Our MOPS group is making housewarming kits for women who are setting up their new homes after leaving the battered women’s shelter. Here are some pictures of watercolors I made for them so that they would have something to put on their walls.
Just thought I would share 2 murals I’ve been working on lately…
This one is finished…
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
This one is work in progress…
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
To the true disciple a miracle only manifests the power and love which are silently at work everywhere as divinely in the gift of daily bread as in the miraculous multiplication of the loaves. ~Fredrick William Robertson
I have noticed a trend in my life lately. God has taught me in my life thus far that if I notice a trend, an echo, to stop and to pay attention. That this is somewhere where He is at work.
This is what has been happening… recently, whenever a friend asks me how they can pray for me, I have the same answer…
This isn’t an intentional answer, or a rehearsed response, but instead the heartfelt response to what I need in that moment. When it happened today for the third time in a week, I realized that there was something deeper happening here. What is it that I am asking for?
There are only a few things in my life that I know in my bones. Just a handful of lessons that were so hard-fought that I do not doubt them at all. God’s unwavering faithfulness is one of those truths.
So what is it that am I asking for? I know that God will provide, so what is it that I need? As I look more deeply into the request, I realize that I am not so much asking for God’s provision (which I know will arrive). Instead, I am asking for the clarity to see that provision for what it is. The daily miracle. Blessings given by my Father, instead of just things working out as I hoped they would. I want to have the eyes to see. To be attuned and expectant so that when the daily bread arrives, I see it for the blessing that it is. To stop and be thankful, instead of taking things for granted. To hear the whispers of God’s answers when I am straining so desperately to hear.
But here is another thing. When the Israelites were in the desert, they had the literal miracle. Miraculous bread from the sky, to be gathered at dawn. A daily delivery for 40 years. And still, they tried to hoard it. To gather a bit more than they needed, a buffer against hard times. I do this too. Hoping for more than just the energy and patience to get through the day. Wanting more than just a moment of time by myself in prayer, or with my kids before bedtime. I am always hungry for more. And yet God is in the business of giving exactly enough.
One place where I see this show up so often is at the table. I am blessed, so very blessed to be a human on this planet who does not have to worry about having enough to eat. I can eat to satisfaction at any point during the day. And yet, with each meal, I find myself eating more than enough. One more bite. One more taste. One more treat. Why? I don’t have a reason. Or my reason is… because it is there.
So my challenge to myself is this: Leave a bite. It seems so small, so trite, when I write it down. But I have a feeling this one may be the hardest one I set for myself this year. Leaving a bite on the plate is a metaphor, an act of trust, of walking in faith that God will provide. But it also may break the weird hold that food has over me.
Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Matthew 6:25
My life is so much more than food and clothing. Yet both of those things are where I turn for comfort. To boost my mood or cheer myself up. Calories or commerce. Those are my two crutches. Leaving a bite of food is an act of defiance to my secret sin. It is me saying… no. I choose to look elsewhere.
Also, the principle of self-sacrifice has been something that has resonated with me lately. Leaving a bite, for me, seems like the first step in that direction. Here are the words from John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping that have got me thinking in this direction…
Sometimes the smallest acts of sacrifice or self-denial can break up hard soil. A friend of mine sent me a few sentences from an article she saw online on “How to Stay Christian in College”: . . . make small sacrifices. Make a vow to wake up and go to breakfast every morning, even if your first class isn’t until eleven a.m. Choose a plain cheese pizza rather than pepperoni. You’ll be surprised how these tiny sacrifices work an interior magic, shifting your focus ever so slightly away from yourself.
What would happen in my life if I was less focused on myself and my needs, and more focused on others? I think it may be time to try and find out…
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Our God is infinitely creative. Every person, every fingerprint, every leaf and snowflake is unique. A new creation. Rocks, buried in the ground, formed in every color of the rainbow, so striking and beautiful that we dig them up and hang them around our necks. The blood hidden in our veins, red. The sky, a soaring canvas of blue. The leaves, an engrossing progression of green, and then, all of a sudden, golden. Why? If efficiency were God’s key value, then we would probably live in a mosaic of beige.
Then there is food. the brightness of a tomato, the richness of chocolate, the liquid velvet of wine. Things didn’t need to taste good, God created them to. And sound. The whisper of wind through the treetops, the chatter of the birds, the wrenching beauty of music. Our God wasn’t interested in being functional when he created this place we inhabit. His goal was beauty.
I’m tired of living a utilitarian life. I want to be surrounded by beauty. I want to make a discipline of finding it wherever I am, and then choosing to marvel. At home, I want to create a space inhabited by beauty. Not necessarily by buying expensive things, but instead, arranging the things I have purposefully, so that there are glimpses of beauty all around.
Another thing to note. God made me as a person intensely creative. I am just now beginning to recognize that not everyone is built this way. I have a burning need to create. To think new thoughts. To do new things. To create art, to write out words, to sing songs and to… make stuff. I am not trying to brag at all, by the way. There is just a lot of stuff inside me that needs out. And when I go to long without indulging my need to create, I get antsy. Itchy. Another word that rhymes with itchy.
