“Softening, We Become His Own”, from L.Willows (a New Heart, Soft Love, God is With Us)

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Recently I encountered an old friend. In a conversation with her, she asked how I was now, as so much time had passed. “Softer, I said. “I am softer with time, after many years and experiences. Life had made my heart softer where before it had many edges and ridges. Now it sinks here and there.” I tried to describe to her what is indescribable.

Afterward, I felt thankful and filled with memories. I knew that she could not really understand. We had been separated by such distance, like the many mountains that I have traveled through in my journeys.

Life softens. God knows. He walks beside us.

Sometimes it takes time and ups and downs to soften our hearts. Only God sees our lives and our hearts in truth. Surely, He had known each detail along the way. He has been with us, beside us for every step.

What is a soft heart and what does that mean? Well, soft is new. We are born with hearts that need to become new. We need a second birth. We feel alone until we find it. We sense vulnerability and powerlessness until we find our true heart in and with God.

When I thought that I was alone, I tried harder, I often created much effort believing that I needed to do things on my own. I thought that I needed to form strengthening skills to survive. We all develop heart-survival skills because we forget that God is with us on the journey. He is our true and only strength in life’s journey. Everything else falls away or may fail. Real Strength was not even about me!

Real strength is about God, not us.

Psalm 76:26 –“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Philippians 4:13 -“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

As we find Him, we are given a new Heart.

Ezekiel 26:36 –“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

2 Corinthian 5:17 –“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Soft is the Spirit of Christ’s Love in our hearts.  

When the new forms in us, and we belong to Christ we, are saved by faith. The process of becoming like Him is ongoing, it is Sanctification. That new heart grows. It becomes our new inner Influencer!

We and our lives are never the same again. The ridges become containers that are filled with the pourings of God’s blessings, with His Spirit – like waters that fill us and our hearts with newness. Imagine a thirsty valley in the springtime receiving the rains of God’s love season after season. We Soften, we are fed and the fruit of His Spirit grows in us.

Galatians 5:22-23 –“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

When we become new, we live as His Own. We can live with hearts softly, lovingly. I am not there, I pray that I live a life that gives rich evidence of the fruit of the Spirit. I have a long way to go still. But the parts that ‘sink here and there’ are soft enough to be filled by God’s Spirit. I am so grateful for His Goodness, and for so many Blessings – surely there are challenges but the Lord is at my side. (and with you) This is the only journey that I would ever want to be on.

© 2019 Linda Willows

Pray Soft

I pray that we soften to the miracle of knowing God’s Love,
to the reunion of walking each hour of the day in His Mercy.

I pray soft listening for our hearts, that we hear His Voice
amidst the challenges of our lives; from the calls that we are each given.

I pray soft walking in this world as we journey with one another.
Let us find each other in His Arms as One.

I pray for soft forgiveness in our relationships near and far; help us
all to remember how much we have been forgiven, and open our hearts.

I pray soft tenderness so that we open doors for others; let us be generous
and gracious givers in this wondrous life that we have –

for the Lord God has been so good and kind to each of us.

In Jesus Name,
Amen

“She is Blessed, She Is Free”, my neighbor from L.Willows (faith, freedom, trusting God, courage)

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My neighbor’s door is well watched. She is loved by many. At 96, my Ethiopian friend lives quietly, almost secretly for more than 30 years in a small apartment after fleeing her country during the late 1980s. I knocked on her door. I knocked again.

My Neighbor’s Door

Then again. Concerned, I knocked louder. There was no answer. This was not the first time. I noticed that her door had been still for days. I felt alarmed. Her health has been precarious for several years. She is precious to me. I feel like my heart is attached to her. I can’t answer why. I love her and this love has formed over years of witnessing her strength and the beauty of her soul.

She is my neighbor. The last time that I visited with her I gazed into her wondrous brown eyes with light blue rims. I remember feeling concerned about her health because of her increasing weakness and inability to eat. I prayed that we would have many times together in the next year but worried, even wondered if she would live until Christmas of this year, truly she seemed so frail. I had learned that she had been challenged by cancer for the past years and season after season, she survived- she regained strength. I was in awe of her ability to challenge life. There was a secret to the strength within her. I knew that.

