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!”

Slime Monster

Where did this feeling come from, she wondered. This warm, want-to-hug-people feeling?

She had never wanted to hug anyone before. As a child, she had been forced to hug every relative hello, regardless of who they were and how she felt. That was not OK with her. In fact, she hated it. But she did it dutifully. She learned to see hugging people as a chore and to bury any feelings involved in it.

But now…she WANTED to hug people.

People in her family.

People in her church.

People at her prayer meeting.

People who befriended her.

People she knew.

People she didn’t know.

Even her pesky little sisters.

Where had this huggy part of her come from?

Then one day she read Romans 5:5. “…for we know how dearly God loves us and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.”

Ahh! So that’s where it comes from, she thought! I’m so full of God’s amazing love that it oozes out of me every time I get near someone. I’m like some kind of slime monster!

And that was just fine with her.

 

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Fear of Death

When she was younger, she read the words, “… that it would be His last night on earth before returning to His Father.” John 13:1

She thought, “That would be like saying this is my last night here in this town before returning to my old town. Death is just a journey from one place to another.

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Then why do many Christians fear leaving this earth, this life, these kinds of bodies? Why do I fear death? I know that when I die, I will be with Jesus in heaven. But every time so far that I thought it was time to go, I was afraid.  It must be because of little faith. I still don’t believe wholeheartedly that God loves me and He won’t condemn me. I know it in my head, but it hasn’t reached my heart yet. So I fear the moment I see Him face to face.”

Years later, touched by the death of several people in her life, she thought about it again. How would she feel when faced with it? Does she have enough faith now to chase away the fear? Nope, it’s still there. But it has changed. She doesn’t fear facing her God anymore. Over the years she had gotten to know Him better – and she now knew she wouldn’t be condemned. In fact, she knew she’d be accepted with open arms. So why the fear? Fear of the unknown. Fear of the method by which she’ll die.

OK, she thought. There’s still work to be done in my heart. She decided to start with the scripture that says perfect love casts out fear. That’s the key. If she could get to this perfect love, there would be no more fear. She knew she couldn’t do it on her own, so she prayed.

“Father in heaven, here’s my fear. I ask that Your perfect love cast it out of my heart. Help my love grow increasingly more perfect as I spend time with You and learn of Your amazing love. For I know in my head that no matter which road I must travel to my death, You will be there with me every step of the way. Work that knowledge down deep into my heart so I will have no fear, and so that when I eventually turn onto this road, I can glorify You all the way home.”

And she was at peace knowing He would do so.

Hanging on

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She hung there, grasping the rope with one hand and wondering if she would be able to hang on this time. No matter how hard she had held on in the past, she had always ended up falling off. Her fingers just weren’t that strong.

She looked down. And wish she hadn’t. She already knew what lay below. Rocks strewn around, thorny bushes, putrid water. From experience, she knew the fall would hurt no matter where she landed.

She looked up, grateful to be hanging from the rope rather than down there. It was actually pleasant up here, she thought. Fresh air, blue sky, a sense of peaceful freedom. If only she could hang on.

Her thoughts were interrupted by some people who walked past her as she walked along the beach. She wasn’t really hanging by an rope. Actually, the whole hanging by the rope thing was a picture that had formed in her mind as she contemplated her new level of trust in God’s promises to her and in her growing grasp of her identity in Christ. She felt strong in her faith, peaceful trust that He can and will take care of everything that concerned her. It felt like she was hanging from a spiritual rope and enjoying the fresh air and blue sky. That’s fine for now, she thought. I’m not being tested. What will happen when I am? Will I fall like I’ve done every time in the past?

As you’ve practiced what I’ve told you to do, your fingers have gotten stronger. You can hang on. But if you do fall off,  you will get another chance. One of these times, you will no longer fall.

And she thought of some of the other ropes in her life, the ones she no longer had to fight to stay on: her belief in God, her salvation, and her faith that God will help her accomplish what He calls her to do. But this rope seems so much thicker than those other ropes. Her fingers could barely wrap around it. And she had fallen off this rope more than a few times already.

That’s how you felt when you first tried hanging from those other ropes. But with practice and perseverance, your fingers stretched and grew stronger. The same will happen with this rope.

So she relaxed and hung there in the air, hoping she wouldn’t fall, but confident that if she did, it wouldn’t be the end. With her amazingly patient and faithful God, there is always another chance.

That’s My Dad!

As she read the Old Testament, and the various ways God dealt with the prophets and the Israelites, an idea slowly took form in her mind. That was not just God who did those things, it was her Dad!

The whole previous year, God had revealed His Fatherhood to her. And now she connected the God of the Israelites with the God who is her Father. But not just her Father – a parental figure who loved her and took care of her – but her Dad – who knew her intimately and who liked to hang out with her.

Wow!  She was blown away!

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It was her Dad who hid in the burning bush and parted the sea and rained down manna.

It was her Dad who appeared as fire and smoke and scared the Israelites.

It was her Dad who knocked over the walls of Jericho.

It was her Dad who sent the big fish after Jonah.

It was her Dad who had incredible conversations with the prophets.

And it was her Dad who did so many other amazing things!

Excited, she couldn’t wait to reread the Old Testament in this new light. It was like His dealing with people of long ago suddenly became more personal.

Looking up, grateful to the Holy Spirit for helping her understand a little bit more about God, she whispered, “There is none like You, my amazing Dad!”

