Like a Lark

Since the week’s lessons have been filled with music and musicals, it didn’t surprise me to have “The Sound of Music” in my path this morning. If this theme continues, folks might begin to think I’ve lost my mind. That’s usually what the world thinks when people go around singing Broadway songs, but those who know and love me me won’t be surprised at all.

The beautiful message this week is that praying is singing that comes from deep within my heart. David is a perfect example of just that. His psalms continue to touch hearts thousands of years after he wrote them. They are prayers that touch the very heart of God. Perfection isn’t what God desires; He simply wants me to be after His own heart and pray as though I am conversing with a dear friend who knows my heart or singing with abandon like a lark on the hillside.  This verse was part of the lessons God had for me this week. It is a beautiful description of prayer that blesses my heart and changes the way I pray.

From “The Sound of Music” 

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds
that rise from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies
from a church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over
stones on its way
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray

I was especially touched by the last line, “To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray.” I can relate to birds, and if you’ve followed my story, you understand why. Mama loved birds, and I have always loved them too. God has used sparrows, parakeets, crows, peacocks, eagles, and little canaries to teach me important lessons, but I was surprised by the praying lark He placed in my path this morning.

This week, I sat with a dear friend and talked about God’s Word, prayed and communed with my prayer partners, spent time with friends I rarely see, talked with my sweet granddaughters, and sang with abandon. I learned that prayer is as natural as breathing, talking, and singing. I feel very like that lark who is learning to pray. She doesn’t struggle or worry about whether or not the notes come out correctly or whether others understand her song; she just opens her heart and sings with love. I’m learning to pray the same way.

animaltrial.com/larkbird
animaltrial.com/larkbird

Knowing & Doing

God reminded me this week of the power of fasting when it comes to living the praying life. Fasting clears the mind and helps focus the heart on God. It is best when done voluntarily, but I tend to neglect the discipline of simplicity even though I know it is good for me. Knowing and doing should go together without effort, but that isn’t always true with me. Like Bugs Bunny, I know I shouldn’t do something, but I do it anyway. It’s the mantra of the spoiled child, and I am guilty of being a very spoiled child of God. I cannot pick and choose when it comes to obedience.

Feasting is so much more fun than fasting, and I have no problem diving into a feast. The good thing about a virus-imposed fast is that the very thought of food is abhorrent so there isn’t the temptation of eating. I’m as empty as I’ve ever been after this three-day bout with whatever it is that has hold of my digestive tract, but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Fasting and confession are similar in that they empty out and leave space for God. I certainly have more room for Him now than I did last week. The question is what will I put back now that the space is available. Will I rent it to God or give Him the title and the keys? I have the tendency to let God rent space or stay on as a beloved houseguest rather than give Him ownership. I am supposed to be His temple not His landlady or hostess, but I’ve clearly been the lady of this manor and a gracious hostess. If I am to be His servant, I have to give Him the keys and stop trying to manage that which He should be managing.

As children, we are taught to take charge and be independent. God teaches us to let go and trust Him. The world’s message and God’s message are always going to be at odds if I try to balance both in my life. The best balancing is finding Christ in the center of my heart and holding on to Him. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. Mine has the tendency to be much too heavy. He knows that I have to come to the place of laying down mine before I can pick up His, and I thank Him for helping me get to that place of not only knowing, but also doing that this week. Lent is about emptying out and about doing what I already know to do. It’s a simple and very beautiful lesson in living the praying life that I truly needed.

Good Grief

I didn’t expect to find myself kneeling and weeping with abandon on the altar this morning, but that’s just where I found myself. God is calling me to be part of worship in two places right now, and that’s not something I understand. I have learned not to question His ways, but sometimes He confounds me. Perhaps He knows I’ll get lost in the confounding and find Him. I love both places and know He is present and alive in both. It’s a rare blessing to find someone willing to speak the truth with love, and both Pastor John and Pastor Jeff do just that. 

