Living in God’s Spirit

Gravity & Grace (May 16, 2013)

Lillyann and Mylah were pretending to be birds and decided to get on the couch and fly. Gina and I smiled as they showed us how real birds fly. Lillyann, the engineer, had the proper wing formation and proceeded to fly in true bird form. Mylah threw her arms up in delight, squealed, and flew with abandon. Lillyann tried in vain to get Mylah to use proper form, but Mylah was soaring and didn’t heed or need any direction. Living in God’s Spirit is about letting go and letting Him lead. Mylah had the right idea. When it comes to living in God’s Spirit, form doesn’t matter. You simply have to let go:)

I told Lillyann that humans would fly with their arms outstretched like Mylah’s if they could fly and used Superman as my example. Lillyann wasn’t buying it, so I told her that Mylah could pretend fly any way she wanted. That made sense, so they flew on. I love the abandon of children and envy the freedom with which they express their spirits. The lessons this week were all about Spirit, and God used the vivid image of the girls’ flight to bring home a powerful lesson in gravity. I’m glad the camera was close by so Gina could capture the moment.

Pentecost is this week. I’ve read and heard about Pentecost all my life, but it became real to me today. I was flying like little Mylah with the help of God’s sweet Holy Spirit, and it was the best high I’ve ever experienced. I’ve felt God’s Spirit before, but today was different. I had a beautiful AHA moment as the difference between God’s ways and mine became clear in my heart. God dwells in Spirit; I dwell in the flesh. Spirit has flesh beat when it comes to soaring, and the bliss I experienced made me want more. God always knows what’s best for me, and His timing is always perfect. I was especially thankful for that today. I got His message just when I needed it, and I love that about Him.

I’ve been thinking about Romans 8:14-17 and Acts 2:1-21 this week. I read commentaries and articles half-heartedly as I prepared the folders last week. In fact, and I’m ashamed to say this, I dismissed Romans and moved on to Galatians because I found it more interesting. I am so very thankful God is patient, loves me more than I can imagine, and sees me just as I saw Mylah with her little hands raised in pretend flight. I am also grateful for loving friends who nudge me along the path:)

The lessons this week have all been about allowing God to define me. I am His daughter, and He made that very clear today. The lessons began on Sunday, continued all week, and came together beautifully today. I was His daughter this afternoon, and that made me want to jump and shout and lift my arms like little Mylah. My flesh reacts to gravity, and that makes it very difficult to stay in flight. Gravity keeps me from experiencing what God has in mind for me, but God’s grace gives me a taste of His freedom that I can’t forget. Bing gives three definitions for gravity:

1)gravitational force: the attraction due to gravitation that the Earth or another astronomical object exerts on an object on or near its surface

2)seriousness: the seriousness of something considered in terms of its unfavorable consequence

3)serious behavior: solemnity and seriousness in somebody’s attitude or behavior

Gravity literally keeps my body from floating up in the air, and I’m very thankful for it; but I must make sure my body does not keep my spirit from being lifted by God’s grace. That pesky sin of seriousness keeps my spirit from soaring and grounds my soul. Seriousness and gravitational force have their places, but my spirit isn’t one of them. My spirit belongs to God, and I am His beloved daughter. He showed me what He could do when given the space and freedom He needs. What a lesson! What a week! There just aren’t words that describe the way I felt when I was lifted to a place where I escaped gravity and flew into His presence today, but John Gillespie Magee Jr. comes very close his beautiful poem that I’ve always loved.

High Flight”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.

Where never lark, or even eagle flew —

And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I’m not a pilot, and that was especially true today as God’s Spirit took the controls. My body was forced to be still on the ground and watch as my spirit slipped those surly bonds, and I truly felt like His daughter. Reality set in, and I came back down to earth, but I flew long enough to learn the earth is never the same after flying:)

Staying Grounded Without Hitting the Ground:)

Staying grounded without hitting the ground is a challenge, but balance comes more easily when I let go of pride and pity and let the Holy Spirit lead. Looking back throws my heart off center and makes traveling forward impossible. Luke 9:62 makes it clear that looking back is a problem when it comes to following Christ. God’s grounding requires that ground be broken in my heart. He used the image of a plow and a beautiful field to help me understand the importance of focus when it comes to plowing.

But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” NASB

Looking back is the surest way I know to get off track and fall to the ground. My heart has hit the ground so many times that I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to just lay down and stay down. God showed me this morning that the problem with my heart stems from going in one direction while looking in another. I have always been easily distracted and have trouble focusing. It is a nuisance when it comes to completing tasks, but it is disastrous when it comes to living and loving in God’s kingdom.

Christ’s words humble because I am guilty of trying to forge ahead while still looking back. I don’t want to let go because I know the plow is keeping me grounded, but I continue to look back. My heart will never be grounded as long as I allow the plow to dig downward while deciding whether to trust God and move forward or continue to focus upon what I want. I find myself stuck between where He wants me and where I want to be. If I keep looking back while trying to move forward, I’ll keep going in circles and digging a little deeper.

