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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Beauty

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A friend gifted this beautiful orchid to me as a housewarming present.  Upon receiving the exotic plant, I hopped online to learn how to keep it alive.  I read all about how to water, feed, and find the perfect amount of indirect sunlight for this beauty to thrive.  But a story from Bethany Lotulelei on her blog dandelionpie.com caught my eye.  She talked about repotting her prize orchid into a bigger pot.  The exact thing I had assumed I would need to do since my own plant’s tangled mass of roots were already creeping out over the top of the store-issued container.  Bethany went on to tell how her orchid began to wither away in it’s newly found open space.  It wasn’t until after she put the struggling orchid back into a small container that it perked back up and began to thrive once again.  She discovered that “in essence, orchids don’t need space: they need small.”  This incredible flower that symbolizes love and beauty requires small.  Not only that, it thrives and comes alive in the small.  What an incredible reminder for me that bigger is not always better and to be content in the small.  There is beauty in the small.

 

What if You’ve heard His voice?

It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and I was enjoying a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the pool.  The crystal blue water was warm, as pools in Texas summers are, and being at the age where I was “too cool for school” for just about everything, I’d quickly run out of activities to entertain me. 

My eyes scanned the pool searching for an idea to kill a few minutes and paused on the diving board, but, no, I’d had my fill, and then my gaze landed on the rope.  That rope.  It separated the shallow end from the deep end and was a source of ongoing mischief between the teens and the lifeguard.  Those of us old enough to be at the small, private pool without our parents had an unending game of nonchalantly trying to unhook the infamous rope without getting caught by the lifeguard.  It was a great source of pleasure to hear her blow her whistle and command an innocent child nearby to re-hook the rope for her.  Typically it wasn’t hard to tell which teen was the culprit, you could easily spot the guilt-ridden face somewhere across the pool pretending to be very interested in a crack on the wall.  So I made a bee-line for the rope thinking it would be hilarious to bump the hook with my head “accidentally” setting it free.

My plan seemed brilliant as I angled myself under the water and perfectly hit the hook, right by the wall, with the top of my head.  Thud.  I’d done it!  Except instead of the hook coming out of the latch like I’d expected it stayed securely fastened and was now thoroughly caught in my hair. 

One of the many rules at this pool was that long hair had to be tied back and fastened.  No one knew why.  The rumor was so the hair wouldn’t clog the drains.  But my rule-abiding pony tail was now a death trap.  The hook was not budging despite my frantic attempts to yank it out of my perfectly secured hair. 

Panic was an understatement.  I was quickly running out of air and I realized that I’d be dead before anyone realized I needed help.  Time slowed down.  Each second ticking by felt like an eternity.  I was in full-on panic mode and my brain was screaming for me to breathe.  In the chaos of thoughts flying through my mind I heard one distinct clear voice.  It told me to put my feet on the floor, stand up, then turn my head so I could get a breath. 

I listened to that voice.  I planted my feet on the bottom of the pool, with the hook still firmly tangled at the crown of my head, I turned my head and was able to get my mouth out of the water to get one giant gulp of beautiful air.  After that I was able to think clearly.  I ripped the hair tie out of my wet, tangled hair and then easily freed the hook.

I stood up fully, still shaking.  I breathed deep.  I was thankful to be alive.  And I was thankful I obeyed that voice. 

Many years and heart changes later, I’m now able to recognize that voice.  That voice has a name.  Jesus.  The more I draw near to God through reading and studying His word, the more I recognize the voice as His when I hear it.

Just like me, not everyone recognizes God’s voice the first time they hear it.  Samuel was a miracle baby.  One for whom his mother had waited years and years, wept bitterly, and prayed so deeply for, the priest mistook her for being drunk.  Samuel’s mother gave Samuel back to God, to serve under Eli the priest in the temple while he was still a little boy.  Samuel knew a lot about God.  Yet when God called out to Samuel one night, Samuel didn’t recognize the voice.  (This true story can be found in the Bible in 1 Samuel.)

How many of us might say God has never spoken to us?  But could it be, that, like Samuel, we just didn’t recognize the voice?  Back before the days of cell phones and caller ID I had a few select friends who could call and simply say, “It’s me.”  Those weren’t first time callers.  Those were my best friends whose voices I’d heard many many times. 

The more time I spend reading through the Old and New Testament the more I see all the variety of ways God speaks directly, personally, and intimately to His individual children, and the more I am able to recognize and know His voice when He speaks personally to me. 

I’m so thankful to have a God who loves me personally, talks to me, and listens to me.  If you’re someone who says you’ve never heard God’s voice, are you sure?  Maybe you just didn’t know it was Him.  It’s not too late to find out. 