I went to another neighbor and knocked. I was welcomed into a room filled with more familiar faces, friends all. They sat together sharing the custom of gathering to pray, listening to Ethiopian teaching, news from home and community news.

A Sea of White

Here was a sea of white, each wearing the traditional orthodox robes of their country. Though I looked and spoke differently, I was accepted and known as “friend”. It felt like an honor. I touched my hand to my heart as a greeting that they understood.

One spoke as an interpreter for me. As I asked about my neighbor and her whereabouts. I was told that she was alright, that she and her son had gone to Ethiopia and would return soon. “Really, I said?” I asked several times. I needed to be certain that this was not a cultural way of saying that one’s spirit had ‘gone home’ to God!

From traveling I knew that sometimes I was told things in a metaphor or in what I would call the “gentle truth”. After hospitality from the group, I  greeted the host who I discovered last in the corner gazing out at me. (a friend of my neighbor’s from the same holy region of Ethiopia). I bent towards her, held both of here hands in mine and looked into her eyes. They smile with stories of God and life inside.

Stories of God and life inside

I returned home with the hope that my friend would come home again but I was not completely certain. My heart is one that needs reassurance. I am still on the learning curve of trusting God with full and complete holiness, aren’t we all?

For a week I had watched my neighbors’ quiet door. I remember thinking that I did not want anyone else to live there, not in her lovely space. This is a remarkable woman. She and her friend both are from a wondrous part of Ethiopia. It is called Aksum. It is called the Holy City. This is where Biblical scholars say the ark appears to have been lost sometime between 955 B.C. when Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem to house it, and 587 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar’s army razed the city but, according to the Bible, did not find it.

This was her home

To Ethiopians, this is like a Jerusalem. When I found out that my neighbors were born and raised in this Ethiopian Holy Land, I wanted to read about it. I soaked up the rich history of the lost Ark of the Covenant. It made my heart marvel. I understood her devotional nature so much more. This was her home. She was here only since being displaced from the conflicts of the 1980s. I understood the longing to be home, to go home.

The last time I saw her, I looked into her eyes. I saw something different in her gaze that worried me. When I looked into her lovely face, I saw something that seemed to recede, to almost back away despite her courage. “What are you seeing, she asked?”. I told her that her eyes were very beautiful. They are. Large and brown with light blue rims around the edges. I have not seen blue around brown, how can that be, I remember wondering.

I thought to myself, “This is a woman that loves Jesus deeply. When she goes to Heaven, there will be very much Joy, and someday- I will see her again.” I watched her bravely challenge pain and weakness through many seasons. I also saw that she always lived with hope and patience. She never wished for more than she had at the moment. Once I asked if I could offer her a fan in the summer when we had excessive heat. She smiled and refused. I realized that it was not to be stubborn, it was a gospel “no”. It was because accepting the fan would be saying that the moment was not good enough as it was “from God”.  She accepted everything with endurance and patience and trust. 

Everything is from God

This was an enormous lesson for me, even as I returned to my own apartment and was still unwilling to let go of my own extra fans and tools to stay cool!

Doesn’t God put teachers in our lives all the time? We need to be attentive and watchful to see them. Often we can miss the wise ones that are in our lives.

Often in the mornings, I would see her at an eastern window placing herself near a ray of the sun so that her back could catch the warmth of the light. Patiently and with trust, she would sit peacefully and allow the light to enter her body and heal her. I would wonder with my Western thought, “But how can the sun heal through the double panel glass? Don’t we need direct access to get the real benefit?” But she trusted her way. The natural warmth was enough. She never uses anything artificial.

Now it was weeks later. I missed her. Again I habitually scanned out of the corner of my eye to see who was near. Was my friend home or was this the other kind of trip “home”? Then my heart jumped. I saw her two sons outside of her door turning the key and another neighbor smiling and heard her congratulating one of them on the return from Ethiopia. She was back!

