Psalm 100 is one of my favorite psalms. I memorized the KJV as a child and love the phrase “joyful noise” in verse one. Eugene Peterson’s “Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence” in The Message is also a very vivid image. Whatever you call it, there is no sound that delights a parent more than joyful noise coming from their children. God reminded me this week that joyful choices also bless a parent’s heart. Hear David’s beautiful song.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (KJV)
There is great wisdom and comfort in this beautiful psalm. I can sing myself into God’s presence. He made me. His home is my home. He is beautiful, all-generous, and I can count on Him forever. His truth is passed from one generation to the next for eternity. That encourages me to be thankful and make joyful choices which will allow me to become who God wants me to be.
Choices come with every step and determine the direction of my heart. Joyful choices are not about happiness or fulfillment; they are about becoming who God created me to be. Our parents play a big role in our decision making process, and Pastor John told me his father was always asking, “Chi e chi fa?” He describes the phrase and what it came to mean in his message on Genesis 12:1-4 (“Fully Arrive or Fully Thrive” March 16, 2014)
“Among the values my father cultivated in his three sons was a reflective nature prompted by a light-hearted question posed in Sicilian, ‘Chi é chi fa?’ which we understood to mean, ‘What are you doing?’ Or, ‘What’s going on?’ Or perhaps, ‘Who are you that you are doing this?’ Rather than becoming cliché in our family, over the years this question moved us beyond, ‘What are you doing?’ as in right now, today, to, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ ‘What are you making of yourself?’ ‘Where are you going in life?’ ‘Who are you going to be?’”
The simple Sicilian phrase and a picture of Salvatore in John’s office were part of the lessons God had for me last week. In the picture, Salvatore is on the floor beside his granddaughter Jennifer with his chin in his hands. There’s a playful grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye. I imagine God has the same look as He asks me who I’m going to be. Daddy had a few questions of his own, but they reflected a much different tone. I constantly heard, “What in the hell are you doing?” or “Why in the hell did you do that?” Foy’s face was usually twisted with anger as he vented his frustration with my choices. Salvatore was more subtle than Foy, but both parents shared a sincere desire to know what their children were doing, where they were going in life, and who they would become. God has the same desire.
All fathers want their children to make good decisions. They know good choices make all the difference in life. Mothers know the same. As parents, we want to fix bad choices or make the way easy for our children, but we know that never works. Children must make their own choices and live with the consequences of those decisions. God knows bad choices teach tough lessons, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Him to watch our suffering. Daddy did his best to keep me from making stupid decisions because he knew they would hurt me. His intentions were good; he simply wanted the best for me.
The lessons last week were difficult ones, but I’m a little closer to the me God wants me to be. If I took a wrong turn on a road trip, I wouldn’t sit and complain for hours or beat myself up for making a bad choice. I would turn around and get on the right path as soon as possible. Moving forward sometimes means turning around. God will always be patient as He continues to ask, “Who are you going to be?” or “Where are you going in life?” I know He smiles broadly when He hears, “Whoever you want me to be and wherever you want me to go!” Joyful choices are the ones that show I want the same thing God wants for me. What God wants is so much more than anything I could ever imagine on my own. The journey is what matters. As Pastor John says, “It’s better to thrive in obedience than to think we’ve arrived on our own efforts.” I agree!!
If you would like to hear all of “Fully Arrive or Fully Thrive,” go to Podcasts FBCBC
I was a surprised by the image of a wagon train circling up on the prairie this morning, but I’m learning not to question God when He’s teaching a lesson. In the wild west, circling up the wagons was necessary for the safety of those traveling through dangerous territory. It is an effective strategy for keeping that which isn’t desirable from getting in and that which is precious from getting out. It formed a tight-knit community of travelers and probably saved many lives.
In this day and age, the technique doesn’t work. In fact, it acts as a sort of bullseye for someone flying overhead. People have the tendency to clump together when threatened, and that is especially true in politics and in religion. It would be comical if it weren’t creating so much tension in our country and all around the world. It’s easy to throw a rock or fire a gun from the inside of a circle of wagons, but it’s much more difficult to love those who think differently that we do.
I get so very tired of the circled up right and left wings, and I’m sure God sighs each time a group of His children decide to circle up and make a stand. Pointing fingers instead of guns, the circles hurl insults and accusations toward one another while trying to get others into their circle. When God looks down upon the circles, I’m sure His heart breaks. He knows the best way to love is to let others be who they are. Christ didn’t circle up the wagons even though His followers were chomping at the bit for Him to do just that. “Let’s rain some fire down on them Lord!” was the fervent cry then, and it is the fervent cry now.
