I’ve been thinking a lot about puzzles. Not because I love them. In fact, they frustrate me.
I’m thinking about them because I feel like I’m IN THE MIDDLE of a puzzle. A puzzle with 2000 or more tiny little pieces with bright colors, but jagged edges.
There are bulk sections where the pieces fit snuggly together, and even a confident frame of edge pieces, but there are definitely sections – gaps – that are begging to be completed. At least that’s how it feels.
There are puzzle pieces strewn about all across the table, and some rebellious pieces on the floor.
And I feel like this puzzle is my life. And perhaps it’s yours, too.
When you have a glimpse of the bigger picture, it’s just a matter of time and diligence to methodically place the pieces together. It takes time. Patience. Effort. Trial and error. Missing pieces. Pieces that get stuck under the chair leg. Losing the box top at times because a toddler runs through the room and decides to use it as a drum.
In life, I think one of the most challenging places to be is “in the middle.”
In the middle of waiting for a dream to be fulfilled.
In the middle of waiting on loose ends to tie together so you have clarity.
In the middle of a storm waiting for it to pass.
In the middle of the desert knowing that if you just keep walking, you’ll reach that oasis.
In the middle of waiting for that doctor’s report.
In the middle of trying with everything you’ve got to see if you can salvage that relationship.
In the middle of giving all you have to build your dream and hoping that one day it pans out financially.
In the middle of begging for God to heal your body or your marriage.
Whatever that “in the middle” place is for you, remember this: God is right there with You. In fact, more than that, He created the image on the box. He created that image – His – within you.
So today, if you feel the frustration – the overwhelm – the disappointment – the anxiety – of being “in the middle,” speak this over your heart: He is with me. He will never leave me or forsake me. And because of that I can trust His planeven when I don’t see how it will all come together.
“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” ~ Deuteronomy 31:6 (MSG)
The middle won’t last forever. It won’t. It can’t. Because God is always at work… even when You can’t see or believe that He is. He’s working.
And you see, not only did He create the image on the box – the same one He’s put within you – but He also puts the pieces together. One by one. He knows exactly where they fit. He’s the Master Puzzle Maker. He never leaves the gaps. He never loses a piece. He’s never confused. He’s never frustrated. He’s working on His timeframe to complete the puzzle with you, for you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28 (NIV)
One day, you’ll look with joy and surprise and realize that through all the frustrations and waiting and gaps, the pieces have finally come together. And the gift is two-fold: you now see a beautiful puzzle and you’ve learned so much by watching the Master Puzzle Maker work His craft and glory within you.
Last Monday, April 15th, I went for a drive to clear my head before recording my podcast. When I got into my car, my phone started blowing up. People were texting me from all over the place saying, “Bethany, have you seen what’s happening in Paris?”
I stopped and scrolled the news and found that Notre Dame was on fire, and I literally just started crying. I know it’s just a building, but the reality is that it’s so much more than that.
I had people texting me because they were saying, “Bethany, when I think of Paris, I think of you.” And the reason is because I used to live in Paris, and when I lived in neighboring Switzerland, I traveled to my beloved city of Paris as frequently as possible. It was only a three and a half hour train ride from Geneva where I lived for about five years, and I would get on a train as much as possible just to spend the weekend there. So, anytime there’s any world news about Paris, my heart is stirred because I’m drawn to that city more than any other city in the world.
On that Monday, I just was really struck. I was moved by the fact that the world paused and everything was put on hold.
When beauty burns, something within us changes. I don’t know about you, but when I see an animal that’s dead, it really affects me. I remember when I lived in Australia, I used to walk down this path to school and church on a regular basis and it was just a sidewalk in a neighborhood. Nothing special about it. But I remember one spring, there were these beautiful butterflies that I had never seen in my life. It’s not the kind of species that we have in Texas anyway, and they had these really clear wings with like beautiful specs of rainbow colors and big polka dots. They were shimmery and shiny. They almost looked like an art project with glue and glitter and sparkly bits. And I remember walking down the sidewalk and I saw this butterfly lying on the ground. It was so beautiful, but there was no more life in it. I stepped onto the grass to get out of the way of passers by. And I just wept.
I don’t know what it was about beauty that made me pause. I don’t know why. When I go to the mountains or when I stare at the ocean, sometimes I’m just captivated. My breath seems to disappear. It catches in my throat and in my chest and I just cry. Beauty is one of the things that we are created to live with and not created to live without.
