Unexpected Graces

 

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Well, here I am sitting in the saddle.  It feels good!  I have missed this place! I’m glad to be back.

It’s been a rough and tumble couple of months since I last sat down.  When I took a break right before Christmas, I never anticipated the journey I would embark upon.  Frankly, it was like someone gave a monkey a match.  It has been quite a ride.

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I needed this time to regroup and set my heart and mind right.  I have been too afraid to write, honestly.  Afraid of what just might come out.  But, it is time.  And, I am grateful.

In an effort to cope with our pain and lighten the mood, our family began to refer to this season as a “plot twist”.   In stark reality, our lives have dramatically changed.  Due to painful circumstances, my Love resigned his position at the church we pastored for over seven years.  Sometimes, it is just time to move on.  There comes a time when you realize the odds are not in your favor and for everyone’s sake, you have to make an exit.  You just hope to do so with grace.

I do believe it has been one of the most hurtful seasons we have experienced in life and ministry.  After 25 years, we have experienced our share of disappointments and set backs.  But, this, by far, was the one of the biggest gut punches of them all.  The only other to compare would be the sexual abuse of our son by a trusted friend and church worker.

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I have learned quite a few lessons in our time here in Virginia.  Some are pretty tough.  But all have been for my good.

Our time in Virginia has been anything but easy.  We have endured some losses.  But, I also can look and see some beautiful gains.  I would be shallow if I didn’t recognize them.

A few years back I began my own One Thousand Gifts journey.  It was a life saver, really. Each day I would count out my gratitude, line by line.  I am beginning a new one.  It’s important to remember the gifts from our journeys.  If not, it could get terribly discouraging!  So, it is time.  Time to refocus my attention.

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One lesson I’ve learned is, “God gives good gifts.”  Some seasons we just have to look a little harder.  Many times they are hard gifts.  I look back at our journey…it is unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever experienced…yet, I still find beauty in the charred rubble.

Light only shines through cracked vessels. 

So, when people ask me if I had known then what I know now, would I still have relocated to Virginia, I’m never sure how to answer.  In the natural, it does not seem worth it.  We have paid quite a high price.  We certainly didn’t know all we were taking on.

Truthfully, I don’t like that question at all.  My first instinct is to scream NO, of course not!

Injustice,

hatred,

jealousy,

abuse,

unfair expectations,

rejection,

financial loss,

illness,

anxiety and depression,

plots and schemes,

abandonment,

betrayal.

Who would?

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When I look at that list of pain, it would seem hardly worth it.  I could easily drown in that sea of loss and hurt.  I do see, however, the gifts from God’s hand that He gave in the middle of such ugly hard.

So, I choose to look at the gifts.  It is time. 

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Friendships,

children discovered their gifting,

memories made,

bound family ties,

new dreams inspired,

spiritual growth,

loyalty,

a sweet canine companion,

hope,

peace,

increased faith,

grace from unexpected places,

deep kindness,

lessons learned,

lives changed,

wisdom,

provision,

protection,

opportunity,

divine encouragement.

I am most certain I have forgotten many other blessings.

I have a sneaky suspicion I am not alone in this listing.  We are not unique.

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We all have experienced our share of pain and loss.  I simply refuse to get stuck here.  I don’t want to live in the muck and mire.  I will not suffer needlessly.  I want free of it.  And, the only place I know to start is with gratitude. 

Christ does not promise a trouble-free life.  No, indeed.

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This world is fallen and is coming undone.  People disappoint.  No amount of dancing can undo that fact.  But, I have learned something else.

Light shines out of my broken places.

God is mending in such a way that light will warmly glow and draw others in.  They will meet Him there.  It isn’t about pretending to have it all together.  No one understands such living.  It is a fairy tale and too great a weight to drag around.

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So, once again, I have picked up pen and tablet and will scribe my gratitude.

I won’t forget our pain, for it has left a mark.  But, mostly I will remember with a heart of gratitude all God is and was to me in the pain.  The strong arms that have held and carried.  I will remember.  All that was meant for my harm, is turned to good.  Nothing can ever take me from His hand.

