Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Dream Man for the Ages

Lately, there’s been a man on my mind. I seem to be running into him everywhere I turn. I'm encountering him even in places I wouldn’t expect to meet him. 

The more I get to know him, the more I’m discovering that he has everything on my list that I could ever want in a man. 

{If I had a list, after all these years. Which I don’t  . . . or do I?}

He’s got a great job, travels, and is quite handy. The only problem is that he lived about a couple thousand years ago.

His name is Nehemiah.

You might know him too. He's famous for rebuilding a wall in Jerusalem and he has a book of the Bible named after him. But his words seem timeless as I read them now.

I don’t know about you but when something {or someone} keeps grabbing my attention over a very short time, I begin to think God wants me to take notice.

I was on my way to another part of the Bible a few weeks ago, when I stopped at Nehemiah. I was intrigued when just as we're introduced to him, he isn't afraid to tell us that he cried over the plight of his fellow countrymen.

I thought his story, told in the first-person, sounded a lot like a blog post.

He tells us he’s afraid. He tells us he shoots a quick prayer heavenward before making a big request to his boss, the king. He tells us God planted a dream in his heart. And he’s not exactly sure how it’s all going to work out, but he has faith that it will.

I was starting to fall in love with Nehemiah. 

I mentioned him in a blog post a few weeks ago {you can read it here} because his perseverance inspired me.

A few days later I attended an all-day videoconference on leadership with my work colleagues. None of the content related to the Bible except that the opening speaker was Andy Stanley, a pastor. He said he was going to use just one illustration from the Bible.

It was Nehemiah.

I was on the edge of my seat to learn more about my dream-man. 

He was so focused on his God-purposed work of rebuilding the wall that he refused to be distracted by his critics, saying he could not come down to meet with them and continued the work of his dream. 

{How had I missed that?}

A week later a friend said he’d read my blog post and was an admirer of my man Nehemiah, too. He told me it took amazing teamwork for the men to rebuild the wall so quickly that they worked only on the section just in front of them.

And just days later I received a blog post in my email in-box, looking at yet another angle of Nehemiah.  

This one asked us to consider the kind of work God was having us do during this season of our lives.

It was then that I stopped wondering what God wanted me to notice about Nehemiah and started pondering what distinguished his life.

More than anything else in his life, Nehemiah wants to know God. This is his purpose as he pursues his work, his relationships and his faith.

Nehemiah’s life could be any of ours, couldn’t it? 

God plants a dream in our hearts (Neh. 2:12). We wait, trust, pray, take some risks and do the work. 

There are critics and discouragers. We feel uncertain and things get harder than we ever thought they would.

But just like Nehemiah, we don't give up.

Lately these fearful thoughts have been swirling around me. {Maybe you've heard them too?}

What if that dream you think God whispered never happens? Did God even really say that? What if those ideas you have just aren't possible? What if your faith holding everything up collapses and you're left with a pile of rubble?

I wonder how I can keep the thoughts of these worst-case scenarios and first-rate disappointments from haunting me.

But Nehemiah knew the secret. 

He loved God more than his fears. He reminded his countrymen to look back at their history to see how far God brought them so they'd be encouraged to take future leaps of faith. 

It's not easy. Facing our fears is a giant step of faith. But it can be what moves us into places we'd never imagine, stronger and ready to thrive.

Do you feel like you could never be the brave woman you'd like to be, facing your fears, confident that God has good plans for you? Do you wonder if you can even get through the day, let alone look to the future with joy?

Consider Nehemiah. His timeless story is as inspiring for us today as it was for those who lived it with him so long ago.

After encountering him so often over the past few weeks, I’ve developed a deep affection for him. 

But what I love most about him is that his life points the way to God. 

And that’s at the top of my list for any dream man who might be headed in my direction. 

{If I had a list, that is. Which I don’t . . . or do I?}

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join me there!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our Cinderella Stories

My eight-year-old niece Devon and I were driving to the historic Rollins College campus to watch her school stage a production of “Cinderella,” when she casually announced that she already saw it.

“How? What are you talking about?” I asked her. 

My sister got the tickets for us months ago when she asked if I’d take Devon since she’d be out of town.

“The high schoolers rehearsed it for us second-graders yesterday so we took a field trip to the theatre and I got to sit in the front row,” she said. 

Well, that certainly beats our balcony seats by a mile. 

When we first talked about seeing it, Devon wan’t very interested. She said she didn’t even know who Cinderella was {this seems implausible for a child who lives in Orlando}, but she prefers puppies over princesses and fairy tales have never held much fascination for her.

But I think the story drew her in, as it does for most of us girls. A prince, a magical evening at a glamorous ball and a shoe that fits perfectly. 

Cinderella gets me thinking about dreams like no other story can. 

But it’s the fairy tale part that trips me up. 

Cinderella's life seems to change overnight. One day she’s a scullery maid, toiling away in obscurity and the next she’s marrying the prince and moving to the palace.

