The Spacious Place

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It takes faith to enjoy your life wholeheartedly.  I recently read those words in one of my devotional books.  Wow.  It’s true.  I had never thought of that.  We know the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy.  And one of the things he wants to steal is our happiness.  Often, even when things are going well, we’re waiting for “the other shoe to drop.”  We may be having a great day but still have a nagging thought in the back of our minds of “What if…” or “I should…”

This underlying angst can originate in childhood.  My stepfather drank for most of my growing-up years, and my mother as a codependent was controlling.  Fun was “meted out.”  If I was allowed to have a playdate with friends, I learned not to ask again for a certain period of time because I had had enough fun.  I received this message from early childhood until the wounded part in me that coped with this assumed the guilt.  In other words, I didn’t have to be made to feel guilty for having too much fun; the guilt came from within me.

This was reinforced in my first marriage.  My former husband was an alcoholic, and his moods varied greatly.  During the seasons of active drinking, I walked on eggshells to not set anything off when he was in one of his darker moods, just as I did in childhood with my stepfather.  I had learned to stay “hidden” and subdue my own desires and opinions about life so as not to upset the apple cart.  Although the Lord met me where I was and I continued to grow spiritually, I was not at the place where I could let my guard down and truly live freely.

I just celebrated ten years of marriage with Mark.  When I was widowed, I told the Lord if he had someone for me, that he would have to bring him to me.  I asked for someone that together we would be better for his kingdom than we could be apart.  And he answered me.  I have “become myself” in ways that I never dreamed were possible with this man who has made it safe for me and helped me with encouragement and unconditional love.  Those deep places of pain, the broken parts, are for the Lord alone to heal.  But I finally have had the safety for them to come forward, one by one, for healing.  

Psalm 18:19 says, He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.  The Hebrew word for spacious is ravach, and it means to breathe freely, to be revived, refreshed.  This is the place where the Lord wants his children to live.  The Lord has since given me Galatians 5:1 for my life verse:  It is for freedom that I have come to set you free.  Stand firm, then, and don’t let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  The spacious place is freedom.  

I’m still in process.  Aren’t we all?  But I’m determined with God’s help to let go and trust him to wholeheartedly live my life.  We don’t have to keep carrying our baggage as if we have to pay to earn the right to be happy.  Jesus paid for that right.  All we have to do is receive his grace and be willing to let him heal the inner children in us who are still in pain.  

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.  John 10:10.

When Time Stands Still

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There are moments that exist just as they are, in the present with no other thoughts, no other voices.  Just that moment.  I had that experience one night when I was babysitting my then eleven-month-old granddaughter, Myla Grace.  I had the delightful task of feeding her supper, giving her a bath, and rocking her to sleep with her bottle.  Myla Grace is a highly sensitive child.  It was months before she would let any of the rest of the family hold her, even her daddy.  So it was very special when she started “taking” to her Nana.

In the rocking chair with Myla that night, I softly sang the songs I had sung to my own babies and some of my other grandchildren.  She watched me wide-eyed as she sucked on her bottle.  I’m not a good singer, but that didn’t matter to Myla.  Her eyes grew heavy, and slowly the sucking stopped.  As I pulled the bottle out of her mouth, she opened her eyes widely and looked at me, studying my face.  And then it happened.  I smiled at that precious baby girl, and she broke into a huge smile back.  No words, only quiet.  Two sets of eyes locked together, two smiles as if a huge secret was being shared.  At that moment nothing else existed.

I was deeply impacted by Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.  And I’m naming for the second time around one thousand things I’m thankful for, writing them down in my journal a few at a time, day by day.   It used to be that I thought a gratitude list was only for things like family, health, and material provision.  Now I understand that it’s being present and noticing all the graces God gives throughout our day-to-day lives.  The Word says “In all things give thanks, for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus,” I Thessalonians 5:18.  In noticing how he shows his love for us, we are loving him back.

