Why Creation is a Messy Process

It all began with my suitcase.

I recently returned from a five day trip to Texas to see family and friends and attend a writer’s conference in the Austin area. I packed way too many clothes and shoes. And books. (One always miscalculates the amount of ‘free time’ to read while on a trip.) In fact, when I checked into our airport in Seattle, my suitcase was three pounds overweight. I had to do some quick reshuffling to manage everything. Sigh. Out with the laptop, out with the pillow (yes, I travel with my pillow). Out with the shoes. Buy new shopping bag to sling over my shoulder. Sigh again.

Besides gleaning some nuggets of truth from the folks I heard at the three- day conference, I also began mentally gleaning my wardrobe. Weird, I know, but God often uses my physical life as an object lesson to illustrate what he’s doing inside me.

One of the gifts of getting older is finding out what you like and don’t like, what you love and what you can live without. Not only with words but in this case, with my wardrobe. I was processing new discoveries about ways of looking at my writing, adding them to the mix of my current mindset, but my mind was over-full. My overflowing suitcase matched my over-stuffed mind.

Some things needed to go to make room for these new ideas.

One of the conference speakers relayed the ideas of looking at our writing through orientation, disorientation and reorientation. I love learning about words and their root meaning. When I got home I looked up the word ‘orient’–from the Latin, ‘oriens’ meaning ‘rising sun’. When we are facing ourselves in the right direction—towards the Son—Jesus—things feel right. But when God is doing something new we feel disoriented.

We often dislike the feeling of being disoriented, so we try to pass over it too quickly to eliminate the uneasy feelings. But God is often there in the mess. In fact, He is always there in the mess. Maybe we need to take time to process and work through what’s there so we can learn from it.

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I returned from my trip on a Saturday evening. The next day I thought about rushing off to church to be with family and friends in worship. But something pulled me towards dealing with my overstuffed suitcase. I needed to get rid of some of my clothes; most of my clothes. My husband kissed me goodbye and left me to my project.20170219_154157

I was determined to go through two closets (two!) and two dressers (seriously?), keep what I knew I loved and would wear again and get rid of all the rest.The process took me most of that day and little of the next. By the time I finished I had two big plastic blue Ikea bags full to the brim.

It’s hard to explain how much lighter I felt. Not only did I have more room in my closets, I could actually see what I had.  Clearly I don’t need anything new to wear, what I have now is the ability to put things together in a new way that feels right to me. I felt reoriented, creative.

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Creation is like that, whether we’re writing a poem, planting a garden or building a piece of furniture. It often begins with the mess of feeling disoriented while things are undone and all over the place. Stuff needs to be moved around, thrown out, cut down, laid all over the floor.

I think we need the disorientation process more than we know. The song ‘Simple Gifts’ has the lines about ‘turning, turning, til we come out right.’ Our lives are a continual turning towards the Son to see what needs changing, throwing away, cutting back. When we embrace the disorientation process we’re better able to see what new and beautiful creations God has to give through us.

What mess is God calling you to make today? What have you gone through that’s led to something new? Please share in the comments.

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Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. You can hear Judy Collins singing it here.

* * *  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee for Tell His Story

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Why Waiting Matters {and a quiet announcement}

True confession—I am a very impulsive person.  On the DISC personality test** I score as a High “I”—impetuous, impulsive, intuitive and easily influenced.

By the grace of God and years of practice I have learned how to not blurt out everything I think all at once. Strike that—I am learning.

Being still and quiet are also a job of work for me, practices I’ve been very intentional about for the past few years. I am desperate to hear God’s voice and listening for Him to speak takes significant effort.

But the greatest area of growth for me is learning to wait on God for my our good ideas to pan out. Hardest thing ever. When I receive an idea for something it is very difficult to understand that good things take time. And if the inspiration is truly a God-idea, not just a good idea, waiting is a wise choice.