Being grounded is about looking ahead and following Christ. His Spirit is the plow to which I cling, and He knows where He’s going. It is where I should also be going. God will let pine and look back, but Christ makes it clear that I am not fit for God’s kingdom if I do. That humbles and sobers in a powerful way. God knows my struggle with attention, but He also knows how very much I love Him and His precious Word. I hold fast to His love, and I’m not letting go. He reminded me this morning that I have to turn my full attention to Him if I am to learn and grow in His Spirit as He desires.

It’s human nature to be distracted by desire. The body demands attention and will not be ignored, but God’s Spirit makes it clear that I must choose. God never forces me to go His way. He lets me hold fast or let go. He never would put a blinder on me; I’m free to look in whatever direction I desire. I’m thankful for the freedom His Spirit brings because without it, I would be nothing more than a drone. He knows my heart must decide when it comes to love, and He knows how difficult it is to resist looking back. He knows, and I’m learning, that only I can let His Spirit give my heart a new kind of grounding:)

Look! It’s Touching the Sky

Pepe and Ray opened the pool today, and the girls were mesmerized by the process. We had to put chairs by the door so they could watch. When they finally got to go outside, Lillyann pointed to the water and said, “Look, it’s touching the sky!” I smiled as I heard her perfect description and wished I had thought of it:) I couldn’t help but think about how wonderful it is when we touch God through His Holy Spirit. Just as the pool touched the sky when the cover was removed, my heart also touches God when I allow His Holy Spirit to remove its cover. The pool was covered all winter, and I know that green water was happy to see the blue sky. I understand the longing and the joy involved in touching the sky after being covered up:)

I love watching the water, especially the little ripples created by the filter system. The openness is inviting, but I know I have to wait until the filters and potions do their magic before venturing in. It’s fun to watch the transformation taking place, and I can already see a noticeable difference in the color and clarity of the water. Until the transformation is complete, I can only look at and anticipate a refreshing swim. The girls were just beside themselves, and Lillyann kept asking if she could get in. I know she will love swimming, and I know we’ll have a lot of fun playing together in the water. I hope I never forget her reaction to the pool the first time she saw the water because it will remind me to make sure she sees God in me just as she saw the sky in the pool.

Opening my heart is a lot like opening the pool. Like pools, hearts must go through a transformation before they are ready to love as God desires. The first step is touching Him and reflecting His love in a way that invites others to come in. The lessons this week have been powerful ones that helped me open my heart a little wider and touch God in a beautiful way. Pastor John reminded me that I am God’s child, and that gives me the courage to reach up, touch God, and open my heart to the love He has for me. Pastor Jodi reminded me that I need to be filled, and I thought of her honest and beautiful message when I looked at the pool today. No matter how beautiful the pool, it’s of no use when it’s empty. The same is true for my heart. The images this week have been powerful ones that I pray will stay with and continue to bless me as I touch God, remember who I am, and remember to stay filled:)

Dying to Self

My heart was frustrated, so I cried out, “I don’t know what I want anymore!” while praying last night. The sun was setting, so I simply sat and stared into the western horizon after blurting out my heart’s frustration. God not only held my attention but put on an amazing display that made me forget about everything but Him. A powerful thunderstorm had just rolled over the mountaintop, and the sky suddenly lit up in a breathtaking way. In the stillness and awe of the moment, I stopped crying and remembered that He is Abba Father. I sat and watched the sky in silence soaking in His loving presence.

Coming to the end of my wants allows me to reach out for God. He showed me last night that I know what I want, and I know what He wants. It isn’t complicated. I want to be loved and desired, and so does He. So do we all. His love defines who I am; it always has and always will. I’ve grown dizzy looking for love. My heart is like little Mylah spinning in circles, and it causes me to lose my balance. I end up on the ground every time, but that doesn’t stop me any more than it stops Mylah.

I was on the ground last night, but God’s love and grace lifted me in a beautiful way. The Holy Spirit brought my heart a sweet sense of peace as the sky went from a frightening stormy gray to a beautiful pink and to a soft white before finally fading into night. Turning off the lights and letting the room darken naturally brought a sweet sense of sleepiness. It took a while for darkness to come because God turns off the lights much better than we do:)

A lingering flash of lightning came from a distant storm as the sky darkened completely. God reminded me that the Holy Spirit’s comfort comes slowly at times and in a flash at others. I lost sleep Sunday evening thinking about future worries and past regrets. Last night, I slept like a baby knowing that He could and would take care of my heart. Abba Father indeed:)

In the Aftermath of the Storm

I never tire of the beautiful view of the western horizon outside my bedroom door. I especially enjoy watching the weather coming in. When storms are in the distance, I sit and stare as the storm forms, but I do not enjoy the brewing that takes place when my heart is unsettled. When two fronts collide, whether in the atmosphere or the heart, storms are going to brew. Brewing creates tension, and tension will break. How it breaks and wreaks havoc in nature was painfully clear this week, and my heart breaks each time I think of those dear children in Moore, Oklahoma who found themselves in the midst of the storm without the comfort of their mothers’ arms. The teachers’ tears spoke volumes as they felt the pain of the little ones who died in the wreckage.