But in this rendition of the story, it was what she did with the time in-between that made the difference. Despite being overlooked and feeling neglected and unloved, she sang, she dreamed, she hoped.

It’s not easy but there’s great worth to be found in this waiting space if we approach it with a heart set on perseverance

It’s what we do with this great gap between what our past holds and what is yet to come that impacts our story.

I don’t know about you, but I feel as if I’m always waiting for something. 

I’ve waited for acceptance letters and job offers and houses to sell. I’ve waited for changes to reshape me, new habits to take effect and fresh patterns to emerge. 

And I’m still waiting. 

On future plans and ideas, and wondering {every so often} if there’s still a prince roaming around out there with my {high-heeled} glass slipper that matches the one buried in my closet.

But I’ve learned to welcome the wait. Because it’s here in this vast space that I can savor the breathtaking and awe-inspiring heart of God. This hard and holy place is where I’ve encountered him in surprising and startling ways. 

Waiting gives me the opportunity to invite God into this sweeping expanse of my uncertainty. 

Distance and difficulty make room for miracles. 

It’s here that my faith gains confidence and I’ve fixed my heart securely on the assurance that God is writing my Cinderella story.

It’s taken a few years but I’m beginning to regard differently these days of my life.

I have something different for you. 

Those were the words I heard when I asked God why this story of mine seemed so different from my friends and other women my age. When even I fumble to answer the oft-asked, “Why haven’t you ever gotten married?”

But these days are for him. To encounter the one who pursues me because when I seek him, God promises to be found. 

Maybe you’ve long ago given up on a dream, a pathway or plan or even the seed of an idea planted in your heart. 

When the clock struck midnight and Cinderella found herself back in the middle of her old circumstances, she thought time had ticked down and her dream was over. 

But a new chapter in Cinderella's story was just beginning.

Can I tell you that it’s not too late? 

Even if it looks very different than you first thought it would, your God-whispered dream can still come to life. 

For me. And for you too.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. - Hab. 3:17-18

Turns out, I think Devon actually liked seeing the play twice since she seemed a little star-struck by Cinderella. As we drove home she told me her class got an unexpected surprise on their field trip.

“We got to meet Cinderella,” she said. “She saw us having lunch and came over to take a picture with us.” 

I told her that sounded just like what a real princess would do.

“Well you know, she’s not really a princess,” Devon said. “Her real name is Sarah and she’s in eighth grade.”

I think she wanted to make sure I had the story straight. 

Just in case I still believed in fairy tales.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image to join us there for more posts from my blogger friends!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Unpacking Second Thoughts

My trip to Italy for a faith and art retreat is less than two months away and I'm already packing my bags. The space in my suitcase is filling up fast.

The retreat leader sent a list of art supplies we need to bring with us and the only thing I recognized was an apron. 

I’ve never heard of gesso or matte medium and I'm especially wondering what an HB pencil is. There are specific sizes of paintbrushes, types of pens, adhesives and erasers to buy. 

Oh and a journaling Bible, too. {I might even have to leave a pair of shoes behind to make room in the suitcase for the Bible.}

So I made a trip to an art supply store where I thought I could find what I needed, but when I saw an entire aisle devoted just to paintbrushes, I quickly realized I needed professional help. 

That's when Lex from Sam Flax appeared at my elbow, eager to assist. 

After asking me what kind of painting would I be doing {I had no idea} and would I be using the gesso on canvas {huh?}, Lex could clearly see I was an art supply novice. So he said he'd take care of everything. 

I happily handed him my list and off he went to gather my supplies in a little basket. 

With Lex dispatched as my personal shopper, I was free to check out the journals and greeting cards that were much more my style.

He brought me the bottles of gesso and matte medium and paused dreamily {the way I imagine artists do} and asked me if I was sure I could get them through security at the airport. 

I said I had no idea, but I told him my brother-in-law checks his guns as baggage when he goes on hunting trips so surely gesso and matte medium could fly?

He assured me they weren't flammable and suggested maybe I could pour them into smaller bottles and mark them as shampoo or lotion, just in case customs had any questions.

Then he said, "I don't think I'd want to fly with your brother-in-law." As we both stared at the gesso and matte medium, he said {very slowly}, "On second thought, maybe I DO want to fly with your brother-in-law."

Even Lex has second thoughts. 

As do I.

As I looked at the paint and sketchbooks and brushes surrounding me, a little art-anxiety started seeping into my soul. 

Months ago when the details were vague, I thought I could give this art thing a try, even though my last art class was during elementary school. I thought maybe I’d learn a new skill or even if I didn’t, it might be funny to write about. 

But as it gets closer, I’m having second thoughts. I often have to fight my feelings of inferiority when trying something new and I’m afraid art classes might bring out my worst worries. 

But I have to go on this trip. 

And not because I've already booked all my travel plans. {And bought my art supplies.}

This art and faith creative retreat is an invitation from God to go on a new adventure with him. 

Have you ever just known that you have to go? 

On a new adventure, to a place beyond the comforts of your cozy circle, to a risky ridge where you might encounter God like never before?

