See the Good

I was just journaling about how discouraged I am only one and a half weeks officially into my new job. Discouraged with the time it consumes, the endless emails and virtual meetings, the feeling like I’ll never catch up. Discouraged that I haven’t found a rhythm, and that any time I try to plan how long I’ll work or what I’ll work on, my plans get pulled from my hands and stretched like silly putty in 89 different ways. Discouraged that I sometimes lose sleep at night wondering, How will I ever get it all done?

I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to leave things undone. Classic example: I normally have a clean email inbox. I don’t like unread messages, and I like to categorize what I have read, replied to, and completed. Now? I have three new inboxes, for my one new job, and each seems to have an April Fools’ “work more” code built into it. Every time I open an email in one inbox, three more appear in another. April Fools! It never ends! Somewhere, at this very moment, one of my former computer science engineering students who got a job at Google is probably laughing maniacally at the perfect revenge he’s exacted on me for making too many comments and then giving him a B (Oh, the horror!) on his technical communication papers.

Also right about now? My boss is probably reading this and saying to herself, I need to call Rhonda and make sure she’s okay. No need to call, Ann. I’m okay. Just keep reading. (She’s a great boss. I’ve been so blessed in that department, both in the past and the present.)

As I was journaling, I went through a timeline of my life just since yesterday morning, listing all that had happened and—I’ll admit it—implicitly complaining about how busy my life has become. I had just written, “I’m getting discouraged about how this job is going so far…” when I picked up my coffee mug and took a gulp of delicious (Irish) coffee. My mug that I got last week for my birthday, that I had asked for. My mug that says “See the good.”

That’s when the whisper came: Remember—this job is God’s provision for you and your family. This job is helping you keep your kids in a Christian school. This job is giving you time to serve at your local church as a weekend producer—every weekendsomething you only thought was possible if you got a paying job at the church.

Stoneware coffee mug that says "See the good" with the edge of a leather journal in the foreground

Remember to See the Good.

See, God gave me a dream and a calling, and then challenged me to let him work out the details. Working out the details, though, is one of the hardest things for me to let others do. It was when I gave up on trying to plan for the details—when I gave up the job, gave up any concrete plans for a paycheck, and just offered my time and services freely—that he stepped in and provided. God dropped a job in my lap and opened up the opportunity for me to serve at church without worrying about compensation. I’m living—in part—the dream God put in my heart, serving as the weekend producer for our church services. The rest? If they’re of God, they’ll come in time—in his time.

That’s what—who—I need to focus on. Him. God, and the good he has done in my life, and is doing all around me. He’s doing good all the time; sometimes, though, we need to have him whisper a reminder to open our eyes and see it. As I was journaling, I was reminded that I shouldn’t allow myself to get mired down by counting hours and emails. I shouldn’t allow myself to become discouraged over a job—a gift of God’s provision.

Instead, I need to See the Good.

Chasing a Smile

A poem written for a friend.

Clouds in a dark sky

Seeking a smile
A smile that fled with innocence
With the discoveries that came
When I opened my eyes
I saw a rainbow
I saw beauty in droplets of rain
Each reflecting the light from where he fell
Each assigned his place among others
Each being, part of a whole
In my place, I reveled
I frolicked

But then, I looked around

I understood

You didn’t see the whole
You saw the differences
Differences between you and I
Differences in reflection, that become
Differences in complexion
The whiter, the brighter
(The better, you thought—then you said)

My place in the rainbow was lesser
My smile faltered
Slipped on the raindrops
Fled into the clouds

Following my smile, into the clouds
I fled too. I have decided.
I’ll make my own place
I’ll reflect my own light
I’ll show everyone
That I am ME.
I’m different.
I’m unique.
I’m not meant to occupy that spot
That I woke up in.
I can be
Whatever, whomever I want to be

So I shut my eyes tight
To block out the light
I cover my ears
Shout as loudly as I can
From the center of the clouds
Tell them to LOOK!
See what I’ve become!
See what I’ve made myself into—
See ME!
HEAR me!
But it seems that no one cares
No one hears
No one sees or understands
Except a precious few who followed me into the clouds

The problem is, I still
Can’t find my smile
My smile is not visible
Without the light of the Sun

Dream with Me

It’s 7:22am and the sky is lightening with the coming of the sun, invisible as it is, hidden behind the clouds on most wintry days. But on this morning, this day, as I don’t mind that invisibility, that absence. A misty fog blankets the park across the street from my house, making the stark, bare trees look like a faded painting and kissing the ground to blend in with the snow. It’s beautiful and it was completely unexpected.

God does some of his best artistic work in the mornings. That’s one reason the early mornings are my favorite time of day—especially the time of year when those mornings come earlier and earlier, filling hearts with the promise of growth, of green, of new things to come. Those days aren’t here quite yet, but so much brightness before daybreak—and before 7:30am—is a welcome sight.

I was going to include a photo, but some of God’s best work is better left to the imagination and the memory than to a camera.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating what it means to be an artist, an artist who’s a Christian. An artist who’s a writer. A writer who is called to, well, write. Write and serve. That is also what I’ve spending my “extra” time doing—that time I have left over from reducing my full-time hours as a writing instructor to part-time. I’ve been watching my instructor-me hours dwindle away, putting the best that I can into those 30 hours a week until they come to an end in the spring, and putting those other ten hours into reading, writing, journaling, and practicing (in private) being a writer. A servant-writer, one who uses her gifts to build up others, whether by writing herself or encouraging other artists to write and to create.

