When What’s Different Looks the Same

Are you touring or journeying? How available are you? How committed are you? Flexible? Learn from others, but let God lead every step of the way.
©2015 PurePurpose.org

Stacks and stacks of scarves. Where would we begin? How would we choose?

Then, help arrived.

A father and two sons owned the shop, and one son began to explain to us how the scarves were organized. The cheaper scarves were on the bottom shelves. The higher the scarf, the higher the cost…and quality. He pulled several and had us compare them so we understood the difference between the textures and details. He wanted us to be able to choose well. He also gave us a tutorial on scarf folds. The shop became a school, and we were the students. He wanted us to interact with the scarves, encouraging us to pull out as many as we wanted…and leave them for him to put away later. (That was a bit too much for my organizational-demanding-mind. I’d leave them out for him to put away correctly later, but I was going to, at the very least, fold them.)

I looked around the shop and noticed the diversity of the people in it. It was as if I was looking at shelves of beautiful scarves. I wondered what I was missing by leaving them on the shelf.

What do I miss by making assumptions, both positive and negative? How much more will I know when I ask questions, try new approaches, listen, and unfold people around me?

People are easy to deal with when we keep them on the shelves. We can admire their beauty and keep them tidy in our lives. But are they, really, in our lives if we don’t interact with them and take the risk of piles of messes around us? People get tangled, but it is in the process of tangling, of twisting, looping, and draping that we really get to see the full color of designs available around us.

God created colors. He created patterns and designs. And He created the people around us. Let’s not miss out.

The Sticky Mess

stickymessOne young woman was running late for the luncheon. She shared why after she arrived and caught her breath.

She “needed” to stop by for a fountain drink at the gas station. (Since one of my earliest blogs was about my “need” for fountain drinks, I quickly related to her story.) She was already running a bit late, so she quickly jumped into her car, put the drink in the console drink holder, and raced down the road.

It wasn’t long before she glanced down and noticed the double cup holder was brimming with soda. She quickly pulled over, removed the cup, and grabbed a beach towel from her backseat. She tried to soak up as much as she could in a hurry, and was curious as to why the cup was leaking. She hadn’t noticed any leaks when she picked it up except what she attributed to drips from the cup sitting in a pool of soda. But as she looked more closely, she saw a steady leak coming from the bottom of the cup…and discovered an earring stuck into it. She recognized the earring as her sister’s, who she promptly called with a gentle reminder that leaving earrings post up in the drink holder of the car probably wasn’t a good idea. She also pulled into another gas station, carried in both the leaking cup and the drenched towel and asked with her southern charm, “Do ya’ll give replacement cups for problems like this?”

It doesn’t take much to create leaks in our lives. We can get quite a distance down the road and have a mess without even noticing it. We get in such a hurry that we rush in and out of our routines, and we don’t pay attention to the little annoyances that can wreak havoc in our day.

What drains you?

We think we don’t have time to pay attention to all the details. When something happens to create a leak in our day, we can have a big mess before we even realize it. Then our day in which we didn’t think we had time to notice the details suddenly becomes even more urgent. We do what we can to mop up the mess, redo what we’ve done up to that point, and move on, yet time passes, we feel even more urgency, and we’ll have to commit even more time to thorough cleaning later.

Pause.

Take a look around at the details.

Notice.

Take a breath.

Enjoy.

You can’t prevent every small leak. You won’t notice every earring or other tiny object that has the potential to poke a hole and create a leak in your day. But you can slow down. You can choose to live from blessing to blessing instead of living from emergency to emergency.

You can replace being late with being right on time: God’s time. But you’ll need to seek and trust him through the process, giving him attention, trust, and glory through each moment.

Being Resolute in New Friendships

If you love only the people who love you, you will get no reward. Even the tax collectors do that. And if you are nice only to your friends, you are no better than other people. Even those who don’t know God are nice to their friends. Matthew 5:46-47

When was the most recent time you developed a new friendship?

Reflect on how your friendship began with one of your very best friends.

Do you find new friendships exciting, daunting, or something else?

