Don’t Hold Your Breath

I heard a beautiful message this morning on Genesis 2:7 “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” (NLT)

As I listened, I imagined God breathing life into His creation. I’ve always thought of this verse in regard to the beginning of man, but God reminded me this morning that He is always breathing new life into His children. It isn’t necessarily CPR, but it can be. It is, more often, a gentle filling that sustains the heart and sates the soul.

Relaxing into obedience is testing my faith and taxing my patience, but I am slowly learning to stop striving and trust that God knows what is best for me. It isn’t easy for me to be still, but I have experienced periods deep stillness over the past year. The stillness that came in those moments created beautiful connections that made me want more.

I asked God to breathe new life into me this morning, and He reminded me that He would be happy to if I would stop holding my breath. I smiled when I realized it is impossible for Him to breathe into me when I’m already full. I know it’s a survival response to hold my breath, but it has become a habit with me. I’m not sure when the habit started, but I think it may have begun when I almost drowned at five.

I tend to hold on to that which I should release to God. Like holding my breath, it keeps me from the new life He envisions. He will never force me to let go of my breath, but He will give me a sweet sense of peace when I relax long enough to catch a deep breath of His Son’s sweet love. Breathing is involuntary, but fear can break its natural rhythm. Hearing God gently bid me to exhale reminded me that His love banishes fear.

Nothing is better for the heart than breathing deeply, and nothing is better for the spirit that exhaling completely and allowing God to breathe new life deeply into my heart. It is what revival is all about, and I’m ready for a revival!

A Little Middle School Attitude


I taught middle school for thirty-three years and find myself wondering how I might deal with the current adult nonsense if I were back in my classroom.

The personal attacks I see on the news remind me of those I saw during my career. Attacks hurt at any age, but they are especially harmful when we are beginning to define our individuality personalities. They are devastating for those students who become the scapegoats of disgruntled gangs.

Adults are forming nasty gangs these days, and you can believe middle schoolers are paying close attention to what’s going on in this election. Families, communities, and the world are not what they imagined them to be. The small family circle and close-knit community is not as safe as they once thought. It saddens me to see adults behaving like middle school bullies because it frightens fragile folks who are stepping out of their comfort zones and exploring their world on a larger scale. It also encourages those who bully others and find name calling to be an effective weapon.

It’s hard for children to go through the transformation they must go through in middle school, but I counted it a beautiful blessing to go through that with my students. I love butterflies and used their metamorphosis to help guide students through a difficult leg of their journeys. I hope I showed them that change is worth the pain. I suppose I would tell my students today that not all adults are ready for transformation.

Yesterday, while talking with two young women who work with children in crisis, I wondered if maybe adults could use a little middle school attitude during this stressful time of change in our country. Young voters love Bernie Sanders for the same reason I love him. He has faith and believes in what he’s doing. He behaves in a way that makes us feel safe, and that’s an important quality in a leader. I know that he won’t be able to do all he wants to do if he makes it to the white house, but he has a dream.

Others have had similar dreams for change, and I loved introducing my students to such dreamers because dreamers make us want to dream. Whether in fiction or in real life, we learn that all change begins with a dream. Change may be painful, but growth doesn’t happen without it. No one understands growing pains better than a middle schooler because their bodies, minds, and emotions are growing in ways that cause them to hurt. That pain causes them to act out or speak out when they probably shouldn’t.

I had a middle school moment myself yesterday when my granddaughters were not being nice to one another. I laid down the law and raised my voice. They were going to be nice to each other in my house!! It was immature, but very effective. I apologized for getting upset with them, and told them I would love them no matter what they did or said. I also told them how much it hurt me for them to hurt each other. There is nothing I love more than watching them love each other, but there is no greater angst than seeing them argue or trade insults.

