The Present Moment

Too often when I stop and catch my thought pattern I find I am distracted by what has happened, reliving the what and when and how over and over, or I’m preoccupied with what is coming ahead, the to-do list, the maybe, the unknown I’m trying to control.  In either instance I am very rarely focused on where God is with me.  My thoughts are inward.

God’s gentle voice calls me out of that headspace and slowly I am attuning my heart to follow where it leads, and often where it leads it to the moment right before my eyes.  The more I discipline myself to practice the present moment I see that it has nothing to do with the human construct of time, instead, it draws our attention to the thin veil that separates our world with heaven and in that space, we meet God and we experience joy.

God has given me wise teachers in life who are always attuned to the present in the form of my three small children.  Children are not distracted with what has been or what the future might hold, they have no concept of time.  At any given moment I know exactly what my children are thinking and feeling, engrossed in story time, building a world of make-believe, feeling the deep hurt after falling off a bike, or the disappointment of no dessert.  They feel happiness and fear and sadness and all the things I believe because they are so present to their true selves at that moment.

One day I was playing with my three year old and he kept getting frustrated with me.  I realized I wasn’t having much fun either and then I realized it was because I wasn’t actually playing.  I was thinking of all the things I should be doing, could be doing.  And then it hit me, be present to this moment, the one that is gifted me right now.  As I could fully give myself over to play I felt peace and I felt joy and happiness and fun.  I connected with myself and my son deeply and when we do that, we always connect with God as well.

I think back to the moment I sat at my father’s death bed and watched his last breaths slip away.  I characterize that moment as feeling the deepest joy and deepest sorrow in my life.  I felt deeply because I was present deeply to the thin veil.  At that moment I knew God presence and I knew my true self to be present.

If we want to be people who are fully alive then I believe we must be people who are fully present.  Perhaps this is just one more way we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of God.  The smaller the child the less the false self has guarded them off and so the easier it is for them to just be present.  Today let us listen to the gentle voice that calls us to him.

Not even you

A Sunday morning many years ago I was singing the words in a bridge of a song that had been plucked from the book of Romans, “And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?”  As I passionately belted out the words I heard a whisper in my heart, “You Kelly, you are the only thing standing in the way of me working in your life.”

I stood in shock as those words soaked into my heart, I was what held me back from reaching the true potential that God had created in me.  And I was sad because I knew they were true.  And they weren’t spoken in acquisition or anger but in gentle conviction, which I think made me even sadder.

Well, I continued to walk around with those words year after year.  I couldn’t quite shake the weight of them.  At first, they felt like a prescription to a problem.  The state of my being was one of fear, that held me back from taking challenges, resign to the notion that this was just life, accept my place and position for what it was.  Then as time went on they prompted me to inquire further, why were they true and for that matter what did they mean?

As we self reflect we are able to find the image bearer in us that shows us who we are in Christ.  I was able to weed through all this to realize that the Kelly that held me back was not the Kelly that imaged Christ.  And if it was a false me, well then she could be pushed aside so that Paul’s words would manifest into truth, that nothing could stop me if God is for me.

I began to believe that God was really for me, that he loved me beyond measure.  As love permeates us it drives out the fear that stops us.  This involves a lot of truth-telling, a healthy dose of confession, a posture of humility and a willingness to walk in the light, let it shine so that it can heal.  And with that healing comes hope, because God’s last word is always hope.

A few weeks ago I was listening to another song, but the same words from Romans 8.  In this new place of healing and hope with God, “If God be for us,” rang out from the third part of Handel’s Messiah.  As the words echoed in my heart, the voice whispered to me again, “And now not even you can stop you or me dear one.”  God took my sadness and filled me with tears of joy.

We all come to places where we feel stuck, like we are our own worst enemy.  Even Paul says in the chapter before that he finds himself in this cycle of doing what he doesn’t want to do and not doing what he does want to do.  But if we let ourselves become aware, then we can become engaged, we can wrestle with God in these places in our lives.  We must strive ahead and remember that we are Easter people, people of hope and that if God is for us, then who could stop us?

