The heart of Jesus toward you.

It’s easier not to risk. It’s safe to stay quiet. No danger of being misunderstood if I find a safer avenue to display my heart. 

One of my favorite texts in the Bible is found in two different Gospels: John Chapter 12 and Matthew Chapter 7. Take the time to read it, but here’s the recap. Mary enters a room where Jesus is eating dinner at the house of a pharisee and exposes her most vulnerable self to a crowd of all men. I can only imagine the lies Mary forcefully shoved aside in her mind as she entered. I’m a woman in the 21st century and can still find myself intimidated by a room full of men. 

Yet she entered — her tears flowed without restraint, worshipping the feet of her Savior God. She let her hair down and let her walls down, risking the consequences. Extravagant risk. She uses her hair (which was never to be down in public) to wipe her tears from the feet of Jesus. She takes an alabaster jar of perfume and shatters matrimonial expectations, cultural norms of womanhood and likely her own dreams of being a wife and the precious, costly gift to offer her future husband and pours it on the feet of Jesus. Do you see what she is proclaiming in that holy moment? Affection for Jesus over EVERYTHING

I’m certain minds were racing: How improper. Doesn’t she know her place? Silly woman wasting this expensive bottle of perfume. Surely she’ll never find a husband now. Did she really just interrupt us like that? She should be able to contain her emotions. Where is her self-control and sense of decency? How dare a woman behave in this manner.

She exposed herself to all the misunderstanding in the world. And she didn’t flinch.

Mary fully trusted Jesus, leaving no room in her heart for the judgements and misconceptions of others. Without a doubt, she knew He understood her. He saw her heart. There were no possible misinterpretations on His side. Her boldness was evidence of extreme intimacy. 

How does Jesus respond? I’m sure there were expectations from the men in the room, eagerly anticipating how Jesus would address the cultural rules Mary so egregiously broke, waiting to have their opinions affirmed and their pride stroked, ready to see this woman put in her proper place.

But Jesus does quite the opposite. He boldly silences the accusers and praises Mary’s act of worship saying that what she has done will be re-told and remembered forever. 

She risked all of her fears of shame, ridicule, condemnation and being misunderstood and poured them out on the feet of Jesus. And He gave her what her heart longed for the most: she was seen, she was heard, she was understood and affirmed by the only One who mattered.

Love YO Self

The other day my daughter came to me in tears — troubled, sad, crushed by the weight of a friend’s careless words. I saw the pain on her face, the breaking of her voice as she bravely and vulnerably shared why she was upset. She opened up, exposing her hurt to me, expecting the embrace of her mom.

Instead I told her she needed to get over it and move on. I told her she shouldn’t let things bother her so much and that it really wasn’t a big deal and then sent her on her way.

*crickets chirp*

Of course that’s not what I did!

I took her in my arms, gave her as long of an embrace as she needed and then looked in her eyes and spoke the truth of who she is into her heart and mind. I let her share all of her feelings, made sure she got it all out and then told her how much I loved her.

She opened up to me because she expected a safe place. Over the ten years of her life, trust has built between us. From skinned knees to worried thoughts, sibling squabbles and hurt friendships, I’ve been there through it all.

One of my goals as a mother is to be the safest place for my children. I want them to have the freedom to share all of their thoughts and feelings and not be ashamed of any of them.

But here’s where this is going. Why do I not do the same for myself?

I’ve grown accustomed to telling myself to get over it and move on — that I shouldn’t let things bother me so much and it’s really not a big deal. Then I give myself a pep talk and send my thoughts and feelings on their way.

I’ve done this for years. I haven’t always been the safest and softest place for my own thoughts and feelings. What comes naturally to do for my children doesn’t come so naturally to do for myself.

Connection requires knowing, right? We cannot connect with someone if we do not truly know them. Isn’t connection, at its rawest, the opportunity to be known and seen (even when we’re not at our best) and then loved and understood despite of it? Sadly, it’s likely most of us walk around not honestly knowing and loving ourselves… myself included!

