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

A Word and a Prayer

Where did the year go? Here we are once again on the edge of a new year. New grace for the hour. Renewed strength for the days ahead. Praise the Lord for how He guides us, often in spite of ourselves. I pray your Christmas season has been full of the presence and peace of Christ, as we prepare to go forward into this new year, ever-trusting in our Savior.

Have you picked a word of focus for 2016? My word is “devotion”. It is connected to the idea of wholeheartedness, of coming back to Christ as my center, the Fount from which all of my life flows. I hope to reestablish a more robust daily devotional time with the Lord, and grow in my devotion to Him through prayer and meditation.

One of my Christmas gifts this year lends perfectly to this aspiration. It is a collection of Puritan prayers from the 16th and 17th centuries, entitled, “The Valley of Vision”. It is said, “the strength of Puritan character and life lay in the practice of prayer and meditation”. Many of the Puritans recorded “God’s intimate dealings” with their souls, “to test their spiritual growth, and to encourage themselves by their re-perusal in times of low spiritual fervor”.

I love that expression. Basically: to regroup, rethink, come back to center. Devotion.

To start the new year, below is a prayer from the book to give voice to our praise for God’s faithful love to us this year and to express our desire to go deeper with Him in 2016. Happy New Year, dear friends.

Year’s End, Valley of Vision (page 111)

O LOVE BEYOND COMPARE,
Thou art good when Thou givest,
when Thou takest away,
When the sun shines upon me,
When night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With Thee as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless Thee that Thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If Thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
Thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see Thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify Thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for Thy use.

Amen.

Surrendering to the Season

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to uproot
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain.
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace”.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

It is a humbling thing to ask for prayer. Especially about matters that induce shame, even if you haven’t done the wrong. The first time I spoke in my Bible Study this year, it came with an unexpected wave of tears, as I struggled to share that I have a son in prison. Giving voice to this reality confronts me again with such force that I can barely breathe, much less speak. So much for first impressions. I left the group that night feeling raw, vulnerable, and unsure of my own stability. This is not like me. Why did I feel so compelled to blurt this out in my introduction? I didn’t know. But it made me uncomfortable, and a little afraid. Could I be trusted to compose myself in public? Clearly, I could not hold back the torrent of emotion that had overwhelmed me that night, from the very first hymn. At the words, “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do”, I blinked back instant tears, and my heart burned within me. Dare I believe it? Allow my mind to consider what good God might bring from all this pain? My battered heart so desperately wanted to believe it possible.

Since I put it out there in my first encounter, I thought I might as well ask for prayer for an upcoming visit to see Eddie. So, I asked for prayer two weeks prior to my visit. The last visit in June had nearly destroyed me. It took about four days to recover from the fear that gripped my heart. I didn’t know if I could do that again. It is so hard to come back to the rest of the family and be who I need to be for them. I have to fight against the grief that threatens to swallow me. And sometimes you just aren’t up for that fight …again. So, this time, I reasoned, I needed as many people praying for me as were willing. And since I had already made a blubbering mess on my first night, what did I have to lose? 😉

My first observation on the morning of my visit was how physically fit I felt. I really felt good, all the way around. The visit itself is physically demanding because it is a four-hour drive, over 200 miles away. I’ve driven it plenty of times, emotionally wrecked, head-pounding, pulling over to take out contacts so foggy that I can’t see to drive. So, to feel this good was a gift, and my heart was so glad. Then, all of my favorite worship songs came on the radio, one after the other, as if cued from on High, a personal sermon to my soul. Danny Gokey’s song, “More Than You Think I Am” is always a comfort. The line, “You always think I’m somewhere on a mountaintop, but never think behind bars” reminds me that Jesus goes places that even a mother cannot go. The day before, my friend wrote to me, “Jesus goes with you”, and the lyric reaffirmed this truth. Then tears came as I sang “Praise you in this Storm”:

“Once again I say Amen, and it’s still raining”.

Yes, it is still raining. Circumstances are still bleak. To think about a child in a horrible place for a day is hard enough. But your child there, in a small prison cell, day after day. On his special day – his birthday. On Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. And so many more days to face. Seven more long years of days.

That’s a lot of rain.

And here I am, once again, saying, “Amen”.

