“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 NLT
On Monday I happened upon this stack of rocks while out walking with my granddaughter.
I asked, “Did your mama do that?” She replied with an answer like a song, “uh-huh!”, a big smile and a tilted nod.
Then she commenced to rebuilding, working to rearrange the balance, to add a small stone to the middle and to substitute new rocks for what her mama had built. Satisfied after a few minutes, she left the rocks, similar but not her mama’s stack. She made a new one.
I thought of the joy of the simple activity, the modeling of what she’d seen and the way her perspective was a little different.
Purest intentions, no comparison, not destroying what her mama built, only deciding…hmmm, I think I’ll try.
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Jeremiah 17:9 NLT
Earlier, I searched for this verse. God had awakened me to consider the condition of my heart, to understand why it’s so important to guard it. Why it is not always beneficial to rely on my thoughts born of an aching or angry heart.
Rather, to trust in the Lord with all of my heart, not to lean on my understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
A heart that is divided, split up into separate rooms inhabited by fear, anger, doubt, dread, jealousy, strife, bitterness, seemingly innocent suspicion or comparison.
A heart like that can’t bring clarity, doesn’t give God enough space to illuminate it, to defuse the dark.
A deceitful heart is one unchanged by Jesus. A deceitful heart is the heart of human intent, not one guided by the holiness of the invited Holy Spirit in.
The heart unchanged by the belief in and acceptance ofJesus Christ is hard and prone to conspire and conclude negative things.
A deceitful heart is a heart that’s forgotten goodness.
I sat in the Target parking lot eating Chick-Fil-A and noticed the shoppers arriving or leaving.
Two spaces over, a man sat alone. I presumed waiting. I could say he was sullen; but, maybe just settled. Waiting for someone, patient or maybe just not wanting to wear his mask.
A woman with green hair passed in front of me, short like mine but a neon pine green. She was dressed in shorts and nothing matched.
Earlier, the loud boom of speakers shook my car and others as we eased to the place where we’d be given our food. The young man had taken my spot in line and I thought to make his mistake known but thought to let it go.
I heard him remark to the cashier, “A girl like you don’t like tattoos…” and I watched her young face drop with an emotion I can’t name.
Maybe embarrassment or excitement, I can’t say.
My mind is not privy to what the heart of another might believe.
I sat and watched the Target shoppers a minute more, people of different races, different beliefs, different orientations, different longings, different fears, different staunch determinations.
It occurred to me then,
who are we to believe we can change people?
The heart after all is human, human in nature, not intended by God to be so, but bent towards sin.
Today I pray, “Change my heart in the places that are growing dim. Lighten my thoughts, my fears, my speculations. Remind me of your Spirit within. Guard this vessel of mine that before a single beat, you decided would be a preciousplace for you. Because of your great mercy, I say, Amen.
Guard my heart so that it guidesmy thoughtsand responses to those around me.
John 10 ends with a verse of consolation. Following much dispute over the validity or blasphemous behavior of Jesus as well as the loving words He used to explain the purpose God gave him, to be our Good Shepherd, not the hired hand who’d mislead or neglect us. Chapter ends with “the one thing” that is needed, belief.
“And many who were there believed in Jesus.” John 10:42 NLT
There’s an odd tree near my home. Its branches are grey and twisted and it half stands half reclines in an empty lot.
It is solitary with only tiny tender pines trying to begin their lives nearby, bright green fan like needles on the skinniest of branches.
I’m not an arborist. I know this tree is old, “gnarly” comes to mind. It has pods of some sort and pale white tiny blooms in the Spring. I’ve yet to see it produce a nut or fruit. It still has a few crinkly leaves furled and scattered.
It has lingered long.
Planted in the empty lot or the lot owned by someone and long neglected.
A decade or so ago I began to notice, this leaning tree keeps staying, fascinating me. It is steady although it has no real reason, not attended to by anyone other than God’s good rain and sun.
I’ve just gotten word from a gallery telling me thanks for your submission, our walls are full.
We have enough for display.
I downgraded from a website for my art to Etsy. The decision surprised me with the ease, and the peace, the still today peace is keeping me.
The desire to be an artist feels like an ache, a wound that keeps reminding you to take it slow, slow movements bring lasting health and renewed fervor.
This I know. The change is internal. I am being refined. I am growing. I know because this time, I have told this change, welcome, come on in, stay a bit.
A crazy thing happened on Sunday morning. I heard a sound above my head and thought, an animal in the attic…a big one. At last, I’d convince my husband and he’d believe me, those squirrels are living above our bed.
