The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

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My fingers tap allegro on the chair in front of me, keeping time to the rhythm of my heart when I look at the back of her teenage head, her waif frame knuckled between siblings. I know this feeling; it isn’t the first time it’s hovered over me in church. God and I, we’re wrestling over what I should do about it.

Standing next to my family singing We’ve Come to Worship, abandoned to His presence, He begins to speak the revelation. Telling me things about this young girl that I only know by name and passing glances. She’s at a crossroads.  He wants to get her attention. Tell her He loves her. And I’m to be His messenger.

How is someone qualified to do this?

Have you heard about the Ephesians Project over at BibleDude.net? It’s a community writing project, a commentary on the book of Ephesians. I just wanted to let you know about it. I’m writing from Chapter 3:1-13 today, come on over and check it out . . . . .

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On Manhood: A Letter To My Son

As we focus on the inauguration of our President and a holiday set aside for Martin Luther King Jr., a man representing courage, I’m thinking about leadership and what it means for me, to parent my boy into a man. 

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What do I need to tell my son about being a man? It’s what I think about as I stare at the single candle flickering in front of my brothers 8 X 10, a tight frame capturing his far-away eyes. Sometimes I know by looking, just a glimpse in the eyes, about the tale of the soul.

The way I knew her marriage wasn’t well the day she walked up to the swivel chair and looked at me in the mirror. The way I knew his heart hurt when he crawled into the passenger seat after school.

My brother’s eyes changed after he drove his mother’s car off the bridge that night.  It was my week of the summer to be his sister in real life.  After I went back home to my mother, the sibling relationship, it became a paragraph in books of stories I never read.

His body crosses into eternal, drugs invade like a thief with a key to the front door. I still remember the boy I called brother in footed pajamas, scooping chocolate refrigerator pie into his mouth at the kitchen table.

The day we got the call about my brother’s death, my son shoved four friends into lake water, blew out candles on thirteen and grew hair in new places.

And somewhere between their two lives, waves a prairie of pages scattered like tumbleweed.  Pages on the wisdom of manhood I’m collecting like a book in my mind to give to my son when he crosses the threshold.

Paragraphs that tell you how a woman will love a man deep, when he stands up for what is right and true, despite the pain of rejection and risk of reputation.

Being honorable to the watching world is more appealing than being honored. Because when you love people more than a big house, your golf score and the size of your biceps, you’ll settle into your spot in the world. The address of Fulfilled spelled out on the mailbox.

When voices shout for you to join the club of doing in order to succeed, there will pages of prose reminding you that success listens to the whisper of being.

Because affirmation, the kind that sticks like gum on the bottom of your shoe, it doesn’t happen with the applause of crowds.  It cheers from an audience of One.

And that One, He wept and asked for help from twelve people with weaknesses, just like you.

I’ll bind the strewn pages of manhood, string them tear stained leather. Slide them into your suitcase when you aren’t looking.  And perhaps when you turn around to wave goodbye, I’ll have the privilege of hearing the mother’s heart song in your eyes. Look into the reservoir that tells the tale of the soul and embrace the silence.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. today, a man with a legacy of courageous leadership, what advice would you give a boy growing into manhood?

A repost from September 2012.

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Surrendering to Sabbath: Week Two

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“What happens when we stop working and controlling nature?” Moishe Konigsberg responds. “When we don’t operate machines, or pick flowers, or pluck fish from the sea? . . . When we cease interfering in the world we are acknowledging that it is God’s world.” ~Lauren Winner, Mudhouse Sabbath

If you lived in my seaside town, you might occasionally see my mini van parked at odd angles on the side of the road. Spot me wandering around in tall weeds to capture the way the light is fingering through the broken window of an abandoned building or capturing early morning fog hovering like a mysterious traveler over the sea. Lost in the wonder of the way the same stretch of beach can be a chameleon canvas of creation.

I walked on sandy shores several days this week, read messages He carved for me in the sand and moaned in mourning over mounds of dead fish. And it all started on Sabbath, when I took the time to stop and listen and see.