That is what I will remember.  That will be my focus.  There is beauty to out-sing the ugly.  For it is well with my soul.

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What Now?

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“Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.”

OR

“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”        

  Proverbs 19:11

 

I am amazed!  Maybe that’s not the best word for it.  I am troubled.  I think that is more appropriate.

The offense of this week is the red cups of Starbucks.

I’ve noticed something.  Christians are too good at being offended.  Trust me.  I know.  We are all subjected to it.  I’ve lived it personally.  Up close and in living color.

I wonder.

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I wonder what it must say to the world.  We are having high-speed come-aparts over a red cup.   A secular company.  Their great commission is not concerned with reaching people with the gospel.  Their commission is serving great coffee and creating a comfortable place for folks to gather.  Which they are fulfilling.  God is not depending on Howard Schultz to spread the real reason for the season through Starbucks.

Unfortunately, I think Christians are living out their reputation of being angry, spiteful and opposed to everything.  We are experts at being offended and being angry.  This isn’t what is going to invite in the hurting.  And, why would it?  Why would they want to subject themselves, their mistakes and regrets to the scrutiny of Christians?  I’m sure a root canal without anesthesia holds more attraction.

It doesn’t have to be a red cup.

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Just pick a topic.  Ahhh, and just think about all the wasted time boycotting.  For the most part, we would not have any place to eat, shop, or entertain ourselves.  Maybe we should boycott movies and theaters—maybe television.  Let’s not go to movie theaters or subscribe to Netlix, Direct TV,  Amazon or Barnes n Noble (shouldn’t support the book publishing industry).  For goodness sake, we probably should all become self-sustaining and walk everywhere.  That way we do not support or even concern ourselves with anything that could possibly be of the world.  We won’t sully our hands this way.

How about this one?

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We are really good at bashing our own.  Take your pick of national ministers.  They offend someone theologically or maybe it’s just the size of their home, and God bless them.  I wouldn’t want to be them.  And, don’t forget, it always has to be a public scathing on social media.  Who are we to feel so superior to judge so harshly and diminish a person’s ministry over differing viewpoints?  It does more damage than good.  (I won’t even get into the hurt it must cause their families.)

“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”

Christ followers should be the most joyful, grateful, grace and hope-filled people around.  But, it sure seems like sometimes we only know how to be offended.  I’m not talking just about on a national scale.  But how about our average every day, in and out?  It’s living in our local churches and communities.  It’s no wonder discouragement is the number one hazard of ministry.  Those who are involved in ministry often feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  It’s often never good enough.

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I think my biggest concern is that we are often times too easily and too quickly offended.  We are too quick to call each other out.  What has happened to just overlooking an offense?  What has happened to civility?  Why can’t we realize people make mistakes or are just different than we are?  Where is grace?

Graciousness is an art form that is all too easily neglected.

Let me be very clear.  I am not talking about ignoring and condoning sin.  I am not talking about being lazy or lassez-faire in guarding our own.  But, first, the right to speak into someone’s life must be earned.  That is only done through relationship and commitment.  Gossip or slandering on social media, or just among ourselves, is not the responsible way to handle issues.  I’m going to use a southern term—it’s ugly.  Why do we want to be ugly?  It doesn’t compel anyone.

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I can be too easily offended.  I am constantly working on giving the benefit of the doubt.  I know life is more peaceful and joyful when I am not allowing myself to give in to offense.  Offended people are not happy people.  It only leads to bitterness.

The greatest fight we can engage in spiritually is to refuse to be offendable.

Let’s live out of a life-giving mind and heart.  Not everything must be confronted or called out.  Not every offense even needs to be acknowledged.  Sometimes, we just need to shake it off and give it no other thought.  That takes discipline and strength.  But we are all better for it.  Not only between each other, but in the eyes of those who watch from a distance.  And, quite frankly, we all won’t look so ridiculous!

