Peace in the Path
Jeremiah 18:1-6 paints a vivid picture of a potter taking a jar that didn’t come out the way He wanted, crushing it back into a lump of clay, and starting over. God tells Jeremiah He can do the same with Israel. He can, and has, done the same with me. Hear the passage.
The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, “’Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.’ So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel. But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over. Then the Lord gave me this message: ’O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.’”
It is a harsh passage, but one that contains great love and hope. Just as a potter can remake a jar, so can God remake me. That’s preferable to being tossed to the floor and swept away. God’s used the image of pottery and clay many times as He’s taught difficult lessons in love. My heart has been a clay pot thrown to the floor, a lump of clay, and a fragile china vase. It’s back to the lump of clay, but I’m learning that’s the best place for it to be. With loving hands, God will reshape and make it something better than it’s ever been. I trust Him and am learning that the more flexible I become in those loving hands, the easier it is for both of us.
When I read these scriptures, I can’t help but see the image of a lump of clay fighting and wiggling in the potter’s hands. I have only made one pot in my life, and I absolutely loved it! I took a workshop called “Journey of the Creative Spirit” back in 1999, and I got to go to a potter’s home and make a mountain face pot. I was handed a slip of paper upon arrival and told that would be the emotion I had to bring out of the clay. I got surprise and here is my creation.
While working on the pot, I found myself captured by the creative spirit and lost all track of time. I treasure my little pot because I think it may be reflect what that jar in the scriptures was feeling before the potter crushed it into a lump of clay or it may be how it felt after seeing God’s work. I had a terrible time with the ears of this pot and had to take them off more than once. I’m sure God can relate! It reminds me to make sure my ears and eyes stay open to all God has to say and to use my mouth to sing His praises. The girls love the pot that sits in my bathroom and holds my brushes. I figure it has the right expression considering what my hair looks like when I wake up =0
God allows me to start over each and every day, and that is a blessing for which I shall be eternally grateful. He also reshapes my heart when needed, and that fills me with great hope. I can find peace in the path knowing that God is there to reform my heart when necessary.
Fountains & Cisterns
Forsaking a filled and flowing fountain for an empty cracked cistern sounds ridiculous, but that’s just what Israel is doing according to Jeremiah 2:13. It is what all of us do at some point in our lives. No matter how big or beautiful the cisterns I dig for myself, they will never hold water or compare to the living water Christ’s love provides. Jeremiah 2 is referred to as “Judah’s Apostasy.” Apostasy is the renunciation of a religious faith or an abandonment of a previous loyalty, and digging my own cistern amounts to doing just that.
“For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water.” NASB
Loyalty becomes tricky when a conflict occurs. That’s true in day-to-day life, and it’s true in my relationship with God. Faith in God provides that beautiful flowing fountain that never runs dry. Faith in my own ability or in anything other than God leads to a cracked cistern and a very dry soul. Only God can satisfy my thirsty soul. In verse 12, Jeremiah relays God’s heart, “‘Be appalled, O heavens, at this, And shudder, be very desolate,’ declares the Lord.”
Appalled and desolate are words that aptly describe the situation in which Israel finds itself, and they also describe the personal idolatry that results when I dig my own cistern. Digging cisterns is a natural reaction when I think I know what’s best for me. I love Jeremiah’s imagery, but his message is always one that tears the very core of my heart. This week’s scripture hit particularly hard, but his image of living water offers tremendous healing. God lets me continue digging cisterns as I try to find a way to get my way, but He prefers that I stop digging and drink from His fountain. The choice is mine because even the sweetest water would not satisfy if forced down my throat. It is only in the dryness of my broken cistern that I find a thirst for God that nothing else will satisfy. He knows I have to dig a few cisterns before I can appreciate His fountain. There is great peace in realizing I can put down my shovel and relax.
Peace is always present
When I look to God.
Always beside me,
To comfort and to guide me.
All He wants is my heart,
All and not just part.
I hold on to my way
Unable to let go.
He sits waiting quietly
For me to come along.
But I keep singing softly
Praying my own song.
Hoping He will join me
And let me lead the way.
