what God is doing and why, we lose the magic of believing. Miracles are all around, but we miss them because they do not fit into our theology or doctrines. God is God, and He can do whatever He pleases. He refuses to fit into our neat little denominations and could care less about our doctrines except that they get in His way.

We are one body, and that is the point of 1 Corinthians 12. We are all different and have different gifts. Rather than trying to fit gifts into neat little pigeon holes, I wish we would open our eyes, hearts, and minds to that which we do not understand. Miracles happen every single day, but we’re too busy with busyness to notice. People speak of their hurt, but we don’t hear it because we are too wrapped up in our own little world to hear and interpret their words. God puts on an amazing display, and we look elsewhere.

Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, and He is the one who decides how they will be used if I get out of His way and have child-like faith in His ability to use someone as unlikely as me to do God’s work. That’s a miracle if I ever saw one!! I grow so weary of debates and denominations and long for unity that doesn’t mean get on board with my plan, program, doctrine, or agenda. God gets lost in attempts to define Him. He is God.

One day I will see God for Who He Is, and then all things will be clear. Until that day, I must treat Him as a loving Father who knows what He is doing and what’s best for me. I might just be surprised to see that I really can relate to that person who is going through something I cannot understand. The language of love is a foreign tongue. Love my enemies? Be honest and open and let others into my deepest self? I cannot love without the Holy Spirit. He will interpret the unfamiliar and help me believe as a child again.

Being around a one-year-old and a three-year-old has given me a new perspective in foreign tongues, miracles, love, and the power of believing. I am regaining my child-like wonder, and I’m loving it:) The kids were coming down the mountain as I was going up this evening. Lillyann yelled over to ask where I was going. I told her I was going home. She said, “To our house?”

I replied, “Yes, sweetie, to our house:)” I believe in miracles and experience at least one a day. I would experience more if I paid better attention, believed more, and worried less:) I can believe in miracles or not; God gives me the choice. I can love or not; God give me the choice. You can choose to believe we are beyond miracles if you like, but I believe miracles are alive and well and will be as long as there is love in this world:)

Turn A Phrase?

Turning a phrase is a wonderful thing which makes people admire and remember you. When it comes to God’s Word, I’m afraid phrases and words are twisted and turned in ways which aren’t so wonderful. As I’ve studied the scriptures more intensely over the past three years, I’ve been surprised by all that has been written about them. I love to read commentaries and think highly of those who spend a lifetime delving into God’s Word with the help of the Holy Spirit, but I much prefer to simply read a scripture and let the Spirit open my heart so I can listen to God.

The Holy Spirit makes the words of Christ come alive in a way that never ceases to amaze me. I’ve read many books, poems, stories, articles, and songs in my life. I even read the Bible through many times before I began looking at it as a living, breathing entity. I fell in love with it, and can’t imagine life without it.

Loving God’s Word changes my selfish desire to hold on to it or the pompous need to be wise or right. A sweet intimacy occurs with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Eugene Peterson calls it the Trinitarian Dance. That is just what it feels like when He sweeps me off my feet, lifts me up, and spins me around His Word.

I feel sorry for those who focus upon a particular translation or pick out or peck at passages until they become what they want them to be. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to allowing passages to bury me in despair or become a badge of courage to which I cling. I’ve been lost many times as I’ve searched His Word to find my answers rather than His. The Blue Parakeet by Scott McKnight is a wonderful book that helped me see the terrible effects of picking passages and using them to promote an agenda. Twisting God’s Word breaks His heart and destroys His work.

Picking apart the Bible makes as much sense as tearing apart a person. Unfortunately, both occur too frequently. The Bible is a beautiful love letter that serves as a source of great joy, inspiration, guidance, and love. When I let the Spirit help me hear His heart, I am filled to the brim. When I use it to prove I’m right, I end up empty-hearted and miserable.

