Unfinished

piant by number

The box under the bed held remnants of a life I’d forgotten.

There were spelling tests and penmanship practice sheets and report cards.  There were crayon drawings and birthday cards from grandparents and even an award for 2nd place in an elementary school sack race.  More than likely, it was the last award I’d ever receive for any kind of athleticism.  I really should frame it.

My mother has kept all these items in that box under the bed for years.  And while I was home for Thanksgiving, I decided to dig through it.  I sat on the floor in that bedroom for quite awhile, reliving memories I didn’t even know I had.

At the very bottom was something unexpected.  An unfinished “paint-by-number” picture.  Do kids even do paint-by-number anymore?  Why would we have saved an unfinished painting?  Did I plan to go back and fill in those numbers?

I think that maybe God wanted us to save it so that decades later it would remind me of how He works in my life.

I could tell it was going to be a picture of a big horse and a little horse.  What little girl didn’t go through the “I want a horse” phase?  The baby horse is almost filled in with paint.  The mother horse has a way to go.  And the background has an awful lot of empty numbers where paint should go eventually.  Maybe I got bored with the leaf color.

I’m sure the finished picture would have been beautiful.  But the fact that it’s unfinished holds the lesson.

Our lives unfold gradually,too.  God fills in a spot here, a spot there.  And sometimes it seems that we can’t see the big picture.  We can’t figure out what all these little empty places will come together to be.  They seem random.  And it feels incomplete.  We want to know the end of the story.

But this painting in a box under a bed reminded me that God is going to complete my painting in His way and in His time.  He’s got a plan.  He knows what the finished picture look like.

I think I’ll hang this picture up just like it is. And remember that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

(from the archives – originally posted 11/28/12)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  Ephesians 2:10

Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;  Philippians 1:6

The LORD will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.  Psalm 138:8

 

 

 

Savor

(I realize I’ve been “gone” for awhile.  New blog posts are coming!  I promise. Just had to work through a few things and writing hasn’t come easily.  In the meantime, because it’s Thanksgiving week, I thought I’d slightly edit and re-post something I wrote 6 years ago.  As you start your prep work for the most amazing meal of the year, stop…and savor.)

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Julia Child would be proud.  I don’t just have “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” on my shelf.  I’ve actually cooked from it.   For my first foray into French cooking, I made Coq Au Vin , which is actually 3 recipes in one – the mushrooms, the onions and the chicken – something to keep in mind when timing the preparation.

It took me 6 hours.  But the fact that it actually involved igniting something made it so totally worth it.

My next undertaking was Steak au Poivre , a peppercorn-encrusted rib-eye gently bathed in a butter and brandy sauce that would give any cardiologist pause. But once in your life you should at least try it.

They were both amazing, memorable dishes.  Dishes I didn’t scarf down like my quick piece of toast in the morning.  Dishes I didn’t mindlessly pick at in front of the television.  They were dishes worthy of savoring, taking the time to identify the endless list of ingredients that went into them.  Dishes worthy of sinking into and lingering over.  There might even have been some sighing and rolling of the eyes. Like those chefs on TV.

When God was putting Adam together, He added taste buds.  He didn’t have to.  We could have just gathered necessary nutrition like animals or plants without regard for whether or not it actually had any taste.  We didn’t have to enjoy it.  But God wanted us to.  There’s something spiritual about tasting.

“My soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5).  Now, if that doesn’t sound like something from Julia Child, what does? Marrow and fatness. Have you ever eaten the marrow out of a veal shank? Oh my.  I made a chocolate silk pie recently that the recipe called “profoundly rich”. It was. The Psalmist says, “How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103).

God reminds us about our ultimate satisfaction in Him and the sweetness of His Word… through our taste buds.

I want to remember to savor God’s words.  I don’t want to rush through my quiet time like my morning toast.  I don’t want to mindlessly pick at scripture, distracted by other things going on around me, or run through it, like I’m grabbing a donut on the way out the door.  I want to put in the effort, take the time,  and maybe even have some sighing and rolling of the eyes as I realize just how amazing and rich and wonderful those words are.

Oh yes, I want to “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).   

Savor.

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance.  Isaiah 55:22

In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world.  It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.  Isaiah 25:6

 

 

Change

There is a constant in my life, and for that I am grateful.

