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What is On Your Lens?

 

Who is God?  But with this question comes a problem.  We have to evaluate HOW we see God.

Some of us have been taught that God is a harsh, judgmental, angry dad.  Maybe we think God is an uninterested and distant being who really has much better things to think about than you and your little problem.

These views could not be further from the truth.

In the Bible Belt a lot of us say that, “God is good!”  And a resounding response is “All the time, and all the time God is good.”

But do we really mean it?  Do we really believe it in our deep down “knower”?

We all wear filtering glasses. These glasses cause us to view God through this lens.  So, could what we believe about God be skewed, due to our skewed lens?

What is on the lens of your glasses?  Maybe you have these words written across your lens:

  • Wounds

Our wounds effect how we see God.  Physical pain in our body can effect our thought patterns and we make decisions we would never make otherwise.  If we are wounded spiritually or emotionally we tend to act the same way.  Our wounds can distort the truth of who God is.  The tenderness of our wounds can cause us to pull away from God and other people as we seek to self-protect.

  • Experiences

Our experiences can cause us to make judgements.  We may decide God didn’t take care of us.  We can look at other peoples’ lives and think that God didn’t take very good care of them either. Why should we trust Him when we think that we have already seen Him NOT take care of us and others?

  • Lessons

Some of us have been taught that God is harsh and angry from other people who think that is the truth.  Maybe we met God through people who used guilt and condemnation to cause us to make a decision.  If all we have ever heard is that God is angry or disinterested in us, then how would we ever think anything else?

  • Fear

Many people are afraid they have to sacrifice in order to become a believer.  Often people are scared of what others might think of them.  Some would rather settle for the status quo instead of going against the flow.

The list could go on and on.  Our glasses could have hundreds of different lens of negative things that distort our view of our loving Dad.

I propose a better option…

(You can check out that option at Bringing It Into Focus )

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How Adversity and Passion Can Be Helpful

challenges, adversityHave you ever looked back and connected dots that you had never seen before?  Have you ever looked back, wincing at adversity that you dealt with in the past, only to see something that God used for great good.  This week, stories I have heard many times over just jumped off the page at me for the first time.  I was reading over my grandfather’s memoirs this week and tears filled my eyes.

I saw something I have never seen.  Part of our stories are very similar.

Grandaddy had a mean Algebra teacher.  He was totally humiliated and embarrassed in front of the entire class.  The teacher was condescending and hurtful to the point my grandfather wanted to quit school altogether. After recovering from this horrible experience Grandaddy vowed that he would become a teacher who would bring out the best in students. My grandfather lived in the basement of a church and cleaned that church in order to be able to go to college to become a teacher.

Today I realized that the same thing happened to me, but in college.  I had a professor who did not like me.  No matter what I did, I could not please him.  I finally asked for a meeting.  This professor, bless him, proceeded to tell me that I had no chance of passing because I would not be a good teacher.  Humiliated really does not even describe how hurtful it was.  But like my grandfather, I decided that very day that I would be a teacher, a teacher who encourages students and builds them up instead of tear them down.  I dropped the class and reworked my entire schedule.  I had to work on my Master’s in order to become a teacher.

So am left wondering how does adversity play a role in our stories?

Do we allow the passions we have to participate in our decisions?

Would I have become a teacher had that incident not happened?  Probably so.  But I am certain I would not have known the passion I had for teaching until I was challenged about it.

Often, just on the other side of our greatest challenges are our calling.  Our passions can be a road sign pointing to our giftedness.  For example, if you become enraged by some particular issue maybe you have what it takes to make a difference in that very area.

Grandaddy taught for decades. He became a principal and eventually the superintendent.  He had a heart for his students and watched for the most challenging ones.  There are stories of children who did not have food or clothes and the the measures he went to in order to honor them, as well as help them, are astounding. Coaching them as well as encouraging them, he cared about all aspects of their lives.  He loved his teachers and did all that he could to help them as well.  So many lives are better because he perservered.  In spite of the challenges of going through that horrible year, a man grew that made an indelible impact on this world through his teaching.

