Category Archives: Freedom

How I Know that YOU are an ARTIST!

IMG_1305A blank slate can be a scary thing.

It holds infinite possibilities and promise — as well as risk and responsibility. Who wants to commit to a pristine canvas, when you might “mess up?” Who wants to expose her heart for others to interpret? Often insecurity intimidates a would be painter from putting brush to paper.

It’s true in life too. Sometimes we avoid the art of living the abundant life (John 10:10). We prefer to admire or critique the works of others from a distance. We don’t risk engaging with others outside our comfort zones. It’s too messy, so we isolate ourselves in our safe circles of influence.

IMG_1270In my experience, the artist eventually breaks out, and I never regret it. My God-given desire to create and impact the world can’t be quenched.

Art can take a myriad of forms.  Conversation. Relationships. Visual arts. Performing arts. Cooking. Sewing. Writing. Software, interior or fashion design. Event planning. Mechanics and engineers. Crafting a business deal, a speech, lecture or a sermon. Gardening and flower arranging. Managing people… all these and more are forms of artistry.

According to the dictionary, to “create” means to bring something into existence or to cause something to happen as a result of one’s actions. Fairly all-encompassing — so I believe an artist is within ALL of us. Don’t trust me… you are an artist because God says so.

IMG_1285Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created…” He is an Artist. It goes on a few verses later “So God created human beings in his own image.” We are His unique creations, made to create. We all have some form of creative, expressive, influential DNA, derived straight from the Creator of the Universe. We need to find where God is calling us to “create.” Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” To glorify Him and edify others.

While each new day is often compared to a blank canvas, I see it a little differently. A canvas, yes, but not a stark white one. Our God never slumbers, so each new day, there’s a picture in progress on the canvas, a story unfolding. We only need to look for Jesus’ hand and join in where He’s already at work. John 5:19 says “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

IMG_1289When I was little I felt tremendous joy in a fresh box of crayons. I still remember the smell and those neat little points! I’ve loved writing and painting all my life. They have always drawn me in and offered me great expression. Rest and peace. But there have been many years where I haven’t painted at all.

After 7th grade, I dropped art class for more rigorous academics. Places I believed could lead me to success and reward. I decided painting was frivolous child’s play. My juvenile assessment persisted into adulthood. Art was for personal enjoyment.  Leisure after the important things were done, or not at all. My painting served no real purpose, unless I could be really amazing — a profitable artist or master of my trade.

IMG_1288God is changing my point of view. Today I not only value creative expression, but believe no one is living completely as God desires them to unless they value their creative niche, and risk sharing their God appointed art form with others.

God is using painting in my life in important ways.

Recently, we removed a rarely used pool table and turned our pool room into a TV room.  With all those windows, there was too much glare by day and a fish bowl effect by night. And really — who needs multiple sitting rooms? With no more practical uses, I timidly suggested maybe I might paint more if I had a space I could keep “messy.” A studio? And all that natural light made the pool room perfect.

IMG_1122We transformed it, and like many a white canvas, it remained untouched. The shelves were loaded with brushes, art books, canvases and paint… but the artist was not present.

Consumed by what felt urgent, critical, and mine to accomplish, my life’s pace just wasn’t compatible with creativity. Despite helping, going and doing, I felt guilty and inept. I tried hard, but it was never enough — and I was instead being controlled and consumed by my trials… by life on this earth.

my office

IMG_2832Then one day on a whim (and a prayer), I painted something. And right alongside my easel, the Potter began molding His clay, pliable and surrendered in His hands.

He is giving me new Life! A new purpose. After asking me to stop all my busyness and just be, He is beckoning me to His new plan. To work He has uniquely molded me to do (more later on that).

You are an ARTIST! I hope you have discovered a form of artistry that draws you completely into the present moment, as it temporarily drains away worldly concerns and distractions. A place to be vulnerable, authentic and raw.  Where you can lose yourself.

God led me back to painting… to teach me about His nature, expose a little more of my flesh, and to transform me for His glory. Artistry is good for that. It helps us embrace and engage fully — letting go of what’s broken and left undone.

IMG_1284Sharing my art requires me to be vulnerable. Trusting God in all the details as I rest, slow down, fill my cup and make time for Him. This “frivolous” creating has allowed God the space to teach me a little more about His desires for me and where He truly wants me to join Him in His work.

Like Eric Lidell said in “Chariot’s of Fire, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  God gave me a love of painting… and when I paint, I feel His presence and His pleasure. It has less to do with what I produce on the canvas than the freedom and the abundant life He offers, as I become more fully “me.”

Matthew 11:29-30 sheds some light: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (emphasis mine).

IMG_1228Are you drowning in pressure? Do you believe you’re made in the image of God and as such, an artist? Could acknowledging whatever art form God has place in your heart help you gain His Holy perspective?

I hope you have something that provides in-the-moment creative joy in your life. If not, ask God to reveal His gift to you. Then look for where He is already at work, and calling you to join in His creation. Pick up your “paintbrush,” choose your favorite color and go to work with Him on the canvas He has waiting for your contribution.

