Make Room

Making room for God requires letting go of self. That doesn’t mean I can’t be me; it simply means I can’t keep all of my stuff. When I moved into my tiny apartment in town, I had to downsize considerably. The home I shared with my son and his family for two and a half years was over 5,000 square feet. My new place is 550 square feet. My bedroom and bath were larger than my apartment, so I had some serious downsizing to do.

Taking stock of my belongings wasn’t easy, do I did it while the kids were away on vacation. I made three piles: treasures to keep, things to give away, and things to sell. Two of the piles were easy, but the one in the middle brought me to tears. I love books and had hundreds of them, but I knew they would never fit into my apartment. The same was true for all I had accumulated over the years. After agonizing over each possession, the largest pile held treasures I wanted to keep. I decided to deal with the other two first because they were easier on my heart.

The pile to sell was easy. I felt great after taking several car loads to a nearby consignment shop because I was going to get paid for letting go. I was energized and ready to tackle the give away pile. It was fun to think about who would love and appreciate the stuff I no longer needed. I started with materials and books from my classroom. I had given away a ton of materials when I retired. I left most everything behind in my classroom when I retired, but I did take special books and units with me just in case I decided to teach again.

I knew several wonderful young teachers, one a former student I knew would put my things to good use. She was elated, and that encouraged me to press on. It was time to deal with that troubling treasure chest at home. I made a new pile of things for my son. That was fun and made a big dent in the pile, but there was still the treasures to keep pile!

I decided to take a break and do some praying. God knew this was a hard process, and He knew that was more about letting go than sorting out. Not having room is convenient when it comes to homes and hearts. There is a certain safety in not having space because it keeps me from inviting in the new or stepping into the unknown. If I don’t have time or space, I don’t have to worry about growing. We all know that growing pains are very real and apply to more than teenage joints and muscles.

With God’s help, I was able to let go and grow into my tiny apartment with room to spare. I absolutely love my new home because it is filled, but not full. Simplifying was satisfying and opened the door for a similar transformation in my heart. My apartment and my heart are loving the openness. God is loving it too because His Holy Spirit has enough space to dance. That makes both of us very happy. My grand daughters are happy because they also have space to dance and play. Making room in a house or a heart isn’t an easy process; but once you create a little open space, you want more of it and will never be satisfied with crowded again.

What’s in a Name?

When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Christ’s body, she was filled with grief and frustration. She arrived at the tomb at first light, but it was empty. Jesus was gone. The others went home disappointed, but Mary lingered, longing to know what had happened to the body of her beloved Lord.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb;  and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). John 20:11-17 NASB

This passage has always tugged at my heart, but it touched me even more deeply this Lenten Season as I witnessed the power of love in a new light. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus, but that isn’t surprising. None of us see what is right before our eyes, especially if it is something we are not expecting to see.

Henry Cavil, the actor who plays Superman in the new movie, stood in Times Square under a giant advertisement for Superman vs Batman wearing a tee shirt with the Superman logo on the front. His face was in lights above him, but no one recognized him. He was responding to criticism about Superman’s trademark disguise. Critics pointed out that glasses would never be enough to hide Superman’s identity from those around him. The experiment proved superman didn’t even need glasses; he could easily hide in plain sight because people do not see what they are not expecting to see.

Mary asked the man she thought to be a gardener what he had done with the body. He simply said, “Mary!,” and suddenly her world was changed forever.  One of the most powerful moments in the Bible, for me, is when she utters, “Rabboni.” She wanted to embrace Jesus, but He bid her not to come near because He had not yet ascended to His Father. Like Mary, I am beautifully changed when someone speaks my name in love. Being known heals and makes my heart whole. No one knows that better than God, and Mary learned its power that morning at the empty tomb.

The first time my son uttered the syllables “ma ma,” my heart melted into a puddle. The first time my granddaughters called me “Gigi,” my heart went to a new level of love. The children in my granddaughter’s kindergarten class call me “Gigi” when I visit or volunteer, and that fills my heart with joy. They squeal with delight each time they see me at school or out in the community. They act as though it’s been years since they’ve seen me. That delight is what love is all about, and it never gets old.

