Coming Soon: A New God Story

                            

            As I woke up this morning, I felt a desire to just turn off all the conflicting messages about this unsettled time in our national history.

            I have deep friendships with people who hold radically opposing views. I know what news I will read by choosing FOX and then finding the same story unrecognizable on CNN. Even our concerned people of faith who are convinced of a global conspiracy are leaving me weary.

            So, in this mental state of not being interested in what anybody else thinks, I asked God directly what He wanted me to know today.

            He said, “Get ready for a new God story”.

            Then He reminded me that some of my favorite stories were birthed at a time and place much like my today. They happened in places I had never been before. They brought me face to face with challenges for which I had no resources. Spaces where fear reared its ugly head and needed to be stomped down by faith.

            But, they all ended with a bolder belief that there is a God, that He knows my name, is not in anyway limited by my fear and loves to see my eyes pop when He does for me what I know could only have been done by Him.

            My stories include a near death plane ride between ridges of the Andes mountains in Bolivia in a fog that reduced visibility to zero. I was sitting in the tail of this small plane crying. The pilot confessed that he knew we were between mountains, but he couldn’t see. Then, suddenly he said,” We are going to be OK. I can see now.”  It was only upon landing that we learned that the missionaries had heard the engine of our plane and watched the fog lift in front of our path as they prayed.  

            I’m reminded of my time scrunched in the back of a pickup truck in Mali, West Africa. The trip had taken longer than we had planned, and we were hungry. We stopped at a remote desert site where two Bedouin brothers were cooking in a large pot over an open fire. Our missionary interpreters asked if there was a place up the road where we could buy food. The two men responded by finding a hubcap, scooping some of their “casserole” on to it for themselves and giving us the rest. The nurse in me said to myself, “You have no idea what this food is, but I did actually have a mental picture of rats, bats and tumbleweed.” My mind went on to remind me that there is no where these men could have washed their hands or prepared the food, so don’t eat it”.

            But, my missionary friend, who knew my aversion to germs, glared at me with her eyes. Her eyes clearly spoke, “Roselyn, you are going to eat this!”.

            I prayed and said, “There is either a God or there isn’t” after which I swallowed the desert combo. As you now know, I lived to tell the story and still stand in awe of the kindness of these strangers and the protection of my God.

            Finally, there is the story of being in the custody of the Police in China. My heart was pounding so hard I thought I would die from heart failure before any decision was made about my case. But, as my interrogation began, I was filled with a boldness that amazed me. I actually enjoyed debating the charges that were filed and when I was asked if I was a Christian, the word “Yes” jumped out of my mouth before I had time to form it. God was there giving me the words to say just as He promised in Luke 12:11.

            Each of these stories were platforms where fear and faith stood in opposition to each other. I cannot say, “Watch me be me” in any of these scenes, but I can say, “Watch God be God” in each of them.

            Now, as I stand ready to be called out to play my part in this production entitled “What’s next for America” I pray I can benefit from what I have seen God do in the past. I am excited that as in each of the earlier stories, I am being given a script that will draw me into deeper intimacy with Jesus.

            Coming Soon: A New God Story!!

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  Through the Lens of a Disciple

                                  A person holding a sign

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                 I asked my friend, who is an accomplished artist, if we could paint a scene together. I did not recognize, at this point, that I was stepping into the role of a disciple, one who follows a teacher with a desire to become like her/him.

            I have just started to dabble in acrylics, but I wanted to surprise another friend with a painting of her favorite lakeshore view. 

            My artist friend graciously agreed, even expressed delight at the idea.

           We set a date.  I asked what I should bring. She smiled and said I should bring a hat for the sun.

            This friend picked me up on the morning of this adventure and we drove together to the spot I had chosen. From the back of her van she lifted a little cart. I would soon learn that from this well- worn cart an array of supplies would emerge. An easel was pulled up and erected, a palate with a rich history was attached, brushes and knives were spread out as crowded tubes of paint were exposed.

            This artist, now fully engaged, had already scanned the landscape and taken several Iphone shots. This was to determine the angle we wanted to capture and also to memorize the effects of light, which would change in just two hours.

            We agreed on the boundaries of the painting. I then watched as she dug through tubes of oil paint. She quickly chose about 12 and squeezed them around the edge of her palate leaving the middle open for mixing.

            Her first words to me as she picked up a brush were, “Now I’m going to freak you out”. This was said to prepare me for watching as she slapped broad swatches of pink and brown on the virgin canvas. I responded with, “I hope you brought another one”. The colors I felt the scene called for were blue water/sky and green grass.

