How Impressionism Revealed God’s Perspective

I recently traveled to Chicago to enhance my copiousness. Yes, that was a stated purpose of the training I received there. To grow my mind and experience an abundance of historical thinking. I love the saying “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”, and try to model my relationships after that premise. I’m happiest when surrounded by those who enrich my thoughts and encourage me to develop big ideas. Never was this more true than during my time at CC’s Practicum Speaker Trainer Training. That’s training for those who will be training practicum speakers. A room full of CC folks with a passion for classical education, equipping others and public speaking. It was like returning to the mother ship. These were my people all the way down to our very core.

Intentionally, I scheduled my homeward flight for late in the evening, so I could traipse around Chicago for a day. My primary goal was to see The Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism wing. Specifically their room full of Monet. It just so happened my trip coincided with Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the dyeing of the river green. Not a deep natural forest green, but a bright psychedelic emerald. The garish color was mimicked all around me in thousands of people enjoying the celebratory mood of the day. They started partying around noon by 5pm had reached a fever pitch even my Uber driver was anxious to escape as he happily left the city to deposit my un-drunk self at the airport. Apparently I was the only sober fare he had all day.

St. Patrick's In Chicago

I’d rambled around the museum for almost two hours enjoying Greek, Roman, Modern and Ancient Indian art, but longing for Impressionists when I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. Just the very edge of a painting hugging a corner two rooms away. I knew instantly it was Monet and proceeded to avoid group tours and step around slow-moving elderly in my haste to see the full painting.

As I stepped into the room, I was overcome with awe. A dozen masterpieces by the great French impressionist encircled me. There to be savored. As I moved around the perimeter, I looked at each painting twice. Once as close as I could muster (without a docent scolding me anyway) to see the smallest detail, then a few steps back to observe the painting in toto. As I repeated this process, my awe gave way to an emotion not easily described, but one which created in my soul a desire to sit and weep.

I am not a crier. Not at movies, Mother’s Day, loss, happiness, not for much of anything do I shed tears. As such, this overwhelming flood of sentiment disquieted me enough that I found a nearby bench and sat struggling to compose myself while gazing at Monet’s Water Lilies.

I lost my battle to hold back tears as I identified the root of my emotion. My eyes were suddenly opened to a little of God’s perspective. As I muddle through life, moving from the mundane of laundry, to the routine of homeschooling, groceries and dishes, I tend to become tunnel visioned. My world seems incredibly small most of the time. I’m just trying to get through the next task, whatever is the most pressing concern or need of those around me. Often, I can’t think past Tuesday to make plans for Friday. As my focus narrows, life becomes a Monet up close. It feels pointless, just a swirl of nothing layered over more meaningless smudges. Life going around again and again in a jumble of details, relationships and tasks, with no value, no broader purpose.

Monet Water Lilies Up Close
This is where I really lost it and became supremely grateful nobody from training was able to trek to the city with me. Although we get lost in the minutiae of daily life, that is not God’s perspective. In the midst of seeming chaos, of colors that appear misplaced, relationships that look a mess, unrest and disquiet in our souls, He sees the completed master work. Not a brush stroke is wasted or errant. Our lives are His to develop through dusk and light, vibrant color and shadow. Our Lord builds layers that bring out the perfect balanced harmony of the work He is faithful to complete in us. In this life, we see a smidge of nothingness, the tiniest sliver of the finished masterpiece. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

As I managed to (finally) get a grip and head out of the room, I glanced back at the painting that first caught my attention and had another realization. If our lives encompass God’s creative genius, shouldn’t they shout His unmistakable composition in the same way Monet’s color and form drew me in from two rooms away? As Christians, our lives should be a demonstration of who the Lord is. His truth, grace, love, patience and gentleness should flow from the canvas of our soul. The mural of our being should be a reflection of The Great Artist who created us. Imperfect and flawed, we are a fallen jumble of brushstrokes when viewed up close, but a stunning expression of the Master’s hand with the proper perspective. His. Monet gave me a glimpse of that viewpoint, and I am eternally thankful.

A Quiet Life, A Full Life

We recently picked up a book from the library entitled “Dear Mr. Washington
by Lynn Cullen. It is a humorous look at the story behind Gilbert Stewart’s famous portrait of the first President. This one.

