Beauty

Middle school. What is the first  word that pops into your mind when you hear the words middle school? Awkward , the fear of being different, of not having a “place”. Much of my thought life in middle school was taken up with concern over where I belonged. Who would talk to me today? Would my friends still be my friends? Was I pretty enough for a certain crowd to speak to me and acknowledge me? Maybe it all boiled down to wondering if I was enough?

As I lead my group of 8th grade girls once a week, I see this painful struggle. The desire to be loved and enough, just as they are; to be liked, sought out, pretty, hip and cool.  This struggle is just as real for young men, as they struggle to find their place in the world. It is  real for all of us.

At our middle school group last week, we talked about beauty; specifically inner beauty. So much is hurled at us about our outward appearance; our size, shape, eye color, hair color, skin tone, you name it; someone, somewhere has decided what is and isn’t ok. W ewant to measure up to what culture has defined as beauty and I think it is terribly flawed and destructive.

Think for a moment about something that is uniquely you. Something that is a different, that might stand out. Is it your laugh, smile, eye or hair color? Do you have a unique sense of style or quirky sense of humor? Do you realize this unique part of you is a gift from God that sets you apart as special? You are His creation. Can you look at your uniqueness and begin to love it?

Read Psalm 139:13-18 and allow it into your mind and receive it in your heart.

“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me.”

God took such time and attention to detail to personally create you. Your shape, size, sound of your voice, color of your hair and skin were all planned out as He carefully invested time and poured His breath and love into the person that you are. He is crazy about His design! Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are all God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

More important to God, I think, is our inner beauty. I define inner beauty as the characteristics of Jesus; such as, gentleness, kindness, inclusivity, confidence, compassion, mercy, humility, forgiving, full of love and kindness.  These traits have the power to draw people to you, because they see Jesus shining through the vessel of your physical body. We all have a God sized space in our souls that longs to be known, loved and accepted. Only God can fill that void in our lives. The more we look like Jesus on the inside, the more beautiful we become on the outside.

Take a few minutes to think about the traits of inner beauty that you have been gifted. Are you patient and laid back or are you a confident, type A go-getter? Are you kind and merciful? Are you a dreamer or a realist? Are you a leader with a dynamic personality? Are you humble and gentle? Do you have compassion for those less fortunate? Are you an encourager? All these qualities are gifts given to you by a loving God who knows all of your strengths and  weaknesses. He doesn’t look on you with eyes of disappointment, frustration or annoyance. He created all of you and intimately knows your thoughts, struggles, fears; your areas of strength and weakness. In your weakness He is strong and He uses those areas to draw you closer to Him.

If you struggle to see yourself as a lovely, precious, beautiful creation on the inside and outside, I challenge you (this is for me too!) to ask God to be your mirror. Ask Him to reflect back to you, all the beauty and loveliness He sees when He looks at you. When He sees you, His unique and valuable creation, He sees all the potential He placed in you. He sees the time and effort He personally put in to creating you for very specific purposes. There is only one you and you are definitely enough. You are a gift, from our Creator, to the world and I pray you see yourself that way.

What would happen when you look in the mirror this week, if you refused to allow negative thoughts and words any space in your mind? What if you refuted every negative word, thought, or description of yourself that you harbor in your soul, with positive words and thoughts; you could only call out encouragement and goodness, as you protected your heart from caustic and castigating words?  Imagine what God is seeing in you and receive in your heart and soul, that what He sees, He is so incredibly proud of and so in deeply in love with. You are enough.

Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God is with you, His power gives you victory. The Lord will take delight in you, and in His love He will give you new life. He will sing and be joyful over you.”  

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Some things cancer taught me…

April is a big month for me. On April 26, 2012 I celebrated a HUGE victory. That is the day, at 2:15 pm, I was told, “You are cancer free!” After being diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer in November 2010, I began surgeries and treatments that ended in April 2012.  