            My teacher worked quickly patiently taking me beyond my comfort level by describing the colors in terms of value, the height of images in terms of notes on a 

staff and the need to capture the light source at just the right angle.

            As I watched the hand of this brilliant woman transfer the beauty of the created world onto this simple piece of canvas I could only stand in awe. I knew, as I watched, that my vision of a joint project had not measured the distance between her abilities and mine.

             With grateful humility I said, “I am not going to paint on this masterpiece with my hand”. Suddenly, all I wanted to do is watch in wonder and just be with the creator of this work.

            This image that had no predictability for me was gradually transforming the colors and lines that meant nothing to me into a reflection of what I was seeing in nature. To fully appreciate we needed to step back a few yards. The details actually clarify with distance. (I want to learn more about impressionism.)

            My teacher then honored me by asking me to decide if she was done.

            The on-site work was done but the artist was not done with her creation. She carefully moved it to a safe place for transport and then explained it would need to dry for 2 weeks. After that time she would provide a frame.

            She handled the still wet painting with tender loving care. It was, in fact, her creation and would be recognized by her initials in the lower right- hand corner.

            As I reflect on the privilege that was mine to be a disciple of this creative friend my mind asks if this day holds teaching moments that transfer to becoming a disciple of Jesus. Let’s consider these questions:

            When we start out wanting to do something with or for Him, do we recognize that we don’t bring anything He needs? Do we recognize that He loves for us to be with Him as He works?

            Do we acknowledge that we need to trust that He knows what He is doing even when His first strokes don’t seem to fit our expectation of a finished project?

            Do we listen carefully to His teaching knowing He is inviting us to enter more deeply into His work?

            Do we recognize ourselves as His creation and remember that He is not done with us yet? Can we rest in the knowing that taking care of our process is near and dear to His heart?

            Do we remember that His name was carved into us before the creation of the world and initialed at the cross?  Do we remain cognizant that as a masterpiece we reflect our Creator?

Lord, teach us to see you through the lens of a disciple!

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An Artist moves a wedge of nature   to a canvas. I watch in awe!!

                                      Through the Lens of a Disciple

                 I asked my friend, who is an accomplished artist, if we could paint a scene together. I did not recognize, at this point, that I was stepping into the role of a disciple, one who follows a teacher with a desire to become like her/him.

            I have just started to dabble in acrylics, but I wanted to surprise another friend with a painting of her favorite lakeshore view. 

            My artist friend graciously agreed, even expressed delight at the idea.

           We set a date.  I asked what I should bring. She smiled and said I should bring a hat for the sun.

            This friend picked me up on the morning of this adventure and we drove together to the spot I had chosen. From the back of her van she lifted a little cart. I would soon learn that from this well- worn cart an array of supplies would emerge. An easel was pulled up and erected, a palate with a rich history was attached, brushes and knives were spread out as crowded tubes of paint were exposed.

            This artist, now fully engaged, had already scanned the landscape and taken several Iphone shots. This was to determine the angle we wanted to capture and also to memorize the effects of light, which would change in just two hours.

            We agreed on the boundaries of the painting. I then watched as she dug through tubes of oil paint. She quickly chose about 12 and squeezed them around the edge of her palate leaving the middle open for mixing.

            Her first words to me as she picked up a brush were, “Now I’m going to freak you out”. This was said to prepare me for watching as she slapped broad swatches of pink and brown on the virgin canvas. I responded with, “I hope you brought another one”. The colors I felt the scene called for were blue water/sky and green grass.

            My teacher worked quickly patiently taking me beyond my comfort level by describing the colors in terms of value, the height of images in terms of notes on a 

staff and the need to capture the light source at just the right angle.

            As I watched the hand of this brilliant woman transfer the beauty of the created world onto this simple piece of canvas I could only stand in awe. I knew, as I watched, that my vision of a joint project had not measured the distance between her abilities and mine.

             With grateful humility I said, “I am not going to paint on this masterpiece with my hand”. Suddenly, all I wanted to do is watch in wonder and just be with the creator of this work.

            This image that had no predictability for me was gradually transforming the colors and lines that meant nothing to me into a reflection of what I was seeing in nature. To fully appreciate we needed to step back a few yards. The details actually clarify with distance. (I want to learn more about impressionism.)

            My teacher then honored me by asking me to decide if she was done.

