Blooming Bushes

Liam and I skipped our daily walk a few days ago, but when we resumed it the following morning, I was delighted to see that all of the green bushes bordering the pathway were bursting forth in full color with hundreds of tiny, purple blossoms.

It was a good reminder to me that life doesn’t always just suddenly change for the worse. It can change for the better, too.

There are plenty of present-day examples of this–an engagement or beginning of life as a married couple, a positive pregnancy test, a new job, a promotion, a move to a new city (or new residence, for that matter), or a granted scholarship promising further education and adventures to come. Life is full of positive changes, some more unexpected than others.

As I think about how quickly circumstances can change, I’m hopeful in knowing that this year can swifty improve as well.

The truth is, all our present trials are like an insect under God’s foot. He could squash them whenever He chooses. He doesn’t need the strategies we have worked so hard to implement this year nor the remedies or solutions that we are currently striving to find.

It would be nothing to Him to cause these present problems to dissipate.  He is God, and there is no one or no thing more powerful than Him.

Nonetheless,  He has allowed these current difficulties to continue for this season for His good purposes, and we have to choose to believe that and to fuel our faith in the beauty that He is bringing out of ashes. I know I’ve heard several stories about individuals placing their faith in Jesus as a result of these present trials. I’m so thankful that people are finding new life in Christ in the midst of a year that is so focused on sickness and death.

Still, I’m encouraged to pray that the fullness of God’s work through this pandemic will come to a completion soon, and I’m hopeful that its end will be just as unexpected and beautiful as the purple blossoms on all those blooming  bushes.

Breathe

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-pixabay-39669.jpg
Photo taken from Pixabay

If I had to choose a word to describe this year so far, it would be breath. It has undoubtedly been the greatest determining factor as to how we have experienced these last eight months worldwide.

Because the coronavirus is thought to be spread by inhaling the respiratory particles of an infected person,1 it was the cause of a quarantine across our nation and around the globe earlier this year. It has also encouraged and even mandated social distancing and face masks in certain states.

It has caused restaurants, schools, sporting events, stores, and churches to close their doors for a time (and for some of them to stay shut). Furthermore, once an individual is infected by the coronavirus, breath becomes an even greater concern since COVID-19 is a respiratory illness2 that, for some people, leads to hospitalization and possible death.

If all this were not enough to convince a person of the underlying theme of breath this year, we must not forget how pronounced this idea was in late May and early June as individuals started to inundate social media with three simple words— “I can’t breathe.”

This statement echoed George Floyd’s own words before he died a horrific and unjust death, but it speaks so aptly to this year in general. I can’t breathe. The truth is, this year has probably left us all feeling like we can’t breathe at some point or another, regardless of our reasons. How can we catch our breath, after all, when so much tragedy has occurred in such a short amount of time?

Years ago, I was given a One-Year Study Bible as a gift, and as I started to read it, I was intrigued by the emerging theme of breath throughout its pages.

One of the ideas that struck me most was how often individuals were brought to life when God placed breath within them, the most glorious example being how mankind came to be.

When God created Adam, He formed his body out of dust. Adam did not come to life, however, until God breathed the breath of life into him (Gen 2:7).

We see a similar example in Ezekiel 37 when God tells Ezekiel to prophesy over the dry bones. As he does, God causes tendons, flesh, and skin to cover them so that they become bodies once again. Nonetheless, it is not until Ezekiel prophesies to the breath by the Lord’s command that these bodies are given life and stand to their feet as a vast army (Ezekiel 37:10).

Similarly, the two witnesses in Revelation are brought back to life three and a half days after they are killed when God places the breath of life into their dead bodies (Revelation 11:11).

What fascinates me about these passages is the fact that God was so intentional to place the breath of life into each of them. He is also intentional to do so with us today. Our lives did not happen by accident. They have been God’s doing. We are truly in His hands.

Another idea that stood out to me throughout Scriptures was how often a person’s life was described as a breath. Consider the following passages:

“You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.”Psalm 39:5

LORD, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.Psalm 144:3-4

As I read these passages (and others) years ago, it changed the way I thought about my own life. I started to view it as a breath that God had breathed into me, and its length would be only as long as a slow exhale at most. As a result of these insights, I had some questions to ponder. What would I exhale? Would I breathe out the air God had breathed into me? Or would I merely exhale my own hot air?

I don’t think of these questions very often, but I should. I have the opportunity to determine what air I will breathe every day. I get to choose what I will inhale and what I will exhale consequently, so I need to be deliberate about what I am breathing in.

Recently, as I was rereading the passages mentioned above, I stumbled upon a well-known passage from 2 Timothy. It states the following:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”2 Timothy 3:16

This passage only confirms to me that, if I am going to exhale the “breath of God” regularly, I need to do so by inhaling His God-breathed Scripture daily. The more I allow His Word to permeate my heart and mind, the more my own short “exhale of life” will reflect Him in my words and actions.

In a year in which we are asked to restrict the breadth of our physical breath and thus slow the spread of the coronavirus, let’s deeply exhale our life in a way in which the Gospel and God’s Word will be spread to others. Let’s use our breath to speak words of life into others through truth, encouragement, and lasting hope in God. This world needs the breath of life in a way that it has never known before, so let’s be a reflection of the Breath-Giver in whatever way we can and see what He does as a result.