I’m also a global learner; I process many, many thoughts all at once,  like the spokes of a wheel going out from the center. I think of it as my God-dependent mind being in the middle and all my scattered, happening-at-the-same-time thoughts circling on the outside.

Given my all-at-once information processing and do-it-right-now mindset you can clearly see why “slow down, take your time, think first” don’t always come naturally to me.

It’s pretty clear I’m not the only who struggles with this. Our society has normalized, not patience, but speed and hurry. We want what we want and we want it now.  This is not because we have developed such short attention spans, which is true to a point, but because we’re willing to settle for so little.

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I’ve been spending some time in Psalm 46 the last week or so, meditating on several verses, particularly the familiar v. 10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Or, as the Amplified Bible puts it, “Let be and be still, and know—recognize and understand—that I am God.”

Here’s what I noticed: how many times the author says, “Selah.”  “Selah” is a musical term which means in the Hebrew ‘suspension {of music}, pause.’  THREE TIMES in this very short Psalm we read, “Selah”, pause, slow down, pay attention, think about this, these words are important.

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I am in a waiting mode right now, albeit an active waiting mode, because I am writing a book. I’ll tell you more about it in the coming months (or you can email me for the book synopsis). I am learning why waiting is worth it.

Launching a book into the world is a huge feat, as many of you know. I have to finish my book proposal by Jan. 31st, have it reviewed, begin writing the book, send the manuscript to an editor (scary!), incorporate edits, work on marketing, choose a cover, get it published and voila! you’ll have it in your hands.

By October. That’s ten months from now. However.

The process provides the time to tell the world about the book, to build anticipation and suspense, so when you finally hold a copy in your hands you’ll say, “This was worth waiting for.” Sort of like the Academy Awards but without the gowns.

Here’s the thing: I want the end product to be the best it can be so I’m willing to invest the time it takes to do it right.

I can skimp on costs for this book-to-be: cover and content, accelerate the production effort, neglect to market it, etc. etc. all in the name of getting my words out there sooner. End result? I’d be settling for second best. I want something beautiful, well done and a work that makes God look good, so I’m choosing to ‘selah’ early and often on this book journey.

Will you join me in the waiting. I’m counting on it.


**if you want to know more about the DISC assessment, click HERE

 

The Most Remarkable Missionary You’ve Never Heard Of

The eyes of the world have been watching Arab refugees pour into Europe the last several months. Fear has fueled many of the reactions of folks across the continents as there has been talk and concern about the people flooding Europe–they are Muslims and could therefore possibly be terrorists.
Because of this fear many countries have said to the refugees, ‘You are not welcome here,’ leaving Muslim as well as Arab Christians abandoned and exiled, fearful of ever returning home, trapped in a life-changing limbo.

The country of Germany, however, has said, “Yes. Yes, you are welcome and we will help you.”
And miracle of miracles, many of those same Muslim people are coming to Christ.
Story after story is coming out of a church work in Germany recounting just that; using no real names, only initials–“A” was baptized, “C” received Jesus, and so on–I have personally read of the move of God changing the lives of these desperate people.**
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“Trained faith is a triumphant gladness in having nothing but God–no rest, no foothold–nothing but Himself–a triumphant gladness in swinging out into the abyss, rejoicing in a very fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true–The Lord Alone–that is trained faith.”  Lillias Trotter’s diary, 1894

 

The work of evangelizing the Muslim people may well have begun at the end of the 19thCentury when a brave, young lady left a world promising her fame and fortune and decided instead to follow God’s call to bring the Gospel to the Muslims in Algeria.
Lilias Trotter(1853-1928) was that daring young woman. She defied all the norms of Victorian England by winning the favor of England’s top art critic, John Ruskin. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Ruskin promised her work could be “immortal.” But with her legacy on the line, Lilias made a stunning decision that bids us to question the limits of sacrifice. As Lilias journeys to French Algeria in the late 1800’s to pioneer missionary work with women and children, (film) viewers are left to wonder, “Could you abandon a dream to pursue your true calling?” (from ‘Many Beautiful Things’ website).
                                                
