The Beauty of Failure

To celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary we decided to go diamond hunting in Arkansas.  The big day was finally here.  We paused outside, by the Crater of Diamonds State Park sign to take a selfie.  Today was the day we would find two diamonds!  Maybe even a whole car-load.  Heck, we’d probably need to rent a truck to haul the massive boulder-sized diamond we would unearth back home.

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Diamonds have smooth edges, shine from every direction, and contain a special oil that keeps dirt and mud from sticking to them.  I had enjoyed researching the different methods to find a diamond.  You can surface search, by simply walking around and finding one that’s been brought to the surface, typically by a good rain.  There is a dry sifting method using a screen to sift through the dirt.  Many like the wet sifting method that, when done correctly, creates a ring of sediment that would contain diamonds, right on top for easy spotting. No matter which method you use, there is no mistaking a diamond when you’ve found one.  If you aren’t sure, then it’s not a diamond.

Diamonds are formed through intense heat and pressure then delivered to the earth’s surface by lava.  Without excruciating heat and pressure, there would be no diamond.  The process that gets the diamond to the surface is also highly intense and disastrous. Another amazing example in nature that shows us how beauty comes from suffering and a long, slow changing process.

Here we were.  Expectations set high.  We arrived bright and early, excited that it had rained the day before so all those beautiful diamonds would be unearthed, and off we went, eager to find our glittery prize and join the ranks of the special few who had found a diamond.  Our dreams were dashed after the first two hours of finding nothing.  Could we be like the hundreds of other patrons who leave daily empty-handed?  Certainly not, we were part of the special group, we just knew it.

We headed back to the main building for a water-break and a pause from the intense sun and heat.  As we cooled-off we moseyed through the displays teaching about the different minerals and diamond hunting methods.  We lingered around the mineral identification station to see if anyone else had found a diamond yet.  We read testimonials of some of the greats who had mastered the craft of diamond hunting over the years.  Then we headed back-out, motivated once again to find our prize.

The night before, in an odd fitful sleep state, I’d realized that more of Jesus should be my goal, not a diamond.  As my excitement waned and reality set in, I remembered that getting more of Jesus should be my focus and I paused to pray and ask God how I could get more of Him today.

I saw Him in the two, cute, little toads that hopped across our path.  I saw Him in the amazing, glistening spider web being woven across the hiking trail before our very eyes.  I saw Him in the glittery ground that contained so many rocks and minerals that sparkled and shone.  When we paused to rest a moment in a patch of shade, we saw Him in the giant heart-shaped cloud floating over our heads.  He was there.  All around us.  When we paused and made some space, we could see He was there.

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We called it a day and headed back to the car, soaked to the bone in sweat, with big grins on our faces, because we had total peace walking away.  Our prize was more of Jesus, not a diamond.  He was the hope we needed that would never go away.  The experience was enjoyable, challenging, taught us a lot, and we’d taken a risk.  We didn’t need to drag it out and get obsessed with the wrong thing.  Obediently, we climbed into the car and drove away.  Our hearts full. 

The outcome is never up to us.  Our role is to be obedient, to take risks, and to trust Jesus with the end result.  We are thankful to be learning this lesson so that we’re able to enjoy the incredible journey He’s got us on.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Matthew 6:33

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Rainbows of Hope

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My dreams were crushed.  Instead of sitting comfortably in our seats on the train we’d waited on for years, we were left standing baffled on the platform, shamed from the rejection of closing doors as we tried to board, and shocked at the outcome we’d been unable to see coming.  Our goals, our plans, all gone in an instant.  Instead, my biggest fear was now the reality; we were going back to Texas without completing our task. 

God had given us a desire to go.  He guided us to sell all, leave everyone and everything we knew, hop on a plane and dive into new cultures.  The “fun” of this idea had long-before worn off.  What feels like a fun adventure while on a vacation in a foreign land, quickly becomes a never-ending lesson in humility when you live there.  Small, mundane tasks are not small or mundane to the foreigner.  Simple tasks like going through the check-out lane at the grocery store left us bewildered, confused, and feeling like a failure.  Locals regarded us as having no common sense or logic because what was second nature to them was completely alien to us.  Living like this quickly takes a toll.  We were already in this weary state, hoping to endure and learn and one day feel comfortable here.  We knew it would come with time. We were willing to wait and to put in the work.  We were clinging to that hope.

