Category Archives: believe

Where do you get your life?

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water

© Olga Donskaya | Dreamstime.com

A friend recently told me I was giving too much life to a situation I was chewing over. Of course, she was right.  And the truth is, for all the energy I expend in worry, I will get no Life in return!  We do that, don’t we?  We give lots of energy— in the form of anger, unforgiveness, anxiety, or jealousy—to people and circumstances. We exchange pieces of our lives on problems that we cannot solve or situations we cannot change.   We give our lives away—not in teaspoons, as Eliot said, but in heaping cups.

So I’m paying closer attention to the things I give life to. Maybe even more important, though, I’m also asking myself, “Where are you drawing life FROM?”  Are you trying to extract Life from something or someone that cannot possibly give it?  Are you drawing water from a dried-up well?  As a Christian, I suppose I should pay attention to Jesus.  He says that he is Water, Light, Bread, the Vine…Life. (He also said he was God. Therefore, go to God–the SOURCE–for things that feed your soul and give you real life.)

It’s so easy to draw life from just about anything BUT God: career, kids, romance, food, friends, jobs, wealth, fitness, hobbies, or even the next good time.  All of those things are part of this crazy, joy-filled, tragic, and magical thing we call life, but none actually breathe LIFE into our souls. For that, we have to turn to THE Lifegiver. And I think we probably need to pay attention when we do find ourselves giving life to something that is incapable if giving life in return. When I find myself doing this, it’s a red flag: I’m looking for something that people or circumstances cannot always give–whether it’s love, forgiveness, justice, understanding, encouragement, acceptance, or affirmation.

Whatever it is, there is only one perfect Source for true Life-giving sustenance. That’s where I need to go. (Feel free to remind me!)

vine

© Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime.com

Bread
photo by Kay Johnson
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Mercy-drenched Morning

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Ever notice the color of things in the morning? Look around at nature before the sun fully rises and washes everything out with its brightness. Cool air, quiet streets, rich hues that you can’t really see during the heat of the day—all serve to clear the cobwebs in your head, especially after a good night’s sleep.

Sienna Morning 1

photo by Kay Johnson

With the morning comes new perspective too. Even Scarlett O’Hara got it right when, faced with increasing pressures, she would say, “But I won’t think about that right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”  Sometimes, tomorrow really is another day, and it pays to wait.

Sienna breezway

photo by Kay Johnson

“Tomorrow” can bring new perspective.  In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes one of her darkest nights—a time of personal agony. For the first time in her life, she prays. For hours, she can only sob and repeat, “Tell me what to do!”  To her great surprise, God answers! And what does God say?

Kathryn of Sienna

“Go to bed, Liz.”

And that’s how she knew it was God. At that moment, going to bed was the wise—and only—choice. It was not a time to make life-altering decisions. It was time to rest and let God hold her heart.

In the book of Lamentations, right in the midst of some really depressing stuff, there is this whisper of hope.

I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

(Lamentations 3:20-23)

Fresh mercies every morning.  I like the sound of that.  I also like the advice God gave Elizabeth Gilbert:  Go to bed!  Such advice is consistent with the character of a God who says, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Go to bed.

Get some rest.

And see with fresh eyes in the mercy-drenched morning.

Sienna sunrise

photo by Kay Johnson

I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,

to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly

for salvation from the Lord.

(Lamentations 3: 24-27)

Filled with Your Fancies

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© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com

Ran across this Proverb the other day while working on the book I’m writing. This quote is the voice of “Lady Wisdom” lamenting the decided lack of interest in her offer to help us poor humans learn to live well.

Proverbs 1:29: “They would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their fancies.”

Ooo…I don’t know about you, but the idea of being “filled to the full with my fancies”  sounds a little scary. Wisdom teaches us, doesn’t it, that we are sometimes the absolute worst at knowing what we really want or need. I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with depending on God to keep me on the right path. When you look back, don’t you see those times when God gave you exactly what you wanted, and you lived to regret it?  I can just imagine God shaking his head sometimes and saying, “Ok…if that’s what you want…but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I’ve learned to listen a little closer, test the waters a little more carefully, trust my latest passion a little less, and move forward with a heart open to allowing God to make route corrections along the way.

Pack up your camel and go

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three camels

© Albertoloyo | Dreamstime.com

What do you do when your brain turns to fuzz and you need to get the cobwebs out of your head?  Today is Epiphany, which is, traditionally, the day the wise men arrived to find the Christ child. An “epiphany” has come to mean a sudden awakening or realization.  I wrote a couple of days ago about how I had a little epiphany of my own while vacationing in Italy. Like the wise men, I discovered that if you want to find truth, sometimes you just have to pack your camels and go after it!

Psychiatrist Ed Hallowell, author of Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and about to Snap!, is a real advocate for the idea of walking away.  He notes that sometimes our brains are stuck in a loop like a scratched record. We spin away, but we keep hitting that same scratch over and over. We become the noise in our own brains. At that point, it’s time to move. Get up. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for lunch. Pray. Dance. Get out of town for a few days—or even longer if possible.

