God’s Love

We All Are Peter

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Ever read a scripture passage that reached into your soul a grabbed hold with an iron grip as if to say “Pay attention to me! I have something for you!”?

This past week I was reading and came across a passage like this. When the women had gone to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, they encountered a man who told them Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” – Mark 16:6-7

Go and tell His disciples…. and Peter.  In my mind this implied that Peter was being mentioned separately from the disciples possibly due to his sin of denying Christ 3x.

However, every Commentary that I read indicated otherwise.  They all agreed that Peter was not be distinguished from the disciples, but instead was Peter was being singled out to assure that he was informed along with the other disciples… to guarantee that he was included in this report of Christ’s resurrection and His promise that He would come to them again.

Peter’s name was called out to make certain that he knew he was included in the invitation to meet with Christ once again.

I can only imagine how his heart must have skipped when his name was called.  Such a mixture of excitement, anticipation, fear, and guilt.  He had, after all, sworn and uttered curses as he denied even knowing who Christ was in the midst of the God-man’s most physically/emotionally demanding… potentially damaging… days on Earth.  He had abandoned Christ. Turned his back on the Christ that he had walked with, talked with, ate with, slept beside, been taught by, and even been called by.  Peter had refused to acknowledge the One Who had – with all patience and understanding – seen the potential in Peter’s strong-will, brash personality, and impulsivity.

Peter had sworn he knew no such man called “Christ”. Three. Scandalous. Times.

And yet, Peter was being called out by the same, Christ, and acknowledged as His in the presence of all the other disciples… who, most assuredly, knew of his shameful denials.

Scripture later records that Christ appeared to the disciples when they were fishing and John recognized Who was on the shore. And rather than waiting for the rest of the disciples to row there in their boat – for that would take to long –  Peter jumped from the boat and began to swim to shore (is it any wonder with his impulsive nature?).  He wanted to be in the presence of Jesus.

Christ waited until all the disciples were together and had shared a meal.  He then called Peter’s name again. He singled him out once again in the presence of the others.  Imagine… “Peter?”

Was He going to rebuke Peter for his sinful, slap in the face, spurning?  Would he point out how Peter had denied Him and then, publicly, announce that he was no longer chosen to represent Christ?  After all, how could he?

How could Christ, in all good conscience, allow Peter to represent Him and His cause knowing that Peter had stood before many and, cursing and swearing, joined in His ridicule and refused to acknowledge his relationship with Him ?  How could the hand of God continue to anoint Peter’s life with such a blatant rejection?  So many thoughts and emotions must have been leaving footprints on Peter’s mind and heart.

“Peter”  “Yes, Lord?”

“Do you love me?”

Three times Christ asked if Peter loved Him. Scripture says that Peter was hurt because Christ asked him the third time.  Could it have been another painful reminder of Peter’s 3 rebuffs?

“Lord, You know all things.  You know that I love You”

And Christ, for the 3rd time, reaffirmed Peter’s calling to “feed My lambs”… to minister to those who are lost and hurting… to those who have no Shepherd.

“Lord, You know all things”…..

Indeed He does.

Christ knows all things.  He knows that we are human.  He knows that we make mistakes.  He knows that we even, at times, reject or spurn His place in our life with our actions and/or words.  He knows.

And yet, just like Peter, He continues to call out our name.  He continues to let us know that if our heart is still trying to find Him through the dense fog of shame that can cloud our view of Him… if we are still seeking His light in the midst of our own mental and emotional darkness… if we are willing to jump out of the boat and “swim” towards Him – not waiting for things to be just right or others to come along with us… if our response is that pain-filled, guilt-ridden, cry of “Lord, you know all things.  You KNOW that I love you”… then, in spite of our sin, He calls out our name and reminds us that we remain called, appointed, chosen, His.

 

Such marvelous Grace.

 

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Me, Myself, and My Messiah Complex

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I’ve got it and I’ve got it bad.

No, it’s not split personality disorder.  Not a sad case of the blues.  I’m not madly in love with someone other than my husband… well, except for myself sometimes.

I’ve got a messiah complex.  A ridiculously inaccurate messiah complex.

It’s my responsibility to save things and fix people. Every. Single. Day.

The world can’t survive without me.  At least that seems to be what I subconsciously tell myself at times.

