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

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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.”

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.

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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.

Psalm 139, StrengthsQuest, and Creator God

One of my biggest prayers to the Lord post-Hope College has been for God to show me who he has created me to be. In the 139th psalm, David says to God, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; all your works are wonderful”. ALL his works: including you and me. That sounds awfully egotistical. I try my best not to think I’m wonderful. Haven’t I been working toward humility? What’s all this “wonderful” business? I thought I was a broken human being.

Recently, I was sitting in my apartment with a couple of friends and a couple of steak Tacos from the corner store. It was Sunday and, as I unwrapped the first taco, one friend asked me if I believed in original sin.

“One second,” I said, “Let me pray first and then I’ll answer your question.”

So I said grace while my friends chuckled at the response.

We talked about the Lord in the beginning and his affirmation of creation: it is good. God is creator and all that he makes is good. Satan, on the other hand, is a destroyer, and he is not capable of creating. He can only distort what is good. So, yes, I suppose I do believe in original sin. I believe we’ve bought into the enemy’s lies and have exchanged good for something unnatural, broken: sin. The story doesn’t end there, of course. Despite all odds, God is willing and able to restore his creation.  In the light of this invitation, what does it mean to be fearfully and wonderfully made?

Last Thursday I started working for an incredible program called Upward Bound, a government funded program that supports high school students in preparation for college. These past few days have been exciting as I’ve interacted with my new teammates. Together we will accept the role of mentors and tutors for the next six weeks. The program hasn’t even started and I can already see areas of growth. One of the biggest aspects of our training includes the StrengthsQuest, an online questionnaire that identifies each person’s unique talents. Everyone on the team took the test before training. It’s the weirdest thing to talk about what you’re “good at”. The results are incredibly accurate. I read the description of my top five strengths and had goosebumps. This morning we had yet another team meeting. Each of us had a sheet of paper folded over like a name plate with all our strengths. We talked about specific moments in our lives when we’ve seen these strengths come through. Looking around, I noticed how different my teammates are from me. I saw all their talents and their value; I saw my own value. My God, the God of David and the God of Abraham, had made each of us. Fearfully and wonderfully. He made us. He made us for his glory. I talked myself out of crying. We were in a meeting, a positive team-building meeting. How would I explain myself to my new friends? Y’all are just too wonderful. Hahaha. Seriously though, in that moment, I saw how each of us is created in the image of the living God.

I think it’s weird, too, that God is teaching me about the way he created me, teaching me through positive psychology and an online quiz.  But who am I to question him?  I don’t pretend to know exactly what it means to be fearfully and wonderfully made.  But I do know that as a part of His creation, I have a purpose.  I am created to glorify and praise the Living God.  He is good and all that he makes is good, too.  I thank Him for the way he’s uniquely created me and others around me, so that we can work together.  I am so excited for God to refine the talents he’s created in me.  I surrender them all so that they can serve Him.  He is worthy.

Not another love story: Thoughts on Twilight, 1 John and Relient K

I fought You for so long
I should have let You in
–Relient K Be my Escape

My friend did not confess to being a Twilight fan. I found the evidence in his car: Part Two Breaking Dawn. I thought it had to be a joke, but he was clearly not laughing.

“I guess I’m just jealous,” he confessed, “Jealous of those guys. I’ve never been loved like that. Not that sort of love. The I-would-die-for-you sort of love.”

I stopped laughing. Cleared my throat. “It’s definitely an escape,” I said. I read three out of the four books when I was in High School.

“Yes an escape,” he nodded.

Only hours later, as I wrote about my day in my Moleskin notebook, did I realize that my friend is wrong. He has been loved like that. I have, too. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about 1 John. Not sure why I decided to read this epistle. But God decided to use it a lot to work in my heart. One of the verse that stands out and summarizes the entire letter is 3:16.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

If you ask me, this blows Twilight out of the water. If we’re going to use any text as an example of perfect love, this verse would be it. It’s been a while since I picked up one of Stephenie Meyer’s books, but I don’t think Bella and Edward’s love is much of a comparison to what Jesus offers us. Yet how many times have I mistaken fantasy for gospel? I’ll be the first to admit that I often forget that the good news satisfies more than the sort of love we crave. How silly. Like choosing cotton candy when what you really need is a full-course meal. All this to say that I have my doubts I’ll ever find a love that compares to Christ’s. He not only said “I would die for you”, but he lived up to his word. Died. Came back three days later.  

So there you have it.  Not your average love story.  More indestructible.  Eternal. Something more extraordinary (minus the sparkly vampires).

