Reflections

Here’s to another Five Minute Friday and the word prompt Reflect. You can join us at http://www.lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday.

REFLECT

Sun shimmers across water, casting its rays over the surface. Trees and clouds skitter atop the ripples, mirror image of the real. As I ponder the reflections of my gaze into pond depths, I can’t help but wonder how I absorb and reflect this life surrounding me each day.

Words are spoken, actions are lived out, all resounding and impacting me — for better or for worse — and I am helpless to do anything but reflect my own intentions. Some folks throw rays of love and peace into my life, but then there are others. Those whose reflections I’d much rather refract, turning them from entering my days. Keeping them at arm’s length instead of welcoming them in closely where our hearts entwine.

Because some folks are different. They respond to life in ways unlike my own. They perceive words and actions in ways I don’t. They seem to twist and turn my words into ugly when all was intended as light.

Some appear to take reflections and drain the last ounce of light from them, absorbing constantly while giving nothing in return. And while it’s so easy for me to become frustrated with these seeming “light suckers,” I would do well to remember that I am one myself.

I am forever the recipient of grace, she who drains the cup of mercy like a dehydrated desert-dweller. All that God reflects, I greedily take. Drinking and draining the rays of love-light with barely more than a passing nod of gratitude.

And all the while, I remain frustrated at those who seem to do the same with my own offerings of love.

Today I pray for grace to come full circle as I hold the mirror of this life toward the rays of God’s love and turn the blessings back upon those who walk with me. And I will leave the outcome of my outpouring in God’s hands as I simply absorb and release the reflection of mercy upon this surrounding world.

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Misplacing the Gifts

A few years back, I read the book entitled One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It encourages the reader to record a list of blessings –gifts– that are present in life. In short, it’s an invitation to express thanksgiving for all the things we already have, thereby cultivating a heart of gratitude and joy. So I picked up a journal and started writing…

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The scent of rain (Which I recently discovered had the really cool name of petrichor. Sweet!)

Watching my children sleep

The blackness of my husband’s hair

Tiny toes of newborn feet…

The list continued to grow, adding up to a few hundred gifts, before my writing turned toward other venues and the list was casually set aside. Until recently, when a few friends decided to revisit One Thousand Gifts together. So I dusted off the cover of the journal that held my “Gifts” and began adding to my inventory of wonders…

Spontaneous song and dance in the kitchen (Yes, life really is a musical in my house.)

First glimpse of my son after too many months of overseas’ separation

The memory of Dad’s voice calling in the cows…

The journal pages and my heart overflowed with gentle reminders of grace as I read and prayed. Until the morning I misplaced the gifts…

While sitting with a couple of Bibles, a few notebooks, and a stack of books (my small plethora –pardon the oxymoron– of study materials), I reached for my Gifts journal only to find it wasn’t where I remembered placing it. I glanced at the stack of books sitting near me but didn’t see it, so I moved to another room and began sorting through piles of books and places where it might be hiding. After a few minutes of fruitless searching, I restlessly returned to the bedroom.

Determined to continue with my devotional time, I picked up the top book entitled Breathe from the stack beside me, only to find the Gifts journal resting directly beneath it… Misplaced gratitude, right there beside me all along, buried beneath the invitation to Breathe.

In that simple act of discovery, I couldn’t help but wonder: How often does thankfulness stay hidden from my life?

And I am at a loss to find it — until I take the time to backtrack. Until I return to a place of rest and devotion. Until I accept the invitation to breathe and discover the Gifts right there at my fingertips.

It’s amazing how naturally gratitude is found in moments of rest.

Breathing in life releases the Gifts and stirs the soul toward thanksgiving. A thanks so often slow in coming when we’re busy searching for it in the hurry and clutter of a too-full life. Gratitude squelched with the blow of that one phone call or email that knocks the wind from us, leaving us confused and unsettled. Grace, seemingly absent when it’s buried beneath heavy hurt. But when we slow enough to catch our breath, we lift the weight pressing down on gratefulness. Inhaling life, we are freed to exhale thanks and joy. A joy that has been there all along, simply waiting on us. Waiting for that next breath so it can infect us with its contagious overflow.

Gifts – always present.

Resting in the moment of here.

Right beside us.

Where God is.

Always.

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All the Truth I Need

Here’s to another Five Minute Friday post where I link up with other writers over at Lisa Jo Baker’s blog to write for a brief five minutes on the word prompt for the day. Join us at http://www.lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday.

Truth

Jesus loves me, this I know…

It’s the one constant that holds me steady when this world careens and shifts like a Tilt-a-Whirl gone wild.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

Truth — the only thing strong enough to silence the accusations of not enough. Not good enough; not thin enough; not enough curves; not enough talent; not enough beauty; not enough intelligence; not enough worth. Simply. Not. Enough.