Eckhart writes, “No one can know God who does not first know himself.” (And I might also add — No one can know others…)

Similarly, St. Augustine in his famous, Confessions, writes, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?” (And I might also add — How can you draw close to others?)

These past 6 months or so, I’ve been on a journey inward to give myself permission to feel.

In his book, Emotionally, Healthy, Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes, “Allow yourself to experience the full weight of your feelings. Allow them without censoring them. Then you can reflect and thoughtfully decide what to do with them. Trust God to come to you through them… The issue is not by any means to blindly follow our feelings, but to acknowledge them as a part of the way God communicates to us… The journey of genuine transformation to emotionally healthy spirituality begins with a commitment to allow yourself to feel.”

As feelings of loneliness, anger, sadness or worry hit me, I’m slowing down. I’m taking time, just like I would do for one of my children, to stop what I’m doing, listen to the hurt and allow it to surface. Then I’m letting God direct me to His Truth and remind me how loved I am. Just like I don’t judge my children for the feelings they experience, I’m trying to offer myself the same safe spot to land.

Jesus commands us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As. You. Love. Yourself.

If someone had secret access to our thought life – would they think we love ourselves? What Jesus is saying here is that we only have the capacity to love others as much as we love ourselves. We only have the capacity to truly connect with others if we are truly connected with ourselves.

So here’s the thing. It’s hard work. Taking a daily inventory of our feelings, pausing to reflect on roots and triggers, sitting in tough, yucky stuff… none of that sounds fun. But it’s worth it and it’s necessary. I think one of the steps, maybe the most necessary step, to finding true connection with others is to FIRST find true connection with ourselves. Let’s reveal it all to ourselves. And then take the time to listen, process, pray and love ourselves despite ourselves.

“The brave baring of all the broken in their brokenness can offer the miracle of communion. Never be afraid of being a broken thing.”― Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

Maybe we DO all have time for REST

A theme of rest has been threading it’s way through each area of my life: a call to introspection. I’ve had a lot of thoughts about rest, as it’s something I know I need in my life. Being a homeschooling mother of four, there’s not a lot of time for this illusive rest. Every moment of my day is filled. There’s a lot of questions, a lot of touching, a lot of noise, a lot of expended energy and not a lot of “me-time”. Even as I type this at 6:30 in the morning, my oldest is sitting next to me because she just wants to be near me.

We make time for what is most important to us, and it takes extreme intention to add rest into our habits. If you want to see what someone’s priorities are, look at their schedule. And if you looked at my schedule a couple of weeks back, having a time of solitude and introspection would not have been on my list of priorities.

Here’s the word that kept coming back to me as I thought about rest: DISCIPLINE.

Well that’s not a fun word.

It’s certainly not a word we toss around often these days. Self-care? We love that word. Me-time? Yep, let’s make some room for that. But discipline seems consistently omitted from our vocabulary.

But I truly believe that rest begins with discipline and restraint. With so many things vying for our attention, it takes discipline to rejects those things. Our phone dings and buzzes and ticks at us all day. There are to-dos to cross off and TV shows to watch. There are places to go and people to see and FOMO we must avoid!

These things are not necessarily bad things. But what if all the good things are actually distracting us from the greatest thing? What if deep within us, our hearts, our souls, our spirits are craving to be at REST?

Let’s define rest. I’m not talking about getting a solid 8 hours of sleep, although that’s important for our physical bodies. I’m referring to the deepest rest; the kind that reaches into our spirits, our inner-beings, and floods us with true restoration. The kind of rest where we are quiet and alone long enough to be in tune with our Creator.

Meister Eckhart says, “The noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within.”

THE noblest. Of course this quote can be up for debate, but let’s consider that he’s right. What if the best, the most important, the most fulfilling thing that we can do in our lives is to be silent and let God work and speak within us?

Personally, I think he’s right. Even Jesus had something to say about this. Quick re-cap on this story from the Bible found in Luke 10. Martha and Mary were sisters. When Jesus visited their house, the sisters were found in quite opposite scenarios. Martha was getting dinner prepared, serving the guests, cleaning up the kitchen – you know, the stuff that HAD to get done and somebody had to do it! And Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. Not doing anything. Just sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to Him.

