Negativity is Like Kudzu!

A little negativity is like a little kudzu; there’s no such thing!

A little negativity is like a little kudzu; there’s no such thing! If you don’t know about kudzu, let me introduce you. The plant is also known as Japanese arrowroot and was brought to the mountains of  western North Carolina decades ago in hopes of controlling erosion. Its rapid growth controls erosion very effectively, but it destroys everything in its path in the process. Negativity does the same if allowed to propagate.

Here are a few pictures of the kudzu in my neighborhood:

 

Once it takes root, kudzu is virtually impossible to stop. Stolons (runners) form new plants faster than its seeds. It kills all existing vegetation by blocking light. Covered vegetation and buildings lose their identities and become grotesque caricatures of other-worldly creatures.

Negativity spreads in the same manner. A little seed or runner seems harmless enough at first; but if left unchecked, it will block the light and alter the landscape of my heart.

Both negativity and kudzu require fertile ground to grow; so the next time negativity shows up at your door, remember these images of kudzu and ignore the knock!

That Sweet By and By

Happily ever after used to be my battle cry.

I was sure I would see Jesus in that sweet by and by.

I couldn’t seem to find my dreams no matter how I tried,

So I began to drown inside the ocean I had cried.

 

Jesus never seemed to tire as He caught each falling tear.

I know He wished I’d let go of my paralyzing fear.

He made sure that the way to Him was always crystal clear,

But I put up my obstacles and would not let Him steer.

 

He bid me trust and promised that He’d never told a lie,

His precious love so much more than simply pie in the sky.

I loved Him more than anything and said that I would try,

But wondered if I had been wrong when I began to die.

 

I gave up the steering wheel and prepared myself to veer.

I let go of everything but decided to stay near.

His sweet loving word of comfort was all my heart could hear.

He showed me miles of faces, and I saw those I held dear.

 

Some were here and some in heaven, but all were filled with cheer,

When they saw I realized their love would always be near.

That sweet by and by is not in the sky; it’s always here.

The love I sought, already bought, by Someone very dear.

Back on Track

Running with a heavy overcoat isn’t the best way to travel; but I have a hard time laying aside encumbrances and staying untangled. Holy Week is always difficult, but the pain has been overwhelming this week. Christ’s passion is more than I can comprehend, and it breaks my heart to think of His suffering. Hebrews 12:1-3 helped me change my focus and get my heart back on track.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (NASB)

I was lost in the weariness of the world this week, but God put these scriptures in the path to remind me to lighten my load and run the race He has set before me. Christ saw the joy set before Him, and knowing that joy allowed Him to endure the cross, despise the shame, endure the hostility, and end up at the right hand of His Father. He did it all so I could share that joy with Him.

I cannot run the race Christ ran, and thinking I have to is what makes Holy Week weigh me down each year. I can, however, run the race specifically designed for my heart by One who knows me better than I know myself. No one is able to run my race for me, but sharing the joy and pain found on my journey humbles and fills my heart with wonder. That was a powerful part of the learning this week. If I try to run Christ’s race, carry His load, or carry my burdens alone, I will quickly become entangled and encumbered. I came to a place of quitting this week, but God bid me to get up, keep going, and trust Him.

Good Friday is the perfect day to fix my eyes on Jesus. He is, and always will be the author and perfecter of faith. If I keep my focus upon Him, I will find the love, joy, and peace I was missing this week. Encumbrances will continue to entangle as long as I am in this world, but I can keep my balance and run the race with endurance if I remember I am never alone.

Walking Together

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

 

Breaking Up the Clay

Sandy died on the night she graduated from high school in 1969. I haven’t thought about her in a very long time even though she was my dearest friend. Sandy Barnes was a beautiful girl, but her inner beauty was what I remember most about her. She was soft spoken and sweet and had a genuine smile that welcomed me into her home and her life. She lived across the street, so we were always together. She was a year ahead of me in school, and I looked up to her and loved her dearly. She was killed in a car accident on the way to the beach. It was a tradition to head to Myrtle Beach as soon as graduation was over, and she and Judy did just that. Judy, who lived two houses down the street, was critically injured in the same accident. She didn’t die, but she was never the same after that fateful evening. They were hit head on by a driver who was sleeping. My neighborhood and my heart were never the same.

Images of clay have been on my mind all week. I saw the familiar red dirt that produces a substance perfect for molding, but terrible for growing. I’ve always connected clay to my heart. Broken pots strewn on the floor and delicate vases abandoned on a shelf all trace their origins back to the sticky red mud that holds, hardens, and inhibits growth. The theme of my lessons this week has been growth, so it fits that God would bring that annoying clay to the surface. My father struggled with and cursed the red clay in our yard, and I found myself doing the same. I was sick of those images and asked God, “Why clay? What is it with the clay?? I’m sick and tired of wrestling in it and want to get out of it. I’ve had enough!