God Himself, His is beauty. And He is the Master Creator. One of my favorite things is creating and one of the times in which I feel most like God. That may sound kind of weird, I don’t mean that in a prideful way. I just mean one of the most connected times I have with God is when I’m creating. He is the creator and when I’m creating I feel like I’m following in His footsteps and I’m mimicking His pattern. And to me this all ties back into beauty.
That day as I was driving around the countryside, just thinking about my love for Paris and thinking about all my personal memories at Notre Dame, I thought about the people. I thought about the beauty of the stories of centuries and centuries of people. I thought about the beauty of the craftsmanship of those who built that wonderful ancient place. I thought about what offering people brought, what expression of their own heart and spirit that went into the work of that Cathedral. And not only that, I started thinking about every moment of sacrifice and praise and heartbreak, every moment of joy and triumph and celebration that’s happened within those walls. Every proposal, every first kiss, every breakup, everything that’s happened on the outside of those walls. Every moment of strangers meeting for the first time, every moment of reunions and meetings after a separation of years.
I thought about all of those things and how rich those stories are and that the reality is this burning of Notre Dame is not about a building. It’s about the hearts of humanity. It’s about people. It’s just a symbol. It’s a symbol of the beauty in our world and when beauty burns, something in us feels lost. Something in us feels like we’re dying; there’s loss and there’s mourning, and though, that’s a hard place to be in and we don’t always want to face that, it’s exactly what we have to do.
I got home from my country drive just and I went over to my shelf of really detailed and organized journals in my room. I have about 30 journals on my shelf and they are all dated from 1995 all the way to current. I picked up my journal from 2003 when I was an au pair living in Switzerland. And I started just randomly flipping through the pages of this journal and no less than five times did I see the words, Notre Dame, scribbled on the pages.
As I mentioned, I have so many memories there and one of my favorite ones is when I met one of my American college friends in Paris. We made our rendez-vous point Notre Dame – it’s in the middle of the city. It’s easy to get to. You can see it from far away. And I remember I hadn’t seen her in a long time and we met there and we hugged wildly and then we went on an adventure for the day. We went to Centre Pompidou. We went to the Louvre. We went and had crepes with Nutella and banana under the Eiffel Tower, and in a turn of events, we stumbled upon Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France. We didn’t even know it was happening and it was on both of our bucket list. How crazy is that?
One thing I reflected on that Monday of Holy Week was that more than Notre Dame – a symbol of history and the stories of a nation on fire – there was Jesus. It made me think of Jesus because He is the most beautiful and divine human this earth has ever known – beautiful because He is a physical, tangible representation of the Father and the Father’s heart.
I thought about being there on that Palm Sunday and ushering in the King of Kings. I put myself in the shoes of a person who thought that king was going to come and save everyone from this evil empire. I thought about the disappointment that they must have faced when they realized He came to be beaten and to be put on a cross because He was coming for a different kingdom. He was coming for a different purpose.
And the people couldn’t see that. They didn’t have eyes to see that, but those who did have eyes to see saw him on that cross beaten and bruised with His flesh torn apart. His body ripped to shreds. Jesus struggling on that cross to lift himself and breathe. They saw him bleeding and sweating and in agony, and I wonder if they looked at Him and thought, this beauty before us is dying.He’s going down. He’s being defeated.
Beauty feels personal. It’s like we own it. We hold onto it, we possess it, and when there’s an attack against it, we feel like we have to protect it. I see someone throw trash into the ocean and it really bothers me. Or someone leaving garbage on a beautiful mountain trail. Why? Because it’s pure beauty that they’re messing with and it feels untouchable. And I think that’s how the people must’ve felt about Jesus. He’s the beautiful representation of God. He is other worldly. He is the King of Kings and you’re messing with beauty.
Even so, He gave Himself up to die on a cross.
But we all know that’s not where the story ends. The resurrection is coming. It HAS come!
The purpose of the pain is around the corner. The beauty will rise again in a more beautiful way than we can conceive or believe. But this – this is the plan of God.
