Soul Place

Does your soul have a safe place to come out?  A place that is quiet and still where it tentatively creeps out of hiding and into the light, to be honest, and speak the truth about how you really feel, what you truly think, what’s going on under the mask?  Does your soul know where to go to meet face to face with your God?

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For me, it is a garden, that I named Eden because it is there that I go to walk in the cool of the day with God.  The first time I set foot into Eden, I knew I could come out from behind the bush and not be scared of my nakedness.  I know God’s presence is with me always but there is something special about the garden.  Each time we come to meet I know God will do a special work and heal my soul.

The first thing I do when I enter the garden is to take a breath, a long deep breath.  I’m aware that breathing up until now has been quick and short.  As I begin to walk I am conscious of my hurried pace and I begin to slow down so that the click of my step on the path is drawn out.  Nothing needs to be rushed in the garden.  This place and time are set aside for holy work.

As I slow down my senses open up and become enlivened.  I see, I smell, I hear differently.  They become more full and complete.  I seek out the same view each time to see how the perspective has changed as time passes between visits.  The view is big, the sky is limitless because that is the God I want to give my heart to.  Not one in a box or defined by a list, but one that can encompass all.  His love must have no end.  He must be free and wild.

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I recognize that this place, though safe is not without fear or pain.  To expose our soul fully and freely, to really listen to the what it feels in the deepest places will stir up much.  To face the person in the mirror will mean we will come to know them.  Only a God of immeasurable love can listen and heal and bring to life the beauty that up until now we’ve been too afraid to see in ourselves.

Do not step into the safe place unaware, but do so with courage and with an expectation to meet with your God and meet who you truly are.  God’s love is steadfast and he is always in the business of redeeming and restoring life.  You are no exception, my friend.

 

“As for me, nearness to God is good;

I have made the Lord God my refuge,

that I may recount all Your works.”

~Psalm 73:28

Remember, you are free

“That very day the LORD freed the Israelites from the land of Egypt, troop by troop.” ~Exodus 12:51

What day did God free you?  Can you look back and mark a specific day and place and time?  The Israelites can and every year they celebrate that day lest the forget the power and majesty of their God and whose hand it was that truly saved them.  After residing in a foreign land for 430 years God’s people were heading home, to a land of milk and honey.  But first, they would make a pit stop in the wilderness that would be the reshaping of their lives.

After living so many years in bondage and captivity, under the lordship of their enslaver, the Israelites had grown accustomed to their slavery.  It was rooted deep into their being and became their identity.  On the day God freed them there were so many weeds of lies embedded in their hearts it was hard to distinguish what was true and what was false.  Though their captors no longer physically stood over them in the wilderness, their words of deceit and oppression still spoke haunting whispers in their thoughts.

They didn’t know how to live in freedom and release themselves.  Patterns of their slavery ran deep and when the life of freedom didn’t look as they expected they kept trying to go back.  At least in Egypt they had food to eat.  At least in Egypt they had a place to rest their head.  At least in Egpyt, they had a quota of bricks to define their life.  At least they knew what to expect.  They ran back to the idols they could fashion for themselves.  Slavery was a life of control, but who was really in control?

They traveled through the wilderness for 40 years, yes as punishment for their sin, for not glorifying God for who he was and is, but I also believe that God left them there for so long so he could weed out the lies of slavery and remind them of their identity in freedom.  Yes, the life of control seems attractive.  The great enslaver deceived them to believe it’s a life worth living and continues to deceive us even today.

And so a story that happened thousands of years ago, continues to play out still today.  I see in my own life this pattern, that even though yes indeed, God has freed me, I can mark a day and a time and a place, that I keep going back to slavery, believing the illusion of lies that slavery was a place I was in control of life and that somehow that’s better.  It’s true, a life of freedom is one we have no control over because it’s a life lived under the control of God.  But I must remember that when I was enslaved, I cried out to God to save me, that what seemed like control was really oppression and living my identity trapped by a quota of work I do leaving me feeling worthless.

