I stood still to find it again and then the bird perched in boldness and just waited on the top of the tomato cage. Its belly was brilliant, glistened like silk. It seemed untouched, unmarred, original and articulately designed.
At first, I thought “a tomato already?”. A brilliant spot of red amongst the lush green growth of vine.
Two pages of my journal are covered in words in reply to the question, how does God see me?
I finished Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son”. There are multiple asterisks in the margins and many underlines.
I paused here yesterday. Read and reread about A First and Everlasting Love.
“For a very long time I considered low self-esteem to be some kind of virtue. I had been warned so often about pride and conceit that I came to consider it a good thing to deprecate myself.” Henri Nouwen
Nouwen reminds of Psalm 139, that before we opened our eyes to life, God had brilliant plans already decided in the way He made us.
Often, I think of the beauty of being wonderfully made and not so much the “fearfully” part. What does it mean to us that we are made “fearfully”.
I would say it means “well-made”, not haphazardly, not without intention and plan, well-thought, very, very distinct and worthwhile.
So, I continue to return to the truth for me and for you.
We are valuable according to God and that value doesn’t change according to the limitations I know like fear, self-destructive patterns, lack of confidence and/or lack of the notice of others.
This is the “footprint” I want to leave here when I’m gone.
Your value is not determined by what has happened to you or what you hoped would and did not.
Your value is according to God. He fearfully planned it for you to discover just how “wonderful” you are.
Your value is not determined by the plans of God that got trampled by malice, meanness or evil decisions of another.
Your value remains untainted, to be discovered with sweet and steady intention…you keep going towards it.
Continue and believe.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14 ESV
When my granddaughter balanced on the highest beams and danced on the lofty walls up the playground equipment, I imagined her losing her footing. I was ready to drop all my stuff and catch her. Instead, she offered joy. She shared her confidence with me.
She demonstrated faith in herself and faith in me and reminded me of God that she sees, clearly more clearly than me.
When I read about the man who was blind I can’t help but see a boy. I don’t know why.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:1-3 ESV
Jesus is saying exactly what he means.
As God’s Son, the “light of the world”, it was God’s plan that this man, blind from birth would have an encounter with Jesus and be healed. That he would follow the “doctor’s orders” and go to a pool called Siloam and put muddy water on his eyes.
This man, a beggar before this day, all on his own with no hope for better and no hope on the part of his parents.
He was healed and everybody thought it was impossible. So they refuted, doubted, questioned the simplicity of it.
And he told all the protesters of his sudden sight recovery that he didn’t fully understand either. He just knew he could see them.
In the margin of my Bible I have written,
Can it really be true? I am healed?
The next chapter over, John details the story of the death of Lazarus and of the way Jesus tarried in attending to his friend.
When Mary and Martha, who were friends of Jesus, worshippers of him, came to tell him about their brother, he didn’t immediately go to see about him…he waited two days.
What was he thinking? Isn’t Lazarus dead? What is the reason you’re not hurrying to heal this man, your friend…don’t you love this whole family, Jesus?
Jesus told the disciples essentially, I know what I’m doing…you will see.
“Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” John 11:14-15 ESV
When Jesus saw for himself, he wept.
“Jesus wept.” John 11:35 ESV
As the Son of God, he was broken over the death and yet, He knew God’s intention. This death and resurrection will be recorded. It will make a difference in the lives of others.
It will help others make sense of their own unattended to and lingering sickness of heart, mind and body.
When Jesus says “this illness (trauma, circumstance, abuse, neglect, poverty, anxiety, fear, addiction or unmet longing) will not lead to death, he’s not saying it won’t be difficult, He is saying, if you will allow me to enlighten you, to heal you.
You will be light for others.”
And that is the why, the worth, the reason for suffering.
So that we grow into who God knows we are, that we are resurrected from the lives of before.
That we live like a rescued adult, cushioned by grace.
No longer like that child with hurts, questions and or mistakes.
The intention of Jesus for you.
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11 ESV
Keep going, higher than ever and with joy and hope.
Continue and believe. You are fully known and loved, have been all along.
A conversation about fear led to a thought. The thought led to paintings, vivid and strong in color. Some softer and cheerful and others heavy with darkness and harder emotion.
“The world is so scary…it makes lots of noises.”
Anxiety, uncertainty, anger and sadness are beginning to be noticed not as secretly kept struggles, instead as realities to consider more closely with kind and committed responses.