The book follows Stuart’s children as they attempt to follow George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior on Company and Conversation while the President sits for his portrait. These rules (110 of them) were copied down by Washington by the time he was 16. Continue reading

Devotional – Earth(quake), Wind & Fire

1 Kings 19:11-12  Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

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Devotional – This Is Your Last Chance

Genesis 8: 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

First, the elephant in the room. Yes this passage comes from the story of Noah and the worldwide flood. Yes, I believe that the account of Noah is more than just a fun story to tell children in Sunday School. I believe it’s more than just something to talk to my kids about when a rainbow appears in the sky. I believe it is truth. I do not pick and choose what parts of the Bible are convenient for me to believe. There are things in the scriptures that give me pause, make me ponder, things I struggle to even understand – but that doesn’t make them any less God’s word than the common sense “do unto others” parts. Deciding that parts of the Bible are fabricated, exaggerated or not possible, discounts the Bible as a whole. Partial belief makes the Bible just an interesting book, not the word of God. I believe the Bible to be fact, not historical fiction.
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Devotional – Thanksgiving

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Note that it doesn’t say “Rejoice when you are happy, pray when you need something, give thanks for the good in your life.”. But somehow, that’s how we all live. We think joy is an emotion, a feeling that comes when we get what we want. Prayers come much quicker when there’s something in it for us and our thankful heart turns cold when we think God isn’t being fair. Continue reading

Devotional – Goopy, Messy, Yucky

Acts 11:17 “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?”

Man. God is so amazing. I know that. Sometimes it just bowls be over though. Last week I felt totally convicted and spoken to by 1 Corinthians 12. The whole chapter. I did a blog on a particular scripture from it, but really – the whole chapter just jumped off the page at me. I read it several times because it was just such good stuff. Last night at small group, the passage of scripture we had for our “assigned” group reading was 1 Corinthians 12. What?!! Yeah. How cool is that.

Today’s devotional reading from Acts 11 gave me just another layer of what God has been talking to me about for the last week. Peter is dealing with the coming together of two groups of people (Jews and Gentiles) that, in his culture, absolutely were not to have anything to do with each other. Gentiles were considered unclean. In Acts 10:28 Peter actually talks about it being against the law for him to associate in any way with a Gentile. He had some major hurdles to overcome – but he believed what God was showing him, that he shouldn’t be calling anyone impure or unclean. That the Lord’s gift of salvation and forgiveness was for everyone…not just the chosen few.

I think sometimes in life we insulate ourselves inside our own little christian world. We don’t want to get dirty. So we don’t associate with people who have a little mud on their jeans. Even for those inside the body of believers, we have classifications. There are those who don’t drink, don’t swear, don’t watch certain kinds of movies or listen to particular varieties of music. We have the “good christians” who are regular church attenders, the tithers, the prayer warriors etc. I think there’s always the danger of thinking somehow you’re better than others. Don’t have as many issues, problems or struggles. That in some way, your behavior means God didn’t have to save you quite as much as the next guy. Really we’re all fooling ourselves if we compare our “bad stuff” with someone else’s. Bottom line, we’re all complete failures in need of a savior.

Like God showed me last week in 1 Corinthians, and again today in Acts, who am I to say I don’t need another member of the body? Who am I to disparage those God has called me to be connected to? I’m nothing. Nothing without the saving grace of Jesus. Just like you. I have no claim to being more pure than you. Because underneath the outter layer I keep clean and tidy for everyone else to see, God sees the yuck, mire, goopy mess that is my heart. He knows my thoughts. The ones I wouldn’t want to share with anyone else. The harbored resentment, the ill wishes, the parts of me that are very vindictive and spiteful sometimes. Parts of me I don’t want to admit exist, not even to myself. So what right do I have to distance myself from another goopy, messy, yucky human? None. Zero.

Like Peter asks, “Who am I to oppose God?”. The Lord has given me relationships. He has put me in the world. Being a Christian doesn’t somehow exempt me from having to deal with all the yuck. Thankfully, God didn’t leave me here to figure it out on my own. He gave me the Holy Spirit as a guide. When the going gets rough, the road gets muddy and I’m getting dirty, I’m thankful the Lord is always there with a clean towel. So let’s dive in and yucky it up.

Devotional – Momentary Troubles

2 Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

These verses today reinforced for me something I heard in my church service on Sunday. Here’s what I wrote in my notes: “When we take anger and turn it inward, it becomes depression. When we take anger and turn it outward, it becomes gossip. When we take anger and turn it downward (start listening to the lies of Satan), it becomes oppression. Only when we take our anger and turn it upward does it find the appropriate vent, and we are able to move on.” Sometimes, we have a right to be hurt. We have a valid reason to be angry. It’s what we do with those emotions that determine the lasting effect of them on our lives. Anger resolved improperly only becomes a bigger problem. We vent to other people and turn into gossips. We harbor resentment and it eats us alive.  But the process of allowing anger to exist in a healthy way is hard – because it requires us to turn our emotions over to the Lord. Continue reading

Devotional – The Night Watches

Psalm 63:6-8

When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me. 

