steps to a masterpiece
The rain fell lightly- a soft accompaniment to the chatter of back and forth between birds. I was spending a stormy Saturday at home on the porch; non-reluctantly and appreciative of the chance to be still. A glance at the date on my phone screen brought awareness of what is to come in the week ahead- my birthday. This year, I barely remembered to notice. So many other important tasks to think on, so little time.
Birthdays are similar to New Year’s, in my book. They elicit thought and reflection about what has been and what is to come. But while they are a beautiful blessing to witness, birthdays can also carry heavier weights – self imposed or societal imposed expectations about what this new age “means” for the course of your life.
The past year has been anything but slow or stagnant for me. Newly married, new transitions, and exciting things in the works, yet somehow, I still find myself growing restless in wonder about what is next. It’s time to truly “walk in my purpose”, I’ve decided. But if I am being honest, my expectations can look more like a frustrating race than a relaxing walk sometimes. Instead of easy-going baby steps, I want to sprint ahead to the finish line. With vision in mind and hope in heart, the waiting can be difficult. But what masterpiece can come to fruition without the small steps, the in-betweens, and the unknowns?
Visual artists have a full picture in mind that often begins with a sketch. There may be erasing, lack of symmetry, or the accidental splatter of paint in an unintended place. But they create until the vision comes together.
Writers have a theme in mind that often begins with an outline or a draft of sorts. There may be edited words or removal of chapters. But they create until the vision comes together.
Musicians have a song in mind that often begins with a few words. There may be change of lyric or beat. But they adjust until there is impeccable cohesion.
I was brought to a scripture that reminded me that our lives mirror this very process. God is the Creator. And just because we cannot see the full picture of our lives does not mean that He, the artist, has stopped working. Rather, He is is perfecting. That perfecting process might appear to us as smudges, blank spaces, or pages that need to be crinkled up, thrown away, and replaced with a clean slate.
“..being confident in this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
What does this truth mean, if we truly trust it? That we must continue to strive to bear fruit, even when it seems like nothing is growing. That we must continue to use our gifts, even when it seems that they are useless. That we must continue to pursue our calling, even if we are stuck in an in-between for a little while longer.
A rejection does not mean you are not designed to do that thing your heart desires. A small following does not mean you are not touching and inspiring the people who you are meant to reach. And an unanswered prayer does not mean that you are unheard.
Do the best with what you can see and trust that the things you cannot see will be worth the wait. Let the Creator do what the Creator does best.
“..let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”(Hebrews 12:1-2).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
Don’t Stop Believin’
To my knees is where He brings me, when I need to be reminded- reminded of what faith is and where it has carried me. This morning, I decided it was time for a “brain dump” – a time where I make a list of every area I want to pray over with great intention and full surrender. And so I transferred my burdens through the stroke of my pen onto fresh journal pages and prayed through each area- health, family, career, friends, miscellaneous.
“All to Jesus, I surrender, all to Him I freely give. I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live. I surrender all…”
These words from one of my favorite, classic hymns are given new life and meaning every time I put them into action. They become much more than just empty words. They help me inhale truth into my soul and exhale worry back into the pit of hopelessness that it belongs in. After all, worry is not a welcomed companion to faith.
As I uttered my final prayers and supplications, I invited the Lord to speak peace into my heart. I felt lead to look back through my journals and prayer book to consider the way that he has answered my prayers in His way and in His time. Considering His faithfulness in the past provides such a blessed assurance about the future.
Tears cascaded lightly down my cheeks, as I flipped through the pages of a book from 2016. My heart had just been shattered into pieces from a break up. Seeking solace, I ordered a study titled, “You are Loved” – eight weeks of studies and reminders that we are seen, known, free and loved. One reflection question prompted me to list some lies that I was believing about myself at the time. Reluctantly, I listed three negative thoughts that wanted to disintegrate my joy and positivity:
“You can’t have successful relationships.”
“You’re never going to find anyone to love you.”
“Marriage is not in the equation for you.”
Thoughts this strong are difficult to combat. After losing one significant other to suicide and another through an unexpected breakup, my heart was growing weary and discouraged. I turned my focus inwardly and began to question my worthiness of having a lasting relationship.The study reminded me with scripture after scripture, that God had a plan for my life. If that plan involved a relationship- great. If not- my worth would not change because God created me to be resilient and hopeful and intimacy with Him is sufficient.