God heard my prayer and answered in a way I didn’t expect. What appeared was a totally unexpected and deeply disturbing memory that pulled the roots of my heart right out of the clay. It was terribly painful, but I didn’t turn away from the pain as God showed me how my heart became encased in clay. I thought it had something to do with daddy and his battle with the frustrating soil, so I was floored when Sandy’s face appeared.

Sandy was the first friend I lost to death. Her brother struggled with heart problems, and I often worried that Tommy might die after we had a rough ball game or strenuous wrestling match. The thought that Sandy might die never crossed my mind, but she did. In one terrible moment my view of death, dying, and my body changed forever. I begged and pleaded with my parents for weeks to let me go to the beach with Sandy and Judy. I cried, pitched fits, and promised to do anything they wanted in return. They would not budge. I was not going, and that was that! I hated them for not letting me go and made sure everybody knew it.

When momma came to tell me Sandy was dead, she was a mess. I know now she was thinking it could have been me. I couldn’t process the information. I was numb and empty and sorry. Guilt weighed heavily upon my heart because I was glad I hadn’t gone with them. My husband once described to me how he felt when a friend was killed beside him in Vietnam. Amazing relief and then horrible guilt for feeling relieved. That was exactly how I felt. Numbness took up permanent residence in my heart, and I went about for weeks feeling nothing at all. As I prayed and absorbed the image before me this morning, I knew the clay had begun to harden around my heart the day after Sandy died.

Sandy’s grandparents lived a few houses down the street, and they were having a wake for Sandy. I wasn’t really sure what that was, but mama said it was a “sitting up” with the dead. Sandy’s grandparents were old fashioned, and mama said I needed to go. I didn’t want to, but I forced myself to walk down the street and into the Ward’s living room. I was frozen in my footsteps when I saw Sandy’s casket sitting right in front of me, and it was open! Dear God! What kind of sick tradition was this!! Something was inside that horrible casket, but it wasn’t Sandy. My numbness got deeper as I stood staring at a body that bore no resemblance to my lost friend. I stayed because I couldn’t move. I wanted to run and never stop. A part of me did run out of that house, and it has been running ever since.

Sandy’s funeral was the first one I remember attending. I know I had been to other funerals, but I don’t remember anything about them. I was a flower girl and had to be at the church long before the service began. I wore a light pink chiffon dress and a Jackie Kennedy pill box hat. I had on white gloves that I threw away as soon I got home. I sat on the front row on the left side of the church. The middle section was for family, and Sandy’s casket was closed and sitting in front of the altar. The flower girls sitting together wondering what we were supposed to be doing. No one said anything to us, so we sat quietly.

A man with the funeral home came in to open the casket. I looked down at the floor wishing I was someplace else. He came over and asked if I would help him. I went with him and figured I was about to find out what a flower girl is supposed to do. What happened next is something I put out of my heart and mind for forty four years. I was good at putting unpleasant images out of my head and heart and could easily travel away from my body when things got to be too much for my heart. As I stood in front of Sandy’s casket in my pink dress and white gloves, I avoided looking in the casket. That wasn’t Sandy, and I refused to look at those distorted features. Her color was terrible, and her make up not like her at all. I felt myself getting dizzy.

With a matter of fact tone, the man brought me back to reality by asking me to lift the veil on Sandy’s hat while he fixed her nose. What? Did he expect me to touch her? He repeated his request as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to do. In shock, I reached down and lifted the veil while he rearranged her features. It was clay! It wasn’t Sandy’s face at all. It takes me a while to understand the obvious, but it hits hard when I do finally get it. I couldn’t look away as this artist worked on his masterpiece. He talked about the heat and how hard it was to keep the nose in place. Blah, blah, blah… I drifted further and further into my own clay until he told me to go sit down.

As I put Sandy’s veil back down, I got some of that orange makeup on my white glove. I wanted to take it off, scream, and run from the building, but I went back to my pew, sat down, and put my hands in my lap. I don’t remember anything else about the funeral or the weeks that followed except that I erased the whole affair. This morning was the first time in forty four years I remembered the incident. Time, distance, and maturity helped me see the event in a new light. I didn’t ever connect to anyone as closely as I had connected to Sandy. I was afraid to get too close, and I found myself loving those who couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t love me back. I kept my heart at a safe distance, not because of daddy but because of Sandy. Safety became all that mattered when it came to my heart. Don’t get too close and you won’t get hurt. I learned from Sandy’s death that it’s best to be safe and not sorry. Don’t take chances, and don’t venture too far away from my safety zone. If my parents hadn’t forced me to stay home, I’d be the one in the casket or in the rehabilitation center learning to walk and talk again. God’s ways are higher than mine, and I marvel at the way He transformed my foundation today. He shattered the old clay into a million pieces because that’s the only way to get rid of the hateful stuff. If you wet it down, it dries harder than before. If you burn it, it gets even harder. It has to be broken, but God waited until I was ready for a new foundation before breaking apart the old one.