Good to know God is waiting for me right where I left Him. I’ve struggled with my quiet time lately. I’m allowing life to get in the way. I had myself in such a great rhythm, but have totally lost momentum. Although getting back into my devotionals has been on my mind frequently the last few weeks, I have been keenly aware the past 48 hours of how much I miss my time with the Lord.

My daughter is sick and I’ve been up dealing with vomit the last two nights. Not fun stuff. In the midst of all those night-time dashes between my room and hers, I’ve felt totally unprepared for this thing called parenting. Holding back my own nausea at the smells and sounds of a sick child, I’ve prayed for strength and wisdom frequently. Finally, after Madison’s bedroom was no fit place for anyone, I slept (or more accurately did not sleep) on the playroom floor, comforting my child. I used the time awake to pray for my baby girl, and think about how God cares for me. Stroking Maddie’s hair and listening to her breathing made me think how much it would hurt me if my little girl decided she didn’t want to spend any time with me. And yet I’m doing that same thing to a God who loves me infinitely more than I cherish my daughter.

Then, my first devotional back begins with this wonderful passage from Psalm 63 and a reminder that Jesus wants to help me through my day – that the challenges I face are only going to be handled well in Him. Thank the Lord that He is my help. I’m so in awe this morning at God’s ability to continually meet me right where I am. That in my night watches over my daughter, God has been drawing me back to Himself. That in my bleary-eyed, weary state, He is waiting to stroke my hair and help me through all that is before me in this day.

Devotional – Mission Possible

Luke 1:17 For with God, nothing will be impossible.

Do I really believe that? The Bible says it. Plain as day. It is all possible. Anything you can dream or imagine is within the realm of possibility with God. It might seem crazy. You may think there’s just no way it will happen, but NOTHING is out of the question.

This week, I received a huge lesson in trusting God for what seems impossible. A person I thought would never see Jesus for the loving Savior He is, came to know Him in a personal way. This man has been on the receiving end of desperate pleading prayers for 30 years. Right up to the day before I learned of his salvation, I would have told you there was no way. His heart seemed impenetrable. His mind totally closed off to the things of the Lord. And yet, God was able to reach him and touch him in an amazingly mighty way. I’m particularly thankful for God’s grace and mercy in this life because, it was my grandfather (Poppa). I visited him a couple times this week and am overwhelmed by that change God’s peace has brought to his demeanor. He is a new person. Incredibly soft and sweet in the midst of severe pain – with a graciousness I have never witnessed in him before.

It has made me reconsider the limitations I put on God. The box I keep Him in seems so small in light of such an obvious transformation in a life previously so lost. I think the problem is, we assume God is restrained by our own weaknesses. I am too tired, emotionally drained, physically weak to really accomplish the things I want to each day, and I place those same limitations on the Lord. How can He have the time and energy to deal with all the world’s issues, and still take an active role in my little life? Isn’t He exhausted? If, in all my mental prowess and debating skills, I am unable to make someone see the logic of following God’s plan instead of their own, how will God reach their mind and heart? Even in my prayers, I’m trying to ask or tell God how I think things should work out, rather than relying on Him to direct me in His perfect will and plan.

The incredible reality is, our Lord is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Even when we think we’ve figured out the “best-case-scenario”, God’s end-game is always far better. I need to start allowing myself to open up the box and let God be free to do His work in my life, and through me into other lives.

Devotional – Parking Lot Walking

Psalm 73:23-24

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

In my walk with God, I tend to leave Him in the dust as I jump ahead to my next big plan. The picture in this Psalm this morning reminded me of when I walk in a parking lot with my three-year old, Madison. I’m trying to get from the car to whatever building we’re heading for, she wants to jump over bumps on the ground, talk about the parking stripes and stop to look at a leaf. It’s very difficult to hold her hand (my other, occupied by her little brother) as she leaps off the ground suddenly over an invisible “bump”, quickens her pace to see something amazing just ahead or suddenly stops completely mid-stride to examine the ground. In the midst of all her little activities however, she never lets go of my hand. Even as the world around completely distracts her from the task we’re accomplishing, she understands the safety represented in keeping her little fingers entwined with mine. Continue reading