This is an ugly story and this is your warning.
If you are artistic or creative and see stories come to life, this will be icky and you have my permission to walk away before I get going.
When people tell stories, the pictures form in my mind. In color even. The only way I can stop it is to plug my ears and hum a song. It makes it quite uncomfortable during dinner when someone starts telling a blow-by-blow account of their latest surgery. God knows this about me so I was quite surprised one day when God told me this ugly story. He has only given me beautiful or fun pictures. Since this one was so awful, I knew it must be important and I should pay attention. It is an image of death.
The ugly story begins…
I saw a woman whose body was puffy. She had a yellow-green tint to her skin. I recognized she was sick and close to dying. Then it became gross as I realized she looked like that because her body was filled with pus. And suddenly, I knew I was seeing myself. I was shocked and wanted to move away from this image, but God encouraged me to keep looking.
I asked Him what it meant and watched as Jesus stepped up close to her. He reached toward her with His palm up and His hand open. I saw something very small come out of her heart and fall into his hand. He turned and showed it to me. It was a tiny sliver.
All at once I understood that a single act of unforgiveness had infected me with death. The wound I buried deep inside and would not let go of was literally killing me. No matter that what was done to me was wrong. That it was not my fault. That I didn’t deserve it. Or even that the person who hurt me did it intentionally and it was unjust. It was my unforgiveness that kept the disease growing. That kept my body trying to expel it in the way it was designed to do. But I resisted, keeping the death growing inside me.
When I allowed Jesus to come close and trusted his hand in my life, he took the sliver and there was healing. I watched as life came back into my body. As the puffiness left and my flesh became pink and healthy.
God made me see that no matter how small I think it is or how deeply I’ve buried it, some things will kill me. Unforgiveness is one of those things.
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12 NASB
Be gentle with one another and ready to forgive; never hold grudges. Remember the Lord forgave you. So you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13 TLB
Heavenly Father, forgive us for not giving you our whole hearts. Forgive us for not asking you to come close enough to heal us, Jesus. Today, we repent and invite Jesus into the deep places of our hearts. Come in with your love and compassion. Your patience and gentleness. Come in and show us where we need to forgive and give us the grace to forgive those who hurt us. Those who rejected us. Those who brought pain crashing into our worlds. We give you the pain, the anger, and the offense that we’ve buried so deep and tried to forget. Make us clean and new this day. Help us to forgive ourselves for not being able to let go and forgive others. Help us to forgive you, God, because you did not stop them from hurting us. We seek you for the grace we need to be people who forgive. Help us to realize how much you have forgiven us so we can more easily forgive others.
For those who have cursed us and who consistently come against us in word or deed, we forgive them and take the further step to bless them. We ask that you would bless them with your love and purposes for their lives. We bless them with your salvation to the uttermost. With your abundant life. With the blessings of their Heavenly Father who calls them and empowers them to become sons and daughters of God. No longer orphans but knowing the God who calls Himself their Abba Father.
Thank you for the power of your love for us that would not be denied, even when it meant the cross for Jesus, so we might become your children and know your name. That we might see we are your wildest dream. Give us hearts to seek you. Give us whole hearts to love you and follow you into your wondrous kingdom. We ask all these things in Jesus Name, Amen.
God speaks softly to me. Sometimes in the whisper of a butterfly dance–so quickly, so quietly if I’m not listening for Him I miss the sound. He has always been that way with me. I’ve never had big, open visions or an overwhelming arrival of an angel or Jesus showing up in the middle of the night. Occasionally, when I lift my eyes to heaven I think about what it would be like to see a burning bush or wrestle with an angel. But mostly I enjoy the simple, subtle way He speaks to me and appreciate the part of His personality He planted in my DNA. The part that sees and hears gently.
Slamming doors and angry voices echo harshly through my body. I have a physical reaction to decibels. There is pain in my bones at loud concerts. I simply cannot go to places of great noise. My condition is not something to be fixed, it is not part of my brokenness. It is part of my Father’s heart showing up in me. To be the best me I was created to be, I need to learn the language of the sound of butterfly wings.
God bless my high school science teacher who taught us observation skills. He sent us out to stake off a 3’ x 3’ plot of ground somewhere in our world and to watch it. We were assigned to record what we saw and told to describe it. How tall was the grass from week to week? What color was the dirt? What kind of animals came and went? How many types of plants grew in our little corner? For months I sat in my spot and watched the grass grow. I saw changes in the color of the weeds and observed the activities of many kinds of small critters. I noticed subtle changes that intrigued me. Stirred my curiosity about creation and the colorful world around me.
Not until ten years later did someone else speak to me about observation skills. Once again it was a teacher. An art professor at college connected me to a visual encounter with my environment and she taught me how to express that experience in a variety of media. It was glorious.
