Cloudy Lessons

Clouds have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a daydreamer, I often look up at the sky and imagine all sorts of creatures and objects forming in them. I especially love to watch sunsets. I’m not sure what images you will see in the view from my little porch, but I’m sure they will not be the same as the ones I see. I love that about clouds, and I love that about people.

We see ourselves and others in various ways depending upon the circumstances in our lives and in theirs. Like clouds, people can be stormy, calm, or playful. Love allows us to see others in all phases of their lives and love them all the more¬†ūüíú

I see faces, angels, hearts, clouds, eagles, and even a little wolf in the images below. They are all the same view from my porch in the evening, but all are very different. I hope you will take a moment out of your busy day and let clouds carry your imagination away. It really is good for the soul ūü¶č

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.

Who Are My Gentiles?

In Ephesians 3, Paul addresses Gentiles in a manner they are not accustomed to being addressed. A man who persecuted Christians before his conversion and had great disdain for Gentiles is now calling them fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise of Christ Jesus.¬†His passion for Christ and his desire to bring the message of salvation to all is proof of God’s transforming love. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the same could be said of all who claim to know Christ. Unfortunately, His simple message of love isn’t always absorbed deeply enough to allow us to love as He desires.

Christ’s precious love breaks down the barriers which divide my ¬†heart. But before that can happen, I must admit there is division and ask myself, “Who are my Gentiles?” God knows the answer but knows I must¬†come to that truth on my own. Neighbors, enemies, and those who aren’t “like me” are included in God’s kingdom. Knowing my neighbors and recognizing my enemies is easy, but identifying my Gentiles is more difficult because it reveals my judgment of others and exposes my prejudice.

Searching for truth is a tricky business that seldom leads to answers I want to hear, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can handle the truth.¬†Division comes from many sources, but only love can make unity possible.¬†Paul’s plea in Ephesians 3 is for such unity.

“For this reason I, Paul,¬†the prisoner of¬†Christ Jesus¬†for the sake of you¬†Gentiles‚ÄĒ¬†if indeed you have heard of the¬†stewardship of God‚Äôs grace which was given to me for you;¬†that¬†by revelation there was¬†made known to me¬†the mystery,¬†as I wrote before in brief.¬†By referring to this, when you read you can understand¬†my insight¬†into the¬†mystery of Christ,¬†which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy¬†apostles and prophets¬†in the Spirit;¬†to be specific, that the Gentiles are¬†fellow heirs and¬†fellow members of the body, and¬†fellow partakers of the promise in¬†Christ Jesus through the gospel,¬†of which I was made a¬†minister, according to the gift of¬†God‚Äôs grace which was given to me¬†according to the working of His power.¬†To me,¬†the very least of all¬†saints, this grace was given, to¬†preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable¬†riches of Christ¬†and to¬†bring to light what is the administration of the¬†mystery which for ages has been¬†hidden in God¬†who created all things;¬†so that the manifold¬†wisdom of God might now be¬†made known through the church to the¬†rulers and the authorities in¬†the heavenly¬†places.¬†This was¬†in¬†accordance with the¬†eternal purpose which He¬†carried out in¬†Christ Jesus our Lord,¬†in whom we have boldness and¬†confident¬†access through faith¬†in Him.¬†Therefore I ask¬†you not¬†to lose heart at my tribulations¬†on your behalf,¬†for they are your glory.”

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (NASB)

Paul’s love for God enabled him to admit and forget about divisions so he could reach out to those he once hated. God will enable the same in me when I stop seeing others as other than and start seeing them as part of God’s kingdom. At a time when hearts have never been more polarized, it is vital to God’s kingdom to let Paul’s plea change our hearts.

Love is a beautiful mystery not meant to be understood. It must simply be embraced, but I cannot embrace it until I identify and love the Gentiles in my life. Then, like Paul, I can reach beyond my judgments and let God have His way with my heart. Ghandi encouraged us to be the change we wish to see in the world. I can think of no better way to do that than identifying my Gentiles and letting the Holy Spirit tear down the walls of division in my own heart.

