Tuesday, September 13, 2016

He Paints with Passion

She came to Ohio from Florida with a paintbrush packed in her bag.

The Lovely Women's Conference had only just begun when Bonnie Joy Kelley was called on stage to the blank canvas set on an easel that waited for her there. As the worship team sang in the background, all eyes were on her as she dipped her brush in the colors before her and then kissed the canvas repeatedly with broad strokes that moved to the flow of the music. Mesmerized, we watched, eager to see what the Spirit was saying to us through the picture He was painting through her hands.

But our concentration on her activity soon turned to confusion as the accumulating images and colors didn't seem to merge into any recognizable form. For the life of me, I couldn't make out what she was painting. I thought to myself, What if she's just not feeling it tonight? What if she came all that way only to have God go silent the minute she is standing in front of 500 women, all eager to see what she will produce? Is it really a “gift” if she has to explain what she is drawing when she's done?

Suddenly the music seemed to be ending, and she likewise put her paintbrush down on the palette beside her. Then she took the canvas in her hands, turned it upside down, and set it back on the easel.

A collective gasp went through the room, for there before us was a picture of a woman lovely in every detail, reaching up with her hands as if in praise or grateful prayer to the God Who created her. Then came the applause and shouts of praise and amazement at what we had just seen.

More than just a cool way to start off a conference, there was a message in that moment that came to me later. Each of us is likewise God's masterpiece, our lives a blank canvas on which He is busily creating a work of beauty and wonder that will deliver a message of His love to a watching world. But sometimes in its creation we are hit with circumstances that we simply don't understand, difficult situations that fill our hearts with sorrow and our nights with tears. As Laura Story sings in Blessings, those hard times can cause us to doubt God's goodness and question His love. We wonder what on earth He is doing and if He really has any better idea how to work out our problems than we do ourselves.

Yet God pleads with us not to give up on the process before the end of the song! While the music is still playing, the Artist is still at work. And sometimes God has to turn our lives completely upside down before the beauty in them becomes apparent. It's then we understand that all the seemingly random brush strokes that we so railed against at the time were full of tender purpose and life-changing love... because the brush was held in the Master's hand.

And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.”
(Philippians 1:6 AMP)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bestselling Advice

I'm in a reflective mood as summer slides to a close this weekend.

One of my biggest enjoyments of the months just past was reading the book "Me Before You" by Jojo Moyes, a recent bestseller about two people who find themselves in a difficult relationship. It happened repeatedly in the story that when they were in a particular difficult moment in their journey together, one would turn to the other and say, "Tell me something good." The resulting conversation would take their minds off their current heartache and focus it instead on happier times, replacing the current pain with thoughts of hope and joy.

Perhaps I loved that line so much in the book because we have the same opportunity in our relationship with God. On our most difficult days we can turn to Him with the plea, "Tell me something good!", and He responds with chapters of love and promises to come, written to us and kept for us to find in His Word. Or He sends friends to share His "Good News" in the form of hugs or favors, just when we need to be reminded of His love the most. Perhaps He just sends The Comforter Himself to allow us to feel His touch and presence in something we see or experience in the world around us.

But I realized recently that God makes the same request of us. On our loneliest or most pain-filled days, God is not oblivious to what we're going through. He comes alongside us and whispers gently, "Tell ME something good!"...because He knows that if we verbally rehearse what He's done for us in the past, repeat aloud what He's promised us in the future, or speak our thanks to Him for the blessings that abound even in our pain-filled present, we can't help but have our faith restored and our hearts filled to overflow with hope and joy once more.

May those words be our mantra as we march into Fall, then...that we make it our business to daily tell God something good, and then listen and receive what He surely will say to us in response.

"Even though troubles came down on me hard, your commands always gave me delight. The way you tell me to live is always right; help me understand it so I can live to the fullest." 
(Psalm 119: 143-144 MSG)

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Writing Desk With a Story of its Own

A lot of visitors from far away places came to spend time with us this summer.

