Thursday, July 2, 2015

And a Child Shall Lead Me

Faith & Purpose

Love is the way, forward is the motion... 

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatted domestic animal together; and a little child shall lead them.  
 ~Isaiah 11: 6

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Whole Tithe and Offering

I am not an expert nor the final authority.  I am simply someone who takes the times to reflect, pray and meditate.  One of my favorite books is The Disciplines of The Spirit.  It was recommended to me by a good man, a grounded man.  And his recommendation, along with my mother gifting me with Iyanla Vanzant's Acts of Faith, has helped me to keep my heart "with all diligence."

My usual routine is to pray and meditate in the morning while the members of my house are still sleeping.  It allows for quiet, stillness.  Too, there is something about being up with the sun that puts me in the mind of Christ, Christ-consciousness.  I have found that praying and meditating at the start of my day grounds me, "establishes my goings and sets my feet upon a rock."  Taking time to reflect, to consider my own divinity and my own humanity, allows me to walk my day with a perspective that allows me to actively consider my "neighbor's" divinity and humanity.  I guess one could say that it is my way of entering my own "Garden of Gethsemane."

Today in my garden a flower began to bloom...
I thought of beginnings and endings.  I thought of letting go.  And my thoughts begin to rest in the moment.  In the moment, I reflected on the idea, concept, and action of tithing.  For me, tithing is a spiritual discipline.  It is a spiritual "rod," a tool used to discipline us - to grow us up in the knowledge of the Most High.

For me, spiritual discipline (temperance) is a mark of good practice.  Fruit of the Spirit comes by good practice.  So now, if I am a person who struggles to love myself and others well, then I must ask myself, "Am I engaged in good practice?"

For me, the spiritual purpose of tithing is not simply to render money into a collection plate.  It is to help us to lean our personality, our natural tendency toward ego-centric thinking and ego-centric action toward the cause of God.  Love.

5 Whereas the object and purpose of our instruction and charge is love, which springs from a pure heart and a good (clear) conscience and sincere (unfeigned) faith.

But certain individuals have missed the mark on this very matter [and] have wandered away into vain arguments and discussions and purposeless talk.

They are ambitious to be doctors of the Law (teachers of the Mosaic ritual), but they have no understanding either of the words and terms they use or of the subjects about which they make [such] dogmatic assertions.

Now we recognize and know that the Law is good if anyone uses it lawfully [for the purpose for which it was designed].    

 ~1st Timothy 1: 5-8, Amplified Bible

Exercising My Faith...
I believe the object and purpose of tithing is to strengthen us, as with any good muscle training, in giving freely from the well-spring of our heart.  Yet I have observed that most of us stop our "training" at material giving.  Material giving is our "warm-up."  

I believe the instruction and charge of material giving is to prepare us for the demands of "resistance training."  It is designed to gradually increase our "heart rate," our spiritual stamina.  Once we have consistently given material goods to others (ex: providing for our family's material needs; food, clothing and shelter), have we moved beyond the warm-up phase of our training?  Have we moved beyond the "flesh" of material giving on to greater Glory?

I believe the fundamental goal of tithing is to create "lean" heart muscle, to exercise our faith and burn the "fat" (extra weight that stunts compassion-work) from our spirit.  We are "exercising our faith," ever increasing our ability to overcome our urge to resist helping our "neighbor."  Has what was begun in the flesh now been completed in the spirit?

I believe the object and purpose of material giving and the instruction and charge of tithing is to grow us into zealously desiring to meet the needs of the heart, the seat of our emotions and spirit.  What are needs of the heart?  

For me, it is to have my unique experience of being human acknowledged.  Like Peter denied Christ, we often pretend that we do not see our neighbor.  We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" our spouse, our children, our parent, our friend, and even a stranger's need to have someone listen, support and care about the "issues of life" that are of dire importance to them: 

  • As spouses, we pretend to not know how important it is to our wife or husband to engage in deep, intimate conversation or to kiss them sweetly when they leave and come home from work.  We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" that a marriage is built upon trust - placing our needs in the hands of another.
  • As parents, we pretend to not know how important it is to our children to attend and show undivided interest in the events surrounding their chosen extracurricular activity (dance, martial arts, sports, music, visual arts etc.).   We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" that the health of our children's self esteem is rooted in our ability to prioritize, be attentive even if it means taking a day off from work or missing an "important" meeting.

  • As daughters and sons, we pretend to not know how important it is to our parents to be appreciated for their sacrifices with a warm hug as we enter their home for a sit-down conversation.  We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" the value of our presence in our parents' life and so we fail to consistently visit.

