You can build on the truth

Life is nuts. Or is it just me? Maybe I only spend time with super busy people, but it feels like everyones’ lives are spinning out of control in the chaos that is our world. We have less time to produce, less time to rest, less time for family, less time for friends, less time for everything in our lives, yet somehow, in spite of working harder and longer than any other civilization in history, we get less done.

The American Dream? Right. It’s a Ferris wheel, spinning around and around and going nowhere. That’s how life feels most days. I don’t mean to be a downer, but can anyone else identify with this feeling?

Chaos. Futility. Constant exhaustion and the overwhelming certainty that you’ll amount to nothing but failure at the end of your life, regardless of how hard you work.

A kitten at Safe Haven Farm giving me a dirty look

A kitten at Safe Haven Farm giving me a dirty look

When I find myself sinking into that mindset, it’s time for a walk. I need to get away from my computer, get out of my own head, and go somewhere else, a place where I can recognize what’s really true and what really isn’t. For me, that’s outside on our patio with a kitten in my lap. For you, it may look different (although you should never discount how soothing the interaction with an animal can be).

Regardless, you have to stop moving. You have to stop thinking. You have to be still. Only when you’re still can you truly let your brain process, otherwise it’ll keep running in the background.

Once I’m still, then I can think. Then, I have to go back to basics.

What do I know for sure?

So much of what I worry about and stress over are unknowns. They’re the things I can’t control, the outcomes I can’t manipulate, the opinions I can’t change. No, none of that is my responsibility, but that doesn’t stop me from freaking out about it. And once I start thinking about all those things, I wind myself up into a ball of nerves and frustration, and before I know it, I’m snapping at people and just feeling generally angry. Then, whatever productivity I might have had goes out the window.

If you can’t identify things you are sure of, there might be something else going on. But I’m willing to bet that everyone knows the grass is green. Everyone knows the sky looks blue. Everyone knows gravity is constant, or at least constant enough to keep us from being flung off this spinning dirtball into the void.

Basics.

The sun will set tonight. It will rise tomorrow. And you can’t do anything to stop it either way. In one minute, sixty seconds will have passed. You need to drink water, or you’ll end up dehydrated. You need to eat, or you’ll starve. And everyone needs hugs, even people who don’t think they do.

What are the basics you know?

ps46-1-3I also know that God is in control. I know God is good. I know He has never promised to leave me. He’s promised to work all the crap in my life out for good, to bring glory to His name and to provide a beautiful future for me. I know He has my best interests in mind and that He’s the only one big enough to weave all the disjointed strings of my life into a masterpiece.

Maybe you don’t know all that. And that’s okay. But I do. There’s no promise that God has made to me that He hasn’t kept. He’s always there. He always keeps me on track. And everything I do, I want to do for Him, because He’s the only one who can make everything work out.

Those are my basics. Those are my certainties. That’s bedrock, where I start building again. Life and the world and people and circumstances can knock down everything I’ve built (and they have), but nothing can touch that foundation. Lord willing, nothing will.

There are several times in the Bible where God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” He says it so many times, and I don’t know why it’s so easy to forget. But if we can just remember to be still—to stop moving and thinking and running ahead—and remind ourselves who God is and what He’s promised, life won’t feel so chaotic anymore.

Because once you know one truth, you can build on it. Because rock is solid, storms won’t move it. Because storms won’t move it, you can build on it. Because you can build on it, you can restore what you lost.

Because God is God, we can trust Him. Think about what you can build on that truth.

God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Psalm 46:1-3

Life is nuts, but God is good. And even if it doesn’t feel like it, He’s got it all under control. So stop chasing your tail. Take a minute. Remember who He is, and if you don’t know who He is, learn. Then, ask Him for help. He won’t turn you away, and He won’t ignore you, not if you truly come to Him for help. He may not give you the answer you want, but if you really trust Him, you’ll do what He says.

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My life as a portrait mosaic

I don’t remember the first time I saw a portrait mosaic. I think I was sitting in a doctor’s office or a waiting room somewhere, and at first I wondered if it were some kind of new impressionistic art. The image was all fuzzy and out of focus, and I didn’t understand why it would be framed and displayed.

Well, I just had to look closer.

mosaic-eyeThat one big image was actually made of a ton of smaller images. Probably tens of thousands of little images all came together in one big portrait. I don’t remember what the subject of the portrait was, but the concept stuck with me.

Life is a portrait mosaic

I have my own little picture of my life. I know its shape and size. I know what colors it has. I know the subjects in it. I know what it focuses on. I know because I can see it. It’s my life. I know what it looks like.

You have one too. Everybody does.

Little stories, big picture

We all have an idea of what the portrait of our life looks like. It’s smooth and in focus. It’s not missing any pieces. And it’s perfectly cohesive from one corner to the next. That’s what we see.

But if you look look closer, you’ll realize that your big life portrait is actually made up of many smaller portraits. We all live more than one story. We all experience events in our lives that change who we are and challenge what we believe.