I find myself role-playing the part of Joshua from the vision found in Zechariah 3. Opposed by the accusations of Satan, I stand in the filth of all my sins. Lies would have me believe I am abandoned, condemned, alone, solitary.

Until Truth rises to stand near.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

And the Word of Truth speaks in my defense, moving to plead my case; rebuking my accuser; silencing the lies.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

Reaching across the expanse of time and eternity, arms outstretched on Calvary to bridge the gap between us.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

Removing the filthy rags of sin I’ve worn like a second skin for far too long.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

Clothing me with robes of His own righteousness, beautiful garments He has spun Himself. Covering me with grace upon grace. Silencing the lies for eternity.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

And that is all the Truth I need — for today, for tomorrow, and forever.

a7c8bd4bd58749a8ffa850dc4bd9f7b2                                                                   Yes, Jesus loves me…

Psithurism of the Holy

Whispers.

Prayers I’m praying,

Murmurs of my heart.

I see these soul words slow-dancing in the Spirit,

Twisting, turning, swaying, billowing.

Finding a home as they reach my heart and extend to His.

Sealed with a promise,

Kept for a purpose,

Whispering through my soul,

Taking my breath away

While filling me with new life.

Beckoning me to embrace every awe-filled moment.

Ever present,

Revealing His mercy,

Gracing my days with blessing.

Rustling light amidst the shadows,

Unveiling sweet discoveries

For finite eyes to capture.

Filling the empty places with His whispers,

Psithurism of the holy,

Shouting through my life.

IMG_3746Psithurism:  (n.) the sound of the wind through trees

Faith: A Working Grace

Have you ever prayed earnestly to God only to be disappointed by the answer with which He replied? When you were soooooo wanting to hear a “Yes,” and instead heard a “No,” or, at best, a “Not Yet”?

I daresay if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, then you have most likely been the recipient of a disappointing answer from Father.

What are we to do when God speaks in a way that is contrary to our desires?

I hate to admit it, but I’ve often thrown in my lot with the hesitant prophet Jonah and fled to my own version of Tarshish when God was asking me to go to Nineveh. (For the complete account of Jonah and his not-so-stellar performance, you can search the Bible under the chapter titled by his name.)

When asked to do something other than what Jonah had hoped would be his commissioning, he ran in the opposite direction. jonah-coloring-pageVerse 2:8 in the prophetic book reminds us clearly that those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. By deliberately choosing the path of disobedience, we let loose of God’s mercy and simultaneously surrender the blessings He desires to bestow upon us.

The people of Judah experienced a similar reminder in the book of Isaiah when they failed to even consult God, and instead chose to turn to the Egyptian pharaoh for their comfort and protection. “For without consulting Me you have gone down to Egypt for help. You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade. But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated, and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.” (Isaiah 30:2-3, NLT; emphasis mine)

It’s amazing how quickly we can find ourselves clinging to “worthless idols” even knowing that God alone is the One who is consistently faithful and patient with us. Instead of consulting Him first when faced with a conflict or decision, we scramble to latch onto something tangible – even though it’s all a mirage alongside the truth of God. Hastening to our personal “Egypts,” we find ourselves hemmed in and seeking shelter in small places. Turning to our old ways of reasoning and rationale, we seek safety where none is to be found.

Not only do we forfeit the grace that could be ours, but we are disgraced by the very things in which we seek to find solace. Left to our selfish wanderings, we are ultimately left humiliated.

Alone and without faith.

For faith is nothing more than a working grace.

Without faith working in our lives by love, all else is worthless. Compared with this priceless gift, all other things are of small value.

This week I watched a friend of mine choose to allow grace to have its way, and I am confident that her faith will grow because of her decision. When faced with a choice to obey a “no/not yet” answer from God when her heart was longing for a “yes,” my friend chose to throw in her lot with God. She chose the hard path of obedience when it could have been easy to slip down a selfish slope of disobedience. Though she is still struggling to align her emotions with her decision, I can’t help but believe that, in the end, she will be grateful for her wise choice. Regardless of how the full scenario plays out. Because when it’s all said and done, choosing to say “yes” to God grows our faith and releases the fragrance of grace in our lives as we are led more fully into His will and His love.

Sometimes we are asked to take a step of faith –  even when our emotions are warring against the “want to” of obedience.

And that’s where working grace steps in: to lead us where our own desires never would.

The next time you are faced with a decision that is battling between your wants and God’s wishes, I urge you to be careful that you do not “forfeit grace.” It may seem difficult to do the hard thing in the moment, but it’s better to arrive at your Nineveh upright instead of upchucked.

Rest assured, God will get us to where He wants us to go. I hope you make it there fully in faith and fully graced… without the stench of a fish’s belly clinging to your clothes.