  • As friends, we pretend to not know how important it is to listen intently, to tune in to the stresses of the relationships that are momentarily weighing on them.  We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" that the "first work" of friendship is the ability to find a common-bond within unique, respective experiences.
  • As strangers, we pretend to not notice our "neighbor" who has fallen on the sidewalk of life and how important it is to acknowledge their need(s) - to see them, extend a helping hand and lift them.  We pretend to not know, we choose to "forget" that the greatest purpose of love and charge of love is to be a "living sacrifice," to give of ourselves.
The spirit of God, the heart and power of God is in us.  Have we been diligent in guarding love and keeping love, meeting the needs of God's heart in our neighbor?  What human vessel, human temple, human storehouse have you tithed into today?  

Like the meek and need-stricken widow, I believe we reach a level of "Master-y" in Christ (live his example of the "first-work" of faith and sincere fellowship) or spiritual maturation when we know, we choose to "remember" to freely give our all.  Love.   Love is a choice!

41 And He sat down opposite the treasury and saw how the crowd was casting money into the treasury. Many rich [people] were throwing in large sums.

42 And a widow who was poverty-stricken came and put in two copper mites [the smallest of coins], which together make [q]half of a cent.

43 And He called His disciples [to Him] and said to them, Truly and surely I tell you, this widow, [she who is] poverty-stricken, has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury.

44 For they all threw in out of their abundance; but she, out of her deep poverty, has put in everything that she had—[even] all she had on which to live.    ~Mark 12: 41-44

 I believe that when we give from the seat of our heart, the place of our own poverty (need), we are giving from a place sight, clairvoyant compassion - allowing oneself to be "pricked" by the understanding that we are all human and unified under the common-bond of a need for love.
  • Who is my spouse?

  • Who is my child?

  • Who is my parent?

  • Who is my friend?

  • Who is my stranger?

Who is my neighbor?

Have I tithed into the emotional and spiritual needs of my neighbor?  Have I been wholistically exercising my faith - submitting myself to the conditioning of my mind and heart?  Am I a cheerful giver or a begrudging thief?  What is the condition of my heart?  

Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, How shall we return?
Will a man rob or defraud God? Yet you rob and defraud Me. But you say, In what way do we rob or defraud You? [You have withheld your] tithes and offerings.

You are cursed with the curse, for you are robbing Me, even this whole nation.

10 Bring all the tithes (the whole tenth of your income) into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and prove Me now by it, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

11 And I will rebuke the devourer [insects and plagues] for your sakes and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground, neither shall your vine drop its fruit before the time in the field, says the Lord of hosts.

12 And all nations shall call you happy and blessed, for you shall be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.

13 Your words have been strong and hard against Me, says the Lord. Yet you say, What have we spoken against You?

14 You have said, It is useless to serve God, and what profit is it if we keep His ordinances and walk gloomily and as if in mourning apparel before the Lord of hosts?

15 And now we consider the proud and arrogant to be happy and favored; evildoers are exalted and prosper; yes, and when they test God, they escape [unpunished].

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked often one to another; and the Lord listened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who reverenced and worshipfully feared the Lord and who thought on His name.

17 And they shall be Mine, says the Lord of hosts, in that day when I publicly recognize and openly declare them to be My jewels (My special possession, My peculiar treasure). And I will spare them, as a man spares his own son who serves him.

18 Then shall you return and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him who serves God and him who does not serve Him.    

~Malachi 8: 7b-18, Amplified Bible

Life to the full...  
In the economy of Love, am I a rich woman/man or am I a poverty-stricken woman/man?  Have I returned?  Have I freely given?  

 We are all ministers, caretakers of love - called out, purposed and charged to keep and guard each other.  Have we sincerely concerned ourselves with the vicissitudes of our neighbor's life?

As a minister and caretaker, have I sown abundance and wealth into my neighbor's heart or have I sown lack and poorness?  In the employment of Love, have I tithed the whole tithe of my income?  Do I only give from my surplus or am I "exercised" in giving from my heart, the seat of my most earnest need? 

I the Lord search the mind, I try the heart, even to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.    ~Jeremiah 17: 10, Amplified Bible  

I believe God judges the heart - rightly divides the cheerful giver from the begrudging thief by searching each heart.  In the economy of God, I believe Christ also audits the heart of our neighbor to determine our endurance.  

 Image result for heart of God
The race is not brought unto completion by the quick works and might of the flesh, but rather the race is graduated unto completion by the ones who endure in God.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love Lights My Path


Beginners love soon fades away...