I started to pray to Jesus, who is the Amen (Revelation 3:14), telling Him I was going today on His command to, “Remember those in prison”, asking Him to bless our visit, let Eddie see Him through our time together, and help me emotionally through it. It was about this time that I began to have an awareness of two things. First, I was being prayed for. I could “feel” the prayers of God’s people. This is hard to explain, but I knew their prayers were upholding me in every way. Second, I started to notice the breath-taking color of the fall trees lining both sides of the highway. Everywhere I turned, brilliant yellows, oranges, reds. Shades of glory all around, and the thought started to form, “surrender to the season”. I am working on a fall tree art class at the library in November, and am planning to focus on this idea as the theme. I realized this is exactly what I am doing here. Going where Jesus is calling me to go, trusting in His presence, who goes before and with me; inexplicably, but gloriously true. The beauty of those trees permeated my heart and I started to experience what can only be described as joy.

JOY? JOY. JOY!

It both baffled and amazed me. My heart was filled with praise and thanksgiving; a delight, and glory to God! The visit was much the same as my morning. All of those prayers mattered, and made a difference for us. Eddie and I shared a good time of conversation, laughter, healing. The remarkable thing is that our circumstances had not changed one iota from the last visit. It is that God is changing us. I am confident He is with us, and at work. Even if our circumstances suggest the opposite. And further, God is changing me, as I surrender to this season of life, trusting in its purpose and value. I am looking forward to a harvest as glorious as those fall trees.

So, today. “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do” as you surrender to the season, right where the Lord has you, right now. To the best of your ability, turn all of yourself toward Him. Trust His purpose in your pain, and the possibility of blessing, beauty, and an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8)! And whatever you do, ask others to pray for you. Don’t let fear of looking foolish keep you from the blessing of experiencing the hope and help found in the prayers of the saints. In the end, we will all enter the gates with singing, and the best part will be joining hands with the ones who’ve sown with us in tears, and together, reaping with songs of joy. Just imagine the sheaves from all of this rain (Psalm 126)!

Made to Thrive

I’ve been working on a painting of an oak tree this week. One of the verses I’ve taken to heart comes from Isaiah 61. It says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor”. That is part of verse three. This is a famous passage about the Spirit of the Lord coming upon us to preach good news to the poor. It is the same passage I have been looking at as I’ve worked on the Half the Sky paintings , “Proclaim freedom for the captives, release from darkness the prisoners”. Jesus stood in the temple and read the very words of this passage, and then declared Himself the One who was to come. He said, “Today these words are fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), as He rolled up the scroll.

God in the flesh unfurled the scroll, declared it done, and walked out to begin His ministry of the new covenant. And yet we know that when He returned to the Heavens from which He had come, there remained work to be done. Here, in this place of continuing darkness; where prisoners are a present reality. These “ancient ruins” in which we live, joined in God’s work of restoring the “places long devastated”, trying hard to believe in the end result upon which we have built our faith. The finished-yet-in-process work of God’s redemption of the world. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”.

Friends, do you have days when it is hard to see the bounty of His promise? When your reality is anything but close to what God has said?

I do.

It is hard to believe in fruit when everything around you is rotten. Hard to imagine flourishing when you are dying on the vine. But I am learning that life is born only out of death. The choke hold is actually a life line. These places where we die, the miracle is that we yet live. Devastation that could have (should have) killed us, but God. His grace is the strand that cannot be broken when you come to the straw that broke the camel’s back. When everything falls, somehow we are held. Inexplicably, until that last day, when the scroll-yet-sealed is finally broken. The breaking that will heal the entire world. For real, forever. And there will be fruit. “In that day – Sing about a fruitful vineyard: I, the Lord, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it…In days to come, Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:2,3,6).

So, how can we allow His promise to take root in us…right now, where we stand? When we are bombarded by daily reports of bombing, not blossoming, in Israel. When the haunting images of abandoned children standing upon smoldering heaps of ruins won’t let us rest. When we are navigating the landmines of our own uncertain life circumstances. How do we hold fast to something more than scraping by?

