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.

Abiding Love

Geöffnete TürThere I stood barely breathing, secluded in the barren field, tormented, scarred and scorched like a sunflower in the midday sun. You came to me. Did you hear my call? For your hand was outstretched and beckoned me. You lead me to a garden that I had only dreamed of. Your kindness touched me to the depth of my very soul, leaving me weak but secure within your strength.

Who am I that you should look upon me with your loving heart, that you should call me friend and lover? In my wonder, I see my reflection in your eyes and I see that I am beautiful. You say of me that I am more precious than all the gold and sapphires. Yet, I know it is because I live in the shadow of your love. Your voice is a melody to my ears and your name the song of my heart. Your words are my sustenance. I am enveloped by your love. You have made me your bride before all who see. Your love radiates from me, a beacon in the darkness of night. You keep me under your wing. Your kiss replenishes my hope, for with you, I am perfect because you love me.

I give myself to you completely: body, soul, heart and mind. Because I am in you and you in me we are one – inseparable, betrothed, woven together into one fabric. You are my perfect love. Your arms warm me in the coolness of the night; their strength rescues me from the thorns. Your love speaks the promise of eternity. You hold me in high esteem crowning my head with your glory. From you flows quenching waters. I thirst for you, my love. You fill me. You perfect me.

Was I not once weather-beaten by the winds? Was I not once a tree stripped of her bark? No more. You are my refuge, my shelter from the elements. My heart, once buried in the tomb of the world, is now alive. Your beauty illuminates my essence. I delight in you. My heart leaps in my bosom at your sight. I cannot contain myself. I am a wild flower blossoming in love. I am a bird gliding and soaring, a river that cannot be contained. Because you take my breath away, again I am barely breathing.

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 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….

The Furnace of Affliction

The LightWhen we find ourselves calling upon God to rescue us from the furnace of affliction what we’re really doing is asking Him to save us from an opportunity whose primary function is to bring Him glory and secondary function is to inspire growth in us.

I never find myself asking Him to remove circumstances from my life when they suit me.  When things are humming along I’m likely at my happiest though I rarely learn anything in these situations. I guess you could call that “blissful ignorance” and it’s safe to say that I don’t bring much glory to God because my focus becomes self-centred. Candidly speaking, it seems that the longer things go well, the less grateful I am. Why? Because the condition of my spirit begins to degrade – in the Old Testament days that is what they called a “hardened heart”. How many people really spend much time on their knees in worship, praise, prayer and thanksgiving when things are going splendidly?

Then there are those times – when I am being pulled out of the furnace that it seems to me I’m most grateful. It all has to do with mindset – where my focus is – and it’s usually on myself and my comfort rather than God and His promises for my life.

But here’s something new I’d like to try on, (did I just say that?). What would you say if I told you that the best place to practice gratitude is actually in the furnace of affliction? So, why am I not filled with gratitude when God stokes the fire a little? I know that every moment I spend in the furnace results in a spiritual upgrade, but for some reason – the “old man” in me seems to have the ability to resurrect itself when the coals begin to turn red.

Yahweh was in the furnace with Abednego, Meshach Shadrach,  but since then He has made atonement for us, He is in us in the furnace – with all-conquering power and glory. Before we even step in there, He knows what the outcome will be and He invites us to come into the fire. I have, on occasion, bowed down to fear rather than accept His invitation.

It’s all in the mindset – like Joshua and Caleb who believed and saw the promise of God while the other ten spies needed see in order to  believe. Glory is achieved in the furnace – His and ours. Daniels’ friends stepped into the furnace full on and later came out refreshed and with an attitude of gratitude. God is in our circumstances – we belong with Him.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39 NIV.

Loneliness

LonelyIf you Google the word “lonely” the results are, inevitably, a list of more than 172 MILLION are returned in .26 seconds. By the time I’m through writing this post, it might be even higher.

Many people believe that being alone and being lonely are synonymous. In fact, they are not. Being alone is a choice one makes; being lonely – for the most part – is not. I am an introvert and I enjoy being alone – I like and quite look forward to solitude. I don’t enjoy being lonely. I have had an extensive amount of experience in this area.  Some of my lovely, and well-meaning friends and family members have often recommend that I join groups and find things to do as a means of meeting other people. Joining an organization – such as a gym, or joining a bowling league, for example – are activities. Being lonely is not always related to an absence of activities. Being lonely doesn’t necessarily indicate an absence of loving family members or friends.