My heart is always yearning
I find myself alone.
And He is waiting
For me to hear His song.
When I hear Him singing,
My heart bursts out in song.
Nothing is better
Than being in His arms.
Tears give way to singing.
Fear gives way to joy.
Nothing is better
Than being in His arms.
Guilt Ridden or Grace Driven?
This journey to find the love God has for me has been a guilt-ridden ride that has drowned my spirt, broken my heart, and withered my soul. I found my heart at a dead end for the third time in my life. Dead ends are always clearly marked so as to warn those who may venture down the path. The same is true for my heart’s journey. I knew the paths did not lead anywhere, and perhaps that’s why I took them. There is safety in a dead end road; at least I know where it goes. God puts beautifully open, loving roads all along my path, but I’ve never have the courage to take one.
The recent reminder of such a road not taken reminded me that the decision is always mine to make. I can blame on a bad beginning or a naive spirit, but my heart’s journey is determined by my decisions. I, and I alone, am accountable for my choices. That was God’s powerful message throughout the day yesterday. I decided to take a late-night swim after dinner. As I swam, I looked into that amazing western horizon knowing the sun would soon be setting. I realized in that moment that God has been using those stunning sunsets to show me that an end was near. It was the most painful ending yet, but God’s loving grace put on an amazing show before the light in my heart was completely gone.
My heart came through this most difficult season in one piece for the first time in my life, and God’s promise of a new beginning gave me hope as He put me back on His wheel for reshaping. I almost allowed guilt to carry my heart back into a dark hole, but God had other plans. I listened this time and let His sweet grace flow over my heart and around it in a way that swept away the last remnants of my brokenness. It truly was a rush of living water. I’ve always seen myself as damaged goods, and that does comes from a bad beginning that left my heart adrift. Funny that water should continue to play such a big role in my heart’s journey. I’ve been battling it for so very long, but as I swam in the cool, clean water and looked at the beautiful sun last night, I surrendered and began turning in the water. I could feel myself on His potter’s wheel; His hands turning and pulling my heart nearer to His own.
It was a feeling I can’t put into words, but I hope to put it into my life and my love from now on. God removed the remains of a guilt-ridden ride, took me out of a ridiculous religious rut, and put me in a place filled with more grace, peace, and love than I’ve ever felt in my life. It was a new beginning as I gave my whole heart to God and let go of the guilt that has been a thorn in my heart from the moment I came into this world. The lessons of the past six months have been the most difficult ones in my life, but they have allowed me to let go of guilt and embrace His grace as never before. What an amazing difference His living water makes. I don’t think I’ll be digging any more cisterns for a while. Thank you Jeremiah for the reminder, and thank you God for Your love, Your Son’s grace, and Your Spirit’s sweet peace. Grace driven is so much better than guilt ridden! My heart feels just like this sunset, and I can’t wait to see what sunrise God has in mind.
An afternoon of swimming left me beautifully worn out. What a blessing it’s been to watch the girls learn to love the water. I wasn’t sure about having a pool with two little girls who didn’t swim, but seeing them play in the water has been a beautiful blessing. My father got tired of trying to teach me how to swim, so he threw me in the deep end of a very cold pool. I got to the side and only recently stopped swimming as though my life depended up getting to the side. The pool has been such a blessing as I’ve overcome my fear of the water and swam without panic for the first time in my life. I’ll be sorry to see the pool covered and hope to get in at least another month of swimming in before having to close it.
The key to swimming is the same as the key to loving, letting go. That’s been God’s powerful lesson this month. I’ve let go of fear and kicked guilt out of my heart. What a difference that’s made in the way I feel. Guilt made my heart feel as if it had a concrete block attached to it. I’ve replaced guilt with grace. I noticed that Gina and Tyler were swimming with flippers today, so I donned a pair and couldn’t believe the difference they mde. I think my ankles may be a little sore tomorrow, but I loved the feeling they gave me.