A life of slavery is addictive though because it is weeded deep into us.  We wonder why we keep going back to our enslaver, whether it be a physical substance, an abuser, a thought process, a pattern of behavior?  Weeds this deep take time to uproot and only God is skilled enough to remove them.  So we spend time with Him in the wilderness, a long time, where He can separate us from that which is harmful to us, remove the lies and guide us and feed us and instruct us on the truth of our identity as His daughter or His son so that we might be prepared to enter the land of freedom of our inheritance.

Be patient with yourself in the wilderness.  Ask God to show you what is a lie that keeps drawing you back to slavery and then ask him to uproot it.  Don’t be afraid to give up control to him because he will guide you every step of the way.  Listen to His instruction and truth and let it sink deep into your being.  Don’t be afraid to live a life of freedom, for in it you were always meant to live and in it, you will find your true self.

” The Messiah set us free so that we could enjoy freedom!  So stand firm, and don’t get yourselves tied down by the chains of slavery.” ~Galations 5:1

As Yourself

The latest idea God and I have been turning over together is the greatest commandment. When Jesus is asked by a lawyer what the greatest commandment in the law is he answers with this, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your life, and with all your mind.  This is the first commandment, and it’s the one that really matters.  The second is similar, and it’s this: you must love your neighbor as yourself.  The entire law hangs on these two commandments–and that goes for the prophets, too.” (Matthew 22:37-40).  I’ve read this command from Jesus more times than I can count and heard teachings on it, but it’s that last part of the second command that keeps jumping out at me lately, “as yourself,”  that I’ve not heard discussed much. Why not just state love your neighbor and end there, what’s so important about loving my neighbor “as myself”?

This has sent me on a rabbit hole of sorts as I’ve searched and talked with others.  First I find that Jesus didn’t come up with the phrase himself at that moment.  If you search back a couple of thousand years you’ll find it recorded in the book of Leviticus 19:18 when the Lord was speaking to Moses.  He was giving out commands through Moses for the people of God to follow.  At the end of telling the people not to hate their kinsmen in their heart or to take vengeance or bear a grudge against them, God says, “Love your fellow as yourself: I am the LORD.”  Clearly, this has been an important command to understand for quite some time.

As I meditate longer I’ve come up with the idea that I can’t love another beyond the capacity that I love myself.  The love that I am able to receive from God is the love that I am able to give away to another.  If I am capable of receiving then I am capable of giving, therefore, I will love my neighbor as myself.  And I think it goes beyond just the word love.  The ability of forgiveness I am able to receive is the forgiveness I’ll be able to give away.  The grace, or kindness or you fill in the blank that I give to myself is how I will show grace or kindness to my neighbor.

At the beginning of time when sin entered the world our relationship with ourselves was broken. The man and the woman felt shame and so they hid from themselves, covering themselves with fig leaves, hiding behind a bush.  God has been pursuing us ever since then not just to restore a relationship with us but to bring us back into relationship with ourselves and restore a healthy self-image to us that he always intended.

Too often today, when self-image and self-esteem are talked about in the church, it is looked down upon because it gets confused with pride and selfishness.  We are instructed instead to follow another of Jesus’ commands to deny ourselves (which I think he meant in a much different context) and we’re supposed to give and sacrifice to the point of self-denial but often it is to the point of self-destruction.  When I hear the greatest commandment talked about often it’s summarized as “love God, love others,” and we just drop the part of loving yourself.  To say it is even taboo.

My spiritual director helped me clarify my thought in a healthy way.  It’s not that Jesus is saying to love yourself in a prideful way, he’s saying to love yourself as God loves you, to see yourself as beloved.  It is out of this love that I believe you can truly love your neighbor.  First, you must immerse yourself in the first command to love God with all your being.  This will set your identity on solid rock because you will know who God is and who you are because of it.  With a restored self-image you will then love, forgive and bestow grace unto your neighbors, seeing them in the image of God as well, all of us new creations in Christ Jesus.

So what is your view of yourself?  How much do you love yourself right now at this moment?  If you’re having a hard time loving your neighbor perhaps you need to shift your focus on loving God first so that he, in turn, may show you how he sees you, fully loved and fully forgiven.

