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In our youth, we race headlong into this one life filled with idealistic optimism. The world is an expansive unknown stretching far beyond us and filled with unending possibilities waiting to be harnessed. At this stage, there are no limits to what can be accomplished, no unforseen roadblocks or impending disasters, and no reason to believe our dreams will not be realized.

But then, as it’s prone to do, life happens. Some of it by our choosing, and some coming upon us as an unexpected downpour, and we discover that life isn’t perfect. After some repeated saturation, we may look at our life and declare, “This is not how I expected things to turn out.”

At this point, we often choose a pity party, sometimes even a tantrum, stomping and flailing about how unfair it all is. Or, we can towel dry our hair, gather courage and hope, and discover ways to dance despite the downpours and drink of the falling drops. Because here’s the truth: the most fragrant beauty radiates after the rain, and sunsets are most spectacular as the storm clouds recede.

Even though you never asked for any of it, even though you thought you would be further along in your journey, or imagined your life differently, this is it. No matter what has passed, or what you thought it would look like, you cannot change one single bit. This is your one life. And you have a choice. Will you let what has happened this far shape you – rearrange you if needed – to grow, to overcome, and to fully flourish?

We ignore the blessings we’ve been given when we focus on how our lives failed to unfold how we imagined, when we linger on the wreckage of what went wrong, the injustices enacted against us, or the ways we’ve let down ourselves or others. In our misperceptions, we forget this place isn’t meant to be perfect, and neither are we. This is a rehearsal, of sorts, for things to come. When the last curtain is drawn, and we arrive at our final destination, then and only then will all be as it should.

I rather adore this verse:

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

It reminds me that using the world’s measuring stick to determine success is rubbish. That God’s measurement for a successful life looks dramatically different. It’s possible that the very place we find ourselves, and the very person you and I are right now, is just where and who God would have us be, however inglorious, unattractive, desperate, downright ugly, or devastating it may be at present. That’s meant to be encouraging!

However disappointed we are with this patch of life so far, God doesn’t see your journey in any way wasted. However hard we buffet life’s storms, however unwelcome we make trials, even downpours can usher in beauty, refine character, and construct in us an enduring peace and patience the likes of which we had yet to know, not to mention prepare us to walk with added fury – a true force to be reckoned with – for the next leg of our journey.

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I like to think God looks at us – and our lives – rather like we used to as a child: full of possibility and hope, and without limits. And maybe, just maybe, from here on in, we would take His outstretched hand in ours, be led through the storms, navigated through the roadblocks and disasters, and follow Him out the other side, joining Him in puddle jumping, reclining by His side mesmerised by the sunset, while drinking deeply of the fragrant beauty of His love. Maybe then we will see our one life for the truly miraculous gift it is. Besides, by now you realize the best is yet to come anyhow.

I’ll leave you with this reminder:

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in the world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and the saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” ~ Ephesians 2: 7-10

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  1. Start a list of things you can be thankful for.
  2. Ask God to help you redirect your heart and thoughts to thankfulness. Develop a habit of replacing disparaging thoughts with thankful ones.
  3. Pray over each disappointment/disaster, handing it to God to make beauty out of. This may take time, but it’s worth it!
  4. Memorize a passage of scripture as encouragement during the downpours.

 

 

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Girl on swing

I needed a head shot for the back of my book. During the photo shoot, the photographer told me about the number of women in their 40’s and 50’s she has listened to bemoan their appearance. That same week, while visiting some friends, there was an exchange about aging and someone postulated that those who are considered beautiful have a harder time growing old because they have farther to fall.

I thought about these two conversations, about wrinkles, and the way we – both men and women – view the aging process. I remember that as a child I thought wrinkles were beautiful, especially the smile lines around aging eyes. It’s sad that something so natural and inevitable should be something we’re ashamed of. I wondered why so we often don’t feel beautiful – really at any age – and why we’re so desperately trying to appear young. I could think of 5 reasons:

1. We have a corrupt view of true beauty born from dissatisfaction. Marketing campaigns tell us that to be accepted we must look young, fit, and beautiful, wear the right clothes and expensive jewelry, drive the right car, and smell fantastic. And we’re busy chasing after all of that because we believe them. It has become all-important, and we have become more and more insecure and dissatisfied with ourselves. As a result, we’ve lost our ability to notice truly beautiful things, exchanging them instead for the fleeting and the superficial.

