Beauty for Ashes

Do you have any scars on your body?  Perhaps from a burn or a cut.  Mishap with the knife in the kitchen.  Run-in with the hot exhaust pipe on the four-wheeler.  Or possibly more devastating.  Significant car accident.  Accidental shooting. Or worse.

Scars, as we know, are the areas of fibrous tissue that replace normal skin after injury. They result from the biological process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body.  Sometimes the wounds to be repaired are small, as in the scarred fingertip resulting from the burn of a hot pan against the flesh.  Some wounds, however, penetrate much deeper. A laceration that requires stitches.  A dismemberment that necessitates a major surgery.

But what about the internal scars?  We have those too, don’t we?  The ones that aren’t visible to the human eye.  The grief from losing a loved one.  The heartache stemming from an unfaithful spouse.  The agony caused by a wayward child.  The regret from making bad decisions.  The list could go on.  And on.  And on.

I have some scars on my body, most of which are small, insignificant and unnoticeable.  I do have one on my forehead right between my eyes.  It too is small; no larger than an inch.  Most days I don’t even see it or think about it, except on those rare occasions when someone else spots it and asks me about it. I do recall how it happened though.  As a second-grader riding my bicycle on the sidewalk I encountered gravel, which caused me to lose control of the bicycle and tumble to the hard concrete, head-first.

Not unlike most of us, I have internal scars as well.  And, there was a time in my life when I allowed those scars to control, at least on some level, my emotions, my feelings, and sometimes my decisions.  In short, I allowed the past wounds to remain open.

Isaiah tell us in Chapter 61, verse 1 that Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted.  He came to set us free.  He came to heal our wounds.  And more!  He came to give us beauty for ashes, as described in verse 3 of the same chapter.  Beauty for ashes.  Hope for heartache.  Healing for hurt.  Peace for pain.  Glory (His) for grief.

Do you have scars?  From physical or sexual abuse?  Volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter.  From the loss of a loved one?  Come alongside someone else with the same hurt to encourage them.  From a marriage gone bad?  Start a small group gathering in your home.  God has allowed the wounds in our lives for reasons that are mostly beyond our comprehension.  But if we trust Him, He will take the nasty, black, sooty ashes of our pain and turn them into exquisite, beautiful stories of redemption and hope to bring Him glory.  He has done it in my life and I know that He will do it in yours, too!

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Ya gotta have faith

Let’s be real.  Life is hard.  It can throw us some punches.  Knock us down.  Disappoint us.  Cause us to question our existence; our purpose. From the deeply depressed soul to the jolliest person in the crowd, we all have bad days.  Suffering, loss, heartache – they know no gender, no race, no creed.  We can’t escape it.  On this side of Heaven, we will face difficulties and circumstances that can cause us minor disruptions or completely alter our lives.

How do we handle the rough days?  The days when we don’t think we can encounter one more negative force in our lives without completely losing our minds?  The weeks when nothing seems to go our way?  The months of praying for answers and feeling like our prayers stop at the ceiling?

In my nearly 48 years of life, I’ve had more than enough bad days.  Not unlike most of us, I’ve experienced pain, felt the sting of a broken heart, mourned the loss of a loved one and suffered at the hand of injustice.  At times it has been self-imposed due to poor decisions or uncontrolled emotions. Other times, however, it has just been my turn.  For whatever reasons.  Reasons I don’t understand, or even know.

We are currently studying Job in Sunday School.  Talk about heartache.  And pain.  And more.  Much more.  Loss at its greatest – his children, his possessions and his health.  Add to that an unsupportive wife and the ill advice of his friends and I can see where he would want to throw in the towel.  Constant pain.  Boils on his skin.  No sleep.  I can’t imagine.  Job wanted to die – and who could blame him?

I’ve thought a lot about Job.  How did he endure?  How did he get through it?  Why didn’t he end it himself?  I believe Job had faith. Did he wish he would die?  Yes.  Did he question God?  Absolutely.  But he stayed the course.  He had faith that his present situation would not become his permanent one.