Here’s what I know to be true. In those moments when I feel like beauty is burning in my own life, there is always purpose in the pain. There is always redemption on the other side. We do ourselves an injustice if we just move past the pain into the resurrection, per se. If we move past the pain into the light and the beauty again, so quickly… we miss something. We miss the importance of sitting in that place and knowing who God is with us in that place.H
My hope for you today, as we pause to reflect on the journey of Jesus from Calgary and the cross where He died to the moments of the empty tomb, is that you would stop and reflect on who He is to you, what He’s done for you.
He is the one and only true beauty.
I pray your hearts would be stirred by Him this week. But I also pray that you would sit in that place and linger longer in that place of pain… BECAUSE PURPOSE IS COMING.
Let me pray for you.
Jesus, my heart is broken for the city of Paris, for the people who are hurting because they are watching a symbol of their history, of their freedom, of their triumph, of their deep years of faith come burning to the ground in ashes. And yet I’m thankful for the perspective to know that You are with us in the fire and You are with us in the flames. John Wesley said, “Catch on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
I think about that with Notre Dame. The whole world has its gaze locked on the city. And I pray that You, God, would make Your presence known in peoples’ hearts – that You would be so real and so present in they’re suffering and in their confusion and in our suffering and in our confusion, in our places of pain where we feel like beauty is burning right before our eyes.
God, I’m thankful that that is not where the story ends, that the sun is rising metaphorically and literally the Son, Jesus Christ, has risen. Tomorrow’s a new day, but may we not miss You in this moment in this pain. May we see You with us and know Your goodness and know Your touch and know You’re nearness. We love you so much. We give You all the glory in Your mighty name, Jesus.
I sat with a new friend over coffee and listened to her heart as she poured out her story before me. She delved into the depths of everything that had gone wrong in her life, but finished with the strong crescendo of everything that God had made right.
I stared into her eyes from across the other end of the fingerprint-smeared glass table, and could hardly keep my tears locked in the cages of my eyes.
After bringing me along on the journey of the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of her story, she said something really simple that caught my attention. She told me of a moment when she felt compelled to hug the person that had brought so much pain into her life. She walked up to this person, who was uninterested in emotion at that moment in that place, and wrapped her arms of unconditional love around him. In that moment, in that embrace, he broke.
The walls came down. The truth lay bare before them both.
I had a similar encounter with a homeless man in Brazil once. I was leading a mission team, and we were asked to go and pray for the people there. I had already had the most stirring God-encounter with two homeless meth addicts, and seen God work His power through prayer. I thought God was finished with me that day as I strolled towards the other end of the park with tear-stained cheeks to meet up with the rest of our group.
As I turned the corner, though, my eyes caught hold of a stoic, dark figure leaning against the wall. I was drawn to him immediately and made my way to him, asking if I could pray for him. His response was apathetic at best, but he gave a slight nod, so I ran with it.
After learning his name was Jaime, I stretched out my hands and laid them on the top of his shoulders and began to call on the God of the Universe to intervene in this man’s life and situation. As I was praying over him, God downloaded image after image that gave glimpses of what He was doing in this young man’s life. I began to speak those out over him in faith. Jaime tilted his head upwards and peered into my eyes, his weak with shame. Then I asked something strange: Can I hug you?
His expression gave me permission so I embraced this cold man, and in that very moment, the walls came crashing down. He wept buckets of tears down my back as he laid his head on my shoulder like a worn-out toddler. His body shook with the aftershocks of pain and bitterness; he wept and wept and wept, until there were no more tears to fall.
In that moment, I saw the unrelenting pursuit of God the Father – our God who never leaves us, nor forsakes us. (Hebrews 13:5) Our God who runs, though never breathless, after us until we stop long enough to notice His Presence. I saw our God who uses the power of love and compassion to meet people exactly as they are.
There’s a story in Matthew 8 that tells about Jesus’ interaction with a leper. Lepers were enshrouded in shame because of their uncleanliness. They couldn’t enter the city gates; they couldn’t touch others. They couldn’t engage in the normal activities of life, family, and culture of the day. They lived in pain, isolation, and with an aching desperation.
The story goes…
When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.2 And behold, a lepercame to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”3
And Jesusstretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.”And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
I’m struck by this thought: “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.”
Jesus, the most holy, pure man to ever walk the face of the earth stretched out his hand and touched a LEPER. He chose to touch his uncleanliness. He chose to touch that which could infect him. He chose to touch the man’s pain.
