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.

Incarnation​

Two things God has given me fresh eyes to see lately.  The first, God is Love.  Plain and simple yet so profound and somehow I missed the depth of it before and still probably am.  But at any rate, God is Love.

The second is this, God came and dwelt among us.  The second thought is, of course, related to the first and so is no less profound.  With the birth of Jesus Christ, God taking on human flesh demonstrated a new dimension of how far God would go to be with His creation.  This, of course, was not the first time He took steps to dwell among us.  While wandering through the wilderness the people of God were guided by His presence, a cloud by day and fire by night.  He took up residence in their camp.

But that wasn’t enough.  He needed a true place to reside with them always and so He commissioned the Tabernacle to be built and for a tent to built around it.  Eventually, the tent would become a more permanent establishment with the construction of the temple, but both housed the Holy of Holies in its center.  There God’s presence would reside but behind a veil, present but not with them.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

In the dawn of a new era, God decided it was time to reside with His creation in a new way.  It was no longer enough to just be present in one place, it was time to demonstrate the depth of His love and magnitude of His greatness and so He became like the image bearer He made, He took on human flesh, what we call the Incarnation.

Love wants to be with that which it loves, its beloved.  Love wants to know what it knows and feel what it feels and think as it thinks.  Love wants to laugh and cry and eat and sleep and stay up late contemplating life together.  Love is so simple, yet so profound.  And then God showed us the extent to which love would go for its beloved when Love became so vulnerable and sacrificial that it died in place of its beloved.  Why would God do that?  Why would Love do that?

So the veil could be torn and God could take up residence with His creation, His beloved whenever and wherever they would roam.  Love is no longer confined to Tabernacle.  It is no longer confined to a man in space in time.  God as Spirit can now reside within us and we can become the Love that He already is.

This Advent season a quote keeps popping up wherever I go.  I’m going to paraphrase it (which means not give it the justice due to it).  It says something like this, God became man so that man may become like God.  Simple, yet so profound.  I keep turning that over and over again in my head.  I think there is a link there between Love and the Incarnation.  Love become flesh to dwell among us so that we may become Love and dwell among us.

God is Love.  God came and dwell among us.  We are now Love.

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?

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_10b0

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.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2229

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!”

IMG_2367

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.