The Wisdom of Cathy

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Sons are indeed a heritage from the LORD, children, a reward. Psalm 127:3

Is there anything more deadly than a dream? Because a dream can eat someone alive. Especially an unrealized one. And I should know since it proves to be a pattern in my life. See, I want something really bad. There are moments it totally consumes me. So much so I can’t think of anything else. I can physically be in the room with someone, but be completely absent. Because in my head, I’m just dreaming my life away. Fixating on the one thing I want but don’t have. And how I can get it. It’s exhausting.

Yes, I’m a dreamer for sure but in more ways than one. See, occasionally I dream Scripture. And when I do, it seems pertinent to my life. The most recent was a year ago. Last February, I heard God’s word fall on my ear… “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth.” And so, I was excited. I heard from God and in my mind, it had everything to do with my newest dream. The one thing I want desperately, but don’t have.

But tonight happened to be one of those nights. And I see how very wrong I was. Because I had a revelation. As a matter of fact, it was kind of like the mother of all revelations. And it had to do with that Bible verse from one year ago. See, I watched some random video on Facebook tonight … a man’s wedding vows. Levi saw and asked about my own wedding. He wanted to know if we ran under sparklers, too. I decided to show instead of tell, so I pulled out my wedding album. And the following picture stopped me in my tracks.

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There it is. It’s the Scripture I dreamt. Go and be fruitful. And tonight, I realize God wasn’t confirming my newest dream. Instead, he was reminding me of my old dream. The original one. The one that’s already been realized. It goes all the way back to my foundation. To the little girl I was before I even left home. At the very core, I simply wanted to be loved. And my dream came true through a boy named Jason.

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I was so happy here. Our wedding just weeks away, the dream was within my grasp. In truth, I thought no further ahead than the day of our union… the future just a fuzzy notion. Something I didn’t dwell on for at that time, I had no other dreams. Essentially, all I wanted was to be loved. And so, it came to pass…

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Two became one. And for a while, I was content. Newlyweds. A new town. A fresh start. Life seemed exciting. But before long, I said how about a baby? And so, my husband brought me a kitty. He said, here’s your baby. And again, contentment. At least for a while.

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However, it wasn’t long before I began to yearn anew. This time, I wanted to return to my hometown. But alas, that didn’t happen for at least ten years. But midway, I became pregnant. And holding to the pattern, I was content. For a while.

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When I look at that photo, I see a joyful woman. And my baby boy did make me happy. However, I wanted something. Badly. At times, it’s all I could think about. I dreamed of Virginia. Going home. That’s what I pined away for. And so, despite having the love of a man and a beautiful baby boy in my arms, I still withered away inside. Simply because I wanted what I didn’t have.

Levi was four when my dream of Virginia came true. But damage had already been done. See, he knew the difference between happy and sad by the time he was two. That’s because he learned it from me. And here we are today… four years later. Truth is, Levi’s learned more stuff from me. But not good stuff. See, another dream has set up in my heart. And just like every other dream of mine, it consumes me. Like a fire. It causes me to be impatient. Hurried. And distracted. All because of a dream. All because of wanting what I haven’t got.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…” Genesis 1:28

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I previously mentioned February is a big month in my life. Specifically last February. A lot of it having to do with the baby girl growing inside my womb. And there was the dream. God’s words. He said to be fruitful. Multiply. Silly me thinking it had to do with my newest dream. And foolish me for not realizing the truth for an entire year. See, it has to do with something my aunt Cathy has said to me more than once. She tells me I’m blessed.

Funny thing is, there I sat last February with a group of women and opened up to them. I spoke of my struggles (shallow at best). Of knowing in my head I’m blessed, but just not feeling blessed. And there I was with a baby growing inside me. And the truth is, children are a blessing of the Lord. They are a gift. How was it that I could sit there with a baby growing inside me and not know how blessed I was? And am? How can that be?

You know, Cathy knows exactly how blessed I am. That’s because she lost one daughter much too soon. And the other won’t have any children. Not now. Cathy will never have grandchildren of her own. And so, she knows very well what a blessing babies are. Me? I’ve been coddled. Spoiled. I’ve had it too good. God’s ungrateful child never, ever relishing the day before me. God’s child forever looking to the next thing. The unfulfilled dream. The promised land around the bend. That’s been my life. Looking to one unrealized dream to the next. Not comprehending what dreams I have right before me. Around me. And in me.

Yes, this is the wisdom of Cathy. She says I’m blessed. And tonight, I’m starting to realize it…

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This is the hard truth. Children are indeed a blessing from God. And my mother of all realizations came tonight when I realized that He filled my womb before Jason was even a thought in my mind. Once and once again. Though I was making huge mistakes and living wild, He still tried to fill me. Remember? My original dream? I simply wanted to be loved. And God? He placed love inside me. He was trying to give me my heart’s desire. Someone to love me unconditionally. But both times, I threw my babies away. Forever gone. All because I was selfish. Inwardly I cried, “It’s my life, my right…”

And so here I am tonight. And I wonder what’s different? Because I have a dream. I hold tightly to it. I don’t want to let go. No different than the twenty-something girl I was, I find myself inwardly crying… “It’s my life. It’s my right.” And because my newest dream looms in front of me, I can barely see anything else. But they’re there… an eight year old and a six month old. And truth is, if I don’t release the hold on my dream, and on my life, I’ll end up snuffing the life right out of them. Just like I did with my unborn babies. Because holding to what’s mine makes me rigid. And impatient. And so much more. The ugliness inside inevitably makes its way to the surface. And my outbursts can dim their sweet spirits. Yes, I really believe I can diminish them. Just as I did my other two… only difference being Levi and Annabelle survived my womb.

