Hey Christ-follower, Ever found yourself in that in-between place where you’re not sure if the church you attend is the church where you belong?
Due to family situations, employment positions, or ministry transitions I’ve found myself swirling in the gap of longing for belonging more than once. I have also been at the place of questioning whether the church body where I have been attending is the right place for myself and/or my family. With all of the life-altering dispositions, changing conditions, impositions, and re-positions I have found myself at both of these places more than once in the last quite-a-few years.
I remember lamenting to my counselor about my self-imposed frustrations with not trusting church leadership, feeling ignored and unappreciated as a divorced female called to ministry, and carrying around the baggage filled with my hurts imposed by “church people”. My counselor listened patiently and then asked a dang good question.
She asked me if I had ever considered what my “absolutes” were. What must the church absolutely do – according to my values, morals, beliefs, and convictions? What must the church absolutely NOT do – according to the same? And then her encouragement was that the in-betweens shouldn’t swing the pendulum towards belongingor not. An impacting question followed by some needed, and balanced, exhortation.
Recently my soul and emotions have been, again, filled with that flustery feeling of restlessness with regards to life and ministry. It seems that the daylight occupation and crisis situations have demanded so much time and attention of late that life has resembled a breathless trek in a hamster wheel so much more than a meaningful journey of influence and inspiration. For me, my friends, this is not what I was created for (In fact, this is not what any of us were created for). And so, my frustration factor has increased along with my cries of “I was made for more!”
Consequently and habitually, as I have become more unsettled in my soul, I have found myself turning my dissatisfaction towards the church. Although my co-workers have long-sensed my turmoil with purposeless days, I realized I have been turning a more critical, sometimes untrusting, eye towards my community of Christ-following comrades. After all, it’s an easier target for uneasiness and boredom than the salaried situation that supportsmy family, lifestyle, and penchant for giving “just because”.
Within the last couple of weeks I have come to several realizations based on reviewing my counselor’s questions, conversation with God, and self-examination and ego-busting.
1. I absolutely, positively, was made for more than what my life looks like at this moment. However, in order to get to that “more” requires less… and more Less time focused on the mundane and mind-numbing. Less money spent on things that are pretty yet purposeless. Less energy given to emotional emergencies and perturbing pressures. More time spent on the meaningful and missional. More money focused on projects of principal. More energy invested in inspiring and engaging adventures. I WAS made for more. But making excuses for why life is less, instead of changing little things that can accomplish more, is a cop-out way of not being – doing – impacting – more.
2. Those in my community of believers are not my enemies. Nor are they my several-faced frenemies. They are friends. Associates. Companions. And, most importantly, my mission mates. Withhearts growing in God, there are few evil-hearted agents attempting to subvert the Body of Christ. So very few vicious villains with motives to distract and deter those far from the Father. Considering my Crossroads comrades, I cannot convincingly contend that they do not wish to heal the hearts of the hurting or introduce others to the Lover Of Their Soul as passionately as I do.
These are not my enemies. There is only one enemy of faith and community and he has no power where it is not given.
3. When I waver in my position and am constantly looking for reasons to question my “wheres”, I am a “double-minded man (human)…unstable in all my ways”. I cannot learn contentment. I will not grow in stability and strength. I am unable to make a significant impact in the lives of others when I am earnestly scoping for greener grass. I am uncommitted. If I do not plant my feet and allow God to grow and increase my gifts and influence, If I do not go “all in”, then not only will my rewards be few – but my leadership leverage decreases, and my personal potential and purpose can’t produce fruit… for I have no roots.
So I’ve committed. I’ve put on my cement shoes and I’m jumping in the water to be fully submerged in His Spirit and the sea of congregational intimacy for at least a year. And with the plantingof my feet has come peace. Contentment. Roots.
Will I ever be satisfied with my level of influence and leadership? I hope not. I hope that I continue to maintain that I was made for more, for this is a motivator to movement. However, I must learn to be patient and content with where God has allowed me to be in order to grow and learn. THIS is what will enable me to do, live, BE more.