Receive

I found myself in a familiar passage in Luke’s gospel this morning.  Luke begins the story with the people bringing their tiny babies to Jesus for him to touch.  In a society where children were neither seen nor heard, it doesn’t seem out of place for his disciples to shoo the people away.  Jesus as always has a counter culture, unexpected response.  He not only receives these little ones, but he also embraces them and blesses them and then says something that I’m sure was quite confusing.

Receive the kingdom of God as a child or else you will never enter.  Jesus tells us, this is the truth, a sure foundation to stand upon.  So it got me wondering, how does a child receive?  I’m fortunate to have a handful of kids running around my house at any moment so I pondered, how do my children receive a gift or really any good thing that’s been presented to them?  I thought of words like excitement, wonder, joy.  Small children have the ability to immerse themselves so fully in the moment they are in and so feel these things to the fullest measure.  Children have no fear of good gifts given to them from their loving parent, and never wonder if any strings are attached.  Children receive with open hands and open hearts.

Do I receive the good gift, the invitation to enter my true home, God’s kingdom, in this way?

Luke then immediately goes into the next story and so I continued to read.  A man Luke calls a ruler, comes to ask Jesus a question that is important to him.  I imagine this man has it all together given the nature of his questioning and responses.  He thinks he has life all figured out, he’s rich, he’s young, he’s a ruler, and he’s kept all the commandments.  Now he wants to know how to get everything in order for life in the age to come.  Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, distribute it to the poor and then come and follow him.  The man is sad, Jesus can tell and he says to the people how hard it will be for those with many possessions to enter God’s kingdom.  Their reaction, well then who can be saved?

I have many possessions and a life that seems pretty together, will I enter God’s kingdom?

At first glance, it’s easy to read these two stories as separate, each with their own meaning but then why did Luke tell them back to back and why did some person decide centuries ago to group them together under one heading?  And then I made a connection.  Why does a child receive with wonder and excitement and joy?  Because they possess nothing.  There is room in their heart to receive and they are totally dependent on their parents to provide for them.  When that parent-child relationship is one of love and security the child trusts and their heart is open wide.

Jesus looked beyond the exterior of the rich, young ruler, of his life all put together.  Jesus perceived a heart that was full already.  Perhaps full of pride and self-sufficiency.  The man found security in his possessions and wealth.  Through his acts of doing, he was able to achieve the life he wanted and now he thought through his own actions and work he could achieve the life he wanted in the age to come as well.  But that’s not how God’s kingdom works and that was what Jesus was telling the people when he said they must receive as a child.

By giving away his possessions to the poor the young ruler would make room in his heart to receive.  By seeing himself dependent on his heavenly Father, he would run to him for what he needed.  By following Jesus he would see what the relationship between the father and son is to be, an exchange of love and grace and trust.  The young ruler could see that his security comes in his identity, a child of God, and he would receive life to the fullest in this age and the one to come.

Do I have room in my heart to receive?  Where do I find my security?  Do I see myself as a child, totally dependent on my Father?  What possessions must I give away to the poor, so that I might become poor and receive the kingdom of God?

The tree of life

We read in Genesis chapter 2 that in the Garden of Eden, man’s first home, God grew up every tree producing fruit pleasing to the sight.  In the middle of the Garden grew two very specific trees, the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  After placing man in the garden God gave him as a gift to eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of the knowledge of good evil, “for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die.”  So that leads me to believe that Adam and Eve were permitted to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.

As the story continues along though, the serpent, Satan comes to deceive our first father and mother to eat from the tree that would bring death.  The fruit was pleasing to the eye afterall and so they ate, ignoring the bring death warning and instead believing the lie that they would be like God, knowing good and bad.  And so the curse of sin enters God’s perfect world because of a choice to feed the flesh and ignore the divine order that sends a ripple effect throughout all of creation, ushering in a new age that we still feel the effects of today.  No longer are they permitted in this state to eat of the fruit of life and so they and we are banished from the garden, but not forgotten.

