Beauty in the Small

Recently I had a large group of photos printed to frame, which led me to combing through hundreds of photos from the last two years. I haven’t done a really great job of getting them printed from adventures during that time. That’s when I stumbled across this photo I took at Biltmore Gardens.

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That beauty nestled inside the beauty of a blossoming flower? Well it made me feel like I’d discovered a little secret God wanted to share with me. And remind me of yet again as I was rummaging for photos to print.

That secret?

Well it’s that He is cultivating work in the smallest places, in the most unassuming and unexpected places. He is growing beauty from within and we might miss it looking at the bigger picture, at the sweeping grandeur blossoming we will let the smaller inner work just bypass us completely.

I know for me I have been so focused and intent on the work I see Him doing in everyone else and forgetting the work He’s been growing and refining in me. There is beauty within the bigger, but there is breathtaking wonder at the inner working going on. I love to see how He works in others but I am so reluctant to take that moment to observe where it is He’s been in what I call the small of my life. Because frankly, I’d rather have the big in my life too. I’d rather select the sweeping beauty of the field rather than the intimate quiet of the one flower above.

But He’s in both. He works in both for our very good. The big sweeping beauty comes from hours of toil, just as the seemingly minute does the same. They both require work, both by His hand and my submission. It’s not a one or the other, but a both and if I’ll just stop focusing on what I deem as unimportant and small in my world. Instead taking a moment to admire the beauty held within that I too easily think isn’t His handiwork.

 

Redeeming the Past

Do you ever wish you could go back and fix something with the knowledge you have now? I bet something popped to mind didn’t it? Some decision (or lack thereof) that was made on your part that took you off into one direction that you ended up regretting, apologizing for, and paying the consequences on for far longer. Maybe you even have more than one…

Recently I had a realization that I had been working towards my own redemption in a way. That I was pursuing something far out of where God wanted me to be solely as a means of redeeming my past, as someone who was let go from their job. It really took a rattling moment of clarity to see that I had been pushing at something so very hard that I knew was not meant for me any more. I was attempting to prove I was in fact worthy, true, a hardworker, diligent in my responsibilities and of value.

For almost two years I have been trying to redeem my past in my career-one that I am finally accepting was not for the long-term but rather for a season of life. It was what God was using to further my growth and development and to use in His grand story, not my own. Over and over again though I kept feeling the pull of lies that I had something to prove, that I had value to earn and worth to contribute. I wanted to be the one to fix it, it was my reputation and name that had been marred. It was my heart that was hurt and wounded, that I needed to put back into place to mend.

I didn’t really say all those things, but my actions sure did lay it out before me and before God. I kept saying I had chosen to move on from that career path, and yet there I was once again interviewing, applying, seeking out redemption by my own definition and in my own power. Y’all you may not even realize you are in it too, but it happens. When we go about attempting to redeem ourselves, our stories, our pasts we tell God we don’t trust Him with any of our life. We don’t believe He’s capable of redemption even in our past, let alone our current state or our future.

If we are His children, then we are redeemed. All of it. Every last bit of us is redeemed, even that ugly part we hate to acknowledge or that moment we look back to with such regret and heartache, He has redeemed it. He has forgiven us when we bring it to Him, and He uses it mightily. Y’all, He wants us to stop striving to work out way into worth and value, to stop pursuing redemption on our own. He got this along time ago and we cannot stop forgetting that truth. We choose the lie that our value depends on us, instead of what He has told us about ourselves and about Him. We deceive ourselves that we are actually god and that we can redeem any bit of ourselves on our own.

He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him. 

Colossians 1 reminds us that we already have redemption, and it’s not in ourselves but in Him. It always has been and it always will be. It’s not defined by our actions or striving, so why do we try? Why do we pursue these attempts instead of reveling in His awesome ability to redeem us and our pasts to be used for His work…which is so much better than my measly workings in my own vain attempts. He came after us in the darkness of our prideful striving to move us into fellowship with Him. We are of value, we have worth. We just forget that every bit of that is found in trusting Him.

It doesn’t come from us, and it never will. But in faith and trusting Him we find that redemption is given freely, always there and ever working for our good and His glory. So I can stop trying to make a name for myself because I already have one, His.

 

 

 

Defining Work

Recently I was talking with my sister about jobs and career and degrees. We both are first generation college grads, and both of us have Master’s degrees in the education field. As I was launching into a bit of an emotional monologue about the use of degrees in jobs she stopped me with, “You need to get over that.”

 

Without realizing it, I had elevated this education to a place of importance, of stature that was bordering on idolatry in my life. I had made it more important than God’s design for me. I didn’t fully grasp this until I read the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:

Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind…Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun.

