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Introductory Remarks

This is the post excerpt.

I find opportunities to share meaningful thoughts to be few and far between, yet I much enjoy diving deeper than conversations typically delve.  This Pondering Pictures blog will be a place to put my pondering into writing.  Photographs will serve as inspirations, as starting points.  It is my intention to begin a journey, an adventure in writing.  I do not know where it will take me.  Perhaps I shall visit deep places, or perhaps gentle slopes.  I invite you to join my pondering journey.

Painted Rock

This first picture brings back memories of the summer I graduated high school and of Julie Muhilly, my best friend’s mom.  I lovingly called her “crazy Julie.”  My friend was often embarrassed, but I always enjoyed being around her mom.  One of my fun memories of her was the week I spent with her at Redwood Family Camp.  She had us load up her car with all sizes of river rocks to paint.  I thought she was joking at first.  Nope.  Here is the evidence.  I noticed these two paintings this morning while taking photos for a Facebook challenge.

These rocks remind me that it’s OK to be who I am, just as God made me.  I don’t have to fit into someone’s mold.  I just need to love the people around me and be myself.  I hope that I may be that person to my children’s friends.

Wrestling

Words inspired by the song “Jacob” by Leonard W. Jones.

I’ve posted several times on FaceBook a link to the song “Jacob.”  It’s the song I put on repeat when I am struggling with people.  Now, I should point out that the song is not actually about wrestling with my friends.  It’s about an absolute determination to bless the Lord in worship.  That said, the song speaks to me about my commitment to remain connected in conflict.  For that reason, I play it over and over, and periodically I share it.

Years ago I approached my then pastor about an action he had taken that bothered me.  My message was not hateful, but I dared to question him, and things did not go smoothly.  We went back and forth a few times.  I spent days struggling with my own thoughts.  What should I have done differently?  I had an issue with a friend, and I chose to confront him about it.  What was I supposed to have done?  In my fight to maintain relationship with our pastor, the Lord gave me lyrics from the song “Jacob” where it says, “I will wrestle you like Jacob. I will not release you ’til I bless you.”  I started praying this over the situation.  Like a pit bull locking its jaw, I set my mind not to separate in anger but to work through my offense until I thought and spoke well of my friend.  Many tears did I shed in that wrestling, and I came out the other side with a higher value for relationship.

There is tension between two.  In one hand I typically hold firmly to my belief that I am right.  In the other hand I refuse to let go of my value for this person.  Perhaps there is a more cut and dried answer, but for me the tension must be worked out anew with every significant conflict.  Each time, I must choose value for the person.  My Heavenly Father does not write me off when I am difficult.  Because my Father is tenacious in seeking connection with me, I choose to be tenacious in my love for others.

Love looks like holding on when the road becomes rocky.  It looks like choosing to see the gold in a person who is getting on my nerves.  For me the choice starts with a reminder to myself that this person is beloved of God.  Jesus did not come to die for people who had it all together.  He gave his life to heal us from the twisted way of life in which our sin trapped us.

When I realize that bitterness is taking root in my heart, I must confront it.  Most often the wrestling takes place inside my head or in my prayer room.  On a rare occasion I speak to the person about the issue.  It is never easy.  Choosing connection requires courage.  I like being right and doing things my own way, but God has not called me to live alone.  He has called me to be in community with others, others who think and act differently than I do.

Getting past a conflict requires me to humble myself.  I must recognize where I was wrong.  My motives may have been right.  My argument may have been solid.  No matter.  When I feel bitterness toward someone, I know that somewhere along the line I made a wrong choice.  The bitterness I experience is not the other person’s fault.  It is my own choice.  With God’s help, I can choose to let bitterness go.  I can ask God to help me see the other person as He sees them.  I can choose not to let that person go but to bless them.

Abba, my prayer today for myself and for my friends who read this is that you give me courage to hold on when I feel like walking away from those with whom you have called me to connection.  Help me call out the gold in others.  Help me value people more than having my own way.  Teach me to love tenaciously, like you love.  In Jesus name.

Fault Lines

Yesterday was my day off, which I spent mostly cleaning and cooking.  Some people think taking a day off means you don’t work.  Myself, I try to do whatever nurtures my soul at the time, which is typically either something creative or some sort of project.  The thing that makes it relaxing, work or otherwise, is the freedom to do as I please.

In my quiet place before I started working, I drew a picture of myself.  This is the way I saw myself while in prayer recently and represents how I’ve felt for months.  It’s power locked up in a shell, but the shell is cracking.  The spirit-filled being inside the shell is bursting forth.  It’s not the sudden explosion of a volcano but the gradual moving of fault lines, revealing the heated glow of what lies beneath.

