Psalt For My Wounds #1 by Michelle Jones

Who am I that You should care?

Who am I that You should choose to share?

Who am I but Yours?

That is enough, and still it overruns my shore.

 

Who are You that every star is Your story?

Who are You that my ugliness is Your glory?

Who are You but everything I need?

That fills me, and still it gives me room for more.

 

Lord, I love You.

You are my ear and my song to You.

You stand alone between me and me wronging You.

If not for You…

 

Who are We that You lift and ground me?

Who are We that You’ve lost and found me?

Who are We but helplessly, hopefully, eternally together  in Love?

That consumes me, and wonder of wonders, it makes me whole.

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2011 New Years REVOLUTION by Michelle Jones

2010 was a blur.  I remember bits and pieces of it, but not without the help of my journals.  If God were to ask me what I did with the 365 days He gave me, I’d have to tell him what He already knows: that I can’t account for many of them.  How does that happen?

We are fond of saying, “Goodness, the time went by so fast!”  In point of fact, we all got the same thing: a 60-second minute, a 24-hour day, a 7-day week, and a 52-week year.  Knowing that made celebrating the coming year a challenge for me at first.

I woke up New Years Eve morning obsessing about everything I left undone in 2010.  I had lost only 3 of the many unwanted pounds I packed into my clothes every day.  My second bedroom was one giant junk drawer. I could barely walk through it for all the magazines, boxes, and half-completed projects covering every inch of it. There were back taxes to do, and books to outline or write not to mention the books other people have written, which I had only begun to read.  Add to that my car needed washing, I owed my mother a phone call, and there were people coming over for dinner the next day, and I had not grocery shopped.

Thoughts of what I hadn’t finished gave way to disappointment at not being the woman I had planned to be.  Immediately I shifted into “resolution mode” in an attempt to correct everything that was wrong so I could feel better about myself.  I was full of ideas; gym membership, menus from foodnetwork.com, buy a paper shredder, make a reading schedule…

STOP!

Sometimes God whispers as He did for Elijah.  Other times he has to smack us upside the head.  Ask Paul.  I’m sure Damascus Road is never far from his mind.

God’s efforts to get our attention are usually directed by our focus.  He speaks softly when we’re already listening to Him.   When we’re going our own way, shouting out our own orders to the universe, our ears tuned to the sound of our own footsteps, the Lord can and will shout.  It’s His way of telling us that we have forgotten Who’s in charge…again.

I love it when He whispers.  It’s sweet.  I have to admit, however, that I’m not past needing a pop in the noggin every now and then.  New Years Eve was such an occasion.

The reason, He told me, 2010—and so many years before it—disappeared like vapor is because I wasn’t present for most of it.  I was so busy trying to correct the mistakes I made yesterday, so I could like myself more tomorrow, that I was missing the moments God had placed in my hands TODAY.

This brings me to my 2011 New Years Resolution:  I WILL MAKE NO MORE NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS.

The truth is resolutions are outside of my area of responsibility.  Every one I make is an attempt to fix my past or shape my future.  That is God’s job, not mine.  He works ALL of my past decisions—right, wrong, genius, or idiotic—together for my good, according to His future plans for me, which are also good.  Why am I minding His business with my busyness?

We are all prodigal progeny, trying to manage our futures in view of our past mistakes.  Like the original lost son, we sit in our various hog pens, surrounded by the ugly consequences of choices we made.  Resolutions are a way of making ourselves presentable and acceptable, when all the while, The Father is just waiting for us to come home.  The robe and ring are waiting.  There is food for our growling bellies—and a not just the moldy crust of bread we think we deserve, but a fatted calf!

God is not asking us to make another resolution, a declaration of what we will do. He wants us to show the world what He has already done in us.  He is looking for a REVOLUTION.

On New Years Eve I confessed that my resolution reflex is a passive-aggressive way of telling God I’m tired of waiting for Him to change my life.  He whispered back, “Do you ever think that I might be weary of waiting for My Life to change you?”