God’s grace has the same effect on my heart as those flippers had on my swimming. God not only gave me an image; He also let me feel His lesson in grace today. It’s so good not to be guilt ridden anymore. God is love, and guilt destroys love faster than anything else in this world. It’s a lesson that’s taken a lifetime to learn, but I’ve finally got it and don’t plan to forget it. I felt like a mermaid in the pool today, and that is a feeling I won’t soon forget. If I ever feel guilt creeping back into my heart, I plan to swim away from it as fast as those grace flippers will carry me.
Love is Light Luggage
Today marks my first guilt-free Labor Day since 2002. I left my husband of thirty years on Labor Day eleven years ago, and my heart has been hanging on to a suitcase filled with guilt since then. Letting go of the guilt has been like giving birth in a strange way, but I’m the one coming out of the darkness and on to the shore. I knew better than to enter a marriage based upon guilt, but I did it anyway. The narrow religion of my childhood was an unforgiving birth canal in which I stayed for far too long. It constricted my heart and made me feel guilt going in and coming out of my marriage. There are still many who see divorce as a cardinal sin, and I fell into a pattern of apology and wore my relationship status much like that scarlet letter Hester Prynne donned.
Miserably married folks were particularly irritated by my divorce, and I see now it was simply a case of misery loving company. ‘If I have to stay married, so do you’ was a prevailing attitude. I found myself defined by yet another negative label, and it hurt my heart deeply. I know now that I put those labels on my heart, and I found others who agreed with me. It’s been the theme of my heart until this year. I see myself in a new and beautiful light for the first time, and I’ve let go of those hateful labels that weighed down my heart and broke my spirit. Ripping off the labels was a lot like tearing bandages off healing wounds. They didn’t come off easily and took little pieces of my heart with them when they did.
The pieces of my heart that were attached to those labels are gone, and they aren’t coming back. Like skin pulled away with a bandage, they needed to go. It was worth all the pain of the past month to see the beautiful new heart under those labels. God has been creating that heart in me for almost three years, and it’s been a process that brought both amazing love and deep hurt into my path. Last week, God took off the labels when I finally agreed to let them go. He tossed them in the trash and bid me to look at my new heart through His eyes. I can’t describe how I felt when I saw the new me; I cried cleansing tears of pure joy. Obeying God was the key to my makeover. I listened as never before and heard love. Love changes everything, and that was the lesson my heart so needed to hear in order to heal.
I was stuck in a ridiculous rut for eleven years that took my heart to its lowest level ever. I longed for a way out, but I continued to go deeper into darkness and almost drowned. God had other plans, but those plans could not begin until I agreed to obey Him and Him alone. I let religion define my relationship with God, but He showed me that only love can do that. Love lifted me once again as I found myself drowning in a sea of guilt unable to reach the shore. God put a beautiful lighthouse on His sweet shore of grace that gave me the courage I needed to fight my way out of the dark waves and find His love and grace waiting for me on the shore.
I’m not sure where my path will go from here, but I know that the luggage I’m carrying now is not the same I carried to this point. Grace, peace, and love are carrying me this time. That terrible load of guilt sank to the bottom of a dark sea and is right where it belongs. I feel like my nineteen-year-old self running in the woods, and that’s just where God wants me to be. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that God put a trip to Topsail Island in my path this week. My heart feels like a Topsail sunrise!
Love is Light Luggage
Every time I pack for a trip, I’m reminded of how the process forces me to make choices I just finished packing for my trip to Topsail Island, and it was not like any other packing experience I’ve ever had. My focus was not on what I needed, but on what I loved and wanted with me. That changes the packing and the journey. I’m usually worried about my car, the traffic, the directions, how much money I’ll need, and a lot of what if’s. This time, I’m looking forward to every mile and every minute of the next eight days. The difference has to do with what I’m not taking with me on this trip. Guilt is not going, and that makes packing a pleasure.
Grace and guilt cannot exist together. Like love , grace cannot breathe in an unforgiving atmosphere. Both will suffocate and die, and that’s exactly what my heart has been doing since 1964. I found myself lost at sea and searching for a shore upon which to land. I heard “Love Lifted Me” being sung as a hymn of invitation and grabbed the life raft being offered to me. Like the words in the song promised, I was saved. I didn’t understand completely what that meant, but I knew I was out of the waters and on a life raft. It wasn’t the shore I had in mind, but I was safe and dry.