Holy, Holy, Holy

The word holy may evoke images of Mary and Moses, but it¬†simply means readiness, ripeness, or maturity. Ripening is never an easy process, but the result is love that doesn’t depend upon circumstances for its sweetness. My son and daughter-in-law were raving about some peaches a friend had given them. They were from Georgia and tasted the way a peach should taste. The image reminded me of Christians who reflect Christ’s precious love. Like that Georgia peach, they are who God created them to be and delight those around them.

The world is filled with people and produce that are poor imitations of what they should be. Nothing is more bitter than an unripe persimmon, and sour grapes contort the countenance and the stomach. I hate buying beautiful fruit that tastes horrible when I take a bite.

Immature fruit and immature believers require time and love to ripen, but God knows holiness is worth the wait. Anyone who has eaten a peach picked in a Georgia orchard knows what a peach truly is. Those who come to the mountains of North Carolina in the fall for juicy, ripe apples understand what an apple should be. Watermelons from a field in South Carolina defy description. As a Christian, I am called to be holy; but I shy away from that call because I think it means I must be perfect. 2 Timothy 1:9 makes it clear that holiness isn’t about works or perfection. It is about God’s grace.

“who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,” (NASB)

No one ever grew a tomato as delicious as the ones my father grew in the little garden behind our house. ¬†The taste of that first tomato sandwich in July was well worth the long wait, but daddy ruined me when it came to tomatoes because none meet his high standards. He saved the seeds from his tomatoes and planted them in the spring. They were seeds from his father’s farm and probably from his grandfather’s before that. Heirloom is the term used to describe such tomatoes, and that is precisely what they were. I knew my granddaddy’s tomatoes because I knew my daddy’s tomatoes, and I know God’s love because I know His Son’s precious love.

I fall short when it comes to being the Christian I should be, but I do try to love as Christ loved. I’ve stopped trying to be perfect because I know God wants me to be ready, not perfect. Perfection will only come when I am in His presence. I think the world is excessively hard on Christians, and no one bashes Christians more than those who call themselves Christians or use some other term that means the same thing. I imagine a bad experience caused the disdain, but I do wish they would stop bashing and start loving.

I’ve stopped expecting tomatoes to taste like daddy’s, but I do have a glimmer of hope each time I find an heirloom tomato that resembles one of daddy’s. I plan to keep on looking for that elusive tomato because the alternative is to stop eating tomatoes and go around talking about how much I miss the good old tomatoes of the past. I’m sure others would soon tire of my tirades just as I tire of the tirades against Christians. Watching those little seeds grow and waiting anxiously for them to ripen was a lot of what made them so special. I was invested in those tomatoes, and I knew them personally. The love daddy had for those tomatoes was a bigger part. Anyone who knew Foy Holden, knew how much he loved his tomatoes. I pray I will have the same love for God’s children, especially those who are not yet ripe.

I haven’t found a perfect Christian, and I’m not looking for one because I know God isn’t looking for one either.

Jesus Smiling

Loving Without Fear

The air conditioning in my new apartment was shutting down each time the temperatures outside went above ninety degrees. For four months, my landlord and the men who installed the unit tried in vain to fix the problem. They replaced parts, put in a new transformer, and tried everything they knew to try with no success. They¬†asked me to send a text the next time the system shut down, so they could see what was going on when it wasn’t working.¬†We were all getting frustrated, and¬†I was giving up¬†on a quick fix of any kind.

The system shut down again last week, so I sent a text and hoped for the best. The solution turned out to be a simple one that left all of us relieved and smiling. The door on the electrical box has a safety feature that shuts the power off if it’s opened while the breaker to the unit is on.¬†The extreme heat was causing the cover on the door to expand and bow out. That created a tiny crack between the door and the box that shut down the system until the attic cooled down in the evening. The guys sealed the door shut with tape, and the system has worked perfectly ever since.

No one understands the danger of opening a door that should not be opened better than an electrician because their lives depend upon it. God used the repair to¬†teach a powerful lesson.¬†Opening a door that is best left shut can create havoc in my heart, as well. I’ve opened doors I should not have opened, and my heart has suffered as a result.

God provides safeguards that keep my heart from¬†being hurt. I can override those safeguards and warnings, or I can seal off my heart the way those men sealed off the door in my air conditioning system. God and I both know that isn’t the best solution. It’s best to be mindful and heed the warning signs if I want to avoid being hurt. Like an electrician’s life, my heart’s safety is at stake if I don’t.