God understands my hurt because He loves it when His children get along, and it breaks His heart when we hurt each other. He could make us behave if He wanted to, but He knows that kind of obedience is worthless. It might help if we got a little middle school attitude when it comes to fairness and justice and used our adult hearts and heads to help right what is wrong. Maturity has taught me that true change cannot take place in the world until it takes place in me. Gandhi said it well, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

God is helping me understand this beautiful truth, but it isn’t an easy process. It involves letting go of my desires and trusting God to give me His. I cannot right wrongs or bring needed change until I find peace myself. It’s easy to storm in or demand my way as I did with the girls yesterday, and I know how to get a crowd to go along with me. Some middle schoolers find comfort when they learn they can easily control others, but they soon learn the crowd isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and will turn on you when the next bully comes along. When the tables are turned, they learn a new lesson about how it feels to be a scapegoat.  Hard lessons are necessary for all of us, but that’s what makes them stick with us and, hopefully, change the way we act or think.

Reinhold Neibuhr says it best in his Serenity Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Middle schoolers have trouble accepting the things they cannot change, but they try desperately to change the things they can. They may lack the wisdom to know the difference, but so do we. Perhaps, we can recapture a little of that middle school attitude when it comes to changing what we can while remembering the pain of trying to fix what we can’t. Then, perhaps, we will come to that sweet place of peace that comes with the wisdom of knowing the difference. The Holy Spirit comes in very handy in that department.

Still Waters

God woke me this morning with the image of a mountain spring and Psalm 23. Those who know me well, know how much I love David’s beautiful poem. No scripture touches my heart the way it does, and it beautifully describes the transforming power of His lessons this week.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (KJV)

The line that touched my heart and soul this morning was “he leaded me beside the still waters.” The waters in my life have been anything but still, so I’ve yearned for the peaceful waters described in verse two. With a lot of trust and a little fear, I let go of my will and gave God the reigns to my heart. I’ve surrendered bits and pieces before, but this was a complete letting go that left me completely at His mercy.

I grew up thinking God was a powerful reckoning force full of fury, and that’s why there was a little fear in my letting go. Love has always held an element of fear for me, and God knew that was holding my heart back and keeping me from loving as He desires. I finally found the courage, with the help of a dear friend, to trust God completely. I wasn’t prepared for what happened because I was expecting the usual hurt to be unusually painful. I wasn’t expecting peace in place of the pain, but that’s exactly what I felt as God led me beside the still waters and bid me to drink deeply and relax completely.

A wise friend once told me that relaxing into obedience was the best way to obey. That didn’t sink in completely then, but it did this morning as I found myself waking up beside a cool, sweet spring of living water. I can’t remember ever feeling so relaxed in my life.

My early life was spent drowning in muddy waters. Confusion and despair kept my heart from finding my way out. I went from the lake into a stormy sea and spent three decades fighting waves in troubling waters. When God finally brought me to the shore, I made my way up an inviting creek that proved to be frigid when I mustered up the courage to venture in. I decided to stay away from the water after that, but God had other plans. He led me beside the deep waters of a still mountain spring. Confused and curious by this new connection to water, I created a muddy mess by playing in it instead of sitting still and drinking deeply.

I love the way God teaches, and this morning was classic God as He reminded me of a time over fifty years ago when I stirred up my aunt’s spring and learned a difficult lesson from daddy. My mother’s oldest sister was named Edith, and she and her husband Dave lived far back in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Upon arriving, daddy sent my sisters and I to fetch some fresh water from her spring.The first thing daddy wanted after finishing the treacherous trek up the mountain was a cup of that precious water to go with his bourbon.

Edith and Dave didn’t have running water or electricity, but they did have a well right behind the house. That water was wonderful, but it didn’t compare to the water from the spring further up the mountain. My sisters and I were ready to move after the long trip, so we headed off in search of the spring. I got their first and took the ladle Aunt Edith had given me and started playing in the water. If you know me, that makes perfect sense.

When we returned to the cabin with a pail of muddy water, my father’s wrath was intense. He knew I was stupid, but could I possibly be that stupid!! It would take hours for the dirt to settle, so he would have to settle for well water. I slipped outside and asked myself the same question he had asked of me. I came up with the same answer I always came up with. I must be that stupid because the evidence kept pointing in that direction. I was feeling the same sense of stupidity a few weeks ago as I struggled with the stirring I was doing in my heart.