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But you know what… tonight’s different. Because God reminded me of my original dream. Children. He said be fruitful. And the dream’s been realized. Right in front of me are two little dreams come true I’ve taken for granted much too long. And tonight, I think I’ll finally be released of the inward battle cry that’s held me so long. “My body. My life. My right.” Tonight, I say no more. For I’ll gladly give my life up for theirs. And laying aside the false dream I’ve been chasing, I’ll hold tight to what God has given me already. Their names are Levi and Annabelle and they’re living dreams. Through them, I’ve been blessed. This is what I believe my aunt wanted me to see. For she’s told me on more than one occasion, “You are so blessed.” And she would know… for this is the wisdom of Cathy.

For my friend…

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I love this calendar. Bright and inspirational. I gave one to my friend for Christmas but for some reason, I didn’t buy one for myself. But God knows what he’s doing. He inspired my cousin to give me the very same. It was this weekend when I was moved to take pictures of it. See, I had a blog forming in my head. In fact, I typed it all up only to find myself typing over every word tonight. See, it wasn’t a good blog. In fact, it was more of a blah, blah, blaahhg. Me running my mouth via keyboard.

But the thing is, God really does know what He’s doing. Unbeknownst to me, He knew I’d use the photos for this blog. The one I’m writing now. It’s for my friend. See, on the heels of me writing about my struggle (a shallow one), I learned tonight that my friend is truly struggling. It’s her dad. And my heart breaks for her.

“It’s going to be ok. And if its not….it’s STILL going to be ok.” once said by my friend’s Great Uncle Reid

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Let me tell you how I met my friend. It was the fall of 2013 and I just had to do something. I didn’t know what, but something. God had gotten me all fired up and I was ready to move. So, I volunteered to help with the backpack program in our county. And let me tell you, this was completely out of the norm for me. I’d never stepped out of my comfort zone like that. And it was there I met my new friend. We were the only two newbies and didn’t really know what we were doing. And so, we did what we could. Afterward, the person in charge thanked everyone and said he’d no longer need any of us. Apparently, the high schoolers were going to take over the stuffing of backpack bags.

Well, I was shocked. I’d just stepped out to do something. For God no less. And I was halted in my tracks. My eyes caught the other newbies as I looked her way and I could tell she was thinking something close to what I was thinking. Stepping out to do something and after one time, it being nipped in the bud. What in the world? And more importantly, what next?

We walked outside dejectedly, our venture out into the community getting quashed and all. But that’s when we began to talk. Before I knew it, at least twenty minutes had passed. There was so much to say. Within moments, we were sharing dreams. Ideas. Mine was beyond my walls. Hers was in our own backyard. It morphed into a leg up, not a handout. That’s where we began, my new friend and I. Our friendship built on hopes and dreams.

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You know what I think? She was a gift from God. See, I returned home three years earlier but life carried on while I was away. And in my absence, everyone else’s lives just moved on. And so upon my return, I wasn’t sure where I fit anymore. Most of my old friends were gone and so much had changed. And so, just when I needed one the most, God blessed me with her. A friend of my very own.

Over a matter of months, we met several times exchanging ideas and dreams. We also began volunteering at the food pantry. It was great. Afterward, we’d grab a coffee and dream some more. What I remember most about our early days is that we were both on fire. Alas, I became pregnant within months of our meeting. That kind of slowed me down. But not my friend. She kept right on moving. See, she’s a mover and a shaker.

By the time Annabelle was born, I discovered my friend had started this new thing in the community. While I was tucked away in seclusion, she actually got out there and did something she was passionate about. I must confess, I was a little jealous. But also, inspired. By her. See, I admire so much about her. She is a go-getter. She’s interested in what’s happening around her. And she wants to make a difference. 

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Look at her. I think she’s beautiful. And in looking at this picture, the Rolling Stones melody falls on my ear… She comes in colors everywhere… she’s like a rainbow. Yes, she’s like a rainbow. A force of nature. But tonight, she struggles. And in hearing the news, I wanted to go to her. I wanted to put my arms around her and squeeze. But she’s miles and miles away. And so, I do the only thing I can for tonight. I write. It’s what I do.

Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Micah 7:8 

Tonight, my friend’s dad struggles. And so does she. And for once, words fail me. My mind is blank. Unlike yesterday when I pounded away at this keyboard and wrote and wrote. Remember… my blah, blah, blaahhg. Funny thing is, I didn’t know which song I wanted to use. I called out to Jason, “Gut feeling… Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash or I will Rise by Chris Tomlin.” Jason said knowing me, Johnny Cash. And that’s the one I had in this blog originally. Even though I will Rise was a better fit, I manipulated my words to make Johnny’s song work. But now I know it was the wrong choice.

See, God knows what He’s doing. He inspired me to take photos of a calendar yesterday. But it wasn’t for me, it was for her. My friend. He also knew which song I’d need. Because since I have no words I can offer my dear friend, all I can do is offer a song. It kind of echoes what Uncle Reid said. Because believe it or not, in the face of such darkness, it really is going to be ok. And even if it’s not, it’s STILL going to be ok.

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And though it seems positively unthinkable right now, I want to encourage my friend. That despite what the circumstances are today, the best is yet to come. It really is. And not just for her… but for her dad, too. Really, the best is yet to come for all of us.

 

Riding Coattails

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I watched the story of Johnny Cash recently. Walk the Line. And I was mesmerized by a conversation between Johnny (nick-named JR) and his brother, Jack, when they were children:

“Jack”

“Um-hmm?”

“How come you’re so good?”

“I ain’t”

“You pick 5 times more than me.”

“Well, I’m bigger than you.”

