“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.” ~ Anne Frank
I found this quote online and wanted to share it because how true it is! There is not, in my opinion, any substitute to being alone with God. This alone time has been important to me my entire life. Both my parents worked through my childhood so, of necessity, I spent a great deal of time on my own and could sneak off into a field or tree and have time alone with Jesus once my chores were done. Now that I am older and know Him in a deeper way, that time alone with Him with the sky overhead our cathedral is of utmost importance.
So important, that years ago I wrote a poem about it.
Someone asked where I found You
So I sat right down and thought
Did I find You in my prayers?
Yes, but I know I don’t pray as I ought.
And did I find you in the written Word?
Yes and no, I said
For I don’t read it as I should
There’s so much to do instead.
I’m a miserable Christian! I exclaimed
And guilt was a heavy stone on my back.
But wait, where was I?
Oh, now I remember-
How did I get so far off track?
I banished the guilt, shrugged it off
Cleared it all from my mind.
I focused completely on thoughts of You
And left all others behind.
Where did I find You? I asked myself
I turned my eyes to the heavens above
I smiled with Joy as I realized I knew
All Creation testifies of your love.
Especially for me, it’s the skies themselves
That bring my heart closer to Yours-
When the sun rises and when the sun sets
I feel that my spirit soars.
The skies are alive with colors like flame
That swirl and bend in a dance.
Look up! You say, See what I’ve made
This will be your only chance-
For each one is different-not one is the same
What has been before won’t come again.
And each new sunrise and sunset that I’ve seen
Are more beautiful than the last ones have been.
I feel so privileged, so singled out
As I wonder how it could possibly be-
That You’ve been there waiting every day
To paint the sky new just for me.
So that’s where I find You-the works of Your hands
As all Creation attests to Your fame
For through You, by You, and for You all things are made
I have already mentioned my love of the Psalms. Whenever I pick up a new translation of the Bible, I turn to the Psalms to see how they sound. I am currently enjoying them in The Passion Translation and, in fact, read Psalm 32 after saving a draft of this post and, since King David was saying exactly the same thing I’m attempting to say here, have decided to move forward.
In my previous post I also mentioned how I find the wisdom to handle life’s problems in the Psalms. While I have no wish to discount in any way those Psalms not written by King David, his Psalms are the ones I find most instructional. This is because so much of David’s life is revealed in the books of the Old Testament. Though David did make many terrible mistakes, he knew who he was in covenant relationship with God and his Psalms teach me how to live as a Covenant Woman.
I recently had an opportunity to be deeply grateful to David and his Psalms. I transgressed, grieved the Holy Spirit, and would have despaired if I had not remembered King David. I’ll get to that transgression in a moment: I must first relate another transgression from years ago.
In this instance, I had been told certain things, believed them, and acted on that belief only to discover what I had been told was not the truth. Accusations fell upon me and my transgression would have been terrible indeed if I had acted with the motivation I was being accused of. I could have defended myself but to do so would have meant relating exactly what I had been told which would have caused much more pain than my actions had done. Instead, I sat silent and bore the invective poured down on me though it resulted in a burning resentment I carried with me for years afterward.
I must be clear: it was by the Grace of God that I stayed silent. There was nothing in me that wanted to. Two years later when I heard the first real call of God on my life (He was little more than a presence I struggled to understand and serve before this), I was grateful that He had kept me from making the situation worse. I did not have to bear that shame. As I started to move on the path God has set me feet on, He began to touch that resentment and anger I carried and nudge me towards forgiveness. I was willing to have Him work, of course, but didn’t think He had all that much to do in me. I could see how others had made no provision for my grief and there was no understanding for what I might be going through having just been through a car accident that altered my entire life. The way I, my family, and even a close friend had been treated during this time was far worse than any sin I committed and didn’t the balance of the scales of justice really tip in my favor.