Lilias’ biography, “A Passion for the Impossible” by Miriam Huffman Rockness, recounts the tale from Lilias’ British childhood of privilege, filled with art and leisure, to the sands of North Africa where she laid down her life for forty years. 
Her story was recommended to me by my friend Kimberlee, who insisted I’d be carried away not only with the heart of the book’s message but by the beauty of the language as well.  She was right.The text is rich and deep, full of Lilias’ observations not only of God’s faithfulness but her own deep abiding in the presence and power of God. The miraculous tales of God’s intervention and move among the Muslim people in Algeria are stirring as well as inspiring.

In 1888, without knowing a speck of Arabic and without the sponsorship of any organization, Lilias left her London home of comfort for a modest dwelling in Algeria. From the courts of their headquarters at Rue de Croissant in Blida near the North African Coast, Lilias’ love of literature and art became dynamic tools for evangelism. Many of her hand painted illustrations and sketches were part of the printed work that went into the Arab world of that day; her compassion and enthusiasm carried off the page.
“The pebble takes in the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is means, not simply of drinking more in, 
but of giving more out.”
(letter from Lilias to her friend Blanche Piggott, 1894).
Today, over a century after John Ruskin’s encounter with Lilias, many of her exhibition paintings, along with thirty-four other leaves from her sketchbook, are buried in the Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, a hidden testament to “potential recognized, promise unrealized,” as the Lilias Trotter website declares.

Although I dream of seeing these works in person some day in England, I am thrilled to tell you that a glimpse of Lilias’ life will be available soon via film. “Many Beautiful Things” releases on March 8th on DVD.

The film has been playing to private screenings across the country and will now be available to the general public.  The movie features the voices of Michelle Dockery(Lady Mary of Downton Abbey) and John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings).
 
In Dockery’s words from the film’s trailer, “Even though I’m a Brit, I had never heard of Lilias Trotter. Now I think the whole world should hear of her and see this film.”  
 
Why? Because the legacy Lilias left is continuing to this day–barriers she crossed in the frontiers of Northern Africa in the 1900’s paved the way for many to hear the Gospel of Christ for the first time. Her artistic vision and the work of words and paintings she left the world are inspiring treasures and a testimony to God’s love and creativity.

 
“Things still look dark and heavy all round–but “when the clouds be full of rain they empty themselves upon the earth”–it is better to wait as the parched ground waits here, for the torrents that will set life going.  
And I am beginning to see that it is out of a low place that one can best believe.
It is water poured down into a low narrow channel that can rise into a fountain–
faith that comes from the depths has a spring in it! (10 July 1896)
 

Old Tables and New Life {Roots & Sky Edition}

I pour lemon oil onto my dust rag, massaging the small table’s worn and chipped surface. No amount of elbow grease or lemon oil will cover up the wear and tear–scuffs from an old plant container, water rings from one too many glasses of iced tea, the solitary black circle from a dropped cigarette.
Simply an every day side table, no precious wood or dovetailed joints in its construction.  Made of common mahogany, one small drawer holds the flotsam and jetsam of my living room, a shelf underneath supporting a large basket of books.
There is an angry spot on the bottom shelf where some rubbing alcohol spilled. I thought it would come off with the lemon oil, but the surface’s finish prohibited such repair.
Chips, scratches, streaks….the wood is far from perfect, but no matter. We will keep the table, hauling it into and out of the garage each Christmas making way for our holiday tree. Repolish, re-oil and sift through the drawers contents as needed.
Why? This piece belonged to my mother and my mother has been gone for over 30 years. I have so few of my mother’s things in my home; this little table is a daily reminder. Its value is only in the eyes of the beholder—and I am thankful to behold its glossy, worn presence.