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Grace Enough

Recently I’ve been reminded that there is no formula for approaching God. I used to think I had to have it all together before I dared to draw near the Almighty. As if.

I used to think I had to prepare my heart before entering His presence, weeding out all the garbage so I would be clean enough to enter the foyer of the Kingdom. I used to look at my heart and hope that it would somehow fly beneath the radar of holiness allowing me to slip near God undetected.

Much like the woman in Luke 8 who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, I thought I could somehow steal near enough to grasp a bit of God-life without being noticed. Without having others stare. Without having God look at me and know I was there, in all of my bleeding, gaping brokenness. Because if He saw me attempting to hone in on His power – me, with all my sins and failures – I feared I would be rejected.

The fact is, I can never reach the point of being “good enough” for God. I can never be holy, or righteous, or blameless to the extent that I would ever deserve to approach Him.

And yet, I can.

I CAN.

Because the Gospel message is a shattering of all the formulas. It flies in the face of all man-made expectations. Our feeble attempts to somehow work our way into God’s favor. There are not enough keys to spiritual discipline that will guarantee us the right to be called His children. There’s no number of prayers or acts of contrition that will pay the price of our penance. There are no 12-step programs in the Kingdom of God – and there’s definitely no way any of us can stay “anonymous.”

There’s only GRACE.

The grace of a God majestic enough to enclose all of heaven and earth in His eternal hand, yet merciful enough to reach into that same hand and carve my name upon it. For keeps.

The Gospel is a message of love large enough to cover the empty broken of this whole, wide world, yet personal enough to notice one trembling reach of desperation straining for a touch of the Master’s hem. And respond with healing for our chasms of aching need.

The message of grace is one that ripples across time and eternity, preparing the way before us so we can simply follow the trail and wind up in His mercy. With every step and breath of this life, we can move closer to His own. All it really takes from us is accepting the gift He extends and repositioning ourselves closer to the One who extends it.

In short, the message of the Cross is a story of a Savior who died to make us enough.

Who defeated death to give us Life.

Even when we weren’t good.

If you’re struggling to believe you deserve all the grace God has to offer, you can stop struggling. It’s fact. You can’t.

You can NEVER be good enough to deserve the life that Jesus came to give… but you can have it anyway.

Because it was never yours to earn; it’s only yours to receive. No matter how broken, weary, or hopeless you may be. No matter that the world has told you there’s no way you can ever be made whole.

Truth is, His grace is enough. And if you reach out and take it from the nail-scarred hand that is offering it, you may just find your name inscribed there. There, beneath the blood stains of a life poured out to set you free.

Free to walk in the grace that is yours because God says you are enough.

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Breathe. Just Breathe.

How many breaths will it take for the old to be uprooted and a new heart to be formed in me?

When I stumbled across these words in a blog post last evening, I couldn’t help but smile at yet another reminder from Father to “just breathe.” It is quite obvious that I am one of the slowest learners on the face of planet earth when I have to be reminded so very often to do something that should come naturally for one of God’s own. Constantly, I hear the gentle stirring in my spirit, “Breathe, Barbara. Just breathe.”

Why does something as elementary as breathing require such focus and effort?

Because I forget it’s all about grace.

Grace for me. Grace for others.

God’s grace.

Too often I find myself in panic mode when the waves of life come crashing down, forcing me beneath the surface, pressing heavy upon my spirit lungs. Desperately, I attempt to hold my breath until there is a calm between the white caps, a brief moment when I have a chance to gasp a much-needed respite before the relentless tossing begins anew.

And the Spirit within my own nudges me with the reminder, “Don’t hold your breath. Don’t suck in oxygen so desperately that you cause yourself to hyperventilate. Just breathe. And trust that My grace will be there.”

Trust that My grace will be there.

As much as I know from experience that God’s presence will calm my heart and carry the day, I still have the propensity toward panic. When trials come, my initial reaction is to gasp and flail instead of breathe and ease myself into His loving arms.

I still have the tendency to forget about grace. A grace that consumes all the flaws in me with all the holiness that is His own. No matter how many times I come to Him with the same struggles, the same temptations, the same sins wrapped around my soul.

Breathe, Barbara. Just breathe…                                                      

Inhale God’s presence… and exhale the old way of living.

Take on His life… and give up your own.

One. Breath. At. A. Time.

How many breaths will it take for the old to be uprooted and a new heart to be formed in me?

I figure it will be just enough breaths to take me to the final stop on this side of eternity. And that next breath? Well, I imagine it will, indeed, be heavenly.

Until then, I choose to breathe. Even though I’m sure to need reminded again. But that’s what grace is all about.

Reminding me of who I am. And Who He is.

And that, my friend, is enough for my next breath… and my last.

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