Nearly thirteen years ago during a low time in my own life, I wrote about faith. No matter what has happened, is happening, or will happen, I have faith that all wrong things will be made right.  I hang on to the truth that God is in control.  I hope you have faith, too.

“The Certainties of Faith”

 Faith.

Defined by such words as allegiance, confidence, trust;

For some – a system of religious beliefs.

 A simple, yet most profound word.

 Its meaning, when brought to life from deep within,

 has the power to change lives.

 Faith is the ultimate hope

 when all other hope has lost its energy to survive.

 Pain, disappointments and problems will attempt

 to steal our joy, our hope and our passion,

 but faith will carry us to lands we never knew existed.

 Lands with gifts of peace, healing, and mending;

 lands full of promises awaiting our arrival.

*******

 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,

 the evidence of things not seen.

 Hebrews 11:1

Little Plastic Peg

Growing up, I loved to play with the Lite-Brite.  Do you remember that?  I believe it is still around.  A light box with small colored plastic pegs that fit into a panel and illuminate to create a lit picture, either by using a black, paper template or by creating one’s own image on a blank sheet of black paper. Eight peg colors: green, blue, red, yellow, orange, pink, purple, and clear.  As a little girl, I would sit for hours pushing little plastic pegs through a black piece of paper so I could see a pretty flower, or a tree, a house, or smiley-face light up in various colors.

As I think about a Lite-Brite and how it is built, it hits me that it’s pretty simple.  A small, lone light bulb placed inside a box that lights up only when colored pegs are pushed through a black sheet of paper which is otherwise obstructing the illumination of the light.

And then I think about us and how similar we are to the Lite-Brite.  We are like the light bulb.  We are full of light but can only be illuminated once the dark, black places of our hearts are pierced with the red blood of Jesus’ saving grace.  Sadly, sometimes we are the black sheet of paper.  We are distraught, downtrodden, and depressed and we prevent the brightness of the light from coming through.  And then there are the pegs.  The small, plastic, colorful pegs that are capable of pushing through the opaqueness of the black obstruction.  Pegs that, once assembled together in a specific pattern, can create something beautiful.

Matthew 5:16 (NKJV) says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Today, as I embrace this world that we live in and the opportunities that lie within, I want to be a peg in the black paper.  I want to bring color to the drab places.  I want to be used by my Father to push through the darkness so others’ lights may shine.  And I want to help create something beautiful. 

What are you?  The light bulb?  The dark, black sheet of paper?  Or the little plastic peg?  How can God use you today to bring light and beauty to the otherwise dark and drab places?

Do you see what I see?

My eyesight is less than ideal.  A good bit less.  As an 18-month-old toddler, both of my eyes turned in the direction of my nose rather than the world.  I can still remember the coke-bottle-thickness of the bifocal glasses that called my eyes their home until the age of 15.  Throw in braces on the buck teeth and a tightly-curled perm in the dirty-blonde hair and I was quite a sight in junior high school.

Fast forward many, many years to today and I’ve come almost, but not quite, full circle.  I’ve worn contacts since that magical summer day in between my freshman and sophomore years in high school when I transitioned from the chunky, thick spectacles to tiny, pliable, “water-loving” plastics that are easily popped into my eyes.  Since my early forties I’ve worn reading glasses in addition to contacts.  And it ain’t gettin’ no better!  I’ve got readers in the kitchen, on the nightstand, in the home office, in my purse, at work. Virtually everywhere I am, there are my readers – some stylish, some boring.  They are faithful to magnify and I’m grateful for the 3 for $10 pack at Wal-Mart (yeah, those are the boring ones).

As I think back to that first day of my sophomore year, I remember that some of my schoolmates did not recognize me.  I had completed my freshman year as a “four-eyed, metal-mouth.”  I returned with no glasses, no braces and long, straight hair.  My stepfather used to tell me that I had gone from being the ugly duckling to the beautiful swan.  Even he saw me differently.

How do we see others?  Do we look at their physical appearance only or do we peer into their hearts?  Do we offer our time and attention only to those who are “easy on the eyes” or do we take a moment to view their souls, their thoughts, their emotions? Far too often, we probably stop short.  Stop short of going beyond the outward. Fail to know the heart that longs to know ours too.