In Christie Purifoy’s new book, “Roots and Sky” she ponders the power of every day wonder in simple things, viewed through the lens of the Seasons.  I asked a friend if I could begin reading “Roots&Sky” with the ‘Spring’ section, skipping over Fall and Winter. She counseled me to begin at the beginning, explaining there was a reason for the Autumn backstory.
I’m very grateful I started with Fall. Christie’s journal chronicles the trials and triumphs encountered when she and her husband purchased a very old farmhouse high on a hilltop in Pennsylvania. Old, like built in the 1880’s old.
 Dreaming of a grand future—flowers, farming, fellowship with neighbors–Christie and her husband begin the daunting process of reclaiming the old and worn and broken down.

Without the dark and empty slate of Autumn/Winter, 
we cannot appreciate the riot of new birth in the Spring.
What a parallel for life.  As I sit here typing on this rain-soaked day, the old, tired earth is waking up. There are signs everywhere.  Although the mantle of ground has been beaten down, grass browned and soggy, leaves laying in saturated piles scattered about, the scilla and tulips are peeking out. The Crocosmia are threatening to invade the vinca, my Pink Viburnum puts on its saucy show.
Viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’
Why do we tend the earth? Why do we tend anything that we hope will grow and yield a present joy or future beauty in our lives? Perhaps it is a statement about our confidence in the future.

From the ‘Autumn’ chapter:
“This house is deteriorating. My body is dying. We are subject to the same terrible decay.  But worth is not measured in such terms.
Once upon a time, God called his creation good.  And no curse of sin unwound those words. Gnarled maple trees. Plaster walls. An ordinary woman’s ordinary body.  All good.
To care for these is to say to death, “You are not the end.” p. 55.
This is why we care for the earth, care for ourselves, care for our homes. 
Death is not the end, but a beginning, we know, to another life with our Saviour.  The physical earth mirrors the spiritual, the cycle of seasons death/life/care, death/life/care ultimately mirror the power of God’s saving.
purple scilla
red flowering quince
From the ‘Spring’ chapter:
“To remember as the earth remembers is a powerful thing. 
Winter remembers death and spring remembers life…”  p. 121
‘Death’ is a near naked lilac bush with bare bumps of buds threatening to bloom.
‘Death’ is an old, worn table or a scuffed threshold or a broken down fence.  

We repair, we replace, we rejoice when the new comes and the old holds. When life stirs in the ground and in us we remember—what we love will hold us until that final day we see our Jesus.
But for now we plant, we tend, we care.  Spring is coming.  
Winter Hazel (smells like honey!)

My Favorite Things {Vol Three}

‘My Favorite Things’–a sporadic gathering of posts you may have missed because they’re buried in The Middle Pages. You know what I mean, eight pages into the ‘A’ Section of the paper you find a story you think belongs on the Front Page.  “Why is that buried there? I almost missed it!”   Here are few thoughtful gleanings from the virtual pages of the interwebs. 
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1. ON CALLING–Chara Donahue for Faith & Culture Blog

For long before I chose to call myself a writer my God fashioned me a scribe. Would I dare tell the God of the universe, “You can have my hands but not my pen?”
When God reminds you you’re a Writer

2. ON THE COLOR DIVIDE–Romal Tune with Fr. Richard Rohr

White privilege is largely hidden from our eyes if we are white. Why? Because it is structural instead of psychological, and we tend to interpret most things in personal, individual, and psychological ways.”
 “The Power of White Privilege

3.ON BOOKS–Jill Reid for Relief Journal

“It’s important to pay homage to the often unsung writers who grabbed hold of us in the really formative years, the years where the concrete of  bones and brains were just beginning to set, and one good sentence pressed in the soft plaster would leave its mark forever.”
 “Bookmarkings” and the power of LM Montgomery

4. ON BLOGGING–by Rebecca Reynolds at Thistle and Toad
“We can easily associate worth and identity with these digital signs of approval. And now that bloggers can made tens of thousands of dollars a year simply by collecting readers, keeping a public diary has become a legit job as well as a hobby.”
 “Why it’s kind of okay if Nobody Reads Your Blog”   

5.  ON WRITING–Beth Moore at Living Proof Ministries
“You have to factor in more than writing time. Decent writing requires much more time than it takes to actually type the sentences. Decent writing requires thinking and spinning and mulling and living and watching and listening and experiencing and reaching. These bring the strokes to the page that turn the transfer of information into true connection.”
“To New Writers With Love”  (a very long read but worth every word.)