For those who may wonder about my absolutes, they are as follows:
- The church must teach relationship with the heart and character of God – not the rules and regulations of man
- It must not twist scripture to prove man’s point – but instead teach scripture in a contextually accurate manner
- The church must show a heart for the hurting and seekers of truth
- It must accept and welcome my unique and eccentric family
- The church must extend grace and allow for all walks of life to be introduced to the unconditional, unfathomable love of Christ
- It must foster community, authenticity, and honest accountability
- And finally, the church must encourage the development and use of individual gifts and wirings of its members
We all do it now and then.
We all get frustrated with the dishonesty from those who believe they are of good character, yet they twist and turn scripture, words, and situations, to cover their behinds or advance their own selves. They do this all while standing proudly beating their chest and giving credit for their character, or lack thereof, to God. The reason? Raw, unchecked, furious emotion.
Jumping into a venture with both feet due to heightened emotions is unwise. It causes mistakes to be made, impulsive decisions to go bad, and dishonest excuses to be given in order to hide the fact that feelings were the source of these things instead of the Spirit of God.
Whether building a business, a ministry, or a relationship – if the foundation consists of a mix of emotion, dishonesty, and pride – it will, at some point, crumble and leave others damaged beneath the rubble. This doesn’t change simply because we are children of God. Actually, the cost – and repercussions – become greater when we bring Christ and His body into things.
The issue isn’t having emotions, God created us as emotional beings. The issue is when we look at a person or situation and our heart strings are pulled, so we take action – giving no consideration to how this action may affect others not directly related to the immediate face/circumstance before us. We move swiftly as if our intervention is the only thing that can possibly change things (which makes us greater than God in our self-serving eyes). Or we assume that, because our emotions are so heightened, there’s no way our decisions could be wrong – and those who don’t agree, or don’t follow our examples in word and deed – they are the ones that are wrong… they’re VERY wrong.
We step from the emotional ambulance or fire vehicle, onto a platform of ego and arrogance. And as we pile excuses, dishonesty, and pompous “words of wisdom and spirit” one upon the other, our prideful pedestal grows higher and higher.
Tall, self-glorifying props are difficult to step off. It requires the humility to admit that we’ve allowed things to become unstable due to our own emotional recklessness. It demands the willingness to admit wrong and stop using God as an excuse for why things aren’t as we said they would be. Stepping off needs help. Unemotional. Practical. Wise. Spirit-led. Help.
God the Father is ready to lead and teach us how to follow Him and not be dragged along by the leash of emotions. His Spirit waits for us to allow Him to take HIS place as The Rescuer, the “Need-Meeter”, the Wise Guide in our lives so that we can be effective servants and representatives of Him – in every area of our lives – instead of self-aggrandizing emotional callouses on the Body of Christ.
Step off the Emotions and Ego. Step into His Spirit and Leading. The greater glory comes from Him.
Perhaps it may be possible
to change the world
Rearrange the world
Accomplish absolute upheaval
exchangin Good for selfish evil
by extendin’ out a life-worn hand
to that grace-scattered
beaten, broken, bruised and shattered
cold-hearted shell of a man
In this age of me and mine
If it feels good do it ne’er mind
how it relates to thee and thine
Buy it, steal it
Take it, fake it
Lie your way out
just to make it
obvious that there’s not a care
‘cept for the only one that’s there
in the mirror
through glassy, empty, soul-less eyes
that’ll do most anything to grasp the prize
of recognition, affirmation,
man’s applause and commendation
sacrificing character for that
I am, quite often, asked what the Christ-like response should be when approached by someone asking for money. I’m asked because my profession by day involves working with homeless and/or financially unstable individuals. My response to these things tends to often disagree with the typical “social worker” view, settled into the heart by book knowledge and sometimes hardened by years of experience.
Let’s take the scenario where we encounter men/women standing at the busy intersections, with signs asking for money, waiting for vehicles to be forced to stop at the light or sign. There are typically 2 diametrically opposed responses for the driver seeing someone “begging for alms”. The first: <rolling up the window and looking straight ahead as if they won’t see> “Don’t give them any money. They’ll spend it on alcohol or drugs.” or “I don’t have any money. This feels awkward.” The second: <rolling down the window. clink. clink.> “Have a nice day.” <driving on, feeling accomplished/rewarded>.
