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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The Revealing

The Word with God was God.

Abiding in profound union,

So intricately entwined there could be no separation.

Everything was created through Him and reunited to Him through Him yet again.

A cycle of ceaseless grace consumed with His mercies

Gave light and brought life,

Unrelenting and unconquerable.

True Light,

Giving light to all.

 

Stepping into His own creation,

He remained unrecognizable.

So far removed from His glory dwelling.

So far removed from human expectations of the Divine.

Misunderstood.

Rejected.

By the very hearts created to beat in communion with His own.

 

BUT

To all who believed Him,

To those who saw Holy in a manger

And Glory on a rugged cross,

He sealed with sonship.

Securing their inheritance as His children.

The gift of rebirth granted to eyes opened by this Love Light.

 

The Word became flesh.

Incarnate confined by human skin,

Morphing Himself into the masterpiece He created.

Filling the canvas of temporal here

With the eternal presence of unfailing love and faithfulness.

Revealing God with us.

 

From His abundance, beggars are filled.

The blind see.

See the glory of the very countenance of I AM

Reflecting in this man face.

Revealing God

To all who will believe.

 

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Sentinel of Life

Welcome to another Five Minute Friday where I’ve joined with a group of writers who gather once a week to “just write” without worrying about getting things “just right.” You’re welcome to join in on the fun over at   http://www.lisajobaker.com/five-minute-friday. Today’s word is “tree.”

Tree

Growing up on a farm with acres and acres of woods, my siblings and I spent hours exploring among the trees. These tall sentinels of the hills opened wide to child mind, transforming into magical kingdoms filled with wonder just waiting our discovery…

Tree – stalwart keeper of castle gates swinging open to welcome imagination at play

Tree – escort through the forest, transformed to pirate ship holding treasure and adventure on the seven seas

Tree – leafed sentry turned tepee providing haven for wild “Indians” who had no concept of political correctness as they whooped and hollered, racing their imaginary steeds through forest filled with danger and discovery

Tree – hollowed protector worn by years of standing firm, holding small body nestled within its cavern during repeated rounds of Hide-and-Seek

Tree – watchman providing shade and solitude as teenage body scales its branches with Bible and notebook in hand

Tree – welcoming protector of frame grown older, enfolding adult child still seeking solace within its canopy

Tree – keeper hewn into Cross of suffering, holding the broken body of Grace as life-breath bleeds out to offer me salvation

Tree – sheltering defender, standing firm through the ages, casting its shadow of love over me.

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Persuaded by Love

His love never fails; it never gives up. It never runs out on me…

He is with us. He is with us. Always. Always…

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane…. Oh, how He loves us….

Jesus, You found me, and You loved me first…

The same love that set the captives free, the same love that opened eyes to see, is calling us all by name…

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us…

Words of love songs and verses filled with agreement sweep over me, comforting my heart and calling me to a greater place of freedom and enjoyment in Christ… When I know and believe them, that is.

Being persuaded of God’s love is what causes me to walk in confidence.

With eyes wide open to truth, I am held by the firm grasp of reality when illusions are calling me to buy into the lie that life is somehow much less than God claims. Too often, I succumb to the belief that God has deserted me, or at the least, is disappointed in me and has moved from my side. Hence, I feel unloved. Unsettled. Uncertain of so many  things.

Myself, most of all.

It’s disconcerting how easily I am disconcerted when I forget how deeply Father loves.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in my natural inclination toward spiritual amnesia. How many times have you been duped into believing God’s love is somehow less than His Word professes it to be? I daresay we have all been sharers in this truth distortion at one time or another.

The good news is, there’s always a standing invitation to embrace reality. Verse after verse of Scripture assures us of God’s faithfulness and unconditional love. All four gospel messages portray Christ’s love in action. Story after story shows sinners showing up at the feet of Jesus. And being loved by Him. Just. The. Way. They. Were.

Even when the rest of the world scorned them.

Even when they scorned themselves.

Jesus never once shied away from sinners. Instead, He embraced them. Forgave them. Changed them.

