After three days with no writing or painting, I returned to my “sanctuary” on Sunday afternoon.
It was as before, it was life giving, the losing track of time and paint on my hands and forehead.
All afternoon, I painted.
I followed my husband’s suggestion. He noticed I was isolating and told me to stop spending so much time in “that room”.
When I did, I thought of other things. Things other than the canvases piling up, other than hopes that seem to have no place to land in this seemingly hopeless land.
I noticed the hardships of others. I paid attention to sorrowful eyes on masked faces. I observed the way we all seem to be walking together reluctantly, like lambs headed for slaughter.
I recalled my work with depression and suicide. I recalled the one thing more important than any other.
The one in need asking for help, and the listener being committed to listening and helping.
I thought of situational depression in comparison to chemical.
I realized, maybe now (I’m not an expert) it makes no difference. Isolation, depression, anger or sullenness, no respecter of persons.
And I revisited my career long reminder.
Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.
Here we are on another Monday feeling like the never ending mystery of our days.
I turned to Matthew, today marked Chapter 7, about not judging others wrongly, considering their conditions could be yours.
I read ahead, drawn towards a healing story.
Longing to remember the healer, longing to remember the one needing healing.
Wanting to feel touched by another’s story.
This one, a single soul held captive by an ugly disease. He was a leper, one others avoided.
He was brave enough to believe and saw the throng of people along with Jesus descending from the mountain down into the valley where he stayed hidden.
He asked for help.
“And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” Matthew 8:2-3 ESV
Today, I’ll remember those who are struggling more than most, more than me.
I’ll pray they find a listener, are able to express their pain and that the ears that welcome their anger or dismay, offer a heart and hand of patient compassion.
I pray that I am able to offer the same, whether words or canvas or eyes that smile instead of look away when I meet another seeking soul, a gentle lamb trusting God and in need of healing.
May we find each other in our quest for healing. May we continue to believe in the audacity of believing.
After 45 minutes listening to an interview with someone discussing the idea of “faith over fear” and her testimony, I encountered real fear.
The interviewee shared of loss due to cancer, her mother’s death and her own diagnosis from which she recovered.
She recalled those fears and the interviewer asked about her testimony. She laughed and shared her stable faith driven upbringing and the path towards believing in Jesus that seemed, some might say, a boring story.
I silenced the podcast as I took the main road when approaching the hill, a sedan cut it close at the curve and forced me to walk in the overgrown ditch.
I thought little of it, said to myself you shouldn’t be on the pavement, this is not a quiet road.
I walked on as the high weeds brushed above my ankles. Tired and almost home, I looked down to see my shirt wet with sweat and saw the waiting snake. The snake with the markings my daddy taught me, the snake with the metallic like tail raised up in the weeds. The snake with its eye focused on crossing the road.
I was scared.
And then I wasn’t.
I had not been struck by the car, the snake did not turn and strike me.
Later, I wrote my June Newsletter to include what I’m learning about fear and its part in my story. Read and if you’d like, subscribe here.
More than focused on what could have happened, I thought of how I’d been protected. I remembered what I was learning about fear in relation to faith.
This is progress for me. My husband had been so nonchalant, “But, you didn’t step on the snake, you are okay.”
I agreed to agree with him. I let the fear go.
Fear of everything has always been a theme in my story. Fear of catastrophe, of rejection by those I love, of illness. But, my story of redemption has no place for that old chapter, those old characters.
Which story will I choose?
Like being in the middle of a thick rope in a tug of war game, fear is strong with the brute force to pull me back. Redemption is a more strategically played strength, the pull more steady with necessary breaks and balance leads to a sustainable victory.
Redemption will win because it won’t wear itself out aggressively like fear that’s so angry, so unpredictable, so mean and devilish.
Fear is an emotion. Faith is a committed choice.
I woke this morning wondering why more of us aren’t telling our redemption stories, our testimonies. The timing is good. Our fear fighting redemption story may lessen another’s fear. The time is opportune for sharers and for listeners. Dare I say, our stories of Jesus are not only more important but more sustaining than yet another commentary on the virus or the heartache of societal unrest.
Fear is a distraction, these times are skilled at using it.
Dare I say that? I suppose I should be afraid. My faith says don’t be.
“Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. Tell me the story most precious, sweetest that I’ve ever heard.” an old hymn
The woman in the podcast interview was raised in church, began to believe at church camp around age 11.
