When God Speaks Through His Word and Our Art

The bold black ink on white canvas caught my eye.  As I walked under the shaded outdoor patio of Elevate coffee, I noticed a girl tracing the penciled words with a thin brush; “Wow, that’s beautiful,” I said.  I took a closer look; the canvas read, “For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

“Can I take a picture of it?” I asked.IMG_0644

She said yes and I clarified, “I’d like to show it to my husband.”  The phrase sounded pleasant though unfamiliar and I smiled.  I stretched out my hand and introduced myself.  My new friend’s name is Jasmin.  I promised her I would return to see the finished product.

God has done this before.  Once before Asa and I started dating, I was looking at his pottery on the shelves at Desert Dragon.  He had carved around his vessel the words: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  The Lord had been speaking these words same words to my heart.  He was using them to make me desire holiness and freedom from sin.  Now, Asa and I had barely talked at this point.  In fact, I had seen him throw and had not appreciated his work.  It wasn’t until I saw his carved pottery that I realized how talented he is.  A couple days later, I apologized to him, “I’m sorry, but I totally underestimated you,” I said.  He smiled and proceeded to win my heart and marry me months later.

But the point of my story is that God speaks to us often through His Word and moreover, through art, which I love.  When I saw Jasmin’s canvas, I saw God’s faithfulness.  I know I can trust him.  Despite the fact that, last night, my husband and I talked about silence, uncertainty and money, I know I cannot falter in my heart when it comes to God.  Because he told me, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”.  He reminded me of his Word last night.  And then, there it was today in black and white: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”.

Inside of elevate, I found a friend from the ceramics studio.   “I just saw Asa last night at the studio!”  Heather hugged me and congratulated us.  We sat on the couches near the window.  On the other side friend continued working on her lettered canvas.  I felt in my heart something/someone say, “That canvas is yours.”  I continued to share pictures from the wedding.  My friend and I chatted for a while until I finished my Mocha Frappuccino and she needed to leave to pick up her kids from school.

I returned to my new friend Jasmin on the other side of the glass.  She was sitting with her finished canvas and her boyfriend, Washington.  I asked her why she picked that verse in particular.  “Sometimes God speaks a verse into my heart for that particular season of my life.  This is a time of transition for me and I felt like this verse spoke to that.”

“I love it,” I said.

Washington handed me the canvas, “It’s yours.”

Dear Lord Jesus, I always underestimate you.  I pray you continue to show me your faithfulness through your people, your Word and our art.  Thank you because you are not silent.  Give me ears to hear and eyes to see.  In your name, Jesus, Amen.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13IMG_0648

Metamorphosis: a gift, a new life and a very hungry caterpillar

To the optimists whose hearts are willing to listen to good news

My sister Karina has always had a knack for gift giving, but this time she hit the nail right on the head. Before we left for the airport Saturday morning she handed me a small blue bag and instructed me, “Don’t open until you’re in Phoenix.”  I tucked it into the picnic basket that I had found in salvation army.  Her gift did not go through security undetected.  An officer pulled me aside and checked the basket.
“Any explosives or fire arms in here?” he joked.  He sifted through my beat up NIV, pulled out my chopsticks and shin ramen cup noodles.  “What’s this?” he held Karina’s present. 
“No idea, Sir,” I said, “My sister gave it to me as a going away present.  I can open it if you like.” 
“I’ll put it through the machine and see.  If I need to I’ll open it.  Haha, hope your sister isn’t one for practical jokes.”  He took away the blue gift bag.  My curiosity was fueled.  The officer came back. 
“Hahaha, that would have been a good one.  You would have been so mad.  Here, you’re all clear.  Have good holiday, Miss.” 
I smiled and took my basked away and made my way to gate F10 and took a seat near a window where I could see the sun rising.  Immediately I tore into the little present.

photo (1)A week prior, we had taken a trip to Mitsuwa Mart in Arlington Heights and I had debated buying a Japanese translation of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from the bookstore.  But I ended up putting it back on the shelf.  Karina seized the opportunity and recruited our kid brother and our friend Victor to distract me while she made the purchase.  She tucked the book inside her purse and returned to us, cool as a cucumber and just in time for green tea ice cream.  Those sneaky ninjas were so careful not to spill the beans that I never suspected a thing.