God delights when He hears His children say His name with love, but His heart is broken when His name is used to justify violence or spread hatred. His greatest desire is to be with us, and to know that we know how much He loves us. When we say His name and the names of those around us in love, His kingdom comes, and His will is done.

A name spoken in love brings joy into the world, and that is what Easter is all about What’s in a name? Everything!!

Happy Easter 🙂

 

 

 

Desires

The truth be told,

A heart on hold

Is not what God desires.

 

He knows that love

Like that above

Is all my heart requires.

 

My will persists.

My soul insists.

So what I want transpires.

 

I get my way!

I have my say!

His voice gently retires.

 

I find myself

Upon the shelf

In a world that admires.

 

Beautiful stone

Cold and alone

Warmed by the glowing fires.

 

Suddenly real

Loving the feel

Of all my heart’s desires.

 

I start to cry

But don’t know why.

My aching heart inquires.

 

God hears my plea

And rescues me.

Beautiful change transpires.

 

Love chases fear

As He draws near

Giving me His desires.

Following in Faith

I’m the world’s worst when it comes to directions. I get lost easily and panic when I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings. Today is Epiphany, so it’s fitting that God would bid me to head home in a different direction. He knows how hard it is for me to change direction, and we both know it’s because I let fear get the best of me. Matthew 2 has been in my path for the past few weeks, but it took on new meaning yesterday.

“On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.” (NRSV)

2015 was filled with changes in direction that left me reeling and feeling lost. The problem, as always, was in trying to find my way instead of yielding to God’s. The Magi traveled a great distance to see the Messiah; whether they were from Prussia or some other exotic location, their journey was a long and difficult one filled with the unfamiliar.

When God warned them not to go back to Herod, they willingly changed direction. I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to do what they did. They knew the importance of pleasing the ruler of the region, but they listened to God and ignored Herod. It was customary to bring gifts and show respect for kings when traveling to or through their kingdoms, so they were doing much more than changing their travel plans. They risked insulting the reigning king because they knew Christ was a new kind of king. Some folks are insulted when you change direction, and that has been the most difficult lesson of late. I worry far too much about what others think, and that gets in God’s way. Following God may mean disappointing others, and that’s more uncomfortable than heading down an unknown road.

If the Wise Men had ignored God’s warning and done what was expected of them, God would have found another way to protect His Son. He didn’t need them, and He doesn’t need me to carry out His plans. He lets me participate so I’ll learn and grow nearer to Him. I don’t always listen, so I miss important lessons. I prefer the safety of the familiar, but God’s lesson this week has been that safety is only an illusion. The safest road is the one He is on even though it is seldom the most familiar. Faith is trusting God even when others insist they know what I should do. Epiphany is seeing the light of Christ’s precious love and having the courage to follow it in faith.

 

 

A Mess of Pottage

“A mess of pottage” refers to something that may be very desirable in the moment, but is of little value when taken in exchange for something less tangible but of immense value. It refers to Esau trading his birthright for a pot of lentil stew in Genesis 25:27-35.

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (NASB)

Trading one’s birthright for a pot of stew may seem farfetched, but we all misplace priorities at one time or another. Shortsightedness occurs when that for which I hunger is right in front of me. The present presents temptations difficult to resist at times. A dear friend heard my heart and used the mess of pottage reference to help me get my priorities in order. I haven’t heard that expression in decades, but it rang true in my heart as soon as I heard it this week.

Having friends who hear my heart and love God is a blessing I cannot imagine living without. I was at the point of trading a beautiful friendship for a mess of pottage, but God placed Esau’s stew in my path to help me see the folly of such a trade.

Walking in God’s kingdom now is a new concept for me. I smile and shake my head when I think of the number of times I said the Lord’s Prayer without seeing the kingdom as here and now. Christ clearly says “on earth as it is in heaven.” (NASB Matthew 6:9-13)  It is sobering to realize how easy it is to trade a walk in God’s kingdom for a jaunt down my own path. A mess of pottage is all it takes to lose any birthright.