Family members of one type or another from New Orleans, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Oakland made their way to our Ohio home to help us celebrate our nation's birthday in style. But none traveled as far as the piece of antique furniture that came to us from Woodburn, Oregon. Likewise a family member of sorts, the Bridge Writing Desk has taken up residence in the spare bedroom I use as my writing office, and I couldn't be more thrilled to see it there.

A beautiful fold-down desk with beveled glass bookcases on either end, it has been in the family for generations, purchased originally by Charles LeForest Bridge, and then passed down through the lineage of sons that followed, until it came to be owned by my in-laws, Donald and Phyllis Bridge. It has moved with them several times, traveling from Nebraska to South Dakota to distant Oregon. The centerpiece of their home in Woodburn, Oregon, I would spend hours each time we visited marveling at how beautifully it displayed the framed photos of family weddings and keepsakes from significant anniversaries on its many shelves. Family history has been written in the travels of this desk, and in each home in which it's been treasured it's held the family's heart close within the glass doors that offer glimpses into the joys of the passing years.

When Don and Phyllis moved into a retirement home recently, the desk was given to their only son, my husband, Jim. After being carefully crated and shipped back east to our home here in Ohio, it stood empty and open, inviting us to fill it's shelves with the lore and love of our own growing family. More than just a display case, however, it's the desk feature itself that now intrigues me. Each time I fold down the writing board, I likewise want to pull inspiration from the travel and history the piece holds into the literal writing I do in this room. So I've filled the shelves, as Phyllis did, with photos of our ongoing lives, but also with books I use for reference and those which hold published pieces of our own family's tale in their pages. I've filled the many cubbyholes with all the writing necessities that used to clutter up my computer desk, and the drawers below with blank stationery and note-cards, reminding me that there is still much life left to be lived and written about as our branch of the Bridges follows family tradition and continues to explore and expand.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Side-by-Side Times Thirty-Five

“No gifts,” we promised each other this year in anticipation of our upcoming wedding anniversary. There was simply too much going on in our lives at the moment to add the stress of finding a gift that could accurately express thirty-five years of wedded bliss. Jim was about to leave for a week-long visit to the west coast to help his parents get their house sale-ready, we had a contractor working on our own home with a varied schedule of comings and goings, and there were cleaning tasks innumerable that needed to get done in advance of guests coming next month. Our plates were full; we would simply have to be content with the knowledge that our hearts were the same, and leave it at that.

In reflection, my husband, Jim, didn't abide by our rule. He didn't intentionally disobey; his lifestyle just didn't cooperate.

“No gifts,” we said... yet Jim brought birdseed home from the hardware store he stopped at after work. Because I delight in watching my feathered friends outside my kitchen window, he keeps my heart full by keeping the seed bin in the garage the same. And not just any birdseed mix; he bought me the over-the-top kind with all of the birds' favorite seeds and no fillers of less desirable options – the stuff that is too expensive for me to ever buy myself.

“No gifts,” we said...and yet he texted me to see which of the flavored K-cup coffee pods sounded best to me for my morning brew. How appropriate that I picked a brew called “Dark and Handsome.” Jim keeps my heart full by keeping my coffee cup the same.

“No gifts,” we said...yet he found the particular red-striped petunias I'd been looking for to plant in a similarly decorated pot and sent pictures to my phone of the so I could tell him which of the options to bring home. When that planter overflows with flowers this summer, he knows my heart will spill over with joy, as well.

Have I reciprocated at all, I wondered? Hmmm...

“No gifts,” we said...yet when cherries were on sale this week I snagged him up a bag of the luscious red gems that he loves but that are normally too costly to land in our fridge. “No gifts,” we promised...yet I added a box of his beloved Hostess Ho-Hos to the list of more healthy snacks he had asked me to pick up for his upcoming trip. “No gifts,” we insisted...yet I rushed home on my day off to finish the laundry so he'd have clean clothes to pack.