Not all of us struggle with making new friends. Those people who are very social meet new people just about everywhere they go. As our Facebook friends lists grow, we might feel we’re making friends with many people. However, for today’s devotion time, let’s stick to face-to-face, committed friendships – the friends you want to spend time with, investing your life into theirs and vice versa. You might have several of these friends in your life right now, or you might be searching for a person you can trust. God will provide. He wants you to be in healthy relationships with others, and he will guide you into relationships that will teach you what is healthy and what is not – in other words, what is God-honoring and what is not. But you must be sensitive to his leading and obedient in his guidance. Friendships don’t magically begin. No one shows up at your doorstep and announces she’s your new best friend. You don’t instantly share your life story with someone. Friendships take cultivation. Cultivation takes time and involves risks, which is why we often avoid friendships. Maintaining status quo is easier, but it also stunts growth. When you hesitate to invest in someone, you might be avoiding pain, but you’re also robbing yourself of potential joy. You’re also stealing opportunities from the person with whom God has the intention of you become friends. Obeying God’s way isn’t safe, but it’s always secure. You can trust him even when life is messy.

Watch for God to bring someone across your path with whom you can plant seeds of friendship. Or perhaps there’s someone you’ve been meaning to go a bit deeper with. Today is the day.

The Mess of Serving

Serving others is exhilarating – and messy. I was recently part of a small group who served a meal to the residents of a missions home filled with people struggling through a variety of issues. There were messes as we served, but with each mess came an opportunity. We could choose on which to focus.

While we prepared much of the food ahead of time, there were some things we needed to get done once we arrived. We were working in an unfamiliar kitchen with very basic supplies. We could have gotten frustrated with disorganization and haphazard searches – or ask people for help and begin to build relationships.

The children in the home were very excited to see us. They wanted to do everything right alongside us. We could have become frustrated with the interruptions of our work. We could have demanded privacy. We could have asked the parents to supervise their kids. Or we could let parents have a break and make the experience a learning opportunity for the kids. We could be brief role models in their lives.

The cleanliness of the home didn’t measure up to the housekeeping standards most of us who were serving have in our own homes. We could refuse to eat or give hugs for fear of a germ – or set aside our own issues and fully grasp the opportunity to share a meal and talk around the dinner tables with people. We were invading their space. We were serving, which means we shouldn’t impose our own structure on others. We should simply walk alongside them for a brief time, meeting them where they are.

Conversations were messy. People wanted to talk long after the meal. Topics were outside our norm. Parenting styles were rough around the edges. We could impose our own standards of communication onto everyone for our own comfort – or respect people whose home we were visiting and set aside personal discomfort.

When you serve others, prepare to get your hands dirty. When you meet people where they are, you’re going to end up in some messy places with messy people. And you can’t clean up everything and everybody. Service is sacrificial, and in order to effectively reach others, you need to set aside your sterilized gloves, color-coded appointment book, and personal preferences. Service isn’t about you – except your obedience.

How will you obediently serve today?

Serve the Lord with joy. (Psalm 100:2)

Smashing Pumpkins

Many years ago, the girls and I were curled together on the couch, reading and anticipating visits from trick-or-treaters. The outside light was turned on as a welcome beacon to families who would soon roam the streets. It was the calm before the storm. And what a storm it was:

Quick, heavy steps on the front porch, followed by louds BOOMS, echoing throughout the front porch and into our living room. The girls didn’t know what happened at first, but it didn’t take long to understand. Yes, someone had smashed the jack-o-lanterns we’d enjoyed making a couple weeks before, and they were brazen enough to explode them on our front porch.

Among the tears and bewilderment, I quickly swept off the remains so (1) my girls didn’t have to see their pumpkins’ guts sprawled across the porch and (2) people could get to our front door without a pumpkin slip-and-slide.

I remember the sound of the exploding pumpkins and the look of horror on Caitlin’s face every year at this time. (We didn’t ever put pumpkins on the front porch again. They were protectively positioned on the back steps, away from traffic, or inside.)