1 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#Spread

2 https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-vs-sars

How Love Can Move You

Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

A few weeks ago, I was looking through some old documents and found an excerpt from the summer in which I met JJ. Although we had just met, we knew that we were mutually interested in each other and were getting to know each other better as a result. As I pondered what the future might hold, I wrote the following words:

Lately I find myself thinking about relationships more. I would like to be in one, and I ask myself quite a bit nowadays what I would be willing to do for a relationship. Would I be willing to move to another country (or even another state, for that matter) for a relationship? Would I be willing to switch gears and leave a ministry position or move into a different ministry position in order to be in a relationship?

A lot of times, it is hard to think about doing any of those things if I didn’t have thoughts of moving to those places or doing those new things in the first place. But I keep coming back to the same conclusion—I would be willing to do a lot of things to be with the man I loved, and knowing he loved me would inspire me to be daring and try new things.

Thinking of this makes me think of my relationship with Jesus. It makes me wonder how much I love Him. He has called me to go to new places with Him, and I have been willing to go. He has also called me to some new job positions, and so far, I have been willing to accept those positions. However, will I always feel this way? Do I feel this way even now? I recognize my need to ask Him to cause my love for Him to grow and to be sustained. I also recognize my need to remember how great His love is for me. When I am confident of His love for me and love Him in return, I am willing to do so much more than I ever dreamed possible, and I know that is exactly where I need to be.

It seems appropriate to have found this entry recently. JJ and I are once again waiting to hear about a job he applied for earlier this summer. We should know no later than the first week of August.  If he gets it, that will mean a move to the Northeast.

I was originally excited about the possibility. I am one of those odd people that likes to move. I like packing, cleaning, the actual move to the new place, and the unpacking that follows. I guess the whole ordeal gives me a huge sense of accomplishment in the end.

My excitement has been waning as of late, however. JJ mentioned how much it will snow there in passing last night. It’s something I knew, and I’m used to the snow since I grew up in Colorado. Nonetheless, I have lived in warmer climates for over a decade now, and I’m not too fond of the idea of cold, snowy days. Also, Liam has been waking up early for more than a week now (before 6 a.m.), and the lack of sleep I have been getting because of it makes a move feel overwhelming.

There are, of course, some general concerns regarding COVID-19 as well. The pandemic would definitely complicate a move, and it would be hard not to get to hug my friends goodbye.

I’m still willing, however. I love JJ, and wherever he goes is where I want to be. I also know that JJ loves Liam and me and only considers job positions in places where he believes our family could thrive. I am very thankful for that.

Even so, I believe it is God’s love that should thrust us toward a possible new place to call home—not our own for each other.

Our own ideas and knowledge are limited, after all. As much as we have researched about the Northeast and the new job that JJ would have, we don’t know everything about this position or place. We won’t truly know if this will be a good fit for our family unless or until we go.

God knows, however. And He knows if this is what He has in store for us. He has known all along. If we go, it will be because He moves us there and has lovingly determined these next steps for us.

That’s not to say that we won’t have struggles. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that we will think the Northeast is a good fit for us if we go. But if this is where God guides us, we can trust Him in it because He loves us, and we can have faith that He will open our eyes to see His goodness in it, no matter how differently we may have thought life would be.

Although most people probably can’t relate to the idea of a possible physical move right now, I believe that God would like to move all of us in unexpected ways this year (and He probably already has in many ways).

How does He want to move you at this time? Perhaps He wants to lead you to volunteer at a food bank in the midst of the economic hardship so many have encountered this year. Or perhaps He is moving you to donate blood. Maybe you sense Him directing you to talk to your neighbors as you pass them on your daily walk or He is challenging you to call your friends or family that have yet to begin a personal relationship with Him.

The things God is calling us to do may be challenging. We may struggle in the midst of trying to obey Him. But let us pray that God would cause our love for Him to grow and that we would understand His love for us more fully. When we are confident of His love for us and love Him in return, we will be willing to do so much more than we ever dreamed possible, and that, my friend, is exactly where we need to be.

Let Freedom Ring

A few weeks ago, Liam and I saw an educational clip during the commercial segment of his favorite cartoon on Nickelodeon. It was about Juneteenth, a holiday observed on June 19th in recognition of the liberation of the last of the slaves in 1865.

The sobering part about this story is that Abraham Lincoln had issued the emancipation proclamation over two years prior to this event. In essence, the individuals who were still serving as slaves were free, but they didn’t know it. No one had bothered to tell them until almost two and a half years later.

I find the parallels between the historical events of this day and the life of a modern Christian at times to be astounding.

Before we came to know Jesus as our Savior, we, too, were slaves. We were held in bondage by sin. But when we placed our faith in Jesus, He wrote an emancipation proclamation over our lives. We were set free.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:36

How easy it is, however, to live as if we were still slaves. We have an enemy that would do anything within his power to make us succumb to our old master, and we also have our own sinful flesh to battle against daily.

Just as the Civil War had to be fought to give slaves their freedom, a civil war wages in our minds each day, and the outcome of each battle will determine if we walk in the freedom we have been given. Will we surrender to sin or to righteousness?