A few weeks later, sitting in Barnes and Noble, I met my husband. I could go on for days about the testimonies in my life that were similar to this one. Testimonies of overcoming tragedy, destructive battles with mental health, seemingly irreversible diagnoses related to physical health, and the list goes on. The common thread in each of these stories has been “Don’t stop believing” – just like the words of the famous song.
Although I have witnessed so many prayers be answered in such an astonishing way, my heart is still susceptible to doubt. Faith is not the absence of doubt. It is persevering through those doubts, when you remind yourself of how things worked together in the past. It is remembering to hang on to hope and trust, even if you are hanging by a thread. It is being content with not having all of the answers, because we have a Father who does. I am thankful for a God who continues to pursue me and open my eyes to His truths, even when I doubt his ability to handle the details of my life.
Friend, I don’t know what lies you are believing about yourself today, but I promise you they are from a dark place. Do not entertain them. Your energy is much too precious and you must preserve it!
I’ll end this testimony with some of the beautiful scriptures that served as reminders for me from that 8 week study in 2016:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair, persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
“For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you hope for the future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
“Then I will give them a heart to know Me that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
From My Seat
Peaceful views caught my eye and the beauty of the universe whispered to my soul, as I peered out of the airplane window. Things were going smoothly and the journey ahead was a long one. “It’s okay to rest,” I assured myself. And I dozed off peacefully. I was awakened from my slumber when the plane began jolting relentlessly. Slightly on edge, I took out the headphones that had been playing light-hearted, alternative tunes in accompaniment to my light snores. Anxious to gain some control-but not having much- I opened the tiny window shade that was adjacent to my seat on the plane. Out of the tiny square of the window, the scene had taken a dramatic shift. The light, fluffy clouds that greeted me with ease, earlier, had disappeared. The only thing left visible was vast, dark sky-unfriendly nothingness.
I heard the stale voice of the pilot direct all passengers to “Clear the aisles and put on seatbelts” with not much more of an explanation. Although I’d had many plane rides prior to this one, a fear came over me. What if this is more than just normal turbulence? Why can’t I see anything out of the window? Why would the pilot not give us more information to comfort us? Is something bad gonna happen this time? Anxious thoughts did a “doom dance” with heavy feet, across my brain. I closed the window, said a prayer-unsure of exactly what to pray.
The jolting began to ease up and transition back into calmness. I consulted with my window, again, seeking answers through the tiny square. This time, an eerie, yet beautiful picture was beginning to form. As we grew closer to our destination, the clouds began parting and making way for visibility. A few clouds hung around, stubbornly, but slowly began to reveal the majesty below- still waters and a never-ending stretch of dark trees. Familiarity allowed my solitude to return.
This plane ride reminded me of life itself. I pondered how many times this ride called “life” has been smooth and easy, allowing me to ride along passively and peacefully. Then, in the most unanticipated moments of turbulence, rest became unrest, sure became shaky, and calm became chaos. I thought about the lack of control I had in those moments- like the lack of control I had on the plane. I thought of my frustration with the pilot- the expert- for giving us a few details to keep us safe but not letting us know what he was seeing or what was coming next. Oh what similar moments I have had with my Heavenly Father- wondering why He couldn’t give me more information about the suffering of myself, other people, or the hard circumstances that might await us. Wishing He- the expert- could lead us safely to rest, since this suffering was in His hands. Trusting and letting go like I had to do on that plane. And finding balance and understanding each time I grew closer to my purpose and saw the picture of my life fitting together with intention.
We are limited, human beings-one of many on this journey of life. From our tiny seat on the journey, we get an incomplete glimpse into the world around us- a tiny pixel of the full picture. We celebrate when the journey is peaceful and clear. We fear when the journey is dark and confusing. Our small perspective shows us that we do not have all of the answers. There is someone flying the plane who can see the things we can’t-what we left behind, what we are passing through, and what lies ahead. We are forced to stay in our seats, heed the guidance and direction, and trust that we will make it safely to our promised destination. We can comfort other passengers and encourage them to make the most of this ride- each one of us doing the best we can. I can do my part from my seat, but I do not have the power to manipulate the whole journey or the bigger narrative. So I will stay in my seat, trust while I can, and be content with the ride I cannot control. Because God is the pilot (and He is much better at navigating this complex universe than I could ever be).