I envy those who can read Greek and Hebrew and would love nothing more than to sit with Christ and listen to Him read God’s Word. I often wonder what it must have been like that day in the temple when He read from the scroll:

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,And recovery of sight to the blind,To set free those who are oppressed,To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them,“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:17-21

I wonder if I would have been one who scoffed and said, “That’s just Joseph’s son.” Anytime I worry or doubt God, I am guilty of forgetting that He is God. Then, I’m no different than those in the temple who refused to believe He is Who He says He is. His Word is a wonderful reminder of Who He is and always will be. He fulfilled the Scripture that day in the temple, and He fulfills it in my heart each time I read it with the Holy Spirit. Like a child’s favorite book, I love to hear it over and over again:)

This message on Mark 6:1-13 blessed me, and I believe it will bless you.

IT!S JUST JESUS

Mark 6:1-13

John Alden Tagliarini

July 8, 2012

I’ve heard preachers scold people who were not responding as they thought they ought. One evangelist came to Lakeland, where the churches had worked and prayed together for a community revival. When, after a couple of nights, neither the attendance nor the response suited the evangelist, he lit into the faithful who were present. He was literally preaching to the choir, of which I was a part, and arguing that our lack of response to him was a lack of response to God.

Perhaps he was right. However, the personality of this individual and the tone of his rants destroyed any message he hoped we would hear, and the week ended without a discernible visit from God. You might argue that God!s absence was in fact God!s answer. But was God answering our lack of faith or this preacher’s lack of faith? Or, was it both?

Jesus came home to visit. His disciples with Him, He taught in the synagogue as was His custom on the Sabbath. Let!s hear the story. [Mark 6:1-13] Lord, help us accept You, Your authority, and Your life. Amen.

Coming home with His disciples, Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus offered His hometown an opportunity to respond to the Good News. Assuming it’s the same instance, in the Gospel of Luke we read that Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus identified Himself as anointed by God’s Spirit to “preach the gospel to the poor, . . . to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus challenged the “business as usual” attenders at the synagogue with an astounding good news that would turn society upside down. He promised to “set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18, 19).

Overwhelmed, those listening questioned the where, the what and the how of Jesus. They knew Jesus, the carpenter. They knew His mother, Mary. They played ball with His brothers and courted His sisters. “It’s just Jesus,” they were saying. How could He have such powerful insights? Who gave Him the credentials to promise hope? How could this local boy do miraculous works of power?

We think we know all we need to know about who Jesus is. We’ve read about Him in the New Testament. We’ve studied His words in Sunday School. Perhaps, we’ve even experienced His forgiveness. However, when Jesus shows up and challenges our traditions or “sot-in-our-ways” modes of being, don’t we react like the folks of Nazareth?

Are we not inclined to take offense when His word calls for change in the ways we think? “This has worked for me for years; what do I have to repent of? Why would I want to change” The folk at Nazareth took offense at Him. Hearing what Jesus says about our ways of doing and being, we can feel threatened. When Christ calls for greater vision or more relevant language or new ministry, we can feel threatened.

But, Jesus didn’t argue. Neither did He “preach to the choir.” Jesus simply responded that the prophet does not get respect in his hometown. His comment begs the questions. Does familiarity always breed contempt? Does this story argue against long tenures? Can a preacher go home or stay long enough somewhere for it to become home, and still be effective?

None of this is the point. It’s not about me, or the evangelist in Lakeland. This is about the people of God missing the blessings of God. Jesus was dusting the soles of His feet off, and the witness against the people of His hometown was complete. “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mark 6:5). There may be no more tragic a verse in the Bible than this.

Going past the disturbing language that their unbelief actually limited the work of God in Christ, let!s consider what happened. Did the ministry of Jesus stop there? Was Jesus defeated in bringing the Good News to the region? Was the Nazareth revival a total shut- down of grace?

No, no, and no! Jesus did heal a few, and though He was rightly amazed at their unbelief, Jesus kept on going. Mark says Jesus, “was going around the villages teaching” (6).Friends, these people limited their blessings, not the power of God! Jesus continued His ministry elsewhere. Jesus always plows new ground, looking for a fertile place to grow faith.

Now, the teaching ministry of our Lord grew to the point of multiplication. Jesus would distribute discipleship through the twelve who had been following Him for so long. Twelve is a number that reflects the tribes of Israel. It is a number that suggests complete governance. We associate twelve with the church. Twelve was the number of fellows who followed Jesus closely enough to be called and sent as apostles. The number two also calls for attention. Jesus sent the disciples to minister in pairs.