We are not quite two weeks into 2011 at the writing of this column, and there is a lot of “unfinished-ness” in my world.  More importantly, though, I am undone—fearfully, wonderfully, and imperfectly inhabiting my today, and leaving the rest to Him.

I am lost in the hand of The One who found me.  I stand weak in His awesome strength, a pile of beautiful ashes, unworthy and yet worth dying for.

I am HOME.

 

Are We There Yet? by Michelle Jones

Driving is one of those seemingly ordinary activities that, upon closer scrutiny, reveals the true nature of the person engaged in it.  Genuinely sweet, docile individuals rarely speed up when they see you trying to change lanes in front of them.  Bitter, angry people feel entitled to their road rage.  Then there are the impatient souls, who weave in and out of traffic or tailgate until you get out of their way.

My personality surfaces most when I have to follow someone, especially if we’re going somewhere I’ve never been, or going by a way that is unfamiliar to me.  That’s when I am reminded that, despite my belief in the sovereignty and omnipotence of God, I have control issues.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7 NIV)

I loved this passage.  Every time I read it, or heard someone preach on it, I felt like I had hit the spiritual lottery.  I get whatever I ask for, find whatever I look for, and have doors swing open to me whenever I knock?  All I have to do is follow Jesus?  Follow?  Follow… Hm…

Okay, I admit it.  Asking me to follow you anywhere in my car will test the authenticity of your spiritual fruit, longsuffering in particular.  I don’t just want to know where we’re going.  I would like you to give me the directions ahead of time in case we get separated.  I want your cell phone number so I can check with you if I’m the least bit uncomfortable about the route you’re taking.  And now that I have my iPad, I will plug our destination into my navigation application so I can refer to it while I’m “following” you, to see if you really know where you’re going.  If you don’t, not a problem.  I can get us back on track.

This, I discovered, was not unlike my behavior as a follower of Christ.  I was not always comfortable with Him leading me.  You see, I didn’t get a map ahead of time, and the route He has me on is not only unfamiliar.  At times it seems we’re moving in the opposite direction from everything I asked for, sought, and expected behind the door.

Walking with God is great in the beginning.  When we’re embarking on our journey with Him, everything is sparkling with anticipation and imagination.  We have words like “grace,” “power,” “freedom,” and “blessed” burning a hole in our pockets.  We’re ready to pull them out and use them in our asking, seeking, and knocking.

A few years and maybe some tears later, we realize that we were so focused on finding, receiving, and getting access, that we didn’t consider pesky little things like the methods, means, and motives of God.

He loves us, but we were made for His pleasure, not the other way around. He would not withhold any good thing from us.  He will place desires in our hearts, but be clear.  He is the King of Kings, not Burger King.  You will have what you asked for, but that is no guarantee that you will have it your way.

Ask for patience.  You will be given an opportunity to wait.  You want strength?  You will be given something heavy to lift.   Seek peace. You will find it in a storm.   Knock on the door marked Grace.  You will be humbled so you can receive what’s behind it.

Why does it have to be so hard?  Why can’t He just wave a hand and poof! I have compassion?  Why does He allow me to be hurt over and over again?  Couldn’t He just give Adam a wife without making him lonely first?  Can’t I come forth as gold without walking through the fire?  Must we follow Him through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land?

The truth is, we cannot say we trust God without experiencing challenges to that trust.  Am I really following you if I have a map, a phone, and a navigation system?  If we are His sheep, and we know His voice, shouldn’t we expect to encounter imposters?  There is no glory in overcoming if we haven’t “come over” anything.

Following Him means relying on Him, not walking in the same direction while relying on my own equipment and understanding.  Following Him means HE is my map and my navigator.  He is the One who decides when or if we speed up, slow down, or take a detour.  Following Him means I am faithful, not just lacking in opportunities to be unfaithful.

Following means asking without demanding guarantees, seeking without checking the map first, knocking without requiring updates and status reports.  It means letting Him be point A, point B, and every point in between.  It means turning over the wheel and enjoying the ride.

Are you there yet?

“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.