Me, at age 11 is a story I’d love to forget. My Jesus story, my testimony began when an elderly pastor told me, a new single mama, that all I had to do was ask for mercy, Jesus died for me and grace and forgiveness is a gift called salvation.
It was mine for the asking.
So, I asked and received.
I’ve never doubted God’s love for me through Jesus, only doubted I’d ever simply believe I deserve it. This is the never withdrawing pursuit of grace. I am redeemed because of it. God doesn’t see my struggle to believe, He simply sees my continued pursuit of a deeper belief and loving communion with Him.
I sent the newsletter last night never mentioning the reckless car or the rattlesnake. I could hardly believe it! A day spent focused on faith and choosing to fight off fear was ended with a walk at dusk and tangible fear.
But, I was kept safe. I am safe. I am here to tell the story of it.
“Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” John 14:5 ESV
When I’m not certain how to join a conversation, I sometimes don’t say anything. I linger with my questions, I gather information.
I acknowledge my lack of understanding. I tell myself this is just too much for a well meaning but insufficient response. Situations over lives lost violently and unnecessarily weigh heavy on my heart. I am not equipped with words to make a dent in the dismay.
I turned to John today, led by my ancient Roman numerically referenced devotional, “Joy and Strength”.
A drawing in the margin illustrated the question asked by Thomas, “How can we know the way?”
I realized Jesus had told them, shown them, modeled it along.
The way is love.
John, chapters 13 and 14, tell the touching story of the love of Jesus.
Jesus, confusing the disciples by sitting at their feet with a basin of water, choosing the dirtiest of their parts, feet familiar with dirt, and he washed their feet.
He was teaching that you do what seems unfitting for you to do, you take it a step farther than telling about Him or giving food or shelter or telling their own Jesus story.
No, you love others if they’re different, you love people who walk on different roads other than your own.
You acknowledge that their steps are led by God enabled feet and journeys, joys and woes.
Feet like your own.
Made by God, loved by God.
Led by God.
Led by love.
All sorts of words can be said about choosing love.
It’s the choosing that matters, not really the words we’ve known so very long and already know.
It’s the choosing to love when that’s all you know or when that’s “all you got” in unthinkable ungodly situations.
“And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:4-6 ESV
Love is the way.
Love, the way to God.
Through the sacrificial death of Jesus, the washer of our faltering feet.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1 NLT
It’s trendy to choose a word for the year in some circles. Make a hashtag, tag it onto your posts, think about what it means to you.
So, when I chose endurance it was a subtle choice. Not working out with a buff trainer flipping tires and doing burpees kind of intention.
No, I chose endurance because it seemed to be the mindset to the phrase I like to live.
Continue and believe.
It felt like a soft determination to put action and patience and steps forward. No destination or goal, just keep going.
And I liked the idea of it. It was doable.
Then the pandemic crept in and took over and I laughed a little cynical giggle, what was I thinking to choose the word endurance?
But, I didn’t let it consume me. I decided it meant what I meant it to mean.
Months have passed and the days are written in my journal with the word “surrender” written daily and circled, the thick circle somehow making me believe I could and should do it.
Because I love words I found myself not really understanding the purpose of the word and my daily circling.
I began to feel it was something different God wanted me to embrace.
Today marks the return of my very old and reliable friend.
Today, I return to trust. The word surrender can be found in the Bible in the context of battle. Not once is it found in the New Testament, only the idea of it.
I’m fully on board with idea, the idea of giving my concerns, my goals, my worries to God in surrender and letting Him filter the outcomes. I am for this for sure. I’m just more certain that now more than anything I need to recommit my mind to “trust”, the word and decision I used to scribble on my wrist before making a speech or decision.
Yes, I am returning to trust today.
And I’m sticking with endurance in my own unique way.
Believe and continue.
Trust, a good word. I hope I’m known for not quitting, not striving to be the grand winner, simply staying in the race.
What have you learned about yourself since March whenever when you were scared to death by being told to wash your hands, don’t touch your face?
I’ve learned I can’t blame lack of time for my lack of effort. I’ve learned to understand my resistance to taking chances is for fear of something not happening.
If you’ve read my blog, you may be thinking well, that’s no secret.
I learned that God made me to be merciful and that I have what is called a mercy gift, that this is my redemptive gift. The day after a very wise person told me this, thinking surely I already knew, I received this In Touch publication, their final issue. The issue’s focus?