Our hope was closely linked to big dreams.  Dreams we were certain that God had lead us to, as we took one step at a time in obedience to His guidance.  These weren’t my original dreams for our life.  That initial “American Dream” goal had been traded in for this journey with Jesus.  His faithfulness to excite my heart with each new phase kept me trusting that we were on His path for our lives.  This country, this language, this plan to start a business, this dream were all from Him.  Never would I have picked any of this.  Never.  And I was all in.  I trusted His plan.  He had gotten me excited about it all.  So why was I standing here, still feeling the smack of this door being slammed shut in my face, as the train left without us?  Why would God give me a new plan, get me excited about it, and then shut it down with no warning?  How could I ever trust His plan again?  My heart hurt.  I wasn’t ready for another round.   

As I sat mindlessly flipping through the photos on my phone from our short time in this city, I started to notice a theme.  Rainbows.  Lots of them.  IMG_20170820_190513-01I suddenly remembered the day that I had seen three different rainbows in one afternoon, all painted brilliantly across the sky.  Three!  God, you’ve got my attention.  I paused and asked Him what these rainbows meant.  Over the course of the next few weeks the only answer I had was “hope”.  Rainbows are a symbol of hope.  Great.  What does that mean?  God seemed to have crushed my hope along with the dreams.  How could I ever hope and trust any new plan He gave me if the ending was going to hurt this much?  I was more confused than before.  Alright God, please tell me, what does this word hope really mean?

A month later I found myself in a cozy living room, surrounded by faith-filled women of all ages, sipping steaming tea as we dove into a bible study about hope by Amy Groeschel.  I just love God’s perfect timing. God spoke through His word, Amy’s study, and through so many of these women as they shared their own struggles and stories.

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Even my nephews sent us rainbow drawings for our birthdays.

By week two I saw clearly what God was trying to show me.  I knew in my head that Jesus is our hope.  But I wasn’t living that truth.  Instead I was actually putting my hope in circumstances and outcomes.  My hope had been that one day we’d fully grasp the two languages effortlessly, have a successful business, be a place for the minority people to get a second chance, have a scattering of new believers because of our discipleship, and ultimately look like a success in the way the world defines success.  My hope in my future was all dependent on the outcome.  God, in His patient love, allowed me to go through this experience to see that my hope was not truly in Him. 

Seeing this truth is what’s given me the ability to say Yes to God for this new season and go all-in again.  As God has begun to give us an excitement for what the next season’s assignment looks like, I am clinging to Jesus as my hope.  Not the results.  Not the outcome.  Not if things appear successful or end as a giant failure.  I am called to follow Jesus and be obedient.  That’s it.  The rest is up to God, for His glory.  While this is not the outcome I expected or wanted, I am completely content.

As I align my hope fully in Jesus, my heart has flooded with joy and peace.  From this place, I’ve now been able to look back and see some of the subtle signs that the story wasn’t going to go the way I’d scripted it all out.  I’m also able to see that while my location is drastically changing, the vision hasn’t changed at all.  I can trust my God to equip and train me for each season and He is faithfully doing just that.

Thank you, God, for the confident expectation that hope in only Jesus can be, and for the closed doors that it sometimes takes to open my eyes.  What beautiful, patient love He lavishes on us! 

What storms and challenges are you currently walking through? Where is your hope?

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  Psalm 62:5-6

“Do not set your hopes on the things that perish, for if you do, hopes fulfilled and hopes disappointed will be equally bitter in your mouths.” — Alexander McLaren

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Romans 15:13

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Such beautiful hope! 

If all you ever had was sunshine without the rain, you’d never get to experience the beauty of the rainbow.

 

Throw It Out the Window

It was my most prized and precious possession, a raggedy little lamb.  At one point the little, stuffed lamb had been a plush, pristine, stuffed animal complete with a bow around its neck and music-box inside.  My memories of it only recall the shell of the lamb that had long before burst open and lost every last shred of stuffing.  I have no recollection of a single note or melody that music box played.  What I treasured and clung to would have easily been mistaken for a filthy rag, long past overdue to be discarded. 