Having our eyes open to see God’s graces requires intentionality.  It requires the “want to.”  It requires slowing down and being present in the moment If we set our hearts toward Him, the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to the smallest of graces, but it’s up to us to create the space for that to happen.  And when we experience those moments, wow!  We can be in touch with his love and with the life he has given us.  Time really does stand still.

The Word says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” Psalm 90:12.  Wisdom comes from seeing, hearing, touching God.  We do that by eucharisteo, by giving thanks.  I couldn’t wait to note my moment with Myla in my journal later that night.   I’m inviting you to try it!  There are no rules and no time limit.  It is highly personal.  And check out Ann Voskamp’s, One Thousand Gifts Devotional.  There are pages in the back for you to make your list. I promise you will be refreshed as you notice more of God’s gifts to you each day.

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us so much.  Open our eyes to see your graces, that we may have more and more of these holy moments with you.  Amen.

Learning to Love Myself, Even the Broken Parts

I have a big birthday coming up next month, and I’ve had a lot of angst anticipating this birthday.  I think what the Lord is showing me is that I have an unrealistic view of what “this age” looks like.  I’ve set up a standard that I should have it all together, my life figured out by now, and I’ve been panicking because I don’t.  The truth is that it’s never going to happen on this earth.  Perfection comes after this life, when I’m revealed in Christ to be fully myself, the one he created me to be.  That’s what sanctification is, and on this earth I’m still in process.

The last couple of days I was struggling to get out of a pit, lamenting the fact that here I was again.  In my time with the Lord, I sensed him tell me, “I love you whether you’re healed or not.”  I’m thinking if Jesus loves me just as I am, shouldn’t I love myself that way too?  If I place a higher standard on myself than the Lord does, is that not idolatry?  Because it’s saying, “I know better than you, God.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t desire to be healed and seek Christ for it.  The truth is that because of those wounded places in my heart, I’m driven to seek him more earnestly, and my intimacy with him grows.  Our broken places are where we often have the strongest encounters with the Lord.  And then out of those places where I’ve been broken and experienced healing, he can use me to be a vessel of compassion and understanding, offering hope to those with similar struggles.

So the challenge that I’m taking up and offering to you is to thank God for every struggle and see it as not just a place that needs to be “fixed,” but a place where we can encounter Jesus.  Sometimes it’s very hard to connect in those places because the pain is too great.  But we can whisper, “Jesus, come and get me.  Be with me here,” and he’s right there.  He always has been.  He was with us when we were first wounded in that place.  

Let’s recognize that there are little girls in us that have been broken, and when they are triggered, they hurt.  They cry.  They are “stuck” in the space and time where the original wounding took place.  We should ask Jesus to minister to them, yes, but we can also minister to them ourselves, from our core soul.  We do that by loving them and treating them as very valuable parts of ourselves because they are.  When we stop and recognize that the pain that put us in a pit is coming from a different part of ourselves, we are on the path to healing.

I’m now excited about my upcoming birthday and what God has in store for me in this new chapter.  And I am at peace knowing all I ever have to be is who he made me to be.  These are words from an old Amy Grant song that speaks to my heart, and I’ll leave them with you:

When the weight of all my dreams is resting heavy on my head 
And the thoughtful words of help and hope have all been nicely said
But I’m still hurting, wondering if I’ll ever be the one
I think I am…I think I am.  
Then you gently re-remind me that you made me from the first 
And the more I try to be the best, the more I get the worse.  
And I realize the good in me
Is only there because of who you are…who you are
And all I ever have to be is what you’ve made me 
Any more or less would be a step out of your plan  
As you daily recreate me, let me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find  
And all I ever have to be…all I have to be
All I ever have to be is what you’ve made me.  
(“All I Ever Have to Be,” Amy Grant)

A Lesson from Baby Birds

There are baby birds on the feeder outside my window, the momma right below on the ground.  Yesterday I saw a momma robin hopping along with a worm in her mouth.  I’m seeing a picture, a metaphor.  When the baby birds are still helpless in the nest, momma bird brings them food and drops it into their gaping mouths.  Then when they are able, they venture out to find food on their own.  Two things stand out—when they are in the nest, they must have their mouths wide open in order to receive the nourishment that they need to grow.  And when they are strong enough, they must venture out to seek their own food or they will die. 