Growing Older With Grace by Michelle Jones

I have a beautiful amazing friend named Grace who woke up this morning and felt every one of her 40-something years.  Today she is more than a little aware of her grey hair, the baby fat, and the aches and pains that weren’t there not so long ago.

She has decided that she doesn’t want to “go down without a fight.”  She is sorry that she took her beauty, youth, and health for granted.  Today she could use some encouragement.  I’m posting my response to her and to you too if you are finding it a challenge to grow old gracefully.

My darling sister,

Who decided that growing old “gracefully”–or doing anything gracefully for that matter–meant taking what comes without reaction or response? I am 49 as of a week and a half ago. I decided that Graceful is the thing that needs reshaping if I’m going to leave my 40s and enter the second half of my life with it.

Like you, I thought I’d just accept my grey hair as it came. However, it did not get the memo that I would not be ready for it until I was closer to 60. Until then, it is supposed to come slowly and discreetly. It doesn’t, so it must be punished with invisibility, because the rest of me is not finished with the black hair. The hair does not decide my age. I do.

As for the excess fat that shows up in the worst places, not a problem. We always say, “If I knew then what I know now…”  If I knew then that my body would turn on me like this, I would have been more disciplined about exercising, right? Okay, you know now what you didn’t know then. Why not do now what you didn’t do then?  Tell your body who is the boss of whom. I promise it will not always be easy, but Grace, we are tougher, wiser, and more determined than we were when we were younger, aren’t we? If we knew then what we know now, it just wouldn’t have been fair to be that fabulous! Balance…

What we don’t have now is nothing compared to what we didn’t have then. Youth is supposed to be taken for granted.  If it isn’t, then we’re just old people walking around in young bodies.  Where’s the fun and extravagance in that?

Society calls us “women of a certain age” because of our years. But I realize that I am also a woman of a certain age because there are some things I know now that I only suspected or hoped for when I was young. I am certain of the substance of my value, not just in this world, but to God, and to others. I am certain that I am strong and capable of loving the way I want to be loved.  I am certain that the truth is what IS, not what people tell me it is, or what I may feel in a given moment, or what I regret.  I am certain that these years on me are a good thing.  I wouldn’t trade what I’m certain of now for all the elastic skin and perky boobs in the world!

Recently I started working out because I decided I wasn’t going to “turn” 50 next year.  I’m going to ROCK it.  50 is going to wake up on March 22, 2011 and say, “Damn! I am FOINE!! I didn’t know I could look like this.  Thanks Michelle!”  And happily, my body is responding because I AM THE BOSS OF IT, no matter what I feel like when I wake up in the morning.

So the other day, I was walking into my dressing area like I always do before a shower. I got a look at myself in the mirror naked.  There is a beauty that happens in a healthy, fit woman as she ages that is more impressive than anything plastic surgery can accomplish.  When we take care of them, our bodies become the stewards of our beauty and not the other way around.

Get rid of everything that gets in the way of the beauty that your body wants to show you and you will be fine.  I’m saying this as a woman at the end of her 40s looking forward to rocking 50 next year on a cruise ship in a smokin’ hot swimsuit. I’m talking as a woman who has to fight off 30-something men these days.  I’m talking as a woman of a certain age whose body is certain about who’s in charge of it finally.

You don’t have to fight age. Just tell it what it’s supposed to look like, and watch it behave.  It’s different for every woman. What is it for you? I can’t wait to see.

I love you,

Michelle

Father Figure by Michelle Jones

My dad was not a nice man.  In fact, sometimes he could be a real jerk.  I don’t think he liked me much.  If he ever smiled at me, I didn’t know it.  This morning though, I was really grateful for him.  He showed up in one of those impish flashes of memory that dart from one corner of your mind to another.  It was an odd appearance at an odd moment, or so I thought.

I was working out for the first time in a very long while; my thighs muscling the rest of me nowhere fast on the elliptical.  Ten minutes in I felt a hundred years old. The iPod was pouring Justin Timberlake into my head, but I couldn’t hear JT over my labored breathing.  I gulped down another mouthful of water.  It seemed to evaporate as soon as it hit my throat.  Eyes closed, I tried to “see” the songs, but the pictures didn’t stay long before my body reminded me that I…AM…DYING!