            The on-site work was done but the artist was not done with her creation. She carefully moved it to a safe place for transport and then explained it would need to dry for 2 weeks. After that time she would provide a frame.

            She handled the still wet painting with tender loving care. It was, in fact, her creation and would be recognized by her initials in the lower right- hand corner.

            As I reflect on the privilege that was mine to be a disciple of this creative friend my mind asks if this day holds teaching moments that transfer to becoming a disciple of Jesus. Let’s consider these questions:

            When we start out wanting to do something with or for Him, do we recognize that we don’t bring anything He needs? Do we recognize that He loves for us to be with Him as He works?

            Do we acknowledge that we need to trust that He knows what He is doing even when His first strokes don’t seem to fit our expectation of a finished project?

            Do we listen carefully to His teaching knowing He is inviting us to enter more deeply into His work?

            Do we recognize ourselves as His creation and remember that He is not done with us yet? Can we rest in the knowing that taking care of our process is near and dear to His heart?

            Do we remember that His name was carved into us before the creation of the world and initialed at the cross?  Do we remain cognizant that as a masterpiece we reflect our Creator?

Lord, teach us to see you through the lens of a disciple!

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Dusting off my Faith

 

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3

 

For me this verse has always had application to people living in another place at another time.

 

Until now…

 

Navigating this pandemic has driven me to dust off my faith. To my delight, this process has tamed the fear that so wants to attach itself to the Covid 19 story.

 

One door that fear is knocking on is labeled “conspiracy theory”.  Actually, there are several doors, of various styles, that lead to this same concern. If the people who are convinced of this theory are right then maybe I will be mandated to have a vaccine that has a tracer in it. Maybe I am being conditioned so that my behavior is more manageable.

 

All of this is of understandable concern. But does our faith have a response?

 

Thankfully, in Christ, we are already indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Through Him, our Heavenly Father tracks our every move. He even knows our thoughts before we speak. Regarding the fear of conditioning, we have already surrendered our lives to Jesus and are excited to be in the process of being transformed into His image.

 

So, any power that wants to take control of me for a malicious reason will have to confront my God, who indwells me. I am not under my own control, so I don’t have to worry about losing it. I am under God’s control who never loses a battle.

 

Knowing this frees me to say, “I don’t know” to the potential validity of the conspiracy theory, but it also tames the threat.

 

Another door that fear is knocking on is labeled “invisible virus that will kill you”.

 

Again, this is of understandable concern. But does our faith have a response?

 

Let’s remind ourselves of what we believe about death. We know it was not in the original creation narrative, but sin, both inherited and practiced has no answer other than death as it’s penalty. In ourselves, we have no way to cancel our sin or undo death as it’s consequence. Amazingly, our heavenly Father took it upon himself to send Jesus to die the death we were assigned to die. As Max Lucado writes, “As the echo of the crunching of the fruit was still sounding in the Garden of Eden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary”.

 

Jesus, having defeated death for us, invites us to appropriate His death as our own. We do that by surrendering our lives to him and living by faith in Him. Our baptism is a picture of our being crucified with Him and raised to eternal life.

 

 

 

The worst thing then that this Corona Virus can do is destroy our bodies, these tents that are only designed for temporary use anyway. Our spirits, secure in Him, don’t get either old or sick.

 

SO, any threat of death is tamed by the reality that my death has already happened. It doesn’t mean that I won’t grieve if I get sick someday, but I will not grieve as those who have no hope.

 

This faith also sets me free to say, “I don’t know.” to the opinion that this virus is either nothing to worry about or the end of our society as we have known it.

 

As we wait for answers to these and other questions we rejoice that our faith gives us freedom to respond from a different perspective. We don’t ignore our governments directives but rather use “safer at home” for reflection and prayer. We celebrate an imposed sabbath and yearn to make it a deeper habit than we have practiced before.

 

We take our questions to God and listen. We ask for a heart of compassion for those around us and for the world that is suffering.

 

Maybe this is a season where our faith will lead us to even see suffering differently.

 

What if it has been granted to us—in the USA 2020—to not only believe in Jesus Christ but also to suffer for His sake.

 

For this, we dust off our faith!!

 

 

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Then Jesus Danced for Me!

(a written account of a recent Sunday Morning worship encounter).

_______________________________________________________________

As I entered the sanctuary I knew, deep in my spirit, that this team of dancers who had come to lead our worship service, were themselves encountering God with abandoned intimacy.