I’m hoping to traditionally publish this book for children to remind them that the earth and heavens were made by God just as they were and this truth can be an anchor in their storms that they are never alone.
“Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.” Psalm 74:16 ESV
I found a photo of my daddy today. He’s a barefooted little freckle faced boy with a perfect part in his hair.
He is grinning.
He looks like me. My children look like him. I see my grandson, Henry.
I ask myself honestly, really…do I or am I hoping it could be?
Because it’s not the honor of claiming resemblance, rather it’s the purity in the pose.
The abandonment to being a child.
Today was a grandma day. While the baby napped, I sat across from my granddaughter on opposite sofas.
Captivated by “Eleanor Wonders Why”, she laid on her tummy with legs bent and feet taking turns tap-tapping on the couch.
I sat and watched her contentment and her little lying on her tummy sort of secret dance.
I paused to remember when I’d last laid on the floor or the ground like that, a motion that says I’m in my own little world and it’s so happy here.
She caught me watching, smiled and brushed wild blonde bangs from her cheek.
And I’ve been thinking all evening of the next pretty day I shall grab my grandmother’s quilt, spread on the shaded cool grass and lie on my tummy with a book or with nothing and just think, think, think as I lift my feet up and with no time to consider, just keep doing it.
Walking, exhausted and walking, I thought about a storm I must’ve missed.
Fragments on the pavement, objects fallen and scattered.
I’d been away for three days.
Fern fronds, one facing upward the other folded, wilted. Similar, of the same family
I’d just gotten home from two days with family, the aunt like my mama, cousins, siblings, nephews, nieces.
Shown off on social media, the celebration.
It happened again.
Someone said “she’s your mini me”, referring to my granddaughter, Elizabeth.
And it prompted me to think again
I have two children, a daughter and a son.
One is fair, blonde hair, blue eyes and porcelain complexion prone to freckles.
The other, dark almost coal hair, brown eyes and a more easily bronzed complexion.
Still, I’ve heard through the years.
Oh, he/she looks so much like you!
Of course, I love the assessment.
Last week, I smiled as I saw the light in the eyes of an adopted child on her birthday.
This child, brown in complexion, parented by blondes I was fortunate to meet and be a part of their story.
I saw her mama’s smile. I recognized her father’s confidence in her shoulders.
Not genetic, not inherited.
I see my granddaughter and I see the glimmer of her grandmother, “Gamma” in her eyes. I see her daddy’s expression in her confident answers. I see her cousins’ smile in hers.
I see her mama in the freckles sprinkled across her nose and in her stubborn tenacity.
I see my heart when I see hers and I also see the heart of others.
And that’s what I’ve decided about resemblance…
It’s the heart that shows and the heart that knows.
One child can be seen as the echo of so many all at the same time.
Cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, caregivers and protectors.
All of us, imparting resemblance.
It’s not the curve of the cheek, the tip of the nose, the color of the eyes or the way the lips turn above the chin.
Instead, it’s the imprint of love.
Less severe the likeness, more sweetness and nuance.
Love is the reason for the resemblance.
And resemblance is the evidence of that love.
Wildflowers, oak leaves and children.
The remnants of rhododendron.
All the same and on their own on display.
When others say my granddaughter is so much like me in her sweet little face
I know the resemblance is so far from physical and every bit
The heart of me in her alongside the heart of others who love her.
A high compliment, I was once given and until now have kept secret,
“Your Bible could be in a museum one day.” D.W.
I paused in awe of his assertion, this skilled photographer who discovered me through the sketches I share from the margins of my Bible was quite convinced of this possibility.
I can only hope that if my Bible is found by someone when I’m long gone, that the gift of it finds them in the same lasting way.
That their response to God’s word catches them by surprise, that their reaction is a quiet and lasting one, a reaction that resembles mine.
On page 576 of my Crossway Journaling Bible they will find a sketch of a figure facing forward, she’s not small and her shoulders are bent in either thought or simply aged posture. Her hands are cupped in front of her and cascading behind her is a flow like a river that curves and grows larger.
She is pouring out all that’s within her, joy.
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Isaiah 12:3 ESV
She is giving to others what she has gone searching for, drawn up from deep wells.
I pray I resemble her.
That I focus less on the outer aging, conflicted and overly burdened by activity me and that I consider the gifting inside me, not my gifts, talents, words or physical abilities.