It is a battle that, first and foremost, we must face with the truth by abiding in God’s Word, as stated in the following Scripture:

 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Freedom, then, is found in knowing and believing the truth and seeing who we are through the lens of truth.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I began a long and arduous journey into weight loss. It was one that spread over the span of ten years, so you can guess that it was not an easy road for me. It took more discipline and self-control than I thought I could ever possess, and I found myself asking God to give me them often. I messed up a lot during this time; I ate too much junk food at times and put on some of the weight I had lost. But I didn’t give up. I started afresh each time and asked God to help me all the more. And I believe He did. Now, over ten years later, I have been able to maintain the seventy pounds I’ve lost, and I have more confidence, energy, and overall feel more healthy than I ever did in my twenties (Is it just me, or is this starting to sound like a commercial?).

After losing the first forty pounds, which happened within the first two to three years of my weight-loss journey, I started to feel a conflict of identity. Whenever I went to a store to try on clothes, I would always go to the women’s section first. I would then have to remind myself that I was smaller than that and force myself over to the misses’ section of clothing, all the while feeling like a fraud and insecure over what other people must be thinking as they saw me browsing the clothes in that section.

The truth is, I still felt like a bigger woman. I felt pigeon-holed into that identity because I had been overweight since early childhood, so I had learned to see myself in that way and to accept it as an ingrained part of my identity.

Not long after my own mental struggle began, I started to hear about other people having the same issue. It’s apparently a common problem among people who lose weight rapidly.

I have overcome this battle since, but it was not a battle won overnight. I achieved victory through constantly reminding myself of whom I had physically become. I’m glad I got to that point. I couldn’t truly enjoy the transformation I had gone through until I did.

As believers, we have all gone through a transformation. We have been given new identities.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

2 Corinthians 5:17

Just as I had to recite the truth to myself about my size, however, we will often find that we need to recite the truth about who we are in Christ to ourselves. We will have to remind ourselves that we no longer need to shop in our former section of clothing, because God has clothed us in His righteousness.

After the individuals that had been owned as slaves were set free, they and their descendants still had a long road ahead of them in order to obtain equal rights. Although the United States has made progress in this aspect, the fight for complete equality still persists today.

As followers of Christ, we were given rights the moment we believed. Among them, we have been given the right to be called children of God and have been made co-heirs with Christ as a result. This was not something we had to fight for or earn for ourselves. We will not live in the fullness of what God has granted us, however, unless we are once again willing to engage in the battle for our minds. It is still a matter of knowing and believing the truth and seeing ourselves through the lens of truth. It is still a matter of abiding in God’s Word so that we can recognize truth when we see it, and consequently reject a lie when we see one as well.

As the 4th of July draws to an end here in the United States, and we celebrate our own independence and freedom as a nation, I pray that we will become more aware of the freedom we have been given in Christ and understand the battle for our minds in which we must engage. Furthermore, as we fight, I pray that we would do so by immersing ourselves in the truth found in God’s Word. Let us never again live as if we were slaves, because Jesus Himself went to battle on our behalf to give us this freedom through His death on the cross. He shed His blood so that we might have the victory, so let us live in the fullness of our freedom as a result!

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:57

The Tapestry

Ten years ago, I bought the tapestry pictured above on a mission trip. I hadn’t intended to buy anything so early into the project, but I couldn’t resist the intricacy and vibrant colors of this cloth, and I’m glad I couldn’t. It has served as a reminder to me of how I need to view and live life, especially in those moments when I can’t make sense of it.

After buying the tapestry, I started to think of my life as a thread—a thread whose length and color had been determined by God, and He held it in His hands, masterfully weaving it into the tapestry that He was creating of all time.

Just as many tapestries don’t use a thread of color in one spot only, I saw how God was weaving the thread of my life into different places and intertwining it with different people at different times. And even though I couldn’t necessarily see a pattern emerging out of my life, I knew I could trust God to weave my life into His tapestry in a way in which it would be part of a far greater design, and He would be glorified by it, regardless of how little I understood it at times.

The truth is, the summer of that mission trip felt very random to me. It was beautiful, for sure—one full of adventure and new experiences and big steps of faith. But I couldn’t understand why He had prepared certain places and events for me that summer, as thankful as I was. I couldn’t see a clear theme or make any sense out of it all. Nonetheless, I decided I would focus on pleasing Him, even when I didn’t understand His purposes. And I would trust that He knew exactly what He was doing with my life. The tapestry helped to cement those ideas in my mind.

Ten years later, life feels random once again, but in a very distinct way. This year has been full of tragedies, including the global pandemic in which we still find ourselves today and by which our lives continue to be grossly affected.

This year has felt haphazard at best. I don’t doubt that God is in control and that He is using these worldwide events to draw men and women to Him. Still, I can’t make sense of what God is doing in my own life in particular. I once again fail to see a theme to it all.

It is in times like these that I need to think about that tapestry. I need to remind myself that God still has the thread of my life in His hands, and He is still weaving it into His design in the way He desires. He knew that our lives would intertwine with this year and all of its chaotic moments from before time began, and He is still masterfully weaving our threads into this year as He sees fit. We only need to make it our aim to please Him, regardless of how much or little we understand.