The only thing I could think about without interruption was quitting.  My feet, legs, arms, lungs and heart, even my bladder (all of a sudden the water’s got something to say!), every part of me was whining now.  They were all saying the same thing:  “This is haaarrrrd!”

“IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD!”

The voice in my head cut through everything I was thinking and feeling.  It was my own voice, but not the one I have now.

I was 8 years old, maybe 40 pounds if you put rocks in my pockets, wild haired and energetic, with a mouth as big as I was small.  My tiny balled up fists were perched on bony hips, and wide eyes filled up with angry tears too stubborn to fall.

I was yelling up at my father whose face was a strange mixture of annoyance and shock.  He was good at shutting me down with an insult.  It was the quickest way to get me to leave him alone.  That day I had asked for help with my math.  My father was very smart, but he had no patience.  Sometimes he seemed to me a wonderful, treasure-filled house that had no doors and no windows.  There was just no way in.

He tried explaining the work for a few minutes, and then gave up, but I kept asking questions because I hadn’t given up.  Finally, he did what he always did when he wanted me to go away.  He said something mean.

He told me the problem was not the math.  It was me.  The answers were there, he said, but I was too stupid to see them.  Being stupid was like being nothing to my dad.  His mind was the only thing he’d let you admire about him.  It was also his weapon of choice.

Stupid.

If my father had chosen to punch me in the gut with all his strength, I would have had more air left in me than I did in that moment.  I couldn’t breathe.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

Stupid.

He stood there, watching me the way you watch a building demolition.  First you hear the muffled sound of explosions from inside the structure.  Then you wait, because you know that the real beauty is in how it crumbles—without noise or a lot of drama, neatly and completely.  He was waiting.  We both were.

Stupid?

That word whirled around dangerously in my head, smashing into everything I knew about myself, until it crashed quite unexpectedly into something big and immovable.  My father’s words had collided with Truth.

I almost didn’t recognize it.  I was so used to believing the smartest man I knew.  I had never disagreed with him before.  But here was something so simple and right, that as soon as I saw it, I understood it and it became a part of me.  When I looked up at my dad, I was pissed.

“This is 5th grade math!  I’m in the 3rd grade!  IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE HARD!”

It was the only argument I remember having with him.  It was the last time I asked him for help.  It was the first time I knew I was smart.  And it was the first time I knew that it was okay for something to be hard.

I finished my workout today without quitting.  It occurred to me that I spend way too much time in this life trying to take the “work” out of my workouts. There is value in knowing something is hard and doing it anyway.  The fact that something is hard doesn’t mean you’re nothing.  It means you’re at the edge of yourself.  It’s an invitation to become something more.

Thanks Dad.

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.

What if I… by Michelle Jones

I’m at the beginning of a journey I have begun many times.  I can’t see the end from here.  This is always the scariest part for me…day one, step one, moment one of anything I really want to finish.

The “what ifs” are already crowding my head.  What if I fail (again)?  What if it’s harder than I thought it would be? What if I don’t have the character to tell the truth when I slip or compromise?  What if I run out of run before I run out of race?

I know in my knower that all of this is panic and foolishness, but I still have to get it out and look at the mess as it is.  Courage comes with clarity, and clarity comes when I tame all the lying monkeys swinging between my thoughts and the truth.

Turns out the “what ifs”—despite their persistence and intensity— are not my problem.  They’re not hiding the truth from me.  Rather, they expose my duplicity because they have all been true at one time or another.  I have failed, fallen short, and been weak of character more times than I want to think about.  It’s not only possible, but likely that I will be again.

If I’m honest, I don’t like “what ifs” because they won’t provide me with the one thing my fearful self desires most—a good enough excuse for opting out.  Think about it.  Giving up because of what might happen is like losing an argument with someone you’ve never met. Do I really want to go out like that?

Dwelling on what might happen is a distraction.  We can justify it by claiming we’re wise for considering possible costs before moving forward.  Not so.  Costs are fixed and certain.  They are “what is” not “what ifs.”  Knowing the cost of something helps you move forward.  Wondering “what if” just holds you back.