I’d like to say I was surrounded by love and supported after my decision to accept the love Christ offered me, but I can’t. My family stopped going to church shortly after I was saved, and as far as everyone was concerned I was going to heaven. That’s all that mattered. Once saved, always saved, end of story. That was the theme of my new journey. The problem was the guilt I began to feel about every little thing. I couldn’t do enough or be enough to deserve being pulled out of that water, so the load I carried got heavier and heavier with each passing year. The raft was heavy laden and at the point of sinking last month.
God used a sweet novel and a beautiful lighthouse to get me to His shore. It wasn’t easy to leave the safety of the raft and get back into the water, but God made sure to put love in the water and on the shore to guide me. The swimming was easy once I let go of the guilt I was carrying. It was like replacing a concrete block with a pair of water wings. I don’t know where my journey will go from here, but I do know that I have everything I love packed and ready to go
God woke me this morning and bid me to come outside and see His sunrise. I came to the island for a sunrise, and God gave me more than I ever expected. The beaches on South Topsail Island are the most beautiful in the world. God literally took my breath away this morning when I ventured out to see what He had in store for me. I arrived a few moments before the sun peeped over the horizon and saw some beautiful pink skies, but I was not prepared for what happened when the sun appeared.
God placed a beautiful cross in the eastern sky, and I could not take my eyes away until it became too bright for my limited vision. It was a picture of hope and resurrection which was just what I needed. It’s been a difficult year in many ways, but I’ve never been more aware of God’s presence than I was this morning when I saw that amazing pink cross in the sky. This picture does not capture the beauty I witnessed this morning. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it would take more than a thousand words to describe the picture God graciously painted for me this morning. He knew I was ready for it.
Witnessing a Resurrection
I witnessed a resurrection today on Topsail Island as I watched six healed turtles released into the sea. They all headed in the same direction, toward the point on their way to the Gulf of Mexico. What an amazing sight it was to behold! I marvel when I think of the way it all happened. I told my little granddaughters that I was going to visit the sick turtles while I was with my sister on South Topsail Island and promised to bring shirts and some toy turtles back to them. When I got to Edie’s, she told me the new hospital wasn’t open. She said she thought I could get some shirts at the Quarter Moon, so we biked down to the gift shop.
The store was closing when we got there, so I quickly grabbed five shirts and asked them to hold them for me until the next day. They didn’t take a credit card, and I didn’t have any cash. We were biking back the following day and noticed the door to the old hospital was open. The turtles were still in there so volunteers were busy at work. I asked if they had any shirts or toy turtles for sale. They told me that the new hospital gift shop was open on Monday and Wednesday for a few hours each day. Edie and I decided to go to the new store and went by the Quarter Moon to tell them I didn’t need the shirts.
The lady in front of me was getting a smoothie and telling the woman behind the counter that she was heading out and would smell great when she got back. My sister and I laughed at her remark, and she told us that she was a turtle hospital volunteer. She told us there was going to be a release. We were beside ourselves. It’s very rare to see a release, and Edie had always wanted to witness one. Unfortunately, she had to have carpal tunnel surgery in Chapel Hill today so she didn’t get to see the sweet miracle.
All of the turtles did the same thing as they were brought down to the sea, they flapped their legs as if they were flying. Their excitement was contagious, and the crowd cheered them on as they made their way down the beach. Each turtle had a beautiful resurrection, and I thank God for allowing me to witness each. God has a resurrection in mind for all His children, and He gives us the same joy and excitement I saw in those amazing turtles today. The turtles have a very unique GPS that allows them to navigate the globe, and I’ve got the Holy Spirit to help me do the same.
There just aren’t words that describe the sweet feeling of freedom I saw in those majestic creatures today. We all are looking to be released so we can go where we know we belong. God taught me a beautiful lesson today with the help of six turtles and the folks at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital. There is such great work being done by the folks who work there. As I watched them working so diligently to get the turtles back into the water, I realized the turtles weren’t the only things that were extremely large. Their hearts were even bigger!!