Again, it’s about trust. Just put that thing you are chewing on into bigger hands and TRUST.  Before you know it, the solution to that problem you’ve been looping over and over in your brain becomes clear.  It’s really weird how that happens.  Kind of like your “big idea” waits politely for the fuzz in your brain to move over and make room for new ideas to settle into your soul.  And if there’s no room for simple ideas, there’s even less room for imagination…for wonder…for amazement.  And what is life if you aren’t filled with wonder and amazement now and then?We become the noise in our brains

The wise men had the right idea. Walk away from your daily work, your routine—even sometimes from all that you know.

Follow that star!

So what about you? What do you do when it’s time to hit the reset button?

© 2011 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

Can We Comfort God?

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Father and Baby
photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

I’ve been thinking a lot this Christmas about Mary and Joseph, and I have marveled at an idea I never really considered before. Mary and Joseph’s job was to care for the baby, of course, but this is no ordinary baby, right?  This is God’s son.  Isn’t it strange, then, to imagine that God would need to be held? To be comforted? To be sung to when a strange noise startled?  The whole incarnation is incredible enough, but when you think of the cooing, cuddling, and constant care that a baby needs in order to feel safe and loved and, indeed, to survive, the idea that God would entrust himself into human hands for that purpose is nothing short of astonishing.

Honestly, though, this is one of the wonders of God to me. God is without ego. God doesn’t mind stepping “beneath” himself—maybe because there is no such thing as a space or level that God doesn’t occupy. And maybe God understands, obviously far better than we do, that our identity and essence has zero relation to the power or position we hold. So God himself shows us what perfect love looks like. Love empties itself of all rights regarding “who I am” and “what I deserve.” It operates from a place of confidence, strength and perfect security in identity. God threw away his rights in order to love and, amazingly, to receive love in return. When we can let go like that, love like that, make ourselves vulnerable to receive from others like that…well, maybe we become one step closer to being like God.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

 

© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

Find Your Strengths…but Find the Point

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Over the last six years or so, my reading focused decidedly on leadership and “strength finding.” Leadership is a hot topic. Ask anyone in the business world. It has become a whole industry. Just as popular are books about finding and using your strengths in order to work within your “sweet spot.” Books like Good to Great, The Tipping Point, The Dip, and the Strengths Finder series have made swamis out of people like Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Marcus Buckingham. I learned a lot from these books and found them fascinating. Yet, amazingly, we are now in the midst of a season where the dirth of leadership could not be more obvious, and despite attempts to move people to work from a place of passion and service, it seems we are more self-centered than ever.

What is the disconnect? I’m not sure I know. But I do know this. After a little time and distance from these books, I’m discovering one significant missing piece. In a wonderful book called When People are Big and God is Small, author and professional counselor Ed Welch focuses on this passage from 2 Corinthians:

“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Welch goes on to write

This means that the essence of imaging God is to rejoice in God’s presence, to love him above all else, and to live for his glory, not our own. The most basic question of human existence becomes “How can I bring glory to God?”—not “How will God meet my psychological longings?”

By extension, we might add that the basic question is also not, “How can other people or my work meet my psychological longings?”

This understanding of ourselves as servants of God is practically a foreign concept, perhaps especially in the United States where the “pursuit of happiness” is seen as a right to be fought for to the death–even when we trample others to do so! In truth, our purpose is not about pursuing happiness but about pursuing God–to love him with heart, soul, mind, and spirit, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Obviously, I love to write. But when people ask me, “What do you want to write?” I’m stumped. I don’t have an idea for a great novel. And blank paper freaks me out! But I know this—whether I’m writing the next great character novel like A Prayer for Owen Meaney or writing content for a website, my purpose is to find ways to allow the glory of God to spill over into the pages and into every relationship with every reader, client, or co-worker. When I believe that my purpose and passion are to love God and bear his image through love for others, it plays out in everything I do. And it matters not whether I am using my strengths to lead as a communicator, marketer, and writer—or operating from a point of weakness (bookkeeping!) where I must lean wholly on God to make it through. As Welch says, “Ultimately, the awesome responsibility and glorious privilege of image-bearing is expressed in simple acts of obedience that have eternal implications.”

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

Useless Beauty?

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wine and cheeseDo you ever wonder about the point of beauty? I mean, why do we need beauty, really? If life is only about survival of the fittest, beauty has no purpose, yet we long for beauty and will go to extraordinary lengths to have it.

We don’t desire simply to eat. We want to dine—else we would never have invented wine, or chocolate, or a million varieties of cheese or beautifully appointed tables with bright cloths and candles. We need clothing, but we don’t just cover ourselves with hay or animal skins. We adorn ourselves. We weave delicate silks or hand woven wools. We employ intricate dyes with rich colors, beads, embroidery, and other fine stitching. In our homes, we might spend hours choosing just the right paint color for the bathroom walls! Why?