Having to be right and in control is at the heart of circling up in the political arena, and the same themes abound in the world of faith. I grow so weary of folks worrying about that which differentiates us. Self-differentiation is what God desires. He says clearly, “I AM.” He expects us to be who we are and to love each other not only despite our differences, but because of them. God forbid that we should all circle up one day and spew the same rhetoric.
Circling up the wagons is a great example of what fusion does to relationships. It was good for the pioneers to lock hands and stay very close when danger threatened them, but it is terrible for God’s children and shows a lack of faith in Him. Self-differentiation enables growth in our individual relationships with God and one another. When I feel the wagons circling up, I quickly look for a crack to slide through before the circle becomes a noose. I don’t mind if you are on a bandwagon or in a wagon train, just don’t expect me to be on or in it with you. Love me for who I am, not for what I believe. I have my own unique way of loving and living in this world, and I’m learning it’s best to stay away from those tight-knit circles if I want to love as God desires.
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
Happy first anniversary of blogging to me! The year has been filled to the brim with lessons that have taken me out of my comfort zone and pushed me beyond what I thought possible. I marvel at how God has taken my desire to share my journey with my sweet grandbabies and turned it into something so much more. In my thirty-three years of teaching, I was constantly telling my students to write about their lives because no one else could write their autobiographies. I journaled my pain, but I never found the courage to write my own story until a dear friend encouraged me to write for Lillyann. Audience makes all the difference when it comes to writing, and I was suddenly motivated to tell the truth with love so she, and now Mylah, could hear Gigi’s heart.
Life and love are about hearing one another’s heart, and that has been the biggest lesson I’ve learned as I’ve brought my story into the open. It’s a lot like taking off my clothes in front of a large group of people, and I almost didn’t do it. I put it off until God made it clear that I needed it even more than my little granddaughters. Telling my story has opened my heart in a way that I could never have imagined a year ago. I thought it would be easy to blog about my life, but that has not been the case at all. For those of you who write and share your stories, you know exactly what I mean. Writing takes a toll on the heart, and I’ve always known that. In my classroom, I had photos of famous authors all around the room. I thought it was important for my students to see the face of the person who wrote the literature we were reading.
One day, a middle school student asked me very seriously if all the authors on the wall had sad life stories. I was cautious how I answered that question because I wanted my students to be encouraged to write, but I also wanted to be honest. I told him that many of the authors did have tragic lives; I saw a teachable moment and knew I needed to be honest. I love middle school students because they are so very real and know the pain that brings into their own lives. I told my students that writing takes a willingness to let others see your pain and feel your hurt, and that takes a toll on the heart and the soul. It isn’t for the weak and takes more courage than anything else in this world. I didn’t tell them that was why I avoided real writing like the plague. I wasn’t ready to reveal that much to them. I wish I could have been a better example in that regard.
They understood as only middle schoolers can, and I’m sure many of them saw my own cowardice. They didn’t call me on it, so that means they either didn’t notice my fear or they understood and respected it. I do remember wishing I was as brave as those faces looking down from the wall that day. I have thought about that question many times and find great irony in the fact that I taught writing yet didn’t write. I see now that my passion came from the fact that I could not do what I so wanted them to be able to do. Like a prisoner pleading for those on the outside to enjoy the open air, I was pleading with them to do what I could not bring myself to do. I was fifty-seven before I found the courage to write as I knew I should and fifty-nine before I found the courage to share my writing with others. I would say late is better than never, but I know timing is much more complicated than that.
I know the importance of readiness when it comes to learning, and the teacher in me knows that my heart wasn’t ready to write or admit that I couldn’t in that classroom long ago. God used my passionate desire to write to encourage my students to write. He really does make all things work together for good. He was writing His story on my heart all along, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. The most difficult critic to get past when writing is self, and I imagine that’s true for all writers. A year ago today, I struggled with sending my first post. I know I read it a hundred times and cried almost as many times before finding the courage to take my clothes off in front of the world and say here I am. I smile when I read that now because my heart has truly come home, and I love myself in a way I never believed possible. I marvel at how God works, and I thank Him and all who have given me the courage to open my heart and be who He created me to be.