It was praying the Our Father, the line, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” that got me thinking of these two trees, two trees that we are still presented with today, now that we live in the age of redemption.  In every situation we are presented to choose between life and death.  Will we react in a way that we pluck the fruit of the tree of life to eat and taste and be nourished from, or will do we listen to a lie of our flesh calling out to be fed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thinking it will make us divine beings on our own terms?  I think that’s why Jesus asks us to pray these words.  He knows our flesh is tempted and weak, desiring to be satiated in any way possible and so to remind us of what that choice brought to Adam and Eve and the rest of creation he calls us to plead with God to lead us away from that tree and to the tree of life.

And what does the fruit from the tree of life look like, why the fruit of the Spirit of course, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  The more we eat this fruit, it’s seeds are planted in us to grow and produce more of it in our lives.  In turn, it will be the fruit that we have to offer all those around us so that a cycle of life continues on.  As long as we stay connected to the true Vine then the Gardener will cultivate the fruit of life in us and through us.

When I pray that line, to lead me from temptation, I add in that God would lead me instead to life.  I imagine myself before these two trees in the garden and physically turning from the one that will lead to my death and towards the one that will give me life.  I ask that I will intentionally pluck its fruit and be satisfied by its taste, and let its goodness fill me to overflowing.  I want to choose the nourishment that my Creator made for me to not only live on but to thrive on.

Both/And

I’m reminded often as of late of approaching life with the lens of “both/and”, not “either/or”.  I first put on these new lenses while I sat at my father’s bedside as he died.  Up until that day I thought life could only exist in “either/or”, I could feel one way or I could feel the other.  But at dad’s side, simultaneously I felt both the greatest sorrow I had experienced to that point in my life at the loss of my father, but also the deepest joy and peace that dad was free from the chains of this life and I was so glad for him.  In my grief that followed, I also experienced at the same time the awakening of my soul.  Perhaps I could feel two things at once, and perhaps I could feel them more deeply when experienced together.

As I live with my new lenses I am seeing that this new approach lives out in many ways.  I notice for instance that if I seek to bestow true forgiveness to others in life and the freedom that it will give me, I must at the same time delve deep into the pains and hurt that caused the wounds in the first place.  I don’t know about you but that pain and hurt were enough to experience the initial time around, why go poking around into the mess again?  This time around I don’t go by myself though.

My Brother offers to hold my hand, illuminating our path as we enter into parts of my heart that have been locked away.  I offer the key and we go together.  God shows me where He was present all along before, I was just blind to His presence, and where He is now, His Love large enough to catch every tear and heal every wound.  When the great Healer comes in to make me whole again, my new self is what identifies me, not the old self of victim and shame.  Forgiveness can come from this new place, with these new lenses.

I learn along the way though, that a companion of forgiveness is confession, my own confession, “both/and”.  I must reach a place where I see the depravity of my own sin, the plank sticking out of my own eye.  The more deeply I confess my own sin, to own it, I can receive forgiveness myself.  The Healer comes to me in a different way, to remove my plank and set me free.  What I learn from the gift of mercy is how it is bestowed, with gentleness and with compassion.  This was a “both/and” I could not see before.

I hid away my confession because I thought it would be met with judgment and anger, I was bound by fear.  The longer I have spent in the embrace of Love I rest in its assurance so fear is driven out and I can let my guard down.  Confession can flow more naturally because now I know the “both/and” it is accompanied by is more Love.  How is that possible?  Because it is Divine Love, not human love.  As I confess myself and receive compassion the more willing and able I am to grant forgiveness.  A snowball starts rolling and just won’t stop.

If I desire more good in my life, more love, more freedom than I must be willing to experience the “and”, the suffering, the loss, the pain, the death at the same time.  I can not separate the two any longer.  If I fear the pain then I will settle for a shallow love, “either/or”.  Instead, I can choose courageously to step deeper into Love but then Love will also call me to step deeper into the pain, I will have to experience “both”.  But deeper, Holy Love promises this, to never leave me or forsake me.  It promises me to see life with this new set of lenses, a new teaching, a new yoke, that will not burden me any longer, and with it my new self, my soul will find rest.  It is in giving that we receive and it is in dying that we are born again into something new, into the eternal.

Holy and Love

Ten years ago I had a conversation with a young woman, we were discussing the characteristics of God.  She said she had a heard a speaker one-time share that yes, people go around saying that God is love but first and foremost we must always remember that God is holy.  Hmm, God is holy.  Holy.  Set apart.