Later, I went to make the bed and discovered branches curled against my window. The pretty poplar tree had been uprooted by nature and leaned in a precarious way against our home.
Home alone, I walked out in rain boots and pajamas to see the bulbous root upturned and the trunk resting against a patio table. The discarded table saved our windows and our roof. The tree is now cut into pieces by our sweet son in law and only debris remaining.
I am wondering what caused it to fall.
Today, I read a passage in a devotional referencing a verse about being refined.
I will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried. Zechariah 13:9
I thought of what it means to be refined, how I’d always equated being refined with having more polish, more finesse, what had been started becoming a final result that stood out from the rest. To be refined would feel as close to perfection as possible, a pleasing object to gaze upon, a showpiece worthy of applause.
I know the metaphor of life’s trials and traumas being a symbol of the fire of the silversmith, the heat melting the substance so that it shines smoothly.
I’m realizing it’s not about shining, the refining God wants us to understand and allow.
It’s an inside transformation, a change in our souls that leads to changes in mindsets and goals.
A change maybe we and God only know.
To be refined, all impurities are removed from a substance, it becomes internally pure.
A Canon named George Body, born in 1840 describes it this way,
“His loving eye is ever eagerly watching for the moment when the purifying work is done. Then, without a moment’s delay, He withdraws the fire, and the purified soul is removed from the furnace. See, again, it is when the image of Christ is reflected in us, so that He can see Himself in us as a mirror. Raise your eyes, then amidst the flames, and see the Face of Jesus watching you.” George Body
Stand like the old tree, stronger because of the nature of its own depth and fiber and because of the refining hand of God.
The strength is inner, the strength that was brave when it said call yourself an artist.
Keep it quiet. Keep it confident. Keep it grounded.
I sat with one last piece of watercolor paper in the pad, a pencil sketch of a woman’s face I had started was faintly there, not completely erased.
I added oval shapes of angel faces, a few more realistic and scattered to give an idea of angels all over the page, floating above the baby Jesus with his mother, Mary in the corner.
I’d had a moment earlier when a friend wrote about the “multitude” of angels and I couldn’t stop myself from the thought
Could it be? It seems so unbelievable, there are angels, they are real and as much as I prefer not to borrow a song’s lyrics, “there are angels among us.” (The band, Alabama)
And now I’m inspired again. It’s just that simple, no it is splendid, this new fervor.
My beliefs in such things mysterious to me are easy to hold as hope and not as reality.
Someone used the word “resplendent” in a message contrasting their feelings and faith as tender and yet, resplendent.
What a beautiful word, an adjective meaning brilliant, shining, impressive or magnificent.
I again thought of that unbelievable night, the night that Jesus was born.
I am thinking now of its significance.
The significance of seeing and believing in a way that is so much more than a poetically written ancient story of a mysterious man born to a young virgin.
The weight of believing or not. Faith that is not fiction.
“Redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus must be considered fact, a deeply personal unwavering belief, otherwise that very gift of mercy, redemption will never be fully experienced, only vaguely hoped for.” me
So, I cradle the ceramic baby in a basket and I see it more than decoration, I see it truly, fully.
An old man in the Bible, Simeon had been waiting for the prophesied Messiah. He met Jesus with his parents and he worshipped, praised, and acknowledged.
“Lord and Master, I am your loving servant, and now I can die content, for your promise to me has been fulfilled. With my own eyes I have seen your Word, the Savior you sent into the world. Simeon cradled the baby in his arms and praised God and prophesied, saying:
He will be glory for your people Israel, and the Revelation Light for all people everywhere!” Luke 2:28-32 TPT
An elderly woman named Anna, both had been waiting their whole lives to see the Jesus their God had promised.
“While Simeon was prophesying over Mary and Joseph and the baby, Anna walked up to them and burst forth with a great chorus of praise to God for the child. And from that day forward she told everyone in Jerusalem who was waiting for their redemption that the anticipated Messiah had come!” Luke 2:38 TPT
Resplendent, the aged faces of these two must have been, like the sight on that angel and starry filled night of Jesus’s birth.
Resplendent were the colors, brilliant and vivid on another evening, the rich reds of the Son of God’s blood covered body, the darkest daytime night before the curtain was torn and God illuminated for all the reality of what occurred, a death for our sins, the reality of God’s offer of mercy. A vivid scene that must be believed and remembered.
Many doubted, many still do, honestly admitted needing proof.
