From Destruction to Beauty: MOPS Devotional

I go to a MOPS meeting on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month, and am in charge of devotions for this year, so on those Thursdays I’ll be posting here what I say there.

It’s been a difficult few weeks, hasn’t it, with all of the unexpected cold, snow, and ice?  It’s April.  We’re supposed to be getting spring fever and letting our kids outside and running to the basement when we hear the tornado siren.

But instead, we’ve had an extended winter.

What we’ve all experienced is having to change our plans.  We’ve all had to surrender control.

I’ve been feeling a little out of control lately.  It seems like I just can’t quite get everything all together.  My mind feels like a jumbled mess–maybe it looks like my kids’ rooms.  I feel out of sorts because I don’t quite have a routine–or, rather, I don’t have the routine that I want to have.  And so, it seems that every day is a day to change plans, sometimes minute by minute.  I think I will have some time to sit and write, because the kids are playing upstairs.  I get settled in, write a few sentences, and then they magically appear and need one thing after another.

I keep thinking that if I could just have an hour, two hours, three hours, or if I could just have an inspirational spot to sit with the perfectly comfortable chair, and if everything was just so, then I’d be able to write well and write a good quantity.  Or, if I could just stick to a schedule, I’d have my house clean all the time, my meals planned and cooked, and I’d set a beautiful table and meal time would be fantastic.

But nothing ever really happens like we expect.  Life always has interruptions.

And when the unexpected and unanticipated happens–whatever it is, we get frustrated and grumpy.  Maybe we even want to pull out our hair and scream and cry.  Our lives may have been going along smoothly, just day by day, normal life, and then something happens, like the storms we had.  We had plans to go bike riding or play at a park or plant gardens or put away all the snowpants and boots.  And then we had to change our plans.  And we had to wait.

When one of the storms hit, I wrote that we should think of it not as “always winter and never Christmas”, but instead, “always Christmas”, because just like an unexpected storm, Jesus came into the world unexpectedly.  He threw off the plans and the future that people thought was there and took it in a different direction.

And really, isn’t that all of life?  How many of us expected that we would be exactly where we are in life today?  I certainly didn’t.  I didn’t know where I’d be, but Iowa certainly was not anywhere on my radar.  Maybe you expected to have fewer kids or more kids.  Maybe you expected to be in a career you love.  Maybe you expected…anything more, anything different than the reality of life.

And so, I tried to look at the storms differently.  I decided that since there was nothing I could do about it, I wasn’t going to feel irritated and I wasn’t going to complain.  I was in awe of the beauty that the storms brought, and tried to see it despite the destruction that also came. And I think it worked.  I looked out at the snow and felt calm and peaceful, if only for a short time.

It is those glimpses of peace and beauty of which we are most often unaware, because we have to look harder for them.  When we are disappointed, upset, or angry and it seems as if destruction surrounds us, we wonder if beauty can even be seen there.

But it can.

The plans we had were just delayed, our lives were tossed around, but they still went on, and soon, we’ll put the storms behind us and enjoy what we’ve been waiting for.   The snow has mostly melted.  This weekend, temperatures are supposed to get into the 70s.   The long winter will give way to a beautiful spring, just as beauty can come out of our own trials in life–no matter how big or how small.

I want to share one verse with you, Revelation 21:5, and then I will play you a song that I think goes along very well with everything we’ve experienced the last few weeks, and gives us hope when we have bad times in our lives as well.  The verse is:  And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Do You Tear Down or Build Up?

Every Thursday evening, we’ve been feeding groups of college students spaghetti, homemade sauce, and  homemade Italian bread.  It’s been a fun way to get to know them a little bit better, and good for them to not have to eat cafeteria food.  At a recent gathering, one of them noticed a book I had out, The Story, by Randy Frazee and Max Lucado.  He said “hey, Randy Frazee used to be the pastor at my church”.