Jesus looks over at Martha and says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but ONE thing is NECESSARY. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha was serving others and getting things done that had to get done. In today’s world we would praise her efforts: she’s hustling, she’s a boss lady, she can do it all!

But Jesus flips our human thinking upside down. He actually critiques her. He doesn’t tell her that what she is doing is bad, but instead He goes straight for the heart. “Martha – why are you anxious? Why is all of this troubling you? Don’t you know you’re missing out on being with your Creator? I’m RIGHT here. Why are you trying to please me with all of this work? I just want you to be with me!”

When we read this story, let’s admit it… we’re all kind of thinking that Mary should have gotten up and done something, right? It would be HARD to be in that situation and sit still at Jesus’ feet. It would have taken some serious discipline.

She risked the angry side-eye from her sister, she risked the others thinking that she was lazy, and she risked not crossing off all the things on her to-do list that day. But she threw off the list and the pressures of the people around her and chose stillness. She chose to be at her Creator’s feet.

When we say we “have no time,” I believe what we really mean is that we don’t have the discipline to say “no.” Ouch. I know.

In order to attain the true rest we seek, we must strengthen our muscle of restraint.

Each of us could fill our days with a limitless amount of tasks. There is always something to get done, and there will always be people to please. So yes, we’ll never have enough time. But rest, silence, solitude should be a priority that doesn’t get pushed out of our schedule.

And if we truly believe the most important thing we could do is be still before God and lay our inner-most beings bare before Him, we will make time for it. And I guarantee we won’t be so troubled and anxious like our familiar friend, Martha.

Imago Dei

Imago Dei: the image of God.

We are all made in the image of God.
And God has a never-ending number of facets about His image. We will never come to the end of discovering who God is.

But the problem is we try to fit Him into our own self-constructed image; looking only to ourselves to see what God is like. We confine God to the smallest box we can conjure up: ourselves.

We’re democrat or republican; OK so is God. We’re white, brown, black; well God must be too. The way we see the world must be the way that God sees the world.

But the 7.7 billion people inhabiting the earth were all made in the image of God, and we are all REALLY different from one another.

When I look around in my world and only see people that look like me, think like me, have the same socio-economic standing as me or the same political ideas as me, I’m missing out on an abundance of who God is.

Idolatry = blind adoration. What a fitting definition. That is precisely what we do. We turn a blind eye to the diversity around us; adoring ourselves over the discovery of others and ignoring the image of God in those who are different. I think that’s what racism is. It’s idolatry. We worship the image of ourselves, through the people we surround ourselves with, and dismiss the image of God that’s inside of people who might make us uncomfortable. Because heaven forbid God make us uncomfortable! We uphold ourselves and our own view as greater than anyone else’s. Our views, our perspective, our way of seeing the world becomes our god.

What I’m speaking of is different than disagreeing with someone or defending truth. This message is about how our personal comfort has wrongly taken the place at the top of our priority list. And we miss out on discovering more of who God is.

My America is different than your America. My church is different than your church. My culture is different than your culture. My language is different than your language. My politics are different than your politics. My skin is different than your skin.

And we draw lines. And fear creeps in little by little until the bricks we’ve laid up between us feel too tall to jump over, and now we have to knock some walls down.

But these differences are not right or wrong. They’re just different. And different is good and lovely.

As Ann Voskamp says, “You don’t have to see things the same to see the image of God in someone.”

We are the ones who turn these differences into right and wrong. We declare our preferences “right” and anything that conflicts must be “wrong.” We’d never come right out and say it. But the way we live our lives announces it loud enough.

Racism seems bigger than what we can do. And it is. You see the headlines: the hate, the anger, the years of hurt laid up on top of one another. I’m not trying to minimize the affects of racism. There are generations of past hurts to repent of and hard work to untangle the knots of injustice in many areas of society.

But it really does start with us.

And step one is: make God bigger.

Open our hearts and spirit and ask Him to show us who He really is. Repent of our own idolatry and humbly seek to expand our view of God.

