What’s in a picture?

One of the things I’ve always loved about God is His nearness, that He’s close by, not distant… as if I have an invisible hand pressed against the small of my back prompting me on.

main-street-usaMy memories confirm this… like the time as a 5 year-old little girl, I went with my family to Disneyland.  I was riding on my Daddy’s shoulders, walking down Main Street, heading for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  The sky was sunny and blue, and I can even remember wearing my Mickey Mouse ears hat with my name written in cursive on the back.  So, there I was, riding on my Dad’s shoulders, and I didn’t have a care in the world.  I felt safe.  Even with the crazy crowds at Disneyland, I felt his strong arms around me and I knew he loved me; I knew he would protect me.

I think this is why I’ve always known God was close.  Because my parents loved me and took care of me, I had no problem believing that Jesus would love me and take care of me.  But of course, little girls grow up.  And I couldn’t live at Disneyland, riding on Daddy’s shoulders.

…   …   …

Fifteen years later I found myself with another man on a metal bridge in London. Typical for London, the weather was cold and raining, but I was crying.  I was with my boyfriend – the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with.  We had met two years earlier, and our relationship consumed me.  I wanted to share his love, his opinions, his plans for the future – we had talked about changing the world.

metal bridge

But on that gray bridge in London, I couldn’t have felt more alone. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about.  But I do remember that he used his words to hurt me.  They would cut at my heart like a knife.  Throughout our relationship he would drop little comments about my hair or my weight – just enough to let me know that he was dissatisfied with me.

On that bridge I realized that he wasn’t who I thought he was, and I was afraid.  I know now that God was there on that bridge – close by, but I couldn’t see Him, and I didn’t reach out for Him.

…   …   …

Fast-forward 20 years… It seems like just the other day, I was walking through the Walmart parking lot with my youngest son, Andrew. Cars moved in and out of parking spaces, so he slid up close to me and took my hand.  He just grabbed my hand, but it was like he was saying, “I want to be near you, Mommy.  I trust you.”  It felt good to be trusted.  A busy parking lot can be a scary place to a nine-year-old, but Andrew knew that if he was near me, he would be safe.

I think it’s the same lesson I learned all those years ago at Disneyland with my Dad… and on the bridge in London.  I think God is still trying to teach me: “Stay close to me, Julie. I’ll keep you safe. Take my hand, I’ll lead you on”

But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.   Ps. 73:25

What snapshots from your life tell you something about God?  Do you see?  Are you listening?

 

photo credits:  Mainstreet, USAMetal Bridge

A gift

Quote

My friend gave me flowers today.
Creamy and fragile, lace-like.
Blue-tinged puff balls balancing on sturdy stalks.

My friend brought me flowers today.
Unexpectedly, with dancing brown eyes and an inviting hug.
Just because we’re friends.

My friend gave me flowers today.
Now they linger on my counter.
A fragrant reminder that love and friendship
Are mine.

 

Hydraengas

 

 

 

Stronghold

 

 

It’s the oldest standing masonry fort in North America, guarding the town of St. Augustine since 1672, telling of the struggle and resourcefulness that characterized the colonial American.

Castillo de San Marcos.

A stronghold.  Impenetrable. Twice besieged, but never taken. Never destroyed by canonfire.  Only 6 lives ever lost within its walls.

A stonghold.

First built by the Spanish to protect their treasure in the new world, traded to the British as spoils for the victors of the Seven Days War, awarded back to Spain after the American Revolutionary War, and ceded to a young nation within the confines of a new state, Florida.

Armed with canons on every side.  A ready defense. Not an offensive weapon, it’s immovable foundations have survived assaults from sea, looting from pirates, and trampling from tourists.  The coquina walls remain with etchings to tell the stories of all its occupants.  Truly, the walls speak.  A reminder of the staying power of human will and ingenuity.

 

It’s nothing compared to the strength of my God.

My stronghold.

Jesus.  May I hide myself in You?  When the enemy lobs mortar fire through friends’ careless words that rip into my flesh, may I remember that I am precious in your eyes.  When the enemy loots me of my confidence and anxiety lodges deep within my belly because my tasks seem so looming, may I remember your promise of my handwritten days all laid out before one of them came to be.  When my future is unknown, and I look to those around me to tell me which way to go, may I remember the constancy of your love for me — never changing, never waning, always sustaining love you died to prove.

One big difference between my God and Castillo de San Marcos: The Castle doesn’t move.  It’s rooted to the ground on the Mantanzas Bay.  It’s a stone monument to the past.

My God is with me wherever I go.  To hide myself in Him isn’t to hunker down in a dark corner shivering at the mortar exploding overhead.

No.