When he brought home steaks to grill for our anniversary dinner, I told him I'd pick up dessert, and stopped at Bob Evan's to buy us each a slice of our favorite pie; coconut cream for him and strawberry for me. As I looked at the two sitting side by side on the counter later in the day I realized they perfectly pictured the everyday sweetness of the past many years. We've likewise sat side by side on the couch watching our shows and working puzzles after dinner, and slept side by side in our bed despite the dogs' best efforts to come between us. We've sat on bleachers at soccer and basketball games, in the audience at school events and later graduations, and now on the sidelines of our children's lives, marveling as they unfold. We've sat side by side on church pews and in the front seat of our cars as we've traveled through life together in the years since we first walked out of the church building as as husband and wife...side by side.

If we've broken the “no gifts” promise it's because we've rejoiced in keeping the “I do” pledge instead...wrapping our love in everyday ways to show that gifts of love don't necessarily need ribbons and bows.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ...Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting.”
(Ephesians 5:22,25 MSG)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

At the ZENITH of my Elbow Experience

The month of April has reached its zenith, and with this last letter, so too has the annual A to Z Challenge. How fitting it is that having finished my scheduled physical therapy sessions and now back at work, my Elbow Experience has reached its highest point, as well. From my fall on the icy parking lot forward, everything in the last three to four months has been geared towards the moment when I would punch in again at the time clock at work and resume my regular duties.

Things are different now at work, and it has nothing to do with the fact that a few old friends have left and new employees have signed on. It isn't a result of the new uniforms we are wearing now or the new policies that have been put in place; the difference is in me. I can see some things now that I probably would never have noticed before had this intervention of sorts not taken place. I realize now how tired I was, physically and emotionally, an exhaustion that expressed itself in a lack of patience for others and a lack of appreciation for the blessings that cover my life. Habitual ways of doing things had me locked into a schedule and an outlook that had no room for a new view. While I was successfully making it through my days, I was living on a much lower scale than what God had planned for my life. I am forever grateful for the upgrade into a higher level of thinking and living that my arm injury provided.

But now the difficulty is in keeping the fresh outlook on things. I knew coming in to work that if I wasn't careful, the novelty of being back on the job would wear off, and it would be easy to slip back into old ways of thinking and doing things; I didn't want to lose the lessons of the past months. Awareness that such a danger exists is perhaps the greatest asset in preventing its occurrence.

One of the biggest struggles I had in my physical recuperation was maintaining the progress we achieved in my physical therapy sessions. After an hour of work and manipulation, my therapist was always able to open my arm to a degree that I hadn't been able to achieve before. We just weren't able to maintain that success; the muscles in my arm wanted to pull back into the position they'd been in for so long. At each session we seemed to start off back at the same point; it was hard to gain ground.

Finally we made progress when Nick came up with the idea of locking my arm in the straight position in the brace at the end of the session, when it had opened up has far as he could get it to go. For two hours I kept it in “lockdown”, after which I was free to remove the hardware and let my arm function without it. In addition I became more intentional than ever in keeping up with the stretching exercises I was doing at home, and gradually we have seen the muscles become accustomed to increased motion and function once more.

Similarly, my new mindset and approach to life and my job can only be maintained through diligent effort on my part. I am grateful for the Challenge of writing the lessons down, because doing so has locked them down not just on paper where I can regularly review them, but also in my mind. But I have to intentionally practice the new ways of thinking and doing to make them the new norm and prevent my mind from slipping into old mindsets without my being aware that it is even happening.

Mostly I am overwhelmed with gratitude, that God knew what I needed when I was blind to it myself, and used the opportunity my injury afforded to elbow His way into my life, restoring not just my arm, but also my mind and heart.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only...”
(James 1:22 NKJV)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Maximize YOUR YIELD

Christian writer and speaker Graham Cooke challenged my thinking recently by suggesting that the problems that come are way are really gifts from God; each one presents an opportunity for an upgrade in our life experience. When we come out of them successfully we have new understanding in our own situations as well as something new and exciting to share with all the people who populate our lives. His trademark line, “Woohoo! I've got a problem! Happy Birthday to me!” has made me smile every time I've thought about it.