God hears every cry for mama, and He sees every tear in every storm. The strongest deluge cannot hide a single tear from Him. Christ catches each and adds His own tears to those shed by His children. I love my son more than I know how to put in words, but I know that my love for him is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the love God has for him and for me. I wonder how I would feel if something terrible happened to him and everyone pointed their fingers at me for not stopping the storm or for not being there to stop his pain. God feels such pain each moment of every day as Satan bids the world to point fingers in God’s direction and lay blame on Him for every misfortune in this world.

My sin put Christ on the cross, and the pain He endured for me is beyond what I am capable of imagining. To blame Him when I hurt adds insult to His injury, but He takes all the insults and pain and loves me anyway. His lovingkindness is forever, and it doesn’t matter if I kick and scream, point and cry, or hide and whimper. He loves me no matter what and always will. Nothing can separate me from His love except my turning from it. Fronts will always collide, but His love is in the aftermath to bring calm and perfect peace. A perfect storm is one that causes the most mayhem. God’s perfect peace is greater than the perfect storm, and it always will be.

I am guilty of neglecting God in the good times, and the same is true of that beautiful western front when blue skies and sunshine go on and on for days. I’m sorry to say I don’t pay much attention during beautiful weather, but when a storm is on the horizon, I turn my attention to the western front. I am the same way with God when fronts collide in my heart. If trouble is brewing, it’s best for me to turn to Him and let Him settle the storm before it brews. I told Mylah and Lillyann that storms are necessary to clear and clean the air; the same is true in my heart. Those storms in my heart can be avoided if I let God clear my heart before I attempt to clear the air:)

How’s Your Love Life?

When fishing for details about intimacy, folks ask, “How’s your love life?” Friends, strangers, and even doctors ask the question to gauge how things were going in regard to relationship. Physical intimacy is still a measure in the minds of many when it comes to love. The lessons this week have been about God’s abstracts conflicting with the world’s concretes. Love is abstract, and that makes it difficult to define and even harder to measure. Physical contact is part of the gauge we use to determine how loved we are. God took abstract love and made it concrete when He entered this world in human form. He understands our need to measure that which defies measurement.

I’m a hugger, so physical contact is very important to me. I respect those who do not like to touch or be touched, but I love to be held. I’m glad I’m surrounded with friends and family who offer hugs to me and accept the hugs I offer to them. It feeds my soul to be touched, and I love being close enough to my son and his sweet family to get my fill of hugs each and every day. When I find myself with a physical intimacy deficit, I remember Christ’s precious love, and His Spirit fills my need for closeness.

I’m learning abstract measures are more powerful than concrete ones when it comes to measuring my love life. God is redefining love for me and changing my heart in the process. He is helping me understand that the most valuable things in this world and the next cannot be held or seen. Love, grace, forgiveness, faith, hope, compassion, joy, and peace are all beautifully abstract, and there is nothing more real. As I get away from my need for concrete evidence and physical proof, I’m finding my love life is improving dramatically:)

Flesh and Faith

Galatians 2:20-21 tells me, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

A Spirit-filled life is a life of faith lived out in the flesh, and Romans 10:17 reminds me, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” God’s Word fills my faith and tempers my flesh as it reminds me of Christ’s righteousness. When I see God’s Word as a set of rules for righteousness or try to live out the law instead of loving out my faith, I miss the life God has for me. The law is a guide and a reminder that Jesus did fulfill that which I cannot do on my own. As Paul says, “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” I’m learning to gauge all in my life by looking at how it relates to Christ’s gift of love. Leaning on the law, dismisses His gift. Floundering in the flesh does the same. The Holy Spirit allows me to live out my faith in a way that blesses Him and teaches me.

If I think I can be good enough, I nullify God’s grace. If I think His grace gives me the license to do whatever I want, I nullify God’s grace. If I believe Christ is the Son of God and understand that His love comes to me through God’s grace, then flesh and faith come together. The problem comes if I try to live out my faith on my own or think I can control my flesh. Forgetting His Spirit is breathing without lungs. If I try to live by faith without the Holy Spirit, I end up worn, weary, and out of breath as I get caught up in the process of being good and forget the purpose of Christ’s coming. Paul knew, and I’m learning, that faith is hearing, understanding, and living out Christ’s words with the help of His Spirit.

Christ promises to be with us always in Matthew 27:17-20, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Christ’s commission includes a precious promise that assures me I can live by faith if I will take His words to heart with the help of His Holy Spirit. God’s sweet message this week has been that I am not alone. He is always with me through His Holy Spirit, and I can live the life He has in mind if I stop trying to do what His Son has already done. I’ve never felt as alive as I have this week as God has given me a taste of living the life He has in mind. Faith forces flesh to relax and lets me to breathe in His Spirit.

Swimming Lessons (Thursday, May 30, 2013)

We opened the pool on Monday when we celebrated Memorial Day. I was very nervous about having the girls around the water. My fear of water runs deep within my heart, and I was afraid of passing along that fear to the girls. I steer clear of the pool when they are in the water, but today was a beautiful turning point for my heart as God used the pool to give me loving and swimming lessons at the same time.