I’ve learned there is a reader for stories born of trauma. There are authors who are honest and long for their readers to be changed by our stories.
One such author is Jake Owensby, the author of “A Resurrection Shaped Life, Dying and Rising on Planet Earth”.
Jake is a blogger and a minister. He also grew up exposed to violence. He developed a fear reaction. He cowered when he felt that was the only way to feel safe. He grew up being told he was worthless in so many ways. His book is written to convince the reader, God made you for different. You can believe you are valued.
I haven’t even finished the book and I’ve not been asked to review or mention it. It’s just a part of my learning during pandemic.
I admitted a big hard and better understood truth about myself.
I am a blamer. I look for places to lay blame for the trauma of my past, the way it has and continues to stymie my living.
Jake Owensby defines it this way, a way I am embracing,
You see, I’m a blamer. Or, more accurately, I’m a recovering blamer given to occasional relapses.
On the bottom page of this chapter’s second page are almost unreadable notes left by me, the truth of them so true, I had to hurry and leave it recorded.
If you can blame someone or someones for the hurt you felt, the fear unresolved and the physical harm that went unprevented…you won’t have to feel the deep heartache of not wanting to have to blame God.
Mr. Owensby led me to this, it is valuable like a revelation long needed.
I’m only half through the book. The chapter after blame and shame has other underlined and margin notes. One more that lingers is the retelling of an English teacher who believed in him and convinced him to write competitively. His fear and comparison of himself led to failure. However, he writes of the redemptive value of the instructor seeing that in him, seeing him measuring his lack against another’s arrogance.
She yearned for me to see things, to see the world and myself in a different light. In retrospect, I realize that it was my dread of failure that undid me that day. Failure, even perceived failure, would set loose in me an avalanche of shame.
I’m remembering now how Jake Owensby and I connected through writing. I remember the time he offered me prayer. I believe he prayed.
Prayer is yet another thing I’m learning more deeply.
Last weekend, I sat with my mama’s sister on her patio. She told a sweet story about how my mama was a teenager when she first heard my daddy singing in a tiny little country bar. She was a high schooler and he had come home from Korea.
I asked her to retell the story. How had I never known it? Then we turned the discussion from life to death. My uncle and my aunt asking me to remind them how old my parents were when they met death. The perspective changed along with the mood when I compared my upcoming 60th birthday with the corresponding too soon years of their dying.
I thought about the scribbles in my Bible, a book I gave my ailing mama entitled “What God Can Do”. I thought about how I believed she would live, that God would do what the Book of Luke records, she would live if I would believe. I thought of how I never prayed that way for my daddy, felt I was not eligible to pray, not equipped back then.
Now, on this Tuesday morning I’m listing answers to prayer because I am still praying and I will pray, continue unrelentingly.
So, why pray when people die anyway, when abuse continues for some and if it ends at last, the deep pain often comes back to visit?
I pray because I know God is far too big for me to know why and why not.
I pray because I know His love and power and knowledge in increments when I continue.
Lost keys found, an old car that started, a baby protected in a storm, a heart condition healed, a softer tone from the heart of one that used to be harder, an opportunity to write about redemption from trauma for others, waking up well, tiny twins a little early yet, healthy, little answers to questions and requests not really life altering but good offering ups of yes”, the bravery to send photos of paintings to a gallery.
Knowing God so much more than before, so much that it’s unimportant the reactions of others when you say you still believe in miracles.
God is not logical. We can’t use a chart like a logic model to list our prayers and our acts of mercy and kindness and line them up in a flow chart kind of way towards a corresponding list of outcomes.
God’s ways are not ours to fully understand.
Only fully believe.
So, what have you learned during this time called unprecedented?
Maybe it’s just that, all of our times are in the hands of a God who promises unprecedented miracles, unprecedented new mercies, unimaginable grace.
Fix your mind on that, not your missteps, the prayers you prayed that left you questioning, or the long held fear of failure and shame that holds you back.
Learn of God in tiny grasps; but, keep longing for steady learning. There is more than enough time to get closer to grasping the truth of Him, the truth not made for us to wrap our minds around completely, simple to be drawn closer every moment to the possibility of it.
The immeasurably confounding and generous love of God.
“from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:15-19 ESV
Like the prayers God answers, I’m enlightened by the possibility of them, not the end result. The book about a Resurrection Shaped Life, written from the perspective of someone hampered by shame was not written specifically for me and its author had no preconceived takeaway for me. I’m simply a reader as I am simply one who is praying. The revelation, redemption and peace in response are God’s answers.