So what are your challenges?  What subjects or situations cause you to become the most passionate?Could it be that the challenges before you are the ones could be used for greater good?   May we rise above the mountain of adversity the we come against. We will impact lives more that we could ever realize.

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Rocks and Remembrences

 

I have a bowl of rocks.  It sounds funny, but it I do.  Many years ago we began recording on rocks the ways God was working on our behalf.  The idea came from when Joshua and the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River (that God had parted) on dry ground.  One man from each tribe chose a rock from the middle of the sea and carried it to the other side.  The people made a monument with the rocks to remember God’s faithfulness.

In was interesting because when we were making our rock remembrances it felt like some of these victories were so big it was stupid to write them down.  How would we forget?

One day, years later, I stopped and read a rock or two.  I was shocked.  I stood there looking at a rock that blew my mind.  On that rock was an event that I had not thought of in years.  It was a big victory.  Amazing and mind boggling.  Suprisingly I had forgotten it.  I had forgot a huge win.

Joshua chapter 12 is truly fascinating! This chapter is a list of the enemies the Israelites defeated when they came into the Promised Land. This list records of every military victory they had. God promised the Israelites that everywhere they went they would take ground.  This list confirms that God was telling the truth. There is a entire chapter to prove it.

God recorded these victories. He wanted his children to be able to to return to this list over and over and over. He wanted them to never forget the astounding victories that He brought about for them. Alone, they would not have been able defeat the enemies. The land He promised them He was faithful to give them.

When we write down the wins we can always look back and remember. Maybe this is exactly why Joshua and the Hebrews grabbed their rocks and set up the monument. Today is a day of monument building. Digging deep to recall the victories is a great place to start.  Beginning a list and adding to it will set ourselves a remembrance just like those stones they carried out of the dry riverbed. Let us to determine to begin to record (big and small) the ways we see God working in our lives.

When we walk in the light of the Lord,  keeping His faithfulness before us, it is easier to step over the struggles that may come in our path.  Knowing and seeing where God has been faithful helps us hold fast to the fact that He will continue to be faithful in our future.  Faithful is who He is.  I must remember, not only to continue adding to my rocks but also to keep revisiting them often.

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You Will Find Rest

rest, slow down,

We race from one thing to another.  Even when we our bodies are still, our minds are racing.

The world we live in applauds busyness and celebrates exhaustion.  We compete with each other, comparing our to-do lists.  We are almost ashamed to admit it if someone calls us in the middle of a nap.

We are not hamsters on a wheel.

“Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28  We get to make a decision about carrying heavy burdens.   We are invited to come to Him and receive rest.

 “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat-for He grants sleep to those He loves” Psalm 127:2.  Again, choices.  Working is not bad.  Maybe we should look at our motivators.  Are we working because we think we have to prove or earn something?  Sometimes we choose to live like this because we desire the approval of man.

But what good is this lifestyle? In actuality it is a dangerous way to live.  Our health struggles when we run to and fro.  Hearts ache when there is lack of peace. Work can even become sloppy.  Relationships get compromised.  None of these are for our best.

Are we letting Him be the king of our hearts?  Or have we let something else have that place?  “I lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from? My help come from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” Psalm 121:1-2.

Do not misunderstand.  Work is good for man and we are not meant to be lazy.  But this is not an either/or situation.  Culturally we tend to swing from one extreme to the other.  We do not want to swing from our hamster wheel into a Lazy Boy recliner.

I would like to suggest that it is possible to do the work that we need to do from a place of rest.  At first consideration that seems like an impossibility.  Just look at this verse, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” Matt. 11:29-30.

We can look at the life of Jesus for an example.   Jesus understood pulling away from the crowd (as well as pulling away from the disciples)  in order to get filled up.  The time He spent with the Father was His time of refueling.  These times set an example of how important it is for man to slow down and be still.  His relationship with His Dad empowered Jesus to do His ministry with love and grace and peace.

I can hear your voices right now saying, “Yes but he was God.”  I understand but we cannot negate the fact that he was fully man as well.  He came to show us how to live.