Christ shares His work of discipleship with us, and Jesus wanted the disciples to share ministry with each other. When a believer joins arms with at least one other believer in service, he or she is obeying Christ. I know of no “lone-ranger” Christians who have ministries of value to the kingdom. If God places a work on your heart, He will bless someone else with the same burden, and together we will touch the world.

Then, Jesus gave His disciples “authority over the unclean spirits” (7). He could have given them safety. He could have given them special technology. He could have given them buildings and music and Sunday Schools and programs, but no, Jesus gave the disciples authority over unclean spirits. Do we have the same power, today? May our doctrines and devices and denominations never cause us to forget that “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Authority is related to power. With this authority, Jesus empowered the disciples to mission. Let Paul remind us of how power works. Humbled by a “thorn in the flesh” Paul prayed three times for the affliction to leave. God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

Friends, the disciples went out under the authority of Jesus, empowered to preach and to heal. Their humble obedience confirmed the power of God with which He authorized them. What did that look like? Jesus commanded the twelve to travel with the minimum of supplies. Believers rely on God, not on personal resources. This demonstrates humility and requires trust.

When coming into a town, Jesus told them to stay in the first place of hospitality. A person serving the Lord enters opened doors rather than fearfully condemning those who close doors. And believers don’t trade up for personal advantage by flitting from patron to patron. Humility and trust shine through this sort of obedient, humble, grateful service.

Yes, we will encounter those who don’t want to know about our Jesus. Indeed, people who refuse grace will try to snare us in their fears, and we will need to know how to proceed. Jesus told the twelve to dust their feet off “for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11). The significance of “moving on” is more powerful than any extended debate, argument, bumper sticker, or political action. Some of us seem to enjoy the dusting off process so much that we stay amidst the churning cloud of dust, and wait around to write our opinions in what settles.

The testimony against those who reject grace is in the moving on, not in the dusting off. Dusting off is simply the sign that you are moving on. Today the sign might be finding new friends, changing the topic, or at least, not getting sucked into the fear and lack of faith of the world. Thus, the disciples continued their mission, preaching repentance, a change of mind. The message does not change, but it is about change. Don’t be offended! Change your mind about who Jesus is and what He teaches.

In Christ Jesus, God’s word of grace may challenge our traditions and cherished ways. In the words of one preacher, Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. This same Jesus whom the hometown folk rejected calls us with the same word, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

With authority, Jesus blesses us and anoints us to call others to repentance. He invites us to join hands with others in ministry which anoints and heals. May we be found humble and obedient as we receive the Lord Jesus Christ, His authority, and His life. Amen.

287 “Take My Life, Lead Me, Lord”

Early Morning Light:)


As I awoke this morning, I was struck by the fog settling in the valley below. It was as if God was right in that fog, and love was embracing the mountains, the town, and me all at the same time. The mountains change moment by moment, and the worst part of the deluge of late is that the mountains were out of my sight. I knew they were there, but there were clouds blocking my view.

Often, I don’t see God because of the worry in my heart. Like the clouds, it settles in the low spots and keeps me from experiencing His presence. The prayer retreat is all about being in God’s presence. I know He is always present; unfortunately, I’m not. I’m learning that praying is about being present. Loving is the same:)

Gigi Susie:)


Susan Mariscal was known to Mylah and Lillyann as Gigi Susie and to her grandchildren as Grandma Susie. She suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for a decade, but that never stopped her. She only slowed down because she had to, but she continued to touch many by teaching piano and living a life that clearly personified God’s love.

I met Susan in 2007 when my son began dating her granddaughter. We made an immediate connection as I felt God’s presence in all she said and did. She taught a class on the day she had her stroke and played the piano at her church the Sunday before. Every task was a pain-filled chore for her, but she never complained. She cared for others and gave of herself as her sweet Savior did, and that is the best witness of His love.

Susan’s smile never faded, and I never heard her say a harsh word. I pray that I will be half the witness she was. I’m so very thankful God placed her loving presence in my path. I plan to tell the girls all about her courage and her love for them. She delighted in them and loved nothing better than being with them.