I encourage you to follow the writing of Jake Owensby and to order this book if you’re stuck in your past or if you are prone to shame as a handicap. You can learn more here: Jake Owensby
I intentionally leave the blinds open now. The morning light and the shift of the sheers is my gentle waking alarm.
I’ve been thinking about fear and the contradiction of such beautiful occurrences as light through the window and when will this fear inducing pandemic uncertainty end.
But, I talked about fear the other day with my friend as we sorted out the hurtful and inappropriate behavior of another. I told my friend
At the core, it’s fear. Every unwanted behavior spills over from the fear brought on by something the other person has kept and is fighting to keep secret.
Since then, I’ve been contemplating fear. How so many of us are allowing our fear to go unacknowledged. We are afraid of things we can’t name on top of our already debilitating fears.
We are justified in our fear.
After all, there is no page in this book we’re all currently reading to tell us which chapter we are in.
Are we still reading the introduction? Have we moved into the mix of characters’ conflict, resolution and either an ending that leaves us unfulfilled and angry over giving time to its finishing or the final chapter in a really honest memoir that leads us to feel satisfied in the reconciliation of the author’s story?
We know little about this epic story called Co-Vid. I suppose we keep reading the book of it.
As needed. Only.
Otherwise, there are too many plot twists and too many arguments to make it pleasing or informative, to get pulled in, sleepless night reading birthing crazy night terrors.
I bet you can tell, I’m unschooled when it comes to this pandemic or anything else global or political.
This is by choice. Knowing everything is potentially harmful to catastrophic story writing me.
Today, I opened my Bible and decided to focus on fear.
Then I journaled each of them, as if taking notes for an upcoming test.
The section in my Bible that is called “What the Bible says about…” lists seven scriptures on fear. I googled “how many times is fear mentioned in the Bible?” The answer was “over 500” with a little more about the statement “do not fear” being in the Bible 365 times.
Many of us already know this cool fact. Many of us know God does not want us to be afraid, reminds us He is our strength and any fear we feel is from man not Him.
The greatest gift of reading my Bible is reading a verse I’ve read before but it being different, God being intentional in my receiving of it. Today, it’s 4 words from Isaiah 41:13
I am your God.
God is not just the God I believe, the Heavenly Father who desires eternity for me and so He gave His only Son. He is of course, those things.
But, He is my God. Yours too, as if we could be the one and only and He belongs to each of us with the same amount of love, of power, of protection, of fighting for us in a gentle way…as if to say, know this love I have for you more fully, better.
I am yours. God
The other verses are just as good. This thing called fear in this time called Corona has me thinking. Fear is complicated now. We can’t name the reasons for it because we’re overwhelmed with questions and information and a non ending to this chapter and book.
I do know God says don’t fear.
So, I’m sure fear must be coming from somewhere I’m not supposed to be seeing, hearing, absorbing into my thoughts. Maybe if there is one teaching and promise we can all wrap our minds around, it is this.
Do not fear.
Maybe it’s our heart and mind’s stubborn and faithful incomprehensible to others decision not to live in fear.
I think it’s what is thought in the processing that may be more distracting than the noise of distractions.
I kept my earphones in although no sound came through. I’m still the one walking with the long white cord swinging. I’m way out of the loop, no cordless audio and nothing on my wrist to ding an alarm, message or celebration of steps. I just keep walking, occasionally I run.
Walking is an escape, an unraveling, a reconfiguring of my intentions gone astray by thinking.
The sound in my ear is not distracting. It typically is a guide for my thoughts, songs and the words in them that help me believe. Lyrics like this:
“And, oh as you run, what hindered love will only become a part of your story.” Out of Hiding
Yesterday, I thought of the man who laid beside the pool of water that was known for healing, Bethesda. He watched others bathing, hoping for health benefits but stayed at a distance on his mat for 38 years.
When Jesus asked if he wanted to be well he didn’t seem sure. He pointed out the crowded water, how from where he was lying he’d surely get trampled trying to get in.
I wondered if his thoughts were what kept him from going. Was the water truly healing water and what if it wasn’t, would he be better “as is“?
I wondered if it was mental torture for him, his own thoughts distracting him from possibility.
“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.” John 5:6-9 ESV
Jesus was there and then he was not. The man was left with wondering over his very own miracle.