One day, when this earth has passed away and Jesus calls us home, I imagine an unveiling of this tapestry that He is creating. Although we can only see bits and pieces of it from the backside here on earth, we will see the final product on full display from the perspective of the Master Weaver on that day.

Perhaps this year will be one of the intricate patterns to the piece. Perhaps other hard seasons of our lives will also form an intricate design on the cloth. Whatever the case may be, there is one thing I know—that Jesus’ life will be woven into every thread of ours. It will be at the center of the piece and will cover every inch in which our life as a believer is woven. And as we gaze at the beauty and splendor of this tapestry, our knees will buckle under the weight of God’s glory, and we will bow down and worship Him with thankful hearts for how He graciously wove our own lives into His incredible masterpiece, this story of all mankind.

In our moments when obedience to Him feels random, and we can’t understand what God is up to, let’s keep this image in mind and keep offering our lives to Him to use as He desires. We only have to focus on obeying Him and to keep having faith that one day we will see that tapestry in all its fullness.

Until then, may God help us to live by faith and not by sight. May we trust that He is using us in His master design, especially in those moments that don’t make any sense to us.

Let Your Light Shine

Years ago, a friend of mine told me about how she used to read Corrie Ten Boom’s story every year.

I don’t recall the full extent of our conversation anymore, but I do remember a few details. The gist of it was about a question that a person in the book had asked Corrie Ten Boom. Namely, how was she able to save so many Jews during the Nazi regime? How did she and her family set out on such an endeavor?

Corrie Ten Boom humbly answered that she and her family hadn’t sought out Jews to save. Rather, many Jews had looked for them because of the reputation that she and her family had made for themselves before the war.

Years before the holocaust, the Ten Boom family had determined to be a blessing to their community. They provided food to the hungry, gave money to the needy, and hosted children whose parents were missionaries in different countries. Corrie also started a girl’s club in which she taught the young ladies about faith and practical matters, such as sewing.1

The Ten Booms were guided by their faith in all aspects of life, and they stood out to the community because of that faith in action. Therefore, when the darkness of the Nazi regime permeated the Ten Boom’s town, the Ten Boom’s light shone all the brighter.

I’m reminded of Matthew 6:33 as I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s story and what she and her family were able to accomplish.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The Ten Booms lived this verse out beautifully.

A little over a month ago, I went jogging around the neighborhood. As I reached the last stretch of my jog, I looked up and saw the light pole pictured above.

At mid-morning, it was shining brightly, oblivious to the sun that was overpowering it or the fact that the other light poles on the block had turned off for the day, ready to rest and prepare for their night shift later that evening.

I felt compelled to take a picture of this peculiar light pole that morning. It seemed too symbolic not to. So I pulled out my phone and managed to capture a crooked shot of the image as I jogged by, and I’m so glad I did. The light pole reminded me of what my friend had told me about Corrie Ten Boom years earlier. It also reminded me of something I had prayed for at the beginning of this year—that I would be a light in my neighborhood.

As the year began, I felt very much like that light pole. It seemed as if I was trying to be a light on a sunny day. Nonetheless, I continued to pray that God would make me a light and started to make plans as to how I could further invest in the lives of my neighbors and be a blessing to them.

Little did I know how futile those plans would be.

“A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

As Covid-19 swept over the globe and disrupted our normal routine and that of countless others, I found all of my plans crumbling to dust beneath my feet.

It was ironic to think that God had most likely put the desire on my heart to be a light to my neighborhood when I was essentially “hiding it under a bushel,” or, in my case, in my home under quarantine.

I find this is how God works many times, however. He takes what seems impossible and makes a way.

While I found myself alone with my son at home most days, God was opening a door to have conversations with my neighbors through text messages. It has been through this means that I have been able to send them a link to the Gospel message (the one I sent them can be found here: http://www.4laws.com/laws/englishkgp/default.htm) and have also been able to invite them to my church’s online services.

In the more recent past, I have had even more opportunities to have contact with them from across the street or between yards, and even though we haven’t been able to have deep and meaningful conversations through this means, I do not take these moments for granted and trust that God is at work even in simple moments like these.

Not only have I seen God giving me opportunities to be a light through creative means, but I am hearing stories from other friends who are meeting new neighbors for the first time through daily walks or more time spent outside. Only God could take a global moment of isolation and separation to allow His children to get to meet people they may have never known otherwise. I’m so thankful for how He works.

The darkness continues to close in among this nation and our world. Although I have been aware of it before now, I don’t know if it has ever felt as thick to me as it does now. But perhaps this is what it takes for us, as believers, to truly be lights that make a difference in this world. Perhaps this is how our lights will truly shine and others will be drawn to that, and ultimately to Jesus.

I am reminded of my need to kindle this flame each day, but I am also painfully aware of my shortcomings to be a light each day as well. Nonetheless, I am confident of what the following verse from Phillipians 1:6 says:

“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…”

In the meantime, I’m going to keep asking God to help me be a light.

1 https://www.biography.com/activist/corrie-ten-boom

Nothing is Too Broken

My niece is celebrating her 13th birthday this month, and in honor of the occasion, I wanted to share a children’s story I wrote for her several years ago by the title of “Nothing is Too Broken.As broken as our world is nowadays, all I can say is this–I’m glad that this title is true. I’m glad that nothing is too broken for God and His purposes.