The phrase also reminded me of a beautiful poem I haven’t read in years, “Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch. The phrase is used powerfully in the last verse of the poem.

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
      Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
      But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
    “Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
      Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
      Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
      Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
      And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
      As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
      With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
      And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
      Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
    And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
    “We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
    “The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
      And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
      Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
    A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
    He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
    Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
    By the touch of the Master’s hand.

The lesson this week was that I am more than I can imagine myself to be. Like the old violin, I have seen myself as battered and scarred; but the touch of God’s hand changed that. God is love, and love is what His kingdom is all about. I tend to sell myself short, but this week I decided to let God play a new tune on my heart. I want the birthright He has for me, and that means seeing myself in His light. I can’t do that on my own, but I can do it if I relax in His hands and trust Him to do what He does best.

Giving Change a Chance

Change is a difficult challenge, and it’s my choice whether or not to embrace the changes that come into my path. The change necessary to manifest God’s will won’t be accomplished until I give God the chance to change me. Security, my need to control, and pride keep change from occurring in my life. Surrendering to the Holy Spirit starts a transformation that only God can accomplish through His Holy Spirit.

Security is linked to safety, and I cling to that which I know in a desperate attempt to remain safe. The irony is that my tendency to stick with the known threatens the very safety I am trying to protect. I remain content with the way things are and have always been. I convince others, and sometimes myself, that I know what I’m doing so I can avoid having to deal with changes that bring discomfort or uncertainty.

If I am to give God the chance to change me, I must be willing to step out of my comfort zone. Rearrangement, not change, occurs if I attempt to change on my own. Stepping into the unknown puts me in a prayerful state of mind and requires faith that God is who He says He is. That’s exactly where I need to be, but exactly where I don’t want to be. Like the Israelites, I complain and ask God why things cannot stay as they are.

God asks me to have faith and let go of my need to control. Admitting I need God is the first step. When I finally let go, God shows me how pleasant it is to have someone who knows the way lead me where I need to go. I would never step off a plane in a foreign country, signal for a taxi, and then tell the driver to move over, but I am guilty of doing just that when it comes to allowing God to have control.

Several years ago, I was in San Francisco on a business trip. It was during Chinese New Year, so my colleagues and I decided to go to China Town. I was separated from my group by a group of revelers dressed in a large red dragon costume. They were setting off firecrackers in front of each store to bring good luck to the store owners in the coming year. I began to panic as the fireworks got closer and my colleagues got further away. I was lost in a sea of foreign faces and filled with fear.

When faced with danger, I look for help. When in a ditch, I become very open to suggestions. The challenge of change is having the same attitude without the danger or the ditch. Successful people know the importance of change and are willing to take the risk involved. Like a child in the backseat, I bombard God with questions. When will I get there? How much longer? Where am I? I’m hungry! Can I have a drink? My father responded to those questions with the threat of pulling of the road. God’s patient love lets me wait until I am ready for the changes He has in mind for me. He pulls over for a very different reason.

God could easily take control, but that goes against the nature of His love. He loves me too much to force. Pride keeps me from giving God the chance to change me, but love bids me to relax and let Him has His way with me. When I listen to love, I am able to relax into obedience and allow change to bring the change God desires.

Psalm 51:10 is a plea from David that touches my heart in a special way. God cannot create a clean heart or renew a right spirit in me if I am not open to change.

Psalm51-10

A New Perspective

I’ll be moving into an apartment in town in a few weeks, and my granddaughters have been less than excited about it. My son and his family are building a new home, and I decided to rent rather than build beside them. We’ve all lived together in a big house for the last two years, and Lilly told me that my new house had to be in walking distance of her new one. She said she liked my house now because she could walk to it inside her house. I like that too, but I’m also looking forward to having my own space.

Lilly will be six in a few months, and I wonder when that little toddler was transformed into a girl who uses words like ‘cool’ and ‘dude!’ I’ll only be a few miles away from their new home, but that seems like a long way to little Mylah. She’s three and said, “Gigi, I already miss you!” They both touch my heart in places no one else ever has or ever will.