The deaths this week, especially Dorothy’s, left me numb. I’ve heard five amazing messages this week, and the message this morning touched me more deeply than I was prepared to be touched. God knew it was time to weep for mama. I put off weeping four years ago. I cried and cried and cried, but I didn’t weep until today. Weeping with abandon in front of others isn’t something I would have chosen to do, and it’s far too personal and intimate to do in from of others, but God knows that weeping together is part of the grieving process. I felt a sense of release on that altar that can only come when I let go of everything and let God and others hear my heart and my hurt.

It isn’t easy to let others hear my heart, but weeping frees the spirit and opens the heart as nothing else. As I watched Pastor Jeff, a big strong man, tear up as he talked of his own journey, the way was wide open for me to do the same. Letting others see our vulnerability opens doors for ourselves and others. Jesus wept openly for Lazarus. He was a very strong man who loved his friend dearly. Perhaps He cried because He knew he was bringing his friend back into a world of pain. Perhaps he cried because he knew Lazarus had suffered and would suffer again at the hands of death. 

Christ gives me hope and is my strong center. That was the beautiful message this morning. God’s grief is good grief because He is my hope, my comfort, my rock, and my redeemer. He never moves or changes, and that is the best news of all. There will always be weeping and loss in this world, but I can walk in God’s kingdom and chose to grieve as He grieves knowing that I can grieve with Him and share my grief and His love with those in my path. I will weep until I am with God in heaven, and I learned today that weeping is a very powerful form of prayer. That changes my journey in a most beautiful way. That’s good grief, and I thank God for showing me the difference between the world’s way of grieving and His.

Self Gratification and Deprecation

When it comes to self, it doesn’t matter if I focus on the self deprecation that makes others laugh or the self gratification that placates me. Both leave me empty in the long run and keep me from walking in God’s kingdom as I should. I twist and play with my hair and have for as long as I can remember. Mylah loves to play with my hair, and when I took her downstairs for her bath last night, she was delighted that my hair was down so she could run her little fingers through it. It’s even more satisfying when she twists it:)

When I found that playing with my hair was a form of self gratification, I was surprised and a little embarrassed. I knew it made me feel better, but I didn’t realize it was considered an activity similar to sucking one’s thumb. I still play with my hair, but I just don’t feel bad about it. I do take note if I start twisting because it means that something is on my mind or heart. I may just be thinking of the day before me, but I also may be hurting. That was the case when I went to bed last night.

It was an amazing day yesterday, and the warm sunshine after a week of horrific winds, water and snow was truly a gift from God. The girls and I played outside for a long time, and I also found time while they were napping to sit in the sun by the pool. Worship was wonderful last night, and the singing left my heart soaring. Mylah and Lilly were adorable in the tub as they took their little washcloths and wrapped up little toy fish and sang lullabies to them. I went to bed a very happy Gigi indeed:)

As I prayed, I started twisting my hair. I knew something on my heart that needed attention. God helped me find and face the root of my angst, and I relaxed and slept peacefully. The lesson God had for me in the hair twisting prayer was that much of our conversations are about me. It’s okay to go to God when I’m hurting, but it isn’t okay for me to be at the center of my prayers. I saw praying as the ultimate form of self gratification, and I was humbled by the lesson.

Dying to self is a painful process that leads to greater joy than any form of self gratification found on earth. Those three little concrete steps presented themselves as I left services last night, and I was taken aback when I looked down and saw the steps from my dream night before last. God amazes me when He teaches the obvious with love, and He did just that last night. The steps leading out of the church office were the steps in my dream, and they lead out of the building and into the world. I so need the filling and fellowship I get from the church body, but God gently reminded me that I need to take that filling and fellowship out into His world in a way that changes me and it.

I learned at an early age to use self deprecation to get laughs from those around me, and I still have to be mindful not to put myself down when I make mistakes or feel the need to apologize for the way I am. I am learning that who I am is who I am. God is teaching me to love myself, and Dr. Steibel reminded me that we need to love ourselves for God’s sake (Richard J. Foster and Emilie Griffin.) That was an amazing lesson during the prayer retreat that I play to remember. Self is an expression of who I am, but I have to make sure I don’t get caught up in gratifying or deprecating because that isn’t what God desires.