What if we listened? Asked questions? Sought to understand before being understood? Oh the beauty of God we could discover in one another. How many facets of His image could be revealed to us?

When God is in His rightful place we have to shrink away. All of us: our preferences, our comfort, our ease. And when we shrink, there is now room for more of Him, more room for others to come close and show us something beautiful and different.

Make Space for Hospitality

“If there is room in the heart, there is room in the house.” – Danish proverb

We’re all busy, right?… places to go…things to do!

When I was a kid I remember slower days: my parents on the front porch chatting freely with our neighbors while the kids played outside. We were barefoot, sun-kissed and played with a deep sense of freedom. There was connection in a way that we miss today if we’re not intentional.

My heart is drawn to hospitality lately. When we moved into our current house, my husband and I knew we wanted to open our home up to all kinds of people at all kinds of times. With 4 children, constant renovation and a lot of moving parts, we could have easily come up with all the excuses to hold off on this nudge of hospitality we were feeling.

But this attempt at having an “open home” has slowly chipped away at my perfectionistic tendency. And I’m now starting to happily jump into the deep end of hospitality.

Romans 12:13, says “…Always be eager to practice hospitality.”

Always be eager.

That doesn’t mean when the house is spotless and you’re caught up on your to-do list. It doesn’t mean when you have a big meal prepared. It doesn’t mean when your kids look and behave perfectly. Or when you look and behave perfectly! The word “always” really does mean ALWAYS.

We’re big college basketball fans. Because we’re big Kentucky fans. And March Madness is a big deal around here. So much so that a new tradition has developed in the Cornell household that includes a giant projector screen and a 4-day open door policy when it kicks off. Anyone is welcome and you don’t even have to knock. Just come on in; bring some food if you can and watch the games with us (even if you’re a Duke fan ;)). This new tradition is one of our highlights of the year. Over the course of this past March Madness, we probably had 50 different people through our doors. And that doesn’t include the kids! On Sunday evening there were 24 children running through our yard playing capture the flag and I can’t remember when my heart felt so full. It’s my favorite thing in the world.

There was clean-up, lack of sleep, a lack of getting things done, lots of noise and definite chaos. But it was so worth it. So many worlds collided and people connected and we connected and we all came away feeling more like family.

I told Andrew after that we need to have “open door policy” days throughout the entire year, regardless of it being centered around a sporting event. It’s worth it.

It got me thinking that there aren’t too many sweeter words for our souls to hear than, “me too.” And when we let people into our homes, they see the reflection of “me too” written in our lives. You are welcome here. Your marriage isn’t perfect? Me too. Your kids have tough days and are disrespectful? Me too. Laundry is piled up and you’re ordering take-out again? Me too. But they see the good stuff reflected back too: the beautiful laughter, the crazy noise, children playing outside together and they hear “me too” – that life is good and God is good and it’s a whole lot better when we’re in it together!

As we think about hospitality and how to “make space” for it, these are a couple of thoughts I wanted to share:

1. Welcome all. Jesus chose some VERY diverse men to be in His inner circle. Matthew, a sell-out tax collector to the Romans was put in a group with Simon the Zealot, who hated the Romans! These two would never associate. It definitely seemed like an odd choice! But Jesus knew what He was doing. When we truly do life with people who are different than us, we see the beauty in our differences and learn to love and appreciate them. “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

2. Just open the door. I promise you that people aren’t looking for a perfect reception, a beautiful house and a home-cooked meal every time. It’s wonderful when we can offer that but people just want to feel like they belong.

3. When you open up your home and loosen the standards of perfection you put on yourself, you give others air to be themselves.

4. True hospitality allows love to grow in organic ways you probably never imagined before: new friendships, new levels of understanding and deeper levels of grace given and received.

5. Our kiddos are learning that “our” house and “our” things are not really ours. They are gifts to be shared. They are learning that people are important and we’re going to value them over our own time, space or things.

6. I think our society has taken the “me-time” and “self-care” buzzwords a little too far. Maybe we actually need less me-time and more time with others. Maybe our souls are really longing for more connection and deeper relationships.