2. We compare ourselves to others. Dissatisfaction also seeps in when we play the comparison game. When we make a habit of comparing, we fail to celebrate the endless variety and forms of beauty found in ourselves and others, and end up feeling dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives. It’s this dissatisfaction that steals our peace. It drives us to want more and be more, instead of feeling comfortable in our own skin and enjoying the unique beauty found in every human being.

3. We struggle to love ourselves. Perhaps you were bullied, or told you were ugly, or worse. When we look in the mirror and think we look ugly, or are tempted to believe the lie that tells us we aren’t enough or are worthless, we need to fight back. Here’s the truth: true beauty far exceeds your exterior appearance, or any label or insult you were given. God has infused our lives with His love, and that love has made us so much more beautiful in the unseen places that any make-up, wrinkle cream, fancy clothes, or photoshopped image ever could.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.  ~ 1 Samuel 16:7

But there’s more. When we meet God, He changes us from the inside-out, and continues to do so until our last breath. He offers His healing and love to every area of our lives, both seen and unseen. We were made in His image and that makes us infinitely precious. When we accept that we are accepted, we can begin to love ourselves and grow in confidence far beyond appearances.

4. We have an identity crisis. When our identity in God is secure, it’s difficult to be insecure. It’s not a bad thing to wish to be attractive – and most of us make an effort to do so – or to notice beauty in another. It’s when our exterior becomes our primary focus and ultimate goal that it begins to tamper with our true identity, our true beauty, and the freedom we find in Christ. When we believe we are unconditionally loved by Him, and that His love isn’t based on anything we’ve done or failed to do, our identity grows secure in Him. The pomp of the world becomes a lot less shiny, and we care less and less about how others perceive us. We relate to others more openly and freely, seeing them instead as one of God’s walking, breathing masterpieces and His prized possessions. We come to see ourselves the same way. Paradoxically, the less anxious we are about our exterior, the more beautiful we become.

5. We forget to be thankful for the living, breathing, creative masterpieces that we are. That leaves us feeling empty, no matter the full bellies, full closets, or full wallets. All of the stuff fails to satisfy us. Until we begin to be grateful. Until we understand that we are loved by God and made with a purpose for a purpose. Then we begin to be made beautiful through and through.

Let’s choose to celebrate the beautiful, marvelous, miraculous, and unique human beings God has made us to be, use our resources (time, talents, and finances) to build up things that won’t fade but that last in eternity. Let’s choose to be so securely tucked in God’s unconditional love that true beauty can be seen in us and we can glimpse it in others.

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  1. What do you think it would take to make you feel more beautiful?
  2. Of the list above, which area do you most struggle with?
  3. Try to set aside daily time with God and let Him secure your identity and self-worth.
  4. Write a list of the beautiful things you are thankful for.

 

 

 

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Years ago, I planted tulips with my two-year-old who is now twenty. I’ve never had much success with bulbs. Whether the squirrels’ vigilance or my negligence, they never seem to return in proportion to my planting; some flourishing for a time then gone, some never blooming at all. But this past spring, I was surprised to see random splashes of colour sporadically brightening the earthremnants from those by-gone days.

It strikes me that just like these tulip bulbs, all that we painstakingly plant in our lives isn’t always seen right away. Sometimes the things we’ve sewn take years to bloom, buried in the dark recesses until just the right season. Sometimes they don’t bloom the way we expected, and other times we don’t see the results this side of heaven. But no effort is ever wasted, and even if we don’t see the results, God does.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  ~ Galatians 6:9

When beauty takes too long to flourish, we can be tempted to believe that our toil was wasted or that somehow we didn’t quite work hard enough, well enough, or smart enough. But even then, we don’t give in because we trust that even when all looks barren, God not only makes a way, but makes beauty as well.

The beauty might take longer than you thought. It might turn up unexpectedly and in a location you hadn’t imagined. But anywhere you nurture the soil, in time, beauty will flourish.

Whether a kind word deposited into a child’s heart, a hug given to a hurting soul, money given to help a cause, or time spent building into a life, or a communitynone are wasted. Every kindness, every determined effort, every weathered struggle, all the good that we didn’t give up on doing will bring an eventual harvest.

It’s always a blessing to see the fruits of our laboursome kind of beauty flourishing where it was plantedbut with God’s help, strength, and grace, even when there is no evidence of anything growing from the good we tried so hard to cultivate, we can also remember:

…we live by faith, not by sight. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:7

Be encouraged! It’s not over ’till it’s over…and even then, it’s not really over! Heaven awaits!