This morning was a turning point for my heart as I decided to accept and embrace the love God placed in my path, and I did so with a true non anxious loving presence. My heart was light and as full as it has ever been. I relaxed, let go, and “simply and bravely” loved. That was the title of the baccalaureate message Pastor John delivered to the graduates last Sunday. While I was getting the message into pamphlet form this morning, I realized the title aptly described the lessons God had for me this week.

Lillyann swam on her own for the first time Monday, but she truly got it this afternoon. She just wouldn’t quit swimming back and forth across the pool. She had her little water wings on, but she let mama let go and took off on her own. Mama’s lessons finally clicked for her, and God’s lessons in loving and swimming finally clicked for me too. We both simply, and bravely, let go:)

After lunch, I decided to swim in the pool while the girls were napping. I prayed that I would not relay my fear of the water to the girls and asked God to please help me. An amazing thing happened when I got into the water. I started swimming, floating, and playing with abandon. There was no floundering, flailing, or thrashing about. I swam and played until the girls got up, and then I played for another hour and a half with them. They saw my excitement, and it was contagious! They loved it when I swam under the water and tickled their toes, and I loved it too:)

God took away the fear I so worried would be passed along to my sweet little grandbabies and replaced it with delight. I am still in awe and don’t understand exactly what happened today, but God used Lillyann’s letting go and delighting in her new found freedom to get across His lessons for me. My heart has had on its water wings (the Holy Spirit), and my body had all the right motions for swimming. I knew what to do, but knowing and doing are two different things. Today, I loved and swam with abandon and let go of my fears. I was as close to God as I ever have been in the process.

I shared Lillyann’s delight because I knew exactly how she was feeling. That’s the way it is with love. We laughed and loved each other as we played in the water, and we shared a very special moment. She kept telling me that I was her best friend while we were swimming together, and that was icing on an already amazing cake today. Love is a lot like swimming; God waited for me to let go of fears that were keeping me from loving as He desires. Just as mommy and I delighted when little Lillyann took off across the pool, I could imagine God doing the same when He saw that His swimming and loving lessons had finally paid off:)

Lifted by Love

The Hymn of Invitation on the Sunday of my profession of faith was “Love Lifted Me.” The lyrics were written by James Rowe, and Howard Smith composed the music. I’m not sure what influence the song had on my decision, but I do have a very vivid memory of it. The idea of being lifted out of the water is something to which I can relate because of my early experience at Lake Hickory. Daddy lifted me from the water when I was five and saved my life in the process. In April of 1964, Christ’s precious love lifted me from the turbulent waters of this life and saved my soul in a very similar process. I remember the feeling I had fifty years ago as if it happened yesterday. The Holy Spirit filled and lifted me as I had never been lifted before.

Love always lifts. It is a simple, but profound, lifting that takes my heart in a new place. That’s exactly what happened in the spring of 1964, and it’s what happens every time I find myself in God’s sweet presence. His love lifts me from the troubled waters and allows me to sing praises in the deepest water. His love never changes and is always present. It is love I depend and lean upon. Music touched me again this morning as the song “Forever Reign” by Hillsong reminded me that there is nothing like God’s embrace.

Water has been at the heart of the lessons this week. Seeing water in Christ’s light changes everything. The sweet rain this morning reminded me of the living water Christ offers and took me back to my baptism. His living water replenishes and refreshes as nothing else can, and I welcome it as dry ground welcomes rain. God’s embrace opens my heart and allows it to soak in His Spirit.

Living a Spirit-filled life is living a life completely drenched in His Son’s precious love. It was raining this morning when Mylah came in to say good morning and rock in my rocker. I told her to look outside at the rain. She loved it until I told her we couldn’t swim in the rain. She stomped her foot and hit the glass door with the palms of her hands as if to make it go away. After she went upstairs, I started wondering why I couldn’t swim in the rain. I couldn’t think of a reason other than lightning:) It wasn’t storming, and I needed a shower before going to church; so, I put on my suit and hopped in. It was amazing! I loved floating on my back and letting the rain hit my face, and the hot shower after the swim was just what my body and soul needed to get me in the proper mood for worship.

The worship service was wonderful, and I loved the allusions to water in the songs we sang. I came home from the service in a torrential downpour that filled the streets to overflowing and unnerved me as I tried to navigate through the menacing mess. It was a morning filled with soaking, but it was also a morning of reminders that God is with me in the storm, in the deep water, unexpected downpours, and the quiet pools. The sun peeked out from the clouds for a brief moment of reassurance it was still there. As Lillyann loves to say, “Look, Gigi, the sun is playing peek-a-boo!”

Everything was so clean and the pool was beautifully blue and still for a few moments before another front brought in another downpour. I love the fragrance and the clarity after the rain. Love has given my heart the same clarity this week as I’m learning to relax and let God’s love drench, quench, and lift it to a new level. The message this morning was to make sure my heart and both my hands are in the same accord so God’s love can not only lift my heart but also the hearts of those in my path. I pray my heart and hands will sing the sweet name of Jesus as I lose myself in His embrace.

Finding Freedom in Forgiveness

I find great comfort in Psalm 32 and thank God for placing it in my path this morning.

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
 Whose sin is covered!

How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, 
And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away 
Through my groaning all day long.