I’ve been listening to Casting Crowns new song lately. I really love it. It has become something like a prayer to lift me from the daily wreckage to the bigger picture of my life. Here is the first verse and chorus:

Here in this dry and weary land, where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by water, we will never run dry
So, Living Water flowing through
God, we thirst for more of you
Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire:

Just to know you and to make you known We lift your name on high
Shine like the sun, make darkness run and hide
We know we’re made for so much more than ordinary life
It’s time for us to more than survive

We were made to thrive

Thrive: to grow and develop vigorously; to be prosperous, to advance, flourish.

Some truths I’ve been thinking on about thriving:

  • Dead things must go for new life to grow (see John 15)
  • The Lord Himself watches and guards the vineyard (Isaiah 27)
  • When the Israelites were oppressed, their numbers only kept increasing. (see Exodus 1)
  • Your life, and every circumstance surrounding it, has been firmly planted by the Sovereign Lord (See Acts 17:24-28).

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It helps me to think of myself, and others, as a mighty oak. An immovable, flourishing tree nourished by the stream of Living Water, the river that runs out of Heavenly places, flowing out to this dry and weary life, bringing renewed hope everywhere it touches. I pray for that kind of refreshing from the Lord every day, a deep drink from the Fountain of Life. I want to be a wildflower in the wilderness; with no natural explanation for my growth in these hard conditions.

Persevere, friends. Thrive. We can do more than just hang on. We were made to be strong branches of refuge, extending places of shelter, safety, and shade to others. Keep preaching the good news, and letting it take root in your own heart.

The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:11, 12).

A day is coming when we will sing about a vineyard from a land flowing with milk and honey. Today, bloom where you are planted. Your life bears witness to His glorious, thriving promise.

Windows of Hope

Hi friends! Thank you to everyone who responded to my collaboration with Eddie . Your kind words and prayers mean so much to us.  I was overjoyed this morning by my telephone conversation with him . Eddie received the picture of the finished Eagle. He was so encouraged to hear the wonderful responses. This, and several other key things in the last couple of days, has greatly uplifted his spirit. God is at work! He said in amazement, “Mom, I feel so close to God right now”. His comment was like salve to this mamma’s soul! I’ve been praising God for His great mercy is reaching out to Eddie once again. Surely we are being helped by your prayers…thank you, thank you, thank YOU!

You are NOT going to believe this, so I am going to show you. I finished another heART journal page this morning. Imagine my surprise when I turned to a new journal page and words like “Edward”, “son”, “far away, would one day return” started jumping off the page at me. It’s TRUE! God is so amazing! He Sovereignly directs every detail. This page was wonderful to create on the heels of our mother-son project. It brought me back to the past too. I recalled some previous times and prayers. God seems to be working them all together in His perfect way. I am feeling so full and blessed right now to be able to participate in His redemptive work in such a fun, creative way.

I started this journal page simply by using my left-over paint from other projects. Each day, I’d take my paint over – whatever color I had – and apply it to the page around the words. I started with black, which seemed rather appropriate. Don’t you think? Over time, I started to color box the words and this looked like windows to me. So, I used a small round brush dipped in some left over, watered-down  gesso and made little frames around the words. Here are some pictures of these steps:

PicMonkey Collage

This reminded me of an old post I wrote, the last time Eddie was in jail. He  had a teacher once who talked about “windows of opportunity” to reach him. Her words came back to me as I waited in the lobby of the jail for my first visit. Read my post, Windows for more about that time.

I used my black stabilo pencil and some gel pens – green, gold, and white – to draw details around the windows. Then I added some digital effects and a Bible verse to each one. I made two sets of “windows”, and sent both of these pictures to Eddie today. I think they turned out pretty cool. What do you think?
Window1-1Window2-3All of this became my prayer for Eddie this morning.  I was reminded of a poem by Amy Carmichael in her book Mountain Breezes :

Open Thy Windows

Open Thy windows, Lord, we pray;
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.

Thou hast not brought us, Lord, so far
To leave us without pilot star.

Teach us to pray: our faith renew:
O do as Thou wont to do.

That we may work Thy will today,
Open Thy windows, Lord, we pray.

Under Thine opened heavens may we
Worship, adore, rejoice in Thee.

And dwelling in that shining place
Hear our Lord’s voice and see His face.

Let us keep praying for our lost loved ones. Lord, open Thy windows, we pray.  He has not brought us this far to leave us without pilot star. He is our Bright Morning Star. I pray He opens a window of hope inside every heart today.

Take heART!

<3 Robyn