When I was a girl, my favorite psalm was Psalm 40.  I have prayed for years.  I have talked to God as an intimate friend...revealing my joys and pains, my hopes and fears.  When I was a girl, I prayed at night.

Lately though, as a woman, I've been praying in the morning...confessing my ignorance and asking to be taught how to see and in turn act on what I see.  Lately, I have consistently cried out, "Most High, I don't know how.  Please, show me how.  Please show me the way."  And what I can testify to is this...God is faithful to the needy, the humble of heart.

Before I asked God to teach me how to really live in Divine love, I asked God to save my marriage because I wanted to remain with my husband.  My request was a want rooted in fear and a lack of awareness of what love actually is.  The truth was...I was blind and lame.  I had no sight and no will to walk away.

I was confused...change happened but I was experiencing the same torturous struggle.  Why wasn't my marriage being saved?  Where was God's transforming power?  Doesn't the Most High want me to remain remain with my husband?  I was in a fog but the compassion of a stranger cleared away just enough of the fog for me to see that my husband was creating it and I was choosing it.  A "Samaritan" saw me, a woman crawling on the ground and trying to feel her way through the confusion and pain of a broken heart, and he tended to my wounds.  He was a foreigner to me.  I had never known a compassionate, understanding man.  Honestly, I thought his kind was as mythical as the mysterious Atlantis. 

His presence, transitory though it was, was a ray of truth.  He was grounded in his truth, living authentically in the Way of Love.  And that truth allowed me to see my offense, "sin" against myself.  I had allowed myself to be the dumping ground, the undeserving receptacle for my husband's resentments...allowed my heart, my spirit and my needs to be continually disregarded and forgotten.  And joy left me.  I had busied myself so in the ministry of being my husband's compassionate support...putting my all into being a "good wife" that I had forsaken me.

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.    ~Revelation 2: 2-5
I reflected over the details of my entire life, from girlhood in my parent's home to womanhood in my husband's home, and began to do "the first works" of rebuilding the inner woman.  I felt unheard.  I felt invisible.  I felt ashamed.  I felt hurt.  I felt victimized.  I felt stifled.  I felt used.  I felt objectified.  I felt expendable.  I felt abandoned.  The truth is...I was wounded, heavily bruised by the years.  I allowed myself to be depressed and I allowed myself to be angry...rightfully so.  And I accepted the truthful name of my experience and the unspoken brokenness of the women of my lineage...generational cycles of abuse. 

And then I stopped blaming myself...then one day I stopped blaming others.  Yes, those in my life who perpetuated abuse (mainly verbal and emotional) are indeed accountable.  But blame was keeping me stuck in victim-hood.   I someone who overcomes...a woman who knows that the only way to live freely is with a feather-light heart.  So I continued to submit and crucify my ego to the process, continued to feel...

I felt contempt for my choice to continually remain...then I felt the warm hug of empathy in the understanding of how my choices came to be.  I felt deep sorrow and a longing to reach down and lift High the young woman that I used to be...blind and lame...blind to my own beauty and lame in acting in the agency of self-care (self support and compassion).

And then I forgave myself.  I forgave myself for not knowing what I did not know, for lacking love's awareness.  I acknowledged my "sin" and began the faith-works of true change - transformation of my life.

I began to reestablish a firm and authentic relationship with myself and the Most High...a fellowship that was uniquely mine and not informed by the expectations of the people of my world (not my parent's way nor my husband's or his family's way).  I learned and applied what I had learned.  I listened to the Most High's gentle voice and chose to be obedient to God's call and corrective action.  I repented, completely turned away from my past.

 Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].    ~Romans 12: 2, Amplified Bible
And then there was Light...oil for my lamp and a fire-light zeal to do what love required.  I finally saw my marriage for what it was and I raised the motivation of my prayer to meet God's standard and I cried out from the place of my void, "My God and all that is love, please show me the way.  Please, meet me at the place of my need.  I need Love.  I want to love and I want to be loved."  And the Most High answered my plea with one simple phrase, "Let go." 

You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong--you want only what will give you pleasure.    ~James 4:3, New Living Translation

Letting go is a process.  I've learned that the pace and the magnitude of one's "rod of discipline" is really a matter of simple obedience...measured according to one's ability to listen with zeal and to do what is heard with greater zeal.

What happens if one begrudges or delays?  What happens when I execute the soft truth of the Holy Spirit filtered with my time and my way?  I think a lot of stories in the bible are cautionary tales.  What happens when I choose the "hard row to hoe" and actively or passively choose to wait until I'm forced by God's justice-heavy hand of consequence to submit to Love's Divine Will? 