“You know every story in Scripture.”

“You know every song in Mama’s hymnal.”

“Songs are easy.”

“Not for me.”

“There’s more words in the Bible than Heavenly Highway Hymns.”

“Look, JR. If I’m going to be a preacher one day, I gotta know the Bible front to back. I mean, you can’t help nobody if you can’t tell em the right story.”

It was that line right there… “you can’t help nobody if you can’t tell em the right story.” And of course, that led me to thinking of my own story and what Jack said. About one being helpful. See, supposing my story is shallow… would it be worth telling anyway? Just suppose the biggest hurdle I’ve had to clear in life is simply myself. That being the case, would it even be worth the breath required to utter the tale? Because in light of the very real struggles, tragedies and pain so many undergo, my minor upheavals in life seem inconsequential. Trivial and small. So then, does my story have any redeeming value? Could it possibly be helpful? And so again, I ponder, is it worth the telling…

Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; Isaiah 51:1

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Look at that little girl. Oh, I can recall how she felt all too well. Awkward. Shy. A wall-flower that blended into the background. I was scared of my own shadow. And I just knew everyone was talking about me. Negatively, of course. And why wouldn’t they be. My clothing was usually second-hand. My home was the back-side of a store. My front yard? Mainly a cow-pasture while the back consisted of a parking lot complete with gas pumps. The grey pavement of highway stretching out beyond. This was my playground. I ran free through the fields like a wild thing. But when forced to interact with civilization, I turned inside myself.

Early on, I developed an inferiority complex. I just didn’t think I measured up. Materially, physically, or intellectually. Through the duration of my youth and early adulthood, I felt minimal. Small. And forever second best. It seemed as if I were destined to stand in the shadows cast by the bright light of my friends. Perhaps those substandard feelings I housed went all the way back to my infancy…  

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See, Mom tells of a time I slipped through the crack of the bed and the wall. Maybe it was the very bed in the photo above. I was laying there as she walked down to the mailbox. However upon her return, she found I was crying out… trapped between bed and wall. And my infant cousin? He was being bounced upon my grandma’s lap. Oh, an aunt was there trying to get me out. But just maybe it started there. The root of insignificance birthed when I literally slipped through the crack unnoticed by the one I wanted to notice me. And ultimately, that fear has chased me my whole life. Scared I’d slip through the cracks unnoticed. And those that mattered the most caring the least. In essence, me mattering naught.

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I wanted to be noticed. And so, early on it was the material that mattered to me. The tangible. The outer. In my eyes, things would make me special and image was of utmost importance. Like in the photo above. I was pleased and it’s obvious. For I felt pretty here. Can’t you see it on my face? Mama (that’s what I called her then) had fixed my hair. And because I liked the way my hair looked, I liked me. If only for a day. As I said, image mattered. And in truth, I thought clothing would fix me right up. If I just had nicer clothes. New clothes. And perhaps a new coat?

And therein lies my foundation. I was a little girl who felt ugly most of the time. And small. Plain and dumb. And unimportant. And what happens when this type of foundation gets laid, is a girl begins to ride coattails without even knowing that’s what she’s doing. Like me. See, my thoughts just weren’t that important. So I began to absorb my friends’ thoughts. Their mindsets became my mindset. And what they liked was better than what I liked. And what they wore was better than what I wore. And so, I tried to be like them. Before I knew it, I didn’t have an original thought. Or idea. Or opinion. And while they stood in the spotlight, I hid in the shadows. Trying my best to be just like them. Living vicariously through them.

And when a girl feels less than, if she discovers there’s something she’s actually good at, she clings to it. She tries to excel in the one thing that makes her feel the tiniest bit special. And she begins to crave the words of affirmation it can bring her. This one area is where she finds her value. And she feasts on the praise it brings her way.

Naturally, I became one who strives. I’d say since the fourth grade. I think that’s when I decided deep down that I wanted to be the best. The greatest. I know for certain that’s when I wanted to be famous because of a little notebook I saved all these years. My name scribbled all over it where I practiced my autograph. That little lime green memo pad is quite telling in that it’s also filled with pictures of women drawn by me. Complete with notes and poems of what I wanted to look like when I was all grown up.

And these were my beginnings. Like I said, my story is shallow. For I was shallow. Because image ruled and appearances mattered the most. The outside was all I cared about. And so, I became an adult. At least that’s what my age indicated. And because I had no ambition of my own other than to be pretty, to be known, and to be liked, I ended up doing what my friend’s mother suggested we do. I joined the U.S. Air Force. And I was excited. Hopeful even. For I thought in leaving my hometown behind, I’d leave the little girl I was behind, too. I thought in leaving, I’d actually become someone new. And exciting. And worthwhile. Maybe for once, I’d be able to grab a little light of my own… And so I tied on my Air Force Blue Raincoat and hoped for the best.

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But as for you, do you seek great things for yourself? Stop seeking! Jeremiah 45:5

At nineteen, I left home. And in four short years, I made some of the biggest mistakes of my life. I tried to be everything I thought I always wanted to be. I thought I’d be happy. I shed riding others’ coattails in favor of trying on my own coat. And while donning my new attire, I worked at being pretty. I tried my best to be likeable. And popular. And fun. It was exhausting. And truth is, trying to have a coat of my own led to my demise. Because I’ll tell you, if a young woman sets out to get known, she will be noticed. And when she hears someone call out her name followed by “You’re famous!” Well, that’s really not such a good thing. Oh, I at last found myself in the spotlight I always sought. It’s just that once I was there, I found it wasn’t such a nice place to be after all. And ironically, once I was there, I really just wanted to be elsewhere. I wanted to be seen in a different light.

