This morning as I start the day in prayer, my gaze is drawn to our Christmas tree so beautifully adorned with lights and ornaments. One particular ornament catches my eye, the one you see above. This one is made from volcanic ash. When I bought this ornament, my husband and I were in Seattle, WA visiting a group of Korean-Americans who wanted us to speak into the development of their church. I remembered how dazzled I was by the beauty of the area, how I understood why people from the Pacific Northwest always pine away for the beauty of this place if they move away to someplace like Kansas where I’m from! Snow-capped Mount Ranier rises majestically on the horizon above the other mountains of the Cascade range surrounded by evergreen forests. Also among the volcanic mountains in the state of WA is the now famous Mt. Saint Helens. I remember the devastating eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in 1980, It caused more deaths and damage than any other volcanic eruption in the mainland USA. How does this relate to the ornament on the Christmas tree, you may be wondering? This work of art is made from the volcanic ash of Mt. Saint Helens. It amazes me this morning that someone saw in those ashes the raw materials of something incredibly beautiful, that they went to all the trouble of gathering those ashes, melting them down into glass, adding beautiful color and crafting a beautiful Christmas ornament to sell in “Made in Washington” gift shops all over the state. First of all, this speaks to me of the Messiah who is “the reason for this season” of Christmas we are now celebrating. “To all who mourn in Israel, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” Isaiah 61:3 NLT. That God saw in the “ashes of humanity” something beautiful in the making, then came to earth Himself to make sure that the transformation happened is in my eyes, the greatest miracle of all time. As I think of this parable in light of the difficult and damaging events in our lives that regularly happen to us and those around us, it gives me hope for everyone. No matter what happens to us, in the aftermath of those events, the ashes can become the raw materials of a beautiful re-creation. When we are able to envision the beauty we might possibly create with “ingredients” that seem unlikely candidates for “beauty”, an amazing transformation begins. The essential elements for creating a beautiful life are present everywhere in our lives if we have eyes to see them, patience to distill them, and creativity to add the color and design that is our unique contribution to this world. We can powerfully serve others with beauty created from the ashes if we dare to hope, dare to believe, dare to see and to do the hard work it takes to recreate life. This to me is real beauty, beauty that endures, beauty that never fades. Beauty from ashes is stunning me this morning. It makes me want to see the potential in each of you and encourage you to ponder how the ashes in your life might be transformed into something incredibly beautiful this next year.
Michael and I love reading Jesus Calling devotional by Sarah Young every morning together. In one of our recent readings, the Scripture from 1 Peter 5:6-7 came alive to us: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's almighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you." Are you feeling "under it" in some way? Like your circumstances are pressing down on you and the pressure is making you feel anxious, unprotected or uncared for in some way? Or maybe just unable to connect deeply with God in the intensity of the pressure? As I read this Scripture, I picture the Lord's hand between us and the circumstantial pressure, which is coming down like a vice-grip on us. Until we PERCEIVE that His Hand is between us and that vice-grip, we can feel alone, unprotected, uncared for. All we want is that moment is for the pressure to end, to be "lifted up" out of it pronto!
Take a moment to calm yourself in the midst of the stress/anxiety and breathe in His Presence. Begin thanking Him for being with you, even before you perceive Him. Come to a place of peace and open your heart to Him, asking Him to show you where He is right now. When you are able to perceive Him, like seeing that HAND - His Huge Hand! - between you and the circumstantial pressure, the whole emotional/mental climate changes. You can experience Shalom in the midst of any circumstance - even JOY - because "in His Presence is fullness of joy!". As it says in I Peter 5:6-7, humbling ourselves under His Almighty Hand is the place to be,
Accepting Him like little children trusting their parents, believing we are surrounded by HIM, His Hand is resting upon us to calm us and reassure us, I AM HERE WITH YOU, child. Accepting the pressure and His Presence with us IN IT - that's the humility Peter is talking about here. We are praying for you to experience Him today, to feel His Hand upon you, between you and the pressure. Trust Him, He will be faithful to His promise, "in due time He will lift you up"!
The world we currently live in is full of surprises, isn’t it? It seems that change is happening more rapidly than most people are equipped to handle. Whether positive or negative, all change creates disruption in our lives. It’s easy to feel like we’ve lost our balance and perspective. Questions like these often come up : What now? Who am I now? How will I ever rise above this challenge?