Because that’s what real love does. It transforms the one who has an encounter with it.

 The next time you’re tempted to keep your distance from a God who lives to bridge it, I challenge you to do otherwise. Instead of holding back, I dare you to take that first step toward the One who welcomes sinners, especially when you feel as chief among them.  And if you’re struggling to remember that God’s love is present with you in your present state, I dare you to crack open the Scriptures and put an end to your spiritual amnesia. Take a long look at Romans 8:38-39, and allow yourself to be fully persuaded:

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At the Foot of the “Cross”ing Over

“Let us cross over to the other side of the lake. “

Such an unassuming statement.

But it is safe to assume that no statement is unassuming when spoken by the mouth of Jesus. Instead, this particular suggestion to “cross over” was the launchpad for a chain of miraculous events leading to one of my all-time favorite Bible stories.

For starters, a relatively simple journey across the Sea of Galilee turned into a stormy adventure that nearly capsized a boatload of seasoned fisherman. If it weren’t for the calming voice of the Calmer of the Seas, this tale may have taken a turn for the worse and ended with the drowning of the boat’s occupants. Thankfully, God had further plans for this motley crew and delivered them safely to the shore of the Gadarenes (or Gerasenes, depending upon translation).

While the miraculous delivery from a raging tempest makes for a great story, it is not today’s primary focus. My purpose is to draw your attention to Jesus’ interaction with one, lone man. A man so bound by Satan that he was driven to live naked and tormented among the tombs of the dead. One man, held captive by the forces of darkness, banished to live in solitude and misery. One man who encountered a Savior who deemed it necessary to “cross over to the other side” and set a prisoner free.

One man for whom Jesus went out of His way.

And it changed his life.

Forever.

With one word from the Lord, a legion of demons was transferred into a passel of pigs. And a man, once driven insane by the powers of darkness, was catapulted into the light of the Kingdom of God. Transformed by the Shaper of Souls. Destined to new beginnings.

New Life.

While a herd of demon-possessed swine hurling themselves to their death in the lake was what initially drew the attention of the surrounding community, the people were even more startled to see the man who had once been naked and crazed now sitting peacefully at the feet of Jesus. Fully clothed and in his right mind.

Completely. Totally. Healed.

All because Jesus was determined to “cross over to the other side” for him.

Today I am reminded of the fact that Jesus is still in the business of “crossing over.” And I’m thankful that He does so for the likes of me.

I have a Savior who is willing to go out of His way for me, even knowing that He will not always be welcomed when He arrives. And I am grateful. I’m grateful to have a God who sees beyond the external life I portray to others and is not afraid to deal with my demons. Those things that hold me captive. Thoughts that torment me. Worries that keep me awake at night. Anxieties that compel me to act contrary to who I am created to be.

Jesus is purposeful in His dealings with mankind. He does nothing haphazardly. Nothing without divine intent. Even when we can’t see the end from our beginnings. There is a miracle in the making for each one who encounters the Word of God. There is a freedom coming. A day of deliverance.

A time to sit at the feet of Jesus and simply marvel at being a recipient of so much love.

May today be your day of freedom as you encounter the King of the Crossing Over.

And those demons that haunt you? Well, they are in for a mighty big surprise when they come up against the Savior of the world.

I sure hope they like bacon.

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A Messy Covenant

The word covenant has been interrupting my thought patterns recently, as surely as the living out of it has been interrupting my “regularly scheduled life.” After nearly 25 years in a marriage covenant, I’m still an active participant in this binding agreement with my husband, and sometimes this agreement leads me to acts of service that are… well, messy.

As an excavator/contractor/floor-covering specialist/jack-of-all trades, my husband’s range of employment in any given week is quite diverse, and because this is the busy season, Jon has been running himself on nearly 15-hour workdays. Since he has yet to figure out the DNA secret to cloning himself, this week has also been one where I have stepped into the title of “administrative assistant” (which sounds much more prestigious than the less glamorous title of “gofer”). I have literally placed myself at Jon’s disposal, dropping whatever I’ve been working on to aid him in running errands. Driving places, fixing meals, mowing lawns, loading and unloading tools, planting a garden for his friend, completing paperwork, filling fuel containers, digging mud from backhoe tires… In short, I’ve allowed my husband’s needs to take precedence over my own.