“Then, looking into Thomas’ eyes, he said, “Put your finger here in the wounds of my hands. Here—put your hand into my wounded side and see for yourself. Thomas, don’t give in to your doubts any longer, just believe!”
Then the words spilled out of his heart—“You are my Lord, and you are my God!” Jesus responded, “Thomas, now that you’ve seen me, you believe. But there are those who have never seen me with their eyes but have believed in me with their hearts, and they will be blessed even more!” John 20:27-29 TPT
I suppose the choice is up to us, us earthly people. We can choose to believe or not.
A life of faith only faintly evident or one fully committed, resplendent!
Thankful today for the angels, the believers, the doubters like me.
Very surely grateful for redemption, for mercy unmerited, for grace.
Thankful for words and the peace of mind, presence of the Holy Spirit gently nudging my using them.
Continue and believe. He’s not finished with you yet.
Last night the dreams did that filtering thing, bringing all the half processed thoughts to the surface so that morning’s arrival could have a blank slate.
Angry encounters, loneliness amongst others, worry, an almost real sense of illness and a vivid place of being taken advantage of.
I understand the purpose of dreams when they are this threatening, this vulnerability revealing.
What was heavy becomes evidence now of false narrative and a waking up to return to truth.
“I am convinced that any suffering we endure is less than nothing compared to the magnitude of glory that is about to be unveiled within us.” Romans 8:18 TPT
Last weekend my husband and I stole away for a couple of days in a time it seems we’re supposed to be hunkering down, getting ready to fight, a time of yet more uncertain events.
We were among the leaves, the curving hills and valleys, the powerful rush of water, the sound of leaves tousling under our feet and dancing downward.
In the afternoon I sat and rocked alone on the old porch shielded by camellias. The inn was uncrowded because of pandemic.
I simply sat. Several minutes into the comfort of nothingness, I turned to see an oddity.
In the corner of the porch, the shape of a dark bird sat. I turned away and then looked again, still there.
I puzzled over the shape. Had somebody left a carved bird there for sweet decoration, was it one of those country birds people put on a shelf, the legs dangling?
I waited, no hurry to decide what it was.
I began to be sure that it was there just for me. My soul was stilled. The world around me a mess and yet, I am sitting quietly with a simply beautiful view and I’m rocking gently in an old wooden chair.
All was good, was well.
Sunset approached and I quietly decided to see more closely the figure in the corner.
I stepped gingerly and I saw it, a sparrow who allowed my visit and then fluttered away.
I went to tell my husband and to dress for dinner. As we stepped towards the porch I shushed him, maybe we will see it.
And we did. Back in its safe place, we both saw the bird.
“It’s roosting.” my husband said.
The bird wasn’t there when we returned after dinner nor on Sunday when we departed.
Only Saturday as I sat resting from hiking and in between a good long call with my son and a FaceTime with my daughter and hers.
I knew it was God.
I know it was His nearness in a visit with a roosting bird.
Now I know roosting is different than nesting as far as the pattern of a bird. Roosting is sitting still, finding a place to rest and returning there for comfort, for safety.
Maybe we roost when we allow our souls to rest in God’s tender but massive hand. Maybe we confidently return to our little place.
“A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord, A wonderful Savior to me; He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, Where rivers of pleasure I see. He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, That shadows a dry, thirsty land; He hideth my life in the depths of His love, And covers me there with His hand, And covers me there with His hand.”
I pray you know God’s nearness today, that the noise of all other is quieted by a view, a song, a sound and that if sleep awakens buried fears, you wake with assurance of being never alone and you rest in the safe place of that knowledge.
If you will get quiet, God will come near and tie up the edges of your thoughts, bring them together and bind them as a chapter in your story.
I know this to be true.
Last week, a stranger called. Someone told her I had connections, good at problem solving, helping others not give up.
I listened and advised, adding I’m not really connected any longer with people in places of helping others.
I listened as she told her story, one of divorce, of children who struggled, of being diagnosed with physical infirmity.
“Everything has me feeling so broken.” she said.
“When we accept our brokenness and give up our own repairs, we allow God to make beautiful things of our lives.”
Quietly, she agreed and thanked me for reassuring her that the connections she has already made are the right ones.
This morning, quiet with God, I thought of a song’s lyrics, “we won’t be shaken” and I journaled a tender note to myself remembering my talk with the stranger.
Love never fails. I Corinthians 13:8
The note to self, confirmation that according to God, I am enough. The rich blessings I know are more than I expected. I can rest. I can quiet my soul.