While I wasn't smiling, at least initially, when I broke my elbow, I was keenly aware that the recuperation period ahead of me was like an open door to an old fashioned schoolhouse. I wanted to enter in and glean everything I could from the experience and the weeks ahead. I didn't fear surgery, pain, or physical therapy nearly as much as the thought of wasting what was suddenly available. And so the three and a half months just past have been wonderful in the sense that I had a chance to live out the lesson Graham Cooke taught from his podium; they were like a lengthy lab session, practical application of the notes I took in the lecture. And while I am coming out of the class with a host of lessons learned, perhaps the most valuable aspect of the experience is that it serves as a model of how to approach similar experiences in the future. The Bible warns that in this life we will have difficulty, so it is best that we be prepared for whatever comes our way and welcome every opportunity to advance in that regard.

One of the benefits of having so much time off was that I had time to try a breakfast cafe that I had been wanting to visit for years. I liked it so much on the first visit that I went back often in the weeks that followed. Because it is always crowded, more often than not I've taken a seat at the counter to leave any tables that come available for larger groups. And as I've waited for my food, I've had a chance to notice a large juicer against the back wall. Periodically a server comes along and drops several oranges from a huge basket of the same into a hole at the top. The fruit is then pressed through a maze of gears and roller bars while the freshly squeezed juice fills an empty pitcher that waits for it under the spout at the bottom. The server then grabs the pitcher and fills the glasses of the thirsty patrons in the room.

My life is that juicer, and the basket of oranges are the problems I'll encounter as I go through my days, each packed with potential sweetness encased in difficulty. My challenge is to take each problem as it comes and squeeze every ounce of goodness out of it, discarding the pulp and peel and delighting in the resultant refreshment that enriches my days and those of the people around me. Maximizing my yield in that regard then depends on my attitude as much as my action, my resolve to make the most of every opportunity my problems represent.

When we make the effort to make every experience count, we make our lives count for something, too.

...hold fast to the good.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:21 MKJV)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X-RAY Evidence

When examining our physical bodies, our eyes can't tell much beyond what is visible externally. While there may be clues that something is wrong, we often need diagnostic tools beyond what our eyes can see to determine the problem. X-rays allow us to see what is happening with the bones that lie within the skin.

The night I fell on the ice and hurt my elbow, I initially hoped that I had just jammed it somehow and that given a little time, it would be fine once more. That notion was dispelled the moment I got home and looked at the injury in the mirror. The visual evidence and the lack of mobility prompted me to go to the hospital and have it properly examined.

The resultant x-rays taken in the emergency room served two functions; they not only identified the nature of the problem, but also determined the course of action necessary to fix it. In my case, the images showed that the bone was not just broken but also displaced. Based on that x-ray evidence alone given to him over the phone, the doctor on call knew that he would be in to perform surgery on my arm later that day.

It was one thing to hear the doctor describe the plates and screws he had put in to piece things back together; it was another to see his work in the x-rays taken each time I came to his office for follow-up examinations. I found the pictures fascinating and studied them intently after the attendant pulled them up on the computer screen, while waiting for the doctor to come in. His purpose in taking them, of course, was to make sure that everything was still in place and healing as it should. When it became apparent in the weeks that followed that my arm was having difficulty opening up, we thought the problem was an issue with scar tissue. It was the x-ray that showed a piece of bone had grown up behind the joint preventing forward motion; again directing the doctor's treatment of the problem.

So often it's likewise external symptoms that first alert us to problems we may be experiencing in the spiritual realm. We know that we are wrong to be angry and impatient, critical of others, lacking in compassion or concern over others' well being. And we unsuccessfully try to correct the wrong behaviors, not realizing that there is a root cause for our problems beyond what we can see. In desperation we go to God, and in a moment of revelation, He shows us that we are broken and similarly out of place in our relationship with Him. It is likewise a situation that we are powerless to correct on our own; it requires the direct intervention of God Himself in sending Jesus to die on the Cross to heal us and reconcile us to Him. Even after our salvation experience, it is necessary to come back to God repeatedly and ask him to examine us again and again to show us how we are progressing in the recovery process, and to expose further problem areas that we need His help to correct. It is a lifelong journey that is exciting and fascinating in its unveiling as we partner with God to become all that He intended for us to be.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:23-24 KJV)
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