 

 

Too Big?

At what age did the answer, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that, I’m too big,” become acceptable?  As I observe kids at play, whether pretending to have a tea party indoors or climbing the jungle gym outside, I’ve realized that that’s all I’m doing, observing!  When I get asked to join in my excuse always resembles that generic answer, “I’m too big”, which really is a mask for, “I can’t,” or, “I won’t try.”

Missing out on playing for too long has caused my joints to stiffen and my imagination to recede.  Even if I want to engage in play now I’ve been out of the game for so long that it takes some time to loosen up and get everything moving again.  It’s easier to offer an excuse than it is to try.  And the problem is, the longer I sit on the sideline and give excuses I start to believe them.  I begin to believe that I’ve reached an age where I just can’t play the game and take risks along the way.

At some point in adulthood, I realized that I had never broken a bone, a normal rite of passage in childhood.  In the beginning, I thought of it as a source of pride but the longer I contemplate it I’ve realized that maybe I’ve always been making excuses to not push myself too hard and be content to sit on the sidelines.  My fears held me back from climbing a little higher, making it the whole way across the monkey bars, jumping from the tallest tower, immersing myself so fully into a pretend character or singing out the loudest because I might look like a fool.

I envy my friend’s daughter who defies her mom’s cautions and keeps climbing as high as the tree will allow her and beyond.  I envy the little girl next door who doesn’t care that girls aren’t supposed to wear dinosaur shirts or like superheroes over princesses. She came home with a broken elbow yesterday because even though she’s in kindergarten and the monkey bars are “too high” she tried anyway.  She’s going to get a blue cast and her mom is going to draw a Captain America shield on it.  I bet when she gets it off she’s going to be right back up there on those monkey bars.

I marvel at the spunk these kids have and wonder if, or hope, perhaps can I gain a bit of risk-taking back in my life?  Big dreams keep popping into my head and they scare me.  I hesitate to say them out loud and share them because it would make them real.  But I can’t help but think what if, and my heart beats a little faster.  Why not me?  Why can’t I do it?  Because I believe excuses instead of the truth.

As I’ve experienced the awakening of my soul in the last year I have been able to embrace God’s love deeper and deeper.  I believe that the deeper we experience God’s love the more we’ll be able to risk because in that deep love we discover our true self.  Our true self is, of course, the truth and it will push out all those excuses and lies that hold me back.  The more I sit with God, think about him every moment of the day, the more I will know him.  The more I know him, I will know his love and that love will become my being as well.  My identity will transform into love and be able to take on any risk that comes my way.

God is big and vast and we will never contain him.  As we join him in the work of his creating it will be scary at times because it is as limitless as him and require us to risk it all.  But as we jump off the cliff, eyes wide open, we know we’re falling into him so the hard work and sacrifice and embarrassment and “broken bones” and setbacks that we’ll encounter along the way will be nothing more than knowing God more, loving him more, becoming our true self.

Where is your identity grounded?  In excuses or love?  What work is God inviting you to experience with him, together?  Are you holding back from being with him because the risk seems too great?  Have you gone outside and played today?

Just Being Together

The other day my Spiritual Director and I were meeting together.  She asked me why I thought God wanted to spend time with me?  My initial reaction was because he wants me to do amazing things for him and then I quickly realized that wasn’t the reason.  I repented quickly from that first answer and realized there is still much time that God and I need to spend with one another till my heart answers that question, God’s wants to spend time with me because he wants us to just be together.

I got the great idea to make some homemade cookies today and asked my youngest if he wanted to join in.  He was quick to answer yes.  This is my third kid so I’m finally at the realization that making cookies with two-year-olds will result in a cloud of flour everywhere and not all the ingredients making it into the mixing bowl but definitely sticky little fingers.  Expecting the messes helps me to open myself up to relaxing and enjoying the moment more.