Marie Young (8)My identity and security were wrapped up in having my lamb close-by.  My young heart was so dependent on this lamb that I had recurring dreams of losing it and finding an exact replica.  I’d wake up comforted by the fact that these replicas were hidden all over our house, so that I could never, ever fully lose my lamb.  It’s funny what our minds will allow us to believe so that our hearts won’t break.  I carried that scrap of a lamb with me everywhere I went.

I clung tightly to my lamb until the day I mustered up the courage to throw it away.  I’m sure my mom had been trying every trick in the book to get me to give up that worn-out lamb.  But all I remember is the night that little five-year-old me decided to go to bed without my lamb. I knew if I put it in a drawer or at the back of my closet I wouldn’t last through the night.  So I bravely tossed my lamb in the garbage and climbed up onto the top bunk.  I never saw my mom take the garbage out, but I know when I regretted my decision the next day, and hoped beyond all hopes to see it still in the trash can, the lamb was already gone.

I often thought of that lamb.  It had been a part of me.  I missed it.  But even at that young age, I had understood the only way to be free was to throw it out.  The problem was, when I gave up the object that my security and hope were in, it left a gaping hole in my heart.  The pain of loving something so much and letting it go wasn’t enjoyable.  I didn’t like it.  So I built a wall around my heart and I chose other objects that would make me feel secure and safe. 

I’ve heard the story of the Rich Young Ruler told in both the book of Mark (10:17-31) and Luke (18:18-30) many times.  The young man asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus reminds him of the Ten Commandments, all of which the young man assures Jesus he’s done his whole life.  Then Jesus tells him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  In this story the young man goes away sorrowful because of all he was being asked to give up.  For years I was able to dismiss this story.  I was not rich.  I did not have abounding wealth.  How could I be the same as this young man?

But I am one of the lucky ones, who God asked to sell all, to give to the poor, and to leave everything to follow Him.  What I realized in that process, was how attached to my stuff I really was.  It didn’t matter the monetary value of the item.  In fact, the things I was most deeply attached to were just like that little lamb, easily mistaken as trash to anyone else.  The attachment ran deep in my heart.  But I obeyed.  I gave away.  I sold.  I was finished.  I’d learned my lesson. 

Except here I was, 38-year-old me, and God had exposed to me that I was still in the same place five-year-old me had been.  Although I’d sold and given what I considered to be everything, there was one tiny item I had saved.  One small object that I had been putting my security, worth, and value in.  One I wore proudly daily.  God showed me that this object helped me believe I was part of something special.  This object proved I had a place to belong.  It was keeping me from fully living in my identity as the daughter of God.

However, this time was different.  Unlike the time I’d thrown away my lamb that had left a gaping hole, this time Jesus was asking me to let Him take the place of this object.  I thought about taking it off and putting it in my closet, or giving it to someone in need, but as I prayed through these options I felt clearly that I was to throw this object out the window.  Yes.  It sounded crazy.  But God doesn’t mess around with idols in our life.  Jesus taught that we should confront sin in our life with intense serious actions.  If our eye causes us to sin we should tear it out and throw it away.  If our right hand causes us to sin we should cut it off and throw it away. (Matthew 5:29-30)  And while Jesus was speaking in hyperbole here, He was showing us that idols and sin should not be treated lightly. 

So at the risk of being a total nut-job, I took this symbol of my security, threw it out the window and invited Jesus to fill that gaping hole in my heart.  No need for walls.  No need for new stuff to fill the space.  Just Jesus.

A few months later, as I thought over what I’d done, God reminded me of a song we used to sing as kids.  We had a cassette tape called We Sing Silly Songs, and the song went like this:

Mary had a little lamb, 

It’s fleece was white as snow, 

And everywhere that Mary went, 

She threw it out the window, 

The window, the second story window, 

And everywhere that Mary went, 

She threw it out the window.

I had to laugh at God’s sense of humor.  What started as a stuffed lamb that a child clung to for hope has been traded for The Spotless Lamb of God who is The Hope.  I’m so thankful for the patient, beautiful work of Jesus Christ in my heart.  I’m so thankful for the freedom that He brings.  

What might God be asking you to throw out the window to make room for Him?