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HAPPY READING!
photo–shadows from the lampshade in our room. j.l.c.

What to do When Your Pants Don’t Fit, and other Resolutions

http://www.centralparknyc.org

It’s the beginning of a New Year, a new start, a fresh beginning. 

Are you making any resolutions?  I’ve made only one. It’s like the over arching bridge that supports all the rest of my year. 

My resolution? To remember whose I am.  

I have the privilege of Guest Posting over at Jennifer Dukes Lee’s place today for her Preapproved series. She’s asked several bloggers to weigh in on how God spoke to them through the book she wrote last year, “Love Idol”.

The book is about understanding whose and what we are. Loved by God.

Because I am.  Preapproved.

Click here to read about how I dealt with an annoying 15 extra pounds and a new pair of jeans. I’m guessing maybe you can relate.

And you might find a way to make a resolution of your own.

An Open Letter to Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is a Professor at Liberty University in Virginia. ‘Booked–Literature in the Soul of Me’ is the story of her finding God (or perhaps being found by Him.)

I will say about ‘Booked’ “I liked this very much!” but may not be able to articulate exactly why. So, instead of writing a review I had the idea of typing a Letter to the Author, like my children did in Grammar School. This is what I would say:

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“Dear Ms. Prior,

I want to let you know how much your writing in “Booked-Literature in the soul of me” has touched me.

I eagerly awaited its release from TSPoetry Press, looking forward to your weaving some of the great classics of literature with your walk of faith. I, too have also found solace and a saving of sorts through books, so I was interested in your story.

(I had a Mrs. Lovejoy in 8th grade as well, but her name was Mrs. Jenkins. I fell in love with language because of her.)

When I perused your book’s Table of Contents, I was delighted to see Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’urbervilles included. The other authors and selections listed I had heard of but never actually read (well, except for Charlotte’s Web—who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web?) so I anticipated hearing your spin on them.

The great surprise to me was discovering ‘Booked’ was not about literature but about life–and sex, and marriage, and God, and romance and reality and doubt–yes, life.

(And if you’ll forgive my forwardness I was surprised, too, by the amount of wisdom and insight you possess for someone who looks, well, on the young-ish side, judging from the lovely photos I’ve seen on that ubiquitous social venue, Facebook.)

I will tell you my copy of ‘Booked’ has a multitude of pages with folded down corners, underlines and highlighted sentences and a list of notes in the back, all to remind me of phrases and subjects I wanted to remember later.

As I sat to write this letter I thought I’d ‘catalog’ some of the powerful words that spoke to me from each chapter, but it was clear there were just too many(YOU know what your book says, I needn’t remind you).

However, I was able to choose a passage from the 5th Chapter–Jane Eyre, which shows your remarkable ability of putting into words for me the power of why I choose to write.
The selection is about ‘Voice’:

“It is no coincidence that the term “voice” has come to mean in modern usage much more than just the sound made by the vocal organs, but also the means by which we make our individual selves known, not only to others but to ourselves. 
For the connection between the self and language is inseparable:
it is through language that the self becomes.”

The self becomes itself through language (the written ‘voice’) shared with others.

One more thing: should you live in a city nearby I’d gladly make the journey to whichever classroom you were in just to hear you speak about your passions. A good teacher who loves her subject can convince anyone to fall in love with wonderful, old books.

Yes, you could make a believer out of anyone, absolutely anyone.

Sincerely,
Jody Lee Collins”
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update, January 2017-Karen has also penned a powerful book on the life of Hannah More,
A British playwright, abolitionist, and philanthropist, “Fierce Convictions”