I didn’t have any travel plans for this year, but somehow I think this beautiful crossroads of art and faith is where I’m supposed to be. 

So I'm unpacking my second thoughts from my suitcase and leaving them behind.

Without them, there's more space for God and me to create a new storyline in my life. One that blends who I already am with who I am becoming.

Writer, art student, follower of God. I wonder what else I could be that I never imagined for myself. 

{You too?} 

  ". . . God who calls things that are not as though they were." Rom. 4:17

Are there second thoughts about yourself or God or a dream that might be weighing you down? What if you unpacked those thoughts from your life and freed up the space to explore a new name or new experience God might have for you?

I wonder if we'd discover the bravery and boldness that comes not from our strength, but his. Would we corral the courage to do whatever it is -- to fulfill his holy purposes -- that he intended for each one of us long ago? Could we overcome our fears and insecurities and nerves to encounter the goodness he has for us?

I know these truths can carry us across an ocean, across town or across the street to reach what he has called us to do. And I hope you know it too.

When Lex at Sam Flax finished shopping for me, he wished me a good trip and told me to send him a postcard.

Maybe I'll create one with my new paintbrushes. Or at least send him a note with my HB pencil.

{Just as soon as I figure out what HB means.}

I'm linking up with my friends at Bonnie Gray's Faith Barista and at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Join us there!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Hard Work of Our Art

I'm not sure which of the two I'm looking forward to seeing more -- Orlando's new performing arts center or the ballet Coppelia, about a magical dancing doll. 

Thanks to my friend Marilyn who graciously offered me her tickets to the ballet, it’s a night out for the girls in my family to celebrate my mother’s birthday and for my eight-year-old niece Devon to see her first ballet.

While we wait for the curtain to rise, my mother and sister say they don’t really recall the difficult seven-year project that made this building a reality. 

But I remember it since my office is nearby and I often drove by the construction zone, watching the slow progress.

I remind them that a church was originally standing where we're now sitting. The church had to agree to move across the street. Then the church’s building had to be demolished. Next, the city built the church a new building. And finally the new performing arts center could rise from the rubble.

There were plenty of delays, setbacks and funding problems along the way.

I don’t know about you but I’m often dazzled by what seems like sudden success, terrific talent or amazing art. 

I celebrate the fabulous finished product, marvelous opening night performance or splendid gallery of work.

But often, things aren’t quite what they seem.

I’m not clued in to the Saturdays spent practicing, the days of discipline and the years of training that are the backbone, holding up what’s on center stage. I don't see the falls and failures, brick walls and dead ends, flops and disappointments. 

Lately, what’s been capturing my attention are websites of artful ideas turned into blooming businesses, blogs with insightful writing and thousands of readers, and inspired creatives leaving corporate jobs to pursue their lifelong dreams. 

Maybe you’re thinking {like I am} that you couldn’t be farther from some of the things you really want to do, and you're not even sure how to get there. 

Your mind tells you it’s unfeasible, you’re not capable, and everything’s impossible anyway, so why not just get back to your normal life and leave your hopes in the dust so you can have some peace from these thoughts?

{Is that just the voice inside my head or do you hear it too?}

Sometimes I think this place in our hearts and our minds is where the fight happens for our dreams and maybe, for our lives. 

This weekend I read the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. {It is an inspiring little book and well worth the read.}

Nehemiah spent years working a corporate job as the king’s cupbearer when God planted a dream in his heart to rebuild the demolished wall in Jerusalem. He would need all of that experience for his new roles of engineer, architect, organizer and cheerleader for this arduous task. 

The opposition was great as his plans were mocked and his work was criticized. But he refused to become discouraged because his dream was bigger than he was. It wasn't about him. 

It was about the history that God was writing for his people.

And it's my history he's writing too. 

But when I feel like I do it all wrong, mess up opportunities, and my dreams seem ruined, I wonder how much God is really involved. I want to give up, I lose heart and I grow tired of persevering. 

This is the fight in the dark, without the glow of the stage lights, to keep my faith, to stand, to hold on.

But just because I can't see him through the shadows, doesn't mean God isn't there, behind the scenes of my life, hearing me call out to him and working out his purposes for me. 

I have decided to anchor this truth in the deepest part of my heart: "All of my life in every season you are still God."

Because things can look quite different when the stage is set, the dancers take their places, the lights come up and the curtain rises on all that God wants to showcase in our lives.

As the ballet ended and we walked out in front of the performing arts center lighting up the night sky, I remembered Devon’s words before the evening started.

We’d gathered at my sister’s for a quick pasta dinner. 

Devon, so excited about her first ballet, picked up a glass from the table and held it high. “Let’s toast to our night at the ballet,” she said. 

We clinked our glasses and I thought, isn't that what it’s all about? 

Dreams emerging from the rubble, faith to show us the way, and the art of telling our beautiful stories.

I'm linking up with my friends at Holley Gerth's place at Coffee for your Heart. Click the image to read more posts!