The Narrow Gate

Matthew 7:13-14 describes the way to a life in God’s presence. There are various interpretations of these verses, most having to do with exclusion. I believe they simply mean we must all come into God’s presence individually. That means stepping away from the crowd.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NASB)

A crowd cannot pass through the entrance described in Matthew. Groups are great, and I love the sense of belonging I get from them; but my relationship with God is personal. I can’t depend upon a church, a denomination, a team, my family, or my friends to replace my relationship with God. Christ came so we could all have an intimate relationship with God, the Father. That humbles and makes us want to disappear into a crowd. Intimacy is intimidating in human relationships, so it’s understandable that many run from intimacy with The Creator. A group date is easier than a candlelight dinner for two, so many miss out on the relationship and the gate.

Families foster love and give the grounding we need when they are healthy, but they can also be our most painful source of disconnection. Corporate worship brings harmony when those present are in one accord, but it creates discord when they aren’t. No group is perfect, and that includes God’s family. We are all broken, and that will not change until we walk through that narrow gate and meet him face-to-face. The gate is not for groups, and groups cannot decide who gets to walk through the gate. It was forged by a love unlike anything we can imagine. A love designed for all, but not accepted by all. The narrowness of the gate is uncomfortable for some, so they choose the wide berth and imagined comfort of a familiar group.

Groups appear to offer protection and safety, but they rarely do. That is especially true when it comes to religion and politics. The need to win, be the best, or be right cause an unhealthy fusion that forces many to stay on the wide path. I hate election years because the divisions seem to get uglier and uglier, but perhaps I’m just paying more attention as I get older. Lines are darker and deeper, and the stakes are higher than ever. So, we choose sides and battle it out or sit on the sidelines and settle into a seething silence. Sadly, the same thing is happening with religion.

Oneness is at the heart of God’s Word, yet the scriptures divide us more than any political campaign can. How it must grieve God to see His children fighting over His Word. The need to be right is at the heart of division. It begins in the family unit, grows in heart, and reaches out into the community. Christ offered a beautiful solution when He took it upon Himself to breach the divide between God and His children. His unconditional, sacrificial love creates a path to a gate that is open and ready when we are willing to step away from the crowd and enter in.

The Gift of Grace

The dictionary definition of Christian grace is “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.” That’s as close as words can come to the heart of grace, but God’s gift of grace is beyond words. Like love, grace must be felt on a deep level before the heart and mind can wrap themselves around it. The way to know if I understand grace is to see how it is extended in my own life.

God’s grace is taken for granted, ignored, expected, and sometimes demanded, but humble acceptance is the only appropriate response when offered the gift of grace. It is the time of year when gifts are given and received. Awkwardness comes when I don’t receive a gift from a loved one or when an unexpected gift catches me off guard. I’m learning to give and receive grace, and that means not worrying about a response at all.

God grace is given with love and without expectation. He loves our attempts at giving, just as I adore each little gift Lillyann and Mylah fashion for me. The notes, drawings, and special treasures they give bless me, but they don’t compare to a heartfelt embrace or a sweet “I love you Gigi.” Those are true treasures! God feels the same way about me. My meager offerings bless His heart, but time spent in His presence means more.

I was reminded vividly yesterday of the importance of sweet intimate moments. They won’t satisfy a selfish soul, but they always delight a selfless spirit, especially when they come unexpectedly. Having my mind set on a particular gift or time with a loved one will always disappoint, but accepting the beautiful gifts God places in my path always amazes me. Letting go of what I want leads to more than I could ever imagine on my own. Tyler learned quickly not to ask Santa for a long list of specifics. He always got the best gifts when he asked Santa to surprise him. I’m learning to tell God the same thing.

Open House and Open Heart

Climbing up the mountain is much easier with company; my hikes with Rita are 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 so 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 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.

The view

Gravity & Grace

I thought of Lillyann and Mylah this week as God’s lessons led me to see the power of His Holy Spirit to lift my spirit and bring me into a sweet intimacy with Him. Earlier in the week, the girls were pretending to be birds and decided to get on the couch and  fly. Gina and I watched 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 her directions.