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Yes!  Keep up the good fight.

But let it be done from love—not offense.

Fight against injustice.

Fight against a culture of death.

Fight against poverty.

War against evil and it’s ravaging.

But, do it from an un-offendable heart.  

Fight for justice and life.

And through this, we will be known by our love.

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We Can Do Hard Things

You never know what you can do until you have to do it.

12038515_10208120059425782_2205531781384824545_nI used to never really consider myself strong.  I use to doubt my endurance for hard things.  I would think of certain scenarios and think there was no way I could ever endure something like that!  I was young and life had not been truly hard.

Have you ever thought like this?  It’s possible I’m a lone bird on this one.  I get stuck in my head quite a bit.  But, on the off chance you have ever wondered how you’re going to make it, or do THAT, or what if, then maybe this is for you.

One of my very favorite sayings floating around lately is a hefty reminder.  And, you better hang on for it!

“We can do hard things.” 

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I’m not really sure how this fits into today’s culture.  For the most part, we are busy entertaining and indulging ourselves and avoiding uncomfortableness at all costs.  I try to avoid stress and anxiety.  I know my margins and am pretty good at trying hard to not cross them.

So, in today’s “first world problem” culture, the hard, ugly, messy, costly, inconvenient and uncomfortable are usually avoided like the .  If it is out of the carefully crafted comfort zone we have so strategically arranged, it must not be for me.  Check.  Not going there.

But, what about the gift of inconvenience?  What about the gift of hard?

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I’ve had the privilege of knowing women who have done hard.  My mom did hard for over 10 years as she was the primary caregiver for my sweet father as he slowly withered away.  I’ve watched my mothers-in-law take care of grandchildren as their own and nurse a dying bitter man with grace and patience. I’ve seen women pick up family and home and move across the world and endure hardship in order to rescue children and women from slavery.  There are all kinds of hard.

We can do hard things.

In fact, life is more rewarding and satisfying if we do hard.  Perpetually taking the easy road and always choosing the easy leads to comatose living.  If that is even considered living.

Sometimes, we really have no choice.  The hard is shoved at us with the force of a tsunami, and we have to swallow it and keep afloat.  Our world is shoved into another realm and we must adjust our course or be obliterated.  Sometimes, it seems we have had more than our fair share of hard and inconvenient.  It appears all we do is hard.  I’ve been there.

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We can do hard things.

I have a beautiful passage of Scripture you need to hear!  Psalm 16:5-6 goes like this:

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

You may be wondering how I’m going to take this verse and make it work to convince you that, yes, you can do hard things.  Well, here it is.  I have had a very long season…years even…of doing very hard things.  In fact, it came like the waves of the ocean.  I often felt as if I was going to drown from the unrelenting surge of hard.  Life looked bleak and it was breaking me.  The years of pounding had me convinced this would never end.  This seemingly had become the course of my life.  I was constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the next wave.  Not a hope-filled, joyful journey by any stretch.  I anticipated lack instead of abundance.  I waited for darkness more than light.  I expected drought instead of blessing.

Now, on the other side of the hard, I realize I have learned some valuable lessons.

1. I am stronger than I ever thought I was.

2. The hard doesn’t last forever.

3. I can’t do it on my own, but with Christ and friends, I can do anything.

4. Christ sees it all, and……now, look back at Psalm 16:5-6.

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

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The beauty and grace I never thought I would ever see again, has indeed, come.  He never left me.  And, in fact, He holds my inheritance and the borders of my life are stretched to beautiful places.  Life isn’t perfect.  Not everything works right all the time.  Not everything has been fully restored.  But, I anticipate in due time, all things will be made right.

There is something about going through hard and inconvenient, instead of caving and crumbling.   There are lessons we learn and strength we gain.  Strength begets strength.  By not choosing the easiest, or bypassing the hard,  a rock hard strength develops within you.  One. Choice. At. A. Time.

