I’m listening. I see you. I understand. You don’t have to be afraid. You are beautiful and I love you just as you are. I am making you new, giving you a new heart and a new mind. I am patient and I am here when you stumble, to pick you back up again. I will always be here. I will show you the impossible is possible. One day your transformation will be complete and you will be with me in glory.
You are not alone. I am there in the darkness. I am there in the apathy. I am there in the coldness. I am there in the confusion. I am there in your heart. I made you to delight in you, to let my smile shine on you and light you up. Thank you for your honesty. Let me wrap you in my arms and help you trust me a little more each day. I’ve got you, my child, you are mine and I won’t let you go.
* * *
Inspired by a blog post I read where someone wrote a letter to God.
28th November 2014, Prismacolor pencils on A3 cartridge paper
I went through a stage where it felt like I was in a washing machine. It felt like I was being turned around, upside-down and inside-out because the way I thought and the way I saw things changed.
It happened when I went to bible college and took a Cultural Anthropology class. It opened my eyes to my ethnocentricism where I subconsciously believed my culture was superior to other cultures.
Our lecturer asked us why we sit at a table and eat with a knife and fork. I’d never questioned this before and didn’t even know I could question it. I just assumed it was the way right way people should eat. But then our lecturer said that eating with chopsticks or with fingers while sitting on the floor is an equally valid way of eating a meal.
As soon as he said this, I knew it to obviously be true, and I saw how arrogant I was about Western culture. It showed me that just because we do things a certain way doesn’t mean it’s better way than any other way.
I was raised by Western culture and accepted it without question. Now I was left not knowing what to think and started questioning everything. Why do I believe what I believe? Is it because I was taught to believe it? Why do I do what I do? Is it because that’s the way it’s always been done? Why do I want what I want? Is it because everyone else wants it?
My world that seemed so solid now had cracks appearing and started expanding. It felt like everything I’d been built up on was being torn down and I didn’t know how to live anymore. I wanted to unlearn everything so I could find out how to live Kingdom of God culture.
November 2014, Prismacolor pencils on A3 cartridge paper
This picture was inspired by a bible study and TNT session with Beth.
For TNT, she took a loaf of bread, broke it in half, and gave one half each to the people sitting next to her. We passed the bread around the circle, broke a piece off, and ate it.
It was one of the truest moments of community I’ve experienced. It was true not just because we were sharing communion together but because it was a symbol of the lifestyle of community we had committed to living at beach mission.
We were many people, but we were one. We were one team and one body who were one in Christ and one in purpose.
It was also a symbol of each of us being taken, blessed, broken, and given. This was a concept Beth introduced to me at beach mission two years earlier at a bible study.
‘At the Last Supper,’ said Beth, ‘Jesus modeled what would happen to him on the cross. He took bread, he blessed it, he broke it, and he gave it. This is what happened to his body. He himself was taken, blessed, broken, and given.’
This made me look at brokenness in a new way. I always thought being broken was a bad thing, but to see that Jesus was himself broken showed me there is purpose and value in being broken. He was taken to be broken, and he was blessed before he was broken. I always thought being broken meant I’d done something wrong and that God wasn’t blessing me. But now I saw that there is blessing in the brokenness. There is goodness in the brokenness. It was only by being broken that Jesus could be given. He gave himself to us, and he can live inside us because he broke for us.
This reminded me of something I learnt at bible college about how Jesus is like a transformer on an electricity pole. The transformer is there to take all the electricity that comes to it and sort it out so that the right amount of electricity goes to houses. The electricity comes to the transformer in something like a giant mess that houses couldn’t use or cope with, so the transformer takes this high voltage electricity and lowers it to a level that is safe to go to people’s houses.
So a transformer takes all the bad stuff that is harmful and sends it back out as something good that is useful. This is what Jesus does. He takes all the bad stuff in the world and he transforms it sending it out as something good. He took sin, persecution, betrayal, abandonment, pain, suffering, and death on a cross. Then he sends it back out as forgiveness, mercy, grace, love, and salvation. He didn’t take the bad and get bitter about it and send out more bad stuff. He didn’t let the bad stuff overwhelm him. No, he was big enough to take it, hold it, transform it and send it out as something good.
This is our example. I don’t buy for a second that Jesus died so we could live this life without suffering. We don’t get to live pain-free lives. We get to take the pain and turn it into something good for other people. We can respond badly to the pain and cause more pain for everyone around us or we can take it, hold it, transform it, and send it back out as something good.
Beth’s message encouraged me not to beat myself up about being broken.