I learned that observation is intentional focus and it was focus that allowed me to see when God was messing with my physical reality. Focus let me notice the soft songs butterflies make when they move their wings. This awareness I have, this wonder and sensitivity to the lovely in my environment is a part of me that delights God. I can almost hear Him say,
“That’s my girl. See how she listens to the butterfly dance? You know she can see color in the shadows? She has sensitive eyes…just like mine. I’m her father, you know?”
Sometimes I see how out of step I am with the world around me. I feel the roar of a passing jet it’s wings loud and painful yet pulling us along. Running so fast in our daily lives we don’t hear butterflies. We don’t see them dance. But we need to intentionally look for them because the One who loves us best put them there. He choreographed a subtle song for each one of us if we’ll just listen. I know He’s got something special, something uniquely You hidden in plain site so you will discover the thing that expresses Him best to you. Go on an adventure today with Him and find it. He’s waiting for you to discover Him and His love for you.
When you get out of the boat there’s only one thing you can do, keep looking at Jesus. That’s it. No looking at the waves. No noticing how strong the wind is blowing or contemplating the storm. None of that. We all know how that ends.
So now you’re out of the boat having a miraculous faith experience with Jesus. Don’t look down once your brain realizes you’re walking on water. Don’t look down because Jesus really does not want you to sink. You’re on the water because He likes hanging out with you. He likes you having exhilarating times with Him. He likes your faith in Him that drives you close.
Recently Jesus saw my hunger as I sat in the boat. Although He’s been calling me to follow a path into the unknown with Him for some time now, I just couldn’t see where the road would go so I didn’t really listen very well. I worried the idea like a dog with a bone trying to wrap my logical mind around it but that road just didn’t seem to go anywhere. Then one day Jesus reminded me of Jonah and where his disobedience took him. He reminded me of the rich young ruler who could have been one of the disciples but turned away when asked to give what he held dear. He couldn’t see how he could live without the only things he knew how to trust.
Some years ago God encouraged me to follow Him to a new and frightening place by talking to me about Nebuchadnezzar and reminding me that if I was going to seek to build my own kingdom it would not end well. Fear of God propelled me. I followed Him. I walked through my fear and into a time of intimacy and beauty I never dreamed of. That journey included meeting the man I would marry, a trip to Spain and Germany, a spiritual discovery of the power of beauty, and my gift for storytelling.
God is not logical when He asks for our obedience. That’s what makes this a faith walk. Last week I realized He was asking me if I truly wanted to follow Him. If I really wanted to choose Him no matter what it cost me. It’s quite easy to sit in the boat and think about wanting more of God. To claim I want to do the bible stuff–heal the sick, raise the dead, bind up the brokenhearted, deliver people from bondage…but it’s quite difficult to actually get out of the boat.
I think it takes something of Him in our hearts to lift our heads in faith and hunger and say like Peter, “If that’s you, ask me to come.” I wonder if Jesus would have called to him to come if Peter hadn’t essentially jumped up and said, “Pick me, pick me!” As I pondered this with the Lord, I saw something new. I saw how Jesus’ heart leaped because Peter so wanted to be with Him and his heart truly believed in Jesus. Peter saw something in Jesus that drew him beyond logic into longing and action. That’s what faith looks like.
I thought about my own seeking. Do I look for ways to get out of the boat? Do I cry, “If it’s you, ask me to come. Call me, Jesus, I’m ready to throw off everything to follow where I’ve never been before. Where it is impossible to be without you. I’m ready to come closer. Pick me. Pick me. “
Or do I only look for faith that makes my life more comfortable?
Yes, I got out of the boat this week and all prayers are welcome. I believe Lord, help my unbelief. If you’re on this journey also, hit reply and I’ll pray for you, too! I know it will be glorious because He is glorious! I will end this where I started it. When you get out of the boat there’s only one thing you can do, keep looking at Jesus.
My past is a trail highlighted by the places where flowers grew. I can track my life in flowers and foliage. I can’t tell you who was with me during many childhood events, or even what we did, but I can tell you the colors of the flowers and the kind of plants that grew nearby.
I’ve always been drawn to flowers. My first wanderings, at the age of four, were in search of flowers. Out of the yard, into the nearby graveyard, and across the lawn to bouquets conveniently placed for my little fingers and sniffing nose to find. (Yes, that journey got me into trouble.) I have no memory of the gravestones but I still remember the flowers. When I was five or six I experienced the wonder of God in a beautiful encounter with an iris. (You can read the story of this first powerful connection to beauty in the post, ‘Beautiful Journey’.)
It’s only recently I’ve come to see how my path has been dusted by beauty, scents, and the colors of flowers. I denied them room in my life for many years as I sought a professional career. I was a woman in management in a man’s world—yes, it was a struggle back in those days. In one instance, I was actually told to my face I would never get the job because I wasn’t a man. I met the challenges and won some battles, but the cost was high. What it really took from me was the beauty of flowers. I began to choose black or gray suits and filled my world with dark, muted colors to diminish any femininity that might come leaking out and undermine my goals. But I’ve come to realize flowers are a part of the identity God formed in me. I was created to respond to flowers and when I don’t there is something sadly missing. The color of life becomes gray.
