Now, that’s Deep!

back massage detailA couple of years ago, I was preparing to run a 5K. I had spent several weeks adding on a block or two of distance and pushing myself a little bit harder every day. I had never run before; I was careful not to push so hard that I might injure myself before the race. I just wanted to do it to prove to myself that I could do it, to prove to myself that I was tough. There was however a life lesson throughout the process which did not manifest itself to me until such time as I would be open to absorb it and learn from it. Unfortunately for me, that time was later rather than sooner. Welcome to my world.

Thinking that a “deep tissue” massage might prepare my muscles for the big day and relax me at the same time, I made an appointment for the afternoon before the race. Is there a better way to end the work day than laying beneath a heated, thick, fluffy duvet with the sound of birds and crickets chirping in the background? The room was the perfect temperature; it wasn’t too dark, just dark enough to lull my body into a false sense that it was bed time. I took a deep breath, you know the kind that a child takes after crying – three breaths in one. Ah … I can’t imagine how much better this will be once the massage begins … sigh …. deep breaths of a relaxing proportion such that I could not remember having in years … if ever.

The massage therapist tapped on the door before entering. I watched, through the slits of my almost closed eyes, as she poured oil into her hands and warmed it. “Tell me if I’m too rough,” she whispered over the the chirps coming from the corner of the room. She asked me to roll onto my stomach and began with a gentle effleurage over my back and moved down to my thighs. Am I in Heaven already? I sighed. “Sometimes people can’t really handle deep tissue massage,” she stated. Clearly, she didn’t know me. I’m a rock. I’m built of sturdy stuff. I can take anything you can throw at me. “Just take those knots out of my muscles” I pleaded.

As her tiny, warm hands worked the muscles in my thighs I began to nod off. That feels so great, I thought.  I hope I don’t fall asleep. Oh … yes … that’s sooo nice … OH!! DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME!?  I was suddenly catapulted from a  sweet dream into a nightmare. What the … “Am I going too deep?” she asked as I tensed up. “Oh, not at all” I replied (lied). WOMAN! ARE YOU CRAZY? TELL HER THE TRUTH!! I couldn’t. I just kept thinking, if it hurts this much now, I’m sure it’ll feel great when she is through. I said nothing. I could take it. After all, I gave birth to two children. I was, for the most part, a single mom. I’ve spent a life time sucking it up. There was no way a massage was going to ruin my record or put a dent in my pride …  so  … I held it in. I could have told her it was a little rough. She wouldn’t have minded; it would have made no difference to her.The once tiny digits that caressed and kneaded my muscles now seemed like little boney, coat hanger-like fingers digging their way into every nerve ending of my body. She likely would have welcomed a slight change in pressure, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I sucked it up.

Sixty minutes later I rolled off that little table, the table that once lured me onto it with its soft, warm, fluffy duvet. I limped out of the office and winced as I tried to get into my vehicle. I could barely control the steering wheel. My arms and even my hands felt like they had been flashed frozen and thrown into a fire. Hot bath! Hot bath! Hot bath! My Sweet Lord, please help me. I’m dying!

That night was a sleepless one. Even my once soft mattress abused what was left of me. Needless to say, the following day, I missed the race. I could barely get out of bed. In fact, I could barely walk or move for the next three days. Was God giving me a deep tissue spiritual massage?

Sometimes God will use insignificant things, people, or events to teach us something He desires us to learn. Sometimes, He has to teach the lesson more than once. So, what was I supposed to learn that day that He’s had to re-teach me several times since then? Humility and vulnerability are precious to a person’s growth. I had spent months preparing for  a race that I was not able to run because my pride got in the way. That massage therapist would not have care if I would have said, “How about a not-so-deep tissue massage?” She was getting paid either way. She was not going to go home and tell her husband about the tough broad who was able to endure everything she had to dish out. I was afraid she would see that I was human; I had limits as to what I could handle. She was unknown to me. It was likely that I would likely NEVER see her again but I felt the need to continue the charade that I had become so adept at playing even before a complete stranger. Opening ourselves up, being vulnerable and authentic, is of more benefit to us than it is to the world of people around us.