Neither is a wrong… or right… response. Neither can be fairly judged by someone else as proper or improper. The reason for this is that one cannot judge the motive of the heart except the driver themselves.
However, let’s look at how the apostles responded in a parallel situation.
Acts 3:1-10 Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour. 2 And a certain man that was lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple; 3 who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive an alms. 4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John, said, Look on us. 5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. 7 And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up: and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. 8 And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God: 10 and they took knowledge of him, that it was he that sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
When the apostles were going into the temple they were confronted by a man who, daily, sat outside the gates and begged for money. Peter looked at the man and John told the man to look up – to look at them… to make eye contact with them. Requiring eye contact, or making eye contact with someone in this type of situation, is to show them respect. To give them dignity. So the apostles’ first response was to treat the man with respect and dignify his worth as one created by God, their Father.
Scripture says that the man looked back at them expecting for them to give him money. But Peter said “I don’t have any silver or gold. However, what I do have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, walk”. And the man’s legs were healed and he ran, jumping and leaping, with the disciples into the temple – all while thanking and praising God.
When Peter looked at the man scripture says that he “fastened his eyes upon the man”. Peter looked intently at the man and his eyes gripped the man. Peter didn’t see a man who needed money although that was what the man had spent most of his life begging for. For years the man had begged for something that he could see, touch, feel. Something that he could believe in…alms. Something that he could use, temporarily, to meet an immediate need. This is what had assisted the man with his survival for years. Begging for and receiving money from people who felt sorry for him and took pity on him.
But Peter was looking beyond the beggar. He looked beyond the request for money. He saw past the band-aid that would temporarily cover a gaping wound in the man’s life. Peter saw the true wound. The true need. The root cause of the man’s true poverty. Peter saw a disabled man with a wounded soul. And THIS is what Peter responded to. Out of felt compassion for the man, Peter and John looked deeply at the man and recognized that giving him money would not, ultimately, help the man. He’d been receiving money for years – yet was still crippled, was still begging, was still broken. And so Peter offered him, instead, hope and healing.
Back to our response. I can’t tell anyone how to respond to someone who they see asking for money. One’s response to these situations is, entirely, between them and their God. However, based on the apostles’ response, I can offer these words…
Outside of all else our heart should be moved with compassion for the one who is beaten down and broken in such a way that they must rely on others, or “the system”, to meet their temporal needs. The Spirit of God on the inside of us should be pained when one of God’s masterpieces finds themselves in a situation where “begging for alms” is how they have come to survive. Our first response should be compassion. Our motivation, whatever our response, MUST be compassion when we see one who is broken and “poor” in spirit. (Luke 10:29-37)
Then, our response must be coupled with wisdom and discernment from the Father. Like the man at the Gate Beautiful, quite often the true need has nothing to do with giving alms or money. We may be approached by one who may, indeed, have an immediate need for sustenance of some kind. If we have the ability to meet this need – whether we offer alms or not – that is between ourselves and God alone. However, the question begs to be asked. Will giving money satisfy our own immediate need for justification and self-satisfaction? Will giving money ultimately help? Or will it add to the band-aids that have been applied by so many before us, to poorly cover a much deeper wound?
If we, as Christ-followers, simply apply band-aids by giving money to everyone who appears to need it, are we following the example of Christ and His apostles? Jesus, Himself, encountered people with immediate, “felt” needs constantly. He met their needs, however then He shared hope with them… and CHALLENGED them to live life, to do life, differently. (Note: there are no accounts of Jesus giving money to meet an immediate need, but instead healing of all disease, delivering from oppression, etc.) Even when Christ fed the 3,000 and the 5,000 it was to provide sustenance in order that they could continue to receive His teachings after a long day.
In the story of Peter and John, they reached beyond money and alms into the real, soul and spirit needs of the man. They offered more than a gift of money, but a gift of healing, restoration, and hope. Not only could the man walk after receiving the true gift that Peter and John offered, but he ran, danced, rejoiced, and celebrated. From a beaten and broken man with wounded pride, unable to lift his eyes to a smiling, leaping, whooping and hollering individual who infected other people with his joy. All because Peter and John saw beyond the immediate, temporal, perceived need and responded with respect and dignity, true compassion, and wisdom.