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And I’m wondering why it took me so long to get here, to observe a true Sabbath. Maybe that is why He says remember. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Because He knows how easy it will be to forget.

Want to join the Surrendering to Sabbath Society? We’re a sisterhood of 42 strong, encouraging one another to rest. It all started here.

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For further Sabbath reading and a podcast on the web, check out these finds:

Monopoly is the Bane and My Sabbath is a Flop by Michelle DeRusha (and I’m not just posting it because she mentions me in the story, it’s honest and funny)

Sabbath Rest {YMCA of the Rockies} by Kristin Schell

Start Small, Start with Sabbath by Sarah Bessey at She Loves Magazine

The Importance of a Stop Day by Ben Tinker, CNN

Praying for Your Family: a podcast interview between James Dobson and Jack Hayford about Sabbath and prayer. What Hayford says in the interview about his father challenges me.

Wherever your weekend plans take you, may you find your sweet spot, that place of fulfillment that comes from knowing His love for you is an endless horizon and a shoreless sea.

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Trading Your Message and Platform For The God-Sized Dream

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“Darn it, I forgot my camera,” I said to my son. I didn’t think I would need it. It looked cloudy and overcast out my dining room window while I was getting ready to take him to school. When I pulled out of the neighborhood and saw the pink backdrop illuminating a field of naked trees I felt God say, “It’s okay, you need to listen; take in what I’m going to show you today without the distraction of your camera.”

Dressed for a morning walk on the beach, I drove with the windows down, pulled in to my regular sandy spot on the way home. I don’t mind the stench of fish anymore. It smells like life to me now; of celebrating His creation. But today, the smell hangs unusually heavy in the air.

When I cross the threshold from parking lot to beach, I interrupt a seagull family reunion on the shoreline. A woman wearing sunglasses and running shoes holding a camera in her hand walks up behind me. “I forgot my real camera,” I tell her, trying to capture the family photo with my phone.

“So this is where the fish are, huh,” she replies.

That’s when I realize it. These aren’t just a few fish strewn on the beach, and this is no family reunion. There are spoils of fish to feed thousands of hungry birds.

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I zigzag my way around the silver carcasses, avoiding their bulging eyes and scarred bodies lying like wounded soldiers in the sand. And suddenly I remember what I said yesterday in my blog post, what He told me a few days earlier:

“We’re not meant to catch every fish, or the eye of every reader, or the heart of every man. Just those he gives us. And that is enough.”

My hand gapes over my mouth and tears drip down my cheek. His message wasn’t finished. He was giving me more.

“There are more than just a few fish to catch Shelly.”

And as I continue down the beach, my eye hooks on a stubby stick pushed in the sand marking a message. Really?  Two love letters in the sand in one week?

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The longer I walk, the smell of life transforms to the putrid smell of death. What I saw still haunts me.

Scattered silver scales and sawed off fins stretched in obscene piles as far as my eye can see; armies of seagulls standing still, yards away from the fish. As if the riches of their morning breakfast transforms to a plate of grief.

“They represent forgotten souls strangled by evil’s bony fingers,” he whispers. “Gasping for breath because no one told them I could save them.”

“The smell is horrible,” a beach walker calls out to me holding her arms open, shoulders pulled up to her ears. “Why do you think this happened, why are there so many fish on the beach? I’ve never seen this happen before.”

I wanted to tell her it is a message from God; He’s trying to get our attention. The smell of our sin reeks. But instead of that I say, “Maybe God wants to feed the birds this way today.”

Am I like one of those seagulls, stuffed full with the riches of His goodness, standing on the sidelines of lost souls while they die without hope? Walking among scattered carnage keeping the message of Truth to myself.

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What do you do when you realize your dream isn’t as much about a book, or a platform, puny words knocked out in a blog post or being known? It’s bigger than that. It’s God-sized.