God did not agree. There came the day when He decided to deal with this situation and His chastisement was upon me. There was no room for “but God, they-” as He dealt with me. How can I describe how this felt? I have heard many songs sung and teachers speak on “weeping in holy brokenness” like it’s this beautiful, gentle thing. It is beautiful when its over but, if being under the corrective hand of God is like a song at all, it’s the lead singer of a death metal band screaming into the microphone. There was no weeping. It was ugly crying, snot everywhere, shuddering and quivering, and I could only remain kneeling while He worked. King David describes it as “The pain never let up for your hand of conviction was heavy on my heart”. (Psalm 32: 4a)
God was not cruel, just determined, and He held me there until He’d finished making me clean. Then He poured His healing into me, soothed and comforted me. That feeling of being scrubbed clean and then filled with Himself made what I had experienced worth it. That is, until He told me to apologize. Me? Apologize? Yes. The choice was mine but He showed me how obedience led to a deeper experience of Him and disobedience led to stagnation and death. And so, I made the choice that was no choice at all, wrote out my no-excuses apology, stamped and mailed it. I have never felt any anger or resentment about this situation or the people involved since.
This was a deeply painful and humiliating lesson to learn. One would think I would take care not to do anything or disobey in any way that would result in my needing to undergo another session under the mighty hand of my Heavenly Father. But, I told you that situation to tell you this one. Only a few months ago I was in a situation where I wanted to defend myself against something I hadn’t done and take credit for something I had. I heard a resounding, echoing, “No! Remain Silent!” inside my spirit. Even so, I decided the opinion of the humans in front of me was more important than obedience to my God and I spoke the words He’d told me not to speak. It was a deliberate transgression and I felt an instant wrenching of the closeness between Him and me. Not that I had no sense of His presence because He didn’t leave me, just that I knew we did not have the closeness we’d had before I disobeyed.
I sat on the edge of my bed having no idea what to do. I remembered the first instance from years before but the two situations could hardly be compared. Then I had not deliberately transgressed and, even so, it had all happened before He’d really called me to walk with Him. Once I was truly in Christ, being made a new creation with old things passing away, there was no guilt or condemnation for my Before actions. This was After. I had deliberately disobeyed and, since I’d been walking with Him for years, I knew better. And, the Accuser was ready and able to begin speaking to me out of my mind. I could not deny my own thoughts: I knew I was guilty. I wanted to get back into that harmonious existence I’d had before I spoke the words, but how? I was sorry. God knew I was sorry. What could I do? The answer was nothing. There wasn’t anything I could do that would undo what I’d done: no specific number of prayers, no positive confessions, no readings, nothing I could do that could restore me to that sense of Oneness. I could pray until my tongue clove to the roof of my mouth and I knew He would accept none of it.
This is when I remembered King David. More specifically, his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband. What a terrible thing and yet, when Nathan the Prophet came to him, David did not run and hide from God. Despite what he’d done and knowing he deserved to die for it, David fell directly on his face before God and later ended up writing Psalm 51. David knew who he was in covenant relationship with God and knew that, ultimately, nothing could separate him from God. I am a partaker in an even greater covenant in Christ Jesus and, if I believe Hebrews 10:12 (and I do), there was nothing I could do to make God forgive me. Jesus had already taken care of it.
That remembrance gave me the peace and strength I needed to once more confess my sin before God and know He was faithful and just to forgive me (1 John 1:9). This scripture is now real to me in a way it never was before. He IS faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me of my unrighteousness. He is not a sulking God who withholds Himself from me until I prove to Him just how sorry I am but even then keeps reminding me of my sin and how He has low expectations of me moving forward. No! That closeness was instantly restored. Again, Psalm 32 states: You forgave me! All at once the guilt of my sin washed away and all my pain disappeared! (verse 5b)
Does this mean I have a blank check for transgressions, so to speak? Of course not. I can’t put into words how it feels to know I’ve grieved the Holy Spirit except to say it’s awful and I don’t intend to do it ever again. Returning to Psalm 32 I read, “I hear the Lord saying, ‘I will stay close to you instructing you and guiding you along the pathway for your life'” so I can trust He will keep me. And, I move forward in harmony with Him thinking not that I have attained this ideal or have already been made perfect, but I press on to lay hold of (grasp) and make my own that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me…(Philippians 3:12, The Amplified Bible)
Wondering who you are in Covenant Relationship with God through Christ Jesus? Here are some resources which have helped me:
The Bible, of course! The Message is a translation in contemporary language
This is a good thing because, as both an avid reader and a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words, studying them, breaking them down, and finding that perfect word that says exactly what I want to say.
