Swaddled in God’s Love

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Wrapped up in gentle feelings of His love, we are quiet. The warmth and strength of his embrace gives us the security and comfort we crave.

It’s like how Aryn sleeps peacefully while swaddled.

But take that swaddling away and she becomes very restless.

Eyes closed, she uses her arms to seek out the embrace she is missing. If only she would open her eyes, she would see that she was still being watched, guarded from danger, and loved.

Yet…

It’s not the swaddling that keeps her safe and secure. It’s the one who wrapped her in it.

It’s not the feeling of God’s embrace that keeps us safe and secure. It’s the One who embraces us, whether we feel Him or not.

The Love of the Lord is My Strength

After some very rough years, she found some of her old journals and read through them. Many brought back fond memories. Others memories weren’t so pleasant. But she found it interesting to compare her earliest years as a Christian with what she knew now as a more mature Christian. Then she ran into an entry that stopped her cold.

She read:

“OK, Lord, I did my Bible study even though I’m very tired. Before I go to bed, do you have anything to say?

“I love you. I always has loved you and I always will love you. Believe Me when I say this. It will be a strength to you. You’ll need it in the future. Don’t forget.”

She thought about that. His love is her strength?

When I’m sick with the flu, how will knowing He loves me strengthen me?

When my boss is on a rampage and I get the brunt of it, how will knowing God loves me strengthen me?

If my kids are misbehaving and I’m worn out from the daily stresses of life, how will knowing God loves me strengthen me?

“Lord, I don’t know if I understand. I believe You love me and always will. And I know that I’m going to need your strength in the future. But what do You mean that knowing Your love for me will be my strength?

“You don’t need to understand right now. Trust Me and get to know your strength – My love – now before it’s too late.”

“If You say so. How do I get to know Your love?”

“Read My book. Ask Me questions and listen for the answers.. Learn. Study. Memorize verses that will help. Talk with the spiritually mature about Me. And most importantly, talk with Me as I give you opportunities to experience My love.”

She had accepted His words and agreed to study and pray. And she did for a number of years. But then things changed and life happened and seeking to know His love got pushed farther and farther into the background until she had forgotten all about it.

Wow, she thought now. I didn’t understand then, but I do now. Knowing He loves me is all that matters. It outweighs everything around me.

When I’m sick, knowing He loves me gives me the strength to walk out that path. It reassures me that I’m not alone, He’s right there with me, watching over me, doing what’s best for me whether I’m healed quickly or slowly or not at all. Besides, I may be sick physically, but I’m not sick spiritually. No illness on earth can hurt me spiritually.

When my boss mistreats me, knowing God loves me gives me the strength to keep my head up. It protects me from letting those words and actions deep inside me where it can cause damage. No matter what the boss says, God says I’m loved and valued and treasured. I can shake off the abusive words like a dog shakes off water after a bath. And I can rest assured that if action needs to be taken, God will take care of it.

When my kids are misbehaving and I’m worn out from the daily stresses of life, knowing God’s love gives me the strength to keep going.  Knowing that He understands my weariness and frustrations and loves me anyway and that I don’t have to do anything to earn that love, gives me the confidence to rest in His arms and let Him fill me. His love can energize me to handle the kids and stresses. I can be renewed and refreshed each day.

And He was right about not waiting until it was too late, she thought regretfully. If I had persevered in getting to know His love back then like I should have, my life could have been so different. Much less pain, confusion, fear, and anger. It could have been so much more amazing, effective and powerful for the Kingdom.

She felt bad. If only she had heeded His words. But there was no way to go back and change anything.

Well, she thought, if I can’t go back to change my past, maybe I can share my story with someone and change their future.

Friends, get to know God’s love for you. Not just about it in your head, but really deep down in your guts know it.  It will be a strength to you. Trust me on this.  Better yet, trust God!

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Fear

Fear filled her. Unknown fear. Nameless fear. Fear she couldn’t connect to a source. All she knew was she was afraid.

“Lord, speak to me. Tell me what I need to know to relieve this fear.” she prayed.