Just thinking lately about how things change, how it’s pretty much the normal ebb and flow of life.  But in spite of the normalcy of change, sometimes it still catches us off guard.  It still makes us uneasy.  We long for sameness and the security of knowing exactly what to expect.  I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that if we had a life where nothing ever changed, we wouldn’t really need to rely on God.

change

 

Ten years ago this month I started a new job, and because I stuck it out, I got a plaque and congratulations.  But more than that, I got the opportunity to look back on the past decade and see how many things changed in this job, how many different staff and leaders have come and gone.  How many different students have walked through the door, graduated, moved on to new lives and new adventures.  Three of the young women I mentored last year walked across the stage in May and away from West Palm Beach.  And I wonder who God will bring into my life in the coming days to replace them.

In other words, changes.

The elderly woman who lived in the apartment below me died this past Spring.  I finally saw people moving things out of her place last night.  I guess I’ll have new neighbors soon.

In other words, changes.

My pastor and friend resigned on Sunday from the church I’ve called home for the last 9 years.

In other words, changes.

I could go on.  I spend an awful lot of time thinking about life, thinking about my life, thinking about where I’ve been and where I am and where I’m going.  I sometimes joke that I have the spiritual gift of over-analyzation.  But through all that reflecting and pondering and thinking, I have realized the most important thing about changes.  It’s not what changes that is important.  It’s the thing that doesn’t change.  It’s the One who doesn’t change.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Revelation 1:8 reminds us, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”, says the Lord, which is and was and is to come, the Almighty.

If He’s the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, it means He’s the middle, too.  These weird, awkward and sometimes uneasy middle parts of the story, where things change.  He’s right here, with His constant guidance, mercy and love for those of us who really don’t like change all that much.

I have a constant in my life. Through all the changes. And for that, I am grateful.

 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  James 1:17

For I am the LORD, I do not change;  Malachi 3:6

Precious

The blog post where I write about goats.  Goats that climb trees.  And eat nuts. And play a part in producing something referred to as “liquid gold”.

I figured after last week’s post, things needed to be lightened up a bit.

So  I recently saw a TV documentary about these goats in Morocco that climb trees.  The tree climbing is odd enough in itself, but what happens next is something you really couldn’t make up if you tried.

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They climb to get at the nuts of the Argania tree.  And nobody stops them, even though the nuts are valuable.  They actually want them to eat the nuts, because these nuts have the potential to become precious Argan oil.  Yes, the same oil – “liquid gold” –  you see now in shampoos and moisturizers and a plethora of other high-end beauty products.  But there’s a problem. The nuts are too hard to crack in their natural state, so they let the goats’ digestive tracks do the work.  Once the nuts have.. ahem.. passed “through” and been deposited on the ground, they’re gathered up (by some very brave people, might I add) and processed into oil.  Very. Expensive. Precious. Oil.

I really do think God must laugh at His creation sometimes.  Who would have thought that a goat would climb a tree, eat a nut, “refine it”, deposit it on the ground, and the end result is something people pay lots of money for?  Something precious from something, well, not so precious.

Not so far fetched, really.  God does the same thing in our lives.  Jeremiah 15:19 says, “If you return, then I will restore you.  Before Me you will stand.  And if you extract the precious from the worthless, You will become My spokesman.”  (NASB)

Extract the precious from the worthless.

There are situations in our lives that can seem crazy and hard.  We pass through some pretty yucky stuff.  That’s where we’re tempted to question God, begin to cry out that things don’t make sense and wonder why He would choose to put us through it. But you know, it could very well be that He intends to make something absolutely precious out of the process.

The extraction process is never easy.  Even after the Argania tree nuts go through that first assault, they still have to be pounded and ground down and pressed and pressed and pressed.  And only then does the precious golden oil begin to flow out.

“But He knows where I am going.
And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.”  Job 23:10

When things don’t make sense, when you’re passing through the yuck and feel pounded and pressed down until you think you’ll break, think of the goat in the tree in Morocco.  And smile.  God does some crazy things in crazy ways sometimes, but the end result could very well be something…precious.

Please

Please, my friends.  Please stop and think before you post.

I didn’t plan to get sad over social media this morning.  I was just doing my usual A.M. check of what might have happened overnight that I needed to know about. “Needed” being used loosely, of course.  But anyway, there they were.  Posts.  Ones that made me sigh.  Ones that made me wince and cringe and wish I hadn’t seen them.

I totally understand passion.  I get it.  We need passionate people who will stand by their convictions, people who want to save our country and our world from literal or spiritual demise, people who want to stop injustice and stop political candidates who don’t hold their values.   But sometimes, the passion turns mean.

