“Gratitude, Joy and Revival”, from L.Willows (loss & gain, our hearts, God’s Love)

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Gratitude, Joy and Revival from L.Willows

As the month of June began to speed by, I watched trees and gardens blossom to fullness. Just a short time ago, the parks in my area reopened. I remember on that first morning I drove to my favorite garden park and crept past the gate. I could not believe that it was open. I drove slowly in as if I was doing something alien. I felt like a child that was sneaking into a forbidden zone, even though I had been entering on foot during the pandemic! When I entered, this time, everything felt new and filled with hope. As I took those first steps on the dear and familiar path, tears of joy ran down my face. My mask got wet. There were no other people near by. I took it off. That was when I stopped being afraid.

That soaking of joy was gratitude for many things. It wasn’t only that the gate to the park was open. After months of being isolated at home alone and navigating the heart trials that we have all been faced with, I was grateful that this had been a time when the Lord had felt so close. Every day caused me to seek God.

Going back to that sense of restriction vs freedom, it was a discipline to follow the strict guidelines and learn to live “the new way”. For me living alone, I felt like I was in a new frontier.  Shopping in the supermarket was like going to into battleground at first. I remember panicking in the beginning with anxiety that I would catch the virus from gathering groceries, or getting gas for my car or other necessities. Friends called and instructed me in lengthy new ways of taking precautions.

New Life Lessons

We re-learned “life”. Then there were ways of speaking.  We had new phrases like “New Normal”. It included restriction and a lack of the cherished freedoms that were taken for granted just months before. As I took it all in at lightening speed, I think that a part of my heart must have constricted into a ball of stressed fear and anxiety. Part of me was saying, “No, I don’t want this. It is a frightening world to walk into. I want yesterday back!” It was very difficult to assimilate the changes so rapidly. I think that my heart, at least may have needed some time to go through some stages of shock, grief, loss and acceptance. Fortunately, as a Christian I was prepared to walk through this with God at my side.

I confess that did have a difficulty with having no control over circumstances. It  is an ongoing lesson in life. I realized that I love to hope and anticipate the future, to dream of a wondrous “next”. Living in a complete not knowing with all connections seemingly severed threw my heart into chaos. As much as I thought that I put all trust in God I saw that I was trusting something in myself, in others and leaning on many sources other than The Lord for security and peace in my heart.

My mortal heart interpreted it all as fearful environment even though everything that I have been taught tells me that circumstances should not rule my perspective or my peace. I went through grieving for what was lost. I longed for the “world” that we may not see again.  At one point in the beginning I could not even watch an images of people being in happy gatherings on television because it caused me mourn that we could not all be together now and worry about our future. I had stages of a lack of hope in the world that we live in. I questioned everything and everyone. In stages I worried about other countries as they became afflicted. The news buried me. Then I climbed out and learned to filter what information entered in and how and when.

Hope and Encouragements

I was fortunate because I was in two Bible Study groups from my Church and also attended two weekly prayer meetings all on zoom. The sermon was also online with a mid-week encouragement. Did I describe myself as alone? That was wrong. I have been actually carried by the body of Christ, by the Church that I belong to. This journey has be filled with God’s protection, Love and Grace. I was never alone.

I also experienced a deepening of love and concern for others. My heart turned outwards and thought less about myself. Community and the body of Christ became palpable as the church without walls was a true experience to me. Prayer intensified and was the first and most important activity of every day and night. Groups that prayed were my lifeline and remain so. Connecting with Christians and loved ones is a heart activity that can’t be stopped by any restriction. It is intensified by adversity.

The church was my real home during the most difficult months of the pandemic and it all continues. We don’t know for how long. The next unknown is when and how Churches will reopen. But my sense was that God will surely lead this. It is His Church. I trust this. I believe that we will worship together again. But, I am not like a child waiting with impatience or fear of the unknown any longer. Somehow, my heart has developed patience. That amazes me. I don’t need to control what happens next month or even three months from now.