To know He is my stronghold means I can step out into the day He has given me with humble confidence.  Grace-filled surety.  I don’t cower in a crater of fear.  I stand on the ground He has secured for me.  So my life becomes, not only living proof of all He can do with one relinquished, but also a testimony of all He has yet to do with one purchased.

A living monument to the future.

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?  Ps. 27:1

 

Hearing my Name

“I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.”  GK Chesterton

 

Mary Magdalene’s story grips me …

  He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?”

            Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 

            Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

            She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

 

I love her transparent grief.

I love her willingness to take care of Jesus.

I love that Jesus calls her name.

Mary.

He’s so personal.  So attentive.

I mean really, who in your life is like Jesus?  Who truly knows your name and says it with such tenderness?  Other people call me by name.  They identify the 5 letters, pronounce them correctly, and associate them with the body that I occupy.  They recognize my face and my voice.  On one level, many people know my name.  Maybe too many.

Julie.

Jesus knows the depth of my name.  He loves the sound of my name and the face that saying it brings to mind.  He knows my heart and fears and hopes behind my name… the things too sacred to say out loud.  He knows them.

Mary’s story in scripture only gives us a sliver of her whole story.  Before she encounters Jesus, we only know that she lived with “seven demons.” (Luke 8:1-3).  She may have had money, but she was evidently unmarried, as scripture never makes mention of her husband or family.

But Jesus changed all that.  When he called her by name, the demons fled and Jesus named her with dignity and worth and belonging.  He spoke life to her story and she loved him.  She followed him with devotion.

When we try to live our story without listening to the Story-teller, we wilt like plants that have struggled too long to survive on drips of water.  Life drains.  Color fades.  Fruit withers.

But Jesus with tenderness and authority says our name and everything changes.  We know that we are known.  Nothing hiding.  Nothing darkened by guilt and shame.  Our story takes on the identity of the Story-teller.  Our name is spoken fully and we know whose we are.

Julie.

I want to live there.  I want that for you, too.

 

One more thing from Mary’s story. I love the delight in Mary’s voice when she recognizes Jesus.

“Rabboni!”

She longed to see him – and he showed up.  Don’t miss that.  Jesus met her in her grief.  She had a one-on-one encounter with the risen Lord.  Not many people can claim that.

What would it be like to live there?  In that delight?

I pray that he’ll show me that bit of living out my story this year… the delight bit.

Maybe listening to him say my name is a good place to start.

 

 

blue rake photo credit: © Jesperjesper | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

Do you know…

…you’re beautiful?  Do you know that you were put together with precision and care?  Do you know that the Creator of the Universe takes absolute delight in just thinking of you?

You wonder how I know.

I know because God saves the best for last.

At the beginning of time, when God started speaking this amazing world into existence, he pulled water molecules together and made “ocean” — teeming with manatees and clown fish and sea coral — he said, “It is good.”

 

 

And when he stretched out majestic Rocky Mountains, made towering Sequoias touch the sky, and painted the nuances of orange day lilies, he said, “It is good.”

 

 

 

And even when he launched Mars, Venus, Neptune, and Saturn into space and speckled the sky with stars and galaxies far beyond our comprehension, even then, he said, “It is good.”

But before he was finished, when God wanted to crown all the good things he had created, to add the piece de resistance, he reached down into soil and created human — the one God image-bearer.  He touched and moulded and pulled and shaped the first human body into existence.   Then, to add the spark, God breathed into human’s nostrils and oxygen filled lungs, blood flowed in veins, consciousness infused brain matter. (Gen. 2:7)

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. (Gen. 1:27, 31)

 

So from here you may still be wondering, “Ok, Julie, so God was pleased with the first man and woman he made.  But they messed up big time.  They rejected God’s plan and got entangled in sin.  And ever since then, men and women have been making a huge mess of this amazing world God made.  How does that make me beautiful?”

One question.  Of all that God created, which piece did he choose to rescue?  For which bit of creation did God choose to die?  To which segment did God offer eternal life? (Ok, so that was 3 questions.)

You.  He rescued you.  He died for you.  He offers real life to you.

So, that’s how I know you are beautiful.  Because the Creator of the grand canyons and lady bugs looked at you and said, “She’s worth it.  Yes, she’s made mistakes and she is sometimes a little selfish or impatient (ok, maybe more than “a little.”)  But she’s mine.  I don’t want to live without her.  I’m dying to have her near me.”

He didn’t do that for rocks and rivers, no matter how spectacular.

So, the next time the beauty of a sunrise takes your breath away.  Or the next time you are taken in by the intricate pattern of a butterfly’s wing, or enraptured by the nuzzle of puppy… remember.  In your Father’s eyes, nothing else in all of creation holds a candle to you.  Nothing.  He’s crazy about you.

He thinks you’re beautiful.

So you are.