Ah, to gain my wants but to lose the needs of my soul is to be controlled by a dimly lit dream.  A few years ago I heard a voice in my day-dream say, "leave this place" as if I were hearing sound to aether.  And today I saw...really saw "this place"...a place that draws light into its vacuum with empty promises of provision.  It dims love, lessens one's resolve to make the bright dream that is love real.  This place of despair dims its inhabitants...dims us until love finally expires like the last flicker of flame.  

Empty promises of the mirage of water in a desert land tricks and manipulates.  Dry baptizing our heart with coarse sand, vexing us...tricking us into believing that what we have is true sustenance.  But what I now know is that only the Most High, only Love can be my oasis.  Love does not live in a mirage, an illusion.  An illusion is designed to distract me from what I truly need.  We often want the mirage though...isn't life funny that way.

But that's's human to confuse wants for needs.  I am quite divine yet also a very human woman.  The difference between the two...between wants and needs is so very subtle like the veil that separates pleasure from joy.

Yet I am learning...maybe the great lesson of life is that love is a sacred dance between wants and needs but in order for the two to dance together they must choose to partner up, they must choose to marry and become one.  Ah, Christ's first "miracle" comes to mind...a marriage banquet of turning water to wine.  But I must first find a well-spring of water...

I watched the movie Beyond the Lights early this morning.  I watched it and I saw myself in both of the main characters, Noni and Kaz.  Noni, in a sense, married herself to a world that did not love her, did not see her and that choice nearly caused her to plummet to her death.  Well, actually a death did happen...

 I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains [just one grain; it never becomes more but lives] by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces many others and yields a rich harvest.    ~John 12:24, Amplified Bible 

And Kaz, he saw beyond the lights...the artificial light that jaundices our eyes...even our body and soul takes on a sickly yellow pallor.  I've learned that only sunlight, God-made light brings clear vision and bodily health.  God is Love...
 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.    ~1st John 4:8

Kaz, in the moment where the need was most urgent, allowed the word of love to be made flesh.  Compassion.  He saved Noni...saved her soul, the essence of who she is from plummeting with the mirage her mother created.  I once read that "the life you save may be your own."  And with consideration for the end of the movie...indeed.  In a sense, Kaz saved his own life as he lifted Noni with his strong arm and healing salve of "Samaritan-love"...losing the life he thought he wanted to gain the deeply burrowed need of his spirit.  Love.

But what prompts us to choose to see our own true face and the true face of our "neighbor" beyond the artificial lights?  How does one become clairvoyant, clear enough to see the image of God (love) in themselves and another enough to stand?  I've learned through the regret of lost love or even love unrequited that true fellowship...sweet communion with God and others...a good life can only stand on the foundation of truth.  

What is the power that lifts me, resurrects my mind, body and spirit each day?   I asked myself a few days ago...can I "live life more abundantly" without real love...whatsoever is just, whatsoever it true?  I asked myself and the Spirit that rests within me answered, "No."  

Noni nor Kaz were really living.  And neither was I before the glory of one splendid day.  But the "slight of hand" or rather the "slight of speech" of a charming illusionist had me believing that the oasis (love in truth and spirit) is dry and that blessings only come when we remain committed to the mirage.  Well, I learned that commitment can become an idol when one is committed (blind loyalty) to what does not serve their Highest good.  

My heart nearly dried up to crumple and be carried away as a dead leaf in the wind.  In life I've had a hard time seeing beyond the illusion of love and what appeared to be a good life.  Home is where my heart is...the unique needs and hopes that bring me joy and my joys endow me with the endurance to "run and not faint."  The prize of life is given to those who endure...those who keep love, keep joy, keep the faith with all diligence....

Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of life.   ~Proverbs 4:23

The thing is...I thought...I really believed that I was unlovable.  And from the place of this belief I gave away too freely the love, the compassion and support I so desperately needed.  But lately though, as a woman, I've been praying in the morning...finally taking the time to ask in conversation with the Most High, "What do I really need?  What do I really want?"  As time would have it and as I was "faithful over a few" tasks of change, the latter question fell away or rather transformed.  When my want proved to hinder what I needed...well, I no longer wanted it.
Too, what I wanted, like in the movie Beyond the Lights, was built on a lie.  The lie was this..."Natalie, your needs don't matter.  The greatest offering of your spirit, the treasure of your heart has no value."  The truth...yes, it does!

So for me, the moral of the wonderful cinematic fable I watched early this morning is...

Let go.
Let go of the lie.  
Let go of the illusion.
Let go of the lies we create and the illusions we choose.

I learned and I am continually learning to let go...let go of the want for external validation and permission to simply be.  I learned and I am continually learning to let go...let go of the want to be in control of how my life unfolds.  