Lilly was washing her hands in my bathroom last week and came out grinning from ear to ear. She looked at me and said, “Mommy said I get your room when you move!” She proceeded to do a little happy dance, and I burst out laughing. Suddenly, she was no longer a little lawyer trying to get me to stay. She was a big girl getting her own room! Mylah didn’t look very happy about the new arrangements, but I know she will enjoy the changes once she gets used to them. I know I will too.

Change is never easy, but a shift in perspective helps with the transition. Philippians 3:21 explains the change that comes when I trust God. He has the power to change me, but I must have the courage to let Him.

“He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (NLT)

God could make me whoever He wants me to be at any given time. He has the power, but He won’t use it until I’m ready. I am ready, and I know little Lilly is too. Mylah will be soon enough 🙂

Lillyann

 

Get With the Program!

When Jesus told Simon and Andrew He would make them fishers of men, I wonder what was going through their minds. I may not know what they were thinking, but I do know what they did. They dropped their nets and followed Him.

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News. “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”

One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.

A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men. Mark 1:14-20 (NLT)

Simon, Andrew, James, and John were going about their normal work routines when Jesus asked them to trust Him. The fishermen followed without flinching. When I read these verses, I envy their faith. Unlike them, I want to know the plan and see the map before I drop my net and leave my boat.

Years ago, I came into work to find a banged up old fishing boat sitting inside the building. I taught middle school, so I was accustomed to seeing strange things in the hallway; but this was a first. The boat was a prop for my principal’s newest motto, “Get in the boat!” As his campaign unfolded, we did our best to hide insubordinate grins and pretend to be as serious as he was about his newest epiphany. I’m afraid we weren’t successful and neither were the students. The boat disappeared along with the principal’s buoyant mood.

I thought about that silly boat when I visited the middle school yesterday. I also thought about Christ asking those dedicated men to get out of their boats and follow Him.  Change isn’t easy for middle schoolers, and it’s even more difficult for professional fishermen. My principal had good intentions when he put a boat in the hallway. He knew change was necessary for growth, and it took a lot of effort to get that boat through the front door. The middle schoolers didn’t get with his program because they knew it was designed to control them. If you know anything about middle school students, you know they don’t like being controlled.

Christ’s invitation involved a complete change of life for the men who stepped away from their boats and followed Him. He knew the work they would be doing could not be part time. They knew, when they followed Him, life as they knew it would be gone. The same is true for me when I choose to follow Jesus. Life, as I know it, has to go before I can live the life He desires.

Jesus didn’t ask His disciples to get with the program or get in the boat. He asked them to come away from the world they knew and trust Him to show them a new way of living. I wonder how those fishermen would have reacted if Jesus had brought an old fishing boat inside the building and asked them to get into it. I believe they would have gotten right in because they knew He knew what He was doing. They were willing to follow Him no matter where He led because what, where, when, and how didn’t matter anymore. They were only concerned with Who.

Get in the Boat!!
Get in the Boat!!

New Kind of Lent

As I listened to a message called “Rhythm of Kindness” this morning, I realized I wasn’t very kind to myself. The entire service encouraged me to get into a rhythm of kindness and think seriously about how kindness can become a natural part of my life. Lent begins on Wednesday, and I have been praying about how to observe this most holy time.

On Ash Wednesday last year, Lillyann asked if I would come to her church. I told her I would come one day. She said, “Will you come tomorrow?”

I told her there wasn’t a service until Sunday, and I would go then. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a one-time visit, but God had something else in mind. As I prayed about Lent and what God would have me do, I knew I had to give up control and let Him lead. I wasn’t expecting Him to ask me to change churches. I was active in my church, loved my ministers, taught Sunday School and chaired several committees. I couldn’t just up and go; I needed time to transition.

God had different plans, and I went with His. I knew after my first visit I was where God wanted me to be. I’ve been there for over a year, and I marvel at all God has done in my life in a year’s time. I still have connections with my previous church and volunteer there one day a week. The two churches are coming together for outreach in the community, and God continues to bless in ways I could never have envisioned. I would still be transitioning if I had gone with my plan.