Instead, I hope my life is a resemblance of joy.
Babies are born and bystanders ooh and ah as they decide who the nose, the eyes, the hands are from like a fun little challenging trivia game.
What matters less is who they resemble and more the ones God puts around them to contribute to the best of our ability what joys and gifts and graces deep within us that we embody and get to give them.
When someone says “ELB” looks like me, I smile because I know in that moment caught in a photo it’s not at all that we resemble.
Rather, it’s that the person who caught the moment on film also captured my joy and it was joy, not looks that were mirrored in a toddlers face.
Who resembles you?
Who do you resemble?
Years from now, a grandchild may flip through the thin pages of my Bible and I hope they find a drawing in the margin and say sort of quietly to themselves.
That’s me. That looks like me in that same story.
And rest in their hearts in this,
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 NIV
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV
What are the desires of your heart? Or as Jesus asked,
“And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Matthew 20:32 ESV
I keep a very old dictionary next to my morning spot. Its pages are thin from age and dark like dried clay.
I researched “delight” this morning, it’s a word that is defined as “to gratify or please greatly”, “high satisfaction”.
So, the psalmist tells us we will have whatever our hearts desire when we delight ourselves in God.
How do we delight in God? I think we set our hearts on pleasing Him and we couple it with joy that expresses to Him and others…”I’m satisfied with God.”
Then over time, our desires might surprise us or they may continue to be deeply important and personal, may seem like an impossible hope.
I get that.
I have a couple of those. But, my heart is at peace knowing, God knows and He has heard my prayers.
God knows the desires of my heart and He desires that I delight in Him…not just what I want. Maybe in a little while, what we desire most will be God and maybe that’s the discovery God knows we need and He’s so sweetly patient as we discover this ourselves.
He’s gentle and loving that way, isn’t He?
We can hope,have hope.
Not long ago, someone devastated by an injury and a woeful prognosis for her son had a tone of hopelessness in her voice.
And God brought a verse to mind.
I can tell you, this astounds me. Much of the Bible is still a mystery to me and I can’t recite the books in order or articulate truth accurately with confidence.
Still, there are things that pop up and I share them, the promises of God.
I told this mom that she could not stop hoping, that she couldn’t postpone, pack away or defer her hope.
That if she did, she would only be more heartbroken, heartsick and well, hopeless.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NLT
And as with every word I speak or write, every canvas I create, I’m telling myself the story first, the story of hoping.
The truth of a God who loves us, the embrace of a greater understanding of His faithfulness to love, protect and guide.
Desire and hope, such precious and fragile,
Don’t let go. Keep hope, wear it like a necklace. (I think that’s a verse). Treasure the knowing that your desires are fully known by the Maker who knew them way before you could.
“But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” Matthew 28:5 ESV
The rhododendron, magenta in soft color cups its petals upward from a thick branch, thick as a tiny tree.
The leaves that flare around and about it are dark green, thick and waxy. I believe it’s a rare flowering shrub. Three years ago, like a child finding a treasure, I found it. Now, I wait with a blissful anticipation to see the display again.
The spectacularly elegant flower, I believe a cousin to the azalea but so much bolder.
I had lunch with a friend not long ago. It was a first time sit together, want to know you better sort of thing.
She is an artist. She and I shared our stories, the alikeness and the differences.
I admire her strength, her intelligence and what I see as a determined grace to flourish.
After talk of art, childhood and what comes from the heart more…writing or art comparisons, we began to talk about what it means to be female.
How we’d like in our lifetimes to see women not seen as less capable, less worthy, “less than”.
I thought of this conversation for days.
I thought about what feels like futility in efforts and endeavors if one is a woman not man.
Today, I discovered why the conversation lingered, the one that wondered why we are valued.
Here we again, that whole seeking value conundrum I’ve been trying to quit.
Last week, I wrote myself a very honest note.
“The more you achieve, the more you receive, the more you are known for your art, your writing, your appearance, your family or some other surprise special thing…the more you are known for these things, the more it will never be enough. Because the “more” of you, the value others need is the true story of you …you seeing your value according to Jesus.”
Because, Jesus is more. Jesus is better.
In a flash of clarity, I almost heard my very thoughts.
Women need to know that their value is according to God and they need to know sooner than later.
I need to somehow tell them.
Then, I thought of the women Jesus empowered.