IMG_1262“To me, the purpose of the arts is to introduce people to life in all its breadth and complexity and thereby to find oneself, others, the world and God more fully.” Gary Collins

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Changing One Word Made All the Difference in My Prayer

Do you ever wish God would just wave His magic wand and clean up the pain and messiness in your life? He is able. Ephesians 3:20 says “God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!” But… the verse goes on to say, “He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

IMG_0694I’ve been living in crisis mode. I’m sure you can relate — life on earth is full of ups and downs, twists and turns. John 16:33 guarantees it, “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.”

In our crises we turn to God and beg Him — make it BETTER! Heal us, change this situation, turn the tide, fix what’s broken, give me a job, money, love… anything we perceive as blessing — just make my situation better, Lord! We sometimes pray like God is a vending machine… we insert our prayers, and He is supposed to dispense our selected outcomes.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with desiring relief, comfort or even ease. Or for praying for miracles, blessings, and good outcomes. But just before my current crisis began, I read a blog suggesting we also pray for God to make it COUNT. That has been my prayer, and it’s made a magnificent difference.

IMG_0567I can pray “God, make it count” with confidence and expectation. Make it count in ALL the lives this situation touches… in my life.  This prayer helps me to focus on Him and to trust God with the outcomes in the lives of others, while cooperating with His work in my own life.

My prayer is continuous and peppered with thanksgiving and praise, despite ongoing troubles. This prayer has helped me to truly trust that He will teach me through it all. Use it to sanctify me.  Heal my brokenness and crucify more of my flesh. To show me His protection and love anew. For His Glory into eternity. Somehow, this prayer helped familiar words all make sense.

If you earnestly pray “make it count” in your current situation —  get ready. My experience is God doesn’t waste time in getting started! He uniquely works in each life touched by a situation to whatever degree we will surrender to His hand. He may not make it “better” in our human estimation — but He WILL make it count for eternity and His Kingdom.

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)

IMG_3600Almost immediately His Holy Spirit began stirring my heart and mind. Revealing His truth. It’s been painful at times. Humbling. But I don’t want to squander the opportunity He is affording me… so I continue to be attentive to Him and His Word in the most trusting obedience I have to offer, albeit fumbling and immature. I am clay in His hands.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12 makes it clear that sometimes we’re meant to suffer. Another devotional I read lately reminded me that my obedience to Christ will sometimes cause others to suffer. I’m still to be obedient and trust His hand in their lives, even when it involves trials.

In the midst of it all I turn to a beloved and familiar verse. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Make it count sheds a new light —

IMG_3189I think as believers we often interpret Paul’s reassuring words to mean “Don’t worry. No matter what’s happening, God’s going to make it all better!” We need to know that God is at work. Even in THIS He will accomplish His will. The story of Joseph is great biblical example for this truth — and we cling to the hope that he will bless us here and now.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God’s refining, sanctifying work is often painful, but the fruit is so worth the struggle — if we will surrender to Him. Sometimes we struggle a while, then get “happy” endings that we can see and understand. But not always.

The Bible tells us that God sovereignly allows or orchestrates all events, for His glory and our good. Count on that “betterment.” But there is no guarantee that the trial will “turn around” or get “better.”  Sometimes He will rescue us, heal us, give an unexpected blessing in the midst of suffering. Other times it’s precisely our suffering that accomplishes His desire. Just as Jesus suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins.

IMG_3591Our faith in God’s sovereign goodness cannot be tied to circumstances or outcomes — if Joseph had remained unfairly incarcerated forever, God would not be any less good, nor His will less than perfect.

So what is the great promise of Romans 8:28?  No matter what we experience or endure on this earth, our eternity with God is assured. Nothing can hinder His plans for our future glorification. God uses all for our temporal and eternal good — no matter what things look like or how they feel to us.

Back to my situation. What has praying “God, let it count — for Your Kingdom and my sanctification” done?  It has tremendously enhanced  my eternal perspective, in my own experiences and for others. And I am sincerely grateful for His continued refining, even as I feel the uncomfortable heat of His fire.

A minister prayed beautifully (I wish I could say it as well as he) that God would make himself known in these circumstances and move miraculously among us, so that we would be compelled to tell the story of His great work — and He would be glorified in it all.  Peter said it this way, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” ( 2 Peter 3:18)

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Don’t Buy the Hype — You’re Not all that Special

A dear friend and I met for a long overdue visit. As we talked about our empty nests and the resulting changes in our lives, we both admitted to a bit of disappointment.

We thought by now we would have accomplished more, obtained more wisdom. We expected to be all round more valuable, important and contributing citizens of the world by our 50s.

A more profound question followed: Is God calling us to just be… ordinary? (gasp)

IMG_0603Perhaps midlife crises are fueled by the eventual realization that the singular and noteworthy “me” I’ve fancied myself to be, doesn’t actually exist. Even the most successful people usually aren’t quite all they once imagined, and all this earth offers doesn’t quite measure up (read Ecclesiastes for a thorough exploration).