God will not seal the door to my heart, and He doesn’t want me to seal it either. There are no easy solutions when it comes to love, and no one understands that better than God. His lessons leave me feeling disconnected at times, but I know disconnection and differentiation go hand in hand. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Like flying from one trapeze to the next, faith will carry me if I forget about fear and remember God’s love is there¬†to catch me when I fall. That allows me to love without fear, and God knows that’s the only way to love.

1 John 4:18 says it much better than I can.

“There is no fear in love; but¬†perfect love casts out fear, because fear¬†involves punishment, and the one who fears is not¬†perfected in love.” (NASB)

Photo Credit: US Hawks
Photo Credit: US Hawks

A Very Sweet Feeling

I was expecting to see a spectacular display of fireworks last night as the family gathered at Pepe and Meme’s house for their annual Fourth of July party. The view of town is amazing, and blue skies were promising to hold back the torrential rains long enough for our celebration. I took my vegetable trays and headed up the mountain. Traffic was terrible because the streets of our small town are simply not equipped to handle the volume of people who flood the downtown area to celebrate the Fourth of July.

I opted to take the back roads and made the two-mile trek in twenty minutes. I loved the party, but I was the only person there who had to come off the mountain after the firework display. I imagined it would take over an hour to get back to my apartment, so I decided it was best to head home early because I knew I would be able to see fireworks from my new apartment.

The drive home was much easier than the drive up the mountain, so I got home in plenty of time to catch the show. I looked over at the mountain from which I had just come and thanked God for my son and his sweet family. I wondered if I shouldn’t have stayed and not worried about the traffic. I noticed the parking lot beside my apartment was full of folks sitting on their cars, so the view promised to be a good one. The revelers were setting off their own little fireworks, and the kids were screaming with delight at each pop.¬†When the big show started, I had to laugh. The fireworks appeared to be right in my front yard. I had the best seat in town and decided perhaps I should have hosted the party!

Today marks the sixth anniversary of mama’s death. I always think of her during the week of the Fourth because she gained independence from her pain on the fifth of July. I felt her presence in a powerful way last night. I saw her eyes as Mylah looked at Tyler when he threatened to take a bite of her apple pie. I saw her smile on Lilly’s face when she sat with Gina and ate her pie and ice cream. I felt her love when I looked at my son and thought of how very much I love him. I also knew mama was getting a kick out of the special show taking place right in front of me. I had some difficult lessons last week, and she knew I was experiencing a new kind of freedom myself, one that wasn’t easy on my heart. She and God knew the Fourth of July craziness was just the distraction I needed.

I’ve been in my new place for four months now, and I absolutely love it. I took this photo from Pepe’s porch ¬†and love it because it beautifully captures Bryson City. The town captured my heart decades ago when I took a job at Alarka Elementary in 1976. The 120 students ranging in age from five to thirteen won my heart and made me feel right at home. I had so many wonderful students over the years, and they still make me feel at home. They have children and grandchildren of their own now and seeing my precious students, grand students, and great-grand students everywhere I go reminds me that I am completely surrounded by love. That’s a very sweet feeling!

Like Ruby Slippers

As I prayed last night, God showed me that I have always had the power to change the direction of my heart. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, my heart will take me home. I’ve wandered down many yellow brick roads searching for something I had all along. It boils down to trust, and I didn’t trust my heart. Neither did Dorothy. She wandered in Oz when she could have been home with those she loved. I’ve done the same.

God reminded me that I didn’t trust Him or His promises. He didn’t put on a fancy show or perform magic tricks like the Wizard. He did something much more spectacular. He waited while I wandered, and never stopped loving me. He knew I would eventually find the truth that would transform my heart and bring me home.

I’ve been the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion on this journey, but I think Dorothy best exemplifies my search for love. When she looked down at those ruby slippers, she knew what she wanted. When I looked into my heart and saw the beautiful truth that had always been there, I knew the same.

Oz didn’t give Dorothy or her friends anything they didn’t already have. He simply saw in them what they could not see in themselves. That is the transforming power of ¬†love. When I feel it and know it is within my own heart, my journey changes in a powerful way. I can go home. I can love and be loved as I never imagined, and I can be who God created me to be. That’s as transforming as it gets.

There's No Place Like Home
There’s No Place Like Home