Because lasting fulfillment isn’t in dollars, approval from others, a golden ticket, and the way favor found you one day, or in the numbers you anxiously seek. It comes from the welcome of those waiting with arms outstretched at heaven’s gate. The ones He sends to you today, to reveal His Kingdom now.

Fulfillment is in the Message, not the method.

Fish need catching. Many will die, pushed up on the shore of life’s frailties before they hear the message of hope. Are you willing to tell them, to be the messenger?

I sat down on a jagged rock, looking into the sun rising slow and shimmering over the water, watching the waves break over the groin, and surrendered. Surrendered perfect prose, saying the right thing, a platform, a book with my name on the spine, friendships, and being known or unknown. To deliver the message. His message to the hopeless from the life He gave me.

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Are you ready to catch some fish with me?

 

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When Your Perspective On Platform and Message Changes

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Noon on Sunday comes fast when church starts at 4pm and you sleep in. I trade pajama pants for shorts to walk on the beach before showering. It’s Junuary in the seaside village I call home: Blue skies, chirping birds, pelicans hovering low in single file and a gull floating like the sea is his raft and the hands of God rocking.

I know this is a rare gift, like snow falling in summer.

I’m mesmerized by the beauty of this endless horizon; stutter to a halt on the weathered walkway leading back to my car.  Linger for one final look.

Like a father pushing his hand into a child’s back to lead her, He nudges me to keep walking.

So I do.

With a camera strapped over my shoulder I continue, crouch down to photograph a message sticked in the wet sand. As I frame the shot, I feel Him say, “This is why I wanted you to keep walking, what I wanted you to see. It’s my message to you.”

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Breathless for a minute on a vacant expanse of beach, I watch waves crest, stretch frothy fingers toward my toes and curl back into the sand leaving scattered shells of perspective.

Fulfillment is finding your sweet spot. That platform where you soar high above the crowds with an endless horizon of possibility because you know a God that loves you like this.

A pelican expands his wings, glides above the water at eye level, tipping his elongated beak down toward the water, and hesitates like a woman changing her mind in the mirror.

If God allowed that pelican to catch every single fish he dove after without failing, he would be too fat to fly. Grounded by an insatiable appetite.

We’re not meant to catch every fish, or the eye of every reader, or the heart of every man. Just those he gives us. And that is enough.

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I kick the sand off my shoes, turn the key in the ignition and these words from a Kelly Clarkson song on the radio become my prayer when I hear them: “You’re teaching me to see beauty in everything.”

“Yes, you are, aren’t you?”

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.”(Hebrews 1:10-12 ESV)

Linking with Emily Wierenga at Imperfect Prose with the prompt: Encourage. Because this walk embodies the word for me.

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Because Failure Is Not Your Fate

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I carried my yellow Tinkerbell cup of steamy tea back into the bedroom, sat down on the bed and pushed my pajama legs back under the sheets still warm with body heat. We slept in. H and I savored the moments of quiet under a halo of slanted light streaming dust particles through the slats on the shutters. And we watched CBS Sunday Morning together.

Do you believe God can speak to you through morning television? 

I do.

I listened to Nick Vujicic, the man without arms or legs tell about God’s goodness in the midst of his seemingly hopeless situation; heard how Scarlett Johansson overcame early rejection in her career due to her “unfeminine” husky voice. And just when I thought I understood the depth of God’s love, he said, “But there’s more.”

They chose to approach life with focused determination founded on what they have; instead of fate based on what they lack.

And I’m pondering what God is saying to me through their stories. How I can speak life into those people discarded by circumstance like dry bones the way Ezekiel did. Breathe life into my own dry places by believing in the power of God’s restoration.

So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! ~Ezekiel 37:10

I gently push my tea onto the bedside table with my reading glasses and phone, wipe away tears with the corner of my blue bed sheet. Then I lean over and kiss H, my Ezekiel.

On days of discouragement, he restores the pulse of my faith to hope again.

Who are your Ezekiels?