I gave Lillyann a butterfly pin for her sweater today. She touched it and asked, “Can Gigi Susie touch it?”

I replied, “Yes, Lilly, she can touch it because it right next to your heart.” I love the way children think:) I told her she could have the pin to remember the service and Gigi Susie.

I know without a doubt what God said when Susan arrived in heaven, “Well done good and faithful servant!”

Here’s a sweet shot of Lillyann helping Gigi Susie open her Christmas presents. She also has a tender heart, and I thank God she does:)

Asking Without Worry:)

Matthew 7:7-8 says:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” NASB

I have the Children’s Story at church this morning, and when that happens, I know that God wants me to pay particular attention to the scripture at hand. I wasn’t expecting it this week, so I didn’t have as much time to ponder and pray about it. Pastor John helped yesterday as he suggested a simple message with simple object.

The story for the children is the heart of the message and must be simple and have a concrete object to which they can relate. I love the story because it is an appetizer that gets my heart ready for the main course. The hymn of invitation is the dessert that rounds out the morning of worship. I am full to the brim when I leave the sanctuary and ready to share my fullness.

Asking is all that is required of me when it comes to receiving what God has in mind. If I approach Him as a spoiled child demanding what I want, He either ignores or lets me have it along with the consequences. If I sulk and wait for Him to give me what I want without asking, He waits patiently for me to voice my desires.

Matthew goes on to say that even terrible parents know how to give their children good gifts and want the best for them. If that is so, why do I worry and fret when I pray. I believe it is because I ask amiss. If Lillyann asked for a gun, knife, motorcycle, or pet python, she wouldn’t get them no matter how hard she cried. God knows what is best for me, and I’ve learned to simply ask for mercy and for the desires of His heart to be the desires of mine. That gets rid of those pesky worries in a powerful way.

Asking a parent for a healthy snack gets a much better response than a demand for chocolate. I am guilty of demanding chocolate and giving Him a grocery list of needs. No wonder there’s worry in my heart.

Intercession is the best prayer and puts me even closer to Jesus. He is the model for praying and lives a praying life. He is in constant intercession for me, and His Holy Spirit prays the prayers I cannot utter for me and others. Allowing Jesus to talk to God on my behalf and the Holy Spirit to pray for and through me, I find that my praying is becoming as natural as breathing. That changes the way I ask in a beautiful way and helps me live a praying life.

Until Then, Pray:)

I get very frustrated when I cannot have something I want. I’ve had a week of wanting that left me crying out to God. I am grateful for His patience and deep love that allows me to cry out honestly and freely. As I said before, I needed the children’s story this week:)

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 brought sweet comfort this morning just when I needed it. God always has just what I need, but I’m usually too busy trying to convince Him to go with my way to notice.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” NASB

I am and shall be eternally grateful for God’s love and for the love He has placed in my path. Love changes everything and is the greatest gift on earth. Separation brings a level of suffering unknown by those who refuse to open their hearts in honest communion and love. That suffering reminds me of my humanity, humbles as nothing else, and gives a small taste of what hell is like.

Trusting God should be simple. He is God after all and knows what He is doing. The problem is never trusting God; it is wanting what I want when I want it and wanting Him to understand that. He not only understands, He also suffers with me. He knows what is best for me and knows the joy that comes when I do His will.

Two years ago, God called me to a life of prayer. Rather than celebrating and embracing the call, I continued to ask, “What else?” Prayer didn’t seem like much of a call to me. I wanted some thing to do. I say that with humility and embarrassment. God patiently let me wander around with my ‘You have more for me to do, but until then, I will pray’ attitude.

This weekend, I repented my dismissal of His call and embraced it as I should have two years ago. God loves me and knew I would eventually come around to His way of thinking. The prayer retreat this past weekend reminded me that praying is not an aside. It is the work to which I have been called. I asked God to forgive my dragging feet and guide me to pray as He desires.

I learned a lot during my “until then, pray” stage, and I’m very thankful God uses all things for His good. I am called according to His purpose and love Him dearly, and I am ready to have the praying life His Son so beautifully modeled for me. I nudged a little closer to His precious side this weekend, and the frustration in not getting my way was an important part of the lessons in love He had for me.