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. Daniel 12:3

Today, I think about JR and Jack and their conversation about stories. You know, had Jack lived and I ran into him, I think he would have used the story of Joseph with me. That’s because of his coat of many colors. See, I think it’s quite possible that Joseph wanted to be the best, too. See, he was one of the youngest and I think he wanted to prove himself to his big brothers. For whenever he had a God given dream, he’d tell it. And he was a tattle-tale, eager to cast himself in a better light. And because Daddy gave him this great colorful coat, he’d wear it for everyday. Like the time he was told to go out and check on his brothers. Why, they must have seen him coming from a mile away. And they hated him for his showy coat. Because truth is, it was proof that Joseph was the favored child.

So there was Joseph with his colorful coat. But what good did it do him? In fact, his coat may have hastened his demise. Because first, he was thrown into a pit. And then, he was thrown into a prison. His outerwear couldn’t keep him from harm. Being the best in Daddy’s eyes didn’t soften his fall. But ultimately, Joseph learned a lesson. For he was humbled. And he learned how to lead. In the end, he became great. Truly great.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

You’d think I’d learn from Joseph’s story. That his fall would serve as warning to me. Because doesn’t pride come before the fall? Like with Joseph. Well, actually, he was thrown down, but it was a fall nonetheless. But every now and then, rather than heed the caution of Joseph’s saga, I throw caution to the wind instead. Because deep, deep, deep down, I still want it. Honestly, I want glory. My glory. Deep, deep, deep down there’s a piece of that little girl inside who grew up feeling small. And she wants to feel big. Larger than life. So she constructs her tower and hopes it will reach the sky. For she wants to be the best. The greatest. At everything. And not only that, she wants everyone in sight to know she’s the best. God help me, this is the truth. Despite how far I’ve come and all I’ve learned, I still struggle with the inferiority complex.

As God’s child, this is what I’ve been cutting my teeth on. See, what I’ve strived so hard for sets me up in direct opposition to Christ. For His teaching is totally opposite of what I’ve been trying to accomplish my whole life. I find we’re at cross purposes. A war within my heart. Me wanting to be more. His wanting me to be less. Me wanting to hold to my life. And His telling me to lose mine. Me wanting it to be all about me. His proclamation that it be all about Him. It’s been a standoff. Right here in my hometown.

See, God brought me back here as a grown woman. He wanted me to see the truth. That despite everything, I was still the little girl I was. My foundation hadn’t changed.  The material still mattered to me. The tangible. The outer. In my eyes, things would make me special and image was of utmost importance. And despite a closet full of clothes, I was still seeking a new coat. One that says I’m special. Favored. Valuable. And yes, full of color. Perhaps like Joseph’s…

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Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; Psalm 104:1-2

So what do I do now? Well, what else can I do but shed my tired old coat. Because really, it’s time for a new one. But before donning a new frock of my own, maybe it would be okay if I just rode someone else’s coattails for a while. See, I’m tired. So tired. As such, maybe God would just let me ride His. And you know the great thing about His cloak, right? It’s light. And when light is refracted through a prism, well, you can see all the colors of a rainbow. In essence, God’s light is made up of all the colors. And so, it seems to me that if I simply ride His coattails for a while, well, I’ll find myself surrounded by a coat of many colors, after all. And isn’t that what I’ve been striving for my entire life anyway?

Yes, I think I’ll start there. I’ll ride God’s coattails. And in doing so, I’ll begin to see myself in a new light. His light. Red and yellow, blue and green. It’ll be like a rainbow…

I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another… Isaiah 42:8

Back to Jack. Had he lived, I wonder if he’d have thought my story was worth the telling? Could it actually help someone? Well, I think that will have to do with how my saga ends. Whether it turns out being all about His glory. Or about mine. See, if I let it become about His glory, and His light, it may well be worth the breath required to utter it after all.

Shine

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I recently used my baby daughter’s feeding habits to describe my walk with God. I talked about milk and how good it is. And last night, Annabelle showed me just how good that milk really is. My husband held her in his arms and gave her the bottle. Eyes half closed, she kneaded the air pausing occasionally to rub my husband’s belly. Milk dribbled down the side of her mouth to her chin. And she was the picture of contentment. For she was in delectable heaven.

I’ve noticed something else about Annabelle recently, though. It has to do with the solids I’ve offered. Some, she gobbles up. With others, her nose turns up as if the taste is awful. Pears, good. Prunes, no good. Apples, yummy. Peaches all come back up. And as I try to feed her these solids, she sometimes rejects them outright. Especially if she sees her bottle nearby. It’s pretty clear her preference. It’s the milk. That milk goes down easy. Oh, mama, is it good!

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Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were not yet able to receive it. In fact, you are still not able, because you are still fleshly. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

As usual, Annabelle provides a picture for me. It has to do with God’s word and the teachings of His Son. See, some of God’s words go down easy. Like milk. God loves me. Good. I am forgiven. Yummy. He’s preparing a place for me. Give me more because oh, mama, is it good! But then there are other words. Last is first and first is last. My nose scrunches up because that one doesn’t taste so good. Love your enemies. Well, that one comes right back up. Just like peaches. Put off the old man. That saying cuts a little. In fact, I have to gnaw on that one some before it goes down. Because in past feedings, I’ve rejected it outright in favor of milk. See, milk goes down easier. You get the picture.

So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 1 Peter 2:1-3

Just this week, Levi said something interesting. “In nine years I’ll be an adult.” Well, first off he’s calculated wrong because he won’t be old enough to vote for another ten years. But I know the point he was trying to make. And this morning he advised me when he’s twelve, he can drink coffee. It’s obvious my son is eager to grow up. Just the same as I was at his age. What I find interesting about his words, though, is his equating age to adulthood. My reply? “Just because you’re eighteen doesn’t mean you’re an adult. In fact, I know some forty year olds who are still children. And to the contrary, I’m sure there are some fifteen year olds who are adults.” I’m not sure if he understood my point. The point being maturity.