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
 My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide; said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”;
 And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
 Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble;
 You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; 
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
 Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
 Otherwise they will not come near to you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, 
But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.

Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones;
 And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart.” NASB

When my heart is heavy, I know I need to acknowledge that sin is weighing it down. A friend reminded me last week that it is important to float in faith, and God showed me this morning that I cannot float when my heart is heavy-laden. God is always ready to extend His grace and forgiveness when it comes to sin. Unconfessed sin is too heavy a load for the human heart, and it shows a lack of faith if I try to handle sin without Him. I have an impudent and disobedient spirit if I ignore or rationalize it.

I have a recurring dream that reminds me of the importance of confession, and I had it last night. The dream varies slightly, but it is vivid and very discomforting. The message in the dream is that God has prepared a place for me to relieve my heart if I will simply have faith and follow His Spirit. Romans 3:23 tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sin will not go away on its own; I have to confess it if I am to be free from it. Christ took care of all sin on the cross. I learn from the dream that I can look and look on my own for a way other than confession to get rid of sin, but my attempts will always end in vain and leave me more frustrated than ever. Confession leads to repentance, and repentance leads to that shout of joy in Psalm 32. Finding freedom in forgiveness gives my heart a reason to sing and shout for joy:)

If I could handle temptation and sin on my own, Jesus would not have had to take care of it for me. His sweet gift of forgiveness doesn’t give me license to do whatever I want, but it does give the Holy Spirit to guide when I fall. Confession and repentance are the steps I must take if I am going to walk in God’s kingdom and live a Spirit-filled life. My spirit is strong, but as the old saying goes, my flesh is weak. Breaking free from sin and accepting God’s forgiveness allows me to stop floundering and find the freedom to float in faith to that place of love, joy, peace, and hope He has prepared for my heart:)

Girded with Gladness (7/5/13)

Psalm 30 is in the readings for this week, and it perfectly describes my heart this morning. I especially love verse eleven, for God truly does turn mourning into dancing and gird me with gladness in a way that leaves my heart singing with abandon:)

Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me;O Lord, be my helper.”You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” NASB

In “The Message,” Eugene Peterson translates verses eleven and twelve beautifully.

You did it: you changed wild lamentinto whirling dance;You ripped off my black mourning bandand decked me with wildflowers.I’m about to burst with song;I can’t keep quiet about you.God, my God,I can’t thank you enough.”

The last line captures the way my heart feels this morning because I find myself struggling to thank God enough for this amazing feeling of freedom. Sin is a black mourning band or confining sackcloth when I cling to it and forget that the Holy Spirit is waiting for me to let it go so God can change that wild lament into a whirling dance.

Connecting with the Holy Spirit is indeed a whirling dance, and Eugene Peterson refers to His sweet indwelling as the Trinitarian dance. I love that dance and miss it when I let sin creep in and steal my joy. Sin does steal joy and fill my heart with guilt. I cannot dance with its weight upon my heart, or if I listen to those who would have me sit alone. Christ extends His loving hands, bidding me to come out on to the dance floor and join Him as He bursts into songs of praise and glorifies God, the Father.

Sin creeps in to steal the joy God has in mind if I allow Satan to convince me that there is nothing I can do about it. He’s right because there is nothing I can do about it except feel guilty and wear a black armband and cinch the sackcloth tightly if I try to handle temptation and sin without God. The great news is that Jesus loosens the sackcloth of sin that tightly entangles my heart. When I step out of it and toss it aside, He girds me with a gladness that will not let my heart be still.

The beauty of singing with abandon is that you don’t hear the naysayers around the dance floor. I’ve let others define and confine me my entire life, and I’m finding that living in God’s Spirit is a beautiful dance that comes naturally when I take Christ’s hand and let Him lead. It’s the most amazing dance ever, and it causes my heart to burst out into songs of thanksgiving and love for a God who loves me just as I am. God reminded me this morning that I always have a dance partner, so there is no need to sit on the sidelines and mourn any more:)

Open House & Open Heart

Climbing up the mountain is much easier with company, and my hikes with Rita are sweet proof of that. Walking, like living, is better together. When we come to the steep hills, we get quiet and work our way up the mountain. Knowing I’m not alone is a big motivation, and that’s why sweet loving connections are so important on this journey. It’s literally true as I walk up Indian Creek or figuratively true as I navigate the rough patches in life. Having someone walk beside me makes all the difference in life.

Living with my son and his family has been an amazing blessing, and I love that our home is on a beautiful mountaintop. I’ve been climbing, falling, and getting back up for sixty years, but I’ve found the same sweet sense of peace that comes when arriving home after a long and difficult trip. I’m not sure how God will work out the details, and I don’t even know if He will keep me here; but I do know I am where I need to be right now. There have been many changes in my life over the past few years, but the biggest one has been the change in the way I see my life and my heart. God placed the most amazing view of the western horizon right outside my bedroom door, and I marvel at how that view has changed the way I see HIm and myself.

I cannot help but stare in awe when I stop and take in His handiwork. I love to look at the beautiful view as I pray because I see His presence in the majestic mountains whether they are sunny and clear, nestled in the fog, or under an impending storm. My favorite time of day to pray is at sunset, and God always puts on an amazing display as we sit together and recall the day. I’m learning to listen as never before, and that makes the trip to the mountaintop worth all the climbing.