Flowers speak to me of many things. They artistically express beauty, color, form, and shape. I see the essence of God in the glory of a flower. They also speak to me of hope. Flowers are the evidence a plant is going to produce fruit. The sign there is something more to come. Flowers remind me of transition. A flower is only one stage in the life of a plant. A lovely one, but not the end as there will be fruit and more seeds produced. Last winter, God dropped three words into my heart for the coming year: transition, fruit, and harvest. As I contemplate a delicate bloom I see the promise in a single flower and have hope.
One day not so long ago, I realized I had permission to enjoy flowers. That loving them did not diminish my strength. The power of beauty superseded my perception of fragility. Just because it looked fragile didn’t mean it was—not in ways that matter. I saw that simply because a flower was delicate didn’t mean it couldn’t stand up to storms or burst its way through rocks to bloom on frozen mountain tops. Like love is stronger than death.
Flowers also speak to me of God’s love of variety. Thousands of flowers all over the earth express beauty in very different ways. Loving flowers is a celebration of the unique and beautiful. How can I answer the question, “What is the best flower?” or “Which flower is the most beautiful?” Should I even ask that question when each flower has its own lovely essence? Flowers teach me to focus so I can see variations and subtle color shifts, different shapes, forms and textures that are all just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed when I take the time to look.
I always come back to the idea that beauty has the power to change the world. We are designed to respond to what’s beautiful in nature, in people, and in relationships. We are created to resonate to music, art, poetry, and stories. Sometimes it takes discipline for me to accept the gift of flowers from God. I have to pay attention when I’m in a hurry or busy or I will miss all the flowers He’s put in my path to remind me of His love and beauty. If we slow down and focus we’ll see what God’s put in front of us to remind us of His powerful beauty and love. As Grandma always said, “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.”
The Power of Beauty | Naeem Fazal | Video
Several months ago I woke up from a dream where Jesus walked away. Later, I could laugh, but at the time I remember standing in the middle of a dirt road surrounded by prairie fields as far as I could see and feeling wildly scared. I looked down at something on the ground near my feet and when I looked up all I could see was Jesus’ back as he walked down the road. Away from me.
What? My mind started moving in hyper-mode. But the Bible says He never leaves me. He is my Good Shepherd. He leads and guides me. Where is He going? Why is He going?
And then I saw it. He was leading me. He expected me to be following.
I don’t know why I didn’t see it first thing. Maybe the surge of fear slowed me down or maybe I am just one of His slower children. He leads and guides but do I follow well? Obviously not always.
This morning it felt like He wasn’t here. I went through a list of things I might have done to offend Him. The areas of repentance that needed to be made. I asked what I should be doing that I wasn’t. I didn’t hear a thing. I remembered my dream and began to ask God where I should be going with Him that I was not.
Follow is another word for obey and although it is easier and carries less religious baggage, it means the same thing. Am I following where He wants to go and doing what He wants to do or am I just standing around in the dirt thinking?
There is a recurring fear of lack in my life and it has come around again. Rearing its voice above the voice of God to speak, loudly, lies that tend to immobilize me. Lies that slow my feet until they stop altogether and I stand in the middle of the road watching Jesus walk away.
My enemy, who hates me because I am so valuable to God because God made me in His image and I am loved deeply, even to the cross– that enemy hates God and all that He loves. That enemy knows how powerful the words and promises of my Heavenly Father are in my mouth. He will do anything he can, create any lie to keep me from following Jesus into the fruitful destiny that God’s dreamed for me.
I see now that it is obedience that keeps me following but wavering in my devotion to Christ slows me down and makes me a target for the smelly lies of the Evil One. His tactics never change. I should be smarter by now but so often I just believe the wrong words. First, my focus moves from Jesus and onto whatever is bothering me. Then my mind starts worrying it as a dog does with a bone. I no longer see the promise in God’s eyes and heart but am primed and ready to listen to the enemy when he comes to speak his prophecy and promise over my life. Promises of lack, emptiness, and failure. And yet in the faithfulness of my God, I hear the Holy Spirit whisper in my heart, “Don’t listen. He’s a liar.”
As I take time to repent from my unbelief, from my unfaithful ways, I see Jesus ahead of me on the road looking over His shoulder, smiling and motioning me to hurry up and come on. So I do.
Heavenly Father, forgive me for my sin of unbelief. For not seeing how big and beautiful your plans are for me. For not seeing how awesome you are. How trustworthy. How faithful to keep me in my future and hope. Forgive me for seeing the enemy so large and powerful when you said he’s not. When he was created by you and his power was destroyed at the cross. Come Holy Spirit of Jesus and be strength, hope, and life in me and through me, to a world of people who know torment as I do and even more. Help me to follow you this day. Amen