And so, as I enter my eighteenth year as God’s child, I realize spiritual maturity has nothing to do with how long one has been a Christian. Not a thing. It has more to do with how developed one’s insides are. And that happens only by walking with God. It happens when you sit at the feet of Jesus. The irony I find this morning, though, is that in the earthly world children are eager to grow up. But as for the spiritual realm, we can be a little more reluctant. Because it’s hard. Spiritually maturing actually takes work. We prefer to stay babies. We prefer to stay on milk and keep a child’s view. Milk not solids. Our thinking… the world revolves around me. It’s all about me. And milk can give us that. It’s comforting.

Eighteen years ago I prayed a prayer. It was surface. Skin deep. More outer than inner. And what prompted that prayer was something I saw on a woman’s face as she sang. Truth is, she radiated. Her face was lit up like the sun. Frankly, she had something I wanted. Like a child, I thought “give me, give me.” I wanted to make what she had mine. And so, I uttered a prayer. Imagine my surprise when my face stayed the same. Dark instead of light. For years and years. But back then, I didn’t know what I know today…

As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Matthew 17:2

Jesus took a few guys up a mountain with Him. And right before their very eyes, He transfigured. Transformation occurred that couldn’t be explained by ordinary means. Recently I learned that the word used for transfigured occurs only four times in the Bible. Twice describing this mountaintop event. And once in a verse I’ve heard preached more times than I can count. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” That’s Romans 12:2.

That tells me the type of transformation that took place with Jesus can take place with me, also. My face can be lit up like the sun. It can radiate. But the fact of the matter is, this transfiguration takes some work. It’s a supernatural work that occurs over time. It happens as we spiritually mature. When we leave milk behind and move on to solids, we grow in Him. And as we develop, our childlike “me, me” attitude begins to diminish and fade. We lose the hold on our lives in favor of something greater. Something more. And before we know it, we start to decrease as He begins to increase. Inside us. This is when we begin to shine.

My children, again I am in the pains of childbirth for you until Christ is formed in you. Galatians 4:19

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I’ve been a child for so long. At least spiritually. I’ve held to my “me, me” attitude. And the truth is, I’m just like Annabelle. I’ve preferred His milk. It goes down so easy. But as I said once before, I’ve been cutting teeth. I’ve been gnawing on His harder words. Gumming them until they become more palatable. For a couple of years now, I’ve been chewing on the meat. Eventually, I’ll swallow it down. And when I do, I’ll find nourishment by which I’ll grow. I’ll mature as I savor the flavor of the meatier words. Over time, I’ll transform. I’ll begin to resemble Him. God’s Firstborn. And before I know it, I’ll begin to shine. Like the woman I saw eighteen years ago. No doubt, she was His daughter. A fully grown, spiritually mature woman. Surely she had been well-fed on heaping helpings of God’s meat. For she shone. Just like the sun.

We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed from glory to glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18

A Tale of Two Children (the fruit of my loins)

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The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15

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My babies are miracles to behold. A little bit of me, a little bit of Jason, and voila… a new creation. My firstborn, a boy child. And from the very start, he captured my heart. My last, a little girl. Equally as captivating. And through these mini me’s… I see my story unfold. By their names, their countenances and attitudes, their upsets and milestones, the real story of God & me comes to life before my eyes. Through them, I see me…

Levi

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The Levitical priests—indeed, the whole tribe of Levi—are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the food offerings presented to the Lord, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their fellow Israelites; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. Deuteronomy 18:1-2

His name means “joined to.” Or attached. And his very name encapsulates everything about my early journey with God. It began when I said a prayer eighteen years ago and immediately set to work. See, I began working for a God I didn’t know at all. And as the years progressed, I became more and more attached to the outward signs of my sacrifice. For in my mind, it was the visible, the tangible, that validated me. If I worked hard, then I would be rewarded. And my prize would be something I could put my hands on. That was it for me. My hands. Working hands. Proof of how good I was.

And so, I embraced the old covenant whole heartedly. I attached myself to rules and regulations. Bound by law, I joined myself to the church building and all its activities. Tethered more to a religion than to the God who formed me. And so, as time marched on, I marched all the more. I offered up one empty sacrifice after another hoping that one day they would fill me. That one day, I would really be changed. But the harder I worked, the more bitter I became. And the more I judged. Oh, you know what I mean. I think we’ve all heard it… “10% of the people do 100% of the work.” That became my mantra. I wore it on my chest like a badge of honor. Because I was a worker. A hard worker. I made my daily sacrifices at the temple. I was a good Christian. And those who didn’t do what I did, well, they just didn’t measure up. They fell into that 90% category.

And so, the fruit of my labor was fear. Because when Levi came, I thought he was a gift from God. A reward for all that stuff I thought I should be doing. And over time, God gave me a place of my own. My homeland. And because of my actions, I thought for sure He was rewarding me once more. See… I was being such a good girl. At least outwardly. No one could fault me. No sir. My sacrifices were in plain view for all to see. And so, if I slackened my pace, I worried. Would God punish me? If I didn’t work hard enough, would He take what was given?

And so went my life. For the first fifteen years of my Christian journey. Until one night, I had a dream. It was in February of 2013 when I heard God’s word. As I slumbered, Matthew 9:13 settled in my ear: “Go and learn what this means; I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And as fate, or God, would have it… turns out that’s exactly what I did. I went. And I learned. My children teaching me the most.