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Should we defend our beliefs and hold fast to what we think is right and good? Yes!  By all means, yes.  But this morning I saw posts that trampled over the people “on the other side”.  And that goes for both “sides”.  I read things that hurt me, that pierced my heart. Things posted by those I consider friends, but who believe differently than me. Things that made me want to respond in defensive, snarky ways. Sweeping generalizations and attacks on what I consider to be subjects of vital and spiritual importance.  And  I wondered if the ones who posted them even thought of me when they chose to share whatever it was they shared.

But then, I saw people who should know better do the same thing. Angry, accusatory posts by those called by the name of Christ.  And I thought of how many times in the Bible we are given pretty clear guidelines as to what our speech should be like, especially to a listening world.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.  Proverbs 15:1

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge appealing, but the mouth of a fool blurts out foolishness.  Proverbs 15:2

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.  Proverbs 25:11

The Sovereign Lord has given me His words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary.  Isaiah 50:4

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Colossians 4:6

If our posts and shares and likes come across  just as angry and judging as those on the other side of our belief fence, how in the world are we showing them that we’re any different?  Are our words gentle and appealing and beautiful and wise and comforting and gracious?  Or do they allow us to posture defensively, take our sides, attack the enemy?

And what if the “enemy” is someone who is our friend?  What if the “enemy” is someone who needs to know the Lord, and we are the only one in their lives they are going to see Him through?  Sometimes we forget that not everyone on our friends lists, not every one of our “followers” know Jesus.  If the only example they have of a Jesus-follower is me, what are they seeing?  An incensed, opinionated, in-your-face kind of person?  Or will they see someone who will hold unwaveringly to her beliefs, but who will refuse to engage in arguments that serve no other purpose than to make us dig our heels in even deeper?

It’s so easy to hit that post button, so easy to get caught up in the “us vs.them” mindset.  It’s easy to scroll through all those shares and links and articles and memes and want to high-five the friend who scored the knockout punch, shout a hearty “amen” and re-share it because it makes us feel good.  But please.  Stop and think about it.  I can’t believe that I’m even saying this and part of me is cringing, but… WWJD?  Don’t judge me for that!  I don’t have the bracelet or the bumper sticker and don’t ever intend on getting one.  But really. Would Jesus share the things you share?  Would He be pleased with how vindicated you feel when someone from your side of the fence hits a home run with the snarkiest meme you’ve ever seen?  When we share our disdain for the other political party, or the person whose values and lifestyles and choices run counter to our own, are we really helping make the Gospel appealing to anyone?

I’m not standing on a soapbox.  I’m just sad.  I want us to find a way to use social media to let the Light shine through us, not win the debate through justified anger and “rightness” and fence fortification.

The next few months are going to be hard.  Part of me wants to just avoid social media altogether.  And that may not be a bad idea.  But it may be that God is calling us to make a difference instead of simply avoiding the conflict.  Maybe He’s calling us to share our values and convictions and beliefs in ways that are seasoned with salt and grace and wisdom and love.  I think it’s worth a try.  Think about it.

Please.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works.  Hebrews 10:24

Validation

I picked up my phone for the umpteenth time that day to check my latest stats, and that’s when it hit me.  I was starting to let numbers determine my value.

Ouch.

I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone.  We all know the feeling.  We post a picture on Instagram and keep checking to see how many people loved it, or even better – commented on it.  We share a witty meme, angst of the day or cat picture on Facebook and go back about every 10 minutes to see who liked it.  Well, those who know me also know that I would never post a cat picture, but you get my point.  I’m not sure there are that many of us who post something and then never think to go back and see what kind of effect it had on people.  Am I right?

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So my particular epiphany happened over a blog post.  I’ve been writing a blog for 6 years now.  300+posts.  I write even though the blog hasn’t broken any records for views and it hasn’t shown up on any notable person’s radar.  I keep doing it, because I think I have some things to share.  But honestly, I know that  the desire for affirmation and approval lurks just slightly below the surface, and all it takes is just one negative comment or low-stat day and I start to question what I’m doing.  I start to question if God still wants me to write and if I still have anything of value to say.  I briefly consider stopping altogether.

Silly me.

How quickly I forget why I started to write in the first place.  I wanted to encourage others by sharing the lessons God was teaching me.  My unique perspective as a single woman learning to trust God in all areas of my life (not just the relationship ones) gave me a voice and a platform to encourage others.  God opened the door, but He never told me that I needed to encourage hundreds of others.  Or thousands of others.  So if He didn’t specify the scope of my writing, why do I let myself get so anxious over it?

That anxiety is a sin issue, yes. Be anxious for nothing, right?  But a tangled “web” hasn’t really helped the situation.