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
Expectations vs. Experiences
Like a large majority of other folks, my husband and I talked of resolutions for the year ahead. We noted our goals in a place where we could see them. Research shows that writing your goals down increases the likelihood of reaching those goals- and so, we did. But something still felt incomplete about the words on our list.
A few days into the new year, an unanticipated snow lead to some days of resting and reflection. In my moments of less distraction and more intentionality, the thing that I felt was missing came to me. The thought was: “Maybe I don’t need expectations as much as I need experiences, this year.”
This thought did not lead me to obliterate the notes that inhabit our goals, aspirations, and hopes for this year. This thought did, however, lead me to look at these resolutions through a different lense. You see, the waters grow murky when we try to distinguish goals from expectations. In fact, sometimes it is inevitable for a goal not to turn into an expectation. When we set a goal, we naturally expect to meet that goal, right?
The problem arises when we don’t meet our goals and our expectations are shattered. The inability to perform at the level we expected can lead to guilt, shame, comparison and disappointment. Emphasizing the expectation rarely leads to fulfillment. Why? Because we are rarely content, unless things have the endings that our hearts desire.
What if we tried focusing more on experiences and less on our expectations? An expectation is something you arrive at, while an experience is something you go through. Experiences help us evolve into the higher versions of ourselves. When we honor experiences over expectations, we can see the lesson in goals met and unmet, tasks done and undone, situations that turned out as we predicted and the ones that didn’t.
I’m inviting you to reflect with me for a moment. Most of our resolutions in the form of expectations arise from seeing other people reach those goals. We want to be healthier like “Person A”, or reach the financial stability that “Person B” has, gain some of the personal attributes that we see in “Person C”, or reach the success in our career that “Person D” has reached. Don’t get me wrong, there is no condemnation in admiration. However, these mindsets can quickly turn from admiration to social comparison when things don’t turn out for us the way that they turned out for that person.
When we focus on experiences, something different happens. We begin to honor every situation that we encounter, recognizing that each experience is uniquely designed for us. Whether we fail or succeed, we learn. Learning is the objective of experiencing.
So yes, I will keep my note with resolutions listed as a roadmap of sorts. But my motivation will be the journey, rather than the end goal; the experiences over the expectations. My soul will be content with the way things turn out, because each experience has something to teach me. So I am (in a sense) taking my “resolutions” and turning them into “rest-olutions”.
I will rest in the fact that what is for me won’t pass me. I will rest my need to have full control over my circumstances. I will rest in trusting that with each of my experiences, God is weaving my story. And if each one of those experiences sprouted from an expectation that was met exactly the way that I intended, the story would be rather boring and I wouldn’t have much to learn. There is so much more freedom in experiencing than expecting.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refused to sink.
An Unanticipated Assignment
With heavy eyes and tired bodies, we waited patiently for our flight to board. As blissful as Jamaica was- the days were long and our muscles were tense from travel and enjoyment. A delayed flight changed our clean cut plan of flying into Charlotte to an abrupt detour- a connecting flight to Philadelphia (the last thing two, tired Honeymooners desire to hear). As we sat in uncomfortable airport chairs, scoffing down a quick pre-flight snack, our names were called abruptly over the intercom. A thick Jamaican accent demanded us up front. We walked up, reluctantly, with an “Uh-oh. What now?” kind of demeanor. Turns out they needed us to board the plane early, due to a handicapped, neighboring passenger who needed to be lifted onto the plane and could not move after being seated. My husband reassured them that we were okay with this situation and suggested that the passenger have the window seat.
Minutes later, I saw her. As I approached the middle seat of our three-seated side of the plane, her eyes met mine. 90 somethin’ she must be, I thought. Her beautiful, dark skin almost matched the black dress she was wearing. By contrast, her weak blue eyes peered from beneath a black cap she wore neatly over the four, grey braids that were hanging to her shoulders. The wrinkles on her body were like the ripples I saw when a rock was thrown into the Jamaican waters; each one leading to another. I greeted her with an excited smile. “Hello ma’am! How are you!?”
Her response was a mumbled jumbled sentence in a language I couldn’t understand. This would set the tone for the entire trip. She continued to speak to me in her language- making requests that were hard to comprehend. I nodded and obeyed as best I could – strapped her seatbelt on, let her tray down, reassured her that we would be leaving soon. Not knowing if any of these things were what she was asking for or needed, but trying anyway. My husband smiled and watched and interjected with ways I might be able to assist her. During the plane ride, I somehow ended up ordering her refreshments, helping her place her pretzels neatly on a napkin, put a straw in her drink, and helped her enjoy a quick snack. The flight attendant walked by and smirked, “You come into this world as a baby and leave this world as a baby, as well,” he said. I nodded in agreement and looked over at the woman who was grateful for help.
