Welcome

A welcoming attitude opens the door to community the way a welcome mat invites folks into a home. I put my welcome mat inside the house because I don’t want those who visit to think they have to clean up before they can come in.

I’ve been in homes that made me want to take off my shoes, and I’ve been in homes where they actually asked me to remove my shoes before coming in. That puts a damper on the welcome and sends the clear message that I need to watch what I do and where I do it. That isn’t the message I want to relay to my friends, family, and guests. I want them to feel welcome to come in as they are and not worry about the state of their shoes or their hearts.

I feel the most welcome in the homes that welcome me as I am and don’t expect me to leave all my dirt on the mat before coming in. I told my Sunday School class yesterday that I felt welcome and at home in a way my heart has been craving. They laughed out loud when I told them about telling the pastor I couldn’t help with communion last week because I wasn’t dressed properly. He had the same reaction, so I laughed and helped.

I’ve always felt I had to live up to the expectations of others, and that hasn’t worked out well for me or them. A lot of my feeling unwelcome came from a deep-seated need to please. I am slowly changing in that regard, and that has a lot to do with my new sense of belonging. God placed a beautiful community directly across the street from my new home and prepared my heart for it, but I had to take the first step.

Doormats come in thousands of styles from simple to extravagant, and they say all manner of things, but I prefer the ones that simply say “Welcome” and don’t make me feel guilty for leaving a little dirt on them.

Welcome is a two way street that is more about being comfortable with myself than the way others invite me to come in. When I am who God created me to be and allow others to be the same, I can enter any home with a comfortable heart even when I am asked to take off my shoes 😉

 

Homeless

Over 500,000 people spend the night in shelters, cars, or on the street. A fourth of them are children. Numbers have decreased in some areas since 2015, but they are still far too high. There are many reasons for homelessness, but I tend to latch onto the ones that make me feel less guilty about the desperation they face. They are drug addicts; they are alcoholics; they brought it on themselves; they are lazy. All these are excuses help me sleep soundly in my nice, warm bed at night.

The truth is much deeper and more disturbing. The homeless are lost in a world that barely notices them. Most suffer from mental illness, have serious addictions, financial losses, or have a heart or body that is broken beyond their ability to heal. They are caught in vicious cycles that never seem to end. Most Americans are only three months away from being on the streets themselves, and a job loss or catastrophic illness shortens that time dramatically.

During this special time of the year, our attention is turned toward a young couple who found themselves searching for a place to sleep. Away from home and expecting a new baby any day, they desperately needed a place to rest after their long journey. The only place available was a cave where lambs were birthed. Appropriate in that Christ was, is, and will always be, the Lamb of God.

Mary and Joseph were not homeless, but they did experience the angst of being away from home and not able to find a place to sleep for the night. Christ was born out in the open where animals were sleeping, yet His humble beginning marked a turning point for this planet. When I see those forced to sleep out in the open with open arms and an open heart, God creates a new turning point in my own heart that puts both me and the planet a little closer in line with His heart. That vicious cycle begins to look more like the loving circle His heart desires.

Purity

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.” (NLT)

When King David prayed this prayer in Psalm 51:10, he was asking God to help him get back on the right path. I love his supplication because it comes from a repentant heart. To me, that is the highest level of purity we humans can achieve. King David was not a perfect or a pure man, but he was a man after God’s own heart who wanted to be near his dear Lord.

Christ was pure in every sense of the word, the ultimate unblemished Lamb suitable for the proper sacrifice to God, the Father. We can stumble along the path Christ lays before us, but we will not achieve true purity until we are with Him in heaven.

Until then, God asks us to have the courage to walk along the path His Son walked. I like to think it is like taking the first step on a snow covered road. I hate to be the first to trod on the purity of that path, but I remember what is underneath the white covering and step out.

Like a beautiful snow covered path, Christ’s sacrifice covers the ugliness of our hearts with a purity only He can achieve. Unlike the snow, Christ’s covering is permanent. He wants us to trust Him and walk bravely in the same places we have always lived but with a light heart knowing our paths are covered with His Holy Spirit’s presence.

There’s nothing more fun that being the first one out on a snowy morning and frolicking with abandon in newly fallen snow. The animals usually beat us to the path, but sometimes, we get to experience the world in the light of the sweet purity of a winter wonderland. If we tune our hearts to God’s sweet presence each morning, we can get an even greater sense of wonder without the cold 🙂

Expectation

Expectation takes its lead from my heart. If I’m expecting gloom an doom, that’s exactly what I get. If I’m expecting to get what I deserve, that’s what I get. I spent most of my life thinking I deserved less than God had in mind, and that’s exactly what I got. I love this image of the girls right after they helped put up the Christmas tree because they are excitedly expecting the wonderful things to come. My heart has grown to expect the same.

Advent should be a season of great wonder and excitement. God’s Son came down to be with us, and He’s coming again!! If Christians had half the excitement about that good news as these little girls have about the prospect of Santa Claus coming, the world would be a very different place.

Waiting is never easy, and that is particularly true for little ones at this time of year; but when we wait in the sweet anticipation of knowing God loved us enough to send His only Son and loves us enough to send Him again, we become like children who believe with all their hearts that something amazing is coming! That makes us smile and squeal the way these two little ones did when the Christmas tree was finally up.

I pray my heart will always be like a child waiting for something beyond my comprehension but real enough to make me squeal.

Love

No one can snatch me from God’s hand, but I am free to hop out at any time. He will let me wander for as long as it takes for me to create my own kingdoms, make my own mountains, and plan my own projects. He waits because Love is patient.