God always hears my heart, and He always answers my prayers in ways I never understand. Like that stirred spring, it took a while for my heart to settle into a state of sweet peace; but the resulting cleansing was even more amazing than that mountain spring when I returned later to fetch its water in the proper way. The murky mess I made was replaced with a crystal clear oasis waiting to quench my powerful thirst. My heart was like Aunt Edith’s spring this morning as I relaxed into an obedience that wasn’t motivated by guilt or fear; it came straight from Christ’s precious love, and that’s exactly where obedience is supposed to come from. Maybe, I’m not so stupid after all 🙂

Entitled or Enlightened

There is a world of difference between entitlement and enlightenment. I hear a great deal about entitlement from miserable people. It seems entitlement is the source of all society’s ills. Some say the poor are entitled while others put the same label on the wealthy. Entitlement is an equal opportunity enabler that attaches itself to anyone looking for what they believe they deserve.

When it comes to getting what I deserve, I thank God each day that I do not. I’ve learned to end my prayers with, “Please don’t give me what I want, Lord. Give me what you want for me and let the desires of your heart become the desires of mine.” That brings balance and peace and takes me out of my little world. It is the first step to enlightenment.

Enlightenment allows me to see my desires in a new light. Christ’s precious love changes the direction of my heart by allowing me to see myself as God sees me, and that opens up a new way of living and loving. Enlightenment looks outside of self to a world larger than I can imagine on my own. God’s enlightenment brings peace in turmoil and joy in troubled times because I know He is always with me.

Entitlement turns my attention inward. I deserve my piece of the pie and my time in the lamplight. That leads to violence and despair because I will never have or be enough. I will begin to want what others have, and I will do what I have to do to get it. The vicious cycle of violence will continue as long as I allow entitlement to have its way. I want my way; we all do, and that is why the world is the way it is. I point fingers at those who have different ideas of entitlement, and that polarizes and perpetuates the never-ending cycle.

Christ breaks the cycle of entitlement and brings a new world of enlightenment to all who allow His precious love to transform them. It isn’t easy to let go of entitlement, and no one knows that better than Christ. He laid aside His crown and became a helpless newborn to bring the light of His Father’s love to a world spinning out of control. He knew where the cycle led, and he knows it still leads there today. Christ will not force His enlightenment on the world because He knows force and enlightenment cannot exist together.

Entitlement forms alliances, and alliances become groups. Groups carry banners and spout venom at those who have a different form of entitlement. Their entitlement becomes a right to believe or do whatever suits the group. Enlightenment fades away when individuals become a faceless mob in a never-ending, hostile takeover. Christ offers a different way to live and relate. It isn’t easy to leave groups because there is a safety in anonymity, but Christ knows the heart and soul is lost in a mob. He stepped away from the mob in a radical move that shook and shifted the very foundation of this world so I could share the enlightening power of His love.

I can have my piece of the pie, or I can have the peace Christ offers. It is, and always will be, my choice. I don’t always make the right choice, but I feel the beautiful difference when I do. When my heart is balanced by Christ’s precious love, the world stops spinning around me. I may not always enjoy or understand God’s spin on things, but I’m a lot less dizzy when I come to the still place of peace His Son’s love offers.

Holy Hierarchies!

Jesus put a child among His disciples to help answer their concerns about leadership. He hears them arguing about who will be in charge and wants them to hear His heart on the subject. It is the way of the world to want to climb up the hierarchy, but Jesus didn’t operate that way. He said the least would be the greatest and the first would be last. That didn’t make any sense to the men who followed Him, and it still doesn’t makes sense to some.

Hierarchies exist in churches and denominations, just as they do in the world of business. Even little family churches have a chain of command. The disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying, but they were afraid to ask any more questions. I imagine they were a bit embarrassed by being caught in a conversation about power.

Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

“Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. (Mark 9:30-41 NLT)

John changes the topic in hopes of getting approval from Jesus. He tells Him they stopped someone who was casting out demons in His name. Jesus made it clear to the disciples that whoever is not against us is for us. I so wish the Christian community could get that through their thick heads. His disciples are still arguing over who’s right, who’s wrong, who knows best, and who’s in charge. Some things do not change, and I know that breaks God’s heart.

We are all part of the same body, and I pray that one day we will behave in a manner that doesn’t go against the intentions of Christ to unify and bring peace to His body. Christ came so we could be one as He and His Father are One. That happens when we quit worrying about getting up the ladder, being the leader, and taking charge.

climbing the ladder