As this anniversary date approached, I had many things running through my head; random memories of the cancer center and that “one of a kind, not found anywhere else” smell; the taste of the peppermint candies I sucked on to keep the horrible taste of saline and chemo out of my mouth; the blanket I brought to keep warm during treatments and comfy pink slipper socks. I can still hear the sound of radiation equipment being dialed into place. It was such a lonely feeling being alone in the radiation room, as the technicians went behind layers of safety walls, and I lay there exposed, cold and numb, willing the machine noises to stop; hoping I wouldn’t burn.

Good memories also pop into my mind of my faithful husband going with me to my treatments while the meds flowed in; or when a friend kept me company during a long treatment. The distraction of good company meant so much to me, even though I knew it was hard for them and uncomfortable. There are the memories of my little 2nd grade boy telling me to hop on his bed, as he tucked me in with blankets and got out his books to read to me. Blessed. Loved. Precious. I treasured up in my heart when my 6th grade girl would tell me about her day and the ups and downs of middle school; feeling so blessed that she shared with me; praying so hard that I would have years and years ahead of me to just listen to her talk to me.

Through all of this, I learned I am physically strong, as my body fought with everything it had to beat this invader named breast cancer. It endured extreme treatments, nausea, steroids, exhaustion and hair loss, but never stopped fighting. God gave me the strength to make it one more day, through one more test, one more treatment. He did it. He is absolutely faithful. His eyes never left me and His tears mixed with my own as I would cry out of fear, rage and frustration; when I wondered if I was going to die.

I see my body through a different filter now. I am proud of my scars. They shout out that a battle was waged and won. I want to be strong and healthy, so I do what I love – hiking, biking, swimming and all things outdoors.  I want to enjoy every single second of life I am given. If my son asks me to go get ice cream, I will. It’s a memory we are making and it makes me happy that he wants to share it with me. So I will eat ice cream and I will not worry over whether or not I will look ok in a swim suit because of it. I am alive and that is enough. Our days are numbered and I want to take advantage of each one with those I fiercely love.

I am mentally and spiritually stronger, as well. Despite days of deep sadness, fear of the unknown, rage and brain fog, I told myself I would get through this; that cancer would not win and that God would not give me more than I could handle. I knew God would be with me through every test, every treatment, every bit of good and bad news. I held on to that and He proved Himself faithful and merciful and compassionate. Yes, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, it put my body, mind and soul to the ultimate test, but I am an overcomer and I am victorious in Christ Jesus.

During other trials that have come along since this cancer diagnosis, I have looked back on all that Jesus brought me through.  It gives me strength and courage to face the trials that I know are coming. Life is hard, unpredictable and unfair, but I have found that if you look closely, you will find nuggets of joy and hidden treasures of beauty in everything. It is there just waiting to be discovered, but you have to look for it, change your filter from a victim mentality and choose life; choose to find peace, hope and sweetness in whatever is swirling around you. I promise you it is there. I remind myself daily, sometimes minute by minute, that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. It is only by His strength, love and healing that I am here to live another day and breathe another breath. It is His breath in my lungs and as long as I live, I will give Jesus the praise, honor and thanks due Him. He saved my life and changed my perspective. I am thankful. I have another day to live and my prayer is that I leave everyone better than I found them. Peace and love, readers.

Meandering

High in the forested mountain, a burst of water comes bubbling up. Why it started there, in that hidden place is a mystery. Spreading out, it searches for the path it is to follow. There isn’t one readily visible, so with tenacity and confidence it presses forward, looking for that indentation; the hollowed decline in the ground. Success!

Following the downward dip in the ground, the water flows. Sometimes it seems to follow an exact, obvious path that makes perfect sense, then suddenly, a shift; a deviation; a random change of direction as an unexpected obstacle looms up, making the easy downward flow alter its course. It seems haphazard, but it isn’t. The obstacle is there for a reason. The stream does not know why it’s there or how the obstacle came to be in the way, but nonetheless, there it is and it must be navigated.

Success! The resilient water finds the best route around, over or through the offending obstacles and soldiers on to its destination. Where is that place? What will it look like? Will it be a long journey? Will there be any more obstacles or is the path now clear and straightforward?