It was a strange thought.  Typically, to me, I see a published book and the author is very far removed from my daily life.  It is almost as if the person isn’t even real; it’s a name on a page.  That has been changing for me, because I now have met and become friends with a novelist and communicated with authors on Facebook and Twitter and through e-mail.  I even got to have lunch with someone who is kind of a big deal (ok, so there were about 20 people there, not just me, but still!) and then have a conversation with him later in the evening.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll have another chance to meet some other fairly well-known people.

They are not just names on a book cover.

They are real people.

They are real people with hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities.

They are real people that God loves every bit as much as he loves anyone else.

We forget that.  We think of them as someone who is open for us to critique, criticize, and even attack.  We let our personal feelings about the person or the topic (either positive or negative, actually) influence our response and yet we don’t think about that person’s personal feelings.  We hold them up to impossible standards of perfection that we don’t hold ourselves up to.  Does every author get everything 100% correct?  No.  But we don’t have to agree with everything a person says to learn something from it.  And yes, this is hard.  There are people that I do not want to bother trying to learn from, but I had that attitude of mine checked the other day when I saw someone re-tweet something with which I wholeheartedly agreed–yet it was from someone towards whom I typically harbor a bad, smug, eye-rolling attitude.

What are we doing?

When we tear someone down, are we treating them as fellow humans created in the image of God?

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. –Ephesians 4:29

Granted, there are times when evil needs to be addressed and perpetrators of it need to be confronted.  But too often, our reactions may be more explosive than is necessary, and bring condemnation rather than grace.

The next time I think negatively towards something I read or hear, I want to try to remember these things:

  • this is a real person
  • this person is not perfect
  • this person is also made in the image of God
  • this person is loved by God
  • this person expresses his/her faith differently than I do
  • this person has a different relationship with God than I do
  • this person is my brother or sister in Christ
I also want to remember not to fear the person or the message presented.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.  The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. –1 John 4:18-21  

What  do you do when you come across a message contrary to your message or your belief?   How do you look at that person?  How do you treat that person?  

Be Encouraged

This post continues the story begun in Signs & Wonders,  Why Haiti?, What Is Enough? , and Plant Some Seeds.  

I said in Signs & Wonders that I didn’t necessarily think coincidences were actually coincidences, that there could be a deeper meaning to seemingly random events.  In the follow-up post to that one, Why Haiti?, I told you that there had been 19 references to Haiti.  The references were not just a reminder to email Andy, because they continued after the email, and were apparently not just a reminder to write the “Why Haiti?” post, because they continue.  I’m now up to 23 references, two of which happened just this morning.

I think that there are so many things that are connected, somehow, but it is hard to see the big picture that only God can see.  Is it cliche to think of it as a spider web, as me on one side connected, somehow, through all these transparent, thin threads to everything else on the web?  And why am I using a spiderweb analogy?  I don’t even like spiders!

If I had never moved to Iowa, I’d have never met my friend Andy and I’d have never have had all these Haiti references.  Even more than that:  if my husband hadn’t gotten a job in Iowa in the first place, or if he’d pursued a different career, or if we’d never met or if, or if, or if.

I know that some people say that things happen for a reason.  I don’t necessarily believe that all of the time, especially when it concerns tragic things, because I have a hard time thinking that God causes bad things to happen for a specific reason, but maybe there is some middle ground in that in ways we do not understand, the Holy Spirit is working in and through events and people.

After one of the references, I had asked Andy for a link to any blogs by people he knew in Haiti and he directed me to the blog of his friends Troy and Tara Livesay.  I spent a decent amount of time reading this blog one day, but what hit me was actually not so much their being in Haiti and having experienced the earthquake, but rather, the page in which they write a litter that begins with “Dear Someone, Somewhere“, written on June 2, 2008.