Annabelle

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Her name is Annabelle. I selected it because it means joy. And in truth, she represents the age of grace that was ushered into my life at the time of her conception. See, I became pregnant at a pivotal moment in time… fertilization occurred after a two-year long in depth spiritual exam. New life in my body in more ways than one. For it was the Fall of 2013 when I felt a sense of peace. Of joy. Of contentment. And closure. And those feelings had everything to do with my past. And everything to do with my future. And the crucial moment that hinged the two.

See, I had clarity for the first time. Just over a year ago, I knew the truth and it set me free. I knew who I was. Then and now. And I knew who He was. Then and forever. I fully comprehended what He had done. For me. It had everything to do with a cross. Nothing at all to do with my sacrifices. And it had everything to do with mercy. And grace. Nothing at all to do with my works. It had everything to do with Jesus. His scarred hands. Not a thing to do with me. And my busy hands.

And so, finally, the cross did a work in my heart. Finally, I understood what He wanted me to know. Mercy and not sacrifice. And that’s when my belongings released their hold on me. Or more accurately, I released my grip on them. Because I was no longer possessed by my possessions. For when the era of mercy graced my life, I found I was attached to this world no more. A stranger in a strange land. Because God Himself became my portion… my inheritance. For the first time I realized He would not give and take away based on a reward system. Fear that God would strike my kids as a form of punishment diminished in the light of His unconditional love. And so finally, after too many years, I came to know my Creator as a loving Father instead of a strict slave master. Finally.

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures. James 1:17-18

For so long, I wondered why there was no change in me. See, I prayed a prayer in February of 1997. But nothing magic took place. There wasn’t this overnight miracle. Instead, I seemed to get worse. As time wore on, I became increasingly bitter and nasty and resentful. Oh, on the outside, I looked good. But inside… rotten. I festered away.

And so, despite knowing something was incredibly wrong, I kept going. Spurred on by select Bible verses and little knowledge. Misinterpreting Scripture on more than one occasion. Incited by a sermon I heard from more than one pulpit, “You’re known by your fruit!”  Well, obviously, I wasn’t producing the right fruit! Surely I wasn’t working hard enough. Because I was the same woman fifteen years later. And so, I lumbered on. I slapped on my badge of honor. Serve! Work! Let your light shine so your works glorify God in heaven! I tried to do all this. And I tried again. I worked so hard. Until one day, I just stopped. I knew there had to be something more. There just had to be. And turns out there was. For it’s just as He says… He desires mercy. Not sacrifice. I just had to learn it.

We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9-10

It occurs to me today that perhaps we, as Christians, sometimes confuse fruit and works. Because one has to do with the internal while the other has to do with the external. One has to do with the New Covenant… the other the Old. One has to do with mercy… the other sacrifice. In essence, one has to do with life and the other… well, death. Inner and outer. And aren’t we told the outward is perishing anyway? Just like the dead works we’re to turn from…

Doesn’t it stand to reason, then, that if we sit still long enough, an outer work will happen anyway? In time? Surely as God’s fruit develops and ripens within us, it’ll eventually make its way to the surface. To our eyes and mouths, His fruit blossoming and blooming on our very countenances? And yes, fruit yielded through our own hands. But not by our feeble attempts. Or by empty works. Instead, a bounty of fruit that begins deep inside us until it flourishes and heaps over the vessels that we are.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 

Yes, it’s true… my babies are miracles to behold. They teach me so much about myself. And through them, I’ve learned about God. About who He is. And as I stand back and look at the big picture, I am awed at how He put this all together. How through the precious faces of my offspring, the fruit of my loins, He gives me a picture of myself… the fruit of His loins. And through my children, I know without a shadow of a doubt how much He loves me. I know it. See, His firstborn was a Son. He was the firstborn over all creation. And then, He had more children. His firstfruits. As many as the stars. For His offspring is like the dust of the earth… if one could count the dust.

Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised. Give her the reward of her labor (the fruit of her hands), and let her works praise her at the city gates. Proverbs 31:28-31

Baby Girl

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Taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8

My children. How often I see a picture of God and me through their little faces. With Levi. And most recently, with Annabelle. Look at her… drooling and happy in her rolls. This chunky little girl has been fed and fed well. For she loves to eat. Quite different than Levi, who abhorred eating new things. With him, the table was a battleground. I can’t even describe the fit he threw when I tried to get a peanut butter and jelly down his throat at the age of two. But Annabelle, well, she’s another story. See, she’s so interested in food. She watches us intently when we feed ourselves. And whatever is put to her mouth, she’ll taste it. Even if it’s a salty olive, she’ll savor the flavor. I can almost hear her, “Oh, mama, this is good.”

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or lack compassion for the child of her womb?
Even if these forget,
yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

From the very beginning, Annabelle wanted to be at my breast. Our second night, she spent two or three hours at my chest suckling. Finally, I called the nurse for Annabelle outlasted me. I feared I’d fall asleep. I was told about “cluster feeding,” which was a new term to me. Perhaps because Levi didn’t. Cluster feeding. It was a time for Annabelle to spend hours on my chest… one, to stimulate milk production. But really, it was more about her feeling secure. She’d just exited her home… my womb. And her new surroundings were dark. And cold. She wanted to be where she could feel my warmth… where she could experience my heartbeat. She simply wanted to be close to me.

For us, the cluster feed went on for the first two or three weeks of her life. Me exhausted. She happy only if she were on me. If I tried to lay her down, her cries followed. Quickly, I’d pick her up. I’d hold her tight once more. And she’d quiet.