So let’s open up our hearts and open up our homes and start to make some space for hospitality!

The Treasure in Transition

If you’ve got a baby in your house, you’re more than likely familiar with sleep regressions. The DREADED sleep regressions. You get your sweet child on a predictable schedule that everyone is comfortable with; your family is finally getting a great night’s sleep and without fail that sneaky, underhanded sleep regression waves it’s hand and yanks out the rug of familiarity from the routine.

It feels like a giant step backwards. All of a sudden, they’re waking up multiple times in the night or resisting their naps during the day. You dread they’ll never go back to their peaceful ways.

Even though you fear your days of under-eye circles and 5 cups of coffee per day are a permanent sentencing, a couple of days go by and your sweet little cherub is back to their routine, back to sleeping through the night and you quickly forget the regression ever took place.

As frustrating and tiring as these sleep transitions are, they serve quite the purpose. During these “regressions” babies are actually leaping forward in their development and experiencing a surge of brain growth. A step backwards proves in the end to actually be a necessary progression.

And we’re not far removed from experiencing similar regressions. Except we like to use the word “transition.” If you’re in a transition you might feel like you’re all out of whack. What’s predictable and routine has been yanked from underneath you and you might be grasping for the comfortable and familiar.

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes: job loss, a move, a new child, adoption, marriage, divorce, loss of a loved one, a new business venture.

I’ve experienced a number of transitions in my life. And I’m starting to realize that what initially feels like a step backwards or a complete robbery of the familiar and comfortable, is a necessary part of our own development if we allow it. A surge of growth. We can resist or we can accept with open arms the newness our Heavenly Father is doing in us.

One of the biggest transition times for our family was back in 2010. My husband, Andrew, was the owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A franchise. We loved (and continue to love) every aspect of the company. It was an honor to steward a CFA and it was something we took very seriously. During CFA’s annual operator seminar back in February of that year, God whispered to Andrew to leave Chick-fil-A; to leave the dream job he worked so hard for and the future that was bright before him. Andrew told God if it was really Him speaking, bring it up again so he could be sure. There was a morning just a month later in March when I was out of town for a funeral (this was when our oldest was only 4 months old) and God spoke the same message again in a quiet whisper to Andrew. God must have been serious about it after all.

When I returned home, Andrew shared all of this with me and I actually wasn’t surprised. God has a way of preparing our hearts for transition.

Together, we took the step of faith and told Chick-fil-A Andrew would be ending his contract May 1st of that year. This was also the same time I had left my job to be at home with our daughter and was only working part-time from home. When I say there was no job waiting, nothing ahead, no position to take, nothing on the horizon, I mean NOTHING.

Was there fear? A bit. But the greatest thing happens when you trust God and fully embrace the transition He’s put before you. He will give you a peace greater than any security and comfort this world can bring. Andrew took a position at a non-profit urban ministry and was able to start a work program where urban teenagers were paired with caring, intentional employers to gain job experience and training. That’s neat to look back on because job creation is still a passion God has on our hearts.

God provided and showed up in miraculous ways during that season that we still fall back on when we forget His faithfulness: money anonymously given to us, a new car bought for us by someone we didn’t even know, brand new furniture given to us. It was humbling and heart-changing and left us with a greater faith than we could have known if we stayed where we were.

To the world, we were foolish. We didn’t end up with a job making more money or gaining more notoriety. But for us: the growth, the faith, the dependency we gained far outweighed any cost involved with walking away. He drew us into His heart and showed us what a good Father He is. I wouldn’t trade that season of transition for anything.

And it prepared us for transitions to come: a new business venture, more children, adoption, homeschooling, leaving jobs, moving and the current transitions He is stirring in us now.

So be encouraged. What looks like a regression is usually a step of progression. Things can appear quite differently on the outside than what is actually happening on the inside. And that’s where it counts: what God is doing on the inside. That’s where the treasure lies.

Just like babies during those darn sleep regressions. They’re crying, waking up, restless and hard to soothe. But days later there they are: saying their first words or taking their first steps. Proof of that surge of growth that happened during their time of transition.