Every time we choose to do hard, we choose strength.  Each time we don’t give up, we choose spiritual fortitude.  And, it is just amazing to see where we are taken in Christ through the journey.  As we come out through the suffocating, restricting and confining alleyways of the hard, we come upon the wide open vistas of grace and hope that stretch out before us.  We see it is both beautiful and breathtaking!  Oh, the light and stunning grace!  He knows us and gives us beauty for ashes.  Yes, we may lose much, but the inheritance promises to be worth the journey!

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Where Is Your Life?

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It’s been a really great summer.  Sleeping in (my favorite!), road tripping around the area, reconnecting with friends, reading, watching my boy play ball, and playing taxi.  Pretty much loving life and feeling grateful.  We enjoyed a great day for our anniversary.  We kept it simple and relaxing.  And I am so thankful.  My kids are pursuing their passions, living life and having a good time doing it.  God is blessing their lives and you can see His love for us.

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In the last few years, I haven’t always been able to say that.  Maybe that’s you, too.  We’ve experienced financial reversal, faced rejection, suffered at the hands of people and felt like we were going through hell.  I realize that isn’t the warm and fuzzy thing to say.  Suffering depression, anxiety and PTSD was never on the order list we sent up.  When 4 out of 5 in your family have to be medicated just to handle daily life, I’m telling you, that’s not what you order up.  Who does?

But, it happens.  Life happens.  I remember a couple of years ago, living life with a teenager and   just being thankful we were dealing with normal teenager stuff.  We had come a long way.  Moving from constant crisis mode to dealing with everyday issues was such a relief.  I even found some much needed humor in that.

A few years ago, I was walking the neighborhood, thinking life would never get back to normal.  I just wanted it to so desperately.  Whatever that was supposed to be.  What I thought was normal life, happened to be a private hell for someone most dear to me.  That was an eye opening thought.  A paradigm shift.

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Life changes—often on a dime.  We had more stuff going wrong and our lives turned upside than I had ever thought possible.  But, following dreams and doing big things, often stirs up the waters.  We weren’t living the status quo; life threw not-status-quo stuff back at us.

But, here we are a few years out and life has smoothed out just fine.  In the heat of it, when your neck is being scorched by the fire and heat, life looks pretty much like it is never again going to smooth out.  That seems like a very distant memory.  I got you on that one.  We are looking eyeball to eyeball, and I say, I know it.  It hurts.  It really hurts.

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I was reading some Scripture today and wanted to share it with you.  My heart skipped a beat when I read it.  Yes!  I felt it!  I knew it!  Psalm 16 is a great chapter.  Take a look at it with me.

Keep me safe, my God,

for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;

apart from you I have no good thing.”

I say of the holy people who are in the land,

“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”

Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.

I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods

or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;

you make my lot secure.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;

surely I have a delightful inheritance.

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.

With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;

my body also will rest secure,

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because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,

nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.

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You make known to me the path of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

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Verses 5 and 6 really lit up for me.  Go ahead! Check those out again!  Many of the first years of living in Virginia were beyond hard.  It has been a challenge testing everything we were made of and then some!  But, we’ve come out on the other side.  We’ve fought hard and won!  We trusted in Him and depended on Him to get us through.  We took refuge in Christ.  We kept our eyes on Christ.  I really don’t know where we would have ended up if we hadn’t had Christ.  People will disappoint you;  people will betray and reject you.  Christ is forever the one where our hearts find peace.

So, back to the present.  Life is good.  Life is beautiful.  When you taste the bitter, the sweet is so much sweeter!  When you walk through the darkness, the light is that much brighter!  When you lose things precious, the blessings are that much more treasured.  You have to experience the sad to appreciate the joy.

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Such is life.  My life boundaries are falling in pleasant places.  That makes me happy.  We are doing life.  It’s not perfect, but what is?  But, it sure is beautiful!

What Say You?

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I sit back and read and watch the exchange of powerful ideas.  The ideas of freedom of speech and the protection of human rights.  Debate argued from differing opinions.  Good.  That’s what America is about.  So, here is my freedom of thought and speech.  I will add mine to the count.