My Neighbor Returns

I asked for permission to visit her from her sons. He said that she was well and would be delighted. When I entered I was very surprised at what I saw.

My dear friend was joyfully leaning forward with a grand smile. She extending her arms to greet me. Though she was fragile to behold as always, her appearance was completely altered. The real sun had touched her life, her heart and her whole self with healing. A vibrancy lit up her face. I pointed to the photo of her on the wall when she was in her 20s and said, “You look like this woman!” It was remarkable. This was a renewal in front of me.

“What have you done!” I teased her. “You went to Ethiopia and the whole country almost had another revolution while you were there.” I had checked the news as soon as she left and found out that there was much upheaval that began around the day that she left. See Ethiopian News- Ethiopian Assassinations, Arrests push towards Ethiopia’s fragile push towards Democracy

Renewal in Ethiopia

She smiled, denying any relationship to such things saying no, that she had been in the Holy City; in Aksum, where it was peaceful. But this morning I read online that Ethiopia was generally safe today except for Aksum.  Goverment Travel Advice /Aksum

I have been witness to violence and war in other parts of the world; in places that where many generations have lived inside of historic, cultural and political environments that seem to be hosts to unfortunate conflicts. The victims are the hearts and minds that need to see life in new ways and with new possibilities.

Perhaps in places where there conflict has bred violence, minds and hearts become accustomed to it over time. It becomes the norm, like a climate. Generations sadly learn that it is a way to form change. And sometimes desperation erupts from the sense of feeling imprisoned by circumstances. It can lead folks to the reasoning that this is the only way to break free when surely it is not.

The juxtaposition of such rich history and holiness in Ethiopia with the current urgent outcries for change give me many reasons to pray for this special place and for these people longing for democracy and freedom. 

Yet my friend’s heart was free. She had always been free. Now as I looked into her joyful eyes, there was new life. She looked like all illness had been lifted from her. Looking into her shining brown-blue-rimmed eyes, I knew that she had experience a remarkable renewal. Her hair was whiter, longer (is it my imagination?). Her skin was darker, touched by a strong sunshine.

She was eating an orange. It was the first time that really saw her eat. She noticed that I was viewing the orange. “Please take one, have a banana, take several for yourself”, she kindly gestured at the bowl of fresh fruit on the table.

I could not refuse an orange! Taking one, I said, “Is it from Ethiopia?” With a pearly white smile, she answered, “No, really. No.” Then I took it like a baseball into my hand and pretended to hurl it out of the window, “Well then, I will send it all the way to there!”, I said, “There it goes!” We had a good laugh. Culture to culture joking is an art. Later, I savored that orange and thought of her. It was sweet.

The holiness of Love, God is With Us

I said to her, “May I write about you, may I write about your joy? Today I see you with your arms raised up high, with your face looking up to the sky, basking in the light of the sun. You are so happy. You feel God, you know that He is with you, near you. His Kingdom is near. Is that right?” “Yes,” my friend said with her lovely eyes enjoying the image, “This is how I feel. This is how my heart looks. You may write about me.”

I took her hands into mine and looked into her shining face. “I have to go now. Thank you so much for letting me visit you. I love you so much.” I said. “I love you too”, she said. I let myself out knowing that soon her son would be back to care for her that night. She is never alone.

She is blessed. She is free.

© 2019 Linda Willows

“A Long Time Ago, but We Have Now”, from L.Willows (Live Love, Courage, Bold)

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Joshua 1:9 –“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

A long time ago, I traveled very far away. It was a different time, my perspective was immersed in the experience. (a humanitarian initiative) I did not have colleagues from the US with me. My reflective life was on the inside of my heart and in prayer. The times asked for courage.