I thought of Mary Magdalene, the woman healed from evil debilitating spirits. I thought of how there were no requirements of her to be the one standing beside the empty tomb, to hear Jesus say
Mary, it’s me, go tell all the men.
And I’m thinking now of the woman at the well, the woman sick for years, the women who in those days were supposed to be little and be belittled never were seen that way by Jesus…so, why must we think we’re supposed to feel small?
Or worse even, find our value in any other effort or acclaim.
I’m a work in progress here. Today, I painted a piece with women scattered “At Rest” and I rested too.
Strong like a rhododendron, beautifully fragile in its display, held up by strong branch, deep, deep roots,
Seekers of strength, light and love us all.
May we settle and sit quietly and remember the peace that never leaves and the value decided by God of us all longer before than we can ever know.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17 ESV
Yesterday, I read about the truth that with the death of Jesus and our acceptance and belief of this, not only our sin but our shame died too.
I’ve been thinking about the word “acceptance”. All my years I’ve heard the term “accept, believe, confess”.
As I grow, age in every way, I think acceptance becomes a different choice.
Maybe acceptance is allowing ourselves to believe the truth of God’s plan for us…not for others who appear more perfect, others who have lived less damaged lives.
I added red to the woman in the margin, I suppose a banner of my past, my sin, my struggles.
But, I see this woman less often than before and to me, that’s the precious gift of today…the day in between. The day reflecting the horror of before and resting sweetly in the precious promise of new life tomorrow.
We have a long stretch of in between…who we were before we chose to believe in Jesus and who we will be in eternity.
It’s really a precious gift, a beautiful offering that says take this time to get to know me fully because as you know me…you will truly know what I saw and see in you.
Happy day in between.
Consider the gift of the grace of growing.
Consider the acceptance of simply becoming. That’s why they call it grace.
I finished a short book, a memoir I was asked to endorse. I committed to read in its entirety at first because I’ve heard endorsers of books rarely read the book fully.
And then, because I couldn’t stop reading. I’ll share more about this book soon.
For now though, a little about this little prayer, the graphic I offer you here.
Maybe, I thought, a more acceptable prayer, one more able to help tie the loose ends of unanswered questions, to heal wounds still festering, a prayer more conducive to strength and with less shame.
“God, turn it for good.”
The book I finished caught my breath with its honesty, made me pause overwhelmed by the author’s words of wisdom and mostly, empathy.
It’s a memoir about child sexual abuse, a woman detailing her faith and counseling journey as she bravely reveals her secret, confronts her abuser, her father.
Intertwined in her coming to terms with the abuse by her father, she comes to terms with her questions about why she wasn’t protected by God and how the ripple effect of her sexual abuse separated her even farther from the God she was raised in every Sunday morning church to know.
Because she wasn’t protected, she believed less that she was “wronged” and that all along it was her that was “wrong”.
As I read, many comments were added for my benefit. I became teary eyed when I read of her circling back and back again to the why of God, where and why and how was it allowed?
Her counselor gifted her with words I’ve learned to treasure.
God was there too. God was not pleased. Evil took over. But, God was there with you.
Just as He is today.
Still, it is close to impossible for this truth I choose to be less mystery than reality.
I am learning. God saved me for this.
I’m learning to hold in one hand my questions while balancing in the other the evidence of God in my life, the promises that have been fulfilled.
All of the trauma, the unfair treatment, the less than storybook childhood, the abuse, the grief, the slander of my name by others.
The lack of rescue until I was numb to having a hand clench my neck or throw me against a wall. Stunned, I was stunned into submission of things that should never have happened at all.
That I did not cause.
These hurts are long gone and the thoughts they’ve birthed that I share here are for your hope.
These redemptive thoughts.
So, I offer you this little prayer, a phrase you can say on repeat for whatever wrongs you’ve known.
God, turn it for good.
Once, a few years ago (I’ve thankfully come so far) my counselor asked me if I ever asked Jesus where he was.
So, I asked and He answered slowly, not audibly or enormously, instead so fittingly, an image like a painting.
A familiar place where hard things happened and beside me in a grassy place, Jesus kneeled.
Jesus was with me.
I offer you this prayer.
A precious one, really and not an attempt to right wrongs, a gift of retribution, or a magic eraser of pain.
No, a leaning really. Just a leaning as you learn, as you see God with you.