So without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy the story! I hope it is a blessing to you today.

Photo by Tim Mossholder from pexels.com

Carianna woke up earlier than usual for a Saturday morning. She couldn’t sleep well last night because she was too excited. Today was her ninth birthday! The smell of waffles wafted to her room, and she went to the kitchen to investigate. There her mom was, making a special breakfast for the birthday girl.

“Happy birthday, my beautiful girl!” her mom, Megan, exclaimed as she rushed around the counter to give her sweet daughter a hug.

“Thanks, Mom,” Carianna replied with a smile.

Carianna helped her mom set the table for her special breakfast, and then soon she, her mom, her brother, and her dad were sitting around the table eating the delicious meal.

The day proved to be a busy, fun day. She and her family went to the zoo with a few of her friends, where they got to go on a camel ride.

Later that evening, after she and her family washed the dust and sweat off from their zoo outing, they went to Carianna’s favorite restaurant and then returned home to enjoy the strawberry shortcake and vanilla ice cream that her mom had made.

As the evening was nearing an end, her family presented her with what she was long awaiting—the gifts! She received a mermaid blanket, hair chalk, and a nail kit.

“Thank you!” Carianna exclaimed, smiling contentedly as she hugged her presents.

“We have one more for you,” her mother stated. She and her father then left the room and came back with a big present that had a bed sheet over it.

Carianna pulled off the sheet to see a small, multi-colored glass table.

“Wow!” Carianna exclaimed.

“Do you remember how you asked me for this table a couple of months ago?” her mom asked.

“Yes, I do!” she stated. “I wanted this table to put my alarm clock on it in my room. I just thought it was going to be too expensive to get as a present.”

“Well, it was a bit expensive,” her dad chimed in as he gave her a hug. “But I worked some extra hours last month so that we could buy this for you. We knew how much you wanted it.”

“Thanks, Mom and Dad!” Carianna exclaimed as she gave them a hug.

Her mom and dad helped her put the table in her room that night, and she put her presents on top of it to sleep with them nearby. Today truly had been a special day. She felt like a princess. And she knew she was loved by her family and friends.

The weeks went on, and Carianna continued to enjoy her new gifts and life in general.

One day, however, all of that changed.

One of Carianna’s friends came over to play one afternoon, and in her eagerness to go outside and ride bikes with her friend, she threw a book she had been reading onto the glass table.

As soon as the book hit the table, the glass tabletop came down with a thud.

Carianna screamed and then started to cry.

Megan heard her and rushed to her room.

“What happened?” she asked with concern. “Are you okay?”

“I am,” Carianna wailed, “but look at my table!”

Megan looked to see the table lying on the floor, in pieces.

“Well, let’s clean this up,” Megan replied.

The two carefully picked up the pieces of the table and placed them in a cardboard box.

“It’s ruined, Mom!” Carianna cried. “My new gift is ruined!”

“Don’t cry,” Carianna’s mom comforted her as she wiped her tears away. “We can still use this for something.”

“I don’t see what,” Carianna stated grumpily, then started to cry again.

Megan held her close and let her cry. Carianna later went outside to play with her friend. Megan had encouraged her to go play. It would be good for her to get her mind off of what had happened. In the meantime, Megan thought about what to do with the broken gift.

Several weeks later, Megan told Carianna, “I have a surprise for you.”

“What is it?” Carianna asked as she looked up from what she had been reading.

“Come with me,” Megan stated.

Carianna and Megan went to the kitchen where a beautiful, colorful vase was sitting in the middle of the table.

“Wow, Mom! That’s beautiful!” Carianna gushed.

“Do you know where I got the material from?” Megan asked her.

“Is it from my table?” Carianna asked.

“Yes, it is.” Megan smiled.

“I love it, Mom,” Carianna told her. “Thanks!”

Later that day, Carianna and her mother picked out flowers from the store for Carianna to put in her new vase. Carianna had never seen a vase so big or colorful before. She absolutely loved it and loved the fact that her mom put so much work into it to make it a precious gift for her. She had the best mom in the world.

A week later, however, when Carianna was hanging a picture on the wall, the picture fell and dropped directly onto the vase, breaking both the vase and the picture.

“It’s no use, Mom,” Carianna wailed. “This gift just keeps breaking. It’s hopeless!”

“It’s not hopeless,” Megan remarked.

“Yes, it is!” Carianna retorted, and then ran out of the room crying.

Megan picked up the broken pieces once again and placed them in the same cardboard box from last time. The pieces were much smaller than they had been before, but they were so vibrant in color that they were beautiful just as they were. Surely, she could still use them for something. All of the sudden, she had an idea. She knew it would take time and a lot of detail, but she was willing to put in the effort.

The weeks passed, and while Carianna was busy with the new school year, Megan was busy working away in their shed on the glass project.

Carianna had no idea what her mother was doing, but whenever she thought about the two accidents that had occurred with her gift, she felt sad. Nonetheless, she tried to focus on her other gifts and her friends and school. She had a pretty good life.