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This morning as I was relaxing in bed and enjoying this holiday weekend, I scrolled through social media.  Always an interesting way to start the day.  I came upon a video commentary about gay rights vs. Christian rights VS. gay rights vs. Muslim rights.  There is an incredible amount of hypocrisy going on.  Christian bakery owners aren’t allowed the same right to refuse service as Muslim bakery owners.

It isn’t real freedom for liberals to say a Christian cannot believe or practice certain things, if those practices disagree with their beliefs. 

Liberals and extreme leftist groups are some of the most intolerant folks I see today.  Christians don’t tend to be a vindictive group on the whole.  But, I see the LGBT rights’ groups working to massacre anyone who doesn’t agree whole heartedly with their views.  (Let’s be clear, I’m not saying all LGBT people are intolerant.  Just as I would not say all Christians are not vindictive.  I am saying the LGBT political groups, on the whole, are very militant and extreme.)  I’m not for hypocrisy from any camp, but the left is quick to point out hypocrisy among the Christian community.  However, nobody seems to really acknowledge that hypocrisy from the extreme left groups.  But, it becomes quite clear.  If you are a vocal, national voice and dare to express your opposing opinion of the LGBT rights, you will pay the price.  Or maybe you are just a Christian business owner who wants to stand up for your religious belief.   You may pay the price.  And that price is exacted in many different ways.

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Christian rights are under attack.  I am starting to believe Christian rights are losing their protected status.  And, it’s likely to get worse.  I just never thought I would see it coming from this angle.  I guess I didn’t really expect to face it in my lifetime.  It seems as if the downward spiral has sped up.  I sit and watch human rights and freedoms violated every day.  It seems as if the clock of this world is winding down.  There is this sense of change on the horizon; I have no idea when or what exactly or whether it will be sudden or a slow meltdown.  I make no claims at being a prophet.  There is just an unsettled sense in my spirit.

I am also concerned about our lack of concern as a nation towards Christian persecution in other nations.  Or, how about the American Assemblies of God minister that is imprisoned in Iran now for 3 years, simply for returning to his country of origin to visit family?  He is being tortured for his faith.  American diplomats have seemingly been very unsuccessful in securing his freedom.  I wouldn’t even begin to claim to know what all has been done to negotiate his freedom, but there seems to be no real urgency.  When foreign countries are more sympathetic to his plight than his own, I am disturbed.

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I read an article which stated Muslims are being granted easier access into our country while Christians from Middle Eastern countries are faced with a much more difficult time of gaining entry.  Many of those are trying to escape the extinction of their families and are desiring freedom.  If our borders are going to be porous, why shouldn’t these threatened peoples be allowed in?  I don’t know about you, but I feel as if we could be witnessing on a smaller scale an evil akin to Hitler and his followers.

Some say the turning away is for political reasons; some wonder if it is numbness, denial or a lack of knowing what to do.  I don’t have that answer.  I just know a horrendous atrocity is occurring before our eyes.  Radical Muslims are evil.  And we are their enemy.  At this point, it doesn’t matter whether you think the wars we were involved in are what caused this, it’s here.  It seems evil against Christians is increasing.  Times are a changing.

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America is changing.  And, I don’t think it is for the better on the whole.  Yes, protecting basic rights for the marginalized is a good thing.  As Christians, human rights protection should be of the utmost importance.  Human life is precious.  No one should be treated inhumanely.  We must defend those without protection.  No, we can’t possibly rescue or protect everyone.  But, we risk callousness and the selling of our souls if we don’t stop, take notice and do what we can.  What is that?  Frankly, I’m not sure, but we at the very least have to take notice and ask God what He sees.  Ask God what He needs us to do.

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Perhaps, prayer is where we start first.

