Swimming in the Kingdom

I’ve been afraid of the water for almost sixty years; so when my granddaughter Lilly asked me yesterday why I didn’t like to swim, I decided it was time to be honest with her. I had skirted the issue before when she had noticed my reluctance to get into the water, but I was ready to tell her the truth. I told her that I almost drowned when I was her age, and that made me afraid of water. She said, “Didn’t you know how to swim Gigi?”

I told her I didn’t know how to swim at the time but I did learn later. She wanted details, so I told her that my father threw me into the deep end of a pool a few years after I almost drowned. He was determined to get me to swim, and he was tired of waiting. Sink or swim is an effective method because fear is a powerful motivator. I was already afraid of the water, so it made sense to use that fear to help me learn to swim. Lilly was sad that I didn’t like to swim because she’s a little fish who loves the water, but now she understood why Gigi stayed near the edge and always had a noodle near by. She offered to help me swim better. Her sweet offer makes me want to swim better because it comes from her heart.

God knows I am a visual learner, so He used the image of a country club pool to help me understand my struggle with the water and my search for community. I don’t belong to a country club; but there is one near my sister’s home, and she is a member. Club members may bring visitors as long as they don’t overstay their welcome, and I’ve gone with her a few times. I don’t recall a time when I ever felt unwelcome, but I was definitely unwelcome at the pool in my dream.

In the first dream, I was swimming happily with a dear friend who was a member of the club. It was a beautiful image of how I would so love to feel in the water, but the sweet moment was cut short by an angry voice screaming from the side of the pool. I saw a man pacing back and forth, telling me that I did not pay dues and should not be in the pool. I was rattled by his rage and started treading water so I wouldn’t sink.

His wife has a different concern. She is yelling instructions because I was not treading water the proper way. I tried to follow her instructions, but fear got the best of me when I noticed all the angry faces and heard loud voices screaming for me to get out of the pool! I stopped treading water and started sinking. Now, this was a familiar feeling.

I found strange comfort in sinking, but loving hands lifted me to the surface. A calm presence guided me to the safety of the side. I was clinging to concrete, coughing water, and wailing like a two-year-old. When I stop sobbing, I noticed a man kneeling in front of me. He looked down with loving eyes, and I realized I knew Him. He was the same man who had been on the pier fifty-eight years ago when daddy pulled me out of the lake. He looked over my head and said, “This all belongs to My Father, and I’ve already paid your dues. So enjoy it.” The dream ended abruptly, and I woke wondering what it all meant.

This morning, the dream picked up where it left off last week. The kneeling man was bidding me to look behind me. I thought He meant the country club belonged to His Father, so I expected to see the same scene I had seen before going under the water. I knew the man was Christ and imagined He meant He would help me deal with the angry mob, but He had something much different in mind. His sweet, loving presence made me forget about the danger of letting go and gave me the courage to turn around. I saw an image I could not have imagined on my own.

Crystal clear water stretched as far as I could see in every direction. The beautiful body of water was filled with people of all sizes, shapes, and colors. They were swimming, floating, talking, walking, or simply sitting. There were no paddle boards, boats, tubes, noodles, or floatation devices. There were no sides to this pool, and the temperature was perfect.

Everyone, including me, was suspended in water that felt like a warm, loving embrace. I moved and felt the sensation of freedom. I dove under the water and saw legs all around me. There was no kicking, thrashing, or splashing because they was no need to struggle or impress in this pool. Fear wasn’t present in this body or in mine because I was connected to Love that flowed through the water and each of us.

When I came to the surface, I looked around and noticed Christ laughing and clapping His hands with delight. He had been waiting fifty-eight years to watch me swim. He was loving every moment, and so was I. Everyone smiled at me, and I couldn’t help but smile back. Such a different scene than the one at the other pool. This was kingdom community at its best.

When I awoke from the dream, I was as rested as I’ve ever been. I smiled when I realized it was morning, and my very first thought was Psalm 51:12.