Which could very well be the key to a marriage covenant. Or any other convent that is lasting.

Allowing another’s needs to take precedence.

Let’s face it, sometimes we do not care for others well. Instead, we attempt to serve others according to our own needs. In ways that we prefer, even when those ways are not particularly helpful. Too often we remain unwilling to do what the occasion truly calls for.

IMG_3105Yesterday, my marriage covenant called for me to get messy as I worked alongside my husband to remove a clay-like substance from his backhoe. (FYI: Digging sticky pond clay from a backhoe is not the typical romantic setting we ladies dream of, but after 25 years together, my husband has yet to figure that one out. Which could be the reason for the soft shovel pat across my rear while I was bent over prying mud with a crowbar. Lucky for him my crowbar was firmly stuck in the mud.) But I digress.

Sometimes covenants call us to messy places. Places far removed from candlelight dinners and flowers.

But places that hold us together for the long haul.

As much as I hate to admit it, more often than not, it is in the less-than-glamorous places of our marriage where we have found love growing the most rapidly. In the movies, it’s all about the wooing and winning, the wining and dining, the romance and the ambiance of magnificent sunsets. In real life, covenants are sealed in the trenches of shared labor, unselfish motives, and a lot of sweat and tears. I’ve come to find that my heart is knit more strongly with Jon’s when I’m working alongside him in the dirt to help lighten his load than when I’m dressed to the nines and seated across a candlelit table for two.

The truth is, my husband loves me messy. He loves me when I’m serving him in my tiredness – as attested to by the haircut I gave him and the grilled cheese sandwiches I prepared, both after 9 p.m. (those who know me well can appreciate that sentiment). He loves me when I follow him outside after a much-needed shower and sit beside him in the gathering dusk. When he looks at me with my messy hair, and comments on how pretty it is. In complete sincerity. And after 25 years, I find myself falling in love with him a little more. Simply because I love the fact that he loves me in all my messiness.

And I can’t help but wonder if maybe I win his heart a little more fully each time I’m wiling to serve him in this mess of daily life. When I come alongside him and allow myself to be stretched to do those things I’d prefer got done on their own.

When I love him enough to get messy…

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My Life as a Contronym

A friend recently shared a facebook post about the absurdity of contronyms. For those of you non-English majors, contronyms are words that are their own opposites. For example, the word oversight means “to supervise or oversee.” On the flip side, it can also mean “a failure to see or observe.” Hence, the caution which one should extend when hiring an overseer. You want to be sure he fulfills the first definition and not the second.

Likewise, the word cleave can be defined as either “to cling to or adhere” or “to split or sever.” Thus, when one vows to cleave to a spouse, it is important that he or she is referring to the first definition for cleave rather than the second. Otherwise, divorce will be inevitable. How about the word weather? It either means “to withstand” (as in, safely weather the storm) or “to be worn away,” much like a stone is weathered by the elements. How about fast? Is it “to move quickly” or “to remain fixed or unmoving”?

k1989607 Quite a conundrum these contronyms create…

The more I pondered these confusing contradictions of the English language, the more easily it  became to see a resemblance to myself within these definitions.

I am a human contronym.

For as much as I desire to live firmly and resolutely, all too often, I find my life reflecting the values  in which I believe, much the same as a contronym continually contradicts itself. Perhaps you can relate, as well.

For instance, I purpose to hold my tongue and refrain from speaking words that are less than encouraging, only to find myself freely spouting an opinion that would better be left unsaid. I determine to take my thoughts captive only to have them overtaken by anxiousness when a situation rears its ugly head, causing my faith to totter precariously. I set my mind to avoid temptation, yet tumble headfirst into yet another snare set before me. And the list goes on…

And on…

And on…

Just when I am tempted to despair at the thought of ever getting a handle on this Christian life, I find myself encouraged by someone who has shared in the same challenges. One who has faced the same struggles with self-control. Perhaps you have come across a few of his writings in the New Testament, too. It seems the apostle Paul himself may have had a bit of a bent toward “contronymdom,” as suggested by the following excerpt from Romans 7.

