My Beautiful Year

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I’m not usually the type of person who comes up with themes/motto/words for the New Year. Actually, I was always kinda judgy when I’d hear people talking about their theme words: Ignite, Pause, Empower, etc. The list goes on and the options are endless. Pick a word out of a hat and boom you’ve got a theme. Or, if you could use more help, there are websites for this kinda thing. I’m not even kidding.

I’m not sure why I hated the idea of a theme for the year. Possibly because for many years my unspoken theme word was “survive”. I just wanted to get through the minutes, the days and the year. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent my days just trying to get to the next one. From one big event (or chaos) to the next and the painful, life-less cycle continued on.

Looking back, my heart is grieved that I allowed myself to have that kind of outlook on life. I understand why I did it though. Life is hard and when life gets hard, some of us turn on survival mode and hope for the best. The problem with that is when we’re consumed with simply surviving we miss out on the things that make this life enjoyable.

I had no intention of 2016 being any different, but frustration has the potential to propel you into action. The only thing I knew to do was pray and ask God to help me. I couldn’t go through the motions of another year with the same crappy outlook and attitude. So, I prayed.

“God, I need a miracle.”

That’s my go-to prayer when I have no idea what to pray. I feel like it sums things up pretty effectively and gives Him the freedom to do whatever it is that He wants to do. I’m smart enough to know I don’t have all the answers on how a situation should or could be fixed and praying that kind of simple prayer keeps things in perspective. I need God to do something…I can’t do this alone.

His answer was pretty surprising and it seemed too easy: “Find beauty every day.”

Uh, ok. You got it boss.

Because I’m a writer I decided it’d help me if I wrote down the beauty I saw each day. If nothing else, it’d be a way to stay consistent. I tend to keep up with things that involve a check list of some kind.

Write about something beautiful I saw today. CHECK.

In the beginning, there were times I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find something beautiful. I’m now 3-months in and I can assure you there hasn’t been a day that has gone by where I didn’t see some kind of beauty. Admittedly, beauty sometimes came in unexpected places like the day that was heavily clouded with grief. Even on that day, God showed me beauty. It was in that moment that I was convinced that God was giving me my miracle.

A life that was once centered on survival was much lovelier than before. Had anything really changed? No. The only thing that changed was my perspective. I could walk out this life seeing only all the pain, frustration, circumstances and trials or I could allow God to show me the beauty despite all of those things.

Life is still hard, but now it’s also beautiful.

The beauty has come in a variety of forms and from a variety of places. Some days the beauty was found in the faithfulness of a friend who was willing to pray for me before I went into work. Other days, I saw beauty in the loving glances of a little girl who had crawled up in my lap. It’s not always big and dramatic. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cup of coffee and the ability to take a nap after two overnight shifts in a row.

Let me encourage you in this: look for beauty. You don’t have to start a journal like me or write a blog post about it (again, guilty!), but train yourself to look with a different perspective. One that isn’t blind to the pain, but is discerning enough to see there’s more than that. It’s a diamond worth mining. You’ll be surprised the treasures you’ll find.

If you decide to do this, I want to hear about the beauty you find. Tell me about it either in the comments below or by using #MyBeautifulYear on social media! Even if it’s months or years from now because it’s just as encouraging to hear about the beauty others are finding too!

 

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Why We Suffer

Why We Suffer

We live in a world that pursues pleasure. We are looking to “get rich quick”, “lose 10 pounds by Friday” and “live our best lives now”. We want to do what feels good and makes us happy and we want to do it NOW. Anything that hurts or is difficult is avoided at all costs. If there is time or commitment or cost involved we shy away thinking there has to be an easier way. This is nothing new. It’s been happening since the very beginning.

I think that’s been part of my struggle in the harder seasons. Don’t I deserve to be happy? Why can’t things be easy for once? I question and I cry and I wonder where I’ve gone wrong or why God is punishing me.

Woe is me!

I’m getting dramatic, but that’s how I feel in the midst of it all. It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. And I don’t like it. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever *like* it. In this difficulty though I believe I’ve found some clarity on why we suffer. It isn’t because God hates us and wants us to hurt. It isn’t because we are screwing up (although that can be the case). It’s because He loves us.

What?!?! I know what you’re thinking. That’s crazy talk. I must have lost my mind. No, I’m not doing drugs and I haven’t been drinking (I know you asked yourself that).