Tomorrow I will sit across from a young girl I’m mentoring and talk with her about destiny. She was chosen for me because of the dry bones she carries, but I believe there is life inside the sinews waiting to come alive.

“Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!” ~Ezekiel 37:5-6

Who needs you to speak life into their dry bones?

This post is inspired by Chapter 6, The Wonder of Restoration in Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg.

Linking with Ann, Laura and Jen.

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When You Realize You’ve Become A Grown-Up

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It was a question I couldn’t answer as much as I pondered it over a series of days, leading to weeks: “When did you first realize that you had become a grown-up?”.

Although I am one – a grown-up – the question posed in Real Simple Magazine’s Essay Contest two years ago proved to be harder to answer than I realized. Unfortunately, the answer came two years too late.

Join me for the rest of the story over at BibleDude.net where I’ve just become the content editor for Living the Story. It would make me smile to see you there in the comments on my inaugural post in my new role.

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Surrendering to Sabbath

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I know what you might be thinking. Why is she posting a picture of a banana peel lying on the ground? Because this is what Sabbath does for me. It helps me see.

You might see trash laying there. I see a palette of color and texture lying in slanted light.

I took this photo a few Sunday’s ago, when my family and I walked the streets of Charleston for hours. We turned down a side street, a seam in the middle of a colorful quilt of homes, when I got lost in ethereal light casting shadows. And I became a lone woman wandering with a camera strapped around my neck far behind my family to capture unexpected beauty.

We’ve entered the first season of ordinary time in the church year, the days between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday. This is where most of life is lived, in the mundane of the everyday absent of shiny bells to turn our gaze upward.

I want to be like Simeon and Anna: attentive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit; waiting with patient, joyful expectation that I will indeed see God; and so present to the Holy wonder of God-with-us that I, too, recognize Jesus when he comes, however odd His appearance may be. ~ Kimberlee Conway Ireton, Circle of Seasons

May you find Him in the most unexpected places this weekend as you surrender to Sabbath.

 

I wrote about the practice of Sabbath this week and asked if you wanted to join me in a sisterhood, the Surrendering to Sabbath Society. I am overjoyed at how many of you responded, “I’m all in.” If you want to join, email me: shelly@redemptionsbeauty.com and I’ll send you the details.

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Why I Decided To Stop and I’m Asking You To Join Me

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When I opened the door of the china cabinet to carefully pull a platter out among the crystal and silver, the Shabbat candlesticks caught my eye. H picked them out for me while on a trip to Israel a few years ago.

He stopped suddenly on his jaunt through the living room when he saw me holding them up to the low afternoon light filtering through the window making the blue glass translucent. “Hey, why haven’t you used those,” he asked. That’s when I got the idea.

Observe true Sabbath. Every week.

On Saturday, as the sun began its descent, I stopped packing ornaments in attic boxes, put the candlesticks on the island in the kitchen and watched the light flicker toward peace. Left dishes in the sink, vacuum parked next to the empty Christmas tree, sat down and closed my eyes to welcome rest.

And a few hours later, while I lounged in front of the television with my family sans a computer on my lap, I turned to H and admitted, “This is so hard for me.”

Oh I had the lists rolling through my mind of things I could be doing while sitting there: Addressing thank you notes, organizing my editorial calendar, responding to comments and emails, making grocery lists. But I let it all go. To watch the Notebook for the cazillionth time.

“I know,” he said, “But this is good. It’s the first time you’ve been engaged with the family like this in a while.”

His admonition alone makes observing Sabbath worth every minute but it’s about more than just engaging with my family. I’ve noticed it in the summer, during our two week family vacation and over our Christmas break. The way joy and perspective return in seasons of intentional rest and break from routine.

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For most of my life, Sunday ends up being a weaker version of the rest of the week. I take a nap or read a book after church but I’m usually pulled like a magnet to productivity after I’ve had those few hours to rest. And Sabbath isn’t about resting so I can be more productive. It isn’t about me at all.

Sabbath is the beholder of beauty. The binoculars capturing the panoramic view behind the Plexiglas wall of creation, where time stands still long enough to see grains of sand without touching them.