Overcome with Gratitude

Lately at the end of each day, I tell The Lord all of the things that I am grateful for as I review the day. There is much that I am grateful for so far from this time in self isolation. I am grateful for the measure of patience that has been born in this heart of mine. I am grateful for Church. I am grateful for Christians that reach out generously to others. I am grateful for those that have a heart for fellowship, for those that teach and mentor others in these times. I am grateful for prayer and prayer groups everywhere and for the lone prayer warriors that pray consistently for others. I am grateful for the kind ones that work in the supermarkets that have been an encouragement throughout these seasons, sometimes the only other people that I saw. I am grateful for family and sweet supportive friends that can listen to your heart when you are feeling sloppy feelings and love you still. That is the love of a True Heart.

We have all been through many trials, some much more difficult than others. Many, in the afflictions of the illness itself. We don’t know if it will be in our own path. We don’t have that complete control even taking every precaution. But, God is with each of us and He sets the days before us for good. I am certain of His Love and of His Leading. My gratitude is to The Lord. He is the Gatekeeper and the only One that can free us regardless of our experience.

Revival. God’s Love is in His Holy Presence. It sets us Free.

My deepest gratitude is that God is making His Presence known to our hearts with His Love. His Spirit moves us in Prayer and lifts us to face Eternity in ways that cause us to review everything in our hearts and renew our perspectives. We are to join in revival. His Gate opens for us by the power of The Holy Spirit. That is a garden to walk in with Holy Joy and complete fearlessness. We can place our trust in God, we are His Beloved Children.

© 2020 Linda Willows

“Being a Church that Loves”, written by Dave Todaro (Healing, Connecting, Confession)

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Dear Readers,  I would like to share this letter that was offered on our Church’s Community page online. I understand that there are not enough words to express the sentiments of our hearts at this time. I don’t even know where to start, myself. I am wordless and grieved. I pray for repentance, healing, deep change and revival. 

We need to live as Christians in an aching world. We are the Church walking forward. What does that look like, what does that feel like? These are the thoughts of one Christian, one morning during these troubling times. -L. Willows

Being a Church that Loves

Brothers and sisters, on this beautiful morning I’d like to share concern and hope with you. As unsettling events unfold and as I continue to interact with people who do not know Jesus, I am struck by the need for us to find ways to export the rich spiritual messages that I hear us preaching to ourselves. We each have been given a unique sphere of influence. In recent days, here is what mine has echoed back to me: confusion, anger, hopelessness, weariness. This from people we might expect to be rocks in a storm.

I am continuing to learn the impact that Christ-followers can have in people’s lives by letting our lives authentically touch theirs. Authenticity doesn’t mean perfection. Just over the last 24 hours I’ve been made aware of how powerful it can be for us when people see me stumble, and then ask for forgiveness. Tom has asked us recently about our “spiritual ceiling” – do I allow the Holy Spirit to guide my interactions with people in ways that raise my ceiling?

Paul called us letters. God’s love letters to the world. If I am a letter, I need to be readable. No letter with many sentences blocked out can be effective. I’d be suspicious of a letter like that, wouldn’t you? I hope my unbelieving friends, many of whom are full of questions and confusion in times like this, don’t look at my life and wonder what’s hidden underneath the block-outs. (Name of church member), thanks for your recent confession on this page. That’s what I call removing block-outs!

So here’s my challenge, perhaps you will join me in this: Am I making an effort to integrate my life into the lives of at least some people in my sphere of influence? Am I letting them see my life and know me, warts and all? Have I integrated my life into the lives of people in my sphere of influence so that I have touched them? So that I am a readable and impactful love letter from God?