Not everything that’s happened in my life has been happy. Not every choice I’ve made has been good. But God is big enough that He’s taken all those dark spots in my life and fitted them perfectly into the grand portrait of my life.

This is what we’ve got to remember. Just because there’s an experience we’ve had that wasn’t positive doesn’t mean our lives are over. As much as it would be nice to imagine a life full of nothing but happy memories, that’s not how it works.

We live in a broken world

Our first parents broke the world long ago, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of their actions. Nobody is perfect. No life is perfect. No relationships are perfect. So that means we’re all trying to build a life using broken pieces, and it’s not something we have the power to do.

But God does.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28

This verse has been used too much probably, but isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it comforting? If you belong to Jesus, if you’re seeking His heart, you can trust that everything happening in your life will ultimately turn out good. Because God is good, even if your circumstances aren’t.

Maybe you lost your job. Maybe a loved one has died. Maybe you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, or maybe you’ve just endured the end of a relationship you thought you’d never lose. Those are all bad things. Nobody’s saying they’re good.

But God is big enough to take those bad things and plug them into a bigger picture where they will play a role in making a beautiful story come to life. That negative experience will just be a part of the larger picture. After all, portraits have to include shadows, or else the image won’t be realistic.

Life might stink right now. It’s okay. Say it. God never promised that life wouldn’t stink. He actually promised the exact opposite (John 16:33). What He did promise is that we wouldn’t have to go through those times of difficulty and suffering alone (Matthew 28:20). He also promised that those dark moments we have to endure won’t be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).
mosaic-pin-1When we see one part of a portrait, God sees the whole piece in its entirety. We may only be able to see one pixel right now, and that pixel might be blacker than the pit. But even the brightest painting still has a few flecks of darkness in it. How do you know you aren’t just seeing one of those?

And if the opposite is true and all you see are the good moments, understand that you’ll have to go through some bad stuff too. Everyone does. But a bad situation doesn’t have to ruin your life. A bad situation can be the stepping stone you use to climb higher than you’ve been before.

So instead of focusing on one picture, try looking for the others. You can’t see things from God’s perspective, but you can trust Him when he says He’s got it under control. He sees the whole picture when we see just a small piece.

A masterpiece can’t make itself

I’ve just been handed an intense copywriting project that requires me to dig into the recesses of my mind for plumbing engineering specs I haven’t thought about in two years. It’s going to take a whole day of fierce concentration to get everything done. I get started, and before long, I’m deeply submerged in the realm of copper tubing, sealing elements, and recirculation systems.

And my phone rings. Or somebody knocks on my office door. Or somebody needs to ask me a question in general.

Snap. Just like that. My train of thought derails. I lose the sentences I’m crafting. And the beautiful, concise paragraph I’d been forming in my brain disintegrates, never to be seen again.

Yes, I’m exaggerating (but only slightly).

I hate being interrupted, and I don’t always handle it with grace. I’m better about it than I used to be (experience is a hard teacher), but I still struggle.

When I’m working, I get so deep into the zone of my thoughts that when someone jerks me out of those thoughts, I feel disoriented and confused. It takes me a few moments to realign myself so I can even communicate. Then, once I’ve answered the question or provided the solution, I have to find a way to jump back into the project. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can’t. Either way, I probably won’t find my way back to exactly where I was before.

And that’s okay. Part of adulting is learning how to pick up the pieces of your shattered concentration and keep moving forward. But when you have to change directions halfway through a project, often, your project won’t turn out like you originally intended.

Have you ever considered how God feels when we interrupt Him?

In Ephesians 2:10, God calls us His workmanship. That word means masterpiece. My life, and your life, are all part of God’s brilliant, beautiful, perfect plan. He’s designed a life and a future just for you and just for me, based on who we really are and what He created us to do.

We’re God’s masterpieces. We’re His works of art. But it will take our lifetimes on Earth to get us to the place where we’re complete. Want to know why? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I get in God’s way.

I interrupt His plans with my own actions and half-brained attempts at controlling my own life. And while He can take the broken threads of my life and weave a beautiful piece of art from them, how much more beautiful would it have been if I hadn’t interfered in the first place?

Yes, God is Almighty, and there’s nothing I can do to screw up my life to the point where He can’t redeem it. But what if I hadn’t stuck my fingers into the frosting to begin with?

ephesians-2-10I often think of God as a sculptor, and I see myself as a shapeless block of marble, unyielding, stubborn, and not worth much at face value. And God, in His infinite patience and wisdom and artistry, chip-chip-chips away at my rough spots with His chisel and hammer. He looks at the ugly corners of my life and sees something majestic and beautiful, and He has the power to make something amazing from it.

But it isn’t always a fun process. Sometimes it hurts.

When I interrupt Him and try to fix myself, I only end up making more rough spots that He’ll ultimately have to chisel away. When I try to take control of my own life, I make more work for Him.

I go down roads I shouldn’t. I listen to people who are wrong. I look to idols to tell me what I should look like or how I should act. And instead of submitting to the design that He has for my life, I start trying to chisel myself into a shape that He’ll accept. But have you ever seen marble try to chisel itself? Even if it could, it wouldn’t turn out pretty.