I felt a sense of excitement as I watched this visual worship through dance. And yet, I did not have a high level of personal expectancy. I was there more because I wanted to support diversity in worship styles and pray through the service.

I always sit in the second row of pew chairs, but the front row was taken down to give more room for the stage, and thus, I found myself sitting in the front row. (This is important because of the access it gave me to the dancers).

My first encounter was finding my eyes locked with one of the young dancers who was literally 2 feet in front of me. Without missing a movement, her eyes invited me to move more deeply into the arms of Jesus. The invitation was initiated by Him; it was His eyes reaching to me through her. Her hands even gave a brief “come to me” gesture.

I recognize the eyes of Jesus. I have seen them at least twice before. Once when I was a young nurse, I encountered His eyes in a tribal Bolivian woman who stood, nearly naked, beside a jungle river. We had no words to communicate, but eye contact kept us riveted as we acknowledged a belonging far deeper than words could ever take us.

The second time was when I was being interrogated by police in China. Widows, who lived in the church and prayed, came down and made a circle around this little scene of what to me was terror. No one spoke a word, we had no words, but I made eye contact with one of them. That was enough to assure me that all will be well. It was not until 3 weeks after I got home that I recognized I had seen the eyes of Jesus.

And now, through the eyes of this young dancer, from Arrows International, I have seen them again.

In reflection, I know that this eye contact was a preparation for what Jesus had planned for me a few minutes later in the service.

It happened in the context of what was introduced as “David’s Song”. One dancer depicted the person whose life was alternately being torn between victory and defeat. Six dancers fought over their subject; three, dressed in white, symbolized angels and the presence of God, while the three competing dancers symbolized demons and darkness.  A story, told through dance, of a young man who knew Jesus, struggled with addiction and, at first glance, lost his battle.

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But as this dance began, the story of David disappeared for me and I was watching the story of my friend, Jean. Her story was being demonstrated for me as she celebrated victory over mental illness and addiction only to once again be caught in the claws of the enemy. Jean and I walked together for 35 years. Her death, now 2 ½ years ago, was a devastating double loss for me. I not only lost my friend, but I lost my paradigm of faith.

How could I reconcile the God I knew, whom I had served in pastoral ministry for 30 years, with the God who let my friend die in the most brutal way possible? How could He have abandoned her?

I have pushed myself into believing that God is good because of Who He is. I tell myself this decision cannot be based on a life story that, through my eyes, contradicts. When we sing about the goodness of God, I join in. I confess it. I teach it. I have pictured, in my mind, that Jesus was somehow there, even though there was no evidence of it to me. People who watch my life think I have victory over this thing that shattered both my heart and my faith.

But Jesus has known that I needed another step of healing.

It happened as this dance of David’s Song concluded. Though my eyes, it was Jesus Himself, who came dancing into the scene of the defeated child, brought Him back to life and welcomed Him to eternity.

Jesus knew I needed a picture of Him being in the Las Vegas mobile home, picking Jean up from her battered state and welcoming her to the only place she would ever be able to settle.

Jesus danced this for me. Yes, Jesus danced this for me.

I’m reminded of a little verse that I wrote, during my days of turmoil. I made it into a song that I often sing to Him.

“Open the window that I might see You, open the door that I might walk through, into Your arms as you lead me along, to the beat of Your heart, and the dance of Your song.”

On a recent Sunday, through the ministry of Arrows International, Jesus opened the window and danced for me.

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In the Master’s Hand

I couldn’t wait to get there.

As I was driving the almost hour it took, I pondered why I was so looking forward to this particular morning with my friend. I recognized that it might be rational to dread it. You see, I was taking my two first acrylic paintings out to a stunningly accomplished artist for the purpose of asking her what I am doing wrong.

I smiled as I answered my own question. The reason this invited critique is so welcome to me is that I know this friend loves me and only has my best interest at heart.

Continuing my mental dialogue, I asked myself why I feel trepidation when I ask God to search my heart. Don’t I trust that he will only take away that which is not contributing to the Masterpiece He is making of me? Don’t I know that He will stir excitement as I begin to recognize that I have more potential than I realized?

My session with my friend, as she worked with me and my painting, had many “moments” that translate easily into reflections of that which God desires to do with my heart.

When I laid out my paintings before her, she smiled with interest and then asked, “How would you like me to help you today?”

I told her I would like to learn how to bring light on to the canvas. With the confidence of a master she said, “I can help you with that”.