Well, I clung onto that thought and somewhere in it set apart transformed into far apart.  His holiness, His perfection was distant from my sin and couldn’t draw near.  And when God is far away He sits in judgment.  There fear steps into the place of love, but isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?  True, but if you can’t draw near to wisdom, then how can you obtain it?

With this transformation my faith became transactional, to get to the love I so desperately sought after, I would need to perform to do to obey because Jesus instructed that if we loved Him then we would obey Him.  Obedience is easy because you can tell when you’re doing right and doing wrong, hoping that the doing right was inching you close enough to the favor you sought and the love that you hoped for.  But to view God as far away meant that love was always far away too and no amount of transactions would get me to the point of satisfaction to a judgmental God or a judgemental self.

Now, well now I’m seeing that maybe I got everything all wrong.  It started with this notion that God is Love.  I had focused so much on holiness that I left off in discovering Love but thankfully it never left seeking after me.  When Love began to awaken me I could finally sit in its presence, in all its glory and beauty.  And for the first time, it wasn’t distant but it was still holy.

I couldn’t understand Love or God in His totality because I was trying to understand Him with human constructs and beliefs.  I realized that when I thought of love I thought of the sinful way we use love, love as merely a feeling of the heart or give me love and I’ll show you love in return, hurt or harm me and I withdraw.  This is not God’s Love.  God’s Love is holy, it is set apart and that’s what makes it beautiful and life-giving.  I start to start secure in Holy Love first.

To immerse myself in a Holy Love I must die to myself though, the self that clings to the human construct of love.  If I continue to try and squeeze love into those standards no fruit will flourish into abundance and I would never truly love God, my neighbor or myself.  I have begun to have a foretaste to what taking up my cross and dying to this false self will mean.  It means seeing the true depth to the depravity of my own sin so that Holy Love can bestow compassion and grace and gentleness to me.  It means bringing Light to old wounds, as painful as that might be so forgiveness, that is bathed in compassion can be truly bestowed and so I can stop living in denial and instead know healing and freedom.

So in my transforming view of life from the “either/or” to the “both/and” I am seeing that God is both Holy and Love, He’s actually Holy Love.  We can not separate the two lest we get hung up on the one characteristic apart from the other.  No, they must be married together.  He must be Holy and He must Love, but it must be Holy Love.  I still have much to learn about Holy Love but for now, I’m enjoying just being with Him and letting that gentle truth wash over me.

(Meditate on 1 John 4 to sit with Holy Love.)

The other cheek

As I step deeper into Love and let it transform me I have become aware that I see things differently, read things differently because this Love is different and is giving me a new lens to look at life.  I’m reading through the gospel of Luke right now and came to a place where Jesus is teaching his disciples what Love looks like.  He tells them (and us) that Love loves their enemies, that when someone strikes your cheek, you offer them the other cheek in return.  Love is helping me to understand this differently.

My oldest son gives into the fruit of the flesh with bursts of anger and rage from time to time.  He might have partaken of this fruit through generational sin, maybe.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  But the good news is, some new fruit is growing on my tree, the kind from the Spirit that is uprooting this generational sin.  One day during one of his outbursts instead of offering anger back I let Love step in and it felt like I was absorbing that anger, not feeding off of it like before, and then I was able to offer my other cheek to my son that came in the form of open arms ready for an embrace.  I encouraged him to let it out, that I could take it, Love could take it and when he was done we hugged in a deep hold.

Now my son is certainly not my enemy, far from it, but I think God is giving me an easy start into this whole love your enemies sort of thing.  It was easier to offer love back to my son’s anger because of the relationship we already have established.  I can see how practicing in this kind of Love will help when the real enemies come my way.

I also saw in a very tangible way how God’s love absorbs our anger that we throw at Him every day while like the Prodigal Father, He stands there with open arms ready to embrace us.  In the passage of Luke, I was referring to earlier at the end of this section Jesus states that if we are able to love our enemies, (and do good and lend without expecting a thing in return) our reward will be great because we will truly be children of God.  Jesus says we must be merciful, just as our father is merciful (Luke 6:36).  I think this is because we first let Love transform us so that we become Love itself.