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Over time, as her appetite increased, she grew rapidly. The still infant that she was became a moving, writhing being. And what I noticed about feeding time was her hands. For as soon as she began to move them, they began to get in her way. She’d put them up to my chest only to interfere with her suckling. Sometimes, I just had to hold them tight so she could feed without interruption. But finally, after getting enough milk, she’d look up at me with a contented look.

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Yes, it’s true, Annabelle was a healthy eater. She still is. Food brings her such comfort. “Oh, Mama, is it good.” And in her extended feeding sessions, those cluster feeds, I see a picture of me. More particularly, it’s a depiction of God & me. And what took place a few years back.

See, I came home in the fall of 2010. And truth is, I thought I knew everything about anything. Honestly. I was a big know it all. No one could tell me anything. They just couldn’t. See, I knew it all already. But something happened in the fall of 2011 that caused me to look back over my life. And as I did, I began to consume voluminous amounts of God’s word. I mean for hours at a time. There were times I had to pull myself away to get to the tasks of my day. All I wanted to do was sit there. Feeding on God’s word. The more I consumed, the more I wanted. Basically, I was cluster feeding. No different from Annabelle in the early days of her infancy. Just as she wanted to feel my warmth, I wanted to feel His. I wanted to lay my head against His chest and experience His heartbeat. Simply, I wanted to be close to Him. And in truth, I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing. Only in hindsight can I see it. Me suckling at the breast of God. Me not being able to get enough. Me crying out when I was pulled away. Cluster feeding. “Oh, mama, is it good!”

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. 1 Peter 2:2-3

You know, I recently went through a home overhaul. And my husband lovingly termed our home as a big playhouse. The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, he called it. That’s because of all the colors. Red, orange and yellow. Blue, green and turquoise. Just about every color of the rainbow can be found as I gaze about me. I told him it was fitting. Because of Annabelle. We’ll have a toddler before we know it and she’ll love the bright colors. Funny thing is, after the project was over and I was putting everything back in its place, Annabelle’s car seat caught my eye. And there I saw it. The inspiration for my house makeover was right there in her seat. All those colors. Red and orange and yellow and green and so on…

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Today, I have to laugh at this. See, I said the colors on our walls were fitting for Annabelle. But now, I have to say they’re just as fitting for me. God’s giant toddler. I walk around on shaky legs. I’m just now finding my footing… in Him. I stumble and fall more times than I can count. It’s all right there in front of my eyes. Me and Annabelle, a picture of God & me.

You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. Psalm 139:5

Just over three years ago, my life began to change dramatically. It was a time of stillness. I lay at God’s chest. As He held me in His arms, I savored the milk He offered. I drank it like my life depended on it. Oh, there were times my hands got in the way. For I became busy… the flow of milk interrupted.  But He held my arms tight until I could drink once more. And I gulped and slurped and took in as much as I could. Like Annabelle, it would run out of the sides of my mouth. My milk sliding down her chin… God’s word eking out of me. For three years now, I’ve been cluster feeding.

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These are recent photos of Annabelle. She’s just shy of 6 months and already over 20 pounds. As I said, she’s a healthy eater. Look at those rolls. Look at that chubby baby. Oh, how my heart melts every time I look at her. Again, a picture of God & Me. For He looks at me the same… and oh, how His heart melts when He sees my rolls. He knows I’ve been eating. A lot. Feasting on His word. And I’m growing… just like Annabelle. His baby girl.

Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14

You know, Annabelle’s been teething. And cutting teeth, well, it can be a little painful. But see, the time’s coming. She’ll soon be ready for something more substantial. Solids. And she’ll need her teeth to tear into something a bit more meaty. And once more, I see me. For these past few years have been painful at times. But now I know why… I’ve been cutting teeth, too. I’ve been feasting on milk but the time is coming… I’ll need my big girl teeth in order to tear into something meatier. See, like Annabelle, I’m growing up.

You know, it’s through my children. Their little faces provide a picture of God & me. For I’ve discovered their lives tell my own story. And right now, I’m like Annabelle. Fat and happy in my rolls. This chunky girl has been fed and fed well. For I love to eat. See, I’m so interested in food. In His food. And whatever He puts to my mouth, I taste it. I savor the flavor. And I bet He can hear me when my insides cry out, “Oh, mama, this is good!”

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Lord Business

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“My Father is still working, and I am working also.” John 5:17

February 8, 2014. That’s the night I saw the Lego movie. I know for certain because that’s the evening I received Annabelle’s middle name. Wynn. Oh, I can recall the details of February 8 very well… the delicious feeling of my secret while at dinner with friends. See, I was pregnant and they didn’t know. And the best part was my girlfriend was expecting her first grandchild at the time. As she sat there delighting over her daughter’s news, I quietly sat delighting in my own. That tidbit made the secret all the more juicy.

And so, after dinner, we watched the Lego movie. Honestly, I was not happy at first. I remember thinking, “I have to sit here for two hours for this?” It just didn’t seem to be my kind of movie. However, God used it to teach me something anyway. I don’t know if I got the lesson then, but I got it a week back when Levi watched the movie here at home. It has to do with Lord Business.

Spoiler alert… if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, stop reading now. I’m going to divulge some details about a character named President Business a/k/a Lord Business. See, he controlled everything. He was the man in charge. However, the people in Lego land were deceived. They saw him as a business man in a suit but behind closed doors, he showed his true appearance. His pride and controlling nature on full display when he changed into his Lord Business costume. The ensemble came complete with elevated legs/shoes.