One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs is, “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” by Michael W. Smith.  “Open the eyes of my heart Lord.  Open the eyes of my heart.  I want to see You.  I want to see You.”  That’s my prayer.  That I will see Him. Truly see Him.  See Him for Who He is, yes. But also see Him in others. See Him at work in their lives. See beyond the coke-bottle glasses and the braces.  Look farther than the tattoos or the messy hair or whatever……Go deeper than the skin.  Take time to listen and to care for those who are deemed less than beautiful in the world’s eyes.  See them like God sees them.

My physical eyesight – yeah, it’s not the best. But I can see – with a little help from my “friends.”  The eyes of my heart – they are a work in progress as well.  With the ever-present help of my Father, they see a little more clearly everyday.  I hope yours do, too.

Doing our best

Do we do – and give – our best?  In our homes.  For our families.  On our jobs.  In our churches and within our close circles of friends.  In public. With strangers.  Do we give it our all – our time, focus and attention when completing projects and volunteering for events? Do we?  Are we?  Are we doing and giving our best?

I like to believe that we are. And I think most of us are – at least the ‘most of us’ that I hang out with.  Sadly, too often, we run into those who are not.  The grocery store cashier who slings the package of cookies across the conveyer belt instead of gently placing them to make their way to the other end.  The fast food worker at the drive-thru window who acts like it’s a crime to smile.  The rude operator on the other end of the phone line.  The person behind us in traffic honking the horn because we didn’t accelerate quite fast enough when the light turned green. They’re out there.  The less than cordial people.  The lazy folks.  The ‘I would rather be somewhere else doing something else’ kind.

I’ve had my fair share of unfavorable experiences with people.    Doing less than their best people.  ‘I don’t care’ people.  And it has made me mad – angry – upset.  Because I am a ‘do my best’ person.  I am a ‘give it my all’ gal.  And I expect everyone else to do – and be – their best.  In recent years though (as I get older and wiser – ha!), I’ve realized that some folks may actually be doing their best.  The cashier may be working her first hour of her first day of her new job – and she may be nervous.  The drive-thru worker may have just found out that a close family member has a terminal illness. The person on the other end of the phone may have just gotten screamed at by an unruly boss.  You just never know.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am NOT making excuses for inappropriate behavior or negligent customer service and I do believe that some folks shouldn’t be in a public service role at all.  I can’t fix them, nor is it my place to do so.  What I am doing is encouraging us all to examine our own “best.”  Not just best in terms of what we do, but best in view of our treatment of others – AND our receiving of treatment from them.  It’s easy to put our best foot forward when others are nice to us.  It’s a different story when they aren’t.  When that happens…when it is obvious that we are on the short end of the kindness recipient stick, are we doing our best then?   Are we keeping our mouths shut instead of yelling out words we will regret later?  Are we turning the other cheek instead of taking a stab at their self-esteem?

Admittedly so, I’ve failed.  Yelled.  Been angry.  Honked the horn.  Been less than my best. I’m grateful for grace.  For second chances.  For forgiveness.  My best – our best – is most obvious when we do and give our all not only to the things and people we love – but especially when we are challenged with those things and people that we don’t like so much.

Until next time – doing my best to stay in line…..

It won’t be like this for long

I like music – the sounds, the tones, the beats.  Country.  Jazz.  Blues.  Contemporary Christian.  Some gospel hymns. And yes, even good ole rock and roll.  While I attempt to appreciate the melodies and the various instruments that are used in creating the dynamics of music, it’s the lyrics that penetrate me – that speak to me.  Lyrics have a way of doing that.  They can take us away to a place of remembrance; of days gone by, of love gained – or lost, of regrets, of pain, of joy.  Words, especially when composed within a tune, can summons a myriad of emotions. They can make us laugh and make us cry, they can take us back to a special time or place. And so much more.