Trust the Chef.

My kitchen “helper”

Raw meat is the worst.

I prepped a turkey meatloaf this morning and was quickly reminded of the extremely unpleasant sound and sight of dumping a pound of raw, grounded turkey into a bowl.

Gabe, my curious three year old, hopped up on the counter, per usual whenever I am doing anything in the kitchen, as he loves to “help.”

He glanced in the bowl, probably hoping to see some cookie dough or banana bread batter but found raw turkey staring back at him. He took a sniff which immediately ensued a loud and dramatic “eeeewwwww” out of him. “I don’t want to eat that.”

Well me neither buddy, I thought. No one wants to eat raw, ground turkey.

I proceeded to chop some basil which resulted in another “eeewww… I don’t want to eat that either.”

Me neither, I thought.

This same sort of game continued through the garlic powder, salt, the raw egg, the tomato paste and the almond flour.

Gabe and I came to the same conclusion. We didn’t want to eat any of the ingredients by themselves.

Cooking is probably a little confusing for a three year old. If raw turkey, garlic powder and chopped basil aren’t enticing to eat, why would he want to taste what’s made after those things are combined?

But I’ve been cooking for a while. And I’ve got a different perspective. I know that you’ve got to put all the ingredients together in order to complete the finished product. What tastes awful alone becomes the perfect combination of taste when mixed with other ingredients. You can’t leave anything out or you’ll be missing an important flavor.

And the finished product is good. It’s nourishing. It feeds me and it feeds others.

I told Gabe to trust the chef. I told him I knew what I was doing. I had the recipe in my hand.

It’s so much like life, right?

“Eeewww… wait a second God, I don’t want that.” “Yuck, that doesn’t look like it’s very appetizing either.”

Often times the things we really don’t want to swallow become the very key ingredients to completing the recipe of our life.

A failure. A diagnosis. A failed relationship. A loss. An injury. A difficult child.

These things taste awful on their own. Not easy to take down.
But He’s got a different perspective.

Combined with our past experiences, our relationships, His future plans for us, our gifts and talents, who He made us to be… these yucky, solitary ingredients can become the secret component to something very special.

He knows what it takes to complete the process in our life. He’s got the recipe in His hand. The finished product will be good and nourishing; able to feed ourselves and others.

We’ve just got to trust the Chef.

Unique

As a mom, I find myself seeking those other moms who have experienced the same things I have. It’s a familiar occurrence. And there have been many times I’ve received encouragement or consolation from mothers who have walked a similar path. Whether it’s the highs/lows of adoption, the strong-willed toddler or a homeschooling roadblock I’m hitting, we don’t want to feel alone on this parenting journey!

We want to know that “little Johnny” has also hit, and bit, and called someone “stupid” or thrown a rock through a window… you know, the usual (can you sense the sarcasm). Or that Ms. Suzy so-and-so also felt like her brain was going to explode and wanted to get in her car and Just. Keep. Driving. Let’s keep it real.

I love my kids with an incredibly fierce intensity and there are so many moments when I wonder, “Am I doing any of this right? Are they going to end up happy and healthy, God-fearing and loving adults someday?”

So we search for someone a little bit further along than we are to give us some security.

I was having that thought today, trying to think of a mom who might have gone through something similar with one of her children. Maybe they could help… maybe they might have some advice… I should give her a call.

But today I took a turn down that ugly side road called “comparison.” It was a quick turn I made. And comparison is not a nice road. It’s bumpy and rocky and it has a really terrible view.

I started flipping through the rolodex in my mind of all the other little girls and little boys I know. “Hmmm… I don’t think they’ve ever struggled with intense anxiety.” “I know that little guy has never yelled stupid at an adult or hit his babysitter.”

But as quick as I turned down the road, God put up a road block and whispered to me, “Did I ask you to be that child’s mother or did I ask you to be Kate and Zeke’s mother (those were just the current two I was worrying over)?”