For the person who has adjusted to living life relying on the generous – or guilt-ridden – gifts of others, money may seem to be what will solve their problems. Money, or alms, may seem to be what they need most. It may seem to be what will satisfy their “felt need”. However, if we fasten our eyes upon them, and our heart is moved with compassion and wisdom from our Father, then we will recognize that this is a superficial fix to a deeper need. Our giving will not just be about handing out a few dollars. We will go beyond money and we will remove the band-aids to address the oozing, gaping wound that is the root cause of their poverty. We will offer them dignity. We will restore their pride. We will offer the hope that is in us, addressing the deeper need, and a extend a hand with a challenge to do differently and “rise up and walk”… willing to walk beside them when the challenge is accepted.
It’s Sunday morning. The traditional day set aside to worship God in community with other Christ-followers.
I’m not feelin’ it.
I didn’t sleep well. My alarm didn’t go off so now I’m rushing. I’m having wardrobe malfunctions. The kids are grumpy because I’m rushing them. The spouse is NOT happy at having to get up early on “one of only two mornings I get to sleep late every week” – esPECially since he/she stayed up late… very late. We fight on the way to church. This should make for a wonderful experience this morning.
Open my heart to worship? I’m not feelin’ it. Sing? Yeah. I’m still mad, so I’m not feelin’ that either. Raise my hands in surrender? SO not feelin’ THAT.
Okay. So you’ve had a bad morning. A bad weekend. A bad week. And your feelings are hurt and all muddled up, messy, and hard like playdough that’s been pounded into a container by a 3-year old and left with the lid off.
What are you going to do about it?
Better question – what do any of those cranky, stanky, I-need-a-hanky feelings have to do with expressing worship to a great and holy God?
Our feelings, crusty and ugly as they may get, do not – can not – will not – ever change God. In spite of whether we’re “feelin’ it” or not – God is Who He is.
He is forever worthy of each one gathered deciding to shake-off-your-feelings, throw-back-your-head, lift-high-your-hands, and recognize that He is the Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Forgiving, Ever Merciful, Ever Gracious, Ever Listening, Loving-You-With-Fierce-Abandon Father and Lord over everything that exists… and then worship without restraint.
Feelin’ it yet?
I HATE the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” – especially when it is used to placate others in tragic, or difficult, situations.
No, there is not “REASON” for everything that happens.
However, THE reason that tragic/difficult/evil things happen is because we live in a world that is the target of the enemy of God…
A world where political courtesy
has taken the place of right and moral fidelity…
Where saying “the right thing” for approval and status
has taken the place of DOING the right thing because the other person matters…
It’s a time when popularity, fame, and prosperity,
trump character, honesty, and integrity…
where Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, and Maury
capture fascinations while humanity scorns a righteous man’s story…
So yes, there’s a “reason” for all that happens. For every tragedy, every disaster. Every bad, sad, mad thing that’s occurred.
Simply put, we live in an immoral and corrupt world.
A world where faulty women and men ruled by selfish ambitions
put themselves on a pedestal over God and fellow humans.
Now, don’t get it twisted. Don’t make a mistake. Don’t under-estimate it.
The God of the Universe can take any situation, that is entrusted to Him –
given to Him,
and work in and with it.
He can “IN all things…work for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”. He can.
He will. Yet this doesn’t mean that He causes all things that happen to man.
He ALLOWS us to make choices. To exercise our will. To DO as we like.
We seem to forget that there are natural consequences to every choice that we make.
Perhaps instead of casually stating “everything happens for a reason”, one should stop
Perhaps, just perhaps,
the continuing deterioration of morality –
the slap on the wrist for blatant criminality –
the open acceptance of crass and obscene behaviors and words –
or the fascination with the violent, the ridiculous, the shocking, and the absurd –
could be “the reason”…
And along with that REASONable conjecture
stop and think what part YOU play in this juncture.
Self-examination and growth is much more fruitful and mature than placation.