The only way this Love will transform us is if we spend time together, in new ways, in real ways, in quiet, be still kind of ways.  I’m asking more and more every day what it means that God is Love, so that I might be a Love incarnate that can offer my other cheek.  How will you spend time with Love today?

True Refuge

Did you know you are meant to be hidden? As children, I think we feel this acutely. Walking into a new, strange place we hide behind our parent’s back, shy with our words and our gaze. We want assurance from them that this place and these people will be safe and will welcome us for who we are.

When we grow up we think we should grow out of this need, this fear, this questioning. We say we’ve grown out of our shy phase but truth be told we never do. As adults, we hide behind the persona that we’ve created, behind our accomplishments, our status, our accumulations. Sure we are no longer hiding behind our parents anymore and walk with boldness into these new, strange places but inside we’re still questioning if this will be a safe place that will welcome us for who we truly are.

Truth is, it is our nature to desire to be hidden in a safe place, a refuge. And this is not because of the Fall, no it was a desire woven into us at the Creation of our race. Sin merely manipulated this truth, as it always does to draw us to seek our refuge in other places that do not satisfy and protect or to put us in denial for so long that we do not even recognize our true need for what it is, part of the fabric of our being.

This morning as I was reading Scripture I came to Psalm 16. Read it with me;

Protect me, O God, for I seek refuge in You.

I say to the LORD,

“You are my Lord, my benefactor;

there is none above You.”

As to the holy and mighty ones that are in the land,

my whole desire concerning them is that those who espouse another god may have many sorrows!

I will have no part of their bloody libations;

their names will not pass my lips.

The LORD is my allotted share and portion;

You control my fate.

Delightful country has fallen to my lot;

lovely indeed is my estate.

I bless the LORD who has guided me;

my conscience admonishes me at night.

I am ever mindful of the LORD’s presence;

He is at my right hand; I shall never be shaken.

So my heart rejoices,

my whole being exults,

and my body rests secure.

For You will not abandon me to Sheol,

or let Your faithful one see the Pit.

You will teach me the path of life.

Your presence is perfect joy;

delights are ever in Your right hand.”


When I was done reading I was reminded of the first time God reminded me I was created for refuge in Him. I had been living in denial when God had the scales fall from eyes while reading the first chapter of, “Waking Up Grey,” by Jennie Schut. (I’ve shared several times of how God has used this as a guide book during this leg of my journey). She writes, “Hiding in God is something that is strung throughout Scripture. God is referred to with such names as Refuge, Hiding Place, Fortress, Shelter. Do you know that it is okay to feel the need to hide? Don’t interpret your strong desire to stay hidden as something of cowardice, sheepish foolish or bad. He understands our need for refuge and has made provision for it.” The lie had told me my need was bad but now the truth told me it was good. And that provision He has made is Himself, more specifically Christ.

When I find my refuge in the LORD it says that “my heart (will) rejoice, my whole being exults and my body rests secure.” When I’m hidden in God it means I am in His presence and there I will learn, “the path of life” and “perfect joy.” No other refuge I have sought has ever given that.

The challenge, of course, is to stay hidden in our proper hiding place. Like the prodigal sons are nature is to wander and leave but thankfully we have a Father who is always looking for us and runs to meet us, welcomes us home and throws a banquet in our honor. When I remember my true identity and join the Father at His urging plea to refuge in Him I find the safety and freedom to come into my true self. I must set about me reminders of the truth to call me home.

A Person’s A Person

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Last night I had the privilege of overhearing a conversation between two friends that centered around human history, our story. My wise friend spoke of the creation of people. When God got together and was setting about creating an image bearer on this creation they had made He formed human beings and the only division that He felt was necessary was one of gender, male and female. And when He was done He declared this human race very good. The creation of the world was complete once He rested.

In college, I remember learning that race, that little box they have you check off on forms, is merely a human construct meant to bring order or division or whatever it is that race does. Last night I was able to connect this lesson with what my friend saying. In the beginning, God felt there was no need to divide His people beyond male and female, and that it would be the joining of two that would bear a fuller image of Himself. And it would have to be believed that the diversity we see in God’s image bearers, that we see in skin and hair and physical stature and features would be a reflection of Him. I mean just look at the different number of species of butterflies or flowers God has created. Clearly, He likes variety. God did not create human races, He created one race, the human race.