Finding that perfect word isn’t always easy because the meanings of words change. Language is as fluid as a river and meanings can change over time or be forgotten and a word is now used to mean one thing when it was, at one time, used to mean the opposite.
Take the word “individual”. I have always believed this word to mean and have used it in my writing to mean: single, separate, distinguishable from others, unique. This is how the word is used almost exclusively today. And, the definition is not wrong: my Webster’s New World Dictionary does offer up “existing as a single, separate thing or being” as the second definition of Individual. And yet, I was reading a teaching by J. Preston Eby where he wrote that Individual meant “not divisible”. I had to look that up and, sure enough, the first definition of Individual is indeed “not divisible; not separable”.
Which is the correct usage? Does the fact that the second definition is used the majority of the time render void the first?
Everything in me revolts against sameness. What do I mean by this? The best fictional example I can think of is in “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle where she shows her readers the planet of Camazotz (which, if you’re interested, is the name of a bat god from Mayan mythology) The people of Ms. L’engle’s Camazotz are ruled by a single mind and are forced to be exactly alike, down the the perfect bouncing of balls during play time. Anyone deviating from what IT has decided is the norm is harshly re-educated. On this world, the first definition of Individual is paramount in every negative sense of the word.
I see this pressure towards sameness in the real world. Why? I get that there is safety in numbers but, historically, it’s the odd man or woman out who makes the discovery, solves the equation, writes the novel, and composes the masterpiece. The Individual is important. While I do not claim brilliance for myself, I am aware that I am unique. There is no one like me. There has never been anyone like me. There will never be anyone like me. I am an Individual and I hold as precious my sense of being a unique being. This being so, do I then believe the second definition is more important than the first?
No. I believe both definitions are equally important because, while I fiercely guard my own individuality, I am aware that every other human being on the face of this earth is also an Individual: as unique as I am. I think J. Preston Eby says it best:
“We speak of ourselves as individuals. Someone says, “I am an individual.” By that he means that he is separate from everyone else. We think, “I’m not like other people. I’m me. I’m something different. I’m special. I’m unique. I’m an individual.” The English word “individual,” however, comes from the Latin word individuus meaning indivisible or not divisible. It’s not that which is separate — it’s that which cannot be separated! It means that if I am an individual I am not separate from the rest of humanity. I am simply a unique expression of everything humanity is! It’s not separation from; it’s identification with!”
Identification with. Not separate from. An Individual yet part of an Individuum. How are these two seemingly opposite definitions reconciled in me? How do I live with my certainty of my own value without feeling threatened by the equal value of my fellow beings?
One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 30:15 specifically, “in quiet and confidence shall be your strength.” I have meditated on these words and, while there are many nuances of meaning, I am convinced that these two attributes are essential to my living in peace with myself and with everyone else. When I know that I am an Individual-in the words of J. Preston Eby “a unique expression of the word, of the spirit, of the mind, of the substance, of the totality of the being of our heavenly Father”-I find quietness and confidence. There is no turmoil in my spirit because I know how my heavenly Father sees me and I don’t have to compete with anyone nor assert my individuality. Seeing myself as He sees me gives me a confidence that can’t be shaken by anyone or anything so I don’t have to regard my fellow humans with suspicion.
I guess that, ultimately, the word I’m looking for isn’t Individual after all. It’s Identity.
I thought I was weathering this quarantine fairly well. Not that I haven’t struggled with worries and fears but I have sought to try and fill this time with positive things. I have taken time to pray by myself and with others, I have increased the amount of studying I do, I have tested recipes, and I have focused on writing. I have counted myself blessed to have a job that offers a few hours each week so, by focusing on essentials only, I have been able to face this time without panic and despair.
