A Beautiful Life: Wrap-Up

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He runs with his whole self — arms pumping and knees high and it’s full body engagement, all the way down to his toes, his running.

Her limbs keep growing — long and lanky. Legs keep her grounded and confident and arms emphasize the truth she speaks when it counts the most. They don’t stop growing, those arms and legs.

They climb the leafless tree into their self-proclaimed fort. She’s the mom and he’s catching the bad guys. They hop over the babbling stream and look for tadpoles, although I suspect it’s a tad early. Her shoes have been come off and the water tickles her toes. She squeals in delight.

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He must catch up to her — though he’s four, he’s almost as strong and fast as she is (in his mind) and trails just steps behind. He plays anything she requests for the sheer pleasure of being with her, but I suspect it won’t be long before he starts demanding his own way.

These trees are still bare and the sunlight filters through gently, casting long, sinewy shadows just like her limbs. In a blink the leaves will appear then disappear again and she’ll be old enough to leave…long shadows of those arms and legs resting in her wake.

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I didn’t plan to take this time today…to press pause on my to-dos and come to this meadow — our Eden — to play. I didn’t plan to be still on the large rock and lay back to feel the sun on my face, hear the babbling of the steam and be lulled into a peaceful surrender by the breeze.

I didn’t plan on watching them age before my very eyes and be moved to tears by their laughter. I didn’t plan to notice with excruciating detail how quickly they’re growing up. I didn’t plan on any of it.

My plans included a bullet pointed list anxiously waiting to be slayed — a dinner to be prepared, a laundry basket to unload, a work project to complete. And, and, and.

But He directed my steps today. I chose to walk with Him and he led me on a more important path, and it led to this beautiful moment.

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Here on this rock, despite my stress and worry, I found pleasure never-ending in the sound of little footsteps and pebbles tossed into the stream. Here on this rock, I found true joy in the laughter of fighting bad guys and playing tag. I found contentment and that supernatural way time can stand still when you are.

Here, on this Rock.

I didn’t plan any of this today, but He did.

My cup overflows.

You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
and I know true joy and contentment. (Psalm 16:11)

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I hope you’ve been blessed by this series, and I pray the varying voices of the guest writers has left a melodic symphony playing across your heart. But most importantly, I pray you’ve been encouraged to Tharseo — to be of good courage and good cheer — simply you are free. Click here to read the rest of the series — posts by bloggers I adore with my whole heart.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)
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Life’s Journey (A Beautiful Life: Week 6)

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WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

WEEK 4 – SINK OR SWIM

WEEK 5 – A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

MOM2Oh my gosh, y’all – check this out! IT’S MY MOM! Please, please give an enormously warm welcome to Nancy! 

My mom is retired and lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She loves reading, photography, nutrition & health, and walking every day out in God’s creation. (After all, she lives in the prettiest place in America. Who can blame her?) She isn’t on Facebook and doesn’t blog (yet……?), but has always been gifted in the written word. As I was praying about this series, I just knew it was God’s leading when she flew back and forth across my mind. It’s such an honor that she said YES; what a treat for me to have her inhabit this place this week. Take it away, Mom!

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He wooed and graced me with His love and Presence

He watched and molded and shaped my growth

He stood by protecting when I looked in wrong places

He showed me the truth, the way to go

He generously, patiently watered my seeking, not letting despair and discouragement drown me

He triumphed with me in all my victories, tempering the losses with His eternal love

He gave me Beauty for ashes; identity in Him; faith for tomorrow, because He lives

He still leads me besides still waters; is the lifter up of my head; nothing can ever separate me from Him

He continually cleanses me, washing me in His Blood

He is my All in All; His name is Love

– Nancy Hope

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Overcoming Obstacles of Cerebral Palsy Focus on the Family Broadcast. Okay, I know the title doesn’t sound like this would be fitting for many, but TRUST ME when I tell you this is some of the best Focus on the Family broadcasting I’ve ever heard. It’s the story of a mom whose son was born with cerebral palsy and how they chose to find the beautiful in the chaos. He went on to finish college and become a doctor, and I promise you, it’s the most empowering and uplifting thing you’ll ever listen to.