He stopped for the one.

Jesus touched the untouchables.

He got angry but His anger was timely and appropriate.

He saw value in everyone.

He washed feet and fed multitudes.

Teaching all the time, He always had a lesson ready.

He also got tired and thirsty and sat down at a well.

Jesus was constantly about His Father’s business but he did it from a peaceful place.  Let’s try going about our business this week from a different place. Imagine starting from a quiet place, getting filled up before we go out.  What if when we began to feel inappropriately anxious or angry we just pulled away from the crowd and got alone with our good Dad.  “We will find rest for our souls.”  That is a promise.

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Freedom Flying

Have you ever been scared?  I mean really scared?  This weekend I was scared.

My husband and I were given a trip, from our dear friends, to get away for our birthdays.  Two plane tickets were part of the gift.  What a blessing!  What none of us knew was that our flight would be in a very small plane.  This was going to be an adventure.  Little did I know I was headed for a battle with fear.

Our flight to St. Louis was fairly pleasant.  We hit one air pocket that led me to pray out loud for the entire group of 8 (including the two pilots) and after that it was smooth sailing.  We made a friend on the flight who was more scared than I was and she really appreciated the prayer.  Thankfully our landing was exceptional.  I was so relieved and so thankful.  We headed into the city and had a really fun time.

Occasionally a bit of fear about our returning flight would pop into my thoughts and I would kick it to the curb and refocus. Not a big deal at all.

Honestly, I was scared most of the time. From the time I was a child until about 10 years ago, I lived in fear.   In fact, listing them would be impossible because there were so many.  Even as an adult I would check every crook and crevice to make sure that we were safe.  I would wake my dear husband up over and over and over because I had “heard something in the house.”  It was a miserable way to live.

Then the Great Shift happened.  To put into words, I think I began to know God as bigger.  I began to realize that God is real and that he not only cares about my life but that He choses to be apart of it. I am never alone and the King of Angel Armies is with me.

The night things had changes happened to be when we actually had a prowler on our street.  Neighbors were looking and watching and one of my greatest fears was practically knocking at the door.  It was the middle of the night and there was not real resolution that I could see. The song “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” came to mind.  It was not a song that I sang a lot and was not on my playlist. However, I stood at my window and sang the song to myself.

Surprisingly enough I laid down in the bed and went fast asleep. I have not been the same again.

THEN we boarded the plane to head back home.  The pilot announced we would have a bumpy flight before we ever took off.  I immediately began refuting those words–aloud.  I just knew that that flight was going to be smooth.

Guess what?  It was the roughest, bumpiest flight I have ever been on (including one broken down African plane that looked like it flew in World War II). I prayed with a fervor.  My whole body shook in fear and my husband said he needed prayer because I squeezed his fingers so hard.

I was down right afraid.  But this time I leaned into the Lord.  About mid-flight we settled down to a smoother flight and Taylor pried my fingers off his hand.

As I relaxed I began to watch the river.  I began to write notes about rivers.

Rivers bring life and provide life.
They transport goods and necessities.
Rivers nourish the land for the crops.
The water is fun and provide entertainment.
They provide sustenance and beauty.
People come to rivers,
build near rivers,
plant near rivers,
and play in rivers.
Rivers are mighty and powerful.

I remembered the Bible says, “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:8  This river that I was seeing was a picture of what is flowing through us as believers. Amazing!

And I would like to say the descent was better, the clouds parted and we floated effortless to the runway.  But we did not.  We bumped and jumped around all the way down.  In fact, the descent was worse than the ascent.  But my thoughts had a new focus.  I was considering the river that flows through us.  It changed my prayers.  I actually became aware of other scared people on board and began to pray for them as well.

Because of Whose we are, we Christians are like that river.  We bring life and provide life.  In fact we bring things that people want and need.  We nourish.  We are fun.   Sustenance and beauty come through us.  People come to us.  We are mighty and powerful.

Thinking back, it is not surprising that these thoughts changed my prayers. God became bigger and our flight became smaller.  It did not become more pleasant a flight–but my perspective changed.