As I was walking today and saw several pumpkins splattered across roads, I thought once again of that night. Sure, they’re just pumpkins. A smashed pumpkin isn’t a tragedy, but it just makes me wonder “why”? It seems pointless. A perfectly good pumpkin – likely purchased and diligently transformed into a jack o’ lantern – splattered across the road with the seeds and threads of innards creating a slippery slide. Why? Because someone wanted the challenge of sneaking up to a house in the darkness to snatch a pumpkin and listen to the ka-thud as it hits the pavement? Humph.

But perhaps all smashed pumpkins aren’t bad. A whole pumpkin makes a great Fall decoration, but what good is it if it simply sits on a porch for a season and is then tossed into the trash? The best it might become is compost for something else to grow. It could be gutted for a pumpkin pie. The seeds could be separated for a delicious snack of toasted pumpkin seeds or to be planted to multiply pumpkins. The pumpkin has to be broken from its wholeness to be useful.

Like me. And you.

We can look great…but in order to be used, we have to be willing to be broken.

The sacrifice God wants is a broken spirit. God, you will not reject a heart that is broken and sorry for sin. Psalm 51:17

Being broken isn’t the goal. We can allow ourselves to get into situations that end up tearing us apart and breaking us down in unhealthy ways. We can stay in a broken situation because we feel helpless. 

The goal is growth. Being broken is part of growth.

It’s not an easy process for me. I prefer people see me put together instead of spilled with my messiness for all to see. But I’m learning. When I let God work through the mess, the result is much more beautiful than I could ever dream. And others who experience the mess with me usually grow in the process, too.

Pumpkins are going to get messy…by smashing, rotting, or using. Like life.

Don’t smash someone else’s pumpkins (especially on my front porch), but when your pumpkin – or life – is smashed, trust God. He’s the best gardener ever.

I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6

Keep It Simple

Some days are more complicated than others. There are days when a lot of little irritants join forces to weigh me down. I usually deal with crises well. If I have a roadblock in front of me, I pause for a moment, assess it and then plan my alternate route. It’s the longer stretches of maneuvering around potholes and pylons that usually wear me down. I can deal with being physically tired, but swerving through the frustrations, as if I’m dodging a prize fighter’s jabs, exhausts me emotionally. And when I’m exhausted emotionally, I’m less effective at dodging the jabs.

Life feels complicated, uncertain, and exhausting. And the fact is…life IS complicated, uncertain, and exhausting. Life isn’t perfect. It isn’t intended to be. It’s messy. I’m messy. Humanness is messy. Therefore, life on earth as a human with humans is – yes, messy. Complicated.

And yet it’s simple. Simple because of God. His plan? Simple. His will? Simple. I might not understand everything about God’s plan or his will, but it’s about as uncomplicated as you can get. Reflect on the simplicity of Colossians 1:15-20.

No one can see God, but Jesus Christ is exactly like him. He ranks higher than everything that has been made. Through his power all things were made—things in heaven and on earth, things seen and unseen, all powers, authorities, lords, and rulers. All things were made through Christ and for Christ.  He was there before anything was made, and all things continue because of him. He is the head of the body, which is the church. Everything comes from him. He is the first one who was raised from the dead. So in all things Jesus has first place. God was pleased for all of himself to live in Christ. And through Christ, God has brought all things back to himself again—things on earth and things in heaven. God made peace through the blood of Christ’s death on the cross.

Simple: We can’t see God (so we need to trust and believe), and Jesus is just like him (so we need to trust and believe Jesus).

Simple: God is above all things and he created everything. (We’re the created ones, and we have no power or authority except what we are given by God.)

Simple: Jesus is first. (He’s the center of our lives. He’s the crux of our faith. He’s our connector.)

Simple: God sacrified himself through Jesus so that all of us can be reconciled to him. (Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, you have the choice to live eternally in heaven…or hell.)

Simple.

My daily life or seasons of my life might seem complicated. But when I take off my glasses of this world and glimpse at what I see through God’s perspective, I acknowledge and appreciate the simplicity of life. And I am grateful.

God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. John 3:16