2. Questions to Ask on Your Dream Day. Sometimes we find beauty in life when we pause and BE and allow ourselves to ask questions of God and ourselves. This is a beautiful post about giving yourself permission to dream and what to ask.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

A Beautiful Life: Week 5

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WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

WEEK 4 – SINK OR SWIM

SARA-HEADSHOT

This is Sara. I first met her years and years ago at my sister-in-law’s house, and as we chatted in that kitchen one summer day, I remember distinctly telling God that I really, really needed to be friends with her. She has a confidence and wisdom that I was desperately lacking, and just knew in that place you know, that I could benefit from being around that. And here we are, a decade or so later — not just friends, but partners in this ministry-movement-thing called BE. God, you take all our little dreams and blow them up into amazing every time, don’t you?

Sara is a lover of life and of people and believes in a life of transparency and honesty laced with grace and kindness. After God practically had to hit her over the head, she finally grasped the concept that it is okay to be exactly the way He created you to be and who He created you to be (though she admits He has to remind her every once in a while). She also enjoys exercise, entertaining, decorating for the holidays and family dinners. And although she enjoys sharing life with others, nothing can replace the joy of serving her family — sitting for hours at ball fields, cooking, endless hours of homework, listening to the stories of the day, or admiring the one that completes her and makes her a better person. She podcasts and writes at Be Still Be Free.

When Monica approached me about contributing to this amazing series, I fell immediately in love with the Bible verse she chose:

Psalm 16:11 from The Voice: “You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life. As I walk with you, the pleasures are never ending, and I know true joy and contentment.”

And then she went on to tell us that the Hebrew word for “never-ending” means enduring, strength, victory!!

I immediately began to think back about my journey over the last 10 years. Soon after my 30th birthday, I became very aware of a lack of joy in my life. With all of my heart I wanted to know and serve God, but when I looked around I didn’t really feel the presence of God in my life. Have you ever been in that place? You know God as your Lord and Savior, but He feels so very far away no matter what you do?  And Psalm 16:11 states that “He directs me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.” Even though I believed with every ounce of my core the truth in that, I felt abandoned and alone. And most certainly my life did not seem beautiful. How could I feel like this? So much of what I had wanted in life I had (an amazing husband, two children, a house, security, friends and so forth).

But I was feeling so joyless.

“As I walk with you, the pleasures are never-ending…

Hmmm, never-ending (enduring, strength, victory). Even though I didn’t have this verse in my life at that particular time, in my heart I knew something wasn’t right and I certainly had no victory and my strength was wavering. However, by the grace of God, there was this small voice I began to hear that said something like,

“Sara, this is not all I have for you.  Surrender your life; pray for transformation; allow me to work in you and I will show you joy and contentment”.

Okay, I hear ya God. Now what? What do you want me to do? Should I go join a new Bible study, lead a new Bible study, become a better person, join a ministry, be a better mom, be a better wife? Maybe those things will please God and He will direct my path.

For months, I struggled with what I was DOING wrong…and then instead of using a still, small voice God had to get kind of loud and shout to me

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

And really, if I am being honest, I didn’t even hear the “and know that I am God part.” I just heard the Be Still! With much desperation for being rescued, I began to Be Still.

The last part of Psalm 16:11 says, “and I know true joy and contentment.”

At Be Still Be Free we did a podcast one week on Be Joyful. We discussed that one of the definitions of  joy is “a happy state that results from knowing and serving God.” And that joy is in direct proportion to a believers walk with Jesus. I then realized something that changed my life forever; although I felt God directed my paths, I took over from there. I tried with all my best efforts to show God He could be proud of me and be pleased. Look at all the things I do, look at all the ways I am!…all without knowing it I had become judgmental and prideful.

And I wasn’t that way just with others, but with myself. You see, we often impart what we possess. (tweet that) I was so unhappy with me, that I was unhappy with everyone. I was so worn out by doing that my cup was empty of what mattered — like knowing God — and full of the lies of Satan.

BUT GOD, in all of His goodness, has shown me that He wants to be on the journey with me. That I don’t need to worry about what the rest of the world is doing…just how I am allowing God to walk with me, directing me in a beautiful life. (tweet that)

After what seemed like forever of God calling me into a time of solitude, He has lifted the lid and is starting to lead me down new paths. Some of the lessons He has revealed during this time are:

  • “Be Still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). To know God means to be still first. We often think that by doing more things for God we will know Him better. But God literally tells us “to be weak in the knees”, to fall down before Him and allow Him to lead us.
  • God does not need us to change the world. He chooses to change the world through us.
  • The gospel is not about all the things we do right or do wrong. The gospel is the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. All that other “stuff” is religion. Once we accept Christ as our Savior, we need to allow Him to bring Psalm 16:11 to light.
  • “The unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great value in the eyes of the Lord” (I Peter 3:4). If unfading beauty is a gentle and quiet spirit, then I want that. Learning how to communicate with the world is just as important as what you are saying if not more. If God is going to use me, I need to learn how to be gentle and quiet.
  • “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • And lastly, God does not count how many things we are doing right or wrong. He is not interested in numbers or productivity. Rather, He is concerned with my willingness to grow in Him and be used by Him. He will take care of the rest…I just need to be careful not to take over. (A Mary spirit)

There are so many more things I want to shout from the mountaintop, but these are some of the most definitive lessons for me. God’s desire is for us all to live in joy and contentment. Growing pains are never fun, but the end result is so worth it. My prayers for God to change the way my eyes saw, to open my ears to His ways, to mold my heart to love like Him were answered. Now, it’s still a daily journey but Praise God that He is so full of love and mercy! Praise God that He never gives up on us…never leaving us or forsaking us! Praise Jesus for a Gospel story! And Praise Jesus for the freedom that comes in Being Still!

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Lord Is It Warfare? Teach Me To Stand by Kay Arthur. Study and devotional that will equip you to recognize and understand the spiritual warfare that is inevitable for those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

2.The Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy DeMoss. Amazing book and study that offers the most effective weapon to counter and overcome Satan’s deceptions — God’s truth!

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Sink or Swim (A Beautiful Life – Week 4)

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WEEK 1 — INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

WEEK 3 – BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS

KATIE

I met Katie at Allume as our little motley crew sat down for our first meal. We shook hands and introduced ourselves and within 15 seconds she deadpanned the funniest thing I think I’d ever heard in my life and I knew I was going to force a friendship upon her whether she wanted it or not. That night as we passed the salt, our newly formed little posse staked our claim and etched our names on that table, thereby daring anyone — anyone — to sit there the rest of the weekend. God knit us together forever. We might just get matching tattoos.

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It’s home to 25 chickens, 35 longhorn cattle, a chocolate lab (Abe), 3 barn cats, a fabulous office-man-by-day-farmer-by-night husband, and 3 ridiculously cute children (and that is no joke, I could eat up her kids just from their instapix). Katie — the mom of this zoo (and author of the journal) — has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. She believes in Sunday school and miracles and apple pie, and writes at TexasNorth.

i.

There is not much about the ocean that is supportive of human life. We cannot breathe in water. We cannot swim like fish. Gracious, after 20 meters our bodies sink rather than float…that’s a simple law of physics. No, there is very little that invites us into the deep.

ii.

I am watching a community grieve a child of 13 who was diagnosed with cancer seven days ago and is gone today. They swim blindly, searching for any sign of light to point them out of the wreckage.

I am holding the hand of a friend whose spouse has walked away. Where is He? she wonders, but it is not her husband she is asking about.

I am desperate for the sun. Winter is creeping in, freezing emotions and motivation…taunting with short tempers and too many tears from little people. Is this all there is? Am I destined for ashes instead of green pasture?

I am beginning to think land is not safe, either.

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What? What is there? When your body is in the very real wreckage of every day life in this broken world, what is there to do? The water is too deep, the ground is unstable, and we find ourselves with no soft place to land.

We must keep moving. I know you are tired. I know you want nothing more than to sit…to sink…but, rest will come when this season is over. For now, there is a battle for your heart and you must stay alert. Swim. Run. Fight. Ask. Laugh, yell, cry and fall…but keep moving. He will find you and He will literally raise you up. Love is not what He does, it’s who He is. (tweet that) He will leave the flock to come find you, every time.

Remember, Friend, that your home is neither here nor there. Keep your feet light and your heart focused on Christ. Your life, your hope, your comfort is found IN HIM and nowhere else. Surround yourself with Truth that does not falter under the pressure of our heartbreak or doubt. Truth that pierces darkness. Truth that is beauty amongst wreckage.

“I am the Lord and I do not change.” (Micah 3:6)

“We do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Spirit lead me where my faith is without borders.

Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me.

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander 

and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.” 

[*lyrics by Hillsong United, Oceans]

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Mentally Strong People: 13 Things They Avoid. Loved this article from Forbes about how to grow mental strength, even if you’re not a naturally optimistic person.