I’m also learning the importance of openness when it comes to loving and living together. Life and love are meant to be in the open, and that changes my heart in a very beautiful way. God has brought me to a home that is wide open inside and out. The sun rises on the front of our home and sets on the back; the town lies on the south side, and the quiet northern side sits quietly in the shade of beautiful plants and trees.

Getting to the top of the mountain is about finding openness. The summit allows me to see all that surrounds me. God made it clear this morning that love and life belong in the open. He knows my heart has been hidden away for far too long. He asks me to look at all that surrounds me and bids me to open my heart so He can have His way with it. God’s ways are all about truth, and truth flourishes in open hearts that share honest communion.

Love is what makes my hikes with Rita a joy. Love is also what makes life a joy-filled journey when shared with an honest openness that allows my heart to see in and be seen from all directions. With openness, comes reckoning, and that often brings deep hurt as God’s ways and mine collide. Giving up what I want isn’t easy, but holding on to it means missing the panoramic view He has of the world and heart He desires for me. Now that He’s given me a glimpse of that world and that heart, I know that I cannot settle for less.

Seeing life and love from God’s summit makes the climb worth the while and allows me to live in God’s Spirit in a way that changes my heart.

Healing Peace

Past hurts and future worries invade my present peace if I allow them to take up space in my heart. I do wish I could stay in the present moment more and enjoy God’s presence more fully. I suppose it is human nature to forget that God’s presence is about allowing His Holy Spirit to control each moment. It’s not easy to simply be, but I’m doing a better job in that regard. I’m not holding fast to my plans and my wants, and I’m trying to live and love in each moment. Praying centers, but I have to make sure my time with God is more about being with Him than rehashing the past and rehearsing the future.

It’s been a week filled with time, and that has led to slipping into the past and fretting about the future. I caught myself feeling sorry for myself and decided to redirect and do something for someone else. It’s the surest way to truly stay in the present and forget my worries and regrets. Listening to the rain also brings me to the present in a beautiful way, and I’ve certainly had lots of time to do that this week! I love the sweet peace rain brings, and I love the sleep that comes during a downpour. I’m not sure why I sleep so well when it’s raining, but I love the feeling I get from the deep, replenishing rest that comes during a night of rain.

Healing peace is not only attainable, it gets easier as I learn to focus upon God and what He places in my path each moment. His work is never tedious, and I loose track of time when I listen to and obey Him. Healing and peace go together perfectly, and I’m sure there is research out there to connect the two. In Mark 5:34, Jesus makes a beautiful connection. “And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” NASB

I know from personal experience, that Jesus brings peace, and peace brings healing. When I rehash and rehearse, I lose my peace. When I rest in God and have faith that He is Who He says He is, I find the sweet peace that heals. My heart hasn’t been as whole as it is now ever in my life, and I thank God for bringing me to this place of healing. It isn’t about happiness as much as it is about joy and holiness. Living in God’s Spirit allows me to live out Christ’s precious love in each moment, and that heals my heart, settles my soul, and brings me nearer to God.

A Forgiving Heart

Luke 7:47 has a beautiful ring of truth to it. Jesus says to those who wonder at His allowing a sinful woman to wash His feet, “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Those who recognize their own sin and embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers love much. Those, like the Pharisees, who recognize and keep a count of the sins of others love little. Jesus isn’t encouraging sin by any means, but He is pointing out that reconciling our own sin is much more powerful when it comes to loving than judging the sins of others.

Jesus tells the story of two debtors in verses 41-46.“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume.”

Anyone who has ever loved knows the deep connection between love and forgiveness. True forgiveness begets love that manifests itself in loving acts of gratitude. The woman who washed and kissed the feet of Jesus understood the connection perfectly, and I pray that I will also come to the same level of understanding as I find the courage to open my heart in honest communion with Christ and others. It very easy to be a pious judge pointing out the sins of others, but it is best to be a humble sinner filled with gratitude at the feet of Christ.

Acknowledging sin and opening my heart allows me to love with an abandon that doesn’t care about what others think and to appreciate the true depth of the love offered to me by one who has every right to point His fingers and judge me. He chooses to open His arms and love me, and that changes the way I look at myself, others, and Him. When I understand the debt Christ cleared for me, my gratitude spills over into my life and allows me to love as He does with a forgiving heart.

Falling Up!

My son Tyler gave Shel Silverstein’s book, “Falling Up,” to me for Christmas one year. He knows how much I love poetry, and Shel’s a favorite. I thought of the book’s cover as God’s powerful lessons became crystal clear this morning. A dear friend reminded me again this week that the journey is about spiraling and made a twirling motion with his index finger pointing upward. Falling up is part of spiraling upward because falling is always going to be part of the journey.

Life involves stumbles, trips, and flat out falls, and that’s why it’s so important to travel with company. Rita will be out of town for a while, and I’ll miss our long treks up the mountain. I’ll stay near the bottom and circle a lot while she’s gone because I don’t go up alone. It’s not the fear of bears or snakes that keep me from the higher ground; I just don’t want to fall with no one around. I did that at Whiteside Mountain once and drove home a bloody and embarrassed mess!