(v. 17, 20 NKJV)

I saw how I had placed my work, the labor of my life, as the thing to be obtained, to define me and make me find meaning in it. I did it all without realizing it. It was a slide I hadn’t seen myself take and ultimately it left me just as Solomon states, despairing and hating.

If I am truly honest with y’all I was a nasty person to be around in some of those moments. I contributed to the hate and despair as I let my job and my work seep into every ounce of my life, laboring out of a place of idol worship rather than out of the overflow of Christ. It wasn’t work as worship, I had switched it around and made my worship be my work. I sought the meaning of my life in the work I did, and ultimately it crushed me and left me empty.

It does that to us all if we allow it, if we pursue after meaning and definition from our work for our lives. We see how Solomon shows us plainly, cautioning us that he’s done it…every bit of it, and yet it was lacking, it left him empty. It ultimately gained him nothing but emptiness and despair.

But when we seize our work as a gift from God, that it is from His hands instead…that we aren’t relying on our work to be what defines us, but instead relying upon God, then we find nothing is better, that joy is found. Because it’s not about us in that work, it’s not about the work itself, it’s about God. It’s the good found only in Him, what He gives us, that we are then able to rejoice in. We are able to meet the stressors of a job situation, a career move, job loss with the focus on what He is telling us rather than what that job says about us.

When we are able to accept the truth that our jobs, positions, degrees, etc. aren’t what give us definition, then we are able to see the way God chooses us for them, whether a lifetime, a season or somewhere in between. It’s in that we can Amen to Solomon’s follow-up words:

Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor.

(v. 24, NKJV)

The Wrong Question

Often it’s not that we are asking a question, but that it’s the wrong one.

 

I am a member of a satellite campus of a larger church in Nashville/Brentwood area. Often times I listen to our Senior Pastor’s sermon via podcast during the week. It’s really insightful to see the various ways God uses individuals to speak about Scripture.

This week’s y’all…I have listened to Mike’s sermon three times…THREE. Because it’s just that good. I’ll probably keep it archived so I can come back to it again and again.

Here’s the rub…it’s about asking the wrong question. We can ask, we just ask the wrong thing. So let me just let Mike do the talking here.

 

God of the Small

Do you ever find that you only look to God for the big? The Noah moments, the Lazarus-level healing, even the Boaz bringing?

Maybe it’s just me. For so long I knew and trusted He was the God of the big stuff. Sovereign in creation, in resurrection. A life-giver and miraculous healer. A God of miracles and wonders.

DSCN1931The insane beauty of a sunset, oh that’s God. Look at the grandeur and working of His hand. He’s all over that.

But my small, day-to-day stuff? That’s not where I have found Him.

Or rather, that’s not where I have been looking for Him, relying on Him and allowing Him to enter in with me. He’s not the God of small, or at least that’s what I have been selling to myself and my “stuff” in the small. Why would the small matter to such a big God? Because God works the small just as He works the big, if we are faithful in the small.

Let me take you to where I saw Him in what I deem the small of life. I am back over in Ruth once more, because y’all He’s doing a work in it. If we are looking ahead to the big ending we miss the small, we miss how Ruth was faithful to go and do the work. To glean in the fields behind the reapers. To do the hard, grueling work in order to provide for her and her mother-in-law Naomi. From sun up til sun down, with a break “in the house” as we are told.

She did the faithful work and God was right there in it. It wasn’t a miraculous boat being built, it wasn’t the falling of a wall by musical instrument. It was getting up, going out, and doing. Day in, day out.

We can handle the small, so we tell ourselves. We cop to the lie that we are the mini-gods of the small, having control in to-do lists and tasks, making the bed and filing reports. But I think it takes seeing the faithful work of Ruth for me to understand God wants to be in the small of a meeting, a phone call, or a task. He wants to be in every single detail of my life, if I choose to relinquish the need for complete management of it.

Yes, He is the God of big, but He’s also the God of small. Of noticing us and being with us, if we step back and invite Him into it. If we remain faithful to do the work before us with Him. Knowing it isn’t for accolades or awards that will never come from grading papers or serving coffee, but about the beauty of Him with us in each moment as we faithfully work for Him and with Him.

For Such a Time as This

There’s something to be said for Nike’s slogan of “Just Do It.”

The last few days I have pondered career path and steps. It’s been almost a year since I changed job streams and I have to consider what that has taught me, brought me, and fought within me. If someone tells you it’s easy changing your entire path of career, they are lying to you. It is hard. Change is difficult and we all know that, but when you’ve pursued something and poured your life into something for a decade and then leave it? Yeah, it’s like a marriage ending (or what I would think is a marriage, I’m single after all).