I know that the internet allows me to communicate with people who aren’t part of my immediate circle.  That’s what blogs are all about, aren’t they?  We’re only one click away from people on the other side of the country and even the other side of the world. Unfortunately, it’s also the web that feeds my insecurities about whether or not what I’m writing is valuable.  It reminds me that others are more successful, have more views, more readers, more shares, more likes. It tells me that if my blog isn’t referenced on popular websites or by popular people, my message is somehow less important.

I joined an online writers group recently.  I sincerely wanted to know how to get better at what I do.  It turned out to be not as much about actual writing, but about how to  “Grow your email list! Hook them with a giveaway! Make money from your blog!”.

That “increase your traffic!” message was hard for me.  At first it seemed innocent enough, but then it became the goal.  Numbers.  It became all about the numbers.  And the next thing I knew, I was checking my phone every 5 minutes to assess those all-important views.

Had I become more focused on my numbers than on my message?  Was I allowing those numbers to determine the value of what I was sharing?  I had only 32 people click on my entry one day.  If I had 32 people in a Bible class at church listen to what I had to say and respond well to it, I’d consider that a good crowd.  But because we’ve been so trained to have it be all about the numbers and clicks and likes and shares, we think we’re failing or not measuring up.  We need the numbers to feel validated and that’s not right.  What if our stories only need to encourage a few people to be “successful” in God’s eyes?  What if we’re not all going to end up as highly notable authors and speakers who have 100,000+ followers on social media and name recognition and incomes generated from blogs and websites?  What if God gives us a platform that encourages just a handful of people at a time?  The internet has brought the world closer, but that doesn’t mean our ministries all have to become world-wide in size or scope.

While processing these thoughts, I got a message from a woman who said she shared my blog post with her discipleship group at church.  I felt like God was saying, “See? You do have an influence.  That post you were so worked up about needed to be read by a few women this morning.  You did good.”  God was validating my work.  God, not 100 clicks, not 100 “likes”.  But the One whose opinion I value the most saw what I had done in His name, and blessed it.

“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly.  As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16 NLT

My part might not be the biggest, flashiest or most popular.  There are a lot of body parts that don’t get much recognition or attention, but they’re still vital and still valuable. My little blog will never take the internet by storm, will never go viral or take down a server because of too many hits.  But it’s what God has enabled me to do.  He blesses it and uses me, not always in big ways (by the world’s standards) but in little faithful ones.  I’ll continue to seek out ways to improve what I do and make my writing better.  But it can’t be for the numbers.

Your ministry may be small by the world’s standards.  Your circle of influence may not be as big as some.  But that doesn’t make your role in God’s kingdom any less important.  He has gifted us all differently, and puts us right where He needs us to be.

So go ahead and share and write or do whatever it is you have been called to do. And do it well.  But leave the validation to the One who called you to do it.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men. Colossians 3:23 

He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.  1 Thessalonians 5:24

Swinging

So I really don’t know a whole lot about baseball.  My baseball claim to fame was losing my lunch (I’m trying not to be graphic) at Yankee stadium when I was six years old.  That’s another story for another time.

But nephew #4 is on a high school baseball team.  And thanks to the wonders of technology, I got to log in and virtually “see” his game yesterday from 1200 miles away.  It’s not a live camera or anything, but lots of real-time graphics to let you know what’s happening on the field.  I knew he was at bat.  So exciting!  But then the screen said this:

swinging

I was disappointed for him and for the team.  But the more I looked at that phrase, the more something intrigued me.  If you strike out swinging, doesn’t that mean you were all in? That you were facing that ball coming at you and giving it your best shot?

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You know, sometimes we aren’t “successful” in everything we attempt.  But isn’t it important that we were swinging and not just standing there?  Shouldn’t we be “all in” and give it our best shot?  And that includes things we attempt for the Lord.

God asks for our obedience, but our efforts don’t always look like successes. Discouragement lays the groundwork for not wanting to attempt anything again.  We lose heart or walk away, questioning what God was up to in our lives, wondering why we failed when we were giving it our all.  But the thing is, our views of success are different than God’s.  He could have a perfectly good plan for how He’s going to use our seeming strike-out.  Strike-outs can prepare us for the next thing, for the next opportunity for obedience.

I have to keep getting up to bat and giving it my best.  And if my plans don’t unfold the way I imagined they would, I want the graphic under my name to say. “She struck out swinging”.

Thanks for the reminder, Erick.  Keep swinging.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.  Galatians 6:9 NLT

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will.  Then you will receive all that He has promised.  Hebrews 10:36 NLT

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character and character strengthens our confident hope in salvation.  Romans 5:3-4  NLT