Things aren’t always as they appear.

In this seemingly social-media-driven culture, with cell phone cameras in our hands most of the time, our eyes are inundated with photos of the seemingly mundane over and over again.  Scrolling through our media feed we see pictures of a dog’s bath, a cat’s nap, a child’s popsicle, a pair of feet at the beach, text message screens, and food. So.much.food.

(On a side note: did you know that there have been various studies within the restaurant industry to address the longer “table times” customers are having, due to being on phones after being seated, taking photos of the menus but not reading them to prepare to order, and then the many photos–and retakes–of the foods and drinks after they arrive? It’s a real phenomenon that is impacting wait staff’s tip earnings and restaurant revenues.)

In our desire to “share real life” with others, we post photos of our cup of tea, our Starbucks, mound of french fries, and our homemade grilled cheese. We take a photo and hurry to find a filter that will enhance the image–to make it look better than it is, to elevate its celebratory status, and then we attempt to craft a witty caption to impress our friends.

But, sometimes, the photo doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact, sometimes the photo may only show the “best” part of the story.  (After all, grandma taught us to put our best foot forward…and perhaps society has groomed us to put further “regulations” on what is “best.”)

Sometimes we are consciously aware of this, and other times we may not be–it has been so ingrained in us to get the best angle/best lighting/best representation.

I recently made grilled cheese sandwiches for my family. As the sandwiches were sizzling in the frying pan, achieving their lovely golden brown, as the cheese began to heat up and melt, I was interrupted by a text message (oh how I wish it was something more pressing or urgent or noble, but, a text message it was), and I began to “chat” with my friend. I walked away from the frying pan, and nearly forgot I was cooking anything at all. By the time I “remembered” the food I was preparing, I discovered the bottoms of the sandwiches were putting out smoke. Not good.

I flipped the sandwiches and audibly gasped as I surveyed the damage. One sandwich had blackened bread. No doubt my distraction had impacted the sandwiches–though only one had the very telltale signs of the blackening effect. I tried to see if I could possibly replace that piece of bread, to salvage the sandwich, but it seemed the weight of the melted cheese was attached to that piece of the bread rather than its companion. I determined to make the “other” side of the sandwiches as perfectly golden as possible, and decided I would serve myself the one blackened sandwich.

My plan was successful, and the alternate side turned out a wonderful golden color. I plated the sandwiches, and my daughter almost took the blackened sandwich by mistake. She couldn’t see what I had seen and knew–that the sandwich had a burnt quality on the underside.

See, on the plate, the sandwich looked beautiful, inviting, delicious.

 

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[This photo does not include the use of a food filter, or any filter for that matter. This golden beauty is purely its own.]

But, because I knew what she didn’t, I couldn’t let her have that sandwich. I didn’t want her to have that “less-than” sandwich. I wanted to give her the better.

And, as I realized her initial impression of the sandwich, I recognized the incredible parallel to our initial impressions of things, circumstances, and people.

See, sometimes we look at the outside or a certain side of an item, a circumstance, or a person’s life (especially through the filter of social media), and we begin to desire that thing which we see. [And, if we aren’t careful, we can grow discontent or even jealous, based solely on what we think something is, based on its appearance.]

We can become consumed with our want of something different than we have, all the while not realizing the thing we “want” may actually have a hidden characteristic or flaw or trial that we cannot see in this “snapshot.”

We can be drawn to the golden appearance on the plated item, and not realize that the other side of the bread is blackened (which is a diplomatic way of saying “burned”). We can begin to desire something that, if we were to place it in our mouth, would have a bitter bite to it, a very hard texture, and which might well cause us to want to spit it out and lose our appetite altogether.

Sometimes when we only see the “pretty” side of something we can be drawn to something that may have a “bite” and a “hardness” to it, that, if we knew it was there, we would not likely willingly pick up and bite into with such eagerness.

I wasn’t proud of the burning of the bread and all that it represented. I wasn’t proud of the distracted nature of my time in that moment. I wasn’t proud of the potential waste of food and budget.