“We are one.” came the swift reply.

We are one? She frowned. She and God were one? What did that even mean? How were they one? She wasn’t God. It sounded nice, but she couldn’t figure out what He was talking about.

He broke into her thoughts. “Listen. We are one. You and me. Forever.”

OK, she got the ‘you and me’ part. She knew when she gave her life to Him, she became His – His property, His follower, His friend, His daughter, etc.  And the forever part – she knew she would be with Him forever. So maybe that’s what He meant by ‘we are one’, that they were joined and would never be separated. That was good for the future. The problem was now. How was knowing that going to help her with the present day fear problem?

“Don’t you get it yet?” He asked gently. “When you hurt, I hurt. Come to Me with your problems, your pain, your fears. I can take them from you. Do you understand?”

She shook her head. In her head, she understood what He was telling her. But in the nitty gritty of everyday life, she wasn’t so sure it worked like He said. All she had to do was go before Him with whatever problem or fear she had, and He would take it from her? She had tried that in the past without success.

“Do you believe me?” He asked.

She wanted to. And to a degree she did. But deep down? Did she believe He could take her fear from her? Thinking of her attempts to believe her fear away in the past, she wasn’t so sure.

“Do You trust Me?” He asked, getting to the root of the issue.

Oh no. Not that question. She knew He was trustworthy and that she should trust Him.  And she WAS working on it. But she had been let down or betrayed by everyone in her life – family as well as friends. And there was still so much doubt clouding her heart and mind that she was sure she didn’t trust Him like He wanted her to. And that made her feel bad.

“I love you. I will not hurt you. Ever.” He reassured her.

She wanted desperately to believe that. Maybe deep down, where He had planted His Spirit, she did. But it was covered with layers of fear and pain and distrust.

“Oh, God, help me!” she cried out. “I want to trust You!”

“Follow Me. We’ll walk this path together. ” He invited. “Take it one step at a time. As I prove my trustworthiness to you day by day, your trust will grow. And when you can trust Me, when you can believe Me at My word, when you know My love for you and all that means, then your fears will be gone. For perfect love casts out fear.”

“I’ve read that scripture,” she told Him. “It says fear has to do with punishment. I don’t think that’s the same kind of fear I struggle with. I’m not afraid that You will punish me.”

“The bottom line is the same. Let’s look at your fear. What are you afraid of?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

“OK. Let’s say it’s about feeling you’re in danger. Would that be realistic?”

“Yes, since I live and travel alone, I do fear for my safety at times.”

“Why would being alone make you fear?”

“There’s no one to protect me.”

“I’m there to protect you.”

“I know You can but I’m afraid You won’t for whatever reason.”

“So it’s a trust issue.”

“I guess so.”

“What if your fear was in having to do something outside your comfort zone? Like speaking in front of hundreds of people? What would you be afraid of?”

“I would be afraid I would mess up, or make a fool of myself.”

“Would it help if you didn’t have to do it alone? If someone was standing there with you, giving you suggestions and reassurances?”

“Definitely.”

“I would be standing there with you.”

“But would I be able to hear You.”

“So it’s a trust issue again. You don’t trust that I could make myself heard by you. One more example. What if your fear had to do with illness. What if you were just diagnosed with cancer. What would you be afraid of?”

“I would be afraid of dying. Of what would happen to my family if I did die. Of not knowing how bad it would get. Of the side effects of the treatment I would have to have. Mostly, I would be afraid of not having control.”

“What if you knew dying only meant being with Me? What if you knew your family would be taken cared of? What if you knew someone would be there every step of the way with your treatments? What if you knew someone who could not only control it all, but do so in your favor?”

“Yeah, I see what You’re saying. It does come down to trust.”

“The same goes with other fears. They all boil down to trust.”

Thinking about it, she saw that He was right.

“And why can’t you trust Me?” He asked her.

“Because I see and read about people who got hurt even though they were Your followers. If You let them get hurt, You could let me get hurt.”

“So your faith is in what you see, not in Me. Why is that?”

“Because I know what I see better than I know You.”