Until this week. Everywhere I looked I saw images of angry, fearful, hate-filled people and every story I heard filled my ears with the same. I was also dealing with a great deal of pain. I don’t know what I did to aggravate my injuries but my pain has been intense. It was physically difficult to get out of bed and it quickly became emotionally difficult as well. I admit it. I took my eyes off Jesus and saw only the terrible things being done everywhere in the entire earth.
The moment I did so, I was overwhelmed. I saw how powerless I was to stop terrible things being done to people I know and love. How much more powerless am I to help people I’ve never met? I can’t even help myself. I panicked and then I despaired.
I did what I knew how to do to fight. I prayed, I read studies that uplifted and encouraged me, I tried to encourage others the best way I knew how even though I didn’t feel it myself, and I listened to teachings so my ears heard positive words rather than negative words.
My spiritual breakthrough came today. I listened to Malcolm Smith’s webinar number 168 entitled “What Do You See?”. Mr. Smith’s message is taken from the book of Jeremiah Chapter One verses 11 and 12. The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and asks him, “what do you see?” Jeremiah replies, “I see a branch or shoot of an almond tree.” (Quoted from the Amplified Bible) Mr. Smith then goes on to describe why this particular vision is important.
I do not seek to copy his teaching nor am I remotely qualified to attempt to teach on this passage myself. I will add a link to the teaching at the end of this post in case anyone is interested. I do seek to put into words why this teaching was of such particular joy to me.
The almond tree blossoms in late winter/early spring. It is the first plant to do so and, as such, is the promise of the life to come in spring. It is the tiny bit of life seen while everything else still lies in the grasp of winter. I do not think I push the analogy to say it is the bit of resistance in the plant world to the death that comes in winter. It is tiny but it is real.
This struck me. I cannot deny terrible things are happening nor do I wish to turn a blind eye to another’s pain. I cannot feel compassion unless I know pain myself and recognize it in another and I do not seek my own peace at the cost of ignoring another’s suffering. I want to be able to fight against evil with actions of love but it is difficult to prevent all of these terrible things from piling up, one on top of another, until they are innumerable voices screaming in my ears nothing but hopelessness and death. I can do so little. There are days when I am in so much pain I can do nothing at all. These are the days of despair when I believe I am alone-and alone who can do any work for good?-and I forget there are almond branch stories.
There are stories of great sacrifice; people that have laid down their lives in order to take care of a fellow human being and people that risk doing so because the love in them won’t allow them to act otherwise. There are stories of giving; people who give all they have and then more because the love in them cannot rest while a fellow being goes hungry. There are the most precious stories of all where people do return the evil done to them with love. There are big stories and there are small stories like the story a friend shared of a little girl in her neighborhood leaving a May basket on her door step.
These are stories of love that knows no barriers and no limitations. These are stories of brave souls who hurl that love into the maelstrom of chaos raging around us believing in the hope that love is the far greater power.
It is such a fragile thing, hope. Perhaps it is much like the almond blossoms who dare to flower in the midst of cold and frost. These blossoms speak with a still small voice but that voice declares a promise of spring: abundant life to come. I read these stories aloud to myself and listen to others tell them so that my ears hear words of hope and promise. These words help me to find the strength I need to do something.
Because there is more to the picture of the almond branch. In its expansion of Jeremiah 1:11 the Amplified Bible states the almond branch is the emblem of alertness and activity. Alertness and Activity, Kate; not panic and despair. I see an almond branch and it tells me I am not absolved of responsibility because I’m tired and in pain. Perhaps I cannot do anything big but I can do something that tells an almond branch story of my own even if only one other person hears it. I can do so knowing I am not alone. In this time, it might be one almond branch flowering here and another there while the world lies under the weight of winter but each one is a promise that spring is coming.
Malcolm Smith’s Teaching: it’s just under an hour.