I was reminded recently that so often we start with life at the Fall, when everything went bad and needed redemption and we forget that God started with Creation, when everything was perfect and declared good. We seek our identity in the Fall and redemption but before redemption was even necessary our identity was declared Beloved, very good in Creation. That is who we are first and foremost, and that is who every person we come into contact with is first and foremost. They are not a sinner saved by grace or a sinner in need of grace or a sinner that I need to convert and shove grace in their face. No, everyone I come in contact with is Beloved.

This morning I woke up with that quote from Dr. Seuss’s book, “A Horton Hears a Who,” that gets repeated over and over again. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” In the book, it’s talking about the physical size of a person but I began to think of it in terms of the smallness that society places on someone. When we divided ourselves, by race, by class, by ethnicity, by anything we conjure up, we made people small in our eyes and by making them small we thought we could forget about them. We pushed them out, and we sent them away till their cry for help became a whisper to our ears. But if we can slow down and begin to listen we will hear them, our human race speaking to one another, and my prayer is that I will begin to see them as the Beloved and start there, with love.

A Missing Piece

For years I’ve known that my identity rests on being known as a daughter of God. Nothing I could do could take away or add to this foundation of who I was, who I am. A concept that is simple in theory but not easy to let take root in my heart. Through constant reminders and repetition, this being of who I truly am has taken shape and is the truth I fall back on time and time again.

Recently though I’ve sensed God’s love drawing me deeper, pursuing me to understand my identity and Him in a way I could not before. Last year I described it as a second conversion because this deeper pursuit was on a whole new playing field than before and it was the best words I had at the time to describe it at the time. When God beckons us closer to Himself I have learned to listen and heed the call and much of the last year has been about lowering my defenses and learning to listen with fresh ears.

And what I have begun to discover is that God is Love. Again, a simple concept in theory but somehow I missed it before, or at least I was missing the expansive nature of what that Love really was. When we take the lid off the box we’ve stuffed God into all these years, letting Him become to us the infinite and expansive God He truly is, we become overwhelmed and dare I say, a little scared by this God of never-ending, everlasting, sacrificial Love.

The more I came into a deeper awareness of Love and let it take hold of my being, the more I realized that I was Love too. Love calls me the Beloved. If we as human beings are created in the image of our God than it only makes sense that we too would become Love incarnate ourselves, expressing in our own unique ways the Love that created us, knows us and holds us. But the Love that calls us home, to rest and refuge is also the same Love that suffered, gave up all and died. Can I become all that Love calls my identity as a daughter of God to be?

These last months I’ve struggled with the sacrificial nature of Love and if I could become it, to the point of death? To me, this depth of Love will demand a vulnerability from me, which I’ve done a good job of hiding from all these years. Vulnerability opens us up to the possibility of hurt and the more deeply I love the more deeply I hurt. I’ve hurt in the past and I don’t know if I want to hurt more. But I’ve also loved in the past and I know that I want to love more. To become Love we must do both. We must love more deeply than we ever thought possible and we will hurt more deeply than we ever thought possible but we can not hold on to both Love and fear at the same time.

I had been holding onto fear, but then I realized something about my identity that I had been missing. As a daughter of God, I am an heir of God as well. All that He has is mine. Upon reading Henri Nouwen’s reflection of the prodigal parable in Luke 15 in his book, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” the father meets the elder son’s complaints and bitterness which are really fears and hurt with the assurance that, “My son you have been with me always and everything I have is yours.” I am with my Father always and all that He has is mine. Again, nothing I do can diminish this or add to it. The question is will I live into my identity and my inheritance?

If Love is my identity and my inheritance than I see no other choice than to live into it. And not out of duty or obligation as I have in the past but because the Father and I are one just as Jesus and He were one (John 17). What my Father wants will be what I want and what He lives out will be what I live out. Yes, this way of Love will hurt and it will sacrifice but my Father is with me always, my safety and my refuge and what I feel He will feel and our Love will be one. The other day I decided to stop holding onto fear and step instead into the embrace of Love.