“Do you really know what you see? Do you really know why they got hurt? Why it appeared that I let them get hurt?”

“No,” she had to admit.

“So knowing is not the issue. It’s trust.”

“So how do I learn to trust You?”

“Like I said. Walk with Me one step at a time. As You experience My faithfulness, your trust will grow. As You experience My unconditional love for you, your trust will grow.

What really gives fear a handhold in your heart is your fear to let fear go. The thoughts IMG_20180430_181558737and reasons you have about why you need that fear make you take it back every time I try to take it from you. But over time trust in Me will grow until it’s bigger than your fear. Then all you’ll need to do when a fear appears is to ask Me to take it and I will. And your belief, your trust in Me, will make it possible for you to let go of it for good.

Got it?”

And she did. And He was right. Over time, her trust in Him did increase, and the fears in her did decrease. Amazing.

My Cross… It’s Not What You Think

She opened her Bible and read Matt 16:24  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

She had heard many interpretations of what this cross might be. Chronic illness, death of a loved one, difficult people in your life…  They all sounded reasonable, but something about them bothered her. And they didn’t really apply to her life at the moment. Did that mean she didn’t have a cross?

So she asked the Lord.

“Do I have a cross?”

“Everyone does.”

” Well, I’m not sick. No one has died. And there are no difficult people in my life.”

“It’s not what you think.”

“So what is my cross?”

“The ability to understand.”

“I thought that was a good thing.”

“To a degree it is. But you want to know and understand every spiritual thing.”

“So?”

“You’re not capable of understanding everything. You’re limited by your human brain. Besides, even if you could, it wouldn’t be wise. There are some things you cannot handle yet. And sometimes knowing too much would cause you to mess up what I’m doing. You would be tempted to take over instead of relying on Me.”

She thought about that for a few minutes.

“I can see how knowing everything could be a bad thing. It could feed my pride and I would be trusting my understanding instead of trusting You.”

“Right.”

“So how do I carry this cross?”

“Deny your desire to understand everything. Accept and enjoy what you know and don’t fret about what you don’t know. Learn to use the knowledge that you have. Trust Me for the rest. And relax. You’re not carrying this cross alone.”

“I’m not?”

“No one carries their cross alone. I promised to always be with you, in every part of your life, to care for you and help you. That includes carrying your cross.”

“Is the cross the same for everyone?”

“Oh no. Just as every person is different and unique, every cross is different and unique.”

“Wow. It’s amazing that you can help everyone at the same time in so many different ways. I can’t get my head wrapped around how big You are.”

“See? That’s what I’m talking about!”

And she did.

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Do You Remember… Field of Flowers?

She was upset. She didn’t want to go but didn’t know why. She had spent weeks away before. Why was it so hard this time? Because it was going to be a week and a half instead of the week she first thought it would be? Why should that make a difference?

She packed slowly, feeling worse by the hour. She liked being home. All her things were there. She didn’t have many responsibilities lately and was enjoying working on her projects.

But she was needed elsewhere. And she wanted to help so she agreed to go. And had been OK about it until it came time to pack. Her online business required she take her computer, sewing machine, and the boxes of orders she needed to finish. By the time her SUV was packed to the brim, she was angry and stressed and wishing she didn’t have to go. But she had promised. She was needed. So she went.

On the way, she stopped to buy the groceries she would need while she was there. The store was very small and didn’t have everything she wanted. Anger turning to sadness and a bit of self-pity, she  squeezed the few bags of groceries into her car. As she opened the driver’s door, she looked down and saw a penny. She knew God was telling her He saw her and would be with her. She picked up the penny and put it into her pocket, thanking God for the reminder. But it didn’t help much with her feelings.

Driving the long distance, she slowly became aware that almost every light she went through was green. As many times as she’s driven this route, that almost never happens. And where was the traffic? It should have been bumper to bumper at this time of day. God again?

Once at the house, and her things were in the room she would sleep in, she set up her computer and checked her emails. Nothing exciting. She took a few notes on what she would be responsible for  – such as where things were, how to prepare them, what his daily routine was like, when to give him his meds – and felt increasingly insecure. Could she do this? What if something went wrong?