The downward descent slows for a bit and the stream meanders along with no obvious route to is wanderings. It moves from here to there; around that rock, over that fallen branch; gurgling and swirling as little rocks, sticks and leaves beneath the surface shape its route. The path may be rocky and tricky to navigate, but there is such beauty in the journey, if one can take a bit of time to see it.  The water plays its gently flowing, or at times, powerful rushing music as it dances over, around and through those things that lie in its path. That in itself is lovely.

The stream may stay in this slow, meandering space for a bit; almost as if it is resting for what lies ahead. There is peace and rest here; deep pools reflecting prisms of light as the sun filters through pine-scented branches. Small bugs dart to and fro on their own journeys; busy and focused. Animals may stop by for some refreshment; finding nourishment here and leaving their footprints in the soft, pungent soil; adding to or taking from the stream; the dance of life. Connection.

Eventually the stream picks up speed and the time for calm is over. Heading down the mountain, it rushes head on into boulders, large fallen trees and other forest-y things that would like to block its way. The pull of its final destination forces the water to find a way over, around, through and it does; it always does. It may be wild and gushing and completely chaotic; or slow and methodical; plodding. But it will always reach its destination. The way has been charted out for this stream before the it even existed. I picture my life in this way, too. I relate to the stream and the obstacles it has to overcome, along with the times of rest and meandering, lazy peace. We all have a destination and we will all reach it.

My destination is the eternal arms of Jesus.

 

 

Everything

This song by Lifehouse (lyrics below) has been running through my head for a couple of days. I find this song profoundly beautiful and deeply moving; almost to the point that I cannot explain it with words. When I listen to it, goosebumps rise up all over my skin and my spirit awakens and rises up; tears prick my eyes and my heart beats stronger and faster. This is a song I can put on repeat. The lyrics resonate with me so deeply, because I have experienced these emotions and responses to Jesus described in this amazing song. I desire to hear Him speak and long for His words; it is a deep need in my soul and when I do hear Him, peace fills me up; I rest and have the strength to keep walking and trusting Him.

There are several specific times in my life that I look back on and know, like I know, like I know, that it was ONLY Jesus that kept me going each day; only His presence, only Him holding me in His hands and letting me rest that literally kept me afloat. There were times that I didn’t know it was Him carrying me through the storm, until it was over, and frankly, wasn’t sure I wanted anything to do with Him.  Nevertheless, He saw through the pain and fear, right into my hurting heart and gently lifted me anyway. I’m His girl and He wasn’t letting go.

During my years of battling an aggressive form of breast cancer, He was the only hope I had to cling to and He never once failed me. Never once. The weeks and months that I don’t remember, because of a haze of medications used to keep me from the sickness of treatments, He was there and held me in His hands. I have scars, yes, but I’m proud of them. It reminds me of where I was and where He brought me. Survivor. Overcomer. Victorious.

During other dark times, He was the light that led me to a place of healing, peace and safety. Fully protected; never out of His sight. Thoughts of Him do take my breath away! He has stolen my heart and I’m not ashamed to say so.

Life has things in store for me and those I love that will be hard, painful and seem very unfair. I know this. However, I also know that Jesus has walked this suffering before me, He knows, He understands, He heals and He restores. He brings joy and peace into situations where there shouldn’t be any.

He is all I want, all I need. He is everything.

Everything

By Lifehouse

Find me here, and speak to me

I want to feel you, I need to hear you

You are the light that’s leading me to the place

Where I find peace again

You are the strength that keeps me walking

You are the hope that keeps me trusting

You are the life to my soul

You are my purpose

You’re everything

And how can I stand here with you

And not be moved by you

Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?

You calm the storms and you give me rest

You hold me in your hands

You won’t let me fall

You steal my heart and you take my breath away

Would you take me in, take me deeper now

And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you

Would you tell me how could it be any better than this?

