Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In Remembrance

       On Memorial Day, veterans gather across the country to remember.  Their lives spared, they recall wars fought and won, while honoring those lost in battle.  It’s a time of reflection.  They survived.  But not only that, they live to tell the stories.

      I have my own memorial day at the end of each year.  With journals in hand I steal away to a quiet place to remember.  There’s something about reflection that stirs the soul, feeding and boosting the seed of faith dwelling within.

      It’s been a monumental year, bringing the diversity of life and death.    Jesus told me this year that death had to come so that life might emerge.  He was true to His Word.

      I have felt the pruning shears of the Gardener sharply cutting away dead appendages.   It was brutal seeing things that still held me captive.  Like any ailment, pain leads to the abnormality.  Once revealed, the Divine Healer can do His most brilliant work as He breathes His breath of life into what once brought death.

     The cry of my heart at the end of 2007 was for new beginnings in 2008.  Little did I know that the road would lead me back to maladies in my own soul.

      It seems to always come back to that doesn’t it?  When we are dissatisfied in our lives, doesn’t it somehow come back to something inside us?  I longed for a deeper intimacy with my husband.  It’s a good desire.  But in the process of longing, the more I experienced the more I pressed for.  My desires turned into requests, which when unmet, became failures.

     Papa God opened my eyes to see through His.   I was sabotaging the most important relationship in my life with my ominous expectations.  In my plight for intimacy I imposed standards that carried a hefty weight.     

     Someone once asked me a brilliant question.  “What’s the desire behind the desire?”  Love, I wanted to “feel” loved in the deepest places of my soul.  What I truly longed for, though I didn’t know it, was the deep, inner sanctuary of intimacy with Christ.  

     It’s much easier to turn to flesh and blood to meet the longings for love.   But unless the depth of love is met in Christ first, it will not manifest anywhere else.  Expectations will become demands that dampen the fire of intimacy, bringing accusations of failure.

     Jesus heard my cry for love and intimacy.   He stirred my heart to long for more and then He invited me into the dance,  with Him.  

     It all began with a longing.  He took the lead.  I followed.   He invited me to conversations with Him in a new and different way.  His whispers of tenderness spoken to my heart have settled something deep within.  I am fiercely loved by the one who created me, for love.

     With each stripping of my dead branches, He has touched me with His love.  I will never be the same.   There is no relationship on earth that can give me what I so desperately need.  The more I expect them to, the more I vandalize them.

      I was made in the image of relationship for relationship, but until I can grasp the fullness of love from the one who is love, I will cripple the relationships with expectations that lead to resentment and failure.  


       In remembrance, this day, I thank Him for the dance He has invited me into.  As I have followed I have been transformed.  With each step my gaze fixes more on His and the love that is steadfast and immovable.  His love conquers all my expectations.  He fills me with value, and intimacy.  Once I am filled with Him it is then I can offer from His heart to another.

     It’s been a hard year.  There have been many battles.  At times it felt like the hits would take me out.  But Jesus....  He carried me.  The Holy Spirit comforted me while Papa loved me into the truth that set me free.

     On this my memorial day I come to remember.  I have made it through the year of battles, loss and death.  More importantly, I have found love.  Battles have been won.  I have survived.  Not only have I survived,  I now live to tell the stories.  

©copyrighted:  2008 Julie L. Todd

Friday, December 26, 2008

Receiving Extravagant Love

    The rectangle box lay at the end of the stack of presents to be opened.  One by one I worked my way down to it.  Seeing the delight of each child as I opened each carefully selected present, spoke volumes to my heart.  The joy that filled their eyes as they lavished their love on me was indescribable.  Their eyes told the story of their hearts.  Would I receive their gift?  One of my daughters had told me the day before, "Mom, remember I like to give gifts, don't look at how much it cost." 

    It was my last gift of the day.  As I picked it up, I found a note in his handwriting declaring his love.  The words themselves were a gift.  Slowly pulling the paper away, the white box lay in my hands.  As I opened it, the weeping began.  My dear husband had bought me a new laptop.  You have to understand the history to gain the significance of the gift.

     Years ago I had prayed for a used laptop to begin writing.  Papa God saw fit to place a desire on the heart of one of my friends who had some extra "giving" income to buy me a new one.  Her words were the gift that lingered in my soul.  "I believe God has a ministry for you so my husband and I are giving this gift to you to help start you off." 