Julie Sheep Blog

The Space Between

We had just finished class and were standing on the subway platform waiting on the train when I noticed Rudy’s arms.  They looked better!  “Can I take a picture of your arm?” I asked and quickly snapped a shot with my phone as he held out his hand.  We talked about how improved the rash looked and Rudy said it was slightly less itchy.  I was so relieved and excited to see this obvious improvement and happily studied the photo I had just taken.  What an incredible answer to many people’s prayers that we had just asked for that morning.

In that moment I realized anyone else would look at this picture and be disturbed.  The red, bumpy, flakey rash covered his forearm and disappeared up under his shirt sleeve.  It was obvious enough to make you want to scoot away and keep your distance, and it was so severe it was hard to look at without averting your eyes.  It looked painful and very uncomfortable.  A passerby could easily assume this issue needed immediate attention and medical help and probably wondered if it was contagious.

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Yet what I saw in the picture was improvement.  I saw healing.  I saw success.  I could see a significant change from what it had been just earlier that morning.  I looked at this mess of a rash and saw hope.  God at work.  Because I knew the story.  I knew the day it appeared thirteen weeks ago and camped out.  I knew it’s progressive march to conquer any unclaimed space.  I knew of the shins covered in bloody scabs from battling nights of constant scratching, the doctor visits, and the thousands of remedies tried that brought no relief.  I knew.

From a glance, this could accurately be described as a situation that needed an intervention.  But I knew God had already begun the restoring work.  Not fully broken and not fully healed.  The space between. Such a tough place to wait.

So often I judge others’ actions and attitudes with no frame of reference.  I see that momentary snapshot of their life and can only see the mess of how far they have to go.  What I miss is how far they have already come.  I don’t know of the years of healing that have already taken place.  I don’t know how far down the scale they originally started or the significant progress made.  Other times I simply forget to look back and remember.  All I can see is the rough, red spots, that are uncomfortable to look at, staring me right in the face.

I’m praying this picture reminds me to give others the benefit of the doubt, not to assume I know who they are or where they come from, and to focus on their strengths, gifts, and talents instead of the messy parts that still need to heal.  I’m praying it gives me an added measure of grace to extend to others.  Because I’ve got messy parts, too, and my own mess can help me have empathy and compassion for your mess as we all experience that space between while we wait on God to fully heal.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happing to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12-13

Leaving Your Mark

Every day as I walk around this amazing city I pass art.  There are indistinguishable spray painted letters and words, colorful designs, political statements, pictures, murals, sculptures, and statues that catch my eye and bring added life to spaces.  Some of the art draws me in and peacefully invites me to stay while some forces me to stare hurt, suffering, and evil in the eyes and dares me not to look away.  But each piece reflects life and beauty from a unique perspective.

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We recently celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary by taking a Graffiti Art Tour. Our guide was an artist himself who does both the illegal graffiti and legal commissioned pieces.  He was a wealth of knowledge.  He explained to us there is a difference between street art and graffiti.

Street art is an expression of the artist, it has meaning and purpose.  It is planned and intentional.  The artist willingly gives away their art for others to enjoy.  They are blessing others with the artistic gift they’ve been given.

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Anne Frank street art, Berlin, painted by Jimmy C.

Graffiti, on the other hand, according to our guide, is selfish.  Graffiti is all about the artist leaving his or her own name to be recognized and remembered.  It’s simply leaving their own mark claiming a space as theirs. There is no deeper meaning or purpose, it’s just their own tag.  It’s a celebration of their own legacy.

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If street art is giving then graffiti is taking.  One is a sacrifice, hours of back-breaking work, that benefits the viewers and the other is a sacrifice merely for self glory, self promotion, and the thrill of an adrenaline rush.

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Both artists leave a lasting mark.  Both artists have a gift to share.  Yet one shares with no strings attached and the other makes the art all about him/herself.

This got me thinking about my own life.  Am I the street artist freely using my gifts for the benefit of all or am I the graffiti artist seeking recognition and making a name for myself under the guise of “art”?  Am I content to be nameless and let the results of hours upon hours of painstaking efforts go unclaimed?

Jesus calls me as His follower to daily take up my cross and follow Him.  To daily die to myself, my recognition, my preferences, and live for God’s glory.  To daily build God’s kingdom instead of my own.

I know my art has been graffiti at times.  I’m so thankful for the new grace and forgiveness Jesus gives me every single morning to be the street artist today with the gifts He’s given me to use.  Will you join me?