And when Jesus touched the leper, “immediately, the leprosy was cleansed.” He was healed. The touch of Jesus healed him. It broke down the walls of isolation and being overlooked and cast to the outskirts of society. It broke down the inability to connect with others. It broke down the brick walls of emotional torture and confusion of years living with the label of “unclean.”
Jesus still does this today. He uses us, His hands and feet to break down walls through unconditional love. He does that in so many ways, but sometimes it’s through the power of simple touch.
He did it with my friend. He did it with Jaime. He’s done it with me.
He can do it now… in that person you are frustrated with, in that person who cut you off in traffic, in that person that has hurt you more than anyone will ever know, in that person who never smiles, in that person who always points out the worst, in that person who presses your buttons, in that person that speaks to you with ice in their voice.
Jesus can and will heal.
Maybe you have someone on your mind (I know I do!) who just needs the power of God’s touch, the power of a simple hug to usher in a warm tidal wave of God’s love that will wash away the grit and the grime, and the ice-encrusted layers of their heart, to break through to the truth that is lying dormant in their soul.
Because the truth is that God loves us. The power of that love breaks down walls to heal us and make us whole again.
Will you stretch out your hand or stretch out your arms in a loving embrace, and touch someone with the love of God?
Maybe, just maybe, a hug will change the trajectory of someone’s life and eternity today.
Many of you know that I went through a difficult & challenging season in the Spring of 2013, where I experienced a deceptive & dangerous ‘gospel’ first-hand as a staff member of a mega-church.
I don’t believe in bad-mouthing institutions (I use that word intentionally because this was one of those ‘church run as a business/institution’ not as a church kind of situations).
I DO believe in speaking the truth… & the following is what I felt God was saying to me through my experience there. It’s a strong reminder that the Church is about HIM & must always come back to JESUS.
“WARNING! Do not align your hearts to the deceptive culture… that says wealth is your reward for serving Me…that says comfort is the means to life…that says Jesus is the way but requires loyalty to a leader…that says we support orphans but we stay in luxury hotels because dirt under our fingertips ruins our manicured nails…that says ‘Spirit, come’ & then the clock runs out…that says we see God but we don’t bow our heads to pray for even 3 minutes in a 3 hour meeting…that says take a step towards Him, but make sure you are wearing the right shoes… that says we welcome you, but only special people can come in & sit at the front…that says we are the church, but you can only be a part if you do it our way…that says be a part of us, but first sign your name & serve our leader…that says Jesus’ words bring life, but we quote our leader more than the Jesus because he’s quippy & creative…that says we’re here to build the Kingdom but the only empire to be seen is the one that stands empty 5 days a week & shines with the glitz and glamour of high-dollar…that says it’s all about ‘the reach’ but only to fill empty front-row seats to present a good ‘look’ for the TV cameras… YOU SEE, THE CHURCH IS ABOUT ME. I WILL NOT TOLERATE A MAN-MADE EMPIRE THAT ROBS MY GLORY, THAT DISTORTS THE TRUTH IN A GREY JOYLESS VEIL, MAKING ROBOTS OUT OF MEN. JESUS IS MY GLORY. WE ARE & ALWAYS WILL BE. THE SANDS OF TIME BLOW AWAY, BUT WE REMAIN. WE ARE THE BRIGHT MORNING STAR, SHINING OUR GLORY FROM AGE TO AGE. WE REQUIRE SOLD-OUT HEARTS & LIVES, NOT EMPTY WORDS. EMPTY WORDS BRING DESTRUCTION; ONLY OUR WORDS BRING WORDS OF TRUE LIFE.
Reflecting on 2013 today, I find myself utterly grateful for God’s grace & redemption this year…
That despite the fires & trials of life, He is & always will be.
That through the storms of life, He is & always will be.
That through the deceptions (though well-intentioned), He is & always will be.
That when I feel lost & floating, He is & always will be.
That when I have no idea what’s around the corner, He is & always will be.
That when life looks different that what I imagined, He is & always will be.
That above ALL ELSE, He is & always will be.
That God always speaks truth because He is & always will be.
I am ever grateful for His truth, His guiding, His providence. Praise be to God & may His Church glorify HIM and no one else.
“Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands & step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.” ~ Oswald ChambersHere’s to an Irresistible Future with Him in 2014! Be blessed.