Can I tell you that I’m loving it? I’m loving the hours I’ve been able to spend reading about writing, reading about using the creativity God instilled in each of us to serve his kingdom and to serve him.

Can I also tell you that, sometimes, I’m afraid of it? Afraid of falling flat on my face, of disappointing my family through my efforts (and by family, I’m using both senses of the word—my earthly family and my church family). Afraid of not completing the work God has set aside for me (Ephesians 2:10).

But—but—I’m also excited. So excited to see what God will do. I’m someone who has always loved the excitement of anticipation, and the thought of knowing that God’s dreams are so much more than I could even expect or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) makes that anticipation even better. Because if I’m looking at life through his perspective? I can know, with certainty, that he won’t disappoint. Not that everything will be sunny and bright and full of singing and dancing like my favorite musicals, but knowing that whatever is to be is in God’s hands—that’s what is worth the anticipation.

As I was exploring this morning (reading about writing from a songwriter/author’s perspective), God sparked my imagination. In his book Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making, the author, Andrew Peterson, encouraged readers to practice the craft—to keep practicing, so that perhaps what we create will be used in ways and in hearts that we do not expect to touch. He used the example of a seventeenth-century poet whose work he read and cried over, and then wrote,

Maybe the song you’re writing is for one specific heartbroken soul who won’t be born for another four hundred years. Maybe you won’t meet him or her until the New Creation, and they’ll thank you for opening yourself up to public scrutiny, for striving to arrange the words just so, for learning about what makes for a good melody or tight phrasing. (142-143)

Songwriter, I am not. But a writer, yes. And as I read this, the thought of the future and the new creation hit me, and my imagination strayed into territory that I’ve been hovering around for weeks and months.

An old friend—Mike—used to berate me for speaking in leaps and bounds, and make me explain my train of thought before he would let me go on, and I think that may be appropriate here because my imagination took a giant leap with this one.

Writing and artistry and creativity and servanthood, for me, are wrapped up together in this thing I’ve come to see as God’s call on my life. I can look back and see how the paths I’ve taken have led me here, to where I am about to step out in faith into unknown territory of trusting God with my finances (and, tied in with that, my kids’ education) and my time to create something new, something he has planned just for me. Writers, though? We crave readers. It’s true. We want people to read what we write, and we want to make an impact (thanks, Martha) somehow, some way, even if it’s just a little one (but hopefully it’s a big one). In my case, I am praying and hoping that whatever I do with my writing, God will use it to make an impact in a lasting way, in a way that touches (and maybe even softens) hearts and souls. So the thought of something I write lasting 400 years or more to reach out and touch someone far in the future—that’s a wild thought. Unthinkable. Crazy unimaginable, and crazy thrilling at the same time. And then I thought, What if what I write lasts longer? For all of eternity?

And here’s the point, the dream. But it comes with a disclaimer, one that lets you know my only intent is to dream, and ask you to dream with me. I’m not a theologian and I’m sure there are several of them out there who would argue with what I am about to write, but I’d just like to share a What If with you and ask you to use your own imagination: What If?

What if what we create here on earth—our paintings, our drawings, our dances, our songs, our poetry, our writing—those we create with a listening ear, with fingers and hands and bodies and spirits that follow God’s Spirit into the artistic endeavor, are some of the treasures that Jesus encourages us to store up for ourselves in heaven (Matthew 6:20)? What if what’s waiting for me at home is the “best” of what I’ve written here on earth, not because it’s of the highest quality, but because its coauthor was guiding me in the writing? What if some of what makes it through the fire (1 Corinthians 3:13) without turning to ashes are my written words?

Recently, I combed through a chest of memories—treasures—and in it was a packet of materials my mom had saved—my earliest drawings, artwork, and stories. Some of them contained her hand-written notes, dates and descriptions of what they were meant to be. I know this was only a small selection of what I must have produced in my childhood, and I know that she spent hours curating collections that represented the most precious and best of my and my siblings’ work. Someday, Lord-willing, I’ll have the courage and time to sift through my own children’s work. I can imagine God doing the same for us.

In my journal this morning I wrote, “What if God, like a mother who loves to see her children develop and grow and is proud of them at every stage, is keeping some of these things for us—preserving them so that at some time he can take us through his treasure trove and tell us stories of what he loves about them, and us?”

And I imagined.

Rhonda, remember that woman who visited your second-grade class and taught you how to write haiku poetry? Remember how she praised your poem, and from that moment on, when you were being true to yourself and the calling I put on your life, you wanted to be a writer? I kept that poem because it was the first time you heard my whisper clearly, even though at the time you didn’t know it was me. Here it is. This poem that you wrote in second grade is precious.

And guess what else? Here is the woman who inspired you. I know that for you she has remained faceless and nameless for decades, but I’d like you to meet her. She faithfully carried and delivered my message for you. She, also, did her work well.

What if? What if you imagined? What if what we dare to create lasts longer than we dare to dream? Think about it, and if you will come along with me.

Dream with me.