She decided to take a walk to ease the restlessness building in her legs. As she entered the nearby walking track, she looked down and saw something small and colorful. She picked up the little toy and looked around for its possible owner. But there were no kids around. She looked again at it and saw that it was a little plastic flower in a little plastic pot.

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“Aw… God gave me a flower.” she thought.

“It’s more than that,” came a still small voice.

More?

“Remember what you wrote… about a flower…”

And the story she had written about the field of flowers came immediately to mind. And she knew.

She had written about a picture God had given her many years before. About a flowers growing joyfully in a field. And she had been sad that she had picked some of them to give to Jesus, who had promptly given them to the Father.

“These are growing beautifully, just like You said. But the ones I picked are not growing anymore. I ruined them.”

“No, child,” He said gently. “You didn’t ruin anything. Even the flowers you picked were given to the Father. It’s all for His glory – whether growing or picked.”

He continued. “Be like the flowers.  Be the beautiful you He made you to be. Enjoy life, praising and loving Him, relaxing in His care, and sharing your beauty with everyone.’

“That’s easy to do, when I’m in a place as wonderful as this field. But what if someone picks me? What if they take me away from the peace and joy of this field?”  She was thinking about all the demands the people in her life place on her.

“Don’t resist them. Give yourself joyfully. And just like those flowers, you, too, will be given to the Father for His glory.”

She thought she understood. At least here, in this place, it made sense. She wasn’t so sure it would feel the same when she put it into practice.

“Will You help me?” she asked Him. “When people make their demands and take me from where I want to be, will You help me remember the flowers?”

Amazingly, that’s just what He did. With a little plastic flower in the little plastic pot.

Caught in the Middle, a Continuation

A continuation of You Want to Be a What? and Wrestling with God (continued from You Want to be a What?)

They went on vacation with her family. A three week long vacation entailing well over 2,000 miles. Lots of miles with little to do than drive and talk. And sleep if you weren’t the one driving. Visiting relatives on both sides, answering questions… surely during this time God will make His plans clear for us, she thought. At least clarify things.

But she was wrong.

It just brought them closer. And yet, he kept talking about seminary.

So she came back from the trip just as confused as when she left.

She called on God again.IMG_20180420_123724358

“Lord, we need to talk again,” she said.

“What do you want to know?”

“I want to know about him.

“I already told you that.”

“When will he know?”

“When it’s time.”

“Why do you speak in riddles? Why aren’t you more informative?”

“It’s better this way.”

Exasperated, she gave up and they changed the subject.

 

The next time she drove to his house, she asked him about their relationship.

“You help me a lot,” he said. “Like a soothing ointment on my pain.”

“You mean the pain after your previous girlfriend left you?”

“Yes, that pain.”

That made her feel good. But then she thought what will happen when he doesn’t need me anymore?

So she asked him. “Is that all?’

“Well, our relationship is completely different than any I’ve ever had before. It’s lively and refreshing and perfect.”

“But you’re still going to be a priest?”

“I don’t know. I think so. I’m going to spend some time at a seminary next month. I should know after that.”

God had told her to relax and enjoy her time with him. But how could she with this hanging over their heads – her head? She felt like something was going on and she was caught in the middle. He says he probably will be a priest, God says he’s not going to be a priest. Who should she believe? What she could see? Or what she couldn’t see? If only her emotions weren’t so caught up in this dilemma.

to be continued, again…

Baby Steps

She read Ps 37:23-24 in The Living Bible (TLB):

“The steps of good men are directed by the LORD. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the LORD holds them with his hand.”

Hmmm… she thought. Who are these good men?

Paul says when we are saved, we are washed of our sins and we become good in the eyes of God. So these good men must be the saved. That means I’m one of the good guys.

“He delights in each step they take.”

The thought of a baby came to mind – one that was just learning to walk. And the delight on the dad’s face as he watched his son take each hesitant step.