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

The Beauty in Circling Back

Endometriosis.  For me, this word has always had a lot of shame attached to it.  My journey of finally being diagnosed in 2000 had left me emotionally crushed and broken.  I experienced doctors who didn’t believe me, who told me I was being dramatic, and implied I needed to just toughen up.  The symptoms I testified to having were all received with disbelieving gazes and it was suggested these were all in my head.  I endured tests that showed no signs of the disease that brought such agonizing pain.  Pain that would literally leave me crippled in a ball until it was over.  Pain that came and went with no obvious pattern that would be gone just long enough to make even me wonder if it was all actually real.  After an exploratory laparoscopy that revealed there was, in fact, endometriosis, I was left feeling more broken than before.  The very people who had accused me of faking, embellishing, and creating stories were proudly showing their medical accomplishments in having removed all the diseased areas, as if they’d known it was there all along. 

I remember the visit, about halfway through this journey, where I was excited to ask about this disease. I’d researched carefully online, and read all that I could find, which wasn’t much back in 2000.  All the symptoms I was experiencing were summed up with this one word: endometriosis.  I knew in my core that this is what I had.  There were no doubts in my mind.  Yet the doctor immediately dismissed the idea.  He had one very strict definition of the disease and thought it was a fact that only middle aged women were affected.  He stated with naive certainty that a young girl of just barely 20 could not have endometriosis.  Not a chance. 

Yet here I sat.  I was staring at the photos of the endometriosis that this doctor had removed from inside my abdomen.  He was proudly explaining the disease to me.  I nodded silently, hoping he would apologize for the years he lead me to believe I was crazy and for his implications that my own intuition and body-awareness wasn’t trustworthy.  No such apology happened.  While my abdomen was disease-free, my emotions had been deeply wounded.  Each step of this journey had heaped buckets of shame on me.  I had felt very alone, dismissed, and disregarded in the process.  I was nowhere close to being healed or free.  Endometriosis had deep roots in me, deeper than what any doctor could physically remove.

But Jesus.  Many years later I would surrender my life to Jesus and invite Him to heal my heart.  All the deep wounds that I’d been carrying around had filled up so much space in my heart that there was no place for His love.  So little by little, slowly and delicately Jesus began to do surgery on my heart.  He cut away the diseased places.  It was painful.  Those places needed time to heal.  The wounds had to be cared for and treated so they wouldn’t get infected before healing.  The healing process is messy and it hurts.  But I knew this pain would lead to freedom.  So I kept inviting Jesus to cut away more, to dig-out, up-root, and make space for His love.

Seventeen years later, here I am.  Once again sitting in a doctor’s office.  Once again explaining the pain I’m having.  This doctor has very strict definitions and certainty, too.  But this time around, I’m not the same girl I was seventeen years ago.  This time I’m trusting Jesus, who I know is holding my hand through this.  I don’t have to pick up the shame that is crowding into this exam room, pressing in all around me.  This time I know who I am.  I’m the daughter of the King.  I’m healed.  I’m free.

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A perfectly timed gift from an amazing friend.  What a beautiful reminder of who I am.

As I enter this deja-vu journey, God keeps taking me back to the story of Joseph. His story begins in Genesis 37.  At the age of seventeen, he was sold by his own brothers into slavery and taken to a foreign land.  Joseph’s story takes him to prison for a crime he did not commit and eventually to stand before the most powerful man, Pharaoh, to interpret a dream.  Throughout Joseph’s life he remains faithful to God.  He works as unto the Lord in every place he is put, even though he didn’t choose any of it.  In every place he is the foreigner and very alone.  Around the age of thirty-seven, Joseph finds himself face-to-face with his brothers.  The very brothers who sold him into slavery.  We don’t know the emotions Joseph went through at seeing his own flesh and blood that betrayed him.  We do know that at first Joseph is harsh with the brothers yet later breaks down and weeps.  God knew that Joseph needed to face the people who had shamed him, broken him, and left him crushed so that his heart could be fully healed and fully free.  God loves us too much to only heal us physically.  He is focused on our hearts and the healing that will last for all of eternity.  Only through the power of God’s healing was Joseph able to say to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. … So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:4-5,8)

This path back to a place that once left me bruised, broken, and crushed, is the very path that will reveal all the healing that has taken place.  I know God is taking me back to this place so that He can give me the gift of freedom.  This time around I have hope.  I remember all that God has already done in my heart, and even though I’m scared, I can keep walking this path, one step at a time, knowing that He is trustworthy and He is working all for my good and His glory.  Whatever the outcome, I know this time around I am free and I am healed.  Where does God have you circling back to in your life?