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  1. Are you weary with trying? Bring your cares to God and ask Him for faith to continue doing good.
  2. Don’t forget, God’s word says you will one day see a harvest if you don’t give up!

 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. ~ Ecc 3:11

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We live in a 130 year-old home. There is a great deal of maintenance needed to keep it in decent repair. It seems there is always something in need of attention: some wood rotting here, some paint peeling there, or chips requiring touch ups on the wide baseboards. Our old home is never in perfect condition!

Which rather reminds me of life.

In my experience, there is always something falling out of place or already in need of repair! The trouble is, we live in a world that whispers we need to have life figured out and have it all together. It tells us we need to make plans and goals and make them happen. That we need to somehow strive but also be centered.

But what would happen if we began to think that instead of things falling out of place, they are actually falling into place? That the parts in need of repair aren’t something to bemoan, but instead celebrate that we’re under construction. What would happen if instead of being centered, we make Christ the center? Instead of comparing, we grow grateful for what we’ve been given and trust God will meet all our needs according to His riches? And instead of frustrating ourselves with the pursuit of perfection, we rest and accept that God will make all things beautiful – even the messes.

Because here’s the truth: God made you, He loves you, and there isn’t a thing you could do at this moment to make Him love you any more or less than He already does. You might not feel like it, but, thanks to Jesus, you are already perfect in God’s sight.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”

Hebrews 10:14

God sees us as perfect, but I love the rest…we are being made holy.

That explains the messiness.

God sees you as perfect, but loves you so much that He is willing to lead you to further beauty. A fancy word for that is sanctification. If we are in Christ, we are being made more Christ-like. This means the rough and rotten bits are being removed and repaired. That can be painful and discouraging. It can look messy and unkempt. It may appear that things are falling apart. But take heart, it’s your loving Father at work doing what He does best.

You know, if you look at our house from the street, you can’t see the paint chips and rotting bits. Like your life, take a few steps back, try to see it more as God does, and things will look a lot more beautiful.

May you find courage today to embrace and celebrate God’s handiwork in your life!

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  1. In what areas of your life might God be at work?
  2. Can you follow Him as He leads you through the mess and out the other side to beauty?

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~ Matthew 11:29

Roads Watersmart Garden

I’ve begun trimming my life like a much need haircut. It’s taking shape…somewhat. It’s starting to look more manageable again – beginning to once more have room for the makings of beauty.

Making beauty –

because there sure is enough ugliness in this world, and if by chance a reflected choice, a quiet decision, or an intentional action can birth some beauty, it will be worth it.

A kind word, a timely compliment, a patient response, a smile to a stranger, a giggle from a child, a quiet cuddle, a shared lunch, a work of art, or spring flowers. All beauty. But like anything, beauty can be missed if not cultivated.  And cultivation takes time. And time is easily mismanaged.

So I saw the need to be intentional.

That meant giving up a few things. It meant looking candidly at those things I was doing and asking myself why I was doing them. Did this truly line up with my gifts? Had that passed its expiration date? Was this distracting me from more critical, life-giving things? Could these activities be considered lesser? Were they crowding out space for the basis of beauty – intimacy with God.

There are so many activities we can be doing, but just because we can, should we? Like all over-consumption, we can add too many activities to our life. So many distractions that lead to detractions. And it takes its toll.

What we really need is to rest our weary souls.

It’s not popular to say no; to intentionally choose less. We’re programmed to want more, bigger, better – enough is never really enough. But it just might be that this purposeful distraction is where it goes all wrong – where we, and all those around us miss out. Where the possibility of simplicity and beauty become a distant memory instead of a usual occurrence. Where we become distracted from our God, ourselves, and those around us.

Beauty making happens in the open spaces, in the quiet places, in the expanse of God’s love. It is stifled in the crowed places that allow little room for rest, reflection, prayer, and thanksgiving. It’s difficult to hear God’s gentle whisper when there’s too much noise and haste. We need to be intentional about quieting ourselves, resting, listening and receiving God’s peace. It’s in this space where true beauty begins.

May you make space to see beauty flourish in your life and in the lives of those around you!

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  1. Do you regularly put aside time to refuel with God?
  2. Are there any ways in which you may be filling your time with too many things? Are those activities taking away precious time from your family, friends, and most importantly your relationship with God?
  3. Is there anything you recognize you need to intentionally remove to make room in your life for beauty?

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