My students and co-workers will be lost if I take a day off.  Things at church might not go smoothly if I miss a Sunday… or a leaders meeting.  If I say no to an invitation with family it might upset things. My input is important in most any situation. My opinion valid. My perspective pretty awesome and accurate.  My way, quite often, the most reasonable and practical – the wisest way.

See?  I have placed myself on an imaginary pedestal without even realizing it.  I unconsciously believe that I am the all-knowing, troubleshooter of the totality of what is wrong in life.  The ever-wise moderator of relationships and conflicting conversations.  The oracle who sees the errors of ways.  The prophet who speaks the hard-hearing truth.

I have set myself in a high place in my own mind.  I have assumed the position of savior of the world. … again.

There have been several times, in my life, when I have climbed up to this high and lofty mental place of honor.  Times when I wouldn’t – couldn’t – say no for fear of the world stopping if I did so.  Times when I had to be ever-present for everyone or things would forever be marred and scarred (at least in my own mind).

And each time I have gotten soundly, profoundly, and squarely, knocked off that pedestal and painfully back onto my reality-recognizing butt.

My mind, my emotions, my body, or all three at once, take control and say “enough is enough” and they forcefully set me off my feet and onto my kiester, or my back.  This is where I am forced to recognize that the world will continue to spin – tasks will still be completed – life will go on – friends, family, loved ones, students, and co-workers will survive… and possibly even thrive –  all without my influence or interference.

Although I do not believe God is the author of sickness, fatigue, breakdowns, or anything that is evil, I do believe that He allows us to crash and burn at times as a natural consequence of our own ignorance or sin.  And when I have fanned both ends of the candle flame for an endless amount of time, and there is no light left in me because I have been an improper steward of the gifts/talents that He HAS given me, then He allows me to become as a scorched and melted puddle of wax.

At that point I have a choice.  Refuse to acknowledge that I am not the end-all, be-all, messiah without which the world cannot flourish – and thus grow cold and hard as His glow extinguishes and I continue to believe I, alone, can save.  Or remain pliable, willing to be reshaped and reused by submitting to the heat of His character-molding, mind-renewing fire and the blaze of His Spirit.  Allowing myself to be ignited with the His love-shaped, grace-filled Zippo – recognizing that without Him I am nothing. And even with Him, I am simply a broken vessel of light that He has chosen to carry His spark… not to pervert His standing as Messiah and Savior of the world.

Scripture admonishes that man not think more highly of himself than he ought.  Proverbs advises that pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Me, Myself, and my Messiah complex struggle with this at times and forget.  Ever been there?

 

 

GraceLand

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I’ve sat this evening and pondered on the God-given, mercy-motivated, heart-full-of-love induced, grace that has been offered to me… and to you. And I have wondered…

Where could I be? Where SHOULD I be? Where would I be without it?

I could still be neck deep in the mistake-laden quicksand that has been my past. Struggling and striving to pull myself out of the muck and mire, yet also wanting to let the depths swallow me as I give up the fight with the darkness.

I should be lying stripped and marred in the dust by the side of life’s fractured and fragmented highway. Ashamed to lift my head because of the bruises and violent handprints from the times that I’ve been beaten up by the enemy.

I would be still wounded, insecure, looking for an enemy, while plodding through the day-to-day. I would be barely able to stand from the weight of rejection and fear of the self-perceived ugliness in the mirror.

If I dwelt upon my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s, I could – realistically – reasonably – relinquish hope for a joyful, purposeful, impacting existance. There would be no shame or blame in pitching a tent and deciding to resign and retire from life… if my coulda, shoulda, woulda’s were all that there was in my earth-encumbered journey.
But for the grace of God.

The God of grace observed every mistake I would make, before I existed. He had prior knowledge of what a damaged, baggage carrying, woman I would become. He was fully aware of how hard and fast I would run away from Him because I was furious at the injustice of life, unreliability of human love, and the injurious nature of ministry. And yet He saw me as precious and worthy of Him.
His heart-borne, blood-spilled, love-filled, grace opens its gates and allows me to walk through – with my head held high in spite of where I’ve been – and rest in the meadows of His forgiveness and peace. He will repair the brokenness in my bones, and the winds of His breath will restore life to my soul. If I am willing, the rivers of His Spirit will soothe my wounds and then stir me to action with the gifts and talents that HE created within me – to lead others into this place of safety. This dwelling in peace.