We got to the point in the cookie making that is every kid’s favorite (and mine too) where we use a special cookie scoop to place the dough on the baking sheets.  It’s like a miniature ice cream scoop that you squeeze the handle to release the dough.  Due to the novelty and gadget involved the kids always want to complete this step themselves and my little guy was eager to declare, “Me do it!”  I knew his little hand wasn’t going to be able to squeeze the handle in the whole way so I asked if we could do it together and his answer changed to, “Mommy. Me. Both!”

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As our hands worked together to scoop and squeeze, my heart was warmed at the moment we shared.  With each drop of the dough, my son would squeal with delight and his face beamed with excitement and pride at his accomplishment.  Sure I could have made the cookies myself but I would have missed out on the shared joy between my son and me.  I enjoyed just being together.

God doesn’t need us to “make cookies” in life.  He’s the creator of the universe and he knows we’re dust and that whenever we get our sticky little fingers into the bowl there’s going to be messes.  God doesn’t need me to do anything but I do think he enjoys accomplishing his work together with me, seeing the delight and wonder in my face as his hand takes hold of mine and we spend time just being together.  Little by little as I attune my presence to an awareness of his presence every moment I will feel less of a need to do anything and more of a desire to be.

The Answers

I’ve been wracking my brain and my heart with some big questions lately.  Big life ones about making changes and breaking cycles and getting messy.  As a recovering perfectionist I like to have all the answers to any question that would come up, but right now I don’t and I’m learning to live with that.  Stop forcing it and breathe.

I keep having song lyrics run through my head instead of answers because music tends to be my breathing throughout the day.  All the lyrics center on this one truth, I am a child of God, and it seems that every moment of these days I need to be reminded of that one truth.  I give myself a little tattoo every morning to help with the remembering.

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Remember.

Believe.

Breathe.

Maybe I do have all the answers already, at least the ones that really matter.

Forgiveness​

At bedtime tonight:

“Mommy, I lied three times today.”

“Why do you think you did that sweetie?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mommy, do you think I should talk to God and ask him to forgive me?”

“Yea buddy, I think you should.”

At the end of his prayer, I got the awesome privilege of reminding him again that God is just and forgiving and full of unending love.

I’m a perfectionist by nature, so admitting when I make a mistake when I sin can be really, really hard.  Over the last year, it’s something God and I have been working on together.  It’s hard to confess and say, yea, I messed up that one, I’m sorry.  But giving myself permission to confess, to ask forgiveness from another, from myself, from God gives me a release from the guilt and shame that pervaded my heart before.  When we accept forgiveness, really open our hearts and receive, then we can move on in life and not be chained down by the inner critic that berates us.

My religious background is not of the Catholic background so I might be butchering this one but sometimes I think they have this whole confession thing right.  Having the freedom to go to another human being and say I screwed up without any judgment and then to be reminded by them that God loves me before I screwed up, while I was screwing up and after I screwed up must be a balm to your soul.  The more I put into practice first forgiving myself and then receiving it from another I let go of the guilt and make room for the love.  And that love, well it only multiples from there.

At this next step in my journey with God I am learning more and more about his love, a love that was always there but I was unable to see and experience.  A love that remembers that I am dust, that I am created in love and that I will always be loved beyond measure, not because of what I do (or didn’t do), but because of whose I am.  By learning that there is freedom in confession I am opening my life to new possibilities and to grow into the kind of person that can more fully love God and love my neighbor as myself.  When I’m not harping on myself over all the mistakes I make, I’m less critical of others mistakes, quick to forgive myself and quick to forgive them.  Perhaps this is one way that helps us to have the eyes of compassion that Jesus was always so quick to bestow.

May we be quicker to say I sinned.

I’m sorry.

Thank you for your love.

People over Stuff

What am I teaching my children every time I say, don’t scratch that, don’t break that, the pillows belong on the couch!?  Do I show them that people matter over things?  Yes, we must respect our possessions and treat them well, but when a plate breaks, does my temper break too?  It’s just a plate, and they are a soul, a person created in the image of God to exist for all eternity.

What am I saying to myself when I buy a new shirt, new shoes, new handbag?  Do I value people or do I value stuff?  Who made this and what is their story?  How did it come to be here with me today?  And in turn, again, what am I teaching my children?  Do we have a house full of stuff or a house full of laughter and joy and freedom because the stuff we do own was created with laughter and joy and freedom?  We value our own lives over our stuff and we value the people’s lives who created it over the stuff.