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit. “(NASB)

There is joy in His salvation, and love is His kingdom. His Holy Spirit will sustain me with a willing spirit if I will simply let go of my fears and swim with the heart of one who trusts His love to keep me afloat.

 

 

Tagging Along or Out in Front?

In “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers gives a beautiful description of the new life that comes from the rebirth Christ promises. “The new life manifests itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness.” Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NASB)

 The biggest misconception when it comes to Christianity is that rebirth happens automatically. Nothing could be further from the truth. I did not choose to be born the first time around, but rebirth requires a conscious decision on my part. Repentance that leads to rebirth requires obedience that causes me to die to self so I can see God in a new light. Just as a baby coming through the birth canal is blinded by the light of this world, my heart is also overwhelmed by the light of God’s kingdom during the process of rebirth.

In God’s kingdom, He is more than a father, protector, guide, and teacher. He is the Ruler He has been, is, and always will be. Seeing God in the light of His kingdom changes the way I see myself and His world. Without rebirth, I simply bid God to join me on my journey instead of being led on His. There is a world of difference, and entering His kingdom makes that crystal clear. He will never leave me alone, but He will not tag along after me. I found myself lost, alone, and at the end of my hope when I realized the path I was traveling was quickly unraveling toward me. Sometimes a new direction isn’t an option; such was the case with my heart.

While God will not tag along behind me, He has been, is, and always will be present on my journey. When I die to self, I’m ready to be led. He lifted me off the unraveling path I was traveling and set me down in the woods where we had a very special connection long ago. It was a time of beautiful rebirth, and I was nineteen once again. Trips down the birth canal are always traumatic because they take me from the familiar into the unknown. It is a fearful trip, but hearing mama’s voice at the other end calmed and soothed my frightened heart the first time. I remember vividly how Tyler’s crying stopped the moment he heard my voice. God’s comforting voice at the end of that rebirth canal had the same effect upon me.

I’m not sure what God has in mind for the next leg of this incredible journey, but I do know Who will be out front and who will be tagging along as we travel.

A Walk in the Woods

Lesson in a Weed Pot:)

God used a little weed pot carved by a dear friend to teach a lesson in walking in His kingdom. He knows my heart better than anyone, and He bid me to not lose heart when the path presses in on me uncomfortably.

I was feeling lonely after having the girls all weekend and then finding myself alone in my room last night. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed when the kids got in from Atlanta, but then loneliness got the best of me. I found myself wondering if I was on the right path. I prayed for guidance and decided to trust God with my heart and my hurt. He is always faithful to give me just what I need when I ask, and this morning I awoke to the image of my little weed pot and its very narrow opening. I immediately felt God’s reassurance as I thought of the open space beyond the tiny neck of the vase.

God’s kingdom also has a very narrow opening. Matthew 7:14 says, For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” NASB

Sometimes, I get caught in that narrow opening and wonder if I will ever be able to get through to the beautiful space I know awaits; but God reminds me that squeezing is part of the process, and hurt prepares my heart for open space. When I find myself scared, alone, or frustrated, I remember the cross where Jesus carved an opening with His love that forged the way for me to walk in God’s kingdom. It cost Him everything. Christ asks that I be willing to let go of my stuff and my need to know what’s next so I can follow Him through that narrow gate. 

There is comfort in small paths when I know I am heading in the right direction and realize that there is no room for trepidation to tread alongside. When I leave fear behind, the path is the perfect size. I decided to do just that this morning, and I’m very thankful for the breathing room God gave as I let go and let Him lead the way.

Little Weed Pot

Following the Voice of Love

The world gets very loud and can make discerning difficult. But even in a noisy din, the voice of a loved one is clear. My heart helps me hear my loved ones when the world gets in the way. I have felt the fear of being separated from a loved one and the joy hearing their voice brings. “Hear” is a big part of the word heart, and hearing is at the heart of love. It is also at the heart of John 10:27-30.

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” NASB

The point of hearing the shepherd’s voice is following the shepherd’s heart. Jesus says that His sheep know His voice and they follow Him. He adds that those sheep were given to Him by His Father, and no one is able to take them from Him. Jesus is talking about connectedness, and it gets Jesus into trouble as He makes it clear that He is One with God. That isn’t what the crowd wants to hear.