2. Gratitude and the Hand of God by Karen Yates. Beautiful post about choosing “to take ownership of our attitude, wield our sword, and fight back.”

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Beauty in the Brokenness (A Beautiful Life: Week 3)

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WEEK 1 – INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

ALLISON
Say hello to my friend Allison. (Hi, Allison!) I asked her to send me whatever pic she wanted to accompany her introduction, but truth be told, I squealed with delight when she sent this one because it’s my most favorite ever. This picture — this is the picture where there’s hope behind her eyes and a little bit more ease in her smile and if you look closely, it’s almost as if there is a sweet relief of a recent exhale in her expression. I don’t know if taking the picture resembled anything like what I see — but it’s a message, I believe, from God right to her. 
 
Allison & I attended the same church in Atlanta, and while we knew each other, we weren’t close. Then I moved to the mountains and suddenly that changed. I don’t remember how it happened — I just know that it did (thank you Jesus) — and now it feels like I’ve known her forever because I can’t remember what it was like before I called her friend.
 
Allison loves her family and her Jesus and can’t do life without them. She identifies with the weary warriors in life and writes to give others comfort and hope that they are not alone. Her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury over 8 years ago, and she’s chronicled her families’ journey ever since over at www.dannyandallison.com. And she over-shares (her words, not mine) more personally at www.allisonmdiaz.com for her fellow comrades in the battles through life

It is never beautiful to find yourself unexpectedly standing at the end of a hospital bed. Your husband of almost four years lies there comatose and brain injured while his son is kept safely tucked under rib number 3 in your belly.

Yet, this was the beginning of a path, a journey that started with 80 feet and now holds more than eight years of endurance.

Ours is certainly not a path worth choosing, though I imagine the same can be said for many who find themselves living life on the parallel.

Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead. (Proverbs 3:5-6, Voice)

But, Friends, there is everlasting value in the suffering. There is comfort during the grief and there is a stretching of faith in the grasping of hope.

DANNY&ALLI

He wakes me every night for help.

He leans on me to stand strong.

He calls me to be his hands, his mind, and his memory.

He relies on me to guide him.

He hopes in me for strength.

And, it is often too much for one person to bear.

The pulling, the leaning, the calling, being everything to even but one, is an understatement of challenge.

And, I think of Him, of Jesus, who came to be pulled, to serve, to love, to save, to die, to be everything for all and I am greatly humbled.

As I kneel at my husband’s feet each night to remove his shoes, my Savior postured himself a servant to the ones he loved.

Am I not called to do the same?

Am I not called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Am I not to love as He loves me?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (I Peter 2:21)

Oh, but, a bounty of joy can escape your view because of the clouds of loss.

I am not Jesus.

I am flawed and imperfect every moment of my wrestling. Yet, in my full blown weakness, I know that His strength is then revealed.

Sometimes the most terrifying test can bring about the most beautiful masterpiece. (click to tweet that)

Oh, Friends, life can be hard. Life can feel like a box of only black Crayolas, but He is oh so present in the darkest of places. He comes like whisper on the breath of your faith and he draws into you, covering and protecting you under his wing. He is the One whose joy, whose assurance of life abundantly comes storming mightily in to your brokenness.

You may find yourself on a path that is bleak and seemingly hopeless. You may find yourself in a wilderness of monotony, but I promise you, He promises you, that He will uphold you in his right hand. He promises to carry you through it. He promises to love, to cherish, and to keep you.

The God of Universe is the God of your circumstances. The same Father that sacrificed his Son for you, will sacrifice your planned path for His glory, to share in His suffering to make His name known to the masses.

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And, as I care for my husband, serving him and meeting his needs, I wonder are we not also called to serve those, to love those who know not of Him? Oh, Friends, understand that the greatest beauty is found in Jesus, the Way and in Jesus, the Life.

Bend then to the Truth and hold fast to the knowledge that one day this possibly tragic path of life will lead to the face of God.

And, it’s there at His feet, we can stand knowing that in all things we kept the faith, we finished the race and have found beauty everlasting.

I have fought the good fight, I have stayed on course and finished the race, and through it all, I have kept believing. (2 Timothy 4:7)

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Glorifying God Through the Obstacles in Marriage. This is a 2-part broadcast from Focus on the Family with Mike and Renee Bondi, and how they found beauty in the midst of physical tragedy, celebrating 25 years of marriage.

2. BrainLine.org. Wonderful website dedicating to preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)