“The View From In Here” by Michelle Jones

I just went on Amazon.com and ordered my favorite movie of all time:  “Life As A House.”  It stars Kevin Kline as an architect who lived in a dilapidated shack on an amazing piece of property overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  He inherited it from his father, an abusive alcoholic who killed his wife (KK’s mother) and another couple in a drunk driving accident when Kline was just a kid.

Kline’s character learns that he’s dying of cancer at the beginning of the film.  He decides to spend the time he has left trying to make things right with his rebellious, estranged son who lives with his mother and hates him because he was never there.  They spend the summer building the house he designed for that property.  His motivation:  “…to give my son something better than my father gave me.”

As I watched the movie for the umpteenth time, I wondered, for the umpteenth time, how we manage these lives that we have “inherited” from our parents.  As we move through our days, sometimes it’s difficult to see the beauty around us because of all the crap that’s inside us.

It’s a beautiful story about relationship, redemption, healing, and forgiveness.  What always strikes me though is how the house they built together was one that had windows everywhere.  The view—which was ALWAYS THERE—could be seen from the inside looking out, and if you were outside, you could see the beauty that was inside the house.

Isn’t that one of the goals of life, to SEE what is really there, what’s always been there—the truth—and to show the world a “house” that was built with that view in mind?  If the “house” is my heart and not my physical being, or my circumstances, it makes sense that we can’t see the “view” as well from the shack as we can from the new house.  If we’re believers, we can only say so much about the awesomeness of God if our lives are not a reflection of the truth we say we know.  Kevin Kline tells his son at one point, “We have to tear this thing down before we can begin to build.”

I was afraid to tear down the house I had become so used to living in, because I didn’t know if I had what it took to start, much less finish my life according to the plans God has for me.  I have failed at too many things to count.  I have left so much unfinished.  I have been wrong more times than anyone has a right to be.  I was tired of watching my life fall down around my ears, over and over again, and I was too scared to believe God would—and could—meet me in my squalor and cover me as we built anew.

It’s tempting to want to just go outside to look at the view; momentarily forgetting the shack is where we really live.  I have been guilty of avoiding facing what’s damaged and neglected in my life, through deflecting, blaming others for where I am, or busily fixing other “houses” in other neighborhoods.  But those are temporary respites from reality.  Eventually, I have to go home and sleep in my own bed.  I have to hear the creaks under my own floorboards and the rattling of my own pipes.  I have to try and look at the view through my own tiny, dirty windows…until I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and do the work.

Once I decided to show up for work, I found out that God’s sleeves were already rolled up and that He—Author, Finisher, Designer, Builder, and Decorator—had always been there.  He was just waiting for me, because you see, faith only works when you do.

We’re all in various stages of “construction.”  I’m not always comfortable in my unfinished digs.  I imagine that I’m an eye sore to the neighbors from time to time, but the truth is they all have their own homes to deal with.  If they’re focused on mine, I can’t do anything about that.  I just have to keep hammering where I’m employed.

I want a house where the view can be seen from every room.  I know it’s doable now.  I am sure that’s the plan He has for me—for all of us.  I don’t want to just talk about a view that can’t be seen from where I live.  I don’t want that life.

Atlanta has been good for me because I’ve been forced to look at the condition of my heart without distraction.  It’s not always easy, but somehow God is growing my confidence in His ability and willingness to create the heart He wants in me.  The “view” is becoming more visible from the inside of me and in the inside of me.  I am certain now that before it is anything else, Love is PATIENT and KIND.  If not for that, I would have no hope.

I shared some of these thoughts with my friend Suzan, and she suggested I share them with others.  Every day this week, someone has said something to me about writing down what’s been on my mind and heart for others to see.

It finally hit me a moment ago.  Each time I learn a truth, and write about it, it’s like God telling me that He has installed another window in my house. When we do the things God put us here to do in the way that He planned for us to do them, it is like a window that gives us another glimpse of the magnificent view of Him.