A masterpiece can’t make itself.

God sees me. He’s the only one who really can see me. He knows my flaws and my failures. He knows my rough spots. But He can look beyond all those blemishes and see my true value. Since He’s the only one who can see it, He’s the only one who can bring it out. He knows what needs to be cut out of my life in order to let the best of me shine through.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

God is more gracious about being interrupted than I am, and I can take a lesson from that. I can learn to be kinder when I react to interruptions. I can learn to be persistent and keep trying even when my thoughts and plans are derailed. And maybe I will learn to not interrupt God with my own feeble attempts at control.

He’s the artist. I’m the masterpiece. And I can’t wait to see what He’s creating.

Tomorrow will be better if you wait

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap] like coffee. Any kind of coffee. Hot or cold, blended or iced, black or with cream, Americano or latte, plain or flavored. Whatever. I like it all. In the heat of summertime in Kansas, there’s almost nothing better than a big Frappucino from Starbucks (yes, I like Starbucks coffee).

I didn’t used to like them, though, because they didn’t last very long. And once I finished, I was left with a cup full of partially melted ice mixed with watered-down coffee and slightly chocolate-flavored foamy stuff. Bleck! It was so much better to get hot coffee and sip it slowly.

But during the summer in Kansas where we had more than 30 days over 100 degrees, I broke down and bought a Frappucino. But something happened, and I had to let it sit for a moment before I could come back to it. And guess what? When I was done, I didn’t have ice left.

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But the next time I got a Frappucino, I let it sit for a little while, and the same thing happened. I let the ice get started melting, and I sipped it slowly. It lasted much longer, and it tasted much better than it did when I drank it all quickly.

It was better to wait

But waiting is hard. It takes effort and discipline. It takes concentration because you have to constantly remind yourself why you’re choosing to wait. You have to force your brain to remember that the end result will be better if you just hold your horses.

I’m not good at waiting. I see a path that looks promising, and I want to run down it at full speed, barefoot, hair loose, no bags packed or itinerary planned. And I don’t care if I skin my knees or break my toes or have to turn around seven times. At least I’m moving forward, right?

But sometimes moving forward only causes more trouble.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]You don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued.[/su_pullquote]

Think about quicksand. Your instinct is to fight to escape, to kick and thrash and flail, but that only makes you sink faster. But you don’t escape from quicksand; you’re rescued. And your best hope to survive is to hold still and wait.

Life’s like that too. But if you think that waiting is the same as doing nothing, you’re wrong.

Waiting is hardest job you’ll ever work. It’s the most challenging class in the school of hard knocks. It’s the most impossible obstacle course you’ll ever run.

Our culture has forgotten how to wait. We live in a world of instant gratification. We’re ruled by our watches and our calendars, and we’ve learned to settle for what’s passable and immediate rather than what’s excellent and inconvenient.

I’m so guilty of this, but I learned the hard way that I can’t rush God.

lam3-26He’s got plans for me, just like He has plans for you. But no matter how badly I want to achieve His goal for my life, I don’t get to decide when it happens. I can strive and fight and push and run as hard as I can, but I can’t move Him. God does what He wants. I can’t change that. And if I really understood His plans, I wouldn’t want to change it.

The Bible says it’s good to wait on God (Lamentations 3:26). I struggle with that. Nothing about waiting is good. It turns your stomach upside down. It turns your hair gray. It makes you cranky and irritable.

Or does it? Does waiting really do all that? Or do we do that to ourselves because we refuse to relinquish control of our lives, our dreams, our plans to the Person who already owns them?

Stuck in summer

I wake up in the morning, and I stare down a beautiful curving path into an autumn forest. Line with golden-leafed trees, blazing red maples and shimmering, white-barked aspens, and it smells like cinnamon and nutmeg and joy. There’s a giant pile of leaves just ready for me to dive into, and pumpkin-flavored everything is waiting just out of reach.

But I can’t get there because I’m stuck in summer. In the heat and the deadness of post-harvest dirt. There’s no end in sight. And I want that world so badly I can taste it, and I can see exactly how I’m supposed to get there. So why shouldn’t I run? Why shouldn’t I just leap forward and reach for that dream? It’s right there.

[su_pullquote] While I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is.[/su_pullquote]

But it isn’t just right there. I can’t see the twists and turns. I can’t see the distance or the effort or the disappointments or the successes that I’ll need to experience before I get there. But God can. And that’s why I have to wait.

That’s why waiting matters. That’s why waiting is good. Just like a Frappucino is better once the ice has started melting, tomorrow will be better if I wait until God says it’s time to run.

lam3-22-23Choosing to wait is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making the conscious decision to set aside what I want right now in favor of what God wants right now has taken more faith than I thought I had. But I’m still here. I’m still waiting. And I’m not going to stop, because while I’m waiting, I’m learning who God is and who He wants me to be.

Every morning, I get to start over fresh (Lamentations 3:22-24). New day, new mercy, same God. He doesn’t change. He won’t be rushed. And His timing really is perfect.