This is a segment of Scripture I have personally tagged with the title The War Within:

The trouble is with me.
For I am all too human.
A slave to sin.
I don’t really understand myself.
For I want to do what is right.
But I don’t do it.
Instead, I do what I hate.
I want to do what is right,
But I can’t .
I want to do what is good,
But I don’t.
I don’t want to do what is wrong,
But I do it anyway.
I have discovered this principle of life –
That when I want to do what is right,
I inevitably do what is wrong.
I love God’s law with all my heart,
But there is another power within me
That is at war with my mind.
This power makes me a slave
To the sin that is still within me.
Oh what a miserable person I am!
Who will free me from this life
That is dominated by sin and death?
Thank God!
The answer is in Jesus Christ
Our Lord.
So now there is no condemnation
For those who belong to Christ Jesus.
And because I belong to Him,
The power of the life-giving Spirit
Has freed me
From the power of sin
That leads to death.

In the face of flying contronyms, faith flies freely. The answer to these opposing behaviors at war within is to take them before the throne of grace.

The answer, dear friends, is Jesus Christ. Our Lord.

For those who belong to Him, there are no opposite behaviors ruling higher than His mercies extend. There are no frustrating contronyms that have the power to overcome the life-giving Spirit of the Living God who has freed us from the control of sin and death.

There’s only love.

And that, dear ones, is more than enough.

You have His Word on it.

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Small Blessings That Aren’t

My kitchen windowsill is filled with treasures from the beach. There is a conglomeration of seashells, sand dollars, driftwood, sand, and even a sea star gracing my view every time I wash the dishes. All are a reminder of special times of refreshing alongside a coastal shore. And wistful dreams of returning again… hopefully, soon.

Today while washing dishes, my gaze came to rest upon a tiny sand dollar nestled among this myriad of seaside riches, and my thoughts turned toward the day I found it. That day was shared with a special friend, one who was brave enough to face a very chilly and windy walk along a February beach just so we could spend time together. As we walked, my friend Heidi chanced upon a tiny sand dollar hugging the shore. A few minutes later, I had the pleasure of finding an equally delicate sand dollar laid out before me. This tiny treasure was toted home and placed among my daily reminders of life at the beach. (Which is very much needed in what is often a cold winter season in Ohio.)

In noticing this sand dollar today, my thoughts and prayers quickly turned to my friend. I smiled in fond remembrance of our breezy walk and thanked God for tucking special treasures along the shoreline of my life. Heidi is one of those treasures. We only see each other once a year, but she is more frequently in my thoughts. And although I’ve yet to learn her entire life story, I enjoy sharing the bits and pieces of it when we have the rare pleasure of being together. She and her husband have servants’ hearts and a love for missions that drew us to them the first time we chanced to enter the church where Mark serves as pastor. Now one of the highlights of our yearly trip to the beach is worshiping together during a Sunday morning service, then gathering at the beach house for a meal and warm conversation.

Small blessings.

We’ve all experienced them.

People whom God joins to us in the most unexpected ways. In the most unexpected places. Just to remind us of His love.

And as I ponder the small blessings of this life, I realize that small blessings are really not very small at all. Often, they grow into something much larger than we originally anticipate.

Small blessings come and go, just like the ocean’s tide, but the marks they leave behind are noticeable and needed.

Small blessings keep things in balance as they remind us of a faithful Father who notices the details of our lives and delights in showering gifts upon us… just because.

Small blessings stem from an introduction and grow into a friendship that bridges time and distance, connecting us spiritually even though we may live miles apart.

Small blessings are found in the presence of a faithful friend whom you may not see for months at a time but know you can call at the drop of a hat for prayer and support.

Small blessings.

The very term is an oxymoron. Because when I think of all the many blessings with which my life has been graced, day after day, year after year, I realize that the only blessings I have received are BIG blessings. It’s just that often what is really too small is my perspective. Maybe yours is, too.

