You are designed for community.

I know what it is like to have a heart walled-off from others.  I remember what it felt like to protect my heart and not let anyone get close. 

And then I found community. 

It felt safe. 

I slowly let my guard down.  

I discovered there was freedom in vulnerability. 

I learned I was not alone. It wasn’t just me. 

It felt risky putting my heart out there, especially when the loud voices in my head warned me that I would regret it.  

I wish I could say it was pain free.  It wasn’t. 

It is risky to put your whole heart out there, but there is also great reward.  

My natural response to pain is to isolate myself. I just shut-down. If I stay to myself and never let anyone in, then there will be no disagreements, no misunderstandings, no disappointments, and no broken friendships.  

It felt normal to isolate myself because that is how I survived my childhood. I never wanted anyone to know my struggles so I built walls around my heart for my own protection. 

In community, those walls fell one by one.  Once the walls were down and I felt pain, my first instinct was to put the walls back up. 

Luckily, my counselor encouraged me to persevere.  She encouraged me to learn from my experiences and to keep going. 

I reluctantly stayed in community, and I remained open.  Was it pain-free? 

N-O.  NO. 

While I have experienced pain in community, I have also received tremendous support, encouragement, and affirmation.  

I’ve said, “You can do this!” and I’ve heard, “You’ve got this!”

I’ve experienced grace and I’ve learned to give grace.  

I’ve asked for forgiveness, and I’ve learned to forgive. 

I’ve prayed for others, and they’ve tenderly prayed for me. 

I’ve laughed. I’ve celebrated. I’ve wept. 

Community is not perfect. 

Community is messy and it’s beautiful.  In community, as you engage with others you will discover more about yourself. 

You will make mistakes and you will achieve milestones. 

You will truly begin to believe in others and you will know that they believe in you. 

Community is imperfect togetherness, full of risk and reward.  Some call it a tribe, but I think of it as a gathering of brave souls willing to show up.  

I know how hard it is to show up.  I remember showing up and not saying anything for months. When I first said something, I remember the alarms pounding in my head demanding I just stay quiet.  

The enemy wanted to keep me isolated. He wanted me to be alone in my pain and struggles.  He wanted me to be quiet. When I was isolated and quiet, I was ineffective.  

Something significant shifted in me when I gathered in community.  I found healing, I discovered my voice and I realized my purpose.

We were not created to do life alone.  We were designed to gather in community. 

If you feel like you are isolated and alone, please know there is a place for you at the table where grace abounds and love wins, every time.  

Let’s show up.  

So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:22-25 MSG 

You are His Masterpiece

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. 

Ephesians 2:10 NLT

One of my favorite things to do with my daughter is to paint at Wine and Design.  I love to see a blank canvas and a plate of all colors of paint.  There’s colorful paint splatter on the tables and the aprons.  The walls are filled with many different paintings, but there is one painting on the easel in the front and that’s the one everyone will paint.  

The room is filled with energy and excitement. I look at that blank canvas and then back at the finished painting on the easel. I pick up my paintbrush and think, “The possibilities are endless.” 

The instructor stands by the easel to guide us, but ultimately we hold the paintbrush.  We pick the color and the texture.  We create the masterpiece. 

At the end of each session, everyone takes a group photo holding our painting.  From a distance, the paintings look the same, but up close you can see the unique differences. We take a black sharpie and sign our initials in the corner.  Even though my daughter and I have the same initials, our m’s and our v’s are not the same.

We all stand holding up our artwork smiling proudly at the camera, and then we each leave with our beautiful painting and a smile. 

Just like that art, we are God’s masterpiece.  He has designed each of us, and we are all different. To some He gave curly hair and others straight. Some have blue eyes, others brown.  Some of us are serious and others are full of humor.  Some are introverted, others extroverted.  He has given each of us our unique design to do the good things He planned for us long ago. 

In a world that tells us what we should look like and be like it is easy to forget that we are His masterpiece.

When I was a young girl, I remember standing in line at the grocery store and seeing all of the photoshopped images on the cover of magazines. I would gaze at the headlines, and minutes later I found myself feeling like I was “less than” or “not enough.”  Today, with social media it can feel like I am still standing in that line only it’s all day, every day.

It’s so subtle I don’t even realize it is happening.  As I scroll through the images, I find myself wanting things I don’t have, and longing to go places I’ve never been. If only I were ________ (taller, smaller etc. ….fill in the blank.) I wish I could ________ play the guitar, run in a race etc…. fill in the blank.) 

I don’t typically hop off of social media thinking, “Wow!  I am a masterpiece uniquely created by Christ!”  

So, how do we embrace the truth when we are bombarded with images and thoughts that tell us otherwise?  

  1. Memorize it. Ephesians 2:10 was one of the first verses I memorized. I would repeat it over and over using my own words.  I am God’s masterpiece. He is making me new to do the great things He planned for me long ago.  I am God’s Masterpiece.  
  2. Check yourself.  If social media is bringing you down and making you feel less than, take a break or limit what you see or how much time you spend online. I quit watching the news and reading the paper, and it helped tremendously with my anxiety.  Sometimes, less is truly more.  
  3. Talk to Him about it. Ask Him to help you see yourself as His incredible design. Admit you are struggling with comparison and doubt. Pray for the truth to sink deeply into your heart.  

You are HIS MASTERPIECE.  Think back to the painting.  Imagine Him creating you on a blank canvas. He is holding the brush, and He is picking out the paints. He takes His time as He puts the finishing touches on.  When He’s finished, He holds it up high and smiles knowing all that you will do.  