In my heart of hearts, I wanted to cover up the burnt nature of the bread, and I did in the way I plated it, even knowing I would be the one to eat it, somehow I thought I could trick my mind and palate if I had the beautiful side facing me as I ate. And yet, I knew the bread was burned.

What about you? Have you ever desperately wanted to cover your blemishes, your distractions, your “less thans,” and only put forward your best foot?

God’s Word says that man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

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[Oh, if only this side looked like the other!]
I don’t want to be so consumed with outward appearance that I miss cultivating a heart that is pleasing to God. I don’t want to have to consider how I’m “plated.”

I want to have a heart that approaches God (and others) in transparency and sincerity. I want my heart to be made more and more pure, and I want what others see to be a sincere reflection of that purity– to allow others to taste and see that the Lord is good.

 

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Kitchen Table Grace

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My kitchen table has become a sacred place for ministry. A sacred place for grace.

I didn’t set out to make this the case. In fact, years ago, I often struggled with insecurity at inviting people over…fearing my house was not as clean as others, or my decorating skills somehow lacking, or, perhaps, even worse that my company would prove dismal.

I feared rejection in so many ways, and yet I longed to connect with other women, to grow in friendship, and to especially grow in deep heart conversation. I knew I needed to get over my fears (most of all, myself) and begin to simply invite people to come into my home to share life.

It began with sporadic offerings–often simple invitations to share a cup of coffee or iced tea while our children played together (back in those years), sometimes even out of strapped finances or simply the exhaustion that comes with taking children out somewhere. And, even with the children coming in and out of our discussions, I discovered something amazing. I discovered that our conversations nearly always dared to go where our conversations at play places and other such public spots seemed to miss.

Our words and our topics plumbed the depths of our hearts, and we were able to share on deep, soul-knitting levels, that seemed to reflect incredible ministry and Kingdom purpose.

Friends opened up their hearts about their fears, their doubts, their wrestling of the soul. They asked honest questions about Jesus, about God’s Word, and about how those intersect and apply to their lives today. They confessed sin, they shared their secrets, they shared their joys, they begged for prayer, and they received it.

It seemed the privacy of a home, and the willing ears and heart of a friend, opened up ministry opportunities in ways I had not seen in our friendships before. As I recognized what was happening, I became even more purposeful in my prayers over our home, over this space, and over our gatherings, having the very sense that God was doing some ministry work right here under our modest roof.

He was doing ministry work right here at our second-hand kitchen table inherited from my in-laws, in our cozy “starter-size home,” with our simple small offerings, and our second-hand toys for the kids.

Now, we had seen ministry in this house over the years in various forms, some to various family members and friends in crisis,  in offering a place to stay or an ear to hear, but somehow these kitchen table conversations took me by surprise.

I suppose I didn’t expect my friends to go so deep (though I longed to), nor did I suppose they had the struggles they shared (before they shared them). These were unexpected ministry opportunities that surprised me and, though many involved much pain and wrestling, blessed me.

They blessed me with the depth of the love and trust that was offered me, they blessed me in the transparency and grace that was offered and reciprocated, and they blessed me in teaching me that often times THIS is the ministry we are called to!

God used those kitchen table conversations to begin to build a desire to connect with others through women’s ministry. Those conversations helped me realize I was not alone in my struggles. They helped me realize there were many themed struggles my friends were facing. Those conversations kept me grounded in truth, and called me to be rooted in grace. They helped me dig deeply into God’s Word for answers to my friend’s questions, encouragement for their despair, prayers for their pain. They challenged me and  grew me as a follower of Christ.

And, today, as I have been walking in my calling to women’s ministry, in serving the ladies of our local church with the truth and grace of God’s Word, as I’m invited to partner with other women’s ministries around the area to do the same, I know that my heart has been formed and prepared by those times. I know that my preparations and my sharing are modeled after those kitchen table conversations, those kitchen table graces.

In fact, I have continued to be blessed to share sacred time, in this sacred space with various friends over these many years, and I often find those times minister to me just as much as they minister to my friends (and those times bleed over into ministering to the various ladies I teach).

