One Man’s Trash, Another Man’s Treasure

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

I was sitting outside reading my morning devotions when a familiar song floated through the air to my listening ears. I had just finished praying the verse above for my husband, asking the Lord to bless him in his work. These were the words stuck in my mind, “I pray my husband has a desire to serve You and to work unto You no matter what his job title states”[i].

The next sound I heard was the lyric, “Great are You, Lord” coming from somewhere in front of my house. I could hear what sounded like a bus or a truck running, and the worship song was playing above the idling vehicle, fairly loud for the early morning hour. I started to sing along, “All the earth will shout your praise, our hearts will cry, these bones will sing, Great are You, Lord!” Then I started to cry. The words so poignantly resounded with my prayers. And all so unexpectedly. It amazed me how the song mingled with my words, lifting a sweet fragrance of prayer.

Who was this, playing this song in my front yard, at exactly this moment? I didn’t know, but I had to find out. I tip-toed carefully through the wet grass in my flip-flops to get a peek around the corner before whoever it was pulled away. What I saw surprised me further. A trash truck. A large, white, Rumpke truck in front of the neighbor’s house, and men outside of it, loading the trash, and worshipping God.

Is it just me, or is this the perfect illustration of glorifying God in our work? The work is hard – heavy lifting, dirty, smelly. Literally, garbage. Handling garbage. All day, every day. And the men are worshipping, as they work. Trash.  

I felt conviction in my spirit. The things I bemoan about my daily work. The “trash” I just want to go away because I don’t want to deal with it again today. Pray about it AGAIN today. Think about it, much less worship in it, today. Truly, my trash is often just trash. But today, my trash was transformed into treasure. Something about this scene invigorated me. Inspired me to truly want to serve the Lord in all my “garbage”.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings, the music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas, His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world: the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere.

Emphasis: everywhere.

A paean of praise rises, even in the rumble of a Rumpke truck. Treasure that in your heart today as you rise to the work set before you.

[i] “Thirty-One Prayers for my Husband, Seeing God Move in His Heart” by: Jennifer Smith

Soul Scribbles

I caught the cold that’s been going around my house for weeks. The Puffs with lotion box is my constant companion this week. I will say, as far as colds go, it could be worse. The stuffiness is a major irritant, but other than that, I feel fine. I have energy and am doing life as usual. Except with Kleenex hanging out of my nose. Chloe says I look ridiculous. I say I am taking necessary measures.

So, well enough about that.

I am preparing for a couple more Take he(ART) parties. I have one tomorrow (another Rooted in Love) and then a large women’s retreat in early March. I just heard final count is 118 women!! This is very exciting, and a little overwhelming. I am doing everything I can to make it an easy and enjoyable process for everyone. Some friends were gracious enough to offer to come help. So, we will have trays of glue and paint coming around the room – a catered art party! I am so grateful for the opportunity and the help! I am preparing a message on “letting go”, which is the theme. I have been reading about David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel. My first thought after praying about it, was David’s song, “You have set my feet in a spacious place”. I’ve set the project and the message up around the idea that “letting go” is a spacious place – God enlarges our hearts, minds, souls, and strength as we trust Him by faith.

Which brings me to scribbling. I am being totally serious when I say that scribbling is changing my life! I can’t believe the freedom I experience in scribbling in my painting. Another artist gave me a tip – it helps to have something in mind when you are writing, even if others can’t read it. Wow! This really worked for me. I have since incorporated some scribbling into nearly everything, including our “let go” project. I use scribbling there to show the movement of letting go. I can’t wait to lead 118 women to scribble! What joy!

Here is one of my recent scribble designs. I call it Golgotha:

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This began with some extra paint I rolled with a brayer onto watercolor paper. I liked the colors together and decided to drop some black india ink over it, and lifted by paper to let it run in different directions. From this, a clear Cross emerged. It reminded me of the Calvary hillside. So, I dropped some red acrylic ink and let it run down the Cross. After that dried, I added the scribbles. It says, “Golgotha. Man of Sorrows, Familiar with Suffering, we esteemed Him not” (ref. Isaiah 53).