I told Lillyann that humans would fly with their arms outstretched like Mylah’s and used Superman as an example of such flight. Lillyann wasn’t buying it, so I told her that Mylah could pretend fly any way she wanted. That seemed to make sense, so on they flew. I love the abandon of children, and I 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.

We celebrate Pentecost this week. I’ve read and heard about Pentecost all my life, but I understood Pentecost for the first time 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. It was the most beautiful AHA! moment I’ve ever had as I understood the difference between God’s ways and mine as never before. God dwells in Spirit; I tend to dwell in the body. It was clear to me today that the Spirit has the body beat when it comes to soaring, and I loved the feeling of absolute bliss I felt today. God made it clear that He knows what’s best for me. His timing is always perfect, and I was especially thankful for that today. I got His message just when I needed it, and I love that about Him.

I know I have to die to self, and I know it is a daily death, but I lived the lesson today. That is much better than simply hearing it. I’ve been thinking about Romans 8:14-17 and Acts 2:1-21 this week, and 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 that is patient, loves me more than I can begin to fathom, 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 body 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 will also keep my spirit from soaring and will ground 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:)

Taking Flight

Early Morning Light:)

Early Morning Light

As I awoke this morning, I was struck by the fog settling in the valley below. It was as if God was right in that fog, and love was embracing the mountains, the town, and me all at the same time. The mountains change moment by moment, and the worst part of the deluge of late is that the mountains were out of my sight. I knew they were there, but there were clouds blocking my view.

Often, I don’t see God because of the worry in my heart. Like the clouds, it settles in the low spots and keeps me from experiencing His presence. The prayer retreat is all about being in God’s presence. I know He is always present; unfortunately, I’m not. I’m learning that praying is about being present. Love is the same:)

Breathing In:)

I’ve been out of my regular loop this week as I’ve been busy getting moving into the new house. There are still many boxes to unpack, but my bedroom furniture came yesterday, and Tyler worked late getting it all together! The girls and I have been sleeping on mattresses on the floor in my room this week as Tyler worked long hours and Gina helped care for her grandmother. Last night, mommy and daddy were here, so I was alone for the first time since Saturday. I missed the sweet pillow talk that lulled me to sleep each evening and brightened my spirit each morning. It’s been over a decade since I’ve shared a bed with anyone, and I loved the sweet snuggling.

This morning, I’m breathing in, relaxing in God’s Spirit, and enjoying His presence. The Holy Spirit is the breath of true life and love. That’s been the beautiful lesson this week. The Greek word for Spirit is the same word used for wind and breath. I have taken in deep breaths this week as both I and this beautiful home have come to new life.

Life and love without the Spirit is like being on life support. Life and love with the Holy Spirit is breathing in God. Christ’s precious love enables me to be one with Him, with God, and with the Holy Spirit so I can love as He loves and live the life He has planned. It isn’t about being independent; it is about stopping my struggle, relaxing in His love, and allowing His Spirit’s indwelling to be as natural as breathing.

There is no way to show someone how to breath. There are methods that improve lung and heart capacity, but breathing is an involuntary function closely tied to the heart. The same is true when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Love changes, and there is a new freedom. I no longer need a respirator! I can breath in God’s own Spirit thanks to Christ.

It has been a week of transition for me, and I finally understand the importance of breathing in His love. The best way to describe the lessons this week would be to say I feel as though I’ve come off the respirator and am breathing on my own. Breathing in God’s Spirit is a choice, and I’m the only one who can decide to pull the plug on trusting any other form of life support other than His love.

Sweet Susan’s passing yesterday was a big part of the lessons this week. As I watched her loved ones care tenderly for her at home as she wished, my heart saw love expressed in an amazing way. They allowed her to let go and breathe in God’s Spirit in the most powerful way possible. Breathing her last breath here surrounded by those she loved made the transition to her new and final home a beautiful one.

It’s been a week of amazing lessons in breathing, living, and loving; I thank God for loving me enough to send His only Son so I can breathe in His Spirit and live a life filled with His precious love. Breathing is about living, and living is about loving. Christ helps me live a life worth living forever where love is as natural as breathing:)