God doesn’t close his hand around me because love cannot be forced with a fist. He knows only an open palm works when it comes to love. He is the ultimate example self-differentiation and waits for His children to find their way back to Him. Love requires openness and freedom; otherwise, it will wither and die. God knows that better than anyone, so He never forces or coerces. He refuses to fuse. I must do the same if I am to love Him and others as He desires.

When my kingdoms crash, my mountains topple, and my projects fail, I find comfort in God’s loving hand. He doesn’t gloat or fuss or say, “I told you so. I knew you’d be back!” He simply loves. His love never changes or moves and is best described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffereddoes not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” NASB

 

Rejoice!!

When I hear the word rejoice, I immediately think of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It is a favorite and familiar song that lifts my heart every time I hear it.

This song makes me want to sing and defines worship for me. Worship begins with love. Love leads to faith, and faith is the stage upon which I rejoice. Singing is a natural response when it comes to worship, but I learned from a terrible music teacher in fourth grade that I could not sing. Up until that moment, I sang with abandon. After his ugly comment, I mouthed the words in public and stopped singing when alone.

During Holy Week in 2009, a dear friend helped me see myself as a singer and gave me the courage to sing in front of a small group. I never felt more alive in my life than when I was singing “What Wondrous Love is This” and “Where You There.” Mama died a few months later, and life took an unexpected turn. I sang in worship and when alone, but I didn’t pursue singing the way God wanted me to. I had the desire to sing, but I lacked the courage. Hateful words have deep roots.

Singing, loving, rejoicing, dancing, and worshipping are best done with abandon. All of them should be done whether anyone is watching or not, and all should come from a deep place in the heart. Last night, God reminded me how much He loves to hear me sing. Like the parent of a little child, nothing delights Him more than hearing His little ones sing with abandon. He also showed me that the only time singing, loving, rejoicing, dancing, and worshipping are inappropriate is when they are about me and not Him.

I could relate because nothing is more off key than singing done to shine a light on the singer. I’ve heard singers who performed perfectly but left my heart feeling flat. I’ve also heard performances that were not perfect that caused my heart to soar toward heaven. The point of all worship is to glorify God. When we do that together, it is magical.

I love the time I spend alone with God. Sometimes I sit quietly and listen. Sometimes I talk to Him. Sometimes I sing, and sometimes I dance! A solo is beautiful, but it is a taste of heaven when voices join in sweet harmony. That harmony doesn’t depend upon everyone singing in the right key; it happens when hearts are tuned in one accord.

Lillyann spent the night last night and warned me when we went to bed that she did not like getting up in the morning. According to her, it would be a problem. I told her I could handle it 🙂 I heard her singing in the bathroom while I was writing this post. Again, God’s timing always amazes and usually amuses me!

I went in, and she was washing her hands and singing sweetly. She stopped singing and looked up at me sheepishly. I told her to keep on singing and told her she was up fifteen minutes early and singing! She grinned, and I told her to blame it on the cinnamon buns. She laughed and asked if they were ready.

As we were driving to school this morning, I told her how much I loved to hear her sing. I also told her that nobody love to hear us sing more than God. While we waited in the line of cars, I told her about my fourth grade music teacher’s remarks and the effect they had upon me. She said, “That’s horrible!!” I told her I loved to sing now because someone else encouraged me to sing. She said, “That’s good.” I heartily agreed 🙂

She was singing again while putting on her shoes before we left; I decided to capture that sweet moment because she didn’t stop when I walked over.

 

 

 

Make Room

Making room for God requires letting go of self. That doesn’t mean I can’t be me; it simply means I can’t keep all of my stuff. When I moved into my tiny apartment in town, I had to downsize considerably. The home I shared with my son and his family for two and a half years was over 5,000 square feet. My new place is 550 square feet. My bedroom and bath were larger than my apartment, so I had some serious downsizing to do.

Taking stock of my belongings wasn’t easy, do I did it while the kids were away on vacation. I made three piles: treasures to keep, things to give away, and things to sell. Two of the piles were easy, but the one in the middle brought me to tears. I love books and had hundreds of them, but I knew they would never fit into my apartment. The same was true for all I had accumulated over the years. After agonizing over each possession, the largest pile held treasures I wanted to keep. I decided to deal with the other two first because they were easier on my heart.

The pile to sell was easy. I felt great after taking several car loads to a nearby consignment shop because I was going to get paid for letting go. I was energized and ready to tackle the give away pile. It was fun to think about who would love and appreciate the stuff I no longer needed. I started with materials and books from my classroom. I had given away a ton of materials when I retired. I left most everything behind in my classroom when I retired, but I did take special books and units with me just in case I decided to teach again.

I knew several wonderful young teachers, one a former student I knew would put my things to good use. She was elated, and that encouraged me to press on. It was time to deal with that troubling treasure chest at home. I made a new pile of things for my son. That was fun and made a big dent in the pile, but there was still the treasures to keep pile!

I decided to take a break and do some praying. God knew this was a hard process, and He knew that was more about letting go than sorting out. Not having room is convenient when it comes to homes and hearts. There is a certain safety in not having space because it keeps me from inviting in the new or stepping into the unknown. If I don’t have time or space, I don’t have to worry about growing. We all know that growing pains are very real and apply to more than teenage joints and muscles.

With God’s help, I was able to let go and grow into my tiny apartment with room to spare. I absolutely love my new home because it is filled, but not full. Simplifying was satisfying and opened the door for a similar transformation in my heart. My apartment and my heart are loving the openness. God is loving it too because His Holy Spirit has enough space to dance. That makes both of us very happy. My grand daughters are happy because they also have space to dance and play. Making room in a house or a heart isn’t an easy process; but once you create a little open space, you want more of it and will never be satisfied with crowded again.