I am not a member of the Lonely Heart’s Club. My opinions don’t represent the opinions of all the lonely people in the world; I can only speak for myself. Being lonely is a heart condition. I have been (many times) in rooms filled with people who truly care about me and the feelings are reciprocated – yet I have – many of these times – felt lonely and alone and hopeless. For some, myself included, that can be a dangerous place to be for too long a period.

Loneliness is accompanied by a persistent ache, whose description is almost impossible to put into words. It’s like a cancer looming in the soul of your existence. Oh, sure it might seem to go into remission from time to time but then you wake up one day and just know it’s back. Each time it returns you sure it’s here to stay this time. It wants your life. You don’t know why it’s here, but it hurts so very much – no one can possibly understand your pain.  Some even say, “But you’re so lucky. You’re so blessed. You should be happy”…. They haven’t been there. They don’t understand. There is something significant to be said when a person can examine the exterior of another’s life and determine that, because they are blessed, suffering has been taken off the table.

If you are suffering, I want you to know that I have been there and I do understand. If you think, even for a moment, that ending your life will solve this problem … I’m writing to you specifically.

There was a time in my life when the pain of loneliness was so great that even the love of my beautiful children could not fill the emptiness that seeped into my thoughts, heart and spirit. All the faking in the world may have fooled others but it never fooled me. It seemed that loneliness was my shadow and the sun exacerbated my pain by shining into my darkness. There were times where it took more energy than I had to keep on, to hope. Hope requires energy … or does it?

Maybe you’ve been in this “place” for so long you have completely given up hope. Can I ask you, since you’re here and reading, can you please just hang on a bit longer? Will you do that for me? I know that we perhaps have never met, but we do know each other. We share a bond and that means that you’re not alone! There are far too many people still suffering, but TRUST me when I say, there are many who were able to move past this. There is hope. There IS hope.

It may seem that hope requires too much energy – what it really requires of us is to make a commitment to hang on to all hope, when all hope seems lost. Hanging on does not equate to filling the emptiness with substances or activities such as: shopping, alcohol, relationships, pornography, television, working 12 hours a day or, even exercise done to extremes. Hanging on to hope does not mean waiting for another human being to fill the void. Neither does hanging on to hope mean engaging in the latest methods of  “self” improvement; there is nothing “wrong” with you … there’s something missing. While all these things may very well take a temporary bite out of loneliness the problem will always be there unless you find the only thing that fits the void. If you’re searching for a permanent way out of loneliness I can assure you that the hole inside you right now will be felt for next to eternity, by those who love you, if you leave this world before trying to fill your own with a living and perpetual hope.

By design, we came into being with an emptiness, a void, a hole in our spirits. Our Creator fits into that hole. He longs to fill that emptiness in you. He longs to complete you. He is kind and loving and waits for an invitation. He will not bulldoze His way into your heart. Call on Him. He will answer. I guarantee it. He answered me and I was no one special, but I am now because His hope lives in me. Please, call His name. He is our Hope – the author and finisher of our faith.

“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His Holy name,” Psalm 33:20

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, who remains faithful forever,” Psalm 146:5-6

“Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my saviour, and my hope is in you all day long,” Psalm 25:5-6

I Heard You

EdenI heard you last night. Through all those tears and all the words you choked on – I heard you – I heard your heart. My desire has been to hear your heart for as long as I can remember.

Oh, I know you’ve spoken to me many a time. I don’t discount any of what you’ve shared, not ever. I realize you’ve shared before, you’ve confessed many things to me. You’ve cried, you’ve told me your dreams and yes, you’ve even told me what frightens you. But last night was different – you know it was too.

Last night you brought tears to my eyes. Somewhere between your disappointment, your fear, and the dreams you’re afraid to dream was your heart – stripped bare and surrendered to me for the first time ever. You spoke to me and then you waited for me to answer and you listened. You really listened! Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to tell you how very much I love you?

You said that you’ve never been able to go to “that place” with me for fear that you’d experience so much emotion that you’d explode, lose control, even die a little inside.

But you went there anyway and you went there with me; you went there for me. You let me in to that place in your heart where only I could fit –  a place where the only one ever meant to fit was me. Last night you gave me your heart and I promise I will not break it. You went to the place where I’ve already been for you.

I can’t promise that life will always be fun and filled with laughs, but it sure will be different. No matter what you go through, from now on, whether good or bad – we’ll always be there together. I also can’t promise that you’ll never experience pain again, or that everything you don’t like about your life will be instantaneously changed for the better, but I can promise this: you’ll be transformed – from the inside to the outside. I’ll give you a kind of peace that surpasses any experience you may encounter. I promise that if you follow me, I will always be at your side – always and forever. I heard you.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18