Confident Vulnerability

painting look to the interests of others (3)

I heard a young woman say, “I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to have to develop a tougher skin.”

I used to think that way, chiding myself for being too sensitive, apologizing for getting my face in the way of someone’s hand. Then I stopped. Well, at least I decided it was time to change my mind on that subject.

“The world doesn’t need more tough-skinned people,” I told her. “Look around. There are plenty of tough-skinned writers here. You can tell by the number of people scurrying for cover when the tough ones start hammering on their keyboards.

The world needs more courageously tender people. The world needs more risk-taking, gentle, loving people whose fearlessness comes from a deep relationship with God. They know his love for them never fails. He is always for them. The result is betach – confident security. People who know they are loved unconditionally can afford to be vulnerable.”

Hmm. I think I need to put that on a sticky note above my desk.

Yet

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Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

– John Greenleaf Whittier

In the seven years since I started this blog I have changed.

My understanding of who God is and who he sees me as continues to grow.

Sometimes he shows me an exciting aspect of his character that fits with another piece of the puzzle I cherish.

Then the storm comes.

In the storm nothing makes sense. Until it does.

Like the girl hanging onto the railing in my painting, I can only hang onto the one sure thing I know — that God is good. In the storm, this is the most secure place in the world.

Since starting to write this blog I have seen miracles I had never dreamed of seeing. I have seen marriages restored, emotions healed, and broken trust mended. More than once, I have seen people rise up from their deathbeds and go home from the hospital to lead happy healthy lives.

I have also seen marriages disintegrate, walls go up, and emotions overwhelm. I’ve seen friends and family members die, some in joyful anticipation of seeing Jesus’ face and some with curses on their lips.

I have faced the reality of my own mortality and gained a sense of the impermanence of life here while appreciating it all the more.

I have seen gains, and I have seen losses. I have laughed and I have wept. But God has never abandoned me in the storms. He has only pulled me closer, even when I couldn’t feel him in the maddening maze. When the clouds broke and the sun came out I knew that experience established truth more deeply than any amount of study could.

Here I am. Seven years later. Still clinging by faith to that railing, in storm and in fair weather. With more assurance than ever, with greater confidence than before, I can say God is good.

Even the Nights Are Better

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Another painted prayer from last weekend.  As I met with friends who also feel an urge to pray for our city, our valley and for our country, I kept hearing the phrase, Even the nights are better.

We talked about our experiences. Most of us are familiar with night seasons. Some in our group wake during the night hearing a call to pray for someone or something that burdens their hearts.  For others, struggles with pain of all sorts seem more intense at night; loneliness, loss, and physical pain arise in the darkness. Circumstances that confront us with the unknown can take us to a place where the façade of being in control impresses no one. But everyone agreed, the night season has its beauty.

In that quietness, in that place void of daytime distractions, we can learn to enter another type of rest — that is, when we stop protesting long enough to hear to the still small voice that whispers comfort.

While the band played and the people sang, I picked up my brush and quickly painted the picture in my mind. It reminded me of the beauty of the night season when the Lover of my soul, my Keeper, my True Hope comforts me with his songs and when I can respond to him with my own.

Yes, Lord. In your presence, even the nights are better.

 

Yet all day long God’s promises of love pour over me.
Through the night I sing his songs,
for my prayer to God has become my life…

So I say to my soul,
“Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be disturbed.
For I know my God will break through for me.”
Then I’ll have plenty of reasons to praise him all over again.
Yes, living before his face is my saving grace!

Psalm 42:8, 11 TPT

Stepping into Freedom

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Have you ever assembled your paints and brushes and canvas, or sharpened your carving knife and fondled that perfect piece of wood, or pulled the new fabric out of the shopping bag, and then asked yourself the question, “What should I make?”

For me, deciding on subject matter is the hardest part of creativity. I collect potential. It’s easier to spend time imagining possibilities and gathering materials in arts and craft stores, or stationery stores, or fabric stores, or writing app stores, than it is to decide what I want to say. Always there is the fear deep down somewhere, What if it’s not good enough? What if I waste time and materials and create disappointment that doesn’t measure up to what other people are doing?

Sometimes I need a nudge to just do it already. Painting as a form of creative worship moves me out of my comfort zone. Way out of my comfort zone. People are watching. Time is limited. I’m an amateur. I don’t know what I’m doing.

The musicians at most Sunday services play for less than thirty minutes. In the circle my friends have invited me to hang out in, a weekend conference with a guest speaker provides three sessions with a total of about one and a half hours in which to paint something.

I don’t even have as much time trying to decide what to paint as I usually spend trying to pick a Netflix show. Sometimes I have ideas before I get there. Sometimes nothing.

This past weekend, as I prayed about it while the band did their sound check, I remembered a picture I had in my head as I listened to people worshiping God one morning recently. I saw a pretty scene with an inviting path. Then it was as though the camera pulled back and I realized my point of view was behind barbed wire. An gate opened. When I looked up I saw the words written over many prison camps in Europe in World War II: Arbeit macht frei. Work makes free.

But I saw them in reverse. I saw them from the point of view of someone inside the prison camp who knew too much, someone who knew those words were not true. Arbeit macht frei was a ruse meant to placate people who were anything but frei.  I understood. I had worked and worked for years and still didn’t feel good enough — and definitely not free.

I asked the Lord what this was about. I understood it was an invitation to step out of the captivity of believing the lie that if we work hard enough, if we prove ourselves invaluable to God, if we perform well enough to impress him, he will notice us and accept us into his kingdom.

In my vision the gates were open, not only for me, but for everyone who responds to his call to come away with him. We are free to step out of imprisoning thoughts of having to earn his love. We are free to step into all the beauty he has for us. We are free to walk with him now, knowing the Creator of the Universe as the Lover of Our Souls.

So this is what I painted, imperfect as it is. I choose to step into freedom. I choose to step into all he has for me. Jesus Christ sets the captives free.

Then we cried out, “Lord, help us! Rescue us!” And he did!
His light broke through the darkness and
he led us out in freedom from death’s dark shadow
and snapped every one of our chains.
So lift your hands and give thanks to God for his marvelous kindness
and for his miracles of mercy for those he loves!
For he smashed through heavy prison doors and
shattered the steel bars that held us back, just to set us free!

Psalm 107: 13-16 TPT

Ancient Words: Changing Me, Changing You

The artist who created these masks, a therapist who helps people overcome addictions, gave me permission to share his work. I was deeply moved when he explained their meaning to me.

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As I recall, the first mask represents the moment when demon addiction can no longer be kept hidden behind an everything’s-fine façade.

The second mask symbolizes the honest appraisal of that realizes both a dark side and a light side exist in the same person.

The face in the third mask is covered with words from Psalm 51, in which the broken-hearted writer admits the need for forgiveness and appeals to God to create in him a clean heart and to restore his joy. The promises of God become his new covering. “You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O, God.”

The passage is written in Medieval Hebrew script. It is followed by the Lord’s prayer in Greek. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

These are some of the verses in the psalm that stood out to me:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.

For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight…

Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin…

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God…

(Selected verses from Psalm 51 NLT)

 

I believe true change of  heart needs more than an understanding of what motivated us to make the choices we did and gearing up for another attempt at exerting willpower. True change is insight and an effort to change powered by Gods`s grace that heals our hearts and creates an entirely new person through Jesus Christ.

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The song, Ancient Words, by Michael W Smith is playing in my mind.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
Oh let the ancient words impart
Courage, peace, a loving heart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
Oh let the ancient words impart
A moving, quick incisive dart.