The first steps took me in a direction I had not expected. There was no way I could see that what she was asking me to do would in anyway create the finished product I was seeking. But, I trusted her and followed every step as best as I could.

She watched me patiently, far enough away for me to feel like it was mine, but close enough to stand beside me when I turned my head toward her.

At times, she took my brush and said, “I’m going to shock you now!” as she lightly brushed blue or even yellow all over my background and then worked it in as though it belonged.

Why do I hesitate when God asks me to do something that I can’t imagine will lead me to where I want to go? Why do I resist letting Him take the brush and shock me with techniques that only make sense to me in hindsight?

As I left my friends studio, I recognized that I have much more to learn than I realized. Learning to paint will be a journey, not a class. Maybe God, too, is wanting me to remember that I am on a journey. I really don’t have many answers. In fact, I don’t even know the questions.

I am so grateful that I am learning to paint and that I have a Master teacher.

I am so grateful that I am learning to trust the One Who is crafting me into a Masterpiece for Him.

I can’t wait to present myself to Him today in prayer and ask Him to search my heart.

It’s easier today, because yesterday I was guided by “Jesus with skin on”.

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Marital Status

This morning I am pondering the question my adopted granddaughter asked me last night. “Besta, (Norwegian for Grandma) are you still married now that Virgil died?”

I hadn’t really thought about it. I answered, “I don’t think so.

Then, for the first time, I used the word “widow”. I said, “I guess I am a widow now”.

This grandchild immediately reacted with alarm, “That sounds sad and negative”.

Her words stirred a passion within me. I determined at that very moment that “No way will sad and negative be descriptive of who I am becoming.”

Among the plethora of new things that I am beginning to process, is the choosing of a new category when asked to designate marital status.

But, more importantly, how will I be perceived by this granddaughter that doesn’t miss anything as she watches my life.

I am grateful for her question. I am grateful for all her questions. They keep me cognizant that I am being watched.  My talk needs to be translated into my walk for me to be authentic in her eyes.

I look forward to disempowering any label that limits my new journey.

 

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Cookie Crumbs and Cat Hair

As I step into this new season, I wake up to quiet.

I no longer hear the rhythmic thud of my husband’s quad cane as he struggles to cross the kitchen floor. I no longer hear the ding of a spoon hitting the side of his bowl of grits.

The quiet invites me to release all that I have learned, over decades, of what grief does and allow grief to just be.

I smile as I see the cookie crumbs and cat hair on my couch.  My granddaughter came over last night and somehow nuzzled the cat, eaten her cookie and completed her homework all in the same space.

I’m glad that I don’t need for me or my furniture to be free of cookie crumbs and cat hair. I want both my couch and my heart to be places where children and kittens can be free to play.

May this new season be one where the child in me can take up more space.

Maybe I will add to the cookie crumbs and cat hair today.

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The Words I Needed to Hear

Thoughts intrude upon my mind with messages not of my own creation.

In the blur of the night following my husband’s death, these words woke me form my fitful sleep: “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes”.

Before I could question or protest, the message repeated, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes”.

I knew the Sender was blocking all access to any suggestion that this event was caused by anything I did or did not do.

I knew these words were from scripture but needed to secure their address as Psalm 118:23.

My eyes then drifted down to verse 24, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’.

So, that is my plan for today!

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Maybe we Paint an Onion

“What would you like us to do today on your 92nd birthday?” This was my question yesterday to my husband.  His immediate response was “Maybe we should paint an onion.”

Given his dementia, I am usually not surprised by unexpected answers, but this one has caused me to ponder.

I shared this dialogue with my social worker friend and she, of course, asked, “How did that work for you?”

Again, I pondered. Is the idea of painting an onion just a reason to laugh at a nonsense idea or it is worth considering?

The phrase could be captured and used in the instances when life hands you something to which there is nothing to say or nothing to do. For example, if someone tells you the stock market just crashed you could say, “Maybe we should paint an onion.”

But what if we were to literally try it? I don’t know what medium you could possibly use, but there’s something appealing about messing up an art project and then simply removing that layer and finding a new layer inviting you to begin again. An onion could be a canvas that is very forgiving.

Reflecting on the decades of my life, I recognize God’s grace repeatedly pealing away that which has either simply served its purpose or proven to be a creative mess.

Isaiah gives us this insight into the ways of God. “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

Maybe painting an onion is faith that the God who has been there pealing and providing in the past is my Art Teacher with tenure.

That’s it for now… I’ve got an onion that needs paint!!!

 

 

 

 

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