"We make plans and God laughs."  We make plans and attempt to effect our plans under our own power and God chuckles...finds hilarity in our perseverance with insanity.  I render myself the butt of life's joke when I clench my hands, straining to hold on to wants (lusts, desires, passions, and even dreams), and fail to perceive this reality...

When my hands are holding tight to my wants, my hands are no longer open to receive the blessing of fully met needs.

And the Most High said unto me, "Let go."

What's real though?  What is the reality of life?

What I really need...the very thing I need is my soul's most authentic want and Highest good.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.    ~Psalm 119:105

Love is my lamp.  
Love for myself...the kind of love that leads me to choose to honor and respect my needs.  Choosing to extend compassion and support to myself allows me to stop hiding my light to benefit the comfort of others.  Love allows me to shine.  Love makes its greatest concern my highest good.

Love is a light unto my path.
Love for another...the kind of love that leads me to face my fear of flying in pursuit of what I need.  Choosing to be vulnerable in the embrace of Love is the treasure of my soul.  Fellowship.  Sweet Communion.  

For some time the song of my heart has been Ledisi's "Lost and Found."  I felt lost.  I felt lonely.  I felt unloved.  I wanted my husband to see me, to find me.  But guess what...that was my see myself (my good side, my bad side, my areas of confidence, my areas of insecurity and most importantly my soul's needs) and in turn honor my true self.  

I was a young woman paralyzed with fear though...was afraid that if he saw the true me that he would not want to love me.  I was able to see that even my fear was an illusion...never something I should have feared.  I am lovable...period.  I know so now.  

I see.  I am found.  And I am in the company of Love.  Let the church say "amen" and let the angels rejoice with jubilee!

Love...there is no greater gift or more perfect gift.  To be in true fellowship with oneself and give love and be in true fellowship and communion with another is the only life that there is to live.  It is the dance of a sacred marriage...dancing and in that dancing meeting the needs, the authentic wants of our soul and heart.  

I don't know how my life will unfold from here but this is what I am sure of...I'll be okay.  I'm living in the moment right here...just me and God.  Ironically, it is the last day of the month that I lost myself in a mirage.  I so wanted it to be an oasis though...never an illusion.  

True love is tangible...a word, a feeling substantiated by right action.  True love is a reality I choose.  It's a choice...a Living, permanent place of existence where all needs are valid and met without permission.  "To everything there is a season...a time to search and a time to give up."  I searched, I found and now it is time to give up the struggle.  Love is indeed work but it was never meant to be tortuous work...dimming our spirit and heart.  

The truth is...we make relationships, marriages hard when we wall up our mind and heart with pride, deeming ourselves too important to reach down and pull up our spouse, our "neighbor" as we travel along the road of life toward our own fulfillment.  And like the character Noni, I have a new song to sing and a cup of "new wine" to drink as I watch God in the my life unfold, rise before me in full sight...

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God."    ~Psalm 40: 1-3

So let it be.

Strength, Courage and Wisdom 
by India Arie 

Inside my head there lives a dream that I want to see in the sun
Behind my eyes there lives a me that I've been hiding for much too long
'Cause I've been, too afraid to let it show
'Cause I'm scared of the judgment that may follow
Always putting off my living for tomorrow
It's time to step out on faith, I've gotta show my face
It's been elusive for so long, but freedom is mine today
I've gotta step out on faith, It's time to show my face
Procrastination had me down but look what I have found, I found
Strength, courage, and wisdom
And it's been inside of me all along,
Strength, courage, and wisdom
Inside of me

Behind my pride there lives a me, that knows humility
Inside my voice there is a soul, and in my soul there is a voice
But I've been, too afraid to make a choice
'Cause I'm scared of the things that I might be missing
Running too fast to stop and listen
It's time to step out on faith, I've gotta show my face
It's been elusive for so long but freedom is mine today
I've gotta step out on faith it's time to show my face
Procrastination had me down but look what I have found, I found
Strength, courage, and wisdom
And it's been inside of me all along,
Strength, courage, and wisdom
Inside of me

I close my eyes and I think of all the things that I want to see
'Cause I know, now that I've opened up my heart I know that
Anything I want can be, so let it be, so let it be:.
Strength, courage, and wisdom
It's been inside of me all along,
Strength, courage, wisdom
It's been inside of me all along, everyday I'm praying for:
Strength, courage, and wisdom
And it's been inside of me all along,
Strength, courage, and wisdom
Inside of me

I found it in me, I found it finally
I'm sure to keep it' cause I like it, I say thank you.