For the remainder of the ride, this pattern continued. She tapped me and spoke in a foreign language, signaling whatever she needed. And I tried my best- happy to serve and happy I was needed. “Stuff like this always happens to me,” I told my husband. And I accepted it as my God-given assignment for the day. I decided I couldn’t leave the flight without knowing her name, her story. “May I see your passport?” I asked as I reached for it. She nodded to give her approval. Myrtle was her name. 94 years old and born in Jamaica. I tried to inquire a little further about who she might be visiting in Philadelphia. I think she mentioned a daughter there- but only God knows. I let out a sigh of relief for the fact that I got to learn her name at the very least.
Myrtle. An example of how God can use us in unanticipated ways. I am certain she thought I was a personal assistant of some sort. She didn’t know I was an ordinary girl who was honeymoonin’ with her husband. And that was unimportant. I was called to just be present and to serve her in that moment.
“How long befur sumwon com fur me”, she mumbled as I departed from the plane- the first statement from her mouth that I could actually understand. “They will come shortly I hope. God bless you,” I said with a smile. And we parted ways.
It may not have been a comfy flight of rest. But it is a flight that I will remember for the rest of my life. Thank you, Myrtle, for blessing me with your wisdom without saying a word I could understand. I was forced to take my eyes off of me and to turn them to you – a stranger.
“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
Sizing Up My Idol
Oh, how quickly we can turn a good thing into a God thing; distort a blessing and make it our being. I have a confession: my soul has been worshiping an idol. It is not an admirable person, this idol I speak of. My idol is named Wedding Planning.
It was a Saturday afternoon when I felt a friendly nudge from the Spirit. Mentally exhausted, I considered the multiple tabs pulled up on my computer. Emails to vendors on some, Pinterest ideas on others. I looked down at my phone- also drowning in a sea of tabs with ideas and check lists and “just in case I forget” notes. A feeling of exhaustion set in and tears slowly formed in my eyes. I wondered what this planning obsessed time would be filled with were there no arrangements to be made. It dawned on me that many of my hours of quiet time with the Lord were being soaked up and replaced by fleeting plans for a day that he hasn’t even promised me.
My mind is pretty good at making up a list of excuses to justify this idol-
“I’m a type A planner and like to control details.”
“I work all day, so I need to dedicate free, evening hours to planning.”
“It’s the biggest and most important day in my life.”
“Premarital counseling and reading books on marriage is enough introspection. I don’t need to do much else for now.”
All those sound good and make my sin sound a little more acceptable. But the truth is, whatever is consuming your mind for most of the day can turn into what you’re worshiping. When I looked at my heart and my life that afternoon, I did not see Jesus on the throne. I saw lists, and emails, and pretty Pins, and ideas dancing around my head. I saw controlling thoughts of what could go right and what might go wrong and how I could manipulate the in between. I saw a jumble of plans prancing across my brain, during my hours awake and asleep. And I was confronted with this sad condition of my heart.
The good news is that Jesus was there to meet me where I was- He always is. He pricked my heart to show me that the day is not promised. He nudged me to show me that even if it comes to pass, it is HIS day, not mine. He lead me to reflect on how many hours I could have spent sending up more prayers for my future marriage, had I not added frantically to my checklist. He showed me grace to lead me to make a change in my heart and actions. And most importantly, He reminded me that meeting my husband at the altar and being fully his pales in comparison to the day I will meet Christ face to face and be in His presence. The beauty of His glory far outweighs a wedding venue. His promises far exceed wedding vows. And the love my fiancee shows me is just an earthly reflection of the much greater love that Christ has for me.
What is sitting on the throne of your heart? What temporary things are you placing an eternal focus on? There’s nothing wrong with a hobby, until we begin to make it holy. Thankfully, our Savior doesn’t cast us out of His Kingdom when we de-throne Him with and put frivolous things in His place. He waits patiently and nudges us to size up our idols. My friend, if you have given some other person or thing the throne of your heart and the bulk of your time, I pray you will put Jesus back in His rightful place.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.