I do not desire to return to a life of fear.   Life with God brings freedom.  If anything is standing in our way, be it fear or insecurity (the blank is endless) we need to think about the river that is flowing through us.
There is a great children’s song that says, “I have a river of life flowing out of me.  Makes the lame to walk and the blind to see.  Opens prison doors and sets the captives free.  I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.”

Our lives can and do make a difference.  When we walk in our identity we can begin to fly in freedom!

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Despite the Odds

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.       Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Joshua was not feeling it. The issues he had to deal with seemed overwhelming.

  • Joshua missed his leader, friend, and mentor Moses.
  • He had to follow Moses who was an amazing leader.
  • This enormous group of people was now his responsibility.
  • He was taking them all into an unknown land.
  • They were facing unfamiliar enemies.

God to told Joshua to “not be terrified or discouraged.” His saying that presupposes that Joshua really was fearful and discouraged.  However many obstacles and challenges Joshua had had this far this must have been his hardest yet.

Chances are we have been right where Joshua was. It is not a fun place to be. Standing in the face of overwhelming odds, heading into a place that has no sign of familiarity is a challenge to say the least.  In addition to these things, comparing ourselves to others can shut us down completely.

Because we serve a mighty God, we are can live a life that does not look like the world’s definition of “normal.”

Just like Joshua, our God has made us a promise. In the Bible God tells us, “I will never ever leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) We can trust this truth.

No matter what the journey is before us-our God is bigger. We can trust that He will not leave us. He is with us! In the same way God lead Joshua and the Israelites into the Promised Land and defeated their enemies before them, we too can take ground for the Kingdom and defeat our enemies.  God is more than enough to take care of anything that come before us.

Regardless of how big the mountains are in front of us or how ill-equipped we think we are, we have a choice to make.  We can live in fear and disappointment or we can walk forward in faith.

We are children of God.  God calls us the bride of Christ.

Today we are deciding that we are not going let fear or discouragement rule us!

May the reality of who we are and Who  is with us drive us boldly and bravely forward into the unknown territories before us!

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Just A Few More Steps

When was the last time you attempted something really hard?  I have been in the midst of learning one of the most challenging things I have ever learned and I hit a wall today.  So in that place I chose to remember another time I needed encouragement.

Two years ago I decided to take a hike at Young Life Camp.  Because we live in West Tennessee most of that hiking is easy.   I knew NOTHING about this trail except that some of the campers ran it for exercise so I was not too concerned.   I just wanted to be on the mountain trail.

The cool fall weather and the gorgeous leaves (not to mention the complete quiet) were not disappointing. Even the acorns were beautiful.  I thrive in the mountains and was soaking it all in.  The first 20 minutes were fantastic. Everything about the time was wonderful.

The grade slightly began to increase.  I was excited to think I was getting closer to the top.  I saw signs that marked one mile and then two.  Surely I was getting close.

Then the grade increased even more.  The acorns that were beautiful were now slippery to maneuver. I was having to pay attention to my steps instead of looking at the leaves. I am not sure that I saw a single bird during that part of the hike.

By the time I saw the 3 mile marker I began to wonder just how far I was going.  However, I was determined.  I would finish this hike.  With every bend I would think it was the last one before the top.  The final part of the hike literally felt like I was climbing steps the entire time.  My out-of-shape-self was truly struggling.  Every single step had to be intentional and careful. I made myself keep going. The very last steps were the hardest by far.

The view of the top of the mountain was breathtaking.  A hawk was soaring just in front of me as I stood awestruck.  Minus still trying to catch my breath.  The challenging part of the hike seemed forgotten.  I was so glad I came.  I was proud of having completed it.

Today I was reminded of that first hike.  Not knowing where you are going on a journey and not knowing how long it will take to complete can be freeing or it can be frustrating.  Not knowing what you are getting into can also be the grace of God.  Realizing that you could be in over your head might keep us from ever starting.

I was floundering on this new trail today. At the point of tears I was reminded that there is a time in certain journeys for dogged determination.  There are times when we just have to grit our teeth and keep stepping.  I was picturing myself on the last steep steps of that hike and realized that if I had stopped short I would have never enjoyed the view from the summit.