Finally, a month after the last accident, Carianna’s mom approached her.

“Carianna,” her mom said. “Do you remember how you thought that your gift was completely ruined?”

“Yes,” Carianna sadly replied.

“Well, I have been working on something in the shed, and I want to show it to you.”

The mother and daughter walked to the shed, and Megan opened the shed doors to reveal the most beautiful piece of art that Carianna had ever seen. It was a stained-glass window!

“Is this, is this from the broken vase?” Carianna stuttered, barely able to believe what she was seeing. How could such beauty come from something so broken?

“It sure is!” Her mom exclaimed with a smile.

“Wow, Mom! How did you do this?”

“Well,” she slowly replied as she traced the outline of the glass with her index finger, “It wasn’t easy, but I read lots of books and took a class where the teachers were able to help me design and create this, and this is what came to be.”

“Do you like it?” she asked her daughter.

Carianna nodded and then rushed to her mother’s side to give her a hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“I was thinking that we could take out the window in your bedroom and install this,” her mom told her. “Your dad knows how to do that. We would just need to buy a few items at the hardware store.”

Carianna nodded again. She was too overcome with emotion to say anything. She loved the stained-glass window even more than she had loved the table. And she knew that this was an even greater display of her mom’s love to her because she knew that the intricate work must have taken a lot of time.

That weekend, they scheduled a trip to go to the hardware store. However, before they left, Carianna had an idea.

“Mom, would it be okay with you if we gave the stained-glass window to the church?” she asked timidly. “It’s so pretty that I think everyone should enjoy it.”

“Is that what you really want to do?” her mom asked.

“Yes, as long as that is okay with you.”

“It sure is,” Megan replied and hugged her daughter.

Megan made a phone call to the church to see if they would accept the window, and then Megan and Carianna carefully packed the window into the back of their van and headed to the church.

The secretary profusely thanked Carianna and her mom for their generous donation, and then Carianna and her mom stopped by a pastry shop to eat a cupcake before they headed home.

“You really surprise me, Mom,” Carianna said in between bites of her chocolate cupcake.

“Why is that?” Megan asked before she took a bite of her own cupcake.

“Because you can make something out of anything. It’s really amazing. You are an amazing mom.”

Megan smiled at her daughter and then remarked, “Well, nothing is too broken that it cannot be used somehow.”

The two finished their treats and then headed home to a nice and quiet evening with their family.

Several weeks later, the stained-glass window was finally installed at church, making the front of the church look heavenly. Carianna loved to look at the window every time she went to church, and she was happy that she and her mom gave it to the church. It belonged there.

She imagined that one day she would get married in front of that window. In the meantime, she continued to enjoy her family, friends, school, and the other gifts she had been given. And she was learning to be more like her mother—fixing things and making something new out of broken pieces, because nothing was so broken that it could not be used. In her heart, Carianna knew that was true of people also. No one was so broken that God couldn’t use them.

On This Side of the Fence

I took a picture of my son looking into a soccer field through metal bars about a week ago, and my heart aches every time I look at it. It sums up so much of what I have been feeling recently. I’m sure many of you can relate. We’re on one side of the fence, looking toward the future and hoping it will someday involve green grass and blue skies again. But we’re still on this side of the fence. We’re still in the barrenness of this season, wondering how and when we’ll get to the other side. Perhaps we even wonder if we ever will.

I have been part of an online book study with a couple of friends for several months, and it has been so timely for this season of life. Ironically, we started it before the first coronavirus outbreak in China (yes, that’s how long ago we started it). God knew full well how much we’d need to be reading this book in the months to follow, and I can see how He was graciously preparing us in advance through it. It’s a book by Priscilla Shirer called One in a Million. In it, she talks about what it looks like to traverse the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land.

One of the chapters talks about how God provides oases for us in our wilderness journey to refresh us along the way. As a result of reading this chapter, I have been praying nearly every day that God will refresh me in this season of life. I’m weary, and I get discouraged, disheartened, and sometimes feel like I can no longer endure. But I see different ways in which God has been answering that prayer. I see Him bringing small moments of delight throughout my days in the simplest ways.

Still, I’m a sojourner in this wilderness experience where, despite how many glasses of water I am given, I’m left feeling parched soon after I have drunk them. I’m constantly longing for more.

Recently, I have been pondering the thought that maybe God only provides enough refreshment to sustain us on the wilderness journey because we would otherwise get too comfortable and want to settle down in a place that God has not intended for us. Perhaps we are too often tempted to accept less than what God would give us for the sake of comfort and safety.

Does this idea ring true to anyone other than me? My greatest moments of growth have come at times where I have felt the least comfortable. It has been in these moments that I have been pushed to take bold steps toward the future God has for me—steps that I would have been too afraid to take had I been comfortable enough to stay where I was.

Priscilla Shirer speaks of a similar concept in her book. God wanted to lead the Israelites into Canaan, but the perceived risk it would take to get there in conjunction with their wavering faith in God caused them to remain outside of their Promised Land. Instead, they would wander in the wilderness for a total of forty years. Apparently, life on the outskirts of the Promised Land was comfortable enough—comfortable enough to determine that entering Canaan was too risky in comparison.