God, as my Father, delights in my steps? That’s hard to believe because I sure don’t delight in them. I’m a baby in my faith and am just learning to walk. The steps are slow, often painful and awkward. But God delights in them, and He will always delight in them no matter how old I get.

“If they fall, it isn’t fatal…”

Wow, good to know. Because I fall a lot! My salvation does not depend on how well I walk, but on how well Jesus walked.

“for the LORD holds them with his hand.”

Jesus is right here, all the time, holding my hand as I continue taking steps.  I’ll never be separated from Him because it’s Him holding my hand, not me holding His.

Whew. This takes a lot of pressure off me!

She thought for a few minutes. So what I think God is saying is…

Relax! Don’t beat yourself up for your failures, but enjoy the whole spiritual learning process, because I do! I’m with you every step of the way!

Amazing!

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You Want to Be a What?

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She looked at him with disbelief. Did he just say what she thought he had said?

“But what about us?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

She wasn’t happy. More than that, she was hurt. After months of getting to know each other, they were inseparable. She spent most weekends with his family to be close to him. And, when he could, he traveled the hour distance to her house to surprise her. She had even begun thinking this might lead to marriage one day. And now this!

“It’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow,” he continued. “We can still spend time together.”

“Doing what? Are we allowed to even hold hands anymore?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated.

She tried to sort through all the feelings flowing through her. Hurt was way up there on the list, along with a feeling of betrayal. She had finally begun to open up to someone, and now God was taking him away from her.

“How do you know He’s really calling you to do this?” she asked him.

“I prayed about it with a friend. He saw me pulling at a white collar around my neck. I think that means God wants me to go to seminary, but not immediately. He wants me to relax first.”

“What does that even mean – relax first?”

“It means to not worry about it right now.”

“That may be fine with you, but what about me? How do I date a future priest? Do we hold hands? Kiss? That just seems wrong.”

“I don’t know. Let’s just take this one day at a time.”

They parted, neither of them happy, and both wrapped in their own thoughts.

All the way home she thought about what he had said. A priest? Him? Now? Was this some kind of game God was playing with their hearts? If it had been another girl that was threatening their relationship, she could fight. But fight God? How does anyone fight God?

“Lord,” she finally prayed, “I don’t know why You’re doing this. But I know you love us and want what’s best for us. So although I don’t understand, and really don’t like it, I will trust You.”

Trust is one thing, she thought. But the pain is another. And this pain isn’t going anywhere.

The following days were hard as she tried to wrap her head around what God may be doing and what her place in it was. It seemed mean for Him to bring them together, only to separate them. She struggled to maintain her trust in God through the waves of pain, betrayal, sadness, loss, confusion, and anger that flooded her.

A few nights later, as she cried her way through her prayers yet again, she sought a word from the Lord, something to comfort her or to give her hope. But she heard nothing.

“Fine, Lord,” she finally said. ” The most important thing is that You are pleased with me in all this so if this is what You want, then so be it.”

He smiled at her, understanding in His eyes.

“That doesn’t help,” she told Him. “I was really hoping that You’d say it was just a test, that I passed and I could have him back.”

He just continued smiling at her and she knew He knew what He was going to do and He wasn’t going to change His mind. And He wasn’t going to tell her either.

Well then, maybe she wasn’t ready to hear those plans. Maybe she didn’t want to hear those plans. Maybe she should just ignore this whole thing, pretend it didn’t happen and just keep on dating this might-be-a-priest guy. After all, he did say God had told him to relax. And God wasn’t telling her anything.

“OK, Lord,” she said. “I know You’re going to be amazing in all this, but if You won’t tell me anything, and he doesn’t feel we need to change anything at this point, then I’m going to keep dating him until You take him or say otherwise.”

And so she did. Or tried to.

to be continued

Deep Inside a Flower

“There’s something very beautiful deep inside you,” her boyfriend told her.

“No, there isn’t,” she responded.

“Yes, there is. I can see God pouring His love all over you, watering you as if you were a flower. Only you can’t feel it.”

On the surface, she had come to know God’s love and presence, and to a degree could accept that, but deep down was a whole different story. She could feel the darkness that she believed was down there, and was afraid to find out that she was right.