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Every single day was alike for the citizens off Lego land. They woke up and went through the motions of the day religiously. Nothing ever changed. And they liked it that way. They sang, “Everything is awesome…” Monotonous. Tedious. Boring. One day after another… exactly how President Business wanted it. What the people didn’t know is that he was actually Lord Business and he had an evil plan. He had something called the Kragle (Krazy Glue with some of the letters missing) and he was going to glue everything in sight. He was going to cement all the pieces in a perfect way. According to his pattern. He was delighted for it would be beautiful to behold. And nothing would ever change. Everything would stay the same forever… no movement.

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I have glorified You on the earth by completing the work You gave Me to do. John 17:4

So what does this Lego movie have to do with the spiritual life I try to write about? To sum up… everything. Simply, everything. It’s what this blog has been leading me to this whole time. Freedom. But to tell, I have to go to the beginning… to the garden where God created man in His own image. Male and female. He formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life in his nostrils. Man became a living soul. And on the seventh day, God completed HIs work. He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. He blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation (Genesis 2:2-3).

And there’s my lesson right there. For I count the word work three times in that passage. And us, the work of His creation, do the same. We create. We work. And He wants us to work. However, today I question some of the work we do. What is it we actually accomplish in all our busyness? Is the work of our hands inspired by Him, or have we gotten caught in a rut? Do we move and perform by the Spirit’s inspiration? Or is our service perfunctory? Do we find ourselves in the same circumstances the citizens of Lego land found themselves? In danger of being stuck? Cemented to something God doesn’t even want us to be affixed to? Or do our actions bring Him glory as all our works should? And if they don’t, could it be our actions cause us to bow down to Lord Business instead… all our work glorifying the business of church rather than God Himself? Do we marvel at the work of our hands rather than the God of all creation? Delighting in our earthly sacrifices and not in Him? And if that’s where we find ourselves, how can we unstick ourselves?

And God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth…” Genesis 1:28

God said to fill the earth. He didn’t tell His creation to stay in one locale, for He wanted His people to spread out. But in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, something else occurred. For His creation said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky.” And their motivation is clear… “Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The people didn’t want to move. Or to change. In fact, they wanted to stay right where they were. Kragled to a specific locale. So they decided to build. And not only that, it had to be tall. Up to the sky. Everyone would know who they were. Pride elevated their goals… their intentions as lofty as the legs President Business put himself into when he became Lord Business.

Flash forward to a new scene. Jesus and the disciples. And Peter had just had the mother of all revelations. He knew the truth… “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And this is when Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church…” The next thing you know is Jesus took the inner three along with Him up a mountain. Peter, James and John were alone with Jesus when something amazing happened. He was transformed before them as His face shone like the sun. Even His clothes became as white as the light. Then suddenly, Moses and Elijah were with Him talking.

Always outspoken, Peter was inspired to voice his lofty aspirations. “Lord, it’s good for us to be here! If You want, I will make three tabernacles here.” Peter beheld Jesus in all His glory and so he wanted to do something. He wanted to create. To build. “Let us make…” But before he could even formulate his thoughts and plans and put them into action, a bright cloud covered them. There was a voice: “This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him. Listen to Him!” And so the work Peter wanted to do was halted in its tracks. It’s not what God wanted.

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

What Peter wanted to do wasn’t bad. And if I had been in shoes, I’d probably have wanted to do the same. I’d want to build and create something tangible to give credence to the event. I’d have wanted to run down that mountain and tell everyone… “Guess what happened!” But Peter couldn’t do that. Because Jesus told his disciples to keep quiet. About the revelation of all revelations… Jesus Christ, Son of God. And also about the glory witnessed by the inner three. What a secret to keep.

Today, I wonder about Peter’s motivation. And me being me, I think I have an idea of what he may have been feeling. Because I know how I would have felt. Perhaps a bit lofty? Special, even? Maybe even as high as Lord Business when he placed himself in those elevated legs. Maybe that’s what prompted Peter to begin with. He wanted to erect a building. He wanted to get busy working. Because God had just revealed something huge. What a revelation. Not only that, Jesus gave him a new name… Peter, which means rock. He was told the church would be built on “this rock.” Built on a revelation. On a person… the person of Jesus Christ. And Peter’s natural inclination was to get busy. To work. To create. And why wouldn’t he? He, like us, is made in God’s image. A creator. A builder. A worker.

She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone? So tell her to give me a hand.” The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 11:39-41

Here’s what I’m thinking. Yes it’s true there’s work to be done while we walk God’s earth. Because the fields are white, we must pray the Lord to send laborers. Those who will work and serve God. However, before we can do the work of God, a work must take place in us first. It has to. If the inner doesn’t happen, the outer means nothing. If the inner doesn’t occur, then we may end up like Martha. Bitter and resentful. Serving out of compulsion. Working because we feel like we have to. Bowing down to Lord Business instead of glorifying God above. Laboring as a slave, and not serving out of love. I know because this is what happened to me.

For you are called to freedom, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. Galatians 5:13

The inner must happen. And that happens only when we sit still at the feet of Jesus. It’s what God told Peter. It’s what He tells me. “This is My Son. I delight in Him. Listen to Him!” But this takes time. It’s secret and quiet… as secret as a baby knit together in her mother’s womb. Naked to the eyes of those around you, a story of you and Jesus unfolds within your own heart. A miracle takes place inside. And it’s delicious. You hear His voice. And as you listen intently, you begin to transform. Over time, your face becomes as bright as the sun. And as your heart melds with God’s, you stop trying to find satisfaction and delight by the work of your hands. Instead, you delight yourself in Him. Only Him. And without even trying, His work becomes your work. Naturally. Without lifting a finger, you begin His work. And it has nothing to do with business, or busyness, at all.

At least that’s the way it happened with this working girl. A slave become a daughter. And perhaps the best way to describe how that feels is the Lego movie theme song. Because it’s true…

“Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome when we’re living our dream…”

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