No Way Out!!

Several months ago, my landlord suggested putting up a privacy fence to create a place for the girls to play and for me to relax. I agreed to buy the fence, and he agreed to put in a concrete patio inside the fence. Through a series of mishaps that began back in April, the fence finally went up last week. I loved it! There was only one small problem; they didn’t have a latch but promised they would order one as soon as possible.

I told them not to worry because I didn’t mind having the door open; in fact, it allowed me to have privacy and a beautiful view. The girls and I enjoyed imagining how the space would look when finished and couldn’t wait to see it finished. They were here yesterday when the men came to install the latch and wanted to go out and watch them. It was miserably hot and humid, so I convinced them to play inside so we wouldn’t get in the workers’s way.

I should’ve followed the girls’ lead because an hour later, as the trucks were leaving, I realized I should have paid more attention while they were working. I assumed the guys would come in and tell me they were finished or have me to sign a release as they had done when they installed the fence, but they simply left. When I got outside, I understood why they had left without letting me know.

They had drilled holes up and down the gate and post as they repositioned the gate to accommodate the single latch they brought with them. It swung out onto the sidewalk and made access very awkward. We had to walk around it to get inside the fence, and that wasn’t what I wanted at all. I loved the way it opened before, but I was determined to be positive. I’m trying to be more flexible and go with the flow, so this was a great opportunity to practice patience. The girls and I went inside the fence and closed the gate behind us. I realized I had made a big mistake when I tried to get out.

I didn’t panic because I rarely see the obvious and figured no one would install a fence with no way out. The girls were sitting in the lounge chair facing away from the gate chatting away happily, so I decided to take my time and think through the situation. It took two minutes for irritation to give patience an easy path out of that fence. The girls and I were stuck inside inside a fence with no way to open the gate from the inside! I wasn’t scared because the porch was nearby, and I knew I could get over the connecting wall if I had to. I was angry at the men for putting a single latch on the outside of a gate, and I was madder at myself for not noticing!

When I realized there was no way out, I let my frustration show. The girls noticed something was going on and asked what was wrong. I told them everything was okay, but I was going to have to climb onto the porch and open the gate from the outside so they could get out. The girls watched as I made my way onto the porch, and they had a lot of questions when I opened the gate for them. They were tickled by my awkwardness, but impressed by my agility. We all laughed and decided to go back inside 🙂

The lessons of late have been difficult ones. God knew I was feeling trapped by more than my new fence and saw a teachable moment. He used the gate to help me learn the importance of making sure there is a way out before I go barreling into something. I will remember that lesson each time I open the gate and go into my beautiful outdoor space. I do believe it will be a beautiful space filled with lots of happy times, just not right now.

Sin is like a malfunctioning gate, but God’s forgiveness offers a way to escape. Yesterday, I walked right through that gate without giving getting out a second thought. I have always had the tendency to do just that in life. God knows my heart better than I do, and He knows I frequently get myself into situations with no way out, but He also knows I know to ask Him for help. He will always let me go where I choose, and He knows that I will get locked in a bad situation if not careful. I can pretend I’m not trapped, get mad and blame others for my misfortune,  or admit I’m wrong and let His forgiveness open the way to His will. Climbing that little barrier humbled and humiliated me, but I am so very thankful it was there. Otherwise, I would have had to break down a door or scream until someone heard me. The path to the porch offered a way out. God’s amazing grace offers the same.

Like the girls watching as I went over the little wall, God is impressed when I am willing to be humbled in order to get where He wants me to be. He also finds the humor, and helps me find the humor, in the learning process. I know from teaching that a little humor goes a long way when it comes to retaining knowledge 😉

And God Changed His Mind

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 is a glimpse of the grace that results when God changes His mind. God never changes, but I love that He can and will change His mind. He can do whatever He wants to do, but; like Jonah, I find myself wanting Him to do what I want Him to do. That means sticking to the agenda and not embarrassing me with last minute changes.

Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.”

This time Jonah obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to see it all. On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.