I find such deep peace and satisfaction in painting. Especially, as a response to God. I have also been reading lately about the profound mystery, beauty and art in scribbling. The book is called, Scribbling in the Sand by Michael Card. It is about creativity and art. Specifically, the account in John 8 when the Pharisees accused an adulterous woman. Instead of answering the angry crowd, Jesus bent down and scribbled in the sand.

What?! Jesus is a scribbler!

Card says this, “Jesus’ action created a frame around the silence – the kind of silence in which God speaks to the heart. In short, it was a supreme act of creativity. It was art”. Wow. Just…Wow. This made me weep. The very idea of letting go in the creative process is to give ourselves permission to create the kind of space inside us to allow God to speak to us. There is mystery, beauty, romance involved. I have been saying to women that God woos us in the creative process. I see this in my own creative journey. I am humbled that God would chose ME to facilitate the creative process with other women. What an incredible honor, privilege, joy!

A few other, random updates. I have replenished the note card section of my shop. I introduced a new floral card pack , which includes three new cards along with two old favorites. Here are some pictures:

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I also have Golgotha available as an unmatted 8×8 print ,

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Even with my Puffs in hand, I managed to work on a new painting this week. She came together over several days, working mostly at night. She is larger on 16×20 canvas. I think I am going to keep this original for now. She needs to be in my art room. Plus, I am considering applying to a juried art show in August. If I take this step, I will need photos of my best work to enter. I think she is one of my best so far. I wrote, “Take Heart” in my own scribbly scrawl with a 20 gage fineliner (another life-changer….perfect for scribbling!) Here are a couple pictures of my new “Take Heart” girl (complete with Jamie’s ABC’s in the background):

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I really like the half the face picture – like she is peeking in with a message. I made this my new cover photo on Facebook:

20150219_174703Take he(ART)!

Robyn

 

One Small Step, One Giant Leap

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Mundane faithfulness. This description of a life of faith has been turning in my mind. I can’t let go of it, or its implications. I first read it in a post from Ann Voskamp . She shared Kara’s story of living with cancer , and her letter to Brittany – another terminal cancer patient at the center of a life and death debate. The links share more of their stories. Read them when you have time. Contemplating hard things gives us perspective.

Kara’s blog is called, “Mundane Faithfulness”. The title is a reference from a quote, “What will you do in the days of mundane faithfulness?” (Martin Luther). Powerful question, if you let it settle on you. What will you do when your days run together? When there is no external motivation to get up and do hard stuff all over again. When today will likely be the same as yesterday, and the day before. When we forget this stability is really a gift, when it starts to feel like a burden. When we can hardly pull ourselves out of bed to do it all over again. What will you do….then?

Every life has peaks and valleys. I prefer peaks, but they are few and far between. Oswald Chambers says we are “made for the valleys”. He says this appetite for the mountaintop experiences of life is a flaw in our nature. Like Peter, we want to set up tents and camp out there awhile. And like Peter, we are headed back down the hill, “to the demon-possessed valley”; the “mean streets” and “days of drudgery”, as Chambers puts it. The valley is the arena of life, where faith is proven – pedal to the “mettle”.

I started a new Bible study yesterday. (If you are looking for a Bible study, click that link. It’s is a good one). Day 1 asked another powerful question, “Is the glory of God your supreme passion?” Supreme as in highest, passion as in desire. Is God’s Glory my highest aspiration and desire? Yes, I would say – sort of. I do want to please God and live for Him. I do see choices made in faith to steer my life to where God wanted me to be. Smack in the middle of the mundane. That part is a little sticky. The next question brought it home, “Does it (God’s Glory) define your goals, objectives, how you spend your time…..everything about you?” Everything about me? That’s a stretch. I am more mixed up than that. I could easily see the internal struggle between God’s glory, and my own. Glory thievery: I think it’s the same part of our nature that wants to live on the mountaintop. You know, where the exciting stuff happens. The thrill-seeking, glory-chasing kind of life. Except it’s an illusion. To quote Solomon, “Vanity, vanity…all is vanity….a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14).

Heaven is made for heroes of faith, not the vainglorious kind. Faith heroes are made in the valley. Broken, and remade – in the mundane. If God has called you to the tedious monotony of endless days, be encouraged. You are living in the valley – where God made you to live. And He is making you entirely His, for His glory alone, one small-step-giant-leap at a time.