And I’m thinking if this is something hard for me to do, then maybe it’s hard for you too. So I’m proposing the Surrendering to Sabbath Society. A sisterhood of fellow pilgrims hungering for more of Him.

Want to join me? Observe true Sabbath together this year?

And I know heeding one of the Ten Commandments doesn’t save my soul. But it refines my faith in a meditation of unfathomable beauty. Now instead of resting to make it through the next week, I’m working my way toward renewal, with Sabbath as the destination.

Because one day a week, it’s good to take my hands off creation and remember why I create.

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If you are interested in joining me in the Surrendering to Sabbath Society, email me at shelly@redemptionsbeauty.com to say, “Yes, I’m all in.”

What’s in it for you?

Weekly encouragement and conversation with you about making your Sabbath successful. And I’ll share a quote or idea from one or several of you on my weekend post with a link to your blog if you have one. Let’s do this together, shall we?

Inspiration for this post comes from Chapter 1 of Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner and Chapter 4 of Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg. Other reads: Circle of Seasons by Kimberlee Conway Ireton and Rest of God by Mark Buchanan.

My friend Kristin Schell chose Sabbath for her one word this year, then joined with a friend to create 52 Sunday Suppers with family prayers. You have to go check it out!

I’m delighted to join the writing team at Imperfect Prose this year at Emily Wierenga’s place. Today’s writing prompt is Create. Won’t you come over and visit the link up of beautiful writers?

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I’ve Got A Hunch

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Singing to the words on the overhead screen, Murielle leans over and whispers, “This song reminds me of our church in Phoenix.” That was over ten years ago.

She took me back to her six year old self in a whisper. Standing on risers, her arms folded underneath the oversized white robe, tinsel halo pushed on a crown of wispy curls as she sang We Three Kings of Orient Are among a throng of gap-toothed peers. I never thought I would be standing here now.

Almost a decade ago, we started our vacation on an island a thousand miles from home and bumped into a Bishop who my husband didn’t realize was trying to call him.  How his simple question – “Will you extend your vacation and visit a church a few hours away needing a pastor?” – led to a cross country move for our family. Like Mary and Joseph travelling to Bethlehem, we ended up in a place we never expected.

When we stood up to sing Here I Am to Worship she leaned over again and whispered in my ear, “This one reminds me of Morehead City.” The coastal community we traded for the desert; the one we never expected to leave so soon.

Five years after that cross country move, on the same day we celebrated our first worship service in the new church built with people we’d grown to love, another Bishop asked the same question. A question we’d grown to expect from God. Would you consider?

And we moved again. We never expected to reside in the place where we’d vacationed for years; the same seaside town where we bumped into that first Bishop who asked us to consider extending vacation.

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It’s late afternoon when my family stands huddled together in a borrowed chapel among two hundred friends displaced by a church vote. My daughter’s whispers are the resting spots between notes of realization. That dreams are harnessed when we learn to see beyond circumstance.

H and I, we’ve been doing this since we said, “I do.” Moving to new places, doing things some people call crazy.

We’re like the Magi who left home on a hunch to follow the Light, risking without certainty about the future. Because each time we embrace discernment, behold the unexpected without clarity or predictability, a defining moment greets us at the door. And like those three kings, we see extraordinary things others miss.

As I walk into the New Year, I never expected to be part of planting a new church, to lead a bible study, mentor teens,  be a content editor for a website, write an e-book, field writing invitations or speak at a retreat.  But then again, I’ve never confused home with where I’ve been, it’s always about where I’m going.

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As Holley Gerth says, “God-sized dreams aren’t really about size at all–they’re about embracing and pursuing the desires God has placed within your heart that perfectly fit who you are.”

Are you in a place you never expected?

Perhaps it’s the open flap on the envelope of promise.

Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness. ~Isaiah 43:19

Linking with Holley as she kicks off Saying“Yes” to a God-sized Dream in 2013

 

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