Art, writing, telling my story of redemption, these are I suppose options, either way, I am loved.
Do you believe God loves you no matter your talent, success or bravery? It’s a difference maker, this realization.
It’s the evidence of the presence of His Spirit in you, the comfort of truly doing things to God’s glory, not yours. It’s the sign of surrender that will set you free.
I’m only beginning to see. Still, it is freedom for me.
Some know of my book idea, the redemption story I’ve carried for very long. God turned the tables on that story and is piece by piece, giving me a more beautiful one, one that’s not relentless in remembering the past, focused on women like me who bravely stepped forward.
Who’s to say if it will be written. I’m okay either way. The beautiful thing, God is okay with me as well.
The same is true for you, the gracious and merciful love of God guiding your every endeavor.
Visualize it. God looking down on you, seeing your capabilities, your talents, your unique approach to sharing your God story. I see Him seeing us, seeing us getting closer to the story He wrote of us, seeing us combine His love, our bravery and just enough humility.
Whether or not you follow through on the things God made you to do, beautiful ideas only for you, is mercifully up to you.
Oh, that you would bless me indeed, enlarge my borders, that your hand would be with me and keep me from harm so that I would not be in pain. Jabez’s prayer
What can hear God saying in the quiet?
Listen. He’s patient in your response, gracious no matter your decision.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT
Yesterday was a good day, restful but productive until I paused with early sunset on the sofa and allowed my thoughts to catch up.
The annoying squeeze of the unnamed anxiety was realized. I walked down the hall to use the stretch, “legs against the wall” and I felt the rope loosen, the one that was tight around my chest.
Stretching and then praying made it better, the place that my soul inhabits was opened up, restored, clearing out the clutter, making more room for my Father’s spirit to be fully known by me.
I’m beginning to believe God. Beginning to believe the prayer that children say has words that are more than a pretty promise, are true.
“Ask Jesus to come into your heart.”
Not as a child but as a thirty something year old, I said what is called the “sinner’s prayer”.
Jesus came near, planted His Spirit in my soul. It has been gradual, often half-heartedly that I believed this mystery to be so.
This mystery that by grace and patience is no longer so obscurely mysterious at all.
Because I’ve been asking God to come near, to fill me, to allow His river to flow to me and through me and it has begun to be so.
It is becoming well with my soul,
Will become even more so. I am certain. I continue to believe.
Believing God has good things for me, not just for others is a closer truth than before.
A couple of weeks ago the nearness of God astounded me. I’ve kept it to myself except one wise other person until now.
On a regular morning walk with my grandchild, music she loves coming from my pocket and stops and starts to dig in the sand followed by her bouncy steps running, I had a thought.
Surrounded by trees, I remembered the scary vertigo episode almost exactly a year ago. I thanked God for wellness, for no further episodes.
I looked on either side, trees with leaves falling, old tall ones and new branches and I wondered to myself, what would I do if one of these trees fell, if my grandchild was safe but I was trapped?
I imagined calmly, the dog would look after Elizabeth and I’d be able to call for help.
Although scary, it would be okay, I would be safe.
Strange, I know.
Even stranger or as I now believe, not strange at all, occurred the next morning.
I arrived to care for my granddaughter in the dark of morning. My daughter said her husband wanted to know,
“Did your mama see that big tree that fell overnight?”
“No”, I answered. She continued with the way it fell, not a loud sound and the tree with the trunk at least seven feet around, it fell perfectly against the fence row, didn’t block the road.
“Oh” I mumbled.
We walked later to see it, the baby and I. I saw the massive oak severed by something unhuman lying on the ground.
I admit, I thought heavily of it all day, wondering over the weight of my thoughts the day before. It felt very scary and then, supernatural in a kind and loving way.
I texted my friend, wise in spiritual strengths and truth.
She wasn’t astounded or afraid. She simply told me God wanted to show me He is protecting me. That wherever I am, He is; I embody His Spirit. I have an advocate. There was no shock in her tone, she didn’t think I was crazy or what happened was scary.
Later, I realized I could believe it too. God is very close to me.
He is answering my most tender prayers.
Before sleep last night, I read five psalms, a proverb and a message.
I remembered the random text from the friend mentioned above, the way her words sent a chill down my calf.
I slept with the certainty of being known and loved and when I woke I repeated what God told me overnight.
“You are a masterpiece. Keep creating.”
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” Psalms 4:8 NLT