The easiest way to ease the pressure? Make stuff. Crochet a hat. Plan a youth event. Write a poem. Paint a picture. This year, I want to make a weekly (daily?) discipline of exercising my creativity.
Here is another truth. When I make stuff, I can give stuff to people. Why not use my need to create as a way to bless others? For me, it is not so much about the end result as it is about the process. Case in point: this blog isn’t so much about you reading it as it is about me writing it. If I create a painting- give it to someone who needs to know they are loved. If I make a scarf, let it be a hug for someone who needs it. Why not? God creates, and we are the beneficiaries of it. When you think about it that way, it seems like giving is inextricably linked to making…
As a working mother of a toddler, I live in a world of no. No. You can’t eat Ritz crackers for dinner. No, you can’t play with the sidewalk chalk when it is 8 degrees and dark outside. No. You can’t watch ANOTHER hour of Thomas the Train on Netflix. No, no, no, no, no.
The other day, I picked up Colton from school, and he raced to his cubby. He pulled out a neon blue lollipop and told me he had earned it at school today, and that he wanted to give it to ME. Could I open it now? No, Colton, we can’t open it now. We are going to get your sister and we can’t be all sticky. Once the kids were settled in the car, Colton asked again if I wanted to eat my lollipop. No Colton, we are headed to church supper. We shouldn’t eat a lollipop right before dinner. Then, heading home from church… No Colton, it’s almost bedtime. This isn’t time for candy. The next morning at breakfast, Colton asked me if I wanted my lollipop, and tears sprang to my eyes. My precious son was trying to give me the lollipop he earned as his prize at school. Why was I rejecting it over and over? So right then and there I unwrapped it. I had candy for breakfast, and a bright blue tongue to remind me of the little boy who wanted to give me a the one thing he had to give.
I think I have started saying no so much that it is now my automatic reaction. I call it the ‘knee jerk no’. But I don’t want my relationship with my child to be centered around the things he can’t do. I want to take the time to really celebrate the everyday magic in life. So I am going to focus on learning when to say YES!
Yes. We can read another story before bedtime.
Yes. You can bake cookies without your shirt on.
and yes. you can eat the dough. That’s the whole point of making cookies!
Yes. You can choose your outfit today.
Yes. Your mother loves you, and yes, she is available and present with you.
With each yes, I see a bit more of the magic of childhood. I remember what it was like to feel the cold breeze of winter as a novelty and not an imposition. I remember that it is fun to take a long bubble bath with lots of toys, to wear mismatched pajamas, and that the world will not end if bedtime is 15 minutes late. I remember that I only have this moment with my little boy one time and that it is a gift to be reveled in, not endured, or scheduled to the teeth.
Saying yes to Colton entails more than just spontaneity. I must also learn to say NO to other things. Extra work projects. My mental to do list. Even good things, like time with friends or fun events.
And there are still many no’s to be said… I am still trying to raise a God-loving, responsible, unselfish human being. But I want to remember that part of my role as a parent is to show the joy in life as well as the rules…
And then there’s this…
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
I have always had a close relationship with God. Growing up, I never knew a time when I didn’t belive, when I didn’t know Jesus. I started reading my Bible when I was young. My faith has sustained me through the hardest times of my life.
However, I always felt like my faith was a private thing. I didn’t often talk about my prayer life, about my time spent reading my Bible, or in devotions. People knew I was a Christian, but the everyday mechanics of my faith felt like an intensely private thing to me. The heart of this was good. I didn’t want to alienate others, or make others feel intimidated by my relationship with God, or feel like they had to compare their walk with mine.
However, in that privacy, a seed of sin was planted. A tiny sprout of pride grew, and its roots settled into my heart. It looked spiritual, and sounded virtuous, so I didn’t recognize it for what it was. But when I read about Mary finding favor with God, or David being a man after God’s own heart, I smiled inwardly, feeling that I had a place amongst this elite club. I read my Bible cover to cover every year. As years passed, and I had read my Bible 10, 11, 12 times, I began to feel as if I had this God stuff figured out. It’s ironic, because I didn’t share my devotional practices with anyone because I didn’t want to seem to be bragging. And yet, my heart was as prideful as they come.
As I have written before, last year I intentionally DIDN’T read my Bible through. I spent the entire year in John. Reading a verse at a sitting, instead of many chapters. It was hard. Incredibly hard, I felt a nagging voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t achieving enough for God. But, for the first time, I was talking openly about my faith. I started speaking with a spiritual director. I started this blog. I forced myself to say out loud that I have read the Bible all the way though.
And as I let the light in, I see my faith for what it is. Strong. Ordinary. Treasured. Human. SO much more dependent on God’s faithfulness to me than mine to Him.
As the year began to draw to a close, I found myself wondering what was next. Read another book? Slow or fast? What was I to do? And then God answered. I was meeting with a girl from the youth group, and she was asking me about how to read the Word of God. We decided to read the Bible this year together. Meeting every few weeks to talk about it. Devotion, with fellowship. Accountability. Engaging together with scripture, and with God.