Praying is personal, and God loves to hear my heart. He, like all of us, doesn’t enjoy listening to a litany of self-loathing or a rehearsal of my plans and problems. He would rather our conversations be about Christ and how His Holy Spirit is working through me. He has a lot to add to that conversation if I will be still and let Him share His ideas with me:)

Whether it’s self gratification or deprecation, it still amounts to be self-centered. That keeps me from drawer nearer to God and to those in my path. Intercessory prayer is a beautiful antidote when I find myself getting too far into myself. Remembering who God is and who I am brings our conversations to a beautiful place of connectedness, and that feels better than anything I’ve ever felt:)

Decisions, Divisions….

Life is a series of decisions that affect all those in my path. Every decision I make puts me either closer to God or further away from Him. It is impossible for me to make the right decisions without the help of the Holy Spirit. The old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is wise indeed. Doing what I think is best isn’t the way to go. I have to listen to God and trust His Spirit when it comes to decisions. If I allow His Spirit to help me obey when I don’t understand, I will find joy and peace. Good intentions often lead to divisions as differences of opinion abound when it comes to what is right and best.

Being still for an instant before speaking or acting allows time to pray and gives God space in which to work. I have always been a go-getter and a doer, and I can get a lot done in a little time when motivated. The practice of stillness in each moment allows me to do what God has in mind. I still get much done, but those tiny prayers leave me less frazzled. God has given me many opportunities to practice that stillness this week, and I can tell a big difference in what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. That’s a big step on the path to a praying life.

One beautiful side effect of the new way of praying is the quality of my sleep. Racing thoughts are gone because they are all about plowing through the day without those still moments of prayer. The stillness before each decision takes care of them one at a time throughout the day, and the time of prayer before sleep finishes off any loose ends. I’m finding there aren’t very many left at the end of the day. I’m busier than ever, watching only a few minutes of TV each day, and more connected than ever. The images God gives are clearer without all the static, and His Word is alive in a new and beautiful way.

Decisions still divide, but the divisions are ones I need. I have the tendency to make connections that are unhealthy, but I’m finding it is much easier to connect as God desires when I practice those moments of stillness. The battle is always between what I want or what someone else wants and what God desires. Selfishness and the desire to please are powerful forces, but they do not hold a candle to God’s love. Seeing Christ’s love in each decision brings a sweet unity with Him that makes each decision a little easier. My praying is often simply saying, “I love you Lord, Thank you God, or Help me Spirit.” Simplicity is best when it comes to praying; the same is true for talking:)

A sweet sense of peace comes with each decision that brings me nearer to God. That helps me know I’m going in the right direction, and that makes this journey a joy:)

Stillness

The snow started falling around noon as predicted today, and we have five inches with more on the way. The girls got up from their nap and were thrilled, especially Lillyann. She yelled for mommy to come downstairs and see the snow after looking out the window and telling me, “Oooh! There’s a lot of it now!” Together, we got the girls in snowsuits, coats, etc., and they headed to Meme and Pepe’s to go sledding. They were so cute heading down the driveway. Mylah plopped back on Lillyann which was fine with her as it was warmer with her baby sister on top of her:)

I decided to take photos and drink hot chocolate and skip the sledding, a sure sign I’m getting old! I love the snow and had two nice winter walks, but I gave up sledding years ago. Snow brings out the kid in me, but it also makes me stop and enjoy the stillness. It isn’t as much about not being able to drive as it is a sense of wonder and awe at the transformation which occurs as snow blankets everything making even mud beautiful. It’s a lot like Christ’s love except for the coldness:)

The praying life is a life of stillness in the storm and warmth in the cold. It’s been a week of high winds, power outages, and snow, a perfect backdrop for lessons in stillness. Whether the imposed stillness of snow, holding Mylah while she sleeps, or laying beside Lillyann while she falls asleep, the stillness this week has been powerful. I am learning to be still and recognize God’s glory and appreciate the stillness that comes when I enter into His presence. Praying and stillness go hand-in-hand. Silence used to be the goal as I thought I had to find a quiet place to pray.