He whispered back, “And there is none like you, my amazing daughter!”

Valentines Day Years Ago

I know it’s almost two months too late… or 10 months too early… but I just ran into this entry in my journal from years ago. There’s a very good chance if I wait until next February, I will have lost it long before. So I’m posting it now.

There is no text to this story. It’s all in the picture. Enjoy! I sure did. Our God is amazing, isn’t He!IMG_20180403_024531919.jpg

 

Welcome Home Party

“Will you go?” her boyfriend asked her. “You really should. You’ll love it and it’ll be good for you.”

“I don’t know,” she responded hesitantly. “There’s going to be a lot of people there.”

“So? It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

She didn’t know why she found it so hard to be around groups of people. Even going to the same prayer group week after week still caused her to get sweaty-hands-and-stomach-cramps nervous.

“But I don’t know anyone there.”

“You’ll make some new friends. Everyone is really nice.”

“I won’t know what to do.”

“They’ll tell you. The leaders are great. They will take care of you.”

“What if I can’t sleep in that room filled with women?”

“I’ll be praying for you.”

Finally she agreed, and within a week she was signed up and on her way.

The first night was filled with introductions, expectations, and a short teaching. Not too bad, she thought. Even sleeping on her little cot went better than she expected.

The next day was so full of activities and teachings that she barely had time to think about being nervous. Everyone was so friendly and helpful, looking out for her and making sure she was OK. By that night she had begun relaxing and went to sleep full of the presence of God.

The next day brought a time of worship, a last message, and some group discussions. Then it was time for lunch.

While she ate, she marveled at the acceptance she felt from these ladies. No one was judging or criticizing her. No one was expecting her to be any different than what she was. It was even OK for her to be quiet and silent most of the weekend. She was so completely accepted just as she was. She knew after lunch would be the closing session and then it would be time to leave. She didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to lose the warmth she had experienced all weekend.

A sound brought her out of her thoughts. Music? Where was it coming from? She noticed all the other women had also noticed and were looking around for the source. The music got louder and louder, and now voices could be heard accompanying the melody. Suddenly the door opened and in came a line of men holding lit candles while singing along with the music. And in amongst the men was her boyfriend! They made a ring around the women and sang to them.  Most women were crying by then, and she was no exception. Only her tears were on the inside. The men were singing to them! The men were singing to her! She was loved and cherished and valued! She was overwhelmed!

On her way home, she struggled to put her feelings into words, to form a picture of what the weekend had been for her. And then she knew! It was her welcome home party!

That’s exactly what it was, she thought. I left God when I was young, just like the prodigal son in the Bible. Only I wasn’t smart enough to go back home like the son was. The Father had to come find me. We spent the last year walking together  along the road back towards His home as He taught me about His love. And now, I’m surrounded by my brothers and sisters – all who love and accept me because He does! This weekend, like the party the father in the Bible threw for his son, was the party my amazing Father threw for me!

And she was grateful that her boyfriend had been right.

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I Need a Shower

For the last week, she felt dirty. Grimy. Well, not exactly. She knew each time she asked for forgiveness, she was forgiven. But that was more like a sponge bath. She knew she was clean, but she didn’t feel clean.

“Lord, I need a shower,” she told Him. “I need to be drenched in your forgiveness.”

She wondered how to make that happen.  Prayer? Confession? Fasting? Maybe she should talk with her pastor.

However, unseen by her, God had received her request and was making preparations His own way.

The night following her prayer, she was at the weekly prayer meeting. At the time for the teaching, one of the leaders stood up.

“Instead of a message tonight,” he said. “I think we need to all stand and repent before God. I don’t know why, but I think it’s important that we do that tonight.”

So she stood up with the others, and closed her eyes, and saw herself standing before the Father.

“Father, I’m sorry…” she began.

“Come here, Child,” He said with His arms open wide. She climbed up into His lap and snuggled with Him for awhile. Then, without anyone saying anything, she knew she was to go stand in front of Jesus.

“Are you ready?” Jesus asked her.

She nodded.

He poured His blood over her, cleansing her just as she had asked. But He didn’t stop there. After his blood, He poured His Spirit over her. Like a wax job, she thought, to preserve and protect me! And she worshipped her God in song.

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Later, thinking about it, she was amazed all over again. God had been good to fulfill her desire so quickly. Even more, He had not asked her to grovel, begging His forgiveness. He had given it freely! She didn’t have to do anything. He had done it all!

Field of Flowers

She once again closed her eyes to spend some time with her Lord, and found herself in a field of flowers. She seemed to be as a small child, sometimes holding His hand, sometimes dancing around Him, as they walked.

“Look at all these beautiful flowers!” she said to Him.

“They are beautiful, aren’t they?” he responded as He looked at her.

There were so many different kinds and colors, she couldn’t help but laugh in amazement. She began picking some here, and some there, gathering as great a variety as she could manage to hold. When her hands were full, she offered them to Jesus. He smiled as He took them.

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In a twinkling of an eye, He took her to the throne room where He handed the flowers to the Father, then, just as quickly, they were back in the field.

“Look at the flowers,” He told her. “Look how they are all growing beautifully for the glory of the Father.”

She looked at them, then grew sad.

“What’s wrong?” He asked her.

“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?”

“Of course.”

He took her hand, and they continued their walk through the field of flowers.