Cause you’re all I want, you’re all I need, you’re everything, everything…

Hurt and Healer

I have been feeling a bit nostalgic lately. I’m dealing with some health issues that are coming to a head soon with some tests and procedures in the works. Maybe that is triggering memories of my cancer days with surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy and biotherapy, when I really didn’t know what the outcome was going to be and if I would be healed.

Music has always had a tremendous impact on me. When nothing else can reach that deep place or describe my feelings, music has always done that for me. It is a gift that I am so grateful for and that I hold very dear to my heart. To me it is God’s mouthpiece to my soul.

During the most intense times of my cancer treatments there were many songs that spoke to those places in my heart that were weary, afraid and overwhelmed; songs that spoke peace, hope and safety to my soul.

This song, The Hurt and the Healer, by Mercy Me is one of those that I clung to tenaciously and listened to over and over again, multiple times a day sometimes; declaring to myself that even in the midst of my deepest fear, pain and hurt, Jesus is there; the Healer colliding with my hurting body and heart, whispering to my soul that one day this will all be understood and made clear. I know that one day I will hear Jesus say, “It’s over now.” That brought me such hope! I know that whatever I face and whatever scars I’m left with, He will use for good and His glory; to bring hope to someone who has run out of steam and needs to know it will be ok. If this is you today, soak in these words and promises from a God that sees all, hears all and watches your every move, cherishing you and catching every single tear, bringing you healing in unexpected and beautiful ways. His arms are open wide.

The Hurt & the Healer”

Why? The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from the explained; Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have, All that remains

So here I am, what’s left of me, where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive

Even though a part of me has died; You take my heart and breathe it back to life

I fall into Your arms open wide, when the hurt and the healer collide

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do;  pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

So here I am, what’s left of me, where glory meets my suffering

I’m alive

Even though a part of me has died; You take my heart and breathe it back to life

I fall into your arms open wide, when the hurt and the healer collide

It’s the moment when humanity, is overcome by Majesty

When grace is ushered in for good and all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place and all these questions fade away

When out of weakness we must bow, and hear You say “It’s over now”

I’m alive

Even though a part of me has died; You take this heart and breathe it back to life

I fall into your arms open wide, when The hurt and the healer collide

Jesus come and break my fear, wake my heart and take my tears

Find Your glory even here, when the hurt and the healer collide.

-Mercy Me

You can find the video to this song on youtube.

 

The Beauty of an Altar

This year I am reading through the Bible and taking notes on things that jump out at me. The theme that is jumping off the page at me right now is altars. The first time an altar is spoken of in the Bible is in Genesis 8:20 “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” Noah obeyed God and built the ark. God remembered Noah. He caused the winds to blow over the Earth and the waters to recede. When Noah left the ark, he immediately built an altar and made a sacrifice to God. God was pleased with the aroma. God then made His promise to never again curse the ground and destroy all living things. Here was a divine interaction.

Throughout Genesis, Abram, Isaac and Jacob built many altars to the Lord. Often the altar was built after the Lord had appeared to, spoken to, or protected His child. The altar was a place where the divine and humanity interacted; a place of communion, sacrifice, divine exchange and worship. Particular places were named in honor of what God had accomplished there.  There was a keen awareness of the smallest acts of God and His intervention and concern in the lives of those who put their trust in Him. I noticed, too, that God actively responded to altar activity. He smelled the aroma and it pleased Him. God sealed promises and made covenants with His people after they built an altar. This altar building speaks to the priorities of these men of God. They wasted no time in erecting an altar and offering sacrifice and praise to God for all He had done. They gave God glory and honored Him. It deeply moves me to read about these altars, these markers of peace which commemorate an encounter with the Most High. It speaks of humility, love, dependence and a true heart of thankfulness.

Thinking about altars and the way our forefathers commemorated God’s acts of love, kindness, mercy and generosity started me thinking about whether I am creating altars of my own for all that He has done in my life. What would that look like?