And He reminded me of this beautiful thought. We know our children are created unique and special and that there is no other child on this earth like them. Therefore, there are going to be many times when we’re not going to find a mom who has gone through the same exact thing we are going through. Because they have never gone through the same exact thing because NEWSFLASH: We don’t have the same exact child!

I know it’s a simple thought but it hit me hard.

Comparison is silly. And silly is too nice a word. Comparison is destructive, detrimental, disastrous, damaging… you get the picture (plus I ran out of “D” words).

I am unique. Kate, Jack, Gabe and Zeke are unique. I was uniquely made to be their mother. To know them, understand them, pray for them and love them uniquely.

And if I found my security in the reality that other mothers go through the same things with their children, I wouldn’t need to go to the One who made us ALL unique!

He wants me to come to Him. Because He knows my children and me better than I know my children or me. He wants me to come. To pry open my hands and surrender the control I strive to hold onto. And to find my security in Him.

He knows that the anxiety today is someday going to turn into the faith to move mountains.

And that the boundless energy and impulsiveness today turns into passion and magnetism for the Gospel in the future.

And my worries and comparison will turn into a testimony of the goodness and faithfulness of the Father.

So I choose to leave my hands open and rest in the One who made us all so very unique.

Masterpiece

I think it’s in all of us. This urge to… cross off. check off. cross it out.

We did it. We met our demands of the day and we can take a deep breath and feel good about ourselves.

It gives us a sense of control. We accomplished something and now we get to cross it off.

It reminds me of a paint by number. I’m sure you remember completing one as a child. Each number corresponds with a certain section and different color. And when you follow the instructions you end up with this perfectly colored illustration. I was the kid who followed each and every instruction. I know there were some of you who could paint a #3 green even though you were clearly instructed to paint it blue. But I couldn’t bear to wander outside the directions.

It didn’t take much thought. Or creativity. But it did take effort. I could carefully stay in the lines, follow instructions and feel good about my completed work.

But I couldn’t look at my piece and call it art. It was just a task. A task that I had successfully completed.

You know, when we live our lives like that, it’s hard to call our existence a masterpiece. We follow instructions. We live our lives how we think we’re supposed to. We put in the effort. But at the end of the day, we’re left with a piece of work that was already constructed for us and we just happened to fill in the lines.

Jesus tells us that we are “His masterpiece” (or His “poema” in the Greek where we derive the word “poem”). But there are many days I feel far from a masterpiece. And I certainly don’t feel like a piece of poetry. So where do I go wrong?

If you’re an artist, you know that a pure piece of art takes time. It needs room to breathe. You need space to allow the creation to evolve and grow. Art must not be hurried.
And yet I rush my own life, rarely creating the time and space for God to have His way with me. Forgetting to stop and breathe; trying to hasten the process. Having a product of my life on showcase surpasses the greater work that He longs to develop; the slow, detailed, often painstaking work the Artist must go through with His creation. I’m over here cranking out paint by numbers and He’s just waiting for me to let Him do His greatest work.

I must pause long enough to let the Artist take the crayons from my hand, let Him grab His brush and create His masterpiece in me.

We are His masterpiece. Let that sink in to your very depth. YOU are His masterpiece. If we truly believe that, we will let Him take over and accomplish what only the Greatest Artist can do.

And let’s remember…the purpose of art is not to produce a product but to provoke thinking; to incite beauty. If we are God’s masterpiece, His greatest work of art, our lives should cause people to ponder the Creator, to reflect His beauty, to stir up their hearts toward the Artist.

Don’t trade your masterpiece of a life in for a bunch of paint by numbers.

Lazarus and the mysterious love of Jesus

It’s hard to pick a favorite story from the Bible. But years confirm the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is my definite front runner. I come back to it often. And after the numerous times I’ve poured over this passage of Scripture, God continues to peal His heart back in new and life-giving ways.

The story remains mysterious. And even when the actions of Jesus are hard for me to reconcile, the story is laced with His comfort and love. It gets me every time.

John Chapter 11. Take some time to read it first if you can.

Verse 3 sticks out to me first. “So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” Talk about identity. Lazarus must have walked in a way that all those around him knew he was one of Jesus’ favorites, completely loved and adored by His creator! His sisters don’t even follow up with a name; they’re confident Jesus knows who they’re talking about.