Do you keep everything inside? Do you force yourself to live up to your own high and most often unreasonable standards? Are you trying to live up to someone else’s unreasonable standards? Is it difficult for you to say “enough”? Are you trying to please others at your own expense?

Was God’s plan for me to actually run that race? Or, was His plan to provide me with a life lesson … one that I soon forgot and would have to learn again and again and again? Life is not easy but there is always the blessing of a teachable moment if we set our “self” aside and open our hearts and minds to listen and adjust accordingly. A candid conversation with a friend recently brought that lesson to my mind … again. We are human. The people we love are there to remind us of these lessons when we let them inside. Don’t be afraid of being judged if you don’t complete the race you had planned out. There is always a spiritual race being run that is far more important than the races we try to run in the natural.

“For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

Fearless Faith

Problem and difficulty conceptFear sees the enemy as bigger and more powerful than God. The greater we fear, the greater our problems become. Fear attacks us from the inside and works its way from our minds and emotions into the very fibre of our being. Fear kills us slowly. Fear believes God is distant and aloof.  Fear is us handing the enemy power over us by faith that he will move on our behalf. Faith sees God and sovereign and loving. Faith brings comfort in the situation and not only at the end of the situation.

Fear and faith also have a lot in common. Both require a complete trust or confidence in the unknown and unforeseeable future. The biggest difference between them is that faith requires trust in God and fear is basically trust in the enemy. Fear says, I can’t believe that God can, or will, do what He says He can. Fear says, I’m more afraid of what the enemy might have planned for me; he must be more powerful. Fear is a tactic of the enemy and believe me when I say, he knows our weaknesses better than we know ourselves. If the enemy is anything, it’s patient. He likes to whisper lies in our ears and the only reason we have a proclivity to believe them is because he often slips just enough truth in those lies to make them somewhat plausible to someone who has been caught in his snare. Sometimes he just repeats things he may have heard others say to us. There is nothing original about him. Jesus called him “the father of lies.”

God wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to surrender all to Him. He wants us to – when confronted by fear – turn it away by clinging to Him in faith; He wants us to choose Him rather than fear. Fear and faith are attained by choice – a decision has to be made as to  which one we will put our hope in and which one we will banish. It is impossible to have two opposing thoughts simultaneously … wouldn’t it be so much easier to choose faith? Wouldn’t it be more comforting to choose faith?

Faith in God does not guarantee a sweet and easy life, but it does guarantee that there will always be a Comforter with you, someone in your corner, someone who loves you without condition, no matter what you have said, or done. Faith is what allows you to cry but helps dry the tears when you bring to mind all the times that you have banked on faith and been rewarded by it.

When faced with a decision to fear or have faith there is something I often forget … but never for long. I choose to recall that my faith has always come through – maybe not always as I had things envisioned or planned – but things have always, always worked out for the best – faith builds faith. If we never had opportunities to test our faith, it wouldn’t be faith, would it? When I choose to believe in fear, there is no joy in the situation – ever. I am robbed of all peace. My entire spirit is downcast. I look forward to nothing but the end. I am never blessed by it and I find myself inconsolable and isolated. When I think of all the time that I have spent awake, worrying, speculating … is always for not because I have never, ever, ever had a situation turn out worse that I had ever imagined it – and I have quite an imagination.

How many times a day do we put faith in the unknown? Every night when I lay my head down, I have faith that I will wake up the next day. I have faith when I get in my car that I’ll make it to my destination. People save money because we have faith that we’ll make it to retirement. We get an education because we have faith we’ll become employed. We have faith in the intangible, against odds that are not always calculable, but so many of us can’t believe that a loving God would care enough about us to see us through whatever life hands us. No, we make a deliberate choice to give glory to the enemy when we give in to his promptings.