I have a long way to go when it comes to giving God control, but the forty days of Lent helped me take a big step in the right direction. That’s what Lent is about. It isn’t about denying as much as it is about changing. It is most often associated with giving up and doing without for forty days and then going right back to whatever was given up. Punishment, not love.

For me, Lent has always been about punishment. Love has been the same. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I’m growing and learning that love is so much more. The things I need to give up during Lent are things I need to give up period. If I give up something for forty days, I can do without it forever. If I do something positive for forty days, I will develop a good habit. Losing control has been painful, but very good for me. I’m glad I let go, listened, and allowed God to change me. I plan to do the same this year as I heed His call to be kind to myself. I’m hoping it will be a habit that sticks with me.

I don’t have a problem being kind to others, but I am very uncomfortable being kind to myself. The message this morning touched my heart and helped me see that I must be kind to myself before I can be kind to others just as I must love myself before I can love others. It’s about filling up before going on a trip. If I don’t have enough fuel, I’ll end up stranded. That’s just what happens with compassionate lovingkindness. I need to fill up so I will have enough kindness to share. I often feel depleted and defeated, and I realize it’s because I don’t take the time to be kind and loving to myself.

It’s easy to become bitter when you are always doing for others, and I find myself having a little pity party when my heart is on empty. I plan to use the image of a full car ready for a new adventure as I go through Lent this year. I plan to make a concerted effort to be kind to myself every day during Lent. This is certainly going to be a new kind of Lent; since Lent is about growth, I’m thinking I will experience new growth in the process. I still plan to fast and pray and look closely at what needs to go, but I plan to do it in a way that shows kindness and love. Here I thought last year’s Lenten season was a challenge. This year promises to be even more challenging, but I trust God to know what He’s doing. He is God, and I’m looking forward to all He will teach me about compassion in the next forty-three days.

bekind-rowenamurillo-1
bekind-rowenamurillo-1

Hearts and Hairdos

The lesson this week was about moving on, but I’ve had a hard time with it. As I listened to an elderly lady fret about her new hair length and how to style it, I smiled and realized I was having the same trepidation about my heart she was having with her hair. Once again, God used a very vivid example to get His point across.

As I pulled in to the beauty salon this morning, I sighed because I saw the car of an elderly lady who fusses continuously and disrupts the peace I prefer when going to the salon. She was irritated by my presence and said, “Is she at ten?” I told her I came early because I love to write while I wait. I quickly settled in the corner of the waiting area and listened as she continued to argue with Greg about which curling iron he should use. She wanted longer hair because it was stylish, but she wanted to style it the same way she did when it was short.

Greg patiently explained the problem with using the old tools and styling with her new hairdo. She was frustrated, frazzled, and determined to convince him to do things her way. I was hidden from view, grinning broadly, and enjoying their exchange until I realized God was showing me how I sounded to Him. That sobered and humbled me. I’m glad God loves me unconditionally, and I’m very happy He uses humor to teach. I want my heart to move on, and I want to go where God wants me; but I want things to stay just as they are while I do.

My heart went out to the feisty little woman who always knows best and insists things be done her way. Greg used the curling iron he knew would work and explained why. Last week’s visit was obviously a fiasco that he didn’t intend to repeat. The resulting style was great, and even she had to concede that he had been right. I knew that wasn’t easy for her, but it enabled her to move on, albeit a tiny step. God showed me that I have to do the same thing, trusting Him to know what He is doing.

I marveled at this little woman as she presumed to know more about styling hair than her hairdresser, but I marvel more at the fact that I presume to know more about my heart that the One Who created it and loves me more than I can imagine. Oh well, lesson learned. This lady isn’t the one in the salon this morning, but her expression is the one I had when I realized the lesson was on me this morning!! My heart needed changing even more than that fiery little woman’s hairdo. We both left with a smile on our face, and I know from teaching that’s the best way for a student to leave the classroom 🙂

Hearts and Hairdos