So, as I was scrolling through social media, I stumbled upon something positive.  After digesting the disturbing fare of national and international news, I came upon this sounding alarm.  Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, senses a change coming as well.  And she is urgently calling for Christians to pray.  The prayer initiative started earlier this month, but continues until the end of May.  Check out her website http://www.annegrahamlotz.org.  She is calling on Christians to pray for our country.  I would encourage you to stop over and see in what way you could participate.  It certainly would be the most powerful first step we could take.

What Are You Looking At?

1-1234699141PRLFI’ve been thinking about today’s blog.

I wasn’t sure the direction I wanted to go…until now.  I don’t know, call it writer’s block.  I never really want to write a post without some kind of inspired direction.  I had several seemingly disjointed thoughts rolling through my mind and couldn’t bring them into any cohesive thought, until now.

I’ll let you in on my analytical brain’s journey.

My first thought from the week:

My personality doesn’t do well with conflict.  For the most part, I think most people do not do well with conflict.  However, I do know there are some who seem to enjoy it…get a kick out of it.   But, that’s not me.  It causes me a level of anxiety that sits in the pit of my stomach.  Generally, I deal with conflict by avoiding the person with whom I am having conflict.  Not the best tactic, I know, but that is my default mode.  As I am growing, I am learning not all conflict resolution has to be traumatic and disastrous.  I am making baby steps toward handling conflict that results in positive and life-giving ends.

My second thought from the week: 

I don’t like to complain about being in ministry.  There are many great rewards, opportunities and joy.  However, it’s not easy at times.  In fact, there are unique challenges, disappointments and pain other professionals don’t experience, much less their spouses and families.

I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum.  Christians don’t always act like Christians.  And, honestly, that can be a disappointment.  But, on the flip side, Christians have been living, breathing fleshed-out hands of God in my life.  In some congregations, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  In fact, keeping in mind I don’t do well with conflict, there was a time during a very difficult season, attending church was too painful and I would have to leave the worship service because of severe anxiety.  Sadly, for a while, it didn’t feel like a safe place for me.

I wasn’t even the “personal” target for attacks.  My husband, mainly, and occasionally one of my children were the focus of the attacks.  It seems people forget their responsibility as Christians in a body of believers.  When someone decides to “take on” an issue in the church, they often forget the collateral damage that is done.  When issues are addressed in a toxic way, many hearts lie wounded in their wake.  It’s not just the leader affected, but his wife and children as well.  God reminded me “He sees it all and knows it all.”   He will make right the wrongs.

My third thought from the week: 

This is the greatest of all from the week!!  As I was walking the circle in my neighborhood, I took notice of the beautiful spring blooming around me.  It was such a beautiful day! As I was trying to reign in all my thoughts and see what kind of coherent message I could bring from it all, it hit me straight on.  I realized my rambling thoughts were coming together!

  Nature yells out the very existence and hope of God.  It was screaming out to me a message I needed to be reminded of!   The joy and hope I sensed in that moment caught my attention.  As I was looking at the yellow-flowered weeds in the field near my house, I got it!  I remembered a verse I had come across the day before reading through some journaling I had done last year.  Psalm 27:13, 14.   Yes! It was all clear now.  The seemingly random thoughts were coming together to form one powerful thought!

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Life is messy.  Stuff happens.  People disappoint….some over and over again.  People don’t act as they should and many times we are hurt by others’ selfishness.  But, life is also very beautiful.  Or at least it can be.  It depends, though.  And frankly, it depends on you and me.  I’ve experienced enough toxicity to last me my lifetime.   Life can require responses or decisions from me I feel are unfair at times.

I just choose over and over not to focus my attention on that.

Maybe, right now you see harshness or injustice.  Perhaps you are experiencing a motherload of inconvenience and disappointment.

But, if you quit in this one snapshot of a moment, you will never see the finished portrait.

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If you quit now, you won’t see the would-be, finished, beautiful product. 

Our hope and joy lie in God and our trust in Him.  Such beauty and grace resides in Him.  He promises to show us His goodness in this lifetime.  So, focus your attention on what you WANT to see.  Stop focusing on the unfinished business; focus on the promised beauty.

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”