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My earliest childhood dreams had me doing life as either a farmer or a baker.  I cannot pinpoint the time I switched to dreaming of serving the Lord full-time.  First I pictured myself singing with a traveling group like the ones that visited our church frequently.  I loved to sing, in fact that was what I enjoyed about church even during the years that I went only because my parents made me.  My favorite services were the ones with guest singers, even if they sang only one special.

In my teen years I dreamt of being a pastor’s wife, like Jane, my pastor’s wife.  My senior year I felt called to missions, so I started imagining myself as a missionary’s wife.  After four years at Bible college I married a pastor, not one by position but a man with a pastoral calling.  Four kids and seventeen years later my husband and I were finally privileged to step into full-time ministry.

I had a rough start.  It wasn’t the people.  They have been very kind.  My problem was that I could not figure out where I fit in John Mark’s ministry with his leadership style.  I pulled back, withdrew from trying to contribute other than playing keyboard on the worship team and attending minister meetings.  At the time we were meeting together with another church, which only complicated my issues.  Things changed for me when the church moved into our own building and I agreed to take over as Treasurer/Bookkeeper.  I began to see myself as having a place.

When I recognized this past April that the Lord was directing me, myself, to be ordained, I pondered it long.  In fact, I have been pondering that for the past seven months.  What is my place?  Where do I fit?  I’m not going to go pastor a church somewhere myself.  I’m going to stay right here and serve with my husband.  I suppose that on the outside, people see me pretty much the same as I was before, but on the inside something has come alive.  That living thing inside me is welling up.  It is putting pressure on the shell that has covered me.  I see the fault lines appearing.  This is me.

Cracks

I felt honored to have been asked to prepare a cake for some friends’ 50th Anniversary.  I relish opportunities to create, particularly things useful.  When I finish I cannot stop looking at my creation.  I simply love what I create.  It doesn’t come out perfect.  None of them ever come out perfect, but the flaws are part of the creation.

For the anniversary cake pictured below, I was asked to use an icing recipe I’d never used before as well as an application method that was new to me.  My feelings were strung between confidence that I can do things I put my mind to and nerves that I could possibly ruin a key element of my friends’ special occasion.

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The week of the event I baked on Thursday, wondering whether the two larger cakes forming the bottom layer were done in the middle despite the toothpick having come out clean.  Friday afternoon I uncovered questionably dense, moist centers in both.  Were they safe?  After consulting my local expert, Mom, I decided to cut out the centers and replace them with smaller cakes.  The resulting bottom layer was white with a chocolate center.

Allowing for emergencies, I iced and stacked the cakes Friday, and things went smoothly once I had the centers replaced.  I awoke Saturday morning to separation in the icing.  Places where I had used heat to smooth the crusting buttercream frosting now glistened with melted butter.  Although I was able to dry the spots with paper towels, the cautiously driven ride to church made visible the frosting’s weaknesses.  Cracks!  Despite this fact, everyone was pleased with the finished product.

How appropriate.  Marriages are like that.  They have cracks.  Even when we take care on the ride, cracks develop.  The question is what do we do with those cracks.  If we focus on them, we will only see more faults and may despair.  Those people who make it to their 50th wedding anniversary are the ones who have chosen to make the best of it.  There are no perfect people, thus their are no perfect unions of people.

Some flaws can be covered so no one ever notices.  Other flaws are right out in the open where everyone can see them.  It’s my choice whether I create something beautiful around the cracks or whether I discard the structure.

Here’s the tough thing.  Building a beautiful marriage isn’t a choice that is made once and for all at the altar.  It is millions of tiny choices made moment by moment.

In a group of older women I once told of a time early in my marriage that I considered leaving my husband.  I was surprised to discover that every one of them had been there.  We all honor those who persevere and make it through the long haul.

50th wedding anniversaries bring tears to my eyes every time I see them.  THAT is love.  It’s not giving up when you have every reason.  It’s choosing to see the jewels that God put in your spouse despite the ugly that is showing its head.

Today I choose life.  This moment I choose life.

If you are a believer, you above others can make it the long haul.  You have a secret weapon living inside you called Holy Spirit.  You are not obligated to do what your nature tells you when your spouse offends (and vice versa).  You can call out to the Lord.  He knows you inside and out and loves you just the way you are, cracks and all.

May you find joy in the journey.

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense.” Proverbs 17:9a