He Paints Beauty

Next month marks twenty years since the hubs and I embarked on a crazy adventure of leaving my hometown. Only he wasn’t my husband back then; we were engaged. And it wasn’t his hometown. He had lived all over the country; well, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois. He’d never stayed in one place for more than a couple years and I had lived in my little universe for my whole life. My parents and I moved there when I was 9 months old and it was all I knew.

Suddenly, I found myself to be 21, my family had dissolved, the contract on my job was ending, and we decided to set out for a new life together. My whole world felt tumped upsidedown. I was scared, I was nervous, I was unsure of what was going to meet me down the road but I knew – we knew – that if I was going to live, we had to make a change. I was drowning in grief and didn’t know how to take a breath. I rarely recommend running from your problems and I don’t believe that’s what I was doing. Although some might disagree, for me, I needed a change of scenery.

Everywhere I looked there I saw darkness. Everything I saw was a reminder of the loss in my life. I was grieving my mom’s suicide. I was grieving my parents split. I was mourning the loss of what I had believed to be true and discovered was a lie. I was at a complete loss of the dreams I had built, the plans I had made, and what I thought my career would look like. My future didn’t look bright. It looked foggy and scary.

I used to hate when people would tell me that God had bigger plans; that he could make beauty from ashes. I was sitting in ashes. No, I was buried in ashes. I couldn’t see the sun for the ash cloud that was hanging over me. So we moved far away from where anyone knew me and I started fresh. I began the journey of allowing God to wash away my ash. I started the steps toward healing.

Twenty years allows a lot of perspectives. I can look down the path we started on when we left that town with a box truck and a car crammed with belongings. I can see all the side roads, the bunny trails, the hills, and the valleys we have walked through together. I can see how, even when we felt scared and alone, God never left our side. I can see the people God brought into my life to teach me and I can see the people he allowed me to keep, from my past, because he knew they would later be a great comfort for me.

I’ve traveled back to my hometown only a handful of times since that big departure twenty years ago. Each visit has brought more comfort, more healing. Last week we went up, stayed with friends, and watched the sunset every single night. We laughed and talked and laughed some more. We talked about heartaches both old and new. And God allowed my heart to break over the beauty of the sunsets that were there all along. When I was covered in ashes of grief I was unable to see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. He opened my eyes to his faithfulness and goodness.

My daughter walked past the treeline every evening and took a billion pictures of the sunset. She loved the way the light changed and how the clouds reflected colors that crayons and markers could never create. She took the picture below and it’s my absolute favorite. It looks like God opened his paint box and swept magnificence across the sky.

God really has painted beauty in my life. He has brought so much healing, and while I may always have scars, I know that he has never left me. And I know he’s not finished with the masterpiece he’s creating. And honestly, I am so excited to see the colors he paints in me on the road ahead.

 

 

The Waters of Judgement and Comparison

 

If one wanted to make a chart of Kingwood, Texas right now, it would be a pretty basic block.

Those who flooded.

Those who didn’t.

I am filled with both gratitude and sorrow to be in the “didn’t” column. I am, of course, grateful and thankful that my home was safe from the raging, muddy waters that rushed through homes without a care of what was destroyed. I am breathing a sigh of relief that my air conditioning works because September in Houston is not very different from August in Houston. It ain’t fall. And I’m blessed to have a refrigerator full of food and I do not have to rely on the kindness of strangers to bring sandwiches.

But I cry. I sob for my friends who are scraping mud and muck from their homes, tossing their favorite chair and mattress to the curb. I cry when I see their wedding pictures and baby pictures spread over the lawn in hopes of drying out. I cried over every load of laundry I did for people on my street who lost everything while I sat three doors down safe. Every casserole I’ve baked, every sheet of cookies, every pot of pasta I boiled has had my tears nearby because I don’t understand the ways of the water and how it decided to flow.

I have cried for my friends who had no insurance and for the ones who did but are fighting for payment. I have cried for my friends who have already been turned down by FEMA and for the ones who don’t know how to send their kids to school tomorrow when they don’t have a safe home to come to afterward. I’ve held hands and given hugs and prayed and baked. And baked. And baked.

But if we go back to the chart, I’ve noticed another way to block it. Among the people who flooded I have started to hear comparisons.

“How much water did you get? Well, I got…”

“Did you have flood insurance? I did.” or “I didn’t.”

“Have you hired a contractor yet? Who did you get?”

Monday night I sat with a friend over dinner, listening to her story, and she shared some of these responses with me. She’s over it. And we are a week in. I imagine there will soon be comparison on how fast homes were repaired.

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There are also comparisons among those who didn’t flood.