I’ve looked at praying as something to do until something more important comes along, but I’m learning it is a way of living that comes as naturally as breathing when I let love lead the way. It is a call I plan to answer humbly and gratefully.

On The Way Up:)

I love the Psalms of Ascent, and Psalm 121 is especially dear to me.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;From where shall my help come?My help comes from the Lord,Who made heaven and earth.He will not allow your foot to slip;He who keeps you will not slumber.Behold, He who keeps IsraelWill neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;The Lord is your shade on your right hand.The sun will not smite you by day,Nor the moon by night.The Lord will protect you from all evil;He will keep your soul.The Lord will guard your going out and your coming inFrom this time forth and forever.” NASB

I love to look at the mountains as I pray. Unlike the ocean, they do not move. I like that about them and could stand and stare at them forever. They are one of the few things that cause me to stop and be still:) My strength does come from God, and the mountains remind me of His majesty. This beautiful psalm reminds me of Who God Is. Asleep or awake, day or night, sun or shade, going out or coming in, God is there protecting and loving me forever. What blessed assurance of His sweet presence!

The mountains I love so very much will eventually wear away, but God always has been, is, and always will be the same. My faith falters, and my obedience is inconsistent; but God is faithful and patient. I beat myself up when I get off course because I waste precious time that could be spent with Him if I stay down when I stumble.

I will stumble and fall as long as I am living. It keeps me humble and reminds me I am human. Lillyann insists on pretending she is a puppy, and crawls all around the house. Her poor knees bear the brunt of her imagination. My heart bears the same skins and scrapes when I insist on my way instead of yielding to His.

I am so thankful God loves me and tends to my heart just as my mama tended to my many bangs and bruises. As I told Lillyann today that her poor knees couldn’t take much more abuse, I thought of my own heart and the punishment I put it through as I insist on my own way. God bid me to treat it with the same care He does and asked that I stop putting it in harm’s way. Hearts and knees deserve loving care; Lillyann and I both need to remember that.

I’ve been sleeping on the floor for two weeks as I’ve waited for the wonderful new mattress I ordered. I found out yesterday that it’s been ready for for me to pick it up for three weeks now. God made it clear that He has provided a new home, new furniture, and a great mattress, but I am still sleeping on the floor. I’m also still settling for less than He desires when it comes to my heart. God provides abundantly, but my stubborn insistence on my way keeps me from experiencing all He has for me.

The Psalms of Ascent are about moving up an drawing near to God, but I cannot move up to where He wants me to be as long as I’m satisfied where I am. Fear keeps me from ascending, and a lack of trust keeps me satisfied on the floor. I’m slowly learning to step out and up and put my trust in Him. Psalm 121 along with the amazing mountains I see at every window of the new home He has provided remind me that I am surrounded by hope and help:)

Child’s Play:)

Luke 17:18 and Mark 10:15 say the same thing about entering God’s kingdom.

Luke 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” NASB

Those verses have taken on greater meaning for me over the past few weeks as I’ve lived with children in a most beautiful way. I love the sound of little excited voices and delight in the sounds of play whether above or beside me. I’m surrounded by the sounds of love and laughter and love every moment.

Children live in the moment, and I love that they can be playing full steam one moment and asleep the next. I marvel at their ability to change gears and go from one activity to the next. I decided when I first moved in that my living room would be the home’s loving room and went with an invitational design. It’s not innovative, and nothing really matches, but it’s the perfect room for plopping or playing.

I have my desk for studying, a table for coffee and reading, a table for the girls, a big comfortable couch with lots of soft cushions (Lillyann’s favorite thing about the house:), a great rocker recliner that looks out at the amazing view, an old TV that’s sole purpose is to play Mere’s old Disney VHF movies, and a big clear area in the middle in which to play or exercise. I’m sure a design team from HGTV would shake their heads in dismay, but the girls light up when they come in; and that’s all the approval I need.