One song that has a way of evoking emotional feelings in me is by Darius Rucker and is entitled, “It won’t be like this for long.”  It tells a story about how our babies grow up so fast. Part of the chorus goes like this:

“It wont be like this for long

One day soon we’ll look back laugh’n at the week we brought her home

This phase is gonna fly by so baby just hold on

It wont be like this for long”

As I reflect back on yesterday’s blog entitled, Time Well Spent, I am reminded of time as it relates to seasons, both literally in the natural world and figuratively in our lives.  That reflection led me to something similar that I shared during a prayer ministry call in May, 2013.  Here’s an excerpt:

If we look at the definition of season in terms of weather, we see that it is, “A traditional division of the year based on distinctive weather conditions” or “A period of the year during which a particular activity usually takes place.”   There are sports seasons and gardening seasons and high seasons at resorts.  There are seasons for all types of activities and events. And, there are seasons for us. Seasons of child rearing.  Seasons of educating ourselves, setting ourselves aside for a certain purpose or goal that we are working toward. Whatever season it is, whether self chosen or providentially ordered by our Father, there must be a division of something to make the transition from one season to another. It is that division or that cutting…that separating ourselves from something or someone that allows us to step into, to embrace the new season. For if we don’t sever ourselves from the season that has ended, we will not be able to step into the season that God is calling us to.  Isaiah says in Chapter 43, verse 19, “Behold I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”  God wants to do this new thing in us. He wants to move us from the cold, dark days of winter to the fresh, vibrant days of spring. And sometimes, even if we don’t want the 100 degree days of summer, we need the heat that brings refinement to our lives. And after the period of purification that only that type of fire and heat can bring, He will bring us to a cooling time, the fall time, when the leaves are changing colors.

Oh, if only we will embrace the seasonal changes in our lives. No calendar, no scientist, no theory, no one other than our most high God can dictate how long a season goes. No one can wake up one day and determine that today is a certain season.  Whether it’s the cold temperatures of winter days in a natural, physical season that last longer than we’d like or the cutting, testing, long hard days of a spiritual battle or lesson, we will do well to embrace the seasons on God’s terms, not our own. One thing we know for sure is…whether it’s a good season or a bad one, it won’t be like this for long!

Some of us are going through a “good” season, when all is well with the world and life is going our way.  Others are struggling through a tough season, a long, cold wintry season with perhaps not even a glimpse of sunshine. Either way, my friends, it won’t be like this for long. As sure as the clock’s hands continue to move time, as certain as one day turns into night and then into day again, the seasons in our lives change. Be encouraged. Be faithful. Be open to whatever season you are in right now and trust the Lord that THIS cutting, THIS transition is for His good in your life!

 

Time Well Spent

Time is of the essence.  It’s about time.   It’s time to go.  I don’t have time.  Where did the time go?  Time.  It flies.  When we are having fun – and even when we aren’t.

Time is much like words.  Once we spend the time (voice the words), we can’t take it back.  It’s done.  It has been spent.  It has been spoken.  We typically don’t think much about time in our younger years. We think we have plenty of time to live, to do, to dream, to achieve.  The truth is, none of us knows the day or the hour that our time on earth will end.  So what are we doing with our time?  How are we spending it?  Are we wasting it or making the most of it?  Are we taking it for granted or taking it to heart?

I like this quote by speaker, Michael Altshuler: “The bad news is time flies.  The good news is you’re the pilot.”  We determine how we will spend our time. True enough, we have obligations and responsibilities that quite often dictate the usage of our time but even in those minutes, hours, and days, we can choose to spend time wisely and with good, positive attitudes – or not.

I’m reminded of the passage in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that speaks directly to time:

A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

For those of us who are believers, we know that God ultimately controls the time.  He created time.  He separated the day from the night and knows the exact hours that our individual times will transition from an earthly presence to an eternal, Heavenly one with Him.  In the meantime, He has entrusted us to invest our time wisely, to make the most of it, to use it to glorify Him.  How are we using our time today?

 

LOL

LOL.  Laugh out loud.  When is the last time you laughed?  Laughed like a little kid?   Giggled for no apparent reason?  Laughed that good, deep, belly-aching kind of laugh?  I love to laugh.  Little girl giggly laughs at silly stuff and big, hearty, bring-tears-to-my-eyes laughs.