Even in the most primitive cultures, I suspect there is still a compulsion to add some element of beauty to daily living, whether a handful of wildflowers, a dance, a song sung around a fire, or even a tattoo! We yearn not only to surround ourselves with beauty but also to create it. The world is filled with evidence of this fact. Think Taj Mahal, Alhambra, or the Louvre.

Our basic needs for food, clothing or shelter are surpassed by an even greater need—the need to feed our souls. If a mother were only meant to feed her child for sstring rehearsalurvival purposes, dinnertime would be quite a different thing. Why instead do millions of mothers waste time setting a dinner table or creating a special atmosphere for a holiday? Why, indeed, would anyone take the time to write music, fashion a piece of pottery, plant a garden, or even get a haircut?

We find joy in beauty. Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Can we also find truth in beauty? Keats thought so. He also wrote, “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’” Keats was on to something, but maybe we do need to know more. Maybe we need to know the origination and purpose of beauty.

Edward Welch’s book When People are Big and God is Small has an interesting passage that I believe provides a clue. Welch notes how life itself provides pictures for us of who God is and what he is like. Scriptures say that God is a loving bridegroom, a redeemer, a feast giver, a judge and advocate, a father, mother, obedient son, suffering servant, friend, shepherd, potter, physician. We relate to these titles because we have known fathers, judges, physicians, and the like. The book goes on to say,

These concrete “snapshots” that God gives us of himself are not just God’s way of accommodating himself to human language. God isn’t using our understanding of servants to suggest that he is like a servant. No, God is the servant, the husband, the father, the brother, and the friend. Anything in the created world that bears a resemblance to these descriptions of God is simply God’s glory spilling into creation and into creatures. Whenever you see these albeit distorted images in other people, they are a faint reflection of the original.

Koi PondGod’s glory—spilling over into creation and into creatures. Is it possible that we are drawn to beauty because beauty is part of God’s glory. Indeed, if Welch is right, God is Beauty, and the beauty I see here is but a faint reflection of the original. So when I am touched by the best in human relationships, by the forgiveness of a father to his son, or by a woman lovingly caring for her elderly mother—any such tender pictures of love, forgiveness, and affection, I am touched because I see glimpses there of God’s glory. Likewise, when I am awed by the beauty of a glorious sunset, a breathtaking aria, or of the magnificent art and craft as seen in a place like Notre Dame, there too, I am seeing but vague hints of God’s glory—and it sets my soul on fire.

Copyright © L. Kay Johnson, 2009. All Rights Reserved

Underappreciated? Think How God Must Feel!

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Yesterday, I was in full-on whining mode with Barry about how nobody listens to me at work. I’ve been smarting from a dismal workplace reality: You may have (or think you have) knowledge, insight, wisdom, experience, and talents that could solve real workplace problems. But the sad truth sometimes is this—nobody cares! Because I’m in a creative job, people often look at what I do as “fun” and—worse—they figure they can do it better. (How hard can it be if it’s so fun, right?) So you get to listen to people hurl insults at your best efforts and proceed to take over your fun job, because it can’t be that difficult. Ouch. (I need some serious chocolate. You may want some too. I warned you this was some serious whining.)

Then I read my little email devotional for today.* It focuses on some remarkably specific instructions that God gave to David as he approached a battle. (2 Samuel 5:23, NLT) The writer of this devotional notes how David had learned from a lifetime of experience to seek God’s advice and, more important, to act on it. Though David was a proven and remarkably capable leader, he recognized God as the ultimate source of wisdom. Logically speaking, David had excellent reasons to rely on himself. He had a stellar track record! But he didn’t rely on his accomplishments or his own strengths. Instead, he doggedly pursued God’s council, and then he humbly obeyed it.

How gratifying that must be for God! I wonder how often God looks at us and shakes his head, thinking, “I coulda told you!  But nooo–did you even ask? Don’t ask me!  I’m only the ruler of the Universe!” How delighted God must be when we actually seek out and listen to his advice. Parents, how nice would it be if your kids actually sought your wisdom and experience once in a while?

So, while I may be left feeling that my “brilliant” insights and skills are not always valued, I have gained the tiniest glimmer of insight into how God must feel when I go about the daily business of life without ever consulting Him for input. And when I do, I often ignore the nudge that tells me to “turn here,” or “wait,” or “better not do that,” or “go now!”  What makes me think I can ignore the Architect of the Universe? I usually wave him off, saying “I’ve got this, God! You just go back to your world-ruling thing.” The truth is–I’m not God, and maybe my ideas and input really do stink sometimes, but His is priceless and deserves my best “sit up and pay attention” attitude.

* Encouraging Words, http://www.christianitytoday.com/tcw/, Look under “free newsletters.”