My bedroom is a beautiful sanctuary, but I find myself staying and praying in the loving room most of the time. I know when the pool is filled, the room will also be filled with folks coming in and going out. Like Lillyann, I can’t wait to jump in! Every sunny day, she asks if we can put water in pool. I love the sweet optimism and eager excitement of children and know God does too. I pray we will all show the same for Him.

If you aren’t experiencing God’s kingdom here on earth, take some time to play with children. Their wisdom is amazing, and their enthusiasm is contagious. God knew that I was ready for the advanced lessons in love Lillyann and Mylah could teach me, so He set up a very special graduate course for me and even put me on an amazing campus designed to help me get the full effect of those lessons. I feel like a kid every time I think of Him, and that’s a good sign I’m heading in the right direction and walking in His kingdom:)

Who Are the Poor, Blind, Captive, & Oppressed?

God took me back to Luke 4:14-21 last night and this morning to let me know I am the poor, blind, captive, and oppressed to whom Christ came to preach. I am part of the body of Christ and belong to His church. He is sitting in the synagogue saying to those listening that the Word is being fulfilled right before them.

I don’t like to hear that I am poor, blind, captive, and oppressed. I would rather take those verses and go out and find someone to preach or minister to myself. That’s easier than seeing myself as any, much less all, of the descriptors Jesus used in the synagogue that day. The church was, and still is, guilty of ignoring the teachings of Jesus Christ. Our agendas and programs take the place of worship, and we are just too busy doing His work to notice our own desperate need for Him.

Christ has a simple message, the same one He had for the synagogue. He came that our spiritual poverty could become His abundance. He opens our eyes to Who He is so we can see God and worship Him with abandon. He frees us from the captivity of rules and agendas. He lifts the stress of doctrines and denominations so we can find the unity He so desires.

When it comes to unity, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 says it best.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” NASB

Finding the beautiful unity of one Spirit is impossible as long as we worry about individual recognition, rules, doctrines, denominations, and agendas. If we truly hear God’s Word, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and look to Christ’s beautiful example, it is possible to have the unity Paul describes so vividly.

I have the Children’s Story again this week, so I expected a difficult lesson as I prepared my heart for it. I wasn’t prepared to hear that I was poor, blind, captive, and oppressed, but I needed the humbling message. He knew that better than anyone. Glad He is patient and loving. May I be the same:)

Bedtime Story:)

The girls came knocking on my door this evening with their bedtime books and mommy and daddy in tow. Lillyann yelled, “Wake Up!” It was only 7:30, so I had to grin as I headed for the door. They ran in squealing at the top of their lungs. There is nothing like a good bedtime story to set the stage for a great night’s rest, and God knew I needed the interruption.

The day was a hectic one that left me worn and weary. I was away from home today and missed being with the girls. I needed the tough aerobics workout and a hot shower, but I needed the Lillyann & Mylah fix more:) The sweet time with them was a beautiful reminder of the love God provides for me. My heart needed the reminder today.

I was off track for a while today, but God got me back where I needed to be with the help of His two sweet assistants. They hadn’t been in Gigi’s room since it was all put together, and they loved it. They took note of the new decor and then immediately plopped right down in the middle of the floor. I had to laugh since I refer to it as my sanctuary. I had been praying and meditating before Cookie, the German Pointer, made a surprise visit earlier in the evening! I’m glad they all came calling!

A home is much better than a sanctuary was a sweet lesson I needed this evening. It was also great to be reminded that I am blessed with a beautiful family:)

Vast Difference!

There is a vast difference between knowing and needing to be right. God made that difference very clear yesterday as I stood on the edge of a dangerous cliff. The scriptures this week had the crowd ready to toss Jesus over a cliff when He didn’t say what they wanted to hear. I didn’t like what He had to say to me and came close to slipping over the edge myself as I backed away from Him.

Evil has a way of disguising itself as good. It’s Satan’s greatest power; my need to be right and desire to be loved brought me to a place of decision yesterday. A friend reminded me as we prayed together that I know what is right, and God reminded me again this morning. I do know what is right and what is good, but I am a stubborn and willful child who refuses to obey.

Disobedience breaks the heart and keeps the body from the wholeness God has in mind. The most difficult lessons are those which reveal sin for what it is. I chide myself for living up to daddy’s expectations when I see my stupidity. I don’t like to use the word he used to describe me on a daily basis, but it was the word that came to mind as I took inventory and prayed. God didn’t use it, but I did.