Being with those who love me keeps my attention on the path and the beautiful scenery, and that’s where it belongs. It’s easy to lose focus; that’s why I need a loving companion. I can catch them if they trip, and they can catch me when I do the same. If we both fall at the same time, we can help each other get up, dust off, and find our balance once again. It’s not funny when you fall, but I thank God for love that allows us to laugh even when we fall. It’s the beauty of love.

There is nothing sadder that someone who has fallen alone or been left behind when they fall by those who don’t care enough to stop and lend a hand. I thank God for surrounding me with loving companions who make my journey a sweet joy and share both the tears and the laughter that come with loving as God desires. Love humbles as nothing else, but it also brings greater joy than anything else in this world. It is a taste of what is to come, and I thank God for putting those in my path whose love lifts and encourages me to keep going.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 says it best, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” Words to love and travel by if you want to fall up and help others do the same. Too often we bring others down or beat ourselves up. I’ve done my share of both, and that causes everyone to fall and many to stay down. If we don’t find the courage to get back up and help others do the same, the body of Christ will be less than God desires. If we love as God desires, our falling will result in honest communion and love that makes others see Him in us and in our relationships. That’s what this journey is all about 🙂

To Know is to Love

I can approach God’s Word as a scholar or a lover, but only one will lead to an intimate relationship with His Holy Spirit and a connection unlike anything the world has to offer. To know God’s Word is to love Him. If the point is simply to acquire information and apply it as I desire, an abusive relationship forms. Unfortunately, that creates widespread damage and causes many to turn from the love God offers.

Nothing breaks God’s heart more than having His Word used to inflict injury and insult. The same is true for us when others take what we say out of context and turn it for their own purposes. It’s so frustrating to see my words twisted and turned, but it is far more painful to hear God’s Word used in ways that inflict hurt rather than share love.

I believe 1 John 2:1-6 describes the relationship God desires for us to have with His Word.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” NASB

As John beautifully reminds me, knowing is an important part of loving when it comes to God’s Word, but it is much more than scholarly information. I respect Bible scholars and believe they bring light to a dark world when they deeply know and love His Word. Keeping is the key when it comes to a loving relationship of any kind. Keeping is a deep intimacy, and it brings God’s Word to my life in a way that allows me to witness and share Christ’s love. Only He perfected the Word as He fulfilled it. I am not perfect, but I do my best to keep His commandments, especially the two He makes clear are the most important ones 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

Knowing that loving is the key to God’s kingdom allows me to have a close and intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit, and that allows me to live in God’s world in a different way. I pray I will keep my focus upon Christ’s precious love and use God’s powerful Word to get ever nearer to His precious side. God forbid that I, or anyone, should abuse His love by using His Word in a way that doesn’t reflect His loving heart.

Happy Endings & Happy Father’s Day:)

Today would be daddy’s 97th birthday if he were still alive. Foy Hart Holden was a man who lived his life with a determination to be more than a farmer in the mountains of western North Carolina. While gardening was something daddy loved to do, he did not want it to be his occupation. Like his father, Flave, daddy loved making things grow, but he was not going to live on a farm for the rest of his life. Foy was the oldest of nine children, and he often went along on his father’s trips to Greenville, South Carolina to sell vegetables at the market. He loved the trips, and I’m sure they fueled his desire to leave the mountains.

Daddy, mama, and Ann did move to Atlanta as soon as he got out of the army. Mama hated Atlanta and cried for a year after they moved. Daddy would not return to the mountains, so they ended up settling in Hickory, North Carolina. Mama could see her beloved mountains, and daddy could have his city life, even if it wasn’t a big city as he would have preferred. Once, on a visit to see me in the mountains, daddy told me that he worked his tail off to get out of the mountains, and I ran right back to up to them. He asked me what that said about me, and I told him that it said I was smarter than he was. I could see a little grin on his face as he realized I might be right, for once:)

Daddy was discontent much of the time, and I believe his angst was about always wanting more. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but dreams were deferred in both his and mama’s life. When I read the poem, “Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes, I think of my parents. Mama’s did “crust and sugar – over like a syrupy sweet” and daddy’s would “explode” on occasion when he turned to alcohol to relieve his stress. I bore the brunt of those explosions, but I remember and thank God for is the happy ending He gave to daddy and me.

Tyler and I were in Hickory for a visit when daddy had a stroke. Mother didn’t wake me up when it happened because she wasn’t sure what was happening. I immediately called the hospital when I saw him, and they told me it would be best for me to bring him in rather than call an ambulance. He was calm and had been up most of the night talking nonsense. We didn’t want to scare him, so I told him we were going for a ride. I’ve never been more afraid in my life.

The hospital was being renovated, and they had given me directions for navigating the construction. It turned out that daddy and I had to walk a distance to get where we needed to go, and I wasn’t sure he could make it. I was shocked at his childlike manner. He did whatever I asked him to do without complaint or his usual colorful vocabulary. I knew something was terribly wrong, and that was verified when we saw the doctor.