The Word tells us to seek God, that we will find him when we seek him with all of our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).  Before we receive Christ, we are also in a helpless state.  Once we have found him and receive him into our hearts, we have to continue seeking him if we want to grow.  Jesus speaks in the parables of searching for him as treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44).  In every situation of life that I find myself in, I should ask, “Where can I find you in this moment, Lord, and how can I connect with you here?”  

In these uneasy days when we’re experiencing a global pandemic and racial unrest across the country because of the horror of a white police officer restraining a black man until he died, all caught on video for the world to see, it’s hard to know how to respond, to know what to do.  But it all begins with our intimacy with the Lord, for even Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19).  We can talk about it and fret about it and even join protests, but without God, nothing will truly change.

I’m asking the question now, “Where are you in this and how do I align with you, Lord?”  What does “Christ in me” look like here?  Maybe the world is changed one life at a time.  “Change me, Lord, in how I think about this.  What do I need to know about myself in this situation in order to receive what I need from you?”  And ultimately, “What does love look like here?”

The Word says, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19).  It all starts with God.  Just like the baby bird will never be able to fly on its own unless it receives what it needs from its momma, we won’t be the light of the world unless we’re willing to humble ourselves and receive from the Lord.  Jesus is our model.  After he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on the cross, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:8-9).  First comes humility, then comes power. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that will change us.

Jesus, rescue me from my frenetic thoughts and my anxiety and help me to breathe.  I want to be changed.  I want to connect with you intimately in the sanctuary of your Holy Spirit, where you dwell, “Christ in me.”  Teach me your ways.  Help me to love as you love.  Amen.

Living Outside of the Box

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The Box
I cannot find me.
And I don’t want to look inside the box anymore,
For I know now that I don’t belong there.
But I’ve tried so long to fit in it.
Sometimes stuffed in it.
Sometimes very small in it.
What if I walked away from it for good?

I’m thinking about how our miniature schnauzer Calvin steps out of his crate every morning so slowly, yawning, stretching his cramped hind legs that have been tucked under him all night. And I realize this is how I am coming out of the box. It’s like I’ve been asleep, on autopilot for a very long time. So when I come out, I have to stretch myself as I try something new, like saying no or responding differently or giving myself permission to do the things I really long to do—giving myself permission to be me, but not sure exactly how to go about it.

Calvin hesitates. Does he go to the door, ready to go outside and do his business, or does he jump on the chair and go back to sleep? On a rainy, cool morning like today, the effort was too much, so he went back to sleep on the chair. That’s me. Many days the newness in living outside the box seems like too much, so I find a place mentally to curl up and numb out. But other times I rush out to meet the day, welcoming life and eager to discover more about who I am and what God has for me. I know this is a process. In getting off the merry-go-round (see previous post), I’m doing a lot of floundering. But I know in time my weak legs will get stronger.

When I wrote the poem “The Box,” I didn’t have a label for it, but Mark clarified it for me. The box is false identity, not living as God created me to be, using the unique gifts he put in my hands to fulfill my purpose and bring his light to the world. Inside the box, I was governed by expectations others had put on me, or more often that I had put on myself—needing to please people in order to feel loved, self-protecting mindsets to avoid pain, believing lies about myself that are rooted in wounds. 

The enemy wants to keep us in a place of captivity, where we’re afraid to move from status quo. Life with the Lord is lived in a spacious place where we are free to breathe and move around, freedom to live as God designed us. Why has it taken me so long to get to this place, Lord? But God sanctifies time, and he is faithful. I’m making the choice to not look back and to stay out of the box. I know it’s okay if I stumble and fall and even occasionally go back to sleep. But by his grace, I will get back up! 

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
 Psalm 18:19.