A presumed famine of childhood self esteem elicited the “YOU are special” slogans which have been spoon fed to us for decades. They mostly serve to inflate our egos and encourage self absorption. The culture pitched, and we swung at extraordinary lives with all we had. We believed we could “be the change” (even for Jesus), and DO BIG things! WE could be anything and expected to “have it all” along the way, if we only worked hard enough. We were special people living in special times.

IMG_3665What if we’ve defined special and success all wrong? What if we’ve passed on the hype to our kids? What if extraordinary doesn’t mean what our generation generally thought it did?

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

God’s guiding me to reassess life. In the process I’ve felt detached and isolated. Perhaps the nebulous mid life I’ve always heard about is at least partially to blame. What’s happening in me? What is God saying to us in this middle ground?

IMG_2571Whatever this age and stage is… I’m impatient to escape the resulting unrest. My gut says the emptiness isn’t due just to hormones or emotions, but rather transition and transformation.

It would be easier to label it, medicate it, ignore it, hide it, numb it or otherwise busy myself to the point of oblivion, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I can’t just press on as I always have. I feel drawn into a cocoon, but I’m also emerging. God is doing something different in me — creating something altogether new and beautifully ordinary.

As believers we’ve continually been maturing and being transformed (some call it sanctification) as we’ve lived through various seasons — and God’s got much more in store for us. “I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:4) “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

photo (24)The empty nest gives God a great opportunity. Ambiguity and uncertainty are a part of change. Transitions by nature are liminal or without form. On the threshold between things. In his book “In Midlife” Murray Stein describes liminality “as ‘unformedness’ likened to being the elements of life before life itself is created. It is a time before creativity, but essential to the birth of new forms. A place of the ‘naked soul.'”

Yes! That’s how I feel. An element of the already but not yet.  I sense the stillness before something important happens. There’s definitely excitement and anticipation. At the same time I feel stifled and exposed. Unsure and incomplete.

IMG_1599The relief and pleasure of sending my children out into the world has waned, and the space I’ve provided for God to do His new thing in me causes midlife allegations to intensify:  you’re aimless… invisible… your life is mundane and meaningless.

While the accusations are untrue, I’m beginning to understand in the depths of my soul just how ordinary I am. Strangely, I think that revelation is part of what God’s been growing me toward.

It’s a little disappointing, but it also takes the pressure off to achieve — more than ever before. The shallow and mundane tasks of life are ordained by God just as much as the profound and impact full “big” moments. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The impact of my Granny’s life sure was a great example of that!

My flesh balks at the idea. There’s a part of me that still wants to buy in to the slogans — to do big things. To be renowned. First to repress my own insecurity and then to impress others with my depth and importance. My uniqueness, understanding and achievement.

IMG_4171That’s spiritual pride. And a great pedestal from which I can easily fall into condemning, rebuking and judging others with an utter lack of self-awareness. I’ve encountered these mature and self righteous know-it-alls (Jesus called them Pharisees). I recognize in myself a mid-life tendency to become just such a pious onlooker, and I want to do anything I can to avoid becoming that person.

My flesh may have planned to be seen as profound, wise, useful and spiritually strong. But Jesus came to us as a baby in a lowly manger and died on a cross. Matthew 10:24 says “A disciple is not above his teacher…” By His grace God continually humbles and changes me. What I really want is not for people to see me at all, but to make Jesus more widely known. To love Him more and more. To allow Him to mold me and use me however He chooses.

IMG_1122We are in good company when our bodies grow wrinkly, tired, stiff or sick.  When we feel disconnected, invisible or discarded. Misunderstood in an unfamiliar culture where we once had a starring role. The common experiences of humanity safeguard us from self-importance and the heavy heartedness of taking ourselves and our endeavors too seriously. We might have increased limitations as we age, but not the God we serve! In thankfully surrendering to our present role in His story, we will always flourish for God’s kingdom.

God and His business are the things we need to revere and truly take seriously. Certainly not our ordinary selves. So let’s lighten up.  Matthew 11:28-30 says “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

IMG_2668By ourselves, we’re not so special. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5) We’re fallen. Sinful. We are ordinary people, but we’re made in the image of God. He loves each one of us exactly as we are. That’s beyond special.

To be extraordinary, we surrender to being ordinary and needy and let God work in us. “God saved us by his grace when we believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) He even mysteriously accomplishes salvation in those He chooses, so that none of us can boast.

Saved by grace, we live by grace. Repent and give up our right to play God in our own stories. Then accept that something extra: God our creator, Jesus’ work on the cross, and the gift of His indwelling Holy Spirit — the only extra that matters in giving ordinary people extraordinary lives!

Let Him be extraordinary and give Him all glory —  and the possibilities are boundless as we transition into following God into whatever next thing He has in store.

IMG_0681***God’s got a sense of humor. Just after I wrote the longest post ever, I found this familiar verse. God said it much more succinctly and eloquently than I in Romans 12:1-2… “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” The Bible is our best guide! AMEN!

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