When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened. (NLT)

Jonah was an important man delivering the message that Nineveh was about to be destroyed. The people heard and repented, but that didn’t make Jonah happy. In fact, he was angry when God extended grace and let them live. That may sound strange, but it is human nature to hurt when humiliated. He wanted them to get what they deserved, and he wanted to be right! God wanted them to change, so he forgave them when they did.

Forgiveness heals as nothing else, and no one knows that better than God. I don’t know what happened to Jonah. We leave him sulking over a plant while God asks where his compassion is for the 120,000 people and the animals of Nineveh who would have perished. God spared Jonah’s life and the lives of the sailors who pleaded for mercy, but time in the belly of the big fish didn’t seem to sweeten Jonah’s disposition.

Jonah is a book of incredible love, but that love doesn’t come from Jonah. I hope he found compassion, and I hope he learned to extend and accept forgiveness. I know God forgave him, but that doesn’t  mean he accepted. He may not have recognized his need for it. Like the older son in the story of the Prodigal Son, Jonah may have had a hard time seeing those who don’t deserve forgiveness and grace getting it. None of us deserve God’s grace, love, mercy, or forgiveness, but that doesn’t stop Him.

God lets me get angry, and he allows me to sulk when things don’t turn out the way I want. I can’t be too hard on Jonah because I’ve been where he is, and it isn’t a pleasant place to be. I learned years ago that seriousness is a serious sin that disguises itself in many ways. The need to be right or the need to retaliate get in the way of true forgiveness and cause my journey to be a self righteous march rather than a walk in God’s kingdom. I’m learning to let God humble me with humor when the sin of seriousness creeps into my path. As a dear friend once told me, a little levity goes a long way 🙂

 

Photo Credit: MisfitWisdom
Photo Credit: MisfitWisdom

 

Rest in Peace

Change is never easy, but pliability brings peace to the process. When mama died five years ago, my heart was a pile of shattered clay that I tried, in vain, to put back together. Mama’s death was an expected one, but that didn’t make it any easier. We longed for her pain to end and even questioned her lingering for so long. My heart hung on to her even though I knew she longed to be with her beloved Lord. Part of the problem was that I wanted to go with her. Mama and I shared a special bond that began at my birth and continued after her death. I still feel her loving presence, and I’ve learned to rest in it.

Lillyann was born the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama thought she was born on her birthday because that’s when she saw the first pictures of her. She also believed she was named after her mother Lillie Belle. We all let her believe both. Three months after Lillyann entered the world, mama left it. She never saw her sweet great-grandbaby in person, but she loved her all the same. Mama loved with her whole heart, and that caused her a great deal of grief. She told me over and over that other people weren’t like us and that would break my heart one day. I carried her fear of being hurt into all of my relationships. As a result, I connected to those who could not, would not, or did not love me the way my heart needed to be loved. Over the past five years, love has entered into my life in new and beautiful ways that have allowed my heart to rest in love. I know I am loved and see myself as God’s beloved daughter.

The powerful lessons this week have been about trusting God to change the desires of my heart and then resting in His love. I’ve never been one to rest or trust, so it has been a challenging week. I’ve prayed fervently for God to make the desires of His heart the desires of my own, but I realized this week that I have to trust and rest before that can happen.  I’m not sure when or how it happened this week, but my heart rested into a pliable peace that was very much like the feeling you get when you notice a terrible headache is gone.  I knew in October that resting and relaxing were going to be an important part of the learning this winter, but I wasn’t sure how God would get me to do either. I was thinking hibernation, but that isn’t at all what God had in mind.

Resting in peace is associated with death. I prayed fervently for mama to find such rest when she left this world. One rarely finds peace in this world; but just as we can walk in God’s Kingdom now, we can also rest in His peace before dying. It never occurred to me that rest was related to obedience until a friend reminded me that relaxing into obedience is part of the journey toward holiness. I learned this week that I can rest in obedience, rest in hope, rest in peace, rest in grace, and rest in love. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can rest in all things. Once I allowed my heart to rest, I felt the pliable peace of Philippians 4:7, and it changed everything.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Christmas is the season of peace on earth, and there is still nothing that brings peace into our hearts like the pure unconditional love of a child. God knew that when He devised His plan for peace on earth. His Son’s precious love captivates our hearts as we remember His birth. May the pure love of Immanuel bring pliable peace to all our hearts this season.