Now, off I go to save the day! (A little humor for the hero in all of us). Let the mundane begin. The mountaintop is but a distant dream.

How Do You Handle Change? Three Ways Mountains Become Molehills

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A friend made a comment recently that highlighted the difficulty I am having with a current change in my life. She said casually, “What a great opportunity, Robyn”. I had to acknowledge I hadn’t viewed it that way. I have been too mired in my own emotional junk about the changes to recognize the gift in them. This really humbled me. I had to confess my whiny attitude to God, and ask for His eyes to see the changes as He did. Almost immediately, I experienced a new peace that had evaded me before. Not that all my bad attitudes vanished. I am still in the process of disentangling the knotty, emotional mess, but this shift in thinking has helped me significantly. It has settled me down, allowing my focus to turn away from myself, and to God.

Change always challenges our faith. We are all prone to settle into our comfort zones. We like things to be predictable; to know what to expect, and what is expected from us. A change is unsettling. Especially when it involves real sacrifice on our part. Everyone wants to feel competent and useful. A change makes us question ourselves again, and go back around the “mountain” of self for a little review. I have found this part problematic because it encourages the wrong focus and stirs up the bad emotions. Comparison is carnal, and overshadows our thinking; blocking our ability to consider the good God is bringing in and through the changes. Pining over the past always undermines our ability to respond rightly in the present.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18, 19).

No one sees gifts at a pity party.

We cannot conceive the new thing when we are still underneath the old 1,000 pound gorilla. How can we recognize the opportunity in change and rise to the occasion? Here are three practical ways God is helping me right now, to move through change in a way that honors Him, and builds my faith:

Fix Your Eyes on the Goodness and Sovereignty of God: We’ve all heard things like “Nothing happens that doesn’t first pass through God’s hand” and the like. I don’t know about you, but sometimes this is not all that helpful when I am in the throes of change. We start to wonder why God would allow these painful, difficult, unfair things to happen. If God is good than why does He want me to feel so bad? This is a slippery slope in change. If we allow ourselves to follow these thoughts, we will slide down into self-pity, anger, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc. We must redirect our thoughts and emotions back to what we KNOW is true of God. What have we personally experienced of God? How faithfully He has led us through life to this point. How merciful and gracious He has been toward us. How much He loves us, and what His love accomplished for us on the Cross of Christ. I fill my mind and mouth with Scriptures that affirm God in His Goodness. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy – think about such things…And the peace of God will be with you” (Phil.4 :8,9). I also meditate on God as the Creator of all. He has made everything, and in Him all things hold together. This includes my little life and the changes that seem so big in the moment. Thinking about God’s bigness helps level set my thinking, and brings perspective on the true size and significance of what I am going through. The perceived mountain is really only a molehill. Try this: visualize the earth spinning on its axis in the huge expanse of space. I do this sometimes while looking up at the sky and imagining what lies beyond it, past my ability to see or grasp. Think about the conditions required to keep the planet in place, and to supply the right atmospheric conditions to sustain life – your life and the breath you are taking right here and now. God literally holds the whole world in His hands. Breathe deeply as you think about this. Let the physical air you are drawing in renew your spirit in recognition of God’s Sovereign control over all aspects of all of life.

Honestly Confess, Humbly Receive: We do have to come to terms with the fact that God allowed the change, no matter how difficult or painful. In my experience, it does little to deny our true feelings and responses. If you are angry, confess it to God and ask for help in ridding you of the harmful emotions. Ask God to give you right thoughts and feelings about the change, and the other people involved. Confess it when you’ve taken out your bad emotions on others. Own your responses in truth before God. Nothing is hidden in His sight. This is not a one-time event. This is a perpetual process as you move through the change. When the anger, unforgiveness, etc. rear up again, go to God again – every time. Name it for what it is, and draw near to Him in humble dependence. He is able to make all grace abound to you. He values a broken and contrite heart who desires to live in a way that pleases Him. He knows that we are dust, with limited ability to response rightly. And His grace is greater than all our sin. The reward in doing this comes when you observe your own thinking and feelings changing – for the better. This is a subtle, gradual change, like heavy clouds parting to let the light peek through. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Offer a Sacrifice of Praise: Nothing pushes back the darkness more effectively than worship. Come to God and make your offering, whether or not you feel like it. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Hebrews 13:15). I look for things I can praise God for in the midst of change. Instead of focusing the things we don’t like about change, focus on thanking God for the good He has allowed and sustained in your life. For example, I have been thanking God for the years He allowed me to serve in a ministry I love. I thank Him for the people He has brought into my life and allowed me to serve alongside – for their influence, leadership, and blessing to me, and to my family. This confuses the enemy and diffuses every harmful ploy he launches in our direction. Worship closes every opening and allows no foothold for the enemy to entice you down the wrong path. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