This is how our faith is meant to be. Don’t get me wrong- our God is PERSONAL. You can’t read scripture and not see that (check Psalm 139 for proof). But our faith is not meant to be private. God instructs Christians as a community. In scripture, most of the time when we read the word ‘you’, it is meant to be plural, not singular. John Dyer explains this concept better than I can..
…Since the Protestant Reformation we’ve tended to emphasize the salvation of the individual and, with inverse proportion, downplayed God’s work in the Church as a community of people.
There are, of course, many reasons for this, but I think that two technologies (i.e. human inventions) have exacerbated the issue: (a) The technology of the book which encourages us to encounter Scripture textually in isolation rather than orally in a group; and (b) The technology of the English language (again, a human creation) which doesn’t have an agreed upon second person plural and therefore discards or hides important biblical data.
The scriptures were originally shared orally, told from parents to children, passed along in community. Then, the New Testament was written, primarily in letter form… intended to be read aloud in church, and then passed along to other communities of believers. With invention of the printing press, the Bible was put into the hands of the individual. A priceless gift, don’t get me wrong, but one that can make us forget that we are to practice our faith in community.
So my resolution this year is to read my Bible. In community. In fact, I have begun reading it at the breakfast table, with my two kids right there. So that they can see their mother read the Word of God. And I am going to talk about it. With my teenage friend. And with others. I am going to dive deeper into friendships, say the hard and vulnerable things, and try and allow others to really know me. I am going to continue with Spiritual Direction. In sum, continue to have a PERSONAL faith, but no longer make it PRIVATE. It’s scary. But here I go…
Resolution #1: Drink More Hot Tea.
So here is the thing about hot tea. It takes a while. First, you have to boil the water. Then, allow the tea to steep. There is a ritual to the process.
Hot tea isn’t designed to be guzzled. Gulping mouthfuls could pose an actual hazard to your health. Just the act of preparing a cup of tea for yourself is a statement of intent. I am investing 5 minutes in my own pleasure.
I need that.
For me, drinking hot tea is an investment in my own personhood. Every time I brew a cup, I am reminding myself that I, too, am a human to be taken care of. I spend so much of my day in the service of others. Spooning baby food into hungry mouths, wiping noses, racing to daycare, to work, to the store… Most of the time taking care of myself falls to the bottom of the list of urgent concerns. So, when I fill my kettle, I am taking a moment to remind myself that I matter. That investing in my own comfort isn’t wrong, but instead, can be an act of discipleship. For I, too, am a person God dearly loves. My feet, too, would be cleansed by our Savior. He cares about me, not just those in my care. And therefore, I should too.
The tea kettle also reminds me that not everything is a race. It’s ok to stop and take a breath. In fact, the world will not fall apart because you are choosing to alter your harried pace. Moments when we choose to break the thought pattern of hurry are essential. It not only reminds us that we aren’t in control, but it also acknowledges the One who is. I can grind my teeth at a redlight, drum my fingers on the steering wheel and curse the city manager who CLEARLY HAS NO IDEA HOW TO TIME STOPLIGHTS (and I do), or I can take that moment to stop the insanity. Breathe deeply. Notice the world around me, engage with the children in my backseat.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
I spend so much of my life in Martha mode. Intending to spend time at the Lord’s feet, but knowing the practical things that need to get done. In my mind, these things must be done first, before I am free to rest. And it’s true. People need to be fed. Things need to be cleaned. I need to pick my kids up from school and to go to work. But if I wait to sit at God’s feet until all those tasks are finished, I will never get there. I need moments where I choose to remind myself that God is in control and I am not, that my time and my schedule and my mental to do list is not the most important thing. Drinking tea has become a daily metaphor of that to me- reminding me to be a Mary, not a Martha.
OK. Let’s admit it. Yes, it is a new year. But nothing has actually changed. We still (for the most part) have the same obligations, schedules, plans, and responsibilities that we had on December 31st. Is anything truly different today than it was on December 31st? Probably not.
That being said.
I am always an advocate for taking a step back and looking at the big picture. Are you doing what you want to be doing with your life? To give voice to the John Mayer song playing in the back of my mind- Am I living it right?
When January 1st comes round, we pin a fresh calendar up upon the wall. The holidays are over. Our lives have settled down into a long winter’s nap. Though we are still doing the things that we do, the crescendo has passed. So I would argue that now is a GREAT time to re-evaluate the way you are going about living your life.
I have a love/hate relationship with the thought of resolutions as well. It seems so often like we as a society set ourselves up to fail with our resolutions. They are so targeted, so quantitative… go to the gym every day… lose 20 pounds… read a book a week… eat only paleo/vegan/grass fed free range chicken… Oftentimes, resolutions tend to add more to our plates, instead of carving things away. They increase our sense of burden instead of freeing us to live more intentionally.
The last thing I need in life right now is one more thing to do. I just can’t commit to committing to anything else. So my resolutions this year are more big picture. Theoretical. Related to the way I approach my life instead of the specific things I am going to do or not do.
I hope you will indulge me as I engage with them in the next few blog posts…