Through it, as I have referenced through many posts over this last year, I have found what I do does not define who I am. I let it for ten years of my life. Actually probably more like ten and 10 months. 🙂 (Work in progress y’all). I discovered through the course of that decade a calling to ministry far beyond what I could have ever dreamt up back in college on my own. It has to be a God thing, and it has to be His work and not mine.

But y’all, I have a confession here. It’s my safe space among a supportive and nurturing community (and a couple of friends who call me on my junk). I have been running from the call. I have been excusing, distracted, and down-right defiant about it. I do well at stubborn, ask my momma about that. Instead of allowing growth in me, choosing to hustle on this call of obedience I slid into comfort and coveting. I’d look at what others were doing and wonder why I wasn’t there, or getting that opportunity.

Jealousy and coveting are not good looks on anyone, and especially on my heart. Yuck.

As I was talking with a friend recently about some major shifts in his ministry, I kept spurring him on, wishing he’d see from this side of the view that God has given him this for such a time as this in his life. I poured words of affirmation and encouragement into him, seeing first hand the work God is doing through him in the ministry He’s placed him in now. The heaviness I saw in my friend just under a year ago has changed, and maybe that’s all a show, but it’s difficult in our friendship to hide that kind of weight.

I thought more and more on the conversations we had exchanged the last few months, and the recent revelation of a potential new shift in his ministry and I rejoiced. He was made for this, after years of work and toil this is where God had brought him. That’s when I turned that perspective on myself. Reminding myself that I too had a call to ministry. One that gets rough, hard and doesn’t look like much to those around me. But it’s there.

Actually it’s here. Now. It’s for such a time as this. So instead of allowing the beaten down attitude, the comfort of stagnation and the excuses of distraction to continue, we push on. We take hold of the promise of the prize before us, and we continue to run. We run not in our power but His, knowing this calling isn’t one of our strength but of His might.

So we just do it. For such a time as this.

Grateful Endings

“The end of a thing is better than its beginning; The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Ecclesiastes 7:8

For the longest time I couldn’t quite understand this verse. Simply put, why would an ending be better than a beginning? Beginnings are exciting twinged with a bit of fear, and a whole lot of anxiety for some. Endings are sad mostly, laced with regret and pain for others.

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how grateful I am for endings. While I haven’t written much on this I do want to be transparent and share how coming to gratefulness in an ending is worth it.

You see in June I lost my job.

Actually it was more than that, it was my calling, my profession, what I poured my life into. It was my livelihood. It came unexpectedly and it was wrongfully executed. To put it plainly, it was just wrong. What would happen over the next six weeks while I searched for a job was life changing for me. I found myself, who I actually was, once again and who I am in Christ.

This was something I had lost somewhere in my job-because that is what had become of me. I was my job, my job was me. Every bit of it was wrapped up in me and who I was. I found I welcomed anxiety, stress and insomnia as friends all too easily. If I happened to be with friends when I wasn’t working rather continuously, I was talking about my work. I became hard to be around simply because I had allowed my job to become my life.

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Someone recently said we make our own idols out of the things we desire to give us that only God can. I believe wholeheartedly I made my work, the busy of it, and the immense strain of it my idol. I could easily say I was pushed and pulled into it by those around me, however I made that choice. And I chose it again, and again, day in and day out.

As I come upon the five months since that occurred I had to stop and put it into perspective of this week. A week of gratefulness acknowledged in every aspect, of life and love, of truth and beauty and of what God is doing in me and through me. I was brokenhearted over the loss of my job in June. But as I sit here in November I am grateful for that ending. An ending I would not have crafted and I firmly believe was not by God’s design, but one that He knew I would weather because I would be fully in His hands. Endings are worth it and are better than beginnings because we are able to part with something or someone.

We gain perspective we didn’t have at the beginning, we are older, wiser, stronger and better than we were at the start. We can boldly come to the end of something and choose gratitude for it having been complete. When we have weathered an ending we see patience lived to it’s fullest. Pride is no longer our banner as humility rings true.

Being grateful that a thing is over can be difficult to see at the present of it, but soon you realize that all along you were navigating to an end. I know I would not be where I am now, having experienced and met some of the most godly and amazing people I have had it not been for that ending. I am grateful for that, because it’s allowed me to see the beauty in people in action not in word. It’s opened my eyes to possibilities and paths I had long-since pushed aside for other people’s goals for my life. More than anything, it’s given me the grateful heart to bid adieu to a chapter of my life that I wasn’t truly writing. This ending is truly worth it even in the face of beginning again.