“Where did you serve today? I went to this place AND that place.”

“What have you given? You know they really need that at…”

“I organized this group to serve over there. What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you in any of the places I’ve been.”

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There is so much good going on out there. So much healing and so much help. People are giving of themselves in both blocks. Everyone wants to do their best.

So what if we all moved forward with the assumption that we are doing our best? What if we started offering grace to each other and worked under the assumption that every single one of us is doing the very best we can?

It’s a question Brene Brown poses in her book, “Rising Strong” and one that I have been wrestling with for the last week. Do I believe that about people on an average, normal, non-flooded Wednesday? Do I now that we are in the middle of the biggest disaster our community has ever faced? Do I offer grace to others because I believe they are doing the best I can?

I have to say that most of the time, I don’t. I am quick to monitor a situation and judge that someone has a lower capacity than me and therefore is unreliable. I am quick to judge that someone is selfish with their time, money, resources, etc. and therefore not useful to me.

And truth be told, I am even quicker to take grace away from myself because I am comparing my self to others and judging that I don’t measure up. That person is a harder worker than me and therefore I am a failure. Those people have more time, money, resources than me so I am basically useless.

The lack of grace we offer ourselves and others usually stems from some sort of shame we are holding onto; a lie we are believing about ourselves. It often stems from a wound we experienced long ago that never healed properly.

I’ve had to ask myself many times this week, “What would it take for me to believe that person is doing the best they can?”

I’ve also had to ask,”What would I have to stop I believing about myself that is keeping me from receiving grace? And is that belief what God would say about me?”

James 4:6-8 says,”He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

James points out there is a very fine line between wise discernment and sinful judging. I have to ask myself, “which one am I doing?” before I let words flow from my mouth. I need to watch how I speak to others, but also how I speak to myself.

I know that God bases his judgement on truth. I also know that I rarely do. God alone knows the source of my mess. So I pray for healing and I pray for grace in such abundance that I can pour it over every person I meet – flooded or not flooded. I pray that I will fall deep into the flood waters of his goodness and drink it all in so I can bless others. And I pray that the eyes of my heart….all of ours….would be shielded from the lies of judgement and comparison.

Practical Applications of Platters and Silver

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I watched a video this morning from a beautiful writer for whom I have great admiration. She’s offering an online course in writing and I’ve literally been lapping up all the information like a kitten starved for milk. Every video, post, piece….I read and watch ravenously. I’ve been very sick for a couple weeks with pneumonia though and have been sleeping a lot. The past couple of days I’ve been pushing my stamina a bit, trying to build strength back from a place of deep depletion. After a short trip to the grocery I came home and collapsed on the couch with the laptop to catch up on my instruction.

Her words rang loud and crisp and clear – “Always leave your reader with practical application.” She spoke of hungry readers and the duty to feed them with substance and good nutrition on a beautiful plate with polished silver.  While I see great  truth in her words and frankly, they are not new words for me to hear, I wanted to throw up. So. Much. Pressure.

I shut my laptop and thought, “Well, I’m done then. I have no words of substance. I have no lovely platters. I don’t even own silver.”

And then I took a nap.

When I woke an hour later I reached for my Step Study books. Pneumonia had left me behind on homework and I don’t like to be behind in anything…especially Step Study.

Lesson 19: Grace

“‘My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.’ So I’m very happy to brag about my weakness. Then Christ’s power can live in me. For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I’m weak, then I am truly strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Part of living in grace is forgiving others. Part of living in grace is forgiving myself. Loving myself. Believing that I am loved by God so much that he not only offers me forgiveness for my sins but that he offers gifts, talents, and beautiful platters. If I can accept God’s forgiveness then why is it so hard to believe that he would also give other good things? Why do I wallow in the weakness, not seeing the strong arms passing me silver?

I said earlier this month that I want my focus word this year to be “fierce grace” and here is God saying, “Yep. It really does apply to you. I am enough and I’ll give you enough.”

I put so much pressure on myself to be everything for everyone and when I can’t be the best – the prime rib on the beautiful platter – I tend to shut up shop and go home. I have lived with the belief that it is better to not try than to disappoint and give fluff. This is not living in grace. That is not what fierce grace looks like at all. That is certainly not trusting that my Heavenly Father has good plans for me and wants me to use my gifts to bring him glory.

“Come. Let’s talk some more about this matter,” says the Lord. “Even though your sins are bright red, they will be as white as snow. Even though they are deep red, they will be white like wool. But you have to be willing to change and obey me. If you are, you will eat the best food that grows on the land. You must obey me. You must obey me.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

Pressing into the gifts God gives us brings him glory. Shutting down gifts God has given us because we feel they aren’t as good as our perception of the gifts he’s given others slaps him in the face.