When we love our husbands, raise our children, give to those in need, weep for those who suffer and lift our hands to help them, study and share the Word, celebrate the beauty in another person’s life, hope when life appears hopeless, or give ourselves when our pockets are empty, we confirm that there are windows where decaying walls used to be.

There’s lots of work to do in me still, but every time I look through a window, and see the view of The One who gave me my breath, it takes my breath away, and I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

Courage to Encourage by Michelle Jones

The road to Hell is too often paved with “good advice.”  I found that out one day during one hell of a conversation.

I shared my plans to take on my weight with my friend Lee (not her real name).  I told her how excited I was about my quest to “release weight on the inside and shed pounds on the outside.”  I dreamt aloud about being able to become free in my own body and then help others get free.  My enthusiasm was evident.

Then I heard that hisssssss that happens when you toss a bucket of water on a burning fire.

“You look fine.  Your clothes fit you fine.  What kind of standard are you trying to live up to?

“Look at my frame,” I told her.  “I should not be carrying this much weight on this bony frame.  I have more fat on me than is healthy.  Plus, the pounds are just an outward expression of inward issues.  The inside is my focus.  Once that’s dealt with, the pounds take care of themselves.”  I was sure she could hear me grinning proudly from ear to ear over the phone.  I was wrong.

She seemed agitated by my answer.  “I don’t understand.  Why can’t you just be satisfied with the way God made you,” she snapped back, “with whatever bones and flesh, and puffy fat you have?  Why do you have to beat yourself up?”

“This is not the way God designed me!  I did this to me.”  I was so frustrated.  I was making sound, practical, honest sense to my own ears.  Why wasn’t she hearing me?

“I have obviously not been a good steward of the body God gave me,” I said.

“Says who?  That’s just low self-esteem talking.”

Was she actually fighting me about this?

“Look, I just want you to be happy,” she finally said.

“Want me to be whole,” I countered.  “Want me to be healthy and healed.  Want me to be willing to do the work, even when I’m not happy.  Want me to have joy, which doesn’t always come with being happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”  She said it again.  It seemed to depress her and take the wind out of her sails that I wasn’t willing to settle in where my bad choices had put me.  She sort of sighed like she was giving up on her pathetic friend and said her good-byes.

I thought about how desperately she was trying to change my mind about this.  She really thought she was helping me.  And she was angry that I was being so stubborn.

How much damage do we do when we fail to encourage a brother or sister’s attempts to improve themselves?  How badly do we hinder their progress when we push them toward complacency and compromise?  “God loves you just the way you are.”  How many times has that beautiful truth been used to murder someone in pursuit of her destiny?

Of course God loves me just as I am.  And because He’s God—unchangeable and complete—He or His love will not become greater if I am fitter, richer, or nicer.  Nor will it lessen if I take up drinking or stripping.  God’s love for me is not in question.  And it’s not the point.

The point is this:  If I decide to become someone better than I am, ENCOURAGE ME.

If I choose to evolve, grow, break free of some things that have held me bound for too long, ENCOURAGE ME.  Don’t keep showing me the easy way out, or the low bar.  I’m stronger than that.  Let me live up to the expectations of the Spirit within me.

If I want to go deep into my soul, and pull out all the painful, ugly, garbage that keeps me afraid of intimately connecting with others, ENCOURAGE ME.  There is no safety in hiding.  There is only loneliness, and none of us wants to stay lonely.

Pain and discomfort are a part of living, but you do me no favors when you tell me to embrace the consequences of my transgressions along with the suffering.  You are not helping me when you ask me to be satisfied with running half a race.  There’s no such thing as half a win or a partial prize.

ENCOURAGE ME.  Give me some of your courage, because I may be afraid as I move forward.

If you don’t have any courage for me—if you have no confidence in me, or you are too afraid that I will fail—say nothing at all.  Just watch and pray.

And when I finish this race, I will encourage you.

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