I’m ready to get my body into the rich soil God has in mind for it. Soil is the foundation of the body and comprises the first chakra if you keep up with that sort of thing. When balancing the first chakra, I must envision it as it is before God can transform it into what He wants it to be. I have to want to be healed and be ready for the changes. The images of clay and fertile fields were never about my heart. They were about my body and my being. God knows I have to start at the bottom and work my way up, and He did an amazing job of excavating today. I realize I need to forget the horrible image at the casket and remember the many years of beautiful friendship and love Sandy and I shared. I also know I have to connect with others as I connected with her. She was an amazing young woman, and I wondered this morning what her children and grandchildren would have looked like. I know she would have been a great wife, wonderful mother, and a sweet grandmother. God showed me clearly that I was still feeling guilty for being alive and needed to forgive myself and move on. I know Sandy would want me to let go of the guilt too. God gave me a sweet memory of Sandy and I when we were very young. I was grounded and couldn’t leave my yard. I wasn’t supposed to play with anyone, but Sandy brought her dolls to the corner of my yard, right next to the street, and we sat and played for hours. It was the type of thing she was always doing. I plan to hold on to those memories and remember the feeling of letting someone get very close.

I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be rid of that guilt, but I believe daddy would say it best, “I’m glad you’re out of that damn red clay and back in the rich fertile soil where you belong!” I agree daddy; I agree 🙂

That Damn Red Clay

Rich Soil

A Chance for Change

Change is a difficult challenge as I have to choose whether or not to embrace God’s will and let go of mine. Change is necessary to manifest His will, but I must trust God and give Him the chance to change me. Security, my need to control, and pride keep me from changing as God desires. When I am ready to surrender, the Holy Spirit begins a transformation only He can accomplish.

Security is linked to safety, and I cling to what I know in a desperate attempt to remain safe. The irony is that my tendency to stick to the known threatens the very safety I try to protect. I settle for the way things are and convince others I know what I’m doing. The problem comes when trying to convince myself or God.

The chance for change requires leaving my comfort zone and stepping into the unknown. That puts me in a prayerful state of mind and requires faith that God is who He says He is. It’s precisely where I need to be, but exactly where I don’t want to be. Like the Israelites, I complain and ask God why I have to change. I prefer rearranging to real change which requires more reflection than I care to do.

Moving away from the known is extremely difficult, even when I know it is for the best. I stay in terrible situations simply because I worry that I may end up in a worse place if I step out, which shows a lack of faith on my part. I also have to admit I am wrong, and that bruises my pride. Christ was willing to leave heaven and God’s presence to make the single most powerful change this world has ever experienced. If He can do that, surely I can make the simple changes He is asking of me.

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

Several years ago, I was in San Francisco on a business trip. It was during Chinese New Year. My colleagues and I decided to go to China Town for the festivities. I’ve never seen so many people in one place and soon found myself caught up in 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 owner in the coming year. I started 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’m 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 risks involved. Like a child in the backseat, I tend to 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 off the road. God is much gentler, but He makes it clear that I free to go my own way if that’s what I want. God’s patient love lets me wait until I am ready for the changes He has in mind for me.

God could easily take control, but that goes against the nature of love. He loves me too much to force His will on me. Besides, He knows it’s an ineffective method for true change. If I see the second ‘c’ in chance as my need to control, change it to a ‘g’ for God, and give control to Him, I’ll find the joy that comes when I trust and obey Him. Pride and fear keep me from giving God the chance to change me. Pride doesn’t go before the fall when it comes to change; it keeps me from falling back into my faith in God. Falling in faith is a lot like falling in love. I have to just let go and trust God to catch my heart. As I looked at this amazing sunset this evening, I wondered how I could possibly not trust God.

Sunset 10-12-13

I’m Home

Peace is always present

When I look to God.

He’s there,

Always beside me, 

To comfort and to guide me.

All He wants is my heart,

All and not just part.

I hold on to my way

Unable to let go.

He sits waiting quietly 

For me to come along.

But I keep singing softly

Praying my own song.

Hoping He will join me

And let me lead the way.

My heart is always yearning

I find myself alone.

I turn,

And He is waiting

For me to hear His song.

When I hear Him singing,

My heart bursts out in song.

I’m home,

Nothing is better

Than being in His arms.

Tears give way to singing.

Fear gives way to joy.

I’m home,

Nothing is better

Than being in His ams.

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