      A few months ago that very laptop had been accidentally dropped by one of my children and with it went some of my treasures.  Here months later, I sat with a brand new laptop, tears coursing down my cheeks.  My husband believed in me too.

     As I sat there weeping, seeing the tears in his eyes, it was then I saw it for what it was, extravagant love.  Being a one income family that lives on a very tight budget, I knew this had come with sacrifice, and cost.  In a millisecond the debate went through my mind...what would I focus on?  The cost or the extravagant love?  I am prone to focus on cost.  But the look in his eyes kept beckoning me to see love.

     Why is it so hard to receive extravagant love?  I mean I do OK with having my needs met. But there's something about extravagance that tugs at my heart, struggling to take up residence.  What is it about lavish love?  

     Love knocks at my door and I struggle to open it, for fear I have burdened another.  It's proof that I still don't understand true love.  In gentleness Jesus speaks to me.

      "Jewel, when someone loves with extravagance, it's not a sacrifice to them.  It's a natural response to love. The problem is, you see the cost, while all they see is the desire to love."

       Why is that, Jesus?  Why do I feel guilty?  Why does my mind go there?

     "You are afraid of what loving you might cost someone." "You don't want to burden anyone."  "But don't you understand, dear one, loving you is not a burden, it's a delight."  "Love bears all things...without knowing it's bearing them."  "When you feel guilty or that you are a burden you are still looking at love through your faulty value system."  "You do not see your true value."

     "You do not feel worthy.  You do not want others to sacrifice on your behalf.  But that's not true love, Jewel.  True love IS sacrificial, yet the person offering love doesn't see the sacrifice.  They consider the gain of giving love."

      "It's time to receive, Jewel."

      Receiving is so much harder than giving.  I can see why now.  I am looking through the eyes of what I think it must cost to love me.  I do it with Papa God too.  His love is extravagant, yet so often I diminish it because of my own unworthiness. 

      It's time to receive...  He wants to lavish His love on us all.  It's not a sacrifice to Him.  It is pure delight.  He sees that He will get to love us if we will see the love and receive.  

    His pure, unadulterated love is there, waiting to be received.  Just like me, in a millisecond of a moment you have a choice.  Will you focus on the sacrifice or the love?  It will make the difference in how you look at the gift.  The gift of love is offered.  It is You He sees, you in all your beauty.  His eyes beckon you to look beyond and see the love.  What will YOU see?  

      "I have loved you with an everlasting love.  I have drawn you with lovingkindness"  Jeremiah 31:3
©copyrighted:  2008 Julie L. Todd

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not My Picture, But Yours

     When I was a teenager I remember my mom saying to me, "If you get your will going in the right direction, you will be OK."  Needless to say I was considered a "strong-willed" child. You know the type that Dr. Dobson wrote about in his book. I had a will and a way to make my plans happen. 

     I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll say, "you know you are a planner when you have a plan "A" and a plan "B". Planning came naturally for me. In fact I thrived there. 

     I liked having a picture of how things should work. It made me feel safe. Once I had my snapshot I would move in to try and control the outcome. Life was good when my pictures were working, things falling right into place. They were my safety net, that is until Jesus came for me.....

     It all began in the "season of the jobs". It was 2001 when the “God delivered” invitation came.  At God’s initiation David left his job. We had no idea where he was going, but we had money saved to carry us through until another job was found.  It was then Jesus began to invite me to live a new life, a life without self-managed plans and pictures. David had 6 jobs in 4 years, all paying thousands less than our living expenses. Nothing happened as I planned.

     God is unpredictable. He's not caught up in how the plans look. He's longs to bring revelation of the truth to our hearts.  I discovered something profound. As long as I have my pictures and plans in place, I won't need or even look for His.  

     It feels safe to know how things are going to play out. But safety in plans and pictures isn't really safety. It's a mirage of control that holds me back from the true, living water. Until I am dependent on Him for everything, including the plans and pictures, I'm still in control of my life. 

     Jesus said, "not my will" but yours. He in essence said, "not my picture, or plans, Papa, but yours." He trusted the heart of the one who painted pictures in His life. Therefore, He didn't need to paint any. He could live in the moment not even considering how life was supposed to look.  All that mattered was living in the moment with His Papa, allowing Him to paint the canvas of life around Him.