Period.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m learning the power of writing in community.  Check out this amazing post about diving in deep to face our fears from my new blogging friend, Jennifer Dukes Lee at Getting Down with Jesus.

 

Our Father

How ugly I am in an everything-depends-on-me state of mind.  I’ve asked the Lord to increase my dependence on him.  There’s nothing like feeling completely overwhelmed by circumstances (read “moving to Orlando, living in a 3 bedroom apartment and homeschooling 3 teenage boys”) to do that.

So, my prayers this morning morphed into something oh so familiar, but oh, so vital for life.  Here’s my Our Father heart cry…

Our Father sustainer, author, originator of all that is good in our lives.  Abba, I draw near.

who lives in the heavensas near as the air I breathe, my very breath, you are near.

Holy is your Name.precious, powerful, completely set apart, the Name above every name.

May your kingdom comeYour will, your reign.  May what you want to happen, happen.

may your will be done on earthhere, now, in this place, this time, this apartment.

as it is in heaven.the place of your presence, completely unshadowed by sin.  The place where I ‘ll see you face to face.

Give us this day —  You promise to provide for the moment… from endless storehouses.

our daily breadneeds, Father,  you know.  You meet me in the manna “what is it,”  even in the mystery of “is it good?”  You know our needs, and you are good, so we trust you.  Nourish, strengthen, give what souls and bodies require.

And forgive us our debtsmy controlling, critical nature.  My short tempered words. The swirling in my gut that reminds of all the weight and pressure I’m carrying, shouldering on my own.  Forgive me.

As we forgive our debtors I live with other fallen people who are trying in their own ways to figure this out.  Help me extend to them the same waves of grace and compassion that I’m in such desperate need of and so gratefully splash in.

And lead us not into temptationthe places I choose apart from you.  Help me to see them for what they are… dark, sad states of mind and behaviors that keep me from experiencing your grace.

But deliver us from the evil oneprotection from things unseen and forces that would seek to kill, steal and destroy.  I don’t take for granted, Father, the war going on.  I know you’ve got my back… and my future secure in your Father grip.

For yours is the kingdom,

yours is the power,

yours is the glorywhat more is there to say?  It’s all about you.  Now my eyes see and my heart knows it’s true.

forever and ever,

Amen.  Amen.

Creation Meditation

I’m inspired by Ps. 104 to write my own “meditation on creation.”

Verse 1 starts with “O Lord, my God, you are very great.” Then the psalmist continues for 31 verses looking at the sky, sun, moon, animals, trees, oceans, mountains, life, death… He concludes with this statement of faith:

“I will sing to the Lord all my life.
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my mediation be pleasing to Him as I rejoice in the Lord.
But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more.” Ps. 104:33-35

The last sentence surprises me. I almost don’t want to include in in the quote, but it’s there, not willing to be ignored, daring me to wrestle with it. Scripture is surprising sometimes. I wonder, does God want to teach me in the paradox?

Maybe there is a connection between my praise and the salvation of men. Maybe when I acknowledge the greatness of my God, His kingdom is advanced.

Maybe the psalmist isn’t speaking of the extermination of those who stand against God’s way, but the conversion of those who miss His glory? Maybe believers are most compelling when they are praising, not pointing fingers.

So, here’s my attempt at a “Creation Meditation.” May it be pleasing to my God.

•••

Oh, my soul, wake up and recognize the beauty of your God.
The morning beckons you: sing!
The endless expanse of sky drapes the earth dome and speaks of His eternal ways.
Beyond the blue and in the air you breathe, He is here.

The birds, in their joy, greet the morning He has made.
Let your heart join in their sweet melody,
a refrain celebrating the simple things
… food, shelter, light.

The trees shimmer in the breeze, mindful of its whispers.
When the wind blows fierce, they grow stronger from its force.Their roots stretch deep through the layers of Indiana clay.
Tall Beech, petite Red Buds,
strong Catalpa, and White Oaks ringed with age stand proud, branches outstretched, straining upward.

They model for me arms lifted high in praise.

The breeze also stirs wild grasses, heads bobbing,
ruby-colored clover, and smiling daisies growing at will.
They receive the rain and sunlight freely offered by my God, and in turn
offer up their innocent beauty.

Stryder, my faithful walking companion, jogs the path ahead,
follows scents undetected by me.
Futilely, he chases a cottontail startled by our steps.
He gleefully rolls in the dewy, freshly mowed grass.
He drinks in the day, ever confident that his master will meet his needs
with good things to eat and balls to retrieve.

Oh my soul, trust your Master like that.

As joggers, bicyclers, even drivers of cars rush by me,
I wonder do they see, do they hear
nature beckoning them to turn to their Creator?
The trees and birds and wild flowers respond willingly to his ready favor.

Why don’t we?