For those who are called by God to lead His people into His presence, they are called among the ranks with the Levites of old. The Levites were a proud and respected tribe of the Israelites who took their responsibilities seriously. They carried their calling, as priests and leaders into God’s presence, with honor. They served God in this way with dignity. They recognized the privilege of being entrusted by God to show others Him, without themselves getting in the way. Being identified with the Levites, today’s worship leaders should do the same. However, being born of flesh – with a sin-nature – we often need to be reminded that worship is not about us.
Fact is, worship leading is not about our talent, our ability, or how well we can perform. Leading worship is not about our level of performance at all. At least it shouldn’t be. There is a vast difference in musical performance and leading worship through music. It’s not about talent, but it IS about giftedness.
We’ve all seen many a singer and/or musician who had incredible talent yet were not gifted by God to lead others in true worship. Their talent is what carried them to the stage, yet without His gifting and Spirit, the music never carries any farther. They sing well. Play well. Look great. Sound great. Yet things feel cold, unconnected, and the same as if attending a great concert at the local arena. It can be a great performance that widens the eyes and inspires the listeners to clap their hands and tap their feet, but never reaches the hearts and souls of the hearers. Without the heart of worship then the “sing with me” part of any given church service can be a great performance, but it is about the musician, and not about the God who designed music to be a tool for worshiping Him.
On the flip side – we’ve all also seen singers/musicians who come to lead others into worship and are unemotional, apathetic, and sloppy. This is as ineffective and man-focused as attention-seeking performers. Those who truly have a heart of worship, who bear the responsibility of leading others into worship, should recognize it as a privilege and carry themselves as such.
Muscians who sit – or stand – behind their microphones and/or instruments each week, mandated to lead others into the presence of God should carry themselves with dignity. Honor. Excellence. The appearance of apathy, disheveled attire (or hair and make-up), rolling eyes, stifled yawns, and distracted texting (or side conversations) during scripture readings or prayer draws attention to the lack of respect these “leaders” have for the honored position of guiding others into the presence of an Almighty, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Loving God of the Universe. Those who enter the stage late, unmotivated and unrehearsed, would serve Him better by staying at home… or better – sitting in the congregation and recovering their passion and pride for Him and His presence.
Leading others in worship should be considered an awe-filled privilege – to be counted among the ranks of the Levites. If it is not, perhaps it is time to take some time and rediscover your passion and calling. Else you cannot lead others into that place of reverential wonder. If it is more about your being in the spotlight than about you diminishing and Him being magnified, perhaps it is time to step out of the limelight and get back to the heart of worship.
Leading worship is so not about you. It is ONLY about Him.
Day six. It’s the last full day of our vacation. The last day of these peace-receiving, knowledge-gaining morning walks on the beach.
I set out for my final “sabbath” moments of solitude. There is no agenda this morning. Simply to walk, breathe, and listen.
As I walk I take pleasure, and comfort, in the “knowing” that is in my spirit. The knowing that My Father, God, is with me. The knowing that He is watching. The knowing that He cares and does have a plan. The knowing that He has never – ever – left me, even when I felt so very, very far away from Him.
I am thankful for these mornings with Him. I am grateful for the time and finances that He provided to allow us to take a break from life-as-usual for a while. A much-needed while. I so appreciate the seemingly simple ways that God has spoken to me each day… Fragments of sentences in a book… Breaching dolphins in the waters every day… Children’s footprints in the sands… and, of course, there are the olive shells.
As I reminisce and ponder on each truth that He has spoken to me this week I find random olive shells. As I pick up each one I breathe in His peace.
I pray for strength to get back to life a little less susceptible to stress and anxiety. I pray for wisdom in dealing with people, decisions, and circumstances life throws my way. I pray for family’s protection, and for them to have supernatural encounters with the living God that will change their lives, their perspectives, and their hearts. I pray for them by name.
And as I pray for my children and grandchildren, oldest to the youngest, the littlest grandgirl comes to my heart. It is then that I find it. The smallest olive shell I have found all week. His familiar voice speaks to my heart – even on this final walk. “I love the little things”.
God cares about the little things that concern us because we belong to Him and He is full of compassion for His children. He loves those who the world considers “little” – the young, the unlovely, the seemingly unworthy. He delights in the smallest of sparrows and numbers the hairs on our head. He created every tiny grain of sand and every individual snowflake that falls. He has named each child who lives, and those who are mourned by their mommies and daddies (Mommy and daddy, rest assured that they are playing in His infinite playground in the most glorious of places). He catches even the smallest tear that we shed.