I have some thoughts on that. One altar might look like giving God glory and recognition when something is accomplished or an obstacle is overcome. It reminds me of my battle with breast cancer. It is God alone who healed me. He directed my path to the doctors I needed, to the treatments that worked and He alone gave me the courage and strength to fight every day during my almost 2 years of treatment. I give glory and praise to Him for healing me and allowing me the honor of sharing my story with others.  He takes every single thing that touches our lives so seriously.  It brings me peace to know that everything that touches me or my family is first filtered through hands of love.

Another altar might look like a true physical structure. In my garden, I love to decorate with rocks and stones and other natural things. I could build an altar commemorating His love, protection and divine guidance over me and my family. A memorial of all He has brought us through; an altar of praise and thankfulness that we can physically see and touch.

A prayer journal might be another altar that records the prayers I have sent heavenward and the answers He has given. Not every answer will be one that I want or understand. Not every answer will turn out the way I think it should, but the journal will be a record of the human and divine exchange that took place when I humbled myself and cried out for His help. What a reminder it would be of all He has done! I imagine seeing a beautiful theme of redemption, love and tender care as I look back on all that I turned over to Him and all that He did with it. He is a good, good Father.

I wonder if living a life sharply attuned to the Father’s heart could be an altar? I wonder if seeing others as He sees them and treating each other with forgiveness, tender mercy and compassion would be a pleasing aroma to Him? I wonder if being grateful for each day and thanking Him for His breath in our lungs would be a beautiful memorial to all He has done for us and through us; all that He has yet to do? I wonder if asking Him to use us for His glory would so please Him, that He would make covenant promises to us and speak declarations of love, purpose and blessings over us? I wonder if He would take our seemingly mundane lives and show us parts of the tapestry He is weaving and how the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary, if only we would expectantly look, watch and listen?

I would love to hear your thoughts about how you create altars to God. We have so much that we can learn from each other!

Divine Exchange

Maybe this time, I tell myself.  I can do it.  I’m strong, I can handle this.  I strain to see.  I try to remember how it looks, but it’s been a long time.  A primal knowledge in my soul tells me that I need to see it, must find it again, but things are obscured through the webs; my vision seems cloudy and I can’t clearly make out the shapes in the strangely filtered light.  Frustration wells up inside as the heaviness settles back in to take the place I’ve given it. When did that happen?  Did I give it permission?  I used to hear, but the sounds I’m searching for are muffled now in my ears; very faint and far off; disturbed by an odd rattling, scraping sound. Frustration, blindness and confusion; is this where I’ve settled?  “Maybe if I get up and move around I can get a better view; this odd lighting is the problem, “I decide.  With that decision made, I make my move to stand and am confronted with the source of the rattling, scraping sounds; thick, heavy, rusted chains.  My chains.  Mine.  I can’t get up and move around for a better view, because I am bound to this place of filtered light, muffled sounds and intolerable frustration.  Why? When? How?  Panicked, I struggle and fight, then in exhaustion I slump down in defeat.  Tears begin to fall from my eyes and spatter down on the ground all around me.  Am I bound here forever? Is there no escape, no way out?  Dark images flicker across my line of vision; stealthy movements threaten and mock.  Is that faint laughter I hear?  I didn’t start out here, bound like this, in chains like a condemned prisoner.  Who put me here? What did I do?  “Please,” I call out, “someone, will you help me?” I don’t belong here.  I want out.  “Someone, rescue me!”