Possessed?

The Nature of LoveThere is a world of difference between love and lust, grace and greed, and peace and power. Lust, greed, and power are shiny objects that take my attention away from God. I know His love is better than anything this world has to offer; but I occasionally fall prey to the bling in my path. God reminded me this morning that bling is temporary and loses its luster as soon as I gain possession of it. His love will not be held or captured, and He will never hold me captive or attempt to possess my heart.

The need to possess is at the heart of lust, greed, and power. We have all been possessed by someone or something at one time or another, and we’ve all had the desire to possess something or someone at some point in our lives. Lust, greed, and power revolve around that desire. Love, grace, and peace exist outside the realm of possession. They flourish in freedom and reside with truth. It’s human nature to want to possess, but Christ taught a new way of living and loving when He came into the world as a man. He possessed nothing and had everything. He didn’t need Satan to remind Him that lust, greed, and power cause great temptation. Christ knows exactly what they do to a heart, soul, spirit, and body. His precious love releases us from captivity and gives us a new heart.

Christ’s grace showed the world a new kind of power, and His love brought a peace unlike anything the world had ever known. Like a child chasing a butterfly, I  end up straying from the path and find myself on a very slippery slope when I take my focus away from God. He is always there when I fall on my face. He and I both know it’s the best position for praying.

It’s easy to get caught up in my agenda or the agendas of others, but it happens a lot less when I keep my eyes on the One who exemplifies love, grace, and peace. Jesus took the lust, greed, and power that put Him on the cross and turned it upside down. The beautiful result is unending love, amazing grace, and unexplainable peace.

The lessons over the past two weeks have been difficult ones that pushed my heart beyond what it could handle alone. God never leaves me, but He will not possess me. I’ve made terrible decisions when it comes to love. I’ve tried to possess and hold on to it. God gently taught me that possession goes against the very nature of love. What I control or possess does not define love in my life, but what I am able to let go of does.

God placed Melanie Gainsley’s quote back into my path today. It sums up the lessons in love God began the year mama died, and it was in my path then. It was so hard to let go of mama. I realized today that love doesn’t have to let go because true love doesn’t hold on in the first place. 

“Sincere love is not born of possessiveness but of necessary space and distance.” Melanie Gainsley

 

Life or Death?

Choices can be confusing, so I like it when they are simplified for me. I want to choose without being overwhelmed. God’s lessons this week have been crystal clear. He offers two choices, and I can have one or the other.  I can have the life He wants for me or not. It’s completely up to me. Love and fear will not abide in the same place. Anger and peace cannot coexist. Unforgiveness and grace do not mix. Insecurity hates trust, and comparisons kill gratitude. I cannot have control and surrender at the same time. Living in the flesh prevents me from living in His Spirit. The choices are simple, but I have the tendency to hesitate and complicate things. When I stop and think, I get into trouble. When I trust and love, the right decision is much easier.

My small group is reading “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Eunice. God is using the book to help me see clearly that my issues are, as Nicole says, “joy stealing and love sucking.” I love that phrase because it creates a vivid image of what fear, anger, unforgiveness, insecurity, comparison, and control do to my ability to love as God desires.

Letting go of control allows me to surrender.

Gratitude puts comparison in its place.

Insecurity falls away when I remember God is trustworthy.

God’s infinite grace reminds me of His forgiveness and opens the door for my own.

The peace that passes understanding comes when I let go of my death grip on anger.

Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.

Spirit reminds flesh of its temporary nature, and resurrection living becomes possible.

Life or death? God leaves the choice up to me.

Packed and Ready to Go :)

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

Ready to Go

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!

Sunrise on Topsail Island