Cookie, the German Pointer, and two very sweet little girls are teaching me that silence may be golden, but stillness is a state of heart that doesn’t depend upon silence or solitude. In fact, I’m learning that being in the midst of my sweet family brings greater peace than time alone in a reflection center designed for prayer. Time alone in solitude and silence is important, and I love to meditate on God’s Word; but I’m finding that stillness is a much deeper state that brings a sense of peace much like that beautiful blanket of snow.

Sweet Stillness

The world is so pure and beautiful right after the snow falls, and I love walking in freshly fallen snow. It amazes me how mundane objects and plants become magical when covered with a blanket of fresh snow. Stillness has the same effect. I don’t always have silence when I pray, but stillness doesn’t require silence. It comes when I stop and allow the everyday to become an expression of God’s glory.

Friends Who Pray Together…

Job 42:10 says, “And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Praying for and with those in my path is so very powerful, and it is the call God placed on my heart three years ago. The power of intercession was clear as Ethel drove me to the ER yesterday afternoon. While I was retching away, she was praying fervently. Her hand on my shoulder and her sweet utterances surrounded me and reminded me of the love such prayer represents. When God clearly called me to pray and study, I am ashamed to say that I was disappointed. I wanted to do more than pray and study, so the wrestling match began between Him and me. I kept adding this and adding that to His call because I thought it needed beefing up.

I can’t think of many kids I can outwrestle, and even little Mylah can wear me down and pin me to the floor, so I’m not sure why I thought I might win this match with God. He wrestles as one who knows His strength and has confidence in who He is. He puts His hand lovingly on my head and lets me swing away until I get tired of fighting. Again, being face down puts all things into perspective:)

The scriptures for the past two weeks came, as always, when I needed them, but they humbled in a way that left me wondering why God puts up with my willfulness. I know the answer to that question; I’m His child, and He loves me dearly. Knowing that is a big part of the lessons this week. As I’ve struggled with a simple virus, I have been touched by the outpouring of love offered at so many levels, but I have also come to a place of repentant humility in regard to God’s call.

Jesus is my priest and intercedes on my behalf unceasingly. He sits next to God and prays for me. The Holy Spirit utters prayers that I cannot begin to understand much less voice for myself. As I listened to His message this week, I was struck by just what that means. Ethel’s fervent prayers and sweet touch made a difference. Rita’s willingness to come and get me, take me home, get my medicine, and do chores I needed to do touched me deeply, as well. Sharon drove to a hospital in another city because she thought I was there. That also touched my heart and healed in a special way. My prayer partners lift me up in a powerful way as do so many others. I am, indeed a very wealthy woman.

Having someone who prays with and for me is the greatest gift I can ever hope to receive in this life. Jesus knows my heart better than anyone, and He and the Holy Spirit are constantly praying and lifting me up before God. I have a friend with whom I can share everything without judgment. Sharing prayer with love is as good as it gets, and friends who pray together do indeed stay together. Job was restored after praying for his friends because God knew he had learned the greatest lesson of all; I am here to pray for those in my path and be a loving presence. Job’s friends had forsaken and judged him, but he prayed for them anyway. He was blessed beautifully as a result of his unselfish love for them.

The week filled with silence, fasting, and dizziness has left me reeling at times, but I found balance in the reeling when I realized that a call to prayer is a call to be like Jesus. He made it perfectly clear today that when I think praying is not much of a call, I am dismissing His own call. That sobered, humbled, and got my attention. I don’t plan to dismiss His call ever again or try to make it what I want it to be. The irony is that I used to tell my mama when she cried and said, “All I can do is pray” that it was all any of us could do. I keep saying that my autobiography should be called “Take My Advice; I’m Not Using It” because I do know better. I just don’t always live in a way that indicates that I do. I’m thankful for His patience:)

I have a new attitude when it comes to praying and studying as I understand that God’s call is His and not mine. That was the most powerful message this week. When Lillyann says the blessing at the table, she puts one hand on her mouth and says, “Thank you God.” I believe she knows more about prayer than I do. I also know that kids know a lot more about everything until adults start teaching them to be like them:)