A Simple Story about Sakura Petals and Physical Contact

Urayasu, Chiba Japan 2012

“We’re going on a walk,” My host mother says in Japanese, not the same day I arrive but on an afternoon when the sakura are in full bloom.  “Cherry Blossoms,” she says in English as if I can’t understand.  Because usually I can’t.

“Watashi mo!” I say and tag along down the concrete ramp.  She pushes my host father’s wheelchair in front of her.  We cross the street to the canal.  I walk beside my host father.  A white sheet covers his thin legs.  The wind is strong today.  It flaps and folds it over.  He struggles to pull the cloth back into place with his good hand.  I cover his knees but the wind keeps blowing.  Sakura petals fall like pink snowflakes.  My host mother wheels over the flowers on the sidewalk.

“My father was a fisherman,” she tells me simple stories in Japanese, “Once I went to Disney Sea.  They gave out free passes to all the people of Urayasu when it first opened.”

We pass a white cherry blossom tree.  “Beautiful, don’t you think?” She tilts her head over the chair to see the face of her silent husband who smiles and nods.  “Don’t you think?” She asks me.  I nod, too.

“I take a picture.”  She parks the wheel chair and pulls out her magenta camera.  “For your mother,” she says, “So she can see how beautiful they are.  How beautiful you are.”

I lean against the fragile frame of the tree.  Cheese.

“Now one with Masaki san,” she says and tucks me beside her husband’s chair.

Hope, I thought my hands could heal.  I though perhaps if I could rest a hand over the man’s shoulder he could rise dancing.  I didn’t want to do the Mexican hat dance over Japanese cultural boundaries.  I wanted to restore.

I place my hand on this man’s shoulder.  Before the camera snaps, I pull away.  I blush into the lens.

The next morning I watch Moko’s Kitchen like usual before class.  My mouth full of French toast made by my Japanese host mother.  I sprinkle more cinnamon over the yellow/brown bread.

“Deiji san,” she calls from the room, “Come here, please.”

She’s sitting on the edge of Masaki san’s bed.  “Come here,” she urges again. She faces him.  “He asked for you.”  But I have few words and he has none.

Instead he holds out his hand.  I take it.   I look at my Japanese father’s moistened eyes wishing I could tell him about the One who healed me.  But if I flew 13 hours for this moment alone, it was well worth it.

I know Christ healed two people that day: a tired stranger and a beautiful man, both longing for contact.  I have yet to see my host father rise from his chair and dance for the Lord.  But I am certain of this, God restores.  He has restored and he will continue to do his work in us and through us until the day of Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.

Prison, College, and the Circle of Life: God’s Purposes for the Here and Now

“I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing!” It was not the last time that [Bilbo Baggins] wished that!
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien

For the past three and a half years, I have called Michigan my home. While other college freshmen counted down days until break, I made my nest on the third floor of my dorm and forgot to phone my mother. I stayed in Michigan over the summer and avoided going back to Illinois as much as possible.  As I prepare to graduate, however, I can see how God is preparing a place for me. I know I should temporarily return to my father’s house, and I actually look forward to it.

This Christmas break left me longing for the comforts of home. The food, the family, the freedom to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Now, I’m weighed down with assignments. I am like a maple tree, and creativity is being drained out of me like syrup. Things I love like reading and writing have suddenly become mandatory. I woke up the first Friday of my last semester at Hope muttering, Why can’t I just go home?

Paul, two thousand years ago, must have asked himself the same thing. In fact, his letter to the Philippians shows a sort of homesick longing.

For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:21-4).

I must sound completely absurd to compare my experience in College to Paul’s experience in prison. After all, I await graduation not execution.  I won’t disagree that the accommodations here are much nicer, but I think it is of some value to draw this parallel.  Our desire for home-cooked comfort ultimately points to our desire for God.

Perhaps the biggest comfort of home is to be known. To not have to explain oneself. And who knows us better than our Father? As the psalmist says in the 139, “Your eyes saw me before I was put together, and all the days of my life were written in Your book before any of them came to be.”  As a senior, I find myself fading into a crowd of unfamiliar faces. New students that will soon replace the old ones. This is the cycle that characterizes a four year college. This is a cycle that characterizes life as a whole. I don’t mean to sound morbid. I’m simply observing that this isn’t our permanent home and homesickness is completely understandable.

On the other hand, we must not neglect that God’s purpose for us here on earth.  As my college career winds down,  I must remember, first of all, that this is not a prison cell, and second that God has a plan for me here and now.   There’s a reason why we are not home yet.  We have a church to build.