Hearts Breaking Open
God placed this in my path this morning, and I want to pass it along. There is great healing in hearts breaking open at ground zero, and I pray this from Maya Angelou helps open yours as it helped open mine in a beautiful way. I fear 9/11 has become a symbol of closing rather than opening. I pray we will see the love extended and the hearts bared bravely on a day that forever changed us all. I choose to believe that the love shown was what changed us and pray I will open my heart to ground zero today and every day. Thank you Michael Collins for the vivid reminder.
IN MEMORY OF 911:
With out their fierce devotion
We are fragile and forlorn
Stumbling briefly among the stars.
We and our futures belong to them
Exquisitely,our beliefs and our
Breaths are made tangible in their love.
Let us remember all the bravery, “exquisitely tangible,” all the public and anonymous heroes, in a time when “serving and giving for others rose above every other concern. Think about all of the giving. Those uniformed and civilian servants who risked their lives for others on September 11, on the flights, in the Pentagon, at Ground Zero in New York;teachers who comforted children and waited till all were safely accounted for (we lost 47 parents of our Lutheran school children that day);pastors and parishes who kept their doors open and sat with the public,listening to their lament for months;those around the world and throughout our church who sent stuffed animals,cards, letters, money, expressions of prayerful compassion, visits; ironworkers, truck drivers, chaplains, counselors, volunteers, all who worked at ground zero, at the morgues, at the site in Staten Island during the long months of rescue, then recovery; military chaplains and those who serve in our armed forces; those who lost loved ones, friends, businesses and worked at the dignity of living every day with sorrow. Walking the streets of Manhattan, going on the subways, a different spirit prevailed. All this heroism and sacrifice and shared sorrow made us open to one another. The open window reminded us that for a time we were one metropolis, not divided by inner city\suburb or race or class;that for a time our synod and national church lived in unity of prayerful purpose, transcending the things which vex us and divide us. We were neighbors, sisters, brothers,friends to one another, almost outside of ourselves and our narrow self interests.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I haveloved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)
At Ground Zero when the remains of a child of God would be found something remarkable would happen. All activity would cease. The pile would gentle down to silence. Withbowed, uncovered heads everyone at Ground Zero would show their consummate respect for life as the remains would be lovingly brought out from the rubble. Let us remember, with bowed heads and respectful silence, the heroes, the servants, the extended act of giving which surrounded all of us us.
And let our hearts break open to the ground zeros of today…
The Journey Home
I knew I was home this morning when I awoke to the sounds of Lillyann and Mylah squealing. I’ve missed my sweet morning wake-up call while I was away from home. Traveling reminds me that home is truly where my heart belongs. I’ve always loved coming home, and that was never more true than it was this week. I loved the beauty of Topsail Island, and it was wonderful to see my sister. However, I’ve never been happier to see the mountains than I was on Friday.
For over a week, I’ve struggled with God’s image of coming home. I just couldn’t wrap my heart around the lesson God had for me. I was getting very frustrated this morning as I continued to miss the message. I decided to leave it alone, stop trying so hard, and just wait it out. That usually works when I hit a stumbling block. I was shocked this morning when Pastor Jeff began talking about Jesus telling His disciples He was going home. I hope I am always surprised and delighted by the way God works.
The message today reminded me that I attach my definitions of father and home to heaven rather than letting Christ’s definitions shape my vision. I did, at least, understand that God was referring to heaven when He was bidding me to come home. Going home can be difficult, as Pastor Jeff reminded me this morning. Our homes and fathers are imperfect and always will be. I had to unpack my feelings about my father and home so I could embrace the Father and the home Jesus is trying to get His disciples to see. I’m sure they struggled as I did; in fact, they must have struggled even more because they had Jesus right in front of them. They could reach out and touch Him, so I’m sure they did not want Him to go anywhere without them.