There is only one kind of faith and that is fearless faith. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:13-14.

Let Your Love Out

love boxRecently, a friend and I were having a heartfelt talk when suddenly she said, “Let your love out, Hope.”  Hmm, I thought to myself, what have I been doing up to now? What does it say about you, or your capacity to love when your friends think you’re holding back during a heart-to-heart discussion no less? I was all in, at least I thought I was. I felt that annoying little lump in my throat when I started getting really personal, but … ahem … I choked that down pretty quick …. Oooooh, now I get it!

Do you have anyone in your life with whom you can just uncork the fermenting emotions you have bottled up so well? I thought I was free of that need to control how deep I allowed myself to go, and I thought I was being pretty authentic; looks like not everyone was in agreement. There is nothing, nothing more important than love and I am often reminded that it does more harm than good to suppress it.

Honestly, I detest thinking that I’m like one of those bottles of aged wine you think you’re about to have a nice glass of when suddenly, you end up pushing the cork down too far! What is it that seems to drive that cork further down with age? Past experience perhaps? Fear?

I recently spent the day with two of my favourite little girls. There we were – sitting together, bird watching, drawing with pastels and chatting – outside of my own head, outside of my fears – I was completely present with Carla and Ané – completely present, living in the moment – and loving them as if there was no risk involved…because there was not.

So, what is it about spending time with adults that make some of us hold back – living in the regret or trauma of the past – living in fear of more of the same in the future? Don’t think for a minute that children don’t get their feelings hurt. Don’t think for a minute that their little hearts don’t get broken from time to time. Don’t think for a minute that the people they love most in the world have never done wrong by them; I have children – I’ve seen them hurting. The difference between child-like love and loving as a adult is the dwelling factor. Children don’t dwell on the past and certainly don’t look at the past as a threat to their future. Children love with all they have. That’s why Yeshua (Jesus) told people that being child-like in love is the only way to greatness (spiritual and earthly success):

3 “Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all]. 4 Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3-4 Amp.

I have an abundance of love inside me. It takes up a lot of room and sometimes I’m sure that cork just wants to pop off, but I unknowingly keep pushing it down. Then, there are times – like when I’m with Carla and Ané – it just leaks out. It’s bigger than I am. True greatness and success is to let it out freely, without reservation, without judgment, without fear, without almighty pride holding us back.

The thing about loving adults is that there is always the possibility that you’ll be hurt or rejected, but that is never reason enough to hold it back. Children love the way God loves … unconditionally …. with no agenda … no owzies… and they do it fearlessly. It’s so important that Yeshua said it 5 times in the Gospel of John. “This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.” John 15:12 AMP.

If you’re afraid of being hurt or rejected, chances are you’re afraid of loving. The truth is, if you haven’t already, you will be hurt, but you won’t die from it. Let your love out – it’s commanded of you.

The Name You Gave Me

HopeI saw you leaning over the bulbs you had just planted. Your hands caressed the soil as if it was velvet. A drop of sweat fell from your brow. The rose pushed through the soil and bloomed beneath your gaze. It reached up and kissed you. You sat down and began to speak. I wondered, as I watched in awe, to whom were you speaking. You seemed filled with joy; I wanted what you had. My gaze was fixed upon you.

You sat in the dirt and leaned back against the fence as you reached for a mason jar filled with water. You looked refreshed as you quenched your thirst. The late morning sun began to blaze upon you – the rose looked weary though it had not toiled as you had. You removed a handful of seeds from your pocket and put them in your mouth then spit them to the ground. Each seed took root before my very eyes. Sunflowers grew immediately providing shade and shelter for you and the rose. Your mason jar in hand, you poured the left over water around the rose. The roots drank it up; the rose bloomed. You smiled and began to speak again. Who were you speaking to? As if at your command, your empty jar replenished itself with cool water. If I hadn’t seen it, I would have never believed it.