I hear faint movement coming from all around me.  The dark shapes are shrouded by the obscure, filtered light, but I sense them coming closer, bold and violent; mocking in their approach.  “Help yourself,” one hisses in my ear, arrogance and fear scenting its breath, mocking laughter flowing from its tongue.  As hopelessness starts to fall, I look more closely at my surroundings. I am elevated on a mass of circular stones with faded words written on each one.  They are carefully arranged and set just so, in a small clearing.  Like an altar.  All beauty has been methodically wiped away, revealing only dust, barrenness and grotesquely twisted roots, thrusting up out of the ground.  The harsh loneliness of this place is terrifying.  Wait…I can see more clearly now; this used to be shadow-like and obscure, but now I sense the light shifting; brighter, clearer, full.  I don’t like what I see.  Webs from something horrid and smothering have been woven around, above and below my prison, trapping me; altering my view; skewing my perspective.  “Lies,” a Voice gently says, “lies that have kept you snugly ensconced on your altar of self.”  Altar of self.  Yes, that is exactly what this is.  As recognition of my pridefully built, self imposed prison floods my awareness; I realize that I cannot get out on my own.  I have locked myself in.  Trapped.  The mocking laughter swells and I feel the heaviness trying to descend again, the weight of my chains pulling cruelly at my limbs.  I am at the end of my self.  ”ENOUGH!” I shout.  “Please, Jesus, You have the keys…set me free!”

The mocking laughter is silenced by my words.  The atmosphere shifts and grows completely still, except for a deep vibration I feel surging up from the altar on which I stand, as it cracks in two. I look down and see a clear stream of water gushing out from that crack.  You stoop down and scoop the water in Your hands and offer it to me.   I see the silvery scars on Your hands and a song I can’t name, but deeply understand, floods my soul.  Thirst quenching.  A divine exchange is taking place here and my cracked altar becomes the catalyst.

The sounds and scents I have longed for begin to reach me.  Sweet laughter, gentle voices, Spirit breath, heavenly song.  Delicate and powerful, they flow all around me, bathing me in sounds and scents so sweet and pure that my breath comes in gasps; expelling the dust and debris that accumulated in my spirit as I worshipped at the altar of self.  I again breathe You in deeply, richly, slowly.  Freedom bathes me, ministering to the wounds inflicted by the stones named Fear, Pain, Loneliness, Pride, Rebellion, Abuse that I used to build my altar.  I feel lighter, clean, loved.  Heavy, rusted chains break apart and fall away from me.  I dance before you with abandon, unashamed, cleansed; my weakened muscles growing stronger and more nimble.  The heaviness is gone and a gentle, but vibrant spirit of praise now clothes me.   “Climb down, child, get down off of your broken altar.  Take the stones with you; they have a purpose to fulfill here.  There is something you need to see again.”  I fill my white robe of praise with all of those stones. Somehow they all fit.  I follow You out of the clearing where that altar once stood. As I go, new life is sprouting up. The gnarled roots of bitterness and rage, rejection and vengeance are sprouting into lovely trees of forgiveness, peace, Sonship and humility.  “Stop here, beloved.  Now You must use these stones to build your steps leading up to My Cross.”  I look up at the Cross and it speaks to me of ultimate sacrifice, profound mercy, joy indescribable, unmatched beauty and plentiful grace, even grace for one who built her own altar of self-protection. Tears of gratitude and love wash over my face and spill down onto my hands as I build those steps. It is hard work.  My building stops at times, as I find a tenacious tendril of frustration or pride trying to creep in over and around my stones, but I rip it out with Your strength in my hands.  As I lift my stones into place, I notice that where my tears have fallen shoots of brilliant green are pushing their way out of the rich soil.  As the sprouts emerge, You bend down and I see You writing something in the dark ground and I hear You speaking tenderly to the new sprouts. Your voice is the nourishment they need as they continue to grow. You rejoice over the harvest that only You can see.

My steps are built. They are placed firmly and deeply into the ground at the foot of Your Cross. Engraved by Your hand on that first step are the words Nisi Dominus Frustra.  “Come up, Daughter.  Come up higher to the very foot and find rest. Up here is what you have been searching for in vain.”  I ascend those steps in anticipation. As I come closer, I stop for a moment and look back down, surveying where I started.  My tears watered what You divinely planted and I see beauty stretching out below me and Your Cross is beauty before me.  I feel a shout that I absolutely cannot for the life of me contain, rising up in my throat, so I shout! It is a shout of pure joy, a song from my spirit to Yours.  A harvest will be reaped from my pain that I never thought I had a right to know. It is a beautiful inheritance.  It is You.