Jesus used the best examples in this world to try and get across the love He so wanted them to know was waiting for them. As I told Jodi this morning, I’ve been looking at home and father from the wrong perspective. I understand God, the Father’s loving home much more clearly that ever before if I think of my own son coming home. It doesn’t matter what he’s done or where he’s been; I want to see him and love him. There is nothing in this world I love more than seeing Tyler after being away from him for a while. God feels the same way about me. I’ve been thinking about past hurt and the difficulty of going home in terms of how I would be welcomed. Looking at it from a different perspective healed my heart in a very beautiful way this morning.
Christ’s precious love brought me to the shore and cleared the path for me to go home long ago on the cross. His grace and love are all along the way home, and His Father’s love is waiting for me at the door of heaven. He’s waiting for me to come home so He can do what I do each time I see my son, my precious grandbabies, or any one of my dear family and friends. I can imagine that love now, and that changes everything. I know the way I feel about my son coming home is a drop in the ocean compared with how God feels when He sees me coming home, and that makes the journey home worth all the stumbling and getting lost. It makes me want to jump for joy the way my little girls do when they see me. Lillyann literally jumped into my arms yesterday when I was waiting for her at the Play Lodge, and Mylah did the same this morning after church. Children delight in coming home and seeing those they love after being separated for an hour, day, week, or month. It doesn’t matter to them how long they’ve been away. They just delight in seeing a loved one, and I plan to take their attitude as I continue on this journey home.
My sister’s home on Topsail Island is named Glorious Day. I love the song by Casting Crowns, and I love the thought that every day is a glorious day when I open my heart to the love God places in my path.
The ocean fascinates me, and I get lost in its vastness each time I stand on the shore. My heart has been lost in some form of water since I was five and stepped off the pier in an effort to escape the harsh hands of the world. I’ve been searching for the shore ever since.
My heart was lost a sea of guilt as vast as the ocean. Just as rip tides carry unsuspecting swimmers far away from the shore, so did the tides of guilt pull my heart far away from God’s grace. I could not hang on to the guilt and embrace the grace at the same time. I had to make a choice.
I came to a place of letting go last month that allowed my heart to come back to the surface and find it’s way back to the shore. It’s tempting to stay on the shore, but I knew I had to begin my journey home. God made it clear that journey involved moving forward and traveling with others. As I drove home from the shore, God reminded me of the love He had, and would continue, to place all along the path.
My ten days away were all glorious ones. All days are glorious when I remember the love that lifted me from the water and brought me to the shore. The same love will surround me every step of the way on this beautiful journey home.
As I watched Mylah fall asleep in my arms after a full morning of play, I thanked God for the sweet perspective she and Lillyann give me. Since coming home from Topsail Island, I’ve had a new sense of direction. I knew I needed a sunrise when I went to visit my sister, but I didn’t know why until this week. What I needed was a new beginning, and the amazing sunrises on Topsail Island were God’s way of telling me it was time to head home. I was sinking in a sea of guilt, and my heart needed to stop floundering on the shore and head to higher ground.
Each morning I was on the island, God arranged a spectacular sunrise. I needed to stop, rest, and be filled before beginning the next leg of this journey. Bad choices left my heart filled with hurt and guilt. Neither are part of the love God has in mind for His children, and that lesson was crystal clear each morning as I started my day in His presence. I’ve drifted from His presence often on this journey, and I’m sure I will again before arriving home; but I was as close to Him as I’ve ever been while on Topsail Island.
Life is about loving and connecting to others. I’ve made too many unhealthy connections, but I pray I’ll listen as God shows me a new way of connecting in regard to relationships. I see now that I am His daughter, and that makes me see me and His love for me in a whole new light. Tuesday evening as I met with a small group of women interested in drawing nearer to Christ and to one another, I knew I was right where God wanted me to be. The women ranged in age from nineteen to ninety-one, yet we all were in sweet accord. I’ve never felt anything like it before, but I have the feeling it’s only the beginning of what God has in store for my heart.
I was tossed upon the shore in a way that left me out of breath and gasping for air, but I’m breathing and connecting deeply for the first time in a very long time.
There is peace in the path when I stop, look up, and allow God’s sweet Spirit to lift my heart.