I was surprised by the calm demeanor of the doctor. He began a conversation with daddy and acted as though we were all sitting on the porch sipping lemonade. I expected more rushing around and thought they would whisk daddy away as soon as we walked in. I listened quietly while the doctor asked daddy questions about the date, the president, the news, and his family. I did my best not to let daddy see the shock on my face as his answers showed serious problems with his thought process. I’d never seen anything quiet so confusing, but the doctor seemed to know what he was doing. He looked at me, smiled, and said calmly that daddy was fine, but they wanted to keep him overnight so he could rest. He sure didn’t seem fine to me, but I breathed a sign of relief at the news and left when they said they needed to get him ready.

My nephew, Steven, was at the hospital by the time the interview was over, and I told him what the doctor had just told me. He quickly went to call my sister and her husband who were at the beach on vacation. As soon as Steven came back from making the calls, the doctor came out of the room where the interview had taken place. He looked directly at me and said in a very different tone that daddy had suffered a massive hemorrhaging stroke at the base of his brain, and he should be dead. Steven and I were shocked and realized the conversation in front of daddy was simply to keep him calm. Now that he wasn’t in the room, the doctor’s calm dissipated, and he was clearly rushing to find answers in regard to treatment. Steven returned to the hallway to make new calls, and I called my other two sisters with the news. I decided to tell mother the candy-coated version until my sisters arrived.

I went looking for daddy and found him lying on a gurney in the hallway. I saw something I had never seen before, fear in my daddy’s eyes. This mountain of a man who put fear into me for so much of my life was suddenly looking at me with eyes that spoke volumes, but his mind and mouth forbid communicating. I didn’t need to hear his words; I saw love and sorrow in his eyes and knew without hearing what he was thinking in that brief moment of clarity God provided for our hearts. I held his hand and told him that I loved him and that I knew he had loved me the best way he knew how. I told him I had no hard feelings and would not leave him alone. I wish I could explain the exquisite feeling of freedom his look and my words brought to my heart, but there aren’t words that describe the peace that surrounded both of us for a beautiful moment before he was whisked away.

Daddy healed physically, but his mind was never the same. He was confused about so very much, but he always knew who I was and brightened up when he saw me. He was a die-hard Democrat before the stroke, but all he talked about after his stroke was George and Barbara Bush. He was convinced they came to see him on a regular basis. I think he might have had a crush on Barbara because he talked about her the most. I agreed with everything daddy said and enjoyed our new relationship and our interesting conversations. It was the happy ending my heart needed, and I thank God for the healing and the love that took place between daddy and me.

Life is very short, but love goes on forever. When I think of daddy now, I think of those silly conversations about George and Barbara Bush or the fact that he thought he was in charge of the rehabilitation home where he spent his last days walking up and down the hallway making sure everyone was okay. Daddy was a worker, and he taught me much about working and about making a living. I thought of him on Thursday when God made me decide if I was going to live in His Spirit or in my flesh.

God reminded me that He and daddy agreed on who I was and what was best for my heart. I had to smile because I could see daddy in the background with a big smile on his face, shaking his head in agreement with our heavenly Father. That made the decision much easier, and the image of my daddy and my Father will help me if I ever forget to see myself as they do. Both want me to live and love in God’s Holy Spirit, and I want the same thing. I did inherit my daddy’s stubbornness, and that’s handy when it comes to making a decision and sticking to it. I pray it will help me remember that I want my daddy and my Father to be proud of me, and I want to be proud of myself too. I knew I was God’s daughter, and it was nice to learn that I am also my daddy’s girl. I know he would have been proud of me this week:)

Happy Father’s Day and Happy Birthday daddy!! I love you and thank you and my heavenly Father for helping me take a very big step this week. I know I can live and love in God’s Spirit with the help of both my fathers:)

Further Than Following

Walking in God’s Spirit is a choice that has to be made at least once a day. Being led by God’s Spirit is about giving up the need to lead or even choosing to follow. The passiveness that comes from being led is going a step further than following. Following still has a hint of ego, and it’s that pesky ego that has to be monitored every day to keep my flesh in check. Living in the flesh isn’t just about the tug of my body; it’s about the need to be in charge, the “me, my, I” attitude.

I’ve been in Galatians for five weeks, and the lessons have been just what I needed. The powerful truth in Galatians 5:16-17 brought home the lessons God had for me last week.But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” NASB

Paul makes it clear that flesh and Spirit will always be at odds. Flesh is about ego, and Spirit is about God. If I set myself up as God, Satan will gladly give me anything I want and help me rationalize everything I do. Living in God’s Spirit is an all or nothing proposition as Paul reminds those at the church in Galatia. You cannot be led by the Spirit and lead at the same time.

My heart came full circle last week, and I am very happy to say that it was a spiral upward because I decided to go with His Spirit instead of my wants. God used the image of a spoiled child who says they will die if they don’t get what they want to teach the lesson with a little humor. He smiled and made it clear that I will have to die every day if I don’t get what I want and be led by His Spirit. Dying daily isn’t possible unless I let the Holy Spirit lead. Ego doesn’t die without a fight; but I’ve finally learned Whose fight it is, and that changes everything:)

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