He loves even the “little” things. And on this last day of my vacation with Him he confirms it once again… with an olive shell.
Day five. This morning I walked in the opposite direction from the previous two. The daily conversations with God – and the constant sensing of His presence – have been what I so desperately needed. Before this vacation I had come to a place in my life where, though knowing that He is always near, I felt as if I no longer sensed His presence – and rarely His pleasure. So far I had been assured by My Father that He is with me and that He holds my life in His hands. I had been reminded of His power and His faithfulness. I had been challenged to be patient – and to persevere in the times when it seemed as if an answer would never come.
This morning I had something else on my mind and heart. Something besides me. SomeONE besides myself. This particular morning I wanted to talk about my family. My broken and hurting family. So many things had been torn apart in the lives of those closest to me. Hearts had been shattered so many times that it often seemed they would never – could never – be mended. I wanted some answers as to why they weren’t being put back together and fixed, and I was ready to ask. Now.
I walked more swiftly than the previous days because my thoughts were quick and my questions many.
I reminded God of my son who has been damaged by churches and in the name of Christ. My son who doesn’t go to church, and is not sure that he ever will return. Recently he was, again, treated condescendingly by someone who had no idea whether Christopher had a relationship with God or not. Someone in a church. Afterwards, he reminded me that he isn’t sure he’s willing to go through it all again. I don’t know where he stands in his relationship with God any longer. There used to be an intimacy and desire there. The fact that those things were tarnished by church-goers and professing Christians breaks my heart. The thought of my son being far from God and broken makes me weep.
I asked My Father about my oldest daughter, Adria. She has such a tender and giving heart. But it is often hidden behind a guise of obstinance and willfullness – which is simply her defense mechanism that masks her insecurities. She feels as if her life is unmendable…that she is unloveable… that she is undesireable because she has 2 children. Her heart has been broken – and she thinks that her life is shattered as well. She wants things to be the way that they were. When things were simple and she could be herself and not have the weight of worrying about others all of the time. She knows that this is impossible – and ultimately doesn’t really want time to turn back. But she does want to feel whole again. Complete. Loved. Instead of unfixable. Hopeless. Lost.
Then there’s Ariel, the youngest. She’s 15. I really didn’t need to remind Him of anything else. Being 15 says it all. She’s dealing with finding her identity, hormones, mood swings, insecurity, shyness, and trying to find those right kinds of friends all while attempting to resolve where God is in her life. She doesn’t believe in herself – yet is at that age where everything is about herself. She often hides her tortured emotions and hurt feelings behind a cavalier, “I don’t care” attitude. So confusing and frustrating for teens these days. And she doesn’t quite know how to deal with the brokenness of her siblings. All she does know is that she wants them to be okay again… she’s not quite sure what to do when those things aren’t a reality.
I talked with Him about Jun-Jun. My new believer, disillusioned, not-sure-how-to-relate-to-God husband. His life so twisted in the past that it often seems as if his emotions – his anger and pain – will never be healed. He wrestles with forgiveness. Sometimes he doesn’t want to forgive. He has a right to be angry and a right to be hurt. Yet he doesn’t want to be who he is. He’s a broken man who struggles to be whole.
All the while that I’m talking with God about my broken family I am looking for olive shells. My eyes are darting to and fro searching for a reminder of His promises. The sands in this direction are littered with shell beds and sea waste. Paths of colors run parallel to my footprints. Row after row of tiny pieces of sea dwellers and mollusks. But no olive shells. As the day before, not one.
I don’t sense that this is about persevering and so I slow my pace and begin to take notice of what I am walking in and around. I still don’t find what I’m looking for. Instead I see hundreds of fragments of olive shells. All colors and sizes. Some broken at the top. Some shattered at the bottom. Some peppered with holes in their incompleteness. None whole, yet all identifiable as former olive shells. And then He speaks to my heart.
“I don’t take things that are broken and put them back together just as they were. They would be weaker at the mended places. Instead, I take the broken pieces and I put them together in a whole different way. I make something different and beautiful out of the fragments. I can make beauty out of brokenness.”