     Abandonment to Papa God is the only path to true safety. The fact that we struggle to get there proves that we don't trust His heart completely.  Jesus trusted the heart of His Papa, therefore He could live in abandonment to the unseen revelations to come.

     Life didn't work out as I planned, thank God.  If it had, I would still be living in my limited pictures. He wanted so much more for me. He wanted me to trust Him enough with what I couldn't see. He wanted me to rest in knowing He had everything mapped out. He had it all covered.

     Living from a God picture means living in unpredictability. You can't map it out. If you don't believe that, look at the scriptures. He never healed the same way twice. Had He wanted us to figure it all out, He would have done things consistently each time.

     There is mystery in following Him without a plan, trusting Him to guide our paths and direct our ways. He wants the freedom to work without the agendas of man. He wants to show us how consistent He is. As long as we have our pictures, we'll miss His. He knows the plans He has for us. When we need to know them, He'll invite us to see. That is enough, it must be.

     Papa waits to paint the pictures of our daily lives. But the canvas is already being painted on by us. Abandonment invites us to offer ourselves to Him as a fresh clean canvas, trusting Him with the plans and pictures. No longer limited by ours He's now allowed to unfold His. Love is in every detail. Faithfulness is in each stroke. Goodness is in each color. His masterpiece waits to unfold in revelation before us. So what do you say? Shall we lay our brushes down and say with Jesus, “not my picture but yours?”

     "I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

copyrighted: 2008 Julie L. Todd

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Broken & Spilled Out

     Brokenness is a term tossed around in Christianity. The question often comes, "are you willing to be broken?" I don't know too many who would jump up with glee and say, "oh, yes, pick me!!!"

     A few years back after sharing, a woman came to me and told me that she'd had a vision while I was talking. In the vision there was a clay pot, broken into pieces. She saw the hands of Jesus taking one piece at a time and putting the pot back together as it was meant to be. What did this mean? Was I entering into a time of brokenness or was I already in it? I felt pretty broken. Life had been hard.

     I didn't realize until now what the picture really meant. I see something so precious that it rocks my world. God didn't break me. I was already broken. Instead of inviting me to be broken, He was telling me He was in the process of fixing my fractured identity.

     The one who loves me relentlessly was inviting me to be put back together as I was always meant to be. As was necessary, He invited me to face my broken places in order to be healed. Would I enter in? Or would I continue on, crippled but functioning?

     If a fractured bone hasn't healed correctly it hinders the limb from operating as designed. The doctor has no other choice but to go back into the original break and set things straight. That's a picture of true restoration. God sees me living in a crippled identity and wants to set things straight in me. He wants to take me back to that original picture of who He saw me to be and restore it.

     I think of the woman who poured out the expensive perfume at Jesus' feet. The story behind the story is; cost didn't matter. She didn't count the cost, she realized her gain. What mattered to her, was surrender to the one who would redeem her past. Though ridiculed in the moment, she would forever be remembered for her display of being spilled out because of love.

     He comes to redeem our pasts. Our pasts don't define us. Not in His book, therefore not in ours. Or at least that's how it supposed to be. Why is it that we keep account of things we've done or not done, as well as the things done to us when He doesn't? Those things become the ledger out of which life is lived. Until the debts are fully paid, forgotten, and removed from our record book, we still see life through debt colored glasses, totally oblivious that our vision is skewed.

     Many say that the past is the past, there's no need to look back. I can't fully agree with that statement. Until the effects of the past have been renewed, we are still captive to them. If He invites you into a memory, then it's possible it's His invitation to set things straight. Ask Him, He'll show you if there's something that needs to be restored there.

     He wants desperately to reveal places of captivity. Unforgiveness, lies, false identities, condemnation, guilt all secretly worm their way in. The deceiver convinces us that these things we believe are the truest things about us. Many of us don't even come close to realizing all that God sees in us.

     So, He comes in all His glory, envelopes us in His arms of love, and offers to heal us. It's love that invites us to surrender to the "setting straight" process of our broken lives. A Love that cannot bear to see us walk any further, crippled by the past that has held us captive. He's the Redeemer of all things. Not just our sins, but our heartaches too.