The voice of my sweet Savior bids me to follow and love as He loves. It calms my heart and stills my soul in the same way mama’s voice always did. Christ’s voice gives me the courage to follow Him even when I don’t know where He’s leading me. I don’t have to know; I just have to believe that He is Who He says He is. Jesus makes that very clear as He challenges those who would stone Him to death.

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” John 20:37-38 NASB

Jesus challenges me in the same way. If I believe He is who He says He is, then I need to hear His voice and follow Him. Walking in God’s kingdom means following His Son. I have to let Jesus go before me, and that means being patient and not having to know where I’m going. I only have to know Who I’m following. Walking in God’s kingdom doesn’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it doesn’t make sense to me either. That’s where trust comes in. I know my Shepherd’s voice, and I rest assured in His promise that no one can snatch me out of His hands. His is a voice of love, hope, and peace that allows me to be one with Him and with God.

Today would be mama’s 97th birthday. Her voice of love still sings in my heart, and I still feel the love and safety of her embrace. I thank God for mama and know she will be celebrating with Him today as she does every day:)

Jesus, My Good Shepherd

The Shepherd's Hands

Bringing in the Sheaves:)

Psalm 126 is the perfect song for Thanksgiving, and so is the hymn it inspired. “Bringing in the Sheaves” was written in 1874 by Knowles Shawl. His words were set to George Minor’s music in 1880, and a wonderful hymn was born. I marvel at the ways God’s Word sprouts and spreads. I haven’t sung the old hymn in many years, but I was reminded of it as I read Psalm 126 last night.

Psalm 126:5-6 says “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” People have been replaced by machines in the field, but the message in Psalm 126 and the hymn remind me that God’s harvest is still personal and requires His children working together to bring the sweet news of salvation to the world.

Sowing is the hard part of the harvest and involves weeping, but reaping brings great joy. Tears water the seeds. Growth is painful and never gets easier, but I must continue to grow as long as I am in this world. Age both helps and hurts the growth process. Maturity shows me the necessity of growth, but age stiffens more than my muscles when it comes to sowing, growing, and reaping as God desires.

I’ve been stiff lately, and I know it is due to a lack of yielding.  I’ve come to a place of deciding if I’m going to go to the next level or stay where I am. The choice is mine. I’ve seen what happens when growing stops; dying begins. Joy departs, and rotting replaces reaping. “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” I prefer reaping to rotting, so I plan to keep growing.

I can’t go into God’s field picking and choosing what to reap or worrying about what happened to my seeds. God’s field is ripe for harvest, and that is all that matters. The song and the psalm use “we” and “those,” both plural. The harvest is best done together. It is God’s field, and He deserves all the credit and the glory. I am here to bring in sheaves with joy and glorify God in the process.

Planting a seed is important, but there are many factors which contribute to a seed’s growth. That is especially true in God’s field.  The only thing that matters is to  “lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” John 4:35 NASB Growing impatient while waiting for the harvest, wondering if the seed I planted is part of the harvest, and worrying about who’s in the field next to me get in way of the harvest and take joy away from bringing in God’s sheaves.

It’s easy to become weary, but it helps if I grow while I wait. If I simply sit back, settle, and become complacent, I will miss the beauty of the process God has in mind for my growth. Seeds take time to mature, and that’s why there is so much joy in reaping. The growing season mirrors the season of my own heart’s growing. There is a time to sow, a time to nurture, a time to wait, and a time to reap. Resting and quitting are very different ways to wait. I love this line from the poem “Don’t quit” by an unknown author. “When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.” 

Growing disciples is a beautiful process that requires deep personal connections in order for roots to reach deeply into Christ’s love. His love feeds and flows beautifully if I open my heart and develop relationships that allow me to walk in His kingdom and help with His harvest. Christ’s precious love makes me come rejoicing as I bring in the sheaves. Sharing it with others is what the harvest is all about:)