They say laughter is the best medicine.  It can help ease sorrow, lighten a heavy moment and bring sparkle to a dull circumstance.  Like a smile, it is universal; transcending nationality, race and gender.  It’s why we read comic strips and tell jokes and poke fun and have an entire network named The Comedy Channel. We want to laugh and we want to make others laugh.  It just feels good to laugh.

I’ve often had folks tell me that they can hear me coming before they see me. True enough I’m loud.  Talk loud, walk loud and yes, laugh loud.  My son doesn’t quite appreciate my ability to laugh at  – well – almost anything and – what he mostly defines as not-so-funny moments.  On more than one occasion, he has rolled his eyes at me and let out a very disapproving, “Maaaahhhhhhmmm.” I guess it’s because I embarrass him, but Moms are supposed to do that to their kids, right? I mostly laugh at myself.  At the dumb things I do: “Blonde-isms” I like to call them.

I’m reminded of the story in the Bible when God tells 100 year-old Abraham that he will be the father of many nations and that his 90 year-old wife will give birth to a son.  Do you remember what Sarah did when Abraham shared the news?  She laughed!  Genesis 18:12 (NIV) says, “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”  We would laugh too.  Sure God, we believe you.  Sure, You can do that.  All the while we are laughing inside with disbelief.  I’m sure glad He got the last laugh with Sarah, aren’t you?    

I encourage you to laugh today.  Every. Single. Day. Find something to laugh about.  A chuckle from your cheek or a hearty giggle from your gut.  And, if you find yourself having a “Sarah laugh” in disbelief about something, Ask God to increase your faith.  Chances are, the promise that has caused you to laugh in disbelief is the very one that He will use to do unbelievable things in your life and in the lives of others.

40 something

I’m in my 40s.  Late 40s.  My 30th high school reunion is this year.  THIRTY YEARS. Where in the world has the time gone?  I can still remember cheering on the sidelines at the football games.  I can recall the AP English class that I excelled in and the Chemistry class that I detested.  High school.  Fun times.  Good memories.  Days gone by.

Fast forward three decades. Super lightening speed fast.  My son is knocking on the door of 27.  My daughter is a 15 year old high school cheerleader.  I’m blessed.  And quite content with being 40 something.

The 40s are special.  Helen Rowland (English-American writer 1876-1950) said, “Life begins at 40 – but so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times.”   I can relate to Helen but for the sake of revealing TMI, I will leave it at that…..(you’re welcome).

So what’s so great about the 40s?  Well, in my very experienced opinion, here are the best parts:

  • I know who I am and I like me – even with extra pounds and a few wrinkles here and there
  • Not everyone likes me (shocker, right – ha) and that’s ok
  • I can’t please everyone – wears me out to try

I’m not completely where I want to be but praise God I am not where I used to be. He changes me, molds and shapes me.  And teaches me daily to become more like Him – if only this 40 something student will learn…..

Be in the moment

The first hot, fresh taste of morning coffee.  The look in a child’s eyes when she receives a big hug from her mother or father.  The older couple holding hands as they slowly walk in the park.  The smell of flower buds as Spring begins to emerge.  The rainbow spread across the horizon after a thunderous rain.  The words, “I love you” from someone special.

Moments.  Life is made of them.  Big ones, little ones.  Sad ones, happy ones.  They are the essence of our lives.  Connected together one at a time, they form a day, a week, a month, a year……a lifetime.   We long for the good moments and wish away the bad and yet we know that both will come.  Some expected.  Most not.

In a moment’s notice we can receive a phone call that changes our plans – or our lives.  In a moment’s notice we can be delivered a diagnosis that rocks our emotions – or our world.  In a moment’s notice we can hear news that affects our goals – or our careers.

I challenge each of us to be in the moment. Live the moment. Experience it.  Enjoy it.  Savor the coffee.  Look the child directly in the eyes.  Listen.  Touch.  Hold.  Hug.  Breathe in the aroma of the flowers – or the homemade meal.  Stop to enjoy the vibrant colors of God’s handiwork. Say, “I love you.”  Or, “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

We can’t always control the moments but we can determine to embrace them. To be in them.  Won’t you join me in this moment?