How I react to our stuff decides how they will react to it out in the world.  Someone scratches their car in the parking lot over an honest misjudgment of space.  What do they value, the stuff or the person?   Our children grow up to be the workers of tomorrow, will they value the worker or the bottom line?  We wonder why workaholism runs rampant, but what have we taught our children to value?  The productivity at the end of the day or a life lived in love towards their neighbor and their self?

We are not human doings, we are human beings, created in love so that we, in turn, may love that which the Creator made in his image.  It’s a choice every day to love people over stuff.  There is room for stuff in our lives but only when it is secondary is it able to take a place where it enhances beauty and pleasure and fun.  Whether it is something we create ourselves to able to steward this home we’ve been given to welcome our neighbor and better their life because we put in first priority people, every person.

More and more I’m learning the lessons I want to pass down to the next generation are the values I want my own life to be transformed and defined by.  First I must examine my own heart to see what plank I need to remove from my own eye.  Where am I valuing stuff over people?  Who is my neighbor right in front of me today to love?  How can I use stuff to enhance the beauty around me and the lives of those I’ve been given to love?

The Gift of Motherhood

Last week we celebrated Mother’s Day here in the US.  Typically a day spent lavishing mom with accolades, thanksgiving, and gifts to praise her for the wonderful hard work she puts in day and day out living out her role as mom.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those accolades, especially as someone who thrives on encouragement in life in order to keep fighting the good fight, but more often than not, especially on Mother’s Day I find myself typically pondering the gift motherhood has brought into my own life.

So many gifts, where to begin?  I suppose at the beginning, at conception.  I began to learn then that motherhood would be an opportunity for me to learn more about myself, provide this emotional and spiritual connection to parts of me that were once closed off.  During my first pregnancy, I found myself fearful at times and not able to fully live into the joy and excitement that the anticipation of a new life could bring.  This fear was new to me and one day I took the courage to sit with it in the presence of God.  I asked that scared side of me to come out so I could know it better and I was startled at the wash of emotion that came over me.  For the first time in my life it was revealed to me my need to control life and to put in the effort on my part to control the outcome that came my way.  God gently showed me that life is in his hands, this baby’s life and my life and would I trust him, fully trust?  If this baby’s life were to end that day, the next or 100 years from now, he would still be God and his love would not waiver so I could stand each day on that hope.

God continued (and continues) to reveal his steadfast nature to me through motherhood. When I held my newborn child for the first time and that overwhelming love welled up from somewhere inside I was overcome.  And somehow, magically it happens each and every time God gifts us with another child.  As I snuggle and nurse and breathe in the beauty that is my child I realized that this is only a tiny fraction of the love that God feels for me, his child.  The words I speak over my children to describe God’s love to them, “God loves you because you are his.  Not because of what you do, but because you are precious to him, always,” begin to sink deeper into my own heart because of my reflection of love that I have for my own children.  God loves me because I am his precious child and I am his.

As the years of motherhood stretch on God continues to reveal more of my sin nature to me through these little mirrors of self that are walking around with me every day.  My kids will develop a pattern of saying something that I just don’t like, where did they get that from?  Oh, me.  I never realized what an angry person I can become when I feel out of control of a situation, but enter in a child who loves to push the boundaries and that anger just rises to the top to rear it’s ugly head over and over again.  We want more for our kids, to send them off into the world to give away kindness and hope and love and I know those patterns must start in our home so once again I must sit with God to coax out into the light all those default, sinful ways, the thorns that have been for years choking out seed that God wants to flourish in my heart.  God can only heal that which is in the light.