I do not have to compare my journey to anyone else.  Although that trail seems like nothing to strong high schoolers who literally ran up it, my journey is not theirs.  And things that may seem simple to some of us may be challenging to others.  When the monster Comparison tries to steal from us we have to shut them down.  when we score a personal victory we need to enjoy it.  It is great to rejoice in a personal win!

If you are in the midst of a hard trail I am beside you cheering you on today.  Do not give up.  The summit will be worth it. if for nothing more than to know you finished!   You really can do it.  If you feel at the end of yourself just lean into the Lord and know that “you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.” (Phil. 4:13)

What is the mountain in front of you?  Have you approached it one way only to realize you might need to come at it from another direction?  Have you stumbled on your way and considered turning around?

Then last year I did the hike a second time.  I shaved 15 minutes off my time and I noticed I was stronger.  The exercise over the year had paid off.  I totally enjoyed the entire trip up the mountain.  It was much easier having the knowledge I gained the first time.

I passed one group of teenagers doing the hike the second year.  They were at the point where the grade had increased and one fellow turned around and headed back down the mountain all by himself.  He did not think he could do it.  I prayed and prayed for him as I continue?

What about you?  Have you headed down the mountain? Even if you are at the bottom, it is not too late.   You can see yourself do what you truly desire to do.  I believe in you.

I would love to hear your stories.  What was your journey like? Did you see the summit?  Or did you head back down the mountain? What was your summit? How do you feel about you story today?

 

 

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The Hands That Have Helped Me

I have always been fascinated with hands.  The more worn and used the better.  Even as a child I can recall what peoples’ hands look like.  Some stand out more than others.  I can remember details like sun spots or scars, unusual details…it’s all interesting.

While I was at a creativity conference I began to consider hands again.  This time I thought about the hands that have helped me.  A whole series of photographs and posts have been in the making in my mind.  I even considered having an art show again, after all these years, and incorporating this series as part of the show.  But I hit a road block on my first idea.  My very first person was going to be my step-father.  Almost immediately after I got home and unpacked my bags he started having serious health problems that have now been going on for over a month. I kept thinking that if I could just get him out to his workbench for a picture I could write the post.  I decided today that life is too short to keep waiting.

If you could see Ed’s hands you would know why so love them.  No one else in the whole world has his hands.  As a toddler, 80ish years ago, he pushed his dad’s self-propelling lawn mower and lost his  pointer finger just above the joint.  He has never known the difference.  His whole life he has never known what it is to have a pointer finger.  Maybe that is why he has done such a good job in teaching me not to point my finger at others.  Through his life he has had many hard situations and struggles, I have yet to see him pass blame or hold a grudge.  He typically thinks the very best of people in all situations.  Those hands have taught me not to point my finger.

His hands feel like sandpaper.  They are as dry as an alligator.  No amount of “goose grease,” as he calls it, ever seems to make a dent in the white, crackling crevices.  But he loves to hunt.  Years of freezing cold temperatures and extreme outdoor situations have sucked the moisture out of his skin.  Every bit of it has been worth it to him.  The effects of the weather on his skin is a non-issue as he draws life from his time in the great outdoors with the Maker.  When he found out he had cancer he could not wait to get to the woods with his best friend. His perspective gets shifted in the woods. Those hands have taught me to embrace the elements to spend time with the Creator in His creation.

I can not think about his hands without thinking about work.  He has always worked hard.  When I was a teenager some of the best lessons I learned about work were right beside those hands.  He taught me how to paint the interior and exterior of a house.  Little known fact, I could go into the painting business with the skills he taught me.  We painted our house before we moved in it and he taught me how to do the trim.  I still prefer the trim.  We would go on mission trips with our youth group and he taught all of us  how to scrape and paint houses, as well as various other random, very hot and nasty jobs, that I do not have time to mention here. Those hands have taught me to work.