How do you navigate change? I’d love to hear your experiences in trying out these practical ways, and other ways that have personally helped you. Whatever change you are in the midst of, hear God on this, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “Don’t be deceived…every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created” (James 1:16-18).

Seeing the good and perfect gift in your change is the fruit of faith.

 

 

 

 

The Great Gain of Grace

I once heard an old tale about two wolves; a good one and a bad one. I don’t remember the details of the story, only the question raised from it: which wolf survives? The good one or the bad one? The answer, as I recall, is the one that you feed. This is true of anything. What you nourish grows, and what you don’t dies. The only way to kill the bad is to starve it out. Stop feeding it.

I’ve been thinking about this in connection with compulsions. A compulsion is an action we are compelled to take. A person behaving compulsively is under constraint, or coercion. I call this the “forced march”. It feels like the power to push us forward is stronger than our power to resist. Envision it like being led at gunpoint, or taken hostage. This is what a person under compulsion looks like through the eyes of the Spirit. This person is not free to hear or pursue God’s will because they are held prisoner in their own.

As I listened to a friend describe her compulsions recently, I could not help but consider my own. While our specific compulsions differed, they are equal in the sway they hold over us. For some of us, behaving compulsively may be related to something physical, like food or appearance. For others, it is more emotional, in seeking approval, affirmation, and love. And still others, more about performance and achievement. Whatever our specifics, compulsions are all rooted in the same thing: a desire to fulfill our needs outside of God.

One definition of woundedness is unmet needs. Our needs, whether perceived or real, create wounds when left unfulfilled. Our perception is reality. We instinctively seek to fill that which we perceive as empty, or lacking. The prophet Jeremiah calls this, “broken cisterns who cannot hold water”. And it is true, when we seek to fulfill our own needs, or heal our wounds through compulsions, the results are short-lived. We are perpetually needy and lacking; which reinforces the dynamics to sustain our compulsions. In other words, you are feeding the bad wolf again.

The prophet Haggai describes this phenomenon, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:5, 6).

Our compulsions make deposits into our hearts, then fall through the cracks of our leaky souls. We drop change: plink, plink, plink, in a perpetual state of trying to fill that which is broken and cannot be filled apart from God. I see our souls in this state as a type of vortex, a bottomless pit. This causes us to consume but never be consumed by God. There is too much pass through; not enough traction to break us from our compulsive cycles.

Compulsions, when seen through this lens, are really a form of idolatry. It’s the equivalent of fashioning a golden calf for ourselves when we feel God has left us in our neediness for too long. To act compulsively is to take our lives into our own hands, to look to worthless things that can never patch our hole-laden souls. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8)

Grace is currency. God’s grace is the only deposit that can heal a wounded soul. His grace has the potential to make us far richer than the piddling pocket change of our compulsions. Recognize the bad wolf and our helplessness to stop feeding it. Cry out to the Holy One of Israel; the Living God who longs to be gracious to us. The same Lord who warns, “Consider your ways” says, “I am with you”….. “My grace is sufficient for you”. Consider the needs behind your compulsions. What need are your trying to fill? Wound are you trying to heal? Confess your neediness to the Lord; ask Him to fill, heal, and satisfy your soul. His power is perfected in our weakness. When we are weak, we are strong. Strong enough to break free of compulsion, and courageously pursue godliness by fighting the good fight of faith.

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). While compulsion is a constraint, contentment is a restraint only possible by the glorious riches of God’s great grace.  The answer to which wolf survives depends upon our response to our compulsions. Turn from them, toward God’s powerfully, effective grace.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect” (1 Corinthians 15:10).