He loves and comforts me when I see my mistakes with an attitude of true repentance, and loves me all the more when I decide to turn from them and heed His lessons in loving. Lust and love are not the same thing. Wanting what I want rather than what He wants is lust. Love is many things, but wanting isn’t one of them.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 has also been in my path again this week, and I know that wasn’t a coincidence.

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 suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”NASB

I have taken and twisted those passages to fit what I thought was love, and it has caused my heart to be broken over and over again. Yesterday, I looked at the brokenness and asked God to help me pick up the pieces. He had a better idea in mind. He asked me to leave those pieces at the cross and let Him give me a new heart, one held together by His sweet and powerful Holy Spirit.

I’m all for fixing things that can be fixed, but I also know that God knows best when it comes to hearts. I’ve tried for decades to repair my heart, but it only gets worse with each patching. I’m always left feeling less that what He desires, and that hurts deeply. Yesterday, I felt worse than ever and did not like what I saw. I know I must see myself as more before I can be who He wants me to be and have the love He has in in mind for me.

I’m ready to let Him have those pieces and accept the whole heart He has for me. Obedience is the key to wholeness and holiness, and I trust Him to help me find the joy that comes as a result of that obedience. My heart’s in good hands, and that’s just where it belongs. I feel like His beloved and cherished daughter, and that’s a new and wonderful feeling. A vast and beautiful difference from what I was feeling yesterday. Joy does come in the morning:)

Wholeness and Holiness

The scriptures this morning are about being one, and the lessons this week have been about wholeness. Holiness and wholeness go hand in hand. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 are beautiful verses that describe the oneness God desires.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” NASB

The image of drinking from one Spirit struck me this morning. Sharing a drink with someone is very intimate, and I don’t usually drink from the same cup as others. The scripture clearly says that we were made to drink of one Spirit. God made us for the intimacy of oneness, and holiness is about experiencing the unity Paul describes.

Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God are all one, and it is His desire for us to be one with Christ and so become one with Him through the Holy Spirit. The church is a poor example of oneness, and I know that breaks God’s heart. As we are apart, so is His heart. It is humbling to realize that I have the power to break the Creator’s heart, but I know I do. So do we all, and that should cause us to lay aside differences and come together.

I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again. Satan loves individuals, and God loves unity. I pray that we all will truly hear the words spoken to the church at Corinth and know that they apply more today than ever before. So much division exists in the body of Christ that He becomes an unrecognizable pile of pieces.

What a beautiful world this would be if all Christians came together as one! It would truly be His Kingdom come, and His will would be done in a way that would make us all wonder what took us so long to figure out that being whole is much better than being broken. Our brokenness is healed by the wholeness Christ affords. Thanks be to God:)

The God of Hope

Love and hope are inseparable. God’s love offers hope that leads to joy and peace beyond description. Romans 15:13 is a sweet blessing that fills my heart each time I read it.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” NASB

Only the power of the Holy Spirit can bring the love, hope, joy, and peace of God. There are many substitutes in this world, but none compare to what God has to offer. I forget the Spirit and head out on my own sometimes and find myself lost and alone. When I am not feeling connected, I know the problem is love. I belong to the body of Christ and that means loving God and others. I can try to worship Him on my own, but it just won’t work. I can try to worship with others without loving them, but that will also fail.

Christ says this about love in Matthew 22:36-40.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”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

Love isn’t negotiable and neither is being a part of His body. I am, and always will be, whether I like it or not. I can try to separate myself from other believers, but it is as futile an act as an eye deciding to take off on its own. “We are one in the bond of love” as the beautiful hymn says, and I cannot love or fully live without being connected to others.