I read through Harapeko Aomushi on the plane and was surprised I fully understood it.  Of course the book is written for children and completely in hiragana the most basic characters of Japanese writing.  And it does help that I know the story in English by heart: “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on the leaf…”

I’ve been holding back on writing about my obsession with butterflies because it seems a little childish.  But as I make this new transition I feel that it’s important to recognize what God has been teaching me since last August.  At the end of the summer of 2013, I was offered a part-time position in Grand Rapids, but I turned it down because in my heart I knew God was asking me to go home.  I found Christ as a freshmen at Hope College and knew that going back meant trusting that God would provide Christian community and a job.  Not only that but I learned that going back to Steger meant coming to terms with my old self.  My house alone is filled with relics from 18 years lived without knowledge of Jesus’ love and grace.  It was during this period that God began speaking to me through butterflies.  I can’t pin point when it began.  But suddenly I saw them every where.  On the cover of a devotional that my Japanese professor gave to me for my graduation.  Printed on the inside of a mug at my Tia Jessie’s house.  At the museum of science and industry, My friend Lauren and I watched a the Flight of the Butterflies in the Omnimax theater. For Christmas my mom gave me a butterfly necklace and for months it served as a reminder of the familiar verse: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

IMG_20131222_205457  IMG_20140107_162033  IMG_20131109_193638 (2)

But I didn’t feel new.  I was working at an incredibly challenging alternative school (ironically called RISE) and the tough work environment made me irritable toward the people I loved.  I asked myself, what the heck? you’re supposed to be representing Jesus Christ and look at you now!  And the butterflies kept coming along with temptations to return to my old self.  On the worst days, the butterflies were more like mosquitoes that I swatted away. On the best days, they were a reminder to step into the life that God has called me to live in Christ.

So as I read through this simple children’s book on my way to a new life in Phoenix, AZ, I remembered the complex reality of being born again in Christ.  I remembered the hunger.  How nothing would satisfy me though on Monday I ate through a whole apple and on Tuesday through two pears and on Wednesday through three plums and on Thursday through four strawberries and on Friday through five oranges and on Saturday ate through a plethora of things that I was never created to eat and made me sick.  And finally I ate through a green leaf.  This leaf to me represents God’s word.  And when I ate of it, I was transformed into something entirely new.  Everyday, I must accept this new life and choose to rise and fly.

Those pesky butterflies still follow me wherever I go.  But I feel like I’ve stepped into a different season and the metaphor has been etched into my heart. I am grateful to God for his patience and grace.  He has lead me into this desert land and I am eager to meet him here in a brand-new way.

Relevant verses (click link to view in context):

1. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

2. Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (John 3:3).

3. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Hey! Expect an update with pictures from AZ and reflections from induction and job training with Teach for America coming soon! Peace!

Blueprints: on Christ, Carpenters and our Fathers

 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.
Hebrews 3:4

IMG_20131223_102306
“The priest talked about José,” says my dad, “and about the Angel who told him he was more than just a carpenter.”

It no wonder why it’s this part of the message that sticks to my father’s mind.  He’s been in the business of building since he came to the United States from Mexico years ago.  My dad’s hands are rough like sandpaper and tough as nails.  Hard-work gives his life purpose.  Our house is always under construction.  I can imagine Joseph being the same sort of man, one eager to build a perfect home for his family.

Joseph must have had the hopeful blueprints etched in his heart.  A beautiful wife, a steady job, a couple of kids.  But all of his plans for the home he wanted to build are destroyed with the notice of Mary’s pregnancy and the knowledge that the child is not his.  Disheartened, Joseph is forced to end his relationship with Mary quietly.  So much for the perfect bride. So much for the perfect home he had in mind.  So much for his purpose.