The unabating sounds of doubt & disbelief have threatened to steal my focus and rob my peace of mind, much like the incessant sound of the thumping trash can lid blowing outside my window.
The sounds of doubt & disbelief have reared their ugly heads in this season of change, but I have vowed that they will not crowd out the dreams and visions in my heart. They will not shift my aim nor distort my focus. Because out of the winter of disbelief comes a spring filled with potential that blossoms into opportunity and despair that fades into drive.
My winter season began as I left a 2-year engagement with an authentic community of faith-speakers, dream-builders, and hope-proclaimers. This Kingdom culture got under my skin and nestled its way into the deepest fissures of my heart. So when I ripped myself away (even though the timing of my departure was right) and landed myself as a changed person plop in the middle of a lifestyle and culture that I once knew so well, it shook me to the core.
And though there have literally been days where the past 2 years (let alone the previous 6 years of ministry abroad) have felt like a dream. There have been times where I’ve had to read through journals and text with my friends overseas to be reminded that these experiences were real, and more importantly, they were God-orchestrated and prompted.
But as I write this today, I have a deep sense that just as the trees outside are budding and blossoming in celebrations of winter’s end, my dreams, hopes, and visions are also budding and blossoming in celebration of life coming from death, hope springing forth from doubt.
God is brilliant at reminding us that there is a season for everything. For every winter, there IS spring. And SPRING IS COMING…
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
And if you’re not careful, just like the winds of a ferocious storm will prematurely shake all the good fruit off an apple tree, so too will the winds of change snap your branches and send your fruit crashing to the ground.
Dark night. Cold water. Treading in the profound sea of uncertainty. My thoughts close-in around me, my voice shattered by silence.
But the following words ring as the utmost truth in what seems like an endless cycle of yearning and longing:
“Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby. Burst into song, shout for JOY, you who were never in labor; because you’ll have far more children than all those of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. “Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big! Use plenty of rope, drive the tent pegs deep. For you will spread out to the right and to the left.” ~Isaiah 54:1-3a
This Scripture fills my soul with life and hope, because I know that the words of the Lord do not return empty and void. What He declares will come to pass. (Isaiah 55:11)
Out of our nothingness, comes His everything. Circumstance isn’t the block upon which our faith is built; we stand on the rock. And even when the road ahead is extremely difficult to discern, we know Who we’re following, and we know that He knows exactly where He is going. And He knows exactly why He’s taking us there.
Out of my desperation, comes His fulfillment. My personal revelation has been: “the greater the preparation, the greater the influence.” A pastor once said the same thing to me in a different way: “the taller the skyscraper, the deeper the foundation.” All that to say, when we are toiling the grounds of dust and desolation and feel like our lives are going nowhere, God is reminding us that He is building us. He is preparing us. He is growing us. Because the more we are like Him, the more people He can love through us. At times, the refining may seem unbearable, but it fails in comparison to the glory that will resolve in the end. (Romans 5:2)
Out of emptiness, comes His abundance. When it looks as if everything is meaningless, useless, and purposeless, He gently whispers that He is working beyond our understanding, planting seeds of His hope and love into the lives of others. And through the seeming barrenness of our lives, He is harvesting cold hearts and breathing new life into them over and over again for the purpose that they might find life abundant (never ceasing to run out!) in Him.
I refuse to allow the temptation to focus on what I do not have guide my days.
I refuse to settle when I’m called to stand.
I refuse to break, when I’m meant to be molded.
I refuse to keep silent, when I’m destined to shout.
Last week I found myself amidst the culturally labeled riff and raff. I ended up in the middle of a tent village just outside St. Paul’s cathedral in London, where I was enamored with the vibe and beat of a raw passion forging revolution.
As I circled the area, amongst the hand-made cardboard signs and poster drawings promoting “people over economy,” I came across a lengthy hot pink strip of tape that read in repetition: “Another World is Possible.”
I was struck by this thought: not only Christians realize the world is broken.
Really? Jesus followers aren’t the only ones who believe the world needs to change?
It might sound obvious to you, but I was caught in a stream of thought… the world is so broken that everyone sees it…
This is massively important, because I believe that only out of the realization of our brokenness can we realize our need for redemption and wholeness. And it is from that place which Jesus, the perfect revolutionary, steps in and takes our broken pieces and glues them back together, fusing them with holiness.