Again in verse 5, Jesus wants to make sure we realize how much he loved these three siblings, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

Now here is where things get mysterious.

If you’re guessing what comes next after verse 5, you might think it reads something like this, “So Jesus rushed back to the town of Bethany to heal Lazarus.”

But…

It doesn’t.

Vs. 6, “So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”

Say what?

That’s not how I picture love. And do you notice the word “So”? That little, two-letter word literally means “as a result.” He stayed two days longer where he was “as a result” of His love for Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

Convicting. I am so Americanized in my view of love. Too often for me, love equals comfort. Love equals convenience. Love equals someone meeting my needs when I want them met. Jesus flips that concept upside down here.

We see a bit of Jesus’ purpose in vs. 14-15, “So Jesus then said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.'”

Jesus finally arrives on the scene in vs. 17. In vs. 20 we see two different responses: “Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him but Mary stayed at the house.” I’m going to go ahead and lump myself into the Mary category. I can imagine Mary might be giving Jesus a bit of the silent treatment which I am all too guilty of doing. She knows He is God but she’s still mad and doesn’t quite know what to do with those feelings. She can’t quite reconcile what she knows to be true with how she feels.

And can we put ourselves in Jesus’ shoes for a second? If I arrived on the scene, the FIRST thing I would say would probably be something like, “Hey guys, nobody worry! I’m here and I’m going to raise Lazarus from the dead. You’re about to see quite a miracle!”

Martha tells Mary that Jesus is asking for her. Mary finds herself at the feet of Jesus, weeping, and says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” How many times have I said the same sort of thing? Lord IF You had done this, IF You would do that, IF You were here.

And here’s where an even greater mystery takes place.

Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He tell us in vs. 4, in vs. 15 and in vs. 23.

But in that moment, He doesn’t tell Mary that. He lets her weep. He allows her to break.

And in all of His love, He joined her in her brokenness. Vs 35…”and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled and said ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord come and see.’ Jesus wept.”

And here’s where the lines are drawn. Some bystanders see His love. Others question His goodness. Vs. 36, “So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man from dying?'”

Convicting. Again. Couldn’t He have stopped that storm? Couldn’t He make the pain stop? Couldn’t He heal him? Couldn’t He restore that relationship? Couldn’t He provide?

Do I focus on what I think Jesus could and should do or do I focus on how much He loves me?

But back to the story.

Jesus asks Martha and Mary and others to move the stone from the cave he was buried in. He asked them to move in their pain, within their weakness and trust Him completely. Oh the doubts that must have filled their minds! Martha voices one in vs. 39, “Lord, by this time, there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” She doesn’t want to relive that suffering and she for sure doesn’t want to come face to face (or nose to nose) with the stench of death and pain.

Vs. 40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Vs. 41, “So they removed the stone.”

God, help me to move the stones you ask me to move.

Vs.42, “I knew that You always hear me; but because of the people standing around I said it so that they may believe that You sent me. When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.'”

Without the mourning, the suffering, the brokenness, Mary and Martha and the people on the outside watching the story unfold, would have missed the greater miracle of life that Jesus wanted to display.

The miracle didn’t come how they expected. And it certainly didn’t happen when they expected it. But they had to trust who was in control.

I’m not going to assume I know exactly why Jesus decided to wait and raise Lazarus after death, but Scripture does give us at least one reason:
Vs. 45, “Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him.” 

Sometimes He trusts us with pain for the greater benefit of those around us.

And sometimes our pain brings us into a deeper level of love and trust in Him.

The real gift is sometimes found in the process of suffering. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God…. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” – Luke 6:20-21. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal.” – John 12:24-25

The process He was doing in Mary’s heart was far greater than temporary pain and suffering.

And immediately following this story in John 11 we see the beautiful result of brokenness and healing that happened in Mary’s heart in John 12. She finds herself completely free in her worship. Hair down, alabastar jar broken, weeping at the feet of Jesus, pouring out her love to Him.