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 believed.

Some things are hard to talk about. Some things are hard to believe.  Some things are hard. 

As much as I wanted to tell my counselor some of my worst memories, it was hard for me to open my mouth and say a word.  

That’s the thing about a traumatic memory.  You don’t just retell it, you relive it.  

Your mind struggles to process it, and your mouth hesitates to say it, but your body screams.  Your body remembers every detail.  

Others may doubt you, and they may even tell you, “There’s no way. I don’t believe it happened.” 

You wish it didn’t happen. 

You wish you could forget. 

You wish you had it wrong. 

But you know your truth.

You know your reality. 

You know your struggle. 

I believe you.  Three simple words that change everything. 

When I described my worst memory to my counselor, I barely had words. I started with just a color, and then the words poured out. 

I was shaking when she asked me where was Jesus in that room.  I was convinced there was no way Jesus would be in that room.  She gently encouraged me to find Him and when I finally did, I knew I had a witness. 

He noticed.  He saw everything. He believed me. He comforted me. 

I knew my counselor and my husband believed me, but I wasn’t sure if others would believe me.  It really mattered to me then and it bothered me a lot.  

Psalm 10 became a comfort for me.  I even made a poster and filled it with many of these verses.  

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;

    you consider their grief and take it in hand.

The victims commit themselves to you;

    you are the helper of the fatherless. 

Psalm 10:14

He sees everything. 

He knows everything. 

He understands triggers. 

He’s aware of your struggles. 

You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;

    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,

defending the fatherless and the oppressed,

    so that mere earthly mortals

    will never again strike terror. 

Psalm 10:18

If you didn’t hear those words, “I believe you” and you feel alone in the darkest memory of your life, you can ask God hard questions and find Him there. He believes you. 

I believe you.  

You are believed.  

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.