Creativity flows through his hands.  That creativity takes many different forms.  He is a master gardener and is always creating beautiful spaces outdoors.  His the most beautiful penmanship I have ever seen. He never gets in a hurry and each letter looks like a work of art.  Taking a block of wood he patiently carves it into the most delicate songbirds.  It might take him a hundred hours and thousands of strokes but the result is breathtaking.  Those hands have taught me to be creative.

Most importantly his hands have taught me gentleness and love.  He took me in as a smart mouthed kid and loved me as if I was his own.  He took time and care and guided me to begin to make good decisions.   In situations that I probably could have used his hands to give me a good beating but he sat down with me and taught me.  Even today, decades later, he still teaches me how to love others as he shares about how he has reached out to this person or that one.  He points out how he see God demonstrated in the lives of those around him.  As he has cultivated my life with the gentleness and love of a father he has taught me what it is to be loved and how to be a better parent.

So whose hands have helped you?  How has your life intersected with the life of another and you have come away blessed for it?

And how are your hands helping others?  Who can you reach out to today, even if it is in just a small way?  Never underestimate what God can do through willing hands.

 

 

 

Ed has hosted many a man for hunting weekends.  He honed his culinary skills as he cooked most of the meals for the hunting groups he guided.  One of his most requested recipes is Camp Corn.  You will not be disappointed.

Ed’s Camp Corn

3 cans of shoe peg corn

2 packages of 8 oz. cream cheese

1 stick of butter

Jalapeños to taste (you may want to cut them into tiny pieces)

Mix ingredients and cook in 350 degree oven until bubbly.  This can also be used as a dip. Serve with crackers or chips.

 

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Come Out of Hiding

I did not even know I was hiding.  I thought I was being a good Christian, pursuing the best road.  This week I realized I have been hiding.  I was never created to hide.

When I really began to come into a relationship with the the Lord I somehow slipped into anonymity.  To be anonymous and let the Lord shine through me had to be the highest of aspirations…right?  It sounded Super-Christian and  had to be the goal.  I sang about it.  None of me and all of Him.  Empty myself out and just shine for Him.  What I thought was that if I achieved this goal it would be to the highest level of faith.  Sadly, I have even taught this.

Instead of my name I could have called myself “Faceless” or “Hiding” or “Not Worth Being Known.”

I learned in the mountains this week that I have been hiding from myself.  I have been afraid of me.  Maybe I thought it was easier to hide.

Embarking on a new journey is a bit frightening, especially when it is learning about yourself and who you are.   I have learned that God created each of us to be unique.  If He had just wanted us empty he could have mass produced us without individual characteristics that make us special.  He gave us each a voice because He wanted you and I to speak.  He gave each of us hands to create.  He gave us different minds so that would could dream of all the billions of ways we can impact culture.

Maybe your gift is math.  You can dream in algorithms that change the earth.

Maybe you are a science person.  Your dreams could shift the way the world thinks about creation.  You could make a discovery for which no one else in the world has the solution.

Maybe you are a Mom taking care of babies and toddlers.  God may have you come up with a way to do something in you home better than ever before.   He may give you a fresh perspective on an old problem that you can share with other moms and impact their homes.

If you teach, maybe your classroom will become your creative palette.  You could teach your students in such a way that they will feel empowered to make a difference in each of their unique ways.

I am only beginning in this journey.  The song by Steffanie Gretzinger called Come Out of Hiding says,

“Come out of hiding.  You’re safe here with me.  There’s no need to cover what I already see.   You’ve got your reasons, but I hold your peace.  You’ve been on lockdown, and I hold the key.”  

If you have been hiding too,  it’s time to step out.  You are a treasure and you are precious to your Father.  It may seem scary to risk exposure.  But I am convinced that hiding only embraces insecurity and fear.  Those only breed more of the same.  The closet we hide in, or the thing or person we hide behind will only cause us to receive more of the same hurtful feelings.  Our hearts were never meant to be caged.  Stepping toward freedom seems BIG but it is empowering as well. Even if I am walking awkwardly at the beginning I do not care.   Now that I have tasted freedom I refuse to go back into the cage.