“No,” she shook her head. “There’s nothing good in me.”

“I don’t believe that. I see you as a bud, closed up tightly around great beauty. And I see God slowly and gently opening your petals, one by one.”

Fear rose up in her. What if He really was doing that? What if He gets to the center of her IMG_20180416_204207978being and finds only darkness there? Maybe even evil. And demons.

“What if I’m afraid?”

“It’s OK. God knows that. And He will go only as fast as you are able. He won’t force you.”

“Maybe, but I can’t take the chance.” She really, really didn’t want to find out she had demons.  She had heard of plenty of people who had had demons cast out of them. She shuddered just thinking about it. What would that be like, having a demon cast out? Maybe like having a nasty worm in your stomach pulled out through your mouth. She had seen a video of that once. Or like having leprosy on the inside that would gross out anyone who saw it. She’d rather hide her darkness than subject others to it. Her petals would have to remain closed.

Later, they talked about it some more. She took in his words, hoping he was right, but knowing that he wasn’t.

The next night, they attended a prayer meeting together. She listened in amazement as the speaker for the night spoke about… she could hardly believe it… how God opens His people little by little, to reveal the beauty that is inside them.

No way, she thought. That has to be more than a coincidence. She got excited thinking that maybe… but no. That was true for other people but not for her. She knew there was nothing but darkness inside her. She could feel it.

The next night, she had an unexpected visit from a friend. This friend handed her a vase with a magnolia bud and a red rose in it. She thanked her friend and had a nice visit, but she didn’t think much about the flowers.

Until the next day.

The magnolia bud had opened during the night – and the flower was absolutely beautiful! Somehow she knew beyond a doubt that this flower was from the Lord. She could feel His love and presence and knew that He was doing something deep within her. As she yielded to Him, she began looking forward to finding out what that something was.

It would take years for her petals to fully open. But when they did, she found out she had been wrong all along. Instead of darkness, she found Light. Instead of evil and demons needing to be cast out, she found His great love for her. She realized  her fear had been lying to her all those years.

“There’s something very beautiful deep inside you,” her boyfriend, now husband, had told her those many years ago. Now she finally knew that it was true. There WAS something beautiful deep inside her. And that something was called Jesus.

You Are the Nightlight of the World

Feeling sad and discouraged, she read the words in Matthew 5: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  (v.14-15)

Really?

Where was that light when an old friend told her, “I don’t need Jesus. I don’t want Jesus.” She had been too confused to respond. How could anyone not want Jesus?

Where was that light when she visited her siblings? The discord she found there had worked its way inside her until she had gotten drawn into it. OK, maybe not as deeply as they were, but still. Where was her light?

Sadly, she read Matthew’s words again and thought, if Christians are the light of the world, I must be a nightlight. And I don’t seem to be doing a very good job at even that.

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That next couple of days, she kept getting the message to persevere. To take things one step at a time and not compare herself with others. She sighed. She’d rather be a bright light in the lives of those around her, but if the best she could be was a nightlight, then she’d persevere in being that nightlight. Yet, deep in her heart, she continued to struggle. How could Jesus be happy with her when her light was little more than that lamp under a bowl?

Years later, she received a letter from a friend.  In it, he described a vision he had had. He had seen a small girl, standing before Jesus, head down, ashamed because she feels she’s disappointed Him. He saw Jesus lift her head and tell her…

“I’ve told you time and time again – I love you just as you are. I didn’t create you to be a flame that bursts forth with brilliant light. You are my glowing ember and you will warm the hearts of many, many souls.”

Astonished, she knew this had to be from God. She had never told this friend about her struggle with not being a bright enough light. As peace replaced the struggle in her heart, she thanked God for this friend’s courage to share that message with her. And she thanked God for caring enough to let her know that being a low level light – a nightlight – was exactly what she was made to be, and it was OK.

“God, after all the times I ignored Your reassurances out of fear and doubt, You never gave up. Thank You for loving me enough to find a way to get Your message to me loud and clear. You’re amazing!”