Maybe wondering, will it last? Then Jesus finds him or he finds Jesus. Either way, it was confirmation, your healing is true, carry on now, keep on running.
It’s that way with me, maybe you. Thoughts cause me to be distracted by the reality of my redemption. This crazy world feeds into the natural and leaves little space for the miraculous.
We know we’ve been healed by mercy’s water but some things make it feel less than enough.
This is when we remember our very own Bethesda moment, we remember we are one soul in a crowd of others all sweetly welcomed into the fold.
We remember our soul is aligned to that love. We see Jesus in the sky, the words of a song, the gaze of a child or the worrisome situation that we surrendered that has led to easy breathing.
We hear Jesus. A more serious tone in His voice and yet, we’re not offended, we’re simply reminded of who we were and who we are becoming.
“But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 NLT
Grace and truth.
Continue and believe.
Believe and continue.
This painting is mixed media on reclaimed wood and is available as original or prints. Comment to inquire.
The bystanders recognized the beggar up walking around. All of a sudden he could see and they began to dispute the truth of Jesus, they began to argue over the day of the week and were certain the beggar was mistaken in some way.
I’m wondering how he became a discarded one at all. Scriptures say he had parents. Had they given up on being his support system? He was an adult after all, he’d have to fend for himself.
Or was he so downtrodden by his lifelong blindness, he just grew tired of being their burden? He could beg others for money instead of his parents.
I love the Gospels, the Books of encounters with Jesus. There are many people who stir empathy in me. There are relatable stories to my healing by Jesus.
Jesus came along and he noticed the man blind from birth. The disciples, always looking to learn from Jesus, asked what had caused the blindness, were his parents neglectful, had they been bad people before they became parents, or was the little boy born with some sort of predicted worthlessness that led to him being born blind?
They wanted to know who or what was to blame.
Jesus told them it was God’s plan. The blind man would be an instrument for God’s glory to be real, for the mysterious to be memorable.
“Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3 ESV
Jesus made a paste of mud and his own spit, pressed it against the blind beggar’s eyes and then said go down to the water and wash it all off. The man did and he could see.
Everyone asked how, the man said I did what Jesus said and that’s really all I know.
His vision restored, the interrogations continued. The parents were questioned, they confirmed their son’s blindness as well as his current condition. Told all the skeptics to ask him, not us, he will tell you! According to scripture, the parents were keeping their distance because they were Jews and they would be disallowed from the synagogue if they acknowledged Jesus, if they acknowledged their own child’s healing.
These were the times I suppose even a parent of a son who was healed was careful about boldly agreeing and believing in Jesus.
Seems it was safer to be a skeptic, to know there are people who believe in Jesus because of their own healing; but, they were not ready to believe for themselves.
Maybe it seemed too impossible, too unattainable, too supernaturally “magical”.
Same as today really.
The man who could see could only speak for himself, hope with all his heart that his testimony mattered.
“So for the second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” John 9:24-26 ESV
Centuries later, I sit in my mama’s covered chair with my Bible, the margin on the page has a pen and pencil resemblance of me, my face turned towards the words and a slight listening tilt.
I understand the blind man. I can relate to his dismay over Jesus initially. I can sit with my Bible and know beyond doubt that I too have been healed when many for valid reasons discarded me, left me to fend for myself.
And like the blind man who couldn’t explain mud and spit restoring his vision, I often wonder how me simply believing in a cross, the likeness of which I now add to my wrist could have altered my life so very significantly.
It is not my place to understand it all, to know every how or why God found me worthy of healing. It is mine to believe. To be able to rest in this:
But, you do know, God, You do.
We’re all in a state of not knowing now. On Sunday, I knelt in the place by my mama’s chair. I was distracted, I admit. Still, I joined in the prayer of Pastor Steve Davis with many others. I prayed and am praying in agreement with him that this time will bring people who don’t really understand God, maybe just hope in the possibility of Him being real closer to believing. The prayer closed with that very request of our Heavenly Father, that during this pandemic stirring panic, countless people will come to know God, will believe in Jesus as their healer.
I pray this as well. I know healing that saved not just my soul but my very life from risky, dangerous, threatening to kill me situations.
Like the blind man, I believe in Jesus.
“Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.” John 9:35-38 ESV
Continue and believe, moment by moment if necessary.
Acknowledge/Admit you were born a sinner. Believe in Jesus, God’s plan for us to be with Him in heaven. Confess your sin and begin to live healed.