These words are what spoke to me:

  • “In reality, the MAIN point of blogging (outside of – and more important than – the ones already listed) … is to hopefully encourage someone somewhere.”
  • “If you’ve ever said “God cannot use me” or if heaven forbid- some
    holy-roller person told you that you were not usable because of X Y or Z
    in your past – you must know those are lies.
  • “There is a way in which God can use anyone and everyone seeking Him.
    Having every little answer packaged up nice in a fancy box is not
    necessary or possible.”
  • “There is a misconception about what it looks like to be used. I don’t think it only looks like going to Africa to hold AIDS babies.  I don’t think it only looks like pulling up stakes and going somewhere far from where you live today….
  • I think it looks like something different for each person. That is an
    issue for each of us to work out with God. I think for some it is
    reaching out to the guy next door whose wife just left him, inviting him
    over for dinner. I think for others it means coming along side a 16
    year old that is pregnant and afraid. Maybe it means baby-sitting for a
    struggling single mom down the street. Maybe it is as simple as being
    kind to a real geek/dork that you work with. Maybe it is finding out how
    to interact with the homeless in your community and going way outside
    your comfort zone to do it.  It mainly means allowing God to take us to
    uncomfortable places where we’re loving people that we don’t find all
    that lovable. The location in which it happens is irrelevant.”
  • “We hope there is something here for you. Whether
    it be a story about Haiti that moves you, a goofy kid moment, a
    confession that helps you know you’re not alone in your struggles or a
    chance to see God’s amazing creativity and ingenuity by working with
    ordinary people that are not missions trained, ordained, perfect, or
    even all that together … Be encouraged.”

Be encouraged.

Two words that are so simple and yet say so much.  As I continue to listen and watch and wait to see what God has next in store for me, I am going to remember that I need to stay encouraged.  I have had other “coincidental” references too (though not nearly as many as Haiti) that have to do both with the general topic of vocation and the more specific topic of writing.  I hope, as I practice writing here on my blog, and as I learn more about the art and craft of writing (because I feel very out of practice; writing papers in college was a very long time ago!), that I will eventually be able to call myself a writer.

So, thank you, Tara and Troy, two people I don’t even know, for encouraging me, and for encouraging anyone else who has crossed paths with you.

I hope that this post too, can be used to encourage anyone reading it who needs encouragement, because I want you to know that you are loved by God and that you have so much to give to others.

I don’t think this is the end of the story, by far (and, actually, I have some other Haiti-related references that didn’t fit into this post like I thought they would, so there will be at least one more), but I am glad to have traveled this far so quickly and I am looking forward to seeing what the next part of the story is.

I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts. —-Ephesians 6:22

This story is continued in “Brokenness“.

What Am I Going to Write About Today?

As I realized that today was Wednesday and I had promised myself to start a new habit of blogging on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I wondered what on earth I was going to write about today.  I wondered if I should even bother, because I don’t have a flashy, well-put-together blog, I don’t participate in a lot of other blogs in order to up my readership, I don’t have a domain name that make me easy to find.  So what am I writing for?

I had remembered something that my friend Amy wrote on her blog recently that I knew would be encouraging to me and when I went to look for it, I found this instead, which was actually much more encouraging to me than what I thought I was looking for:

I try to be intentional with what I post on the blog because
I never know who is going to read it. I do believe in providence. I do believe
that I could be writing a blog post for just 1 person to read. And I’m OK with
that. We all need encouragement. If in some small way a blog post is an answer
to prayer for insight, then it’s served it’s purpose.  
From “The Makings of a Blog Post” on Grace for Jean.

And then when I finished reading that, I saw that someone had commented on a previous post of mine here. In my homily/message/sermonette/devotional/whatever-you-want-to-call-it from   the beginning of October, I had spoken about fear.  This part of Robert’s comment made me smile and I felt encouraged that I had helped even just one person, as Amy had written about.  He said: This post touched me so strongly kelly!!! … A light turned on for me.”

I have often thought there are no coincidences in this world, and in the last few months have seen glimpses of God working in things that perhaps we don’t normally attribute to Him, and this is no exception.
So what will I write about today?  Well, this.  There are a lot of people and websites out there who will give advice on how to have a successful blog (and I am sure I will be reading them and taking some of the suggestions to heart), but if success is defined only in numbers, and if it leads to blogging pressure, then I don’t think I want it.  I am happy to know that it is successful if even one person benefits from it, somehow.
So thank you, Amy and Robert, for your encouragement to me today.