This… GraceLand where He is King.

Such and amazing place of grace.

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2

Own It

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own it
Ever been blindsided by anger from someone who has misconstrued or assumed something you’ve done or said?  Unexpected, angry words hurl toward you like bullets in a drive-by, causing you to duck and cover internally in order to protect yourself.  Or, your response could be as someone who has been wounded and scarred by life and abuse and so you retaliate, firing back your own volley of venom-filled verbosity while you defend your honor and pride.

Perhaps the warrior of words has been you.  How many times have you been the violent instigator of your neighbor’s wounds because you mentally created scenarios of wrong-doing or imagined them aiming at target-shaped bull’s-eyes on your happiness or character?  So you fire off a round of white hot insults and accusations, causing soul-trauma to the victim of your word weaponry.

Any of this sound familiar?

Most of us can identify with both. Although we’ve all, most likely, been the victim of someone’s harsh and sudden criticism or irritation, we’ve also all dealt our share of oral outrage. We’ve been both the casualty of a verbal violation and the trigger happy dispatcher of uttered ammunition – probably more than once – in our lifetimes.

Truth be told, it gives us satisfaction and gratification to get things off our chest… to spew our sarcasm or anger-laden speech all over someone else.  We may even delight in the fact that our diatribe has suddenly stunned them into silence and our pride increases and ego inflates.

For some, that feeling of superior euphoria is short-lived.  There is recognition that the momentary verbose vindication deflated the spirit of another God-imagined, hand-crafted masterpiece.  The light has been extinguished from their eyes.  Their soul is wounded. Auditory arrows have been shot into their hearts and it grieves to the core.

For others, the personal pleasure and pride continues to grow.  There is refusal to admit any wrong.  Dialectical damage is ignored and the journey goes on, one day at a time, leaving bruised and battered beings in the dust… behind… where they cannot be seen.

Time to put the big girl panties, or the big boy drawers, on.

Time to own it.  Own the fact that we do, at times, allow ourselves to be used as tools of the enemy.  Time for all of us to stop playing the marred martyr and instead man – or woman – up.  Take responsibility for our own words. Admit that we have not, will not, choose to control our tongues when we are offended or anticipating attack… no matter how figmental that attack may be. Confess that we, at times, put our own need for one-upmanship over relationships and recognition of God-value in every human being.

After owning our sinful, spiteful, hateful motivations behind our agitated outbursts – and asking the God who created our targets for forgiveness – we owe a heart-felt, care-filled apology to those we’ve wounded. They deserve to have their dignity restored as we humble ourselves and acknowledge our vainglorious frenzy.  No excuses. No justification-filled reasoning.  No lengthy dissertations. Excessive words marked the genesis of this injured exchange. So keep it simple. Make an offering of a  few honest, authentic, apologetic words. This primes us, and those around us, for maturity – and allows opportunity for restoration and healing in the souls of all involved.

Own it.

Admit it.

Repent.

Apologize.

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19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires….26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. – James 1:19-20, 26

People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 …Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!….17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. – James 3:7-18

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1

Silver and Gold Have I None

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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.

Kill the Beast!!

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Here they come.  You can see them outside the window of your heart as you attempt to hide. They’re gathering supporters in the dark and getting closer.  Carrying their torches and their pitchforks.  Their voices growing louder as they come near yelling.  Shouting.  Thrusting their fires of anger into the air crying “Freak!”, “Traitor!”, “Monster!”.  And then the dreaded roar as they rush forward screaming “Kill the Beast!”

Your crime?  Struggling.  Falling.  Failing at something.  Causing the way that they see you to change.  The expectations that they had of you have been shattered.  And so has your image.  How dare you defy what they believe about you?  How dare you mess up?  How dare you embarrass them?
You are now a failure.  Ugly.  A monster worthy of dragging into the streets and ridiculing – persecuting – abusing in front of the world.  You are nothing short of a hideous beast!

Ever experienced this?  You fail at something and your heart is shattered and broken.  You hide behind your pain because you are ashamed and hurt.  Struggling to forgive yourself.  And to make things even more difficult, your judges seem to be beating down the door to shame you further.  It can make for a challenging recovery.