One after another, roses of differing colours began to sprout around you. You began to draw in the dirt;  writing something perhaps. I was watching from a distance, marveled by this power you possessed; humbled by your dedication to the seeds you had sown. Every seed grew up strong in your presence. My curiosity drew me closer to you. I quietly inched my way closer to see what you had drawn in the sand  – you hadn’t drawn at all – you had written something. I stepped on a dry twig; you looked in my direction. I felt as if you could see through the shrubs I was using as a veil – as if you could see right through me. The sun began to peak in the sky. I was hot, afraid to move, afraid you would discover me, frightened that you could see into the very depth of my soul – where nothing grew. My heart pounded in my chest in anticipation of what was to come – what might be – if I would surrender.

You closed your eyes and picked up the mason jar, pouring water into the palm of your hand and then you blew, ever so gently, into your hand. My breath was taken away. The tiniest droplets of water began to fall upon me. It wasn’t rain; it was more like a refreshing mist. The flowers seemed to be moving closer, bowing their blossoms as if to read what you had written in the dirt. You smiled and looked up into the crystal blue sky and the flowers began to sing. They sang in harmony but from where did the music come? I don’t know how I knew, but I just knew the music was coming from your heart. I thought to myself, if I were to live but a moment more could it be in your arms? Your head slowly turned toward me as if to answer my request. You held out your arm – your spirit hearkened to mine, “Come.” Suddenly I knew that I was yours – that you had come for me – that we could be separated no more. It was predestined; I had always been yours. My clothes became brilliant as the sun. As I drew near to you, you seemed to draw near to me, but you had not moved. You reached for my hand and when we touched I tingled from the inside out. You looked through my eyes into my soul and I knew I was pure, I was beautiful. I felt your grip tighten every so slightly – you didn’t even have to speak. I looked down at what you had written in the soil. My heart leapt in my bosom. I was filled with knowledge and understanding. You had written the name of your betrothed – the love of your heart, the lover of your soul – it was my name…Hope, the name you gave me, a desire for you that you had planted within my soul from the beginning. You left the garden, but you stayed with me always and forever. You established my roots firmly; you gave me rest. You gave me shelter and my jar shall always be full.

The Refiner’s Fire

Recently, a show aired on television that showed how the ancients refined gold and silver. The refining of metals dates back to 550 BC at Sardis, where the first coins were minted. The refiner would heat the fire to 700 degrees to melt the silver and then pour it into clay jars. The impurities would float to the top and stick to the edges of the pots. How did the refiner know when the silver was pure? He knew when he could see a perfect reflection of himself in the silver.

I have to admit that I often struggle with the knowledge that I have been made in God’s image because at any given time I can take a spiritual look at myself in the mirror and I have yet to see His perfect image staring back at me. After watching this show, it became clear to me that the fact that I do not see His reflection it does not mean that I am not made in His image and it does not mean that I will never see His reflection looking back at me. Refining gold and silver is a process.

Malachi 3:2-3 describes Yeshua’s coming as follows: “For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.”

When I accepted Yeshua into my heart, my life changed immediately. My image did not. I became a child of God, but I did not always look like one to those around me, especially in the beginning. The process however commenced immediately.

I look at many circumstances, events – and from time to time – a crisis here and there. In retrospect, I can see that in all of things, God has allowed the heat to be turned up in order to separate the dross from my character by this very process. I am called to reflect grace and mercy, not unkindness and judgment. I am called to reflect courage and faith, not cowardice and fear. I am called to live and walk in integrity, not dishonesty. The purification or refining in my life is a continuous process, one that deepens my dependency on Him, one that brings me into a more intimate relationship with Him, and one that brings me closer to having His reflection look back at me in that spiritual mirror.

Knowing Him is loving Him. Loving Him is doing as He did in the same nature and spirit as He did. His Refiner’s Fire is not limited to the Levites….