Yet, suddenly, the Lord sends a dream, an Angel who tells him he is more than just a carpenter.  To be exact, the Angel says the following:

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:20-1).”

Here God presents a new blueprint: a plan for salvation.  This the bigger picture that fills Joseph’s life with purpose and meaning.

I love my father and I respect his desire to build a perfect home for the family he loves.  But I know that just like with Joseph God’s desire is to fill my father with a deeper purpose.  He is much more than a father, than a husband, than a carpenter. He is invited to participate God’s larger plan for salvation.  We all are.  And just like Joseph we simply need to accept God’s invitation.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Three verses to meditate (click link to view in context):

1. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).”

2. “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Exodus 9:16).”

3. (This verse never grows old.  Look at it again.  It is powerful truth that can alter your life forever.)  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Jesus didn’t rise from the dead for this!

And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony; they loved not their lives unto the death (Revelation 12:11).

So I just cashed a check and it reminded me of a friar named Ignacio from one of my favorite movies, Nacho Libre.  In the movie, Ignacio “Nacho” has a fascination for wrestling and teams up with Steven “Esqueleto” to compete in a novice wrestling match.  Ignacio has high-hopes for his career as a luchador, but during their first match he and Equeleto are utterly humiliated by a more experienced wrestler.  Even though they lose match after match they still get paid.  But their sweet reward turns sour.

“I don’t wanna be paid to lose!  I want to win!” Nacho tells Steven, “It sucks to be me right now.”

Now, I can totally see where Ignacio is coming from.   Starting a new job at an alternative school for troubled middle and high school students has a way of humbling you.  I’m sure that everyone can relate to the familiar feeling of defeat.

RISE (ironically, that’s the name of the school where I work) is a direct answer to my prayers and exactly what the doctor ordered to put to death my pride and impatience.  But at the end of most days, I came out of school a little sore (my ego takes a heavy beating).  The kids go home and I go home feeling like I just got my butt whooped by Silencio or Dynasty or some other goofy luchador from Nacho Libre.  I lost.  To my sinful self.  To my pride and my impatience.  To my shame.

So for several weeks the Lord has had me stuck on the death of Jesus Christ.  The event that shook all of history 2000 years ago.  A woman from my aunt’s church taught me a simple song on the guitar based on Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life that I live in the flesh I live through the faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” I went back into the ring. “You’re dead,” I told my old self as I pinned her shoulders to the mat, but before I knew it  I lost again.

“You said you didn’t want an easy job,” says my mom.  She massages my hand.

“I did,” I say and wince as her thumb rubs over a knot, “I still do.”  

But I don’t want to be paid to lose; I want to WIN.  Does it not say that we will over come by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony?  I’m starting to re-evaluate this whole luchadora-thing when it hits me: Jesus didn’t rise from the dead for this!  He didn’t rise from the dead so we could wallow in self-pity.  He didn’t rise from the dead so that we could stay stuck in our lives of sin.  He rose so that we could rise victorious WITH HIM. It’s at this moment that I high-five Jesus Christ into the ring to take my place.  This is his fight after all. And it’s already been won.

Scripture Verses for the Struggle:

1. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:1-4).

2. Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance and perseverance must finish it’s work so that you may be mature and not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

3. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-5).

To Know and Be Known: Reflections on Psalm 139

Today, be blown away by our God.  Be like the psalmist David who sings, “Oh Lord you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”  Oh, this knowledge is needed–like a warm jacket as the leaves blow away and undress the trees outside your window.  When even your home feels like cold foreign soil and you, a foreigner, know this: He knows you.  When all those around you fail to understand your words, be sure of this: “Before a word is on [your] tongue, [God] knows it.”