I rolled these words around in my mind over and over as I walked around those broken pieces. As I meditated on what He had spoken, I sensed a peace in my soul. A letting go – if you will.
I can’t fix the brokenness in my family. My tears and the cries of my heart – as many and frequent as they are – can only reach the heart of God, but the mending is in His hands. His desire is not to put the pieces back together and make things the same as they were prior to being shattered. He makes all things new. He takes the fragments of our lives, our experiences, our learnings, our pain, and yes – our forgiven sins, and He masterfully places each in such a way that our character is strengthened, our influence increased, our healing more wonderful, and our hearts enlarged. He puts us back together in such a way that our brokenness is evident, yet the “new” is beautiful. If only we allow Him to do so.
I walked back to the room without an olive shell that morning. Instead, I had peace and a promise that He is working on the mosaics of my family’s lives.
Day four. Each morning of my vacation I woke with anticipation of conversing with My Father by the sea, and this morning was no different.
I dressed quietly, while everyone else was sleeping, and headed out to the sand. I felt invigorated after yesterday’s inspirational discovery of olive shells and understanding. I began walking in the same direction as the day before, hoping to find the same fertile shell bed. I didn’t have a specific agenda for the day’s conversation. I simply wanted to know that He was there and to spend time with Him.
Approaching the place where, the morning prior, I had found such a large treasure – I began to sift through the sands and pieces of shell debris with my toes. Given that each day previous olive shells had, quite literally, appeared before my feet I expected nothing different on this day. But what I found was…… nothing. Not one single olive shell. No pieces. No parts. No wholes. I looked for quite a long time and found absolutely nothing. I walked to the edge of the ocean and let Him know that I just didn’t understand this at. all.
Each day He had shown Himself to me so simply, yet powerfully, with an olive shell (or two) and today there was not one to be found. It was one of those “what’s up with that?” moments. And that’s exactly what I asked Him. “You’ve been with me every time that I have walked in the mornings. You’ve talked to me and I’ve been fascinated with olive shells every single time. So what about today? Why am I not finding any?”
I was reminded of a Catalyst podcast that I had listened to the afternoon before. It told a story of a Native American rain-maker who – every single time that he did his rain dance – it rained. When asked how this was, he responded “I dance until the rain comes”. The entirety of the message focused on persevering until the answer comes. I heard Him ask: “Are you willing to persevere?” Just that one little question… again. “Are you willing to persevere?”
I stood still as the waters covered my feet. I was determined that I was not going to move on until I had my answer… until I found my olive shell… until He proved that He was with me. And so I stood. My feet were gradually descending into the sand. “Are you willing to be patient? To wait for the answer even if gets uncomfortable? Painful? Will you persevere ‘until it rains’?” These are the questions that were resonating in my mind and heart.
My feet had sunk so far that they had reached large broken pieces of shells that were buried – and it was uncomfortable. I was sunburned and the sun was completing it’s rise to my left – the burning rays were painful. The waves were getting deeper as the tides were coming in, their currents making me waver in my stance, but still I stood. I would not move until He brought me an olive shell.
I’m not sure how long I stood there. I’m sure that it was a strange sight for those who were walking all around and playing in the waves. This woman who stood unmoving in the waters and did not speak aloud but seemed to be listening. I stood until He spoke to me to turn.
As I turned towards the sun – that agonizingly painful, burning sun – I looked ahead at a bare patch of sand and was encouraged to walk there. My mind was arguing. Yesterday I had found a plethora of olives scattered among the expansive patches of broken vessels and shells, and now I was walking towards bare sand and expecting to find something? And there it was.
One. One olive shell, all alone in the sand.
I turned and walked back to the room wondering how often I had given up early. How often had I turned the other way, because of my impatience, and missed the answer that was right around the corner? How many times had I stopped pursuing something because I could no longer see the possibility of it? How many times had I looked and seen nothing that I expected, mistook it for barrenness, and walked away from what HIS best was for me? I’m sure more times than I would care to know.
I added one more olive shell to my collection that day. An olive shell that reminds me to persevere… to be patient. And to dance until it rains!