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Contending

What about the days where everything feels like a struggle?  When it feels like I’m walking through a muddy swamp and my shoes are getting heavier and heavier with each step?  Am I doing something wrong?

Jude calls us to contend for the faith.  We are to rival against difficulties.  To struggle, to fight, to stand against the opposition we will face in our faith walk each day.  We are called to be “Contenders of the Faith”.  Because in our lives there will be trials, there will be difficulties, there will be troubles, and there will be seasons that we think we may not survive and God’s mercy feels far away.

These struggles look different, day to day, year to year, season to season.  For me I’m in the middle of learning to contend in a season of waiting.  When I can’t make results happen by trying harder how do I respond?  Read my story of how I’m learning to be content in the waiting here and join us in a conversation about what it looks like to be contenders in our faith over at Kelly Sobieski’s blog, Carried by Love.  

Julie Posset Words

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude 1:3

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21

 

 

Pumpkin Beauty

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Fall is here!  The air is crisp, the leaves are turning beautiful shades of yellows, oranges, and reds, and in every market here, there are pumpkins.  So many varieties of pumpkins!  Since Rudy and I have birthdays within days of each other we headed out of the city for an afternoon to celebrate with a fall flair. 

What we encountered was the largest variety of pumpkins we’ve ever seen.  Row upon row, shelf upon shelf, each one with it’s own uniqueness.  There were speckled and bumpy, flawless and smooth, oblong and awkward, ginormous and mini, and a wide array of colors from black to green to orange and every variation in-between. From the cliche Cinderella orange pumpkin to spotty ones that were easily mistaken for a dinosaur egg.  Each one could be celebrated for what makes it different from the next.

This was in stark contrast to last fall when we lived in a city that boasted only two types of pumpkins to choose from.  Living there you could easily begin to believe that a pumpkin must look only one of two ways.  That’s it.  A pumpkin is a pumpkin is a pumpkin. 

Yet here I stood, gazing at hundreds of varieties, all tagged with their name.  When I look at this picture (at the top) I see diversity, variety, an array of beautiful colors, shapes, and sizes.  Beautiful eye candy that I devoured with each glance.  I can’t help but notice a Creator who loves different.  God could have easily made one type of fish, bird, animal, plant, or pumpkin.  But in each part of creation we see a plethora of variety.

As human beings we boast a trait that nothing else in creation can, we are made in a likeness of God’s image.  All humans.  Every. Single. One. There isn’t one shade that is more like God than another.  We all bring a unique perspective to the table and when one perspective is missing, it leaves a gaping hole.  When all of our differences come together we have a more complete picture of God.  His beauty is most reflected in our variety. 

My small group is currently studying through the book of Ephesians and the topic of unity is repeated over and over.  We don’t have to agree on everything to be in alignment or to live in unity.  That’s the beauty of Jesus.  He can unite what nothing else can.  In Thirty Years that Changed the World, Michael Green talks about the importance of unity this way:

And today the Spirit seems to come with power on those who are united: such are the people he uses. …God cannot bless disunity, and he will not. …It is only when men and women are clearly being reconciled with one another, despite all their differences, that skeptics will stop and take note of the Reconciler.

When I stood and gazed at these two displays (pictured below) my heart came alive looking at the one filled with diversity.  That’s the picture I want my life to reflect.  But that won’t just happen on it’s own.  

A few small, intentional steps I’m taking is by listening to podcasts by people who are from ethnic backgrounds different than myself, and being the huge bookworm that I am, by reading books that are from varying authors from different ethnicities, countries, and perspectives.  We were created to be different on purpose.  I want to learn to celebrate differences instead of fear them.  What does this look like in your life?

Transformed Beauty

 

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This beautiful park, not far from my apartment, has a dark past.  It was once a concentration camp for political prisoners in the 1930’s. What was once a place of oppression, death, and shame has become filled with life, laughter, and new growth.  I’m thankful our God can breathe new life into even the darkest, most broken of places.  He transforms and makes all things new.

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” —Nelson Mandel, Long Walk To Freedom