It was 1993. I gathered with many others in the old cushioned seats of the historic Sarajevo National Theater, a majestic structure that had been constructed in 1899. It was during the second year of the Balkan war. Though there was shelling from the nearby mountains and snipers lined an unseen circumference in the ridges, there was nothing that stopped the people of the city from attending a performance at the cherished Theater. The local performing artists worked to continue performing during the war. I remember that a small orchestra group also played regularly outside for all to enjoy each day. These were bold people.

That evening, I remember the feeling of being together with several hundred others in the cathedral-like opera house gathered together gazing towards the stage. It smelled a little bit musty, maybe of a perfume that I was not familiar with. It was semi-dark because it was only lit by an old generator. It felt wonderful to enjoy laughter at the comedy that was presented. There was joy even during the war. It was a relief to be together in the Theater.

No one had electricity at that time. There was no heat. It was winter-time in Sarajevo. Just being in the audience was a victory. Crossing the streets to arrive meant that you had risked the snipers that targeted civilians. I noticed that no one ran across the streets. Everyone learned to walked with heads held high. They had reasoned that there would be an appointed time to live and a time to die.  This was the time to laugh.

The actors on the stage were immersed in the play. I was far enough forward that I could see their expressions. It helped me to understand and be swept into the joy of the moment. Laughter rippled through the Theater. Then, suddenly, there was a loud thunderous sound. Then it happened again. It wasn’t us clapping. It was an interruption that everyone knew well. It was shelling from the mountains that landed next to the Theater if not upon an adjacent wall. My ears rang. My heart shook. No one moved. The play stopped. Everything became completely dark and still.

It was understood that the generator had been struck. No one moved towards an exit or left their seat. I sat in my seat and waited. I could feel the breath of the people around me. It was very cold in there.

I had learned to be still and expectant. Everyone sat together and waited in the darkness without moving for some moments, I don’t know for how long. Because of the thunderous shelling outside, the decision to stay may have meant living or dying. It seemed that the Theater was the target. It was a landmark. The next shell could have hit us all. It was the same as deciding when or how to cross the street.

God really does have your life in His Hands. We live and die for Him. This was one of those moments. There were many in that war. It felt like a collective decision to be together in the Theater with the expectancy of faith.

Suddenly a small light appeared on the stage. It was a candle. One of the actors was placing candles on the perimeter of the wide half-circle of the stage’s edge where the stage-lights had been. The actors were lighting the candles. One by one they were lit. In moments the lights revealed a wondrous view, one that was more spectacular than before.

Then, in the glow of a very special evening, with the pop-pop of shelling in the background and the occasional thunder of larger threats, the play continued in candlelight. The play was wonderful. I am not certain that I ever really knew what it was about but I laughed and was filled with joy.  It was a night to remember forever. Though it was very cold, I felt warm.

Later, walking to the room that I stayed in on those icy and snow-filled streets, I felt like I was in a neighborhood regardless of the threats that appeared to still be all around. Though I was not carrying one of the candles from the stage with me, I felt the glow of the room. The sense of faith and expectancy stayed with me. I did not have fear later that night when I was alone and the night war thunder.

We all seemed to be together, still in one larger room – not scattered individually throughout a city divided. God protects each of us, like a Light with and within every heart.

And now, (2019) if I hear thunder I am comforted. I remember that God is with each of us everywhere. I know that in some places and in some lives, we face times that feel dangerous or isolating but I know that He is always with us and never apart from anyone. I know that even when things happen that seem to cause moments that looks like a temporary “disconnect” – if we wait with hope, faith, and expectancy, especially with and for one another, and in fellowship – our Lord God responds bountifully and generously.

His Love and Light and His Spirit shine into our lives and hearts vividly. They warm us in ways that are transformative. We enter into bold new ways to tell His story, of how His Love has altered our lives and the landscape of our hearts.

He has mine. My story is one of the ongoing triumph of the Love of Christ in my heart and how it brings peace to me.

Joshua 1:9 -“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

God is with you. He is with us all the time. He gives us strength and courage. I pray that we are each given the gift of many chances to step forward as bold Christians that walk fearlessly and lovingly towards the Life that we are given with generous and loving hearts.

© 2019 Linda Willows