I often wonder what I would have missed if I had stayed a prisoner to my fears and excuses for not inviting other women into my home, into my kitchen, and into my life. Oh, what I would have missed—the stories, the wrestling, the heart-level sharing, the cries in prayer, the many lessons for my own sinner’s heart, and the grace upon grace.

What about you? Have you considered a “kitchen table grace” ministry?

Have you considered simple ways and/or simple spaces you can leverage to connect with others in friendship and discipleship?

What, if anything, is holding you back?

Will you prayerfully consider purposing yourself to be available to have these moments in your calendar, in your life, to share and experience God’s grace with others?

It doesn’t have to be weekly, it doesn’t have to be hugely planned or elaborately orchestrated. No, it simply needs to have a willing heart, open to recognize opportunities,  lips willing to invite and encourage, and ears and heart willing to listen and pray.

And don’t worry about having the right words or the right answers. Worry only about having a heart surrendered to God, prepared by time abiding in His Word, able to enter into the suffering of another, and wiling to usher a friend to the throne of grace. God’s all-sufficient grace will supply everything you need.

I will be praying for each of you, as you consider stepping out in faith, opening up your home and your heart to share in sacred ministry with others. Asking God to bless your “kitchen table” space with His amazing [more than kitchen table] grace.

Awesome never rests and that is awesome grace.

The other day as I was quietly passing through our local discount store, I passed by a t-shirt that caught my eye. It was in the girls’ section, and I wasn’t in the market for any girls’ clothes, but I was passing by on my way to another section of the store and couldn’t help but see the colorful shirt near the end-cap.

It declared, “Awesome never rests.”

I wish, especially since I am hoping to live more graciously, that I could report that my first thought about this t-shirt was consistent with my eventual thought about this t-shirt. I wish, but, alas, it wasn’t.

I saw the t-shirt, registered the phrase, and kept pushing my cart past the area to my next destination. And, as I pushed the cart, I thought to myself, “okay, another declaration of awesome about a person. Another placing the child on a pedestal of awesome…and another glorification of busy-ness. Another symptom of our culture.” I’m not certain my head didn’t physically shake, but I am certain it was in my spirit.

And, then, as I pushed the cart a few feet further, I began to think about this message, and how it could speak to people who continually work to get things done, to serve others, and how they don’t sit idle for long. My heart began to warm toward the sentiment, as my mind was filled with images of people I know who are the epitome of this.

Then, as I pushed the cart a few feet further still, another thought struck me.

Awesome. Who is awesome? Only God.

“Awesome never rests” turned into thoughts of “Awesome never sleeps”

And THAT made me think of the incredible words of Psalm 121:3-4:

He will not let your foot slip–
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

This passage has meant so much to me over the years, but especially in the past few months, and in this very past week, as a friend living overseas and I have wrestled in prayer for one another. We are living in completely opposite time zones (13 hours), so our overlap of wakefulness is on the small side, but our ability to intercede for one another in the hours our friend is sleeping (and potentially struggling with finding true rest in letting go of whatever burden is at hand) is great. In this particular season, in some particularly isolating burdens, she and I have been able to share our hearts and burdens, and then encourage one another in the Word and in prayer.

In some very meaningful ways, this reality of life has been a sweetly tangible reflection of the words of this Psalm.

God’s Word confidently states God watches over [us]. He doesn’t sleep (and through His constant watch He will not allow our feet to slip). He is watching our coming and going, no matter the time zone, no matter the hour. He is a God who never sleeps, but is always working for us, for His purposes, for His glory.

He is “not asleep” when I am praying for my friend while she sleeps, and He is “not asleep” when she is praying for me while I sleep. He is actively listening, actively watching, and actively working. Always.

An ever-wakeful, ever-present, ever-active God is a picture of grace. We don’t deserve it, but He is eager to give it (and to remind us of the reality of it through His Word).

As my mind reeled with these thoughts, and my soul welled up with doxology, I knew I had to turn that cart around and go back to the shirt and get a picture so I would remember this “picture of grace.”

Awesome never rests tshirt

And, the more I reflect on this picture of grace, the more I find myself wishing I could squeeze myself into a kids’ sized shirt so I could clothe myself in this declaration as well!