When I think of how comfort can keep a person from following God’s leading, it gives me a different perspective about this wilderness journey I’m on. God has sustained me thus far. I don’t want to get to the outskirts of where God is leading me and then settle there because I’m comfortable enough where I am and the risk of entering into God’s “promised land” for me is too risky. I don’t want to have come all this way to fall short of His intended destination for me.

I love traveling and have had the opportunity to do so by car, train, bus, and plane. There is something thrilling to me about traveling somewhere, regardless of the means of travel. This was our favorite thing to do as a family before the coronavirus made its way to the United States. We enjoyed discovering new places and revisiting old ones as well.

Part of the fun of traveling for me has always been the expectation of arriving to my destination. The truth is, the actual travel part of the trip is always uncomfortable to a certain degree. This is especially true the longer the trip. I get hot, my face gets unnaturally oily, and I nearly always feel stiff by the end of the trip. And it’s only more complicated now that we have a toddler in tow. However, the destination makes the temporary discomfort worth it. It’s a price well paid to discover a beautiful city and to make memories with my family (and our extended family when our trip involves visiting them).

Something I have noticed in my years of travel is that, the longer the trip lasts, the greater my discomfort. However, the longer the trip lasts, the better the destination.

Perhaps this is how I need to view the present day. This journey feels long and has been very uncomfortable. But I want to believe it will be worth it. I want to have faith that the destination at the end of this pandemic wilderness will be even better than I could imagine.

In the meantime, I’ll take whatever form of refreshment God gives me along the way, and I’ll ask Him to give me a grateful heart for these moments of discomfort, because I see Him leading me forward through them to who and where He wants me to be, and I don’t want to settle for less than what He has intended for me. I want the Promised Land and all the beauty that comes with it.

The World is Our Oyster

I bought this at the beach years ago. Pearls are one of my favorite jewels. I love how they are formed and what we can learn through them.

Let me state the obvious; life won’t always be this way. The reign of the coronavirus will one day come to an end, and we will resume our regular activities and go back to life as usual.

Although I imagine that this transition back to everyday life will be gradual, I picture it as an epic ending to a movie. A symbolic one at that.

In it, COVID-19 will meet its demise in a final battle, and the smoke will clear and the dust and debris will begin to settle. Then, one by one, families will slowly start to come out of their homes.

As they assess the aftermath of the war, they will pick up the broken pieces that can be put back together again. Then they will tenderly sweep up the remaining fragments that are too shattered to be pieced back together. They will sweep them up not to throw them out, but rather to bury them in a sacred place where they can be mourned, honored, and remembered for what they once were.

The losses will be evident. Some of them already are. But grieving will be made fully possible when this saga comes to an end, and it will be accompanied by the hope of restoration for what has been broken but can be made new.

When the moment comes for each of us to build up what has been torn down and to bury what is forever gone, I hope we will remember that not all was lost during this time. I hope we will see what we have gained.

Can you see what you have gained so far as a result of living during this time? What is God doing in and through you in this current moment?

Recently, I read about how pearls are formed. Their initial formation begins when an oyster cannot expel an irritant, such as a parasite that has latched onto it. When this happens, the oyster secretes a fluid known as nacre with which it coats the parasite. After layer upon layer of covering the parasite in this material, the pearl is formed.1

I’ve heard it said before that the world is our oyster. If this is true—if the world is our oyster, then the coronavirus is our parasite. It has latched onto this earth tightly and will stay here for however long it will, as unwelcome as it is. But we don’t have to let it pollute our minds or get the best of us. We can, in fact, get the best out of this time through God’s working in us, because

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

This doesn’t mean we won’t have our hard days or struggles throughout the duration of this moment in history. However, the overarching theme of our lives can be one of faith because we know the goodness of our God, and we know our story’s ending involves an eternity beyond our wildest imaginations. This is where our hope lies.

In the meantime, God has given us our own “nacre” to combat the polluted thoughts of this parasite in this present time. He has given us His truth and the promises and hope we find in His Word. He has also given us fellow believers who can encourage us and be encouraged by us. And through all these things, we continue to be reminded that God is in control, and He continues to show us that there is still beauty to be seen in this world, because

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…

Psalm 24:1a

When we are anxious, afraid, or upset due to all things COVID-19, let’s choose to wrap up these thoughts in the nacre we have been given—not just once, but in layer upon layer.

We can’t change the fact that the coronavirus has come, nor can we undo any damage it has done. But if we continue to allow God to do a good work in us in the midst of the frustration, heartache, and discomfort, we might just see that we emerge out of this season with a whole lot of treasure. As of now, a shiny pearl is in the making. Let’s see the work through.

1 pearls.com

Sweeping Up Pine Cones

I was probably on Facebook when it happened. I confess I have been escaping to it far too often nowadays. I finished looking at the image on my screen, then I set my phone down and turned around to investigate the mysterious rustling noise that was following the pitter patter of my toddler’s footsteps.

I already knew he had a plastic bag by the sound of things. I headed toward the living room, fully prepared to tear it out of his hands and withstand the temper tantrum that would likely ensue. What I wasn’t accounting for was the cluster of pine cones strewn across the tile floor as I made my way towards my son. I had forgotten about the pine cones altogether up until that moment. A friend of mine had given them to me months ago when she learned I was making a wreath. Since I finished the wreath before she could give them to me, however, I stuck the bag in a desk drawer to save for another day—a Christmassy, craft-making sort of day. Unfortunately, Liam had other ideas.