It’s important along the way of this parenting journey to read books about child behavior and how-to’s, but I have found that the greatest parenting tool is in surrendering my heart to God, letting his light heal these parts me that through parenting have been revealed to me and transform me little by little into the unique expression of the likeness of him I meant to become.  As I am transformed into that person then I can give it away, live it as an example to my kids.  When my boundary pusher pushes, instead of offering him yelling and anger in response, I can give him a gentle answer, which always turns away wrath, and a hug of understanding.  Instead of telling my kids to obey because I said so, I can look to them as individuals, offer them patience and study the unique way to nurture each of them, to cultivate the soil of their hearts so their future might bring fewer thorns and more fertile ground for the word of God to yield crops, 10, 20, 100 fold what is planted over the years in their heart.

Motherhood has given me a long-term view of life.  It’s not just about who they are now, it’s about who they will become and same is true for me.  So I find the fruit of patience and mostly grace being my default these days.  I’m only into this motherhood thing for eight years now and I know I have a lot more to glean from it, but I’m thankful for the trajectory I’ve started on, thankful that I have my kids with me along the way, as we all learn about forgiveness and grace and love together.  I love those little people, because they are his, and they are a beautiful gift in my life.

Moving On

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Life has been a cluster of crazy the last month.  My family and I have decided to move after calling this house our home for the last 10 years.  It was a pretty quick decision and only took about six weeks to buy a house and sell ours.  On the outside looking in I can understand why people might assume we’re moving for more space, a better location or school, but on the inside, it has been a much deeper journey to reach peace and healing.

As I’ve shared, 2017 was a year of watching friend after friend move away.  At the beginning of this year, my husband and I started entertaining the thought that maybe it was our time to think about moving as well.  We never thought we’d live in this house forever and after adding our third child to the family, the walls began to squeeze in on us more and more.  Every few months we’d clean out the closets and reorganize the space and make it work for us for just a little bit longer.  We’d come to love this little neighborhood and the place we brought all our babies home to.

Our home taught us so many lessons.  Having a smaller space forced us to live a simpler life and to learn to live with less which in turn changed our heart to desire a simple life.  Living in one spot for 10 years when our area is so transient taught us to put down roots and meet our neighbors.  Being some of the longest living folks on the street meant we were the welcome committee, showing people around, learning the local spots, sharing the exact trash pickup times twice a week.  We have gotten to meet the whole world in our backyard here and have made some of the dearest friends in life.  To leave would not be an easy decision.

The thought of moving scared me at first.  Could I really handle one more change in my life?  We would keep swaying back and forth, yes we should move now, no we can wait a little longer, but we always swayed back to yes, maybe now is the time.  I knew the gravity of the decision to move and didn’t want to take it lightly, was I moving just to avoid my problems and my emotions, to avoid having to process the pain of life and grief of loss I had experienced last year?

And then God spoke, as he always does in his soft, gentle way if we are willing to slow down and listen.  He said sometimes in life we need a physical move to necessitate an emotional and spiritual healing.  Wow, how very true.

I realized that sometimes, to give ourselves permission to move on in life we need to actually move on.  A change of scenery, no matter how subtle can help shift our perspective and sigh a breath of release.  Though my home had so many happy, joyful, fulfilling memories, subconsciously I would also remember my dad every time I used the light switch he replaced and remember the friends upon friends I’ve had to say goodbye to every time I walked out my front door and drove past their houses.  Those are memories that yes, are good but are so, so heavy in my heart.

I realized the more I agonized over the decision to move kept feeding my inner perfectionist.  Each choice had its merits but no, there was not a “perfect” choice to make. Giving myself permission to make a decision, whether it was the perfect one or not again helped me to move on in other ways.  Stop feeding the inner critic and start living in the freedom to live.  To stay would be hard, to move would be hard, but life is hard, no matter what the choices we make, we can’t avoid them, we can only live within the grace given us this day and move forward surrendered to perfect Love.

Once I listened and stepped over into that surrender to accept whatever would come next a house appeared.  As our family toured around it my husband and I began to dream and vision where our things would go and more importantly how we could open this new place to the people that are in our lives now and the ones we still have to invite.  Our kids ran around, picking bedrooms and giggling and throwing a ball in the backyard.  In one visit we could already see how this house could transform into our next home.  I wonder what lessons it will have to teach us?  I wonder how we will all be able to move on?