In those times you can often count the number of those who still love you – unconditionally – even in your “beastly” state – on one hand.  But that hand is critical.  In times of falling and failure it is vital to keep hold of those who are able to look past the mistakes into your damaged heart and are willing to listen, to love, to help, heal and restore.  Whatever you do, don’t push them away.  Don’t hide from these.  Don’t ignore the hand that is reaching out to help in the midst of chaos and judgmentalism.  Grab hold and don’t let go.

And when the fires of anger have subsided – when the soul-piercing shouts of judgment become silent, when the crowd of vigilantes has disbursed and you feel safe again – walk out from the rubble.  With a humble heart, and head held high, take step after stumbling step, hand in hand with those who have been willing to endure the chaos that has resulted from your failing.  And go and tell.

Tell of the obstacles in your path, that you didn’t avoid, that brought about the stumble.  Tell of the turmoil and struggle within your own soul.  Tell of the pain and humiliation of falling… of the endurance and determination that led to recovery and restoration.  And tell of the wonder of unconditional love that has led you out from the rubble.  Your telling may be the salvation of another.

But most importantly remember.  As you see another stumble and fall, remember how you hid and watched the angry mob swarm to persecute you and resist the urge to pick up a torch of judgment and join the crowd yelling “Kill the Beast!”

A God Thing In the Rubble

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One of my best friend’s house burned this past weekend.  The fire started in the rear bedroom and burned so hot that it collapsed the floor and burned everything in the basement.  In the basement had been stored boxes of books that belonged to me…and books are one of the things that I absolutely treasure.

I have learned so many things from reading.  In reading a book I can go places in my mind that my body may never be able to travel.  Words paint pictures in my mind.  I “feel” the heart of the writer when I read.  And God shows me so many things – beyond the written words – in even “every day, ordinary” books…  I absorb those things into my heart like a dry sponge.  Words, especially written, are one of the things that speaks to the very depths of my soul.    So books are a treasure to me.  And now most of them were gone.  Lost in a pile of charred rubble.

I went with my friend to see her home after the fire.  As we stood outside and looked down through that bedroom window into what was left of the basement below, lying on top of the blackness – outside of the pools of black water – was one of the most important books in my life Heart of the Artist.  It’s a book about creativity and the heart of God, worship versus performance, servanthood versus stardom, accountability, and how God can use the heart of the artist to reach into others’ souls and touch even the very deepest and darkest places with His love and His light.  And there it was.  It’s full-color cover was still intact and it stood out to me in the midst of the darkness surrounding it.  And God spoke to me, about my life, through that image…

In the last several years, the things that had brought me feelings of security, those things that I had considered stable in my life, had collapsed.  Things that had been comfortable and safe were gone.  Things that I had invested my life in were no longer there.  All had been lost in the rubble of a world that had fallen down all around me, charred from the fires of conflict and anger, seemingly destroyed.

And for the last several years I’ve cried… watering the rubble that was my life with my tears.  Tears of shame for the marriage that I had lost.  Tears of guilt for the failure that I had become to my children – not living a life that I was willing for them to follow.  Tears of grief for the ministry that I loved passionately, and was no longer able to do… no longer “fit” for in my mind.   So many tears in the last few years.  So many days and nights weeping for things that I had lost hope of ever being restored.  Unable to forgive myself.  Unable to recover, rebuild, or even heal in some of the wounded places of my heart and soul.

Yet as I wept I yearned for that closeness with God again.  I longed to sense Him.  To feel His touch.  To KNOW that He was still there.  That He still heard.  That He still loved.  (Knowing this with regards to others was easy, but accepting it for myself – one of the impossible things in my own mind).  I ached for some kind of confirmation that I was still “worth-it” to Him… that His gifts and callings – in my life – were without repentance… that my heart was still His and His hand was still on my life to minister to others – to use those creative passions in my own heart to touch the hearts of others.  This has been my painful journey for the last 5 years.  Tears of black water over a life of rubble.

Then today I see, untouched, The Heart of the Artist in the midst of a pile of crumbled, charred, tattered debris.

And although my heart is not untouched by the destruction in my life, God showed me – through this simple image – that my heart is still His.  It can be restored.  “Full-color” creativity can be uncovered and recovered by Him.  My gifts and talents are still intact and He still sees me worthy to carry those gifts.

I am humbled by the reminder that in the midst of the rubble that has been my life of late, God can still use the heart of this artist to reach into – and touch – the hearts and souls of others with His love and his light.