The best use of your mind in the moments before you begin the journey toward a big or important goal is to ask yourself if it is something you would do if you knew you would not fail at it.  If there were two lists to be read aloud at your funeral—one of things you attempted to do, and one of things you would not attempt—which list would you want it on?

I suspect you already have what it takes to make a first step, don’t you?  I know I do, or I wouldn’t be entertaining worry at all.  What stops most of us is not lack, but slack.  All we really need to finish most things is to begin them, each day.

Day one, step one, moment one…

Here I go.  I hope I have company.

Of A Certain Age by Michelle Jones

I read once that potential makes good breakfast but lousy dessert.  Most of us believe that, don’t we?  Common sense tells us that fantasizing about who we could be is much sweeter than lamenting who we could have been.  The problem is common sense has never been a sensible judge of accomplishment or destiny, because we were created to be uncommon.

Let me be clear about something that may or may not encourage you to read further.  I believe there is a God; one supreme, amazing, spirit/person who imagined, planned, and fashioned all of everything except Himself, because He has always been.  His personality, His relationship to humankind, and His desires for us—as I understand it—are seen in the design of all of Creation.  Patterns repeat themselves over and over on earth and in the heavens, so much so that theories of big bangs fizzle not just in my religious mind, but my logical one.

That very belief brought me to an impasse recently as I looked back at what is likely more than half of my life.

Do you know what it’s like to watch time slip through your fingers like sand and wonder how much of the best parts of you are gone with it?  Have you ever choked on the ashes of dreams that can never be?  Is there a list somewhere—on paper or in your mind—of what you would do differently if you had known then what you know now?  Maybe you’re not hopeless, but do you hope less than you used to?

When we’re young and looking forward, our potential—and the plans we make to realize it—keep us energized.  In the run for our lives, they are simultaneously the wind at our backs and the prize we reach for.

But, somewhere along the way, responsibility supplants possibility in the contest for our attention, and our identity and the plans we once stood on with such confidence begin to wobble with the weight of our obligations.

We keep our balance by modifying and fine-tuning the plans to salvage what we can of our ideals about ourselves. We fall from self-made pedestals, a little bit with each change, adjustment, failure, loss, or tragedy until the ground gives way beneath us, and disappointment crashes into us from below.

The pain is real and we feel it enough to forget how good we felt dreaming not so long ago.  Which brings me to my impasse.

Lately I’ve been wondering when I stopped thinking my life was ahead of me and started viewing it from a rearview mirror.  When did I stop being ambitious and hopeful about what was in my heart?  When did it become resonable to decide that my destiny is less real than my disappointments?

Ants carry 600 times their weight.  Shouldn’t that show me endurance?  A caterpillar doesn’t wrestle in her chrysalis.  What does that tell me about patience?  A river keeps running over the rocks thrown into it, polishing them on its way to the ocean.  Is that not a glorious picture of perseverance, grace, and undying devotion?

Those patterns exist for a reason.  They are there for our benefit, to teach us something about how we are to live.  Why do we insist on existing beneath their example?

There is divine reason and purpose attached to me.  I was designed to succeed.  That truth is animate as long as I am.  Destiny does not have an expiration date.

So who are we to become?  Someone uniquely beautiful if snowflakes or butterflies are to be believed.  Perhaps someone as powerful, enduring, and life sustaining as the mighty Amazon.  Someone connected to a greater plan if we can discern anything from the very cells and systems of our own bodies.

I’m going to look forward as I advance on the latter years of my life, not wondering who I might become, but certain that who I am is enough to become whoever I was created to be.  I know now what I did not know then.  Why not do now what I could not do then?  Life happens.  It’s about time I returned the favor.

God Himself breathed life into me.  Isn’t it ironic that when I consider all He has done to show me that I have value in His world—when I look at everything He created to enjoy me and teach me how to enjoy Him—it takes my breath away.

Habitat or Humanity by Michelle Jones

When I think of home...