‘When we are broken in our journeys, we become more like Christ,’ Beth said. This told me I was right where God wanted me. I was allowed to be broken. As long I remembered that I was taken and blessed by God first, I was now okay with being broken. Not broken because I was away from God, but broken by God so that he could give me. That made brokenness holy and for the first time I embraced my brokenness. I thanked God for it because it showed me I was his. He had taken me and he had blessed me. And now he was going give me, to send me out into the world so I could give what I have to others.
As we ate bread together, Beth asked us, ‘Where are you at the moment in your journey? You might be taken, or blessed, or broken, or given.’
I thought this was a great way of appreciating what season you’re in. Taken: a season of being held by God, learning to be his child, and embracing his love. Blessed: a season of favour, fruit, and harvest. Broken: a season of pain, heartache, and trial. Given: a season of work, service, and pouring into others. Sometimes we can be in more than one season and sometimes we can be in all four seasons. I wonder if that is the most holy of seasons to be in: all of them at the same.
Come just as you are
Ugly, broken, scarred
You won’t find judgement here
Only love that overcomes all fear
Come just as you are
Run into my open arms
I’ll turn your wounds into useful
I’ll turn your ashes into beautiful
You belong, you are free, you are whole
You can be at peace with your soul
You can dance, you can shout, you can sing
You can be at home in your skin
* * *
Inspired by the song ‘When The God Man Passes By’ by Casting Crowns, the book God Loves Ugly by Christa Black, and the contrast between what life can look like when you fear a judgemental God (and judgemental people) and what it can look like when you enjoy a loving God (and loving people).
At beach mission I see my life through the lens of a loving God because I’m surrounded by people who show me a loving God. I long to see this everywhere.
November 2014, Prismacolor pencils on A3 cartridge paper
This was inspired by one of Beth’s bible study about Peter’s denial of Jesus.
When I fail, make mistakes, mess up, and get things wrong, I can think I’m no good. I can think I’m the worst Christian alive and it would be better for everyone if I stopped following God.
Sometimes it feels like to keep trying to follow God will mean I’ll just hurt people and let them down. Even though I still believe in him and what he’s about, I fear the chaos I’d leave behind in my wake. I can also fear that God doesn’t love me anymore, that I’m no longer useful to him, and it can make feel like the best thing to do is give up.
When Peter made a mistake and betrayed Jesus, I imagine he would have felt like the lowest of the low. I imagine he would have wondered if Jesus still loved him. I would have thought the first question he’d ask Jesus would be, ‘Do you still love me?’ And I would have thought that Jesus’ first priority would be to comfort Peter and tell him, ‘I still love you, Peter.’
But before Peter could ask his question, Jesus asked him ‘Do you love me?’ This tells me his question is the more important one, especially since Jesus asks his question three times and Peter’s question is left unasked.
In a way, Jesus’ question is the only one that matters because the answer to Peter’s unspoken question is already known and will never change. Yes, Jesus loves us. He always has and always will. No mistake we make will ever change that. So there is never a moment in my life when I have to ask, ‘Do you love me, God?’
The real question is: Do I love God?
Peter said ‘Yes’ each time in answer to Jesus’ question. And still Jesus didn’t reassure Peter and say, ‘I love you too, Peter.’ Instead he reassured Peter in a different way.
‘Go feed my sheep,’ Jesus said. Effectively he’s saying, ‘Well, stop feeling bad about yourself. Pick yourself up and keep going. There is work to do and your mistake doesn’t change that. I’ll always love you and as long as you love me, you’re useful, so get up and walk.’
The story of Peter reassures me that no matter how many mistakes I make or how big they are, I am always loved. And as long as I love God, I am always useful to God. So instead of lying in a heap feeling sorry for myself, God tells me to get up and keep on going because there is work to be done.
Sometimes I’ll make mistakes, but this is part of what it means to be a disciple. A disciple is one who learns. We learn how to follow God. In the bible, the disciples made lots of mistakes, so I’m in good company when I make mistakes.
Beth gave me an insight when she said Jesus was calling a fishermen to feed sheep. He was commissioning Peter to do something he’d never done before, and so of course Peter would make mistakes. Jesus knew this and he was okay it. In this way, part of our commission is to make mistakes. As followers of Christ we are called to fail and disappoint as we learn how to live a different way.
So here I am, a creature of earth, called to live the heavenly way. I’m going to make mistakes along the way, but mistakes are never a reason to give up or think God doesn’t love me. And as long as my heart loves God, then my hands and feet are useful.