I write this post after listening to an unrelated sermon and realizing that God really does know me.  I don’t know why it still surprises me when he speaks so directly into my life.  He always speaks through his word.  As if he knew me!  Well, he did create me after all.  Back in the Spring, I took a class on writing fiction with an amazing teacher who encouraged us to look for the “yearning” in each piece.  What is the desire at the heart of the characters?  I cannot tell you how many times we identified a yearning to be known, a desire for intimacy.  I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me either.  Why wouldn’t God create us with a yearning that He can so adequately fulfill?

I thank you, Lord, because I when desire to be known I can rest assured that my Creator knows me.  I trust you to fulfill all my needs.  I know that your word is my bread and that when I turn to it you will feed me.  I rejoice in your love and your intimacy.  “Search me, Oh Lord, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Movie Review: Facing the Giants

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t know a thing about football. Touchdowns mean next to nothing to me. But after watching Fireproof and Courageous, my dad asked if Sherwood Pictures made any other movies.  That’s when I checked out Facing the Giants.

Movie Preview:
[cue the deep and booming movie intro voice] In a world echoing with southern accents and cheesy bible references, one man Grant Taylor, fails at life. His car won’t start. His football team just lost three games in a row. And his wife longs for a child she doesn’t have. When things can’t seem to get any worse, will Coach Taylor put his hope on the God he follows? Will his team have the courage to face the Giants? Will they trust that God will fight for them?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9).”

I’ll admit I was a little skeptical at first.  A family friendly football movie?  Sounds pretty ordinary which is exactly what I love about Sherwood Pictures.  Their story and dialogue is ordinary and has to do with problems that real people face.  This movie won’t brush over the hard facts of life, but it will encourage you to trust in an all-powerful God.  So I say, give it a chance!

Coach Grant Taylor: “Winning football games is too small of a thing to live for. Even championship trophies will collect dust and one day be forgotten…Football is just one of the tools we use to glorify God.”

facing-the-giants-08

The Rear-view Mirror: Musings on the Place I Left and the Road Ahead

Months before graduating from Hope College, I wrote a blog-post about homesickness and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in which I claimed that I was eager to go home but there were still things God wanted to teach me in Michigan. Well, now I’m writing from my yellow little house somewhere in the southern suburbs of Chicago. For the time being God has called me back and now (figures) my heart aches for the place I left.
Don’t get me wrong! God has provided. Within a week of turning down a part-time job in Grand Rapids, God provided a full-time job, a crusty van and a supportive family to welcome me to my hometown. It was evident that the Lord indeed had called me to come back.
But it’s hard to let go of a place like Holland, MI. I had planned to visit this past weekend and it was supposed to be the third time since I moved back to Illinois. My dad was a little nervous about Mallory (that’s what I named my crusty van). I was dead set on leaving this Friday.
It didn’t happen. All this weekend, I’ve felt embittered by a spirit of loneliness.  I long to be with my friends. What do I say to my heart that desires to be with the people I care about? God, don’t you know what it’s like to be separated from those you love?
And the Lord answers, more than you know. For too long were we all separated from the love of God because of our sin. He knows exactly what it’s like to be broken-hearted.  That’s why he sent Jesus.
It’s a comfort to know that the Lord understands.  It’s my joy to praise him for the way he blessed me during my four years in Holland, MI through beautiful Christ-centered relationships. I pray that one day the Lord will take me on another adventure in West Michigan. But this morning the Lord spoke through my Pastor who asked, “What’s larger your windshield or your rear-view mirror?”

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-4).

And then I was like O_o

There’s a long road ahead and I need to keep my eyes on my Destination.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  It doesn’t mean I won’t ever get to go back. But it does mean that I can’t long for the past or the place I left. What God has done already is awesome, but he is doing a new thing.  Here.  Now.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg

Dear Michigan,

You left a mitten print on my heart. I won’t forget you. But God brought me here for this season. I will keep my eyes on the windshield and glance at the rear-view mirror when needed. I am expecting great things from the God I follow. He will not disappoint.

Hope to see you soon.

Blessings,
DMH

P.S. I will miss your beautiful autumn colors, but the trees here, too, proclaim His Glory.