You may find this controversial but it’s something to consider: We’ve been encouraged to isolate from people for much of 2020 for health reasons. I understand it. I don’t want to get sick or to spread an awful sickness. So I (however imperfectly) comply. Yet I am also aware that Jesus chose, quite intentionally and quite scandalously, to physically touch unclean people when he healed them. Physical touch is a powerful signal of community, acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation. However wise or foolish you believe the public policy response to the virus, it is a fact that many of us have been made fearful to use the powerful tool of touch. Without minimizing the sinful brutality or pattern of injustice that resulted in George Floyd’s murder, I wonder if the race and class divisions and fissures that have tragically beset our nation for its entire history, have been recently exacerbated by the precautions that have been urged on us. I was moved by the story of law enforcement officers in one Texas city who recently knelt with protesters and hugged them. And of the impact that had on people to bring about at least the start of a healing process. God created people to be made up of body, soul, and spirit – and he cares for every aspect of who he created us to be (1 Thess 5:23). I am not surprised that anger dissolves, tension dissipates, and dialog happens, when there is hugging.

So now, with our nation and world negotiating perhaps its most difficult passage since I was an adolescent in the late 1960s, I pray that the world will see us being the church. I hope that as the civil authorities tell us it is increasingly acceptable to physically re-integrate ourselves into our communities, that we who know Jesus will seize upon the opportunities we have to reconnect with those who don’t know him. And just maybe to give someone who really needs it, a hug.

© 2020 Dave Todaro

“Raining Joy’s Revival”, from L.Willows (See Jesus, Hope, Renewal in God’s Spirit)

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I drove to the garden park in a neighboring community, and my heart lifted. Actually, I was shocked. The gates were opened for the first time since the pandemic lockdown began. My heart just paused to take it all in. I had been at the gardens and entered secretly some time before. Little was blossoming then but it gave me hope. The birds and the trees were thriving and everything in nature said yes to my heart.

That morning, the sun was shining and the sky was cobalt blue, there had been a full rainfall the night before and everything was glistening with waterdrops.

I started on the first walkway into the garden path that was surrounded by open spaces and luscious gardens on either side of the path. There were a few other appreciators there. My first reaction was that I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to God. It felt like my heart was bursting with joy as I thanked Him for the display of His Goodness. I saw the loveliness of His Creation all around me sparkling and shining, as though His Love were reflecting back to me. I had a mask on. I took it off so that I could smell the sweetness of each flower, each reed, each tree, every bud that I passed. All of the cares that I may have brought to that moment flew like dust into the tall grasses and into to top branches of the tall towering pine trees that hovered over all. This was bliss. I knew it at the moment.

As I walked I continued to pray and speak to the Lord. Then I came to my favorite garden. It winds in and out and has beds of special large budded flowers. Usually there are bees there because they are so sweet-smelling. I always stick my nose in each one and inhale! I noticed that because the blossoms are so large and bold, the flowers were particularly affected by the rains the night before. They were bent over, some of them were all the way to the ground. Some, the mature ones at the very top, had not really survived the rains. Their giant glorious buds had opened completely before the pouring and seemed to have grandly protected many of the other flowers. Petals were cast to the ground. Droplets of the rain were still shining on all of the blossoms and upon the earth.

As I stared at the aroma filled beauty, I kept sying to myself, “after the rains”. I thought of us, all of us, and the pouring of the trials that we have been through. The rain of a trial endured with faith is a glorious experience if it reveals God’s Spirit in us.

After the rain, we see true beauty around us, we appreciate the morning of what hope is and where true hope lies. If we have experienced losses, and many of us have, we look up and forward, not back or away. God is and will be providing many reasons for each of us to see His Glory in this season and in many to come. After the rain, when we temporarily view what was lost, we are invited to see the Reign of our True Hope. There is a garden gate that never closes. Our Lord, Jesus is the Gate, the one true Door. There is an aroma that is sweeter than any blossom on earth. It is the aroma of The Holy Spirit.

My bliss, what I call the Joy- is a shadow of the real joy of God’s Kingdom. When we live with Jesus as the “Yes” that leads to every other choice, hearts,  our lives become free regardless of circumstances. Everything in Heaven and on Earth is His Dominion.

The morning walk was a gift of renewal and revival. Spirit of God, rain on me, fill me- fill us all with your beauty, with the purpose of Christ and strengthen our faith.

© 2020 Linda Willows