I wake up some mornings, ask Jesus for encouragement in this crazy world. Ask for a way to stay centered, not get distracted by cynicism and accusation and apathy and bitterness. For affirmation. For the words to pray, for faith to pray big prayers. He always shows up, in amazing ways. I have learned to look for it:
In the thrift store, a man stands in line behind me, and I can see out of the corner of my eye that he is holding a huge pile of…I turn to look…belts! Hmm. I smile warily at him and he grins right into my eyes and starts to tell me that he is covering a floor with belts. Like a belt floor, instead of carpet or tile or wood. I am intrigued. He holds a massive pile of multi-color belts – leather, plastic, vinyl – and tells me I can google it or look on Pinterest. He tells me how he just moved from out of town, he’s decorating his house. I small talk a bit, welcome him to Florida, say that’s really neat, good luck with the floor. And he nods and smiles, shrugs, says “Yeah. I’m an artist. We do weird things sometimes.”
And swift as light his words find their mark in my heart and sink slowly into my brain. All that day and the next I am thinking about these words, feeling the love and inspiration that accompanies them. Realizing it was Jesus, speaking affirmation to my artist-calling, to the pain of always not being normal, of needing to be alone in order to really hear, of going on strange quests, and guarding my heart against perfectly normal things that seem to rob my perspective and harden my sensitivity. Of being ridiculed and misunderstood and censored, and the gift of it too, how it’s all about Him anyway and He likes using wallflowers and oddballs. How He likes them.
He is speaking to the sometimes loneliness of taking the road of my heart, and following the Spirit into waters that most American Christians simply don’t understand. And of always being held back in how much I can share and needing privacy like air, but compelled to share life all the same. And being too impressionable, feeling too much. It is an oxymoron, to be introverted and creative and effective and centered.
Real ministry is an oxymoron too. A bit of an enigma. A balancing act. A strange bird. Easy to criticize.
Yeah. I’m an artist. We do weird things sometimes.
And then, I’m at a cycling class one day at the gym, working on building some cross-training into my marathon training schedule, and the woman leading the class says that the word of the day is power.
Feel the power, she says.
And it is the craziest thing, for just that morning I was asking for power and strength, and I was urging others to do the same. For the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, that lives in me, to be known and seen and felt. To be fresh and potent to face the day, to bring good.
The wheels on my stationary bike spin round and Katy Perry belts out some top-ten song with a catchy beat, and I am a fish out of water. This is not the kind of music that energizes me and I am a runner of the outdoor sort, and feel a bit sheepish on a bike whose wheels only spin but don’t go (such a metaphor), and this indoor gym thing is effective and helpful, but not really my bag.
Nevertheless, I am sweating and hearing God’s voice loud and strong, and He is affirming my quest for real power to live this life true and well. For His resurrecting power.
Some spiritual cross-training, perhaps. To run this race with endurance.
And then the instructor starts to talk about overcoming adversity. How she felt led to do something big and risky that her family didn’t agree with. They didn’t believe in her. But she wanted it so. And she followed her heart, and accomplished a huge goal. And has no regrets.
I am nodding through gallons of sweat as the music swirls and the wheels spin, and she is talking right to me. He is using her dream and her wrestling and her bravery and her loneliness and her triumph. He is painting in those colors all over my prayers and my subtext and my brain’s pathways.
It is encouragement so apt and real and fresh, it makes me stop and wonder how big are You, God, really?
And how small.
And then, there’s the nice text I got from a friend less than an hour after I woke up one morning and asked Heaven for help.
And the random comment from my husband, said suddenly after a long, absorbed silence.
“You know, you’re such a good wild card.”
The lady who walks her dog when I run sometimes. She stopped me a few weeks ago, asked if I had cut my hair off. I said yes.
“It looks so good! I really love it.”
This is the only conversation we’ve ever had. Usually we just wave.
And the song I heard on the radio. The prayers from friends. My generous mother-in-law. My husband’s aunt and uncle. My church. The bats that swoop over my head in the early mornings, clicking and buzzing with echolocation, while I sit on the front stoop and think, my own thoughts a sort of echolocation, clicking and bouncing off of the eternal God.
His faithfulness, everywhere. And art.
His kindness glowing out. His personal touch resonating. A God who loves so perfectly, it dispels my old, sad fears.
My losses take on the glow of promise.
We have to choose to see it. A step of faith into the country of hope and gratitude. And then the landscape takes over and we wonder that we didn’t hear and taste and see like this before!
He is working, helping, full of peace, using all of us in each other’s lives to bring wisdom and healing and affirmation. Lifting our eyes to the hills, showing us where our help comes from.
He isn’t worried about the state of the world. He simply continues to offer peace and joy and overcoming hope. Power and strength. Timely encouragement.
Giving our hearts a safe place to live.