Reflection:

You are His Masterpiece. What keeps you from believing you are His masterpiece? What helps you to remember and live like you are His Masterpiece?

You are pursued.

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?

Psalm 139:7

I still hold my breath and choke back tears when I hear “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury.  The line that gets me everytime is, 

“There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me”

Cory Asbury, Reckless Love

It made me cry to even write those words.  Why? Because when I look back it overwhelms me to think about the many ways Jesus pursued me. The heartbreaking part was I didn’t know He was pursuing me because I was trying too hard to run away from Him.  

I never wanted Him to see me doing all of the awful things I did just to cope.  There were so many bad decisions and many of them are a blur.  

But He never stopped coming.  No matter how hard I ran. 

I couldn’t be bad enough for Him to give up on me.  I was a mess and I was completely filled with shame, but I was never too far gone for Him to quit. 

ROCK BOTTOM. 

After that desperate prayer naked on hardwood floors, I turned to Him.  I made my way into church.  I was broken in a million ways and hung over when I pulled into the parking lot smoking a cigarette.  

I sat on the back row looking at how put together everyone else seemed.  I didn’t feel like I fit in, and quite honestly I didn’t want to fit in. I’d never heard sermons like this so I kept coming back.  The words were connecting and the Bible was starting to make sense to me.  My eyes and ears were opened, but my heart was Nailed. Shut.  

Each week I made it about 30 seconds into the invitation, and decided to bolt to avoid the pull.  Every Sunday, I rushed out and it was my personal goal to be the first person to leave.  

Betty noticed. 

She literally followed me out each Sunday yelling “Melissa!” so I ignored her because that was not my name. 

One Sunday, she finally caught me and I let her know my name was Michelle.  When she started to invite me to the beach for the young adults retreat, I immediately shut her down and said, “I didn’t come here to make friends.” I turned to leave and left her standing there, smiling. 

Betty never gave up on me. 

Sunday after Sunday, she called my name.  Eventually I said yes and made it to the Bible study. 

Today, she calls me “the daughter she never had.”

I could give you other examples of how Jesus pursued me, but this is the picture that sticks with me the most because she never once quit trying.  She never gave up.  

Jesus never gives up. 

We can run the other way, and He is there.  We can run to Him with sealed up walled off hearts, and He waits. We can be pushed into the darkest places or willingly walk into them and yet His light will still find us.  

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

Psalm 139:8

He is gentle, patient and kind.  He never leaves us. He never gives up. He is always there.  

He will send us a Betty, if that is what it takes and if we let Him, He will send us a Michelle. 

He is faithful to pursue us.  Will we be faithful to pursue others? 

Read Psalm 139 and think of the ways He has pursued you.  Write about it in your journal and thank Him.  

Has a Betty pursued you?  Reach out to her and let her know.  Thank her for her love.  

Do you know a Michelle?  Pray about how you can reach out to her. 

Thank you Jesus that we are loved, intimately known, and pursued.  

You are chosen.

When I met my counselor for the first time, I told her I had a problem that I needed to fix as soon as possible. I also said I never wanted anyone to know and she assured me everything I shared with her was confidential.  In that first session, I never told her my problem. I only told her about my symptoms.  She knew I was falling apart, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her why. 

It took another session or two to find the courage to whisper the words, “I was sexually abused.”  

If she had looked at me then and said, “Michelle, you are going to share your story with others, and talk about it and write about it,” I would have taken out my checkbook, paid her and left to never return.  I had no idea then that it would be something I’d long to talk about and share in the future.  I didn’t realize at that time what made my heart pound and filled my eyes with tears would become my passion.  

I remember the first time I thought, maybe, just maybe I could help someone else. I had no idea what it would look like and some days it feels like I am still figuring it all out, but I know it’s my passion. It is not easy and I still struggle, but I know He is with me. Back when I drew this picture, it was hard for me to believe it.

You are chosen.

I was trying to understand it all, and sometimes the mean voice in my head would whisper, “You were chosen to be harmed.” It took a while for me to realize that was a LIE. Sometimes we have to acknowledge the lie is there so we can discover the truth. The truth is God can take our deepest pains and use us to make a difference in the lives of others.

You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done.

Genesis 50:20 NCV

You are chosen.  You may not have any idea of what he has chosen you to do and that is okay.  For now, just know that you are chosen. 

Before He made you in your mother’s womb, He chose you.

Before you were born, He set you apart for a special work.  

Jeremiah 1:5 NCV

Remember how awkward middle school was, especially in PE?  The coach would pick two people and they would take turns picking people to be on their team.  Do you remember the excitement and relief you felt when they pointed at you and picked you to be their team? 

God has chosen you.  He has picked you to do something special.  That is why you are uniquely you.  

What do you think He has chosen you to do? Ask Him. Seek Him, and go after your dreams.

Stay in your lane.

Sometimes I find myself watching others and thinking He must want me to do what she is doing or maybe I can be like her!  No!  It is so easy to get off track when we are focused on what others are doing instead of what He has called us to do.  When we are trying to do what they are doing, how can we do what He created us to do? 

You do you.  

The other trap for me is when I think God can’t use me because someone else is already doing it, saying it, writing it or thinking of it.  This kind of thinking will not only cause us to get off track, it will shut us down.  Anytime we are tempted to look at others and think we have to do what they are doing or we don’t need to do anything because someone is already doing it – Stop.  

We have to get back in our lane, keep our eyes on the prize, and remember the promise:  You Are Chosen.