I encourage you to take a moment and set your gaze on the things that are before you – your health, your job, your family, your home, the meal you ate this morning, the bed in which you rested last night – all those seemingly little things we often take for granted.

To someone, the things you have are BIG blessings.

I hope that someone is you.

And if you’re feeling yourself still longing for blessings, keep your eyes open and your face to the wind, even when it’s blowing full force against you. Just like my precious sand dollar, there are treasures lying in wait to be discovered. Uncover them, beloved. Then carry them with you as a reminder of God’s grace and presence surrounding you always.

And remember… there’s no such thing as small blessings.

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That’s How Love Works

You may have noticed my absence of posts the past two weeks. That’s because I only recently returned from a jaunt to England. And while my husband and I did manage to take a stroll through London one afternoon and spend a few hours at the British Museum, sightseeing was not the primary objective of this first overseas adventure together. We went there for a wedding. A wedding between our adopted Ugandan-born son and his lovely English bride.

I cant’ help but smile when I think of the ways that our heavenly Father works. When I prayed that God would scatter my children across the world for His glory, I never dreamed of how He would choose to answer that prayer. I had no inkling I would become “Mom” to a young African man whose presence in my life has turned out to be no less miraculous than that of my five natural-born children.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s often how God works.

Continually, I am reminded that His ways are much higher than my own. His thoughts supersede my wildest dreams. His plans extend far beyond the greatest adventures I could ever conjure up. And the fulfillment of His purposes breaks down the strongest of defenses, bridging the widest gaps of division as He brings lives together from across the nations.

Because that’s what LOVE does.

Brings us all together.

Against the backdrop of a world often set at odds, pitting nation against nation, I had the amazing privilege of being in a foreign land with people from other countries, races, and cultures all gathered together because of LOVE. And I belonged there. An American mom… with a Ugandan-born son… who was marrying an English bride… supported by a best man from China… alongside English and Hungarian bridesmaids… with the officiating Scottish-Australian pastor… planning to return to Mexico as a missionary couple to share the LOVE of God with a people who need to know of the hope that is found in Christ.

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Too often, it is easy to see the hatred.

It’s easy to think the worst of people.

It’s easy to lump an entire nation of individuals into one unfairly judged category due to the actions of one extremist.

In the middle of so much hurt, it’s easy to forget love.

But these past few days, I’ve been reminded. I’ve seen love shine brightly. I’ve watched two lives bridge the divide of race, continents, and culture to meld into one. I’ve watched a young man who has overcome an incredible amount of rejection and hardship stand and pledge his love to another with the assurance of being accepted. And I’ve been honored to stand with him and welcome his new wife into our crazy, God-ordained, international family.

In short, I’ve watched God’s LOVE at work.

More importantly, I’ve been a part of God’s love at work.

One small piece of the blessing.

And in giving my love to a young man in need of a Mom,  I’ve received much more than I have given.

Because that, my friend, is how God’s love works.

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The Mystery

Jesus,
You are
A paradox.
An enigma.
A mystery
I see in part
Tho’ I strain to view
The all.

Elusively playful,
Presenting more questions
Than answers.
So satisfyingly baffling,
Giving mere glimpses of the whole,
Leaving me yearning for more.
Pressing forward to piece together
The puzzling combinations of a God
Who completes me in every way,
Tho’ I am broken and powdered
As the dust from whence I came.

Seeing dimly,
I strain to view
The One who knows me fully
Yet invites me still to “Come.”
Open handed, You hold me tightly.
With gentleness, You love me fiercely.
Capturing my heart, You set me free
To walk in liberty by Your side.
Held firmly, yet released
To dance upon the heights,
I run with abandon in broad places.

You invite me to dinner
In the center of the battlefield.
Surrounded by foes,
Yet fully safe in Your care,
I am garrisoned and loosed
With the same spark
Of redeeming love that
Ignited my soul at the foot
Of a blood-stained cross.
With dying breath,
You give me life.
And as I die,
I too can live
This life of Mystery.

Hands placing last piece of a Puzzle