I love being in a house filled with the sounds of love. The girls bless me each time they come running to my room to say good morning or good night. My heart is right at home here, and the lessons in love just keep getting better. This week’s have gone straight to my core and hurt deeply, but God is faithful to bless, heal, and stretch my heart a little with each lesson:)

There is Nothing Without Love

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 makes it clear what happens when love isn’t present in my life.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” NASB

Without love, I am nothing. Paul makes it clear, as did Jesus before him, that love is all that truly matters in this world. Without it, nothing makes any difference. God is love, and if we don’t have the level of love He desires, all our efforts miss His mark. Paul’s description of love is a beautiful one that shows a deep love for God and for others. He implores the church at Corinth to see the point of love.

The point of loving is getting closer to God. Each time I rock Mylah to sleep, read with Lillyann, talk with a hurting friend, or participate in any act of love, I feel a connection to Christ’s heart. The smallest act of love is a thousand times better than the greatest effort done out of obligation. Whether indebted or beholden, it all amounts to less than nothing when love is absent.

The world has replaced love with lust and obligation, and the results are obvious all around. Love begets love, and that makes a difference in me and the world. True love wants nothing in return, and that spurs me on as nothing else can.

Living with my sweet grandbabies has taken love to a new level for me, and I’m amazed at all they are teaching me. Whether watching them sleep or showing them ways to love one another, I grow closer to them and to God with each act of love. Living with someone allows love to manifest in the mundane, and it is in the everyday that God loves for us to love. He, nor we, need extravagant gestures. Hearts and flowers flounder, but good night kisses and morning hugs last a lifetime.

Mylah asked about mommy and daddy as she was drifting off today. I told her that mommy was at school and daddy was at work. I added that Gigi’s right here. She smiled that beautiful smile of hers, played with my hair and closed her eyes. That’s love. Lillyann snuggled next to me and whispered while she was falling asleep. I looked at her sweet, sleeping face, and my heart just melted. That’s love.

I’m learning about love from two very adept teachers. The girls love with abandon, and that’s the way we all love until we learn the world doesn’t always appreciate that kind of love. I have hope for the world because it does belong to God:)

The Beginning and the End

As I showed Lillyann and Mylah the book I was writing for them, I told Lilly that she could read it when she was older. She said, “Yep, when I’m your age, I can read it.” I had to smile and pray that she isn’t as slow as her Gigi when it comes to love. It’s taken me sixty years to finally “get it,” but I get it now. When it comes to love, Jesus is the beginning and the end:)

Anytime I have the Children’s Story, I know that God has a very important lesson for me. I’ve had it for two weeks and have it again on Sunday. It’s from 1 Corinthians 13, a beautiful way to end God’s “Lessons in Love.” I’ve struggled and searched for days for an object that represents love. Hearts, valentines, candy boxes, special cards and gifts from the past, little things Tyler made me when he was young just didn’t seem right. Love is in all of them, but gifts aren’t love.

I pray more intensely when I have the story because I know it’s important to get to the heart of the message and have a simple object that helps the little ones and me get God’s point. As I’ve gone in and out of my room this week, I’ve seen the object from last week’s lesson on my dresser. I threw away the picture of Jesus that was in pieces because I didn’t like to look at it, but I kept the one that showed my sweet, smiling Savior all in one piece.

Each time I passed the picture, I’ve touched it and said, “I love you!!” Last night, as I prayed once again, for God’s help with the story, I saw the smiling face of Jesus. God didn’t slap me in the back of my head, but I did smack myself on my forehead. Jesus is what love looks like because Jesus is love!! I’m glad God didn’t say, “Duh!” but I certainly did.

Since mama died three years ago, my search for love has intensified and become more of a quest than a journey. Mama was my anchor when it came to love, and when she left, my heart was disconnected. The journey has been like the ride the disciples took on the stormy sea, and my faith has been like theirs. Last night, He calmed my heart just as He calmed the turbulent waters in Galilee. Mark 4:35-40 describes that scene then and my troubled heart.

On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” NASB

Last night, Jesus looked at me with love and asked me the same question He asked His disciples. I have to admit that I felt pretty silly and was thankful for the beautiful smile that made my fears fade and my faith full:) So, Lillyann and Mylah, if you want to know what love looks like, look at Jesus.

I love you both with all my heart, and I pray that your journey to find love is a beautiful one. However long it takes or wherever it leads you, may you find sweet comfort in Christ’s precious and perfect love. My love always is His promise and mine, Gigi:)

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