God knows that suffering has the opportunity to produce something good in our lives and because He loves us and wants the best for us He let’s us walk through it. What good could it possibly produce? I’m glad you asked!

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

It produces endurance and character and HOPE. And I need hope.

In the midst of the pain it’s hard to remember that something good can come from all of this. Recently, a friend shared with me this expert from the Streams in the Desert devotional and it was a powerful reminder to me that this process is necessary and the results are beautiful.

“Several years ago there was found in an African mine the most magnificent diamond in the world’s history. It was presented to the King of England to blaze in his crown of state. The King sent it to Amsterdam to be cut. It was put into the hands of an expert lapidary. And what do you suppose he did with it?

He took the gem of priceless value, and cut a notch in it. Then he struck it a hard blow with his instrument, and lo! the superb jewel lay in his hand cleft in twain. What recklessness! What wastefulness! What criminal carelessness!

Not so. For days and weeks that blow had been studied and planned. Drawings and models had been made of the gem. Its quality, its defects, its lines of cleavage had all been studied with minutest care. The man to whom it was committed was one of the most skillful lapidaries in the world.

Do you say that blow was a mistake? Nay. It was the climax of the lapidary’s skill. When he struck that blow, he did the one thing which would bring that gem to its most perfect shapeliness, radiance, and jewelled splendor. That blow which seemed to ruin the superb precious stone was, in fact, its perfect redemption. For, from those two halves were wrought the two magnificent gems which the skilled eye of the lapidary saw hidden in the rough, uncut stone as it came from the mine.

So, sometimes, God lets a stinging blow fall upon your life. The blood spurts. The nerves wince. The soul cries out in agony. The blow seems to you an apalling mistake. But it is not, for you are the most priceless jewel in the world to God. And He is the most skilled lapidary in the universe.

Some day you are to blaze in the diadem of the King. As you lie in His hand now He knows just how to deal with you. Not a blow will be permitted to fall upon your shrinking soul but that the love of God permits it, and works out from its depths, blessing and spiritual enrichment unseen, and unthought of by you.” (Streams in the Desert, J.H. McC.)

I believe and trust that God is taking all of these moments– the moments filled with tears and questioning and pain– and using it to do a deep work inside of me. The answer to why we suffer isn’t easy. It’s not easy to hear that suffering is for our benefit, but we can be confident that it will produce an unfathomable strength and beauty in us.

As always, if you are in need of encouragement or prayer please let me know by leaving a comment below. It would be my honor to do that for you! You aren’t alone.

Something beautiful.

something beautiful

Why?

Why did he have to die? He was too young. Had so many dreams. He loved you, Jesus.

Why?

Why wasn’t my childhood safe? Why did I have to see those things? Experience those things?

Why?

Why are things so hard? Why does it feel like one bad thing after another?

Why?

You’ve undoubtedly asked the “Why” question many times yourself. You’ve experienced hardships. If you haven’t I’m assuming you’ve had some kind of major brain injury that has stunted your memory– in which case, you have experienced a hardship. You get my point. No one is exempt from life or the trials or heartbreak that come in shifts, or seasons or waves.

I’ve seen people I love, reeling in pain because of loss. I’ve seen many tears fall because of physical pain in their bodies. I’ve seen fists raised in frustration because of a financial burden that never seems like its going to go away.

I’m 30 now, and it hasn’t gotten easier to watch. I wouldn’t say I’ve come away with answers to the “why” question, either. Sorry to say. I wish I did. I’d package that answer up, and put it in a book and sell it to the masses. Reasonably priced and all. And I’d live comfortably off its sales.

A lack of answer does not mean a lack of hope, though.

I sat listening to a spoken word at a youth conference a few months ago. I was most struck by one line in particular– “A dry land can still rejoice and blossom like a rose*.” I’ve meditated on that thought many times since then. Sometimes making it a prayer to Jesus, asking Him to take the ruins and mess of my life and bring wholeness there. Other days its a declaration to myself that I can indeed STILL rejoice and that I do STILL blossom and grow. And sometimes its a reminder from my Savior that yes He does the miraculous. That He can cause a flower to bloom in a desert. That He can take me and make something beautiful.

With questions still looming, tears still streaming and a heart still broken I will confidently say with outstretched hands, “Jesus, please make something beautiful.”

And He will.

 

(* Spoken word written by Josiah Ball)