     It is said that on the cross when they pierced his side, blood and water flowed out. I've heard it said that His heart was pierced. Water and blood flowed out, fulfilling the sacrifice and cleansing my sin. He knows the pain of a broken heart. He entered into His so that He might heal mine and, yours. The invitation is not brokenness, but "fixing".

     The picture that was given to me, I now give to you. He sees the broken pieces of your shattered identity lying on the ground. With tender eyes of love, His nail scarred hand reaches out taking one piece at a time. He begins to put them back where they were always meant to be. His love seals any cracks, filling in the gaps, and making all things new.

     He came to heal the broken hearted, and bind up their wounds. Will you let Him bind up yours?

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Isaiah 61: 1b

copyrighted: 2008 Julie L. Todd

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Trapped Where I Didn't Belong

     As I sat in the great room of the cabin I noticed a wasp gliding across the window, trapped inside. Seventy degrees weather one day to winter temperatures the next had thrown everything into a state of confusion, including the wasps. 

     One wasp after another found it's way into the cabin. The windows created an illusion for them, blocking their flight.  Lethargic from the change of atmosphere it was easy to take them out with one swat of a shoe.

     I couldn't help but see the lessons to be gained. Wasps were created for spreading life, through pollination. Trapped inside the cabin there would be no pollination. Their followed path of seeking warmth led them into places they were never meant to be.

     It applies so much to our lives today in our Christian communities. We are awakened to the warmth of love, inviting us to live in relationship with God, and others. Soon after, the lures of "to do" lists come bounding in, weighing us down with requirements, killing the relationship.

     The lures were familiar to the Pharisees. They called them laws. It was what they were supposed to do to fulfill the requirements of the broken relationship. The law wasn't made to fulfill, it was made to expose. It was established to show man's desperate need for salvation. No one could fully keep the law.  A rescue was needed.  Christ, the one true sacrifice fulfilled the law.

     So why am I still trying to fulfill what was already fulfilled? Like the wasps, I was created to bear life. But instead of dwelling where I was created to dwell, I found myself trapped in places I was never meant to go, stifling out the life poured into me.

     I was made in the image of relationship for relationship. I am made for love. Instead of being taught how deeply I am loved, I was taught to "be about the Father's business".  What is the Father's business anyways? Wasn't it love?  For God so loved the world....

     When I accepted Christ's offer, immediately I was given a list of things I must do to follow Him.  Now that I belonged to God it became about what I did for Him that became the focus. 

     Doesn't that somehow take me back into the law, trapping me where I cannot possibly live? Isn't salvation about love making a way to live in response to relationship instead of requirements?

     What about love? In 22 years of Christian living I never heard anyone say that I was intimately and passionately loved. Oh I heard that Jesus loved me enough to die for me, but no one told me about His continual, relentless pursuit of my heart. No one told me that He would move heaven and earth just to love me. I had no idea that I was the object of His affections. I had no clue of how He truly saw me.

     It is all about love. Jesus didn't come to show us what to do. He came to make a way for love. He broke the binds of the law. He focused on love and what love with invited Him to do.  All that He did, He did to reveal love.

     I was created to live in love. That's it, nothing else. There are no requirements, but only an invitation. Come and be loved.  Allow love to invite you to do. I don't have to discipline myself to have a quiet time, evangelize, make disciples, or have a prayer list. If I am living loved I will naturally choose those things.

     As I grasp the depth of how precious I am to Him I cannot hold the love in. It will come out. I will be drawn away with Him to hear and read His Word, pray for those things that burden His heart and make disciples because the love in me will not keep silent.

     The traps of religion fall away as I enter into living loved with the one who loves me perfectly.  The warmth of His love frees me, inviting me to bear life exactly where He desires it to be offered.  Unlike the wasps, a door is opened for me and I am set free.  I am not only free to live as love directs.  That is the invitation.   

     For God, SO loved the world that He invited us to be loved, fully, completely, just as we are.  It is the good news of the gospel of salvation.  We are invited to put away our "to do" lists and enter into the embrace of God. He will love us into what He wants us to do.  I smell the fresh air of His Spirit as it breathes into my soul the truth.  Love is what He asks.....

     Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

©copyright:  2008 Julie L. Todd