I have a gift for communication. It is a passion of mine and I love it. People claim to enjoy my methods of communication. I have a responsibility to learn more about communicating. I must practice. I must learn. I must hone in on what would make me a better communicator in speech, writing. dancing….okay, not dancing. Dancing is not my gift. But the rest, yes. When I communicate, especially about God’s love and grace, it brings glory to his kingdom.

When I look at fabulous speakers like Lysa Terkeurst, Jen Hatmaker, or Shauna Niequist I am tempted to say, “I’ll never be that good. They have said all the words. They’ve reached all the people. I should curl up and quit.” The gremlins in my ear tell me to throw my laptop away and never communicate again.

Then there are the gremlins that like to remind me of all my sins. The time I gossiped, the ugly words I said that time, the stupid text I sent to the wrong person and hurt her feelings….how could I ever be a person who communicates truth when I’m such a screw up? I  should throw my laptop and my phone away. I suck at communication.

This is the exact opposite of fierce grace. Not embracing God’s goodness, comparing myself to others, not forgiving myself…it’s ugly. It’s so very ugly.

I think this is where the practical application comes in.

“After you have borne these sufferings a very little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to share his eternal splendor through Christ, will himself make you whole and secure and strong.” (1 Peter 5:10)

This is the point where I got on my knees and asked for forgiveness. I asked God to forgive me for shirking my calling and for comparing my gifts. I asked him to give me the strength to shut out the gremlins that whisper lies. I asked him to help me forgive myself for the wrongs I have committed and asked him to stir in the hearts of people I have asked forgiveness from and have yet to give it. I want to give grace to others and to myself. I want to live in the grace he has given me. I want to do it with fierceness.

I want this for you too, dear reader. God gives us ALL good things. We all have a platter and silver with which we can serve the Kingdom. Your platter and my platter probably look completely different. How boring would it be if they all looked the same? Let’s press into where he’s leading us. Let’s lean on forgiveness – both to give and to receive. Let’s revel in who He has created us to be. Let’s get out our silver and use it!

Fierce Grace

Diem

 

I’ve made a lot of resolutions over the years. I’ve kept a few but mostly…not so much. They have generally centered around fitness and I have a tendency to start strong and fizzle around March. So this year I decided to do something different. I am embracing. I am embracing who God has made me to be.

What does that look like though? How do I define that in a way that I can work toward a specific place of goal? Is there a word or phrase to wrap that up into a neat little package? The word fierce has been rolling around my consciousness lately. Fierce. I am fierce? Is that even a thing?  Could God call me to be fierce? I had more questions than answers so I went to Google. That’s what I do with all my questions.

fierce (firs) – adjective. having or displaying an intense or ferocious aggressiveness. (of a feeling, emotion, or action) showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity.
The definition didn’t feel right to me. I know I can be intense and I’ve been told I’m a lot my whole life but fierce? Could I be fierce? Could that truly be who God has made me to be?
As I pondered the word I thought of tropical storms, hurricanes, and Nike commercials. None of those felt right. My hair can withstand a tropical storm and I’m sure Nike is looking for overweight blondes who ride yellow beach cruisers but still… I wondered why I was still wrestling the word. I’d heard of the thing last year where people were picking a word for the year instead of making resolutions so of course, I googled and found the web site. It suggested that your “one word” be less about the person you don’t want to be anymore and more about who you want to become.
YES!
This was what I needed. I don’t want to run away from anything. I want to run towards my purpose. It fell right in with my desire to embrace who God wants me to be. As I looked at the list of suggested words, grace was popping off the page.
grace (ɡrās) –noun. simple elegance or refinement of movement.  (in Christian belief) the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
Of course I want to always live in God’s favor. Of course I want to be simple, elegant, refined… But fierce continued to be bouncing around my brain.
Fierce Grace? It’s technically two words but maybe one word isn’t enough.
Could that be a thing? As I sat in front of the fireplace this morning, watching the sun light slide in over the tree tops I realized that fierce grace is most definitely a thing and its’ exactly what God is calling me to.
Quick to forgive…others and myself.
Love deeply….those around me and myself.
Look for the best in others…and myself.
Fierce Grace. I intend to wrestle what that looks like in my life and how God wants me to walk that out daily. How do I forgive and yet maintain healthy boundaries? Can I learn to love my body while taking steps to make it healthy? How will I show love to the people in my home/neighborhood/workplace? Can I learn to give the benefit of the doubt without being taken for a ride? I believe this is what fierce grace looks like and it’s what I want to embrace.
Do you have a word? A characteristic? What is God calling you to embrace this year?