Two weeks in Kyrgyzstan was going to be Heaven or Hell on earth.  I had to decide which.

The Kyrgyz people were visibly shocked at the sight of African American me.  They gawked, gasped, and pointed me out to their children.  Some of them stared until I passed and then laughed.  Long story short, I got more attention than the statue of Lenin being removed from the square at the center of the capital city (I know, I was there).

Whenever there are differences—between people, places, or things—it is the nature of humans to be distracted by them.  Inwardly we draw distinctions and make decisions based on whatever conclusions we’ve drawn.

The pretty people and their rich friends are given a pass.  Old white women clutch their purses as they walk past young men of color.  Students make fun of the new kid.  Married women are suspicious of the divorcee in their midst.  The articulate are listened to before the less literate.

In Kyrgyzstan, the dark woman with the round eyes was a distraction.  I don’t know if I was deemed better or worse, but clearly I was worthy of more notice than others.

I was certain they meant me no harm, but I can’t say I didn’t feel injured.

My discomfort had little to do with feelings of inferiority or rejection.  I was feeling what many people feel in schools, on jobs, at churches, in marriages and families—among “good people” every day.  I was feeling HOMELESS.

The people of Kyrgyzstan taught me something I could not have learned without some pain.  We have to be deliberate about creating a “home” for the people who encounter us.

Metaphorically, home is a place of welcome and belonging. It is designed to reflect care, decorated with a smile, warmth, or an understanding heart.  Its windows—our eyes—are made for seeing people, not just looking at them.

When we decide to make a person feel at home with us, we do more than just greet them or take note of them.  We notice them.  We are interested in what brought them to us, and concern ourselves with what will keep them safe and happy while they are with us.

Home is different from “housing.”  Anyone who is or has been in a loveless marriage will tell you that.  We build housing for people when we allow them to occupy our space without allowing them to make it their space too.

It is easy to think we have done right by people because we haven’t raised a hand against them or didn’t slander them to their face.  But is it enough that we have done no harm when we have done no good in its stead?  Can we call ourselves innocent because we didn’t inflict the pain we see in someone’s eyes if we close our own eyes to it?  Isn’t it easier to be hated by someone you’ve never met than be ignored by someone next to you?

If we only see a person for a moment, that moment should be infused with meaning.  Consider the world that God created before He created us.  There is water for drinking and sun for light and energy.  Plants give us what we need to breathe and eat.  Without words, we know that earth is our home.  Before we were created, we were welcome here.

What kind of home have you made ready for the people around you?  Is there a place for the hurting and the happy, the worker and the wounded, the curious, the committed and the confused?  Can Miss Fit and misfit alike find acceptance with you?

A few days before I left Kyrgyzstan, I attended services at a small Christian church.  As they sang worship songs, people were turning around to stare.  Before his sermon, the pastor asked if there was anyone in our group of visitors who wanted to say something.

I went to the front, not sure what to say, but knowing I should say something.  When I looked into their faces, I had an unexpected revelation.  They were looking at someone different from them…and so was I.

“These have been the two most uncomfortable weeks of my life,” I said, and I told them about being stared at and how it made me feel.  They listened without judgment, without defensiveness.  As the translator spoke for me, I saw a few heads nod and smiles make faces a little wider.

Then I opened myself up fully and invited them into my fragile, messy home.  They treated it like their own.  There was tenderness in the weathered faces.  I had had their attention for weeks, and now they finally had mine.

Kyrgyzstan is more than 99% Muslim.  It struck me suddenly that a Christian in that land is as uncommon as a dark woman with round eyes.  I talked about how it should be as difficult to walk away from Christ as it would be for me to come out of my skin.

“You are my brother,” I found myself saying to the man directly in front of me.  “And you’re my sister…”

I went on pointing out person after person in my newly discovered family.  The smiles were toothy grins now, and I heard “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” like popcorn all over the tiny room.  I was home.  We were home.

The moment took my breath away and these beautiful people changed me forever.

Earth is most like Hell when we are kept from and keep others from belonging.  It is most like Heaven when we make ourselves, and others, at home.

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