I let out a slow, audible sigh as the familiar feeling of hopelessness perched on my shoulders and pressed down on me. I already felt exhausted by current news events. An added chore left me feeling overwhelmed. The one true glimmer of hope at the moment was that Liam was due for a nap, so I got him down and grabbed a broom, all the while trying to muster up some energy for the task at hand.

After picking up the pine cones, I swept up the remaining pieces. As unhappy as I was about the additional chore that day, I was grateful for the decision it caused me to make, which was this: I’m not going to feel bad for having a hard time keeping up with the housework. At least, I’m going to try not to feel bad about it anymore.

The pine cone incident was the vivid reminder I needed for what I already knew—that my cute little boy is sabotaging my housekeeping efforts. He does so by making a number of messes daily. He also does so by slowing down any progress I make towards a clean home, squirming his way in between me and the kitchen counters when I’m trying to clean them or whining to be held when I’m in the middle of vacuuming. And let’s not even mention the countless number of times he asks for another snack when I’m trying to wash the dishes or sweep the kitchen floor! It’s no wonder household chores can be so daunting!

I’ve read enough to know that I’m just supposed to say by now that I’ll embrace the mess because my kid won’t be young forever, and memories made with him are far more important.

I certainly want to make memories with him and am, but I can’t bring myself to embrace the mess. Instead, I find myself thinking of how productive I was before I had a child. Although JJ doesn’t seem to mind that our loveseat has currently become a permanent spot for the latest load of clean laundry or that the sink nearly always has dirty dishes in it, I find myself reminding him of my past glory years as well, the years when I accomplished so much! He nods, unsure of what to say, and I silently wonder what became of the woman I once was.

Recently, I have realized how unfair it has been to compare myself to the woman I once was. No one would promote a woman to a new role within her company and give her new responsibilities only to expect her to do her former full-time job along with the new one. In essence, this is the expectation I have placed on myself.  Granted, I can’t just promote myself out of the tasks of cleaning and cooking now that I’m a mom. They have followed me into this new role and are a part of it for me. Nonetheless, I can’t assume I should be able to continue at the same pace I did before having a child when the responsibilities, distractions, and obstacles are greater now than they ever were before. This is something I need to keep in mind when I feel a sense of self-disappointment rising up within me. I also need to show myself grace. Perhaps I don’t have to embrace the mess, but I can be a little more accepting of it and patient with myself as I recognize the challenges I face at this stage of motherhood.

Something else I have recognized is that I do a lot more than I give myself credit for. I’m sure this is true of most moms. At the end of the day, it’s easy to look at our list of chores (or simply the laundry-laden love seat, in my case) and to recognize what we didn’t accomplish. But we fail to remember all the tiny chores we did throughout the day—the yogurt we cleaned off the table and chairs after breakfast, the couch cushions we put back on the sofa several times after our little munchkins kept using them as a trampoline, and the water we wiped off the floor when our toddler insisted on drinking from an open cup. These are all such simple tasks, and yet the house would be a complete disaster if we chose to ignore them.

 Then, of course, there are the tasks we do throughout the day that aren’t a part of the housework but are very much a chore—a chore caused by our children. Some of the more interesting ones involve fishing forks out of the trash, or, worse yet, toys out of the toilet. Or maybe it’s picking out food from a child’s hair. Or the minute task of re-rolling the toilet paper onto its tube. We’ve probably done a lot more than we realize (or can even remember) when the day comes to an end.

As we head to bed and see all the tasks that we didn’t finish on our way, let’s remember our own moments of sweeping up pine cones. Our days are full of them. As such, let’s give ourselves grace over a messy home and accomplishing less of what’s on our to-do list, because we’re accomplishing more than we even realize.

Furthermore, let’s also recognize what all we have become in our role as mothers. We are not a shadow of the women we once were. We have become more than what we realize, and we are acquiring new skills all the time on this journey of motherhood.

What new skills have you acquired as a mom?

Although my son is only two, I can already think of a small (albeit silly) list of abilities that I have mastered. I have become proficient in the fine art of cutting grapes into quarters, for instance. Moreover, I’ve become such a good tickler that I believe Liam would rate me a ten out of ten if he knew how to count.

The interesting thing about motherhood is that, just as we master one skill, it’s time to lay it aside and figure out how to master a new one. Our roles as mothers are dynamic, always changing and requiring something new as our children change and grow. But we adapt to those changes. We become what our children need us to be.

Nonetheless, we often fail to see the wonder of our role as mothers. The mundane and monotonous moments of life tell us a different story. But they don’t have to be the voice we listen to.

Perhaps one of the most beneficial things we could do for ourselves in this season of life is to ask God what He thinks of us in our role as moms. How does He specifically view you and me? And what does He want us to know about ourselves as we continue to take care of our children?

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Although we may not be getting any gifts from our children this year and perhaps have low expectations for the day, God can make it special for us. Whatever He reveals to us, in fact, could be the very best gift Mother’s Day gift that we could ever receive.