When we want to build a home, what do we use to achieve the results we want? Would you have answered, “the blueprint”? That would be my best guess. When we arrived on earth, we came with our own unique “blueprint”, one that will never be duplicated. With that blueprint came a “calling”, the significant purpose we were born for, the meaning and value we would bring to the lives of others. I personally believe that this “calling” or “life-purpose” is God-given and that it’s essence does not change. It may change in the form it takes but we are still essentially the same person with the same powerful calling our whole life long.
When it’s time to remodel or rebuild a home, what would you look to as “the plan” for doing so? Myself? I would pull out the original blueprint and make sure that the original structure was up to “code”. Then I would remodel some things, add on a wing or other features that would improve the value of the home. When we go through changes in our lives, we have to become resourceful and adept at recreating our lives and improving them just as we would a valuable home. Our lives are so much more valuable than a physical dwelling! Why is it that sometimes we “resign” ourselves to a life that we just don’t remodel and improve when hard things “hit” us?
I have come to realize that of all the essential elements for prosperity in our lives, hope takes the hardest beating. Discouragement can rob us of the motivation and energy we need to seize the opportunity for the “upgrade” that all change offers us. All change really can be hopeful if we choose to see it as an opportunity for an upgrade vs a downgrade!
I’ve heard people ask, “What would you do and who would you be if you knew you could not fail?” That’s a really powerful question and most of us find it a bit of a stretch to answer it. Is that because we interpret “failure” as something that disqualifies us? It seems that ”failing” or the fact that things simply don’t always go well often causes us to lose hope. Certainly we must own up to the things we ourselves or others have done that are damaging and to the fact that there are tragedies in life that bring a lot of grief. But that said, what if we decided that those things were not powerful enough to stop us from getting back up and choosing to do life again? What if we even decided to believe that on the heels of even the worst circumstance, we have the power choose to become the best version of ourselves yet?
Hope is most simply defined as “a strong and confident expectation of good things to come”. It is like a lifeline that drops down from heaven and invites us to grab it, hold on tight and let it carry us upward. Several years ago there was a movie called “Hope Floats”. In it, at a poignant moment, a balloon floated across the scene, symbolizing hope and its’ ability to cause us to “float”, to be buoyant when the gravitational pull threatens to bring us down. In contrast, another symbol of hope is an anchor. It comes from the Bible verse in Hebrews 6:18,19. In this analogy, hope “anchors” us when we feel like we are being “blown away” in a storm, keeps the waves from taking us under.
There is a Biblical reference about “the hope of our calling” in Ephesians 4. As I think about it, the fact that God gives us a “calling”, a significant, powerful and indestructible purpose in life that only we can fulfill, is a huge source of hope. It’s like the air that fills the balloon or the weight that the anchor wields. It is entirely possible for us to choose to be unsinkable, refuse to be deflated and to maintain a “strong and confident expectation of good things to come.” As long as we live, there is hope that we will yet fulfill the calling we were born with. That blueprint has no expiration date!
At the lowest point in my life, I was on the couch for about 2 years, unable to do life because of a severely painful neurological disorder which required brain surgery and a long aftermath of recovery. It was then that I came to the profound and powerful realization that my calling was still intact and my life-purpose was the same as always. That was what made me believe that my life was not over, made me get up off the couch and do life again. I realized that I had actually been given a huge opportunity to rediscover and remodel that calling in the way I chose to live the rest of my life. I believe God has given me a “new lease on life” and with it the hope of living out my life-purpose in even better ways than I have in the past. If it happened for me, could it happen for you? I have HOPE that it can!
Here are a couple of definitions from the dictionary that have been rolling around my head for some time.
The first is “distill”, which means: 1) “to subject to a process of vaporization and subsequent condensation, as for purification or concentration”, 2) “to extract the volatile components of by distillation; transform by distillation”.
The second is “essence”, which means: 1) “the basic, real and unvariable nature of a thing or it’s significant individual feature or features, 2) “a substance obtained from a plant, drug, or the like, by distillation, infusion, etc. and containing its’ characteristic properties in concentrated form, 3) “(philos.) the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc., 4) “something that exists, especially a spiritual or immaterial entity.”
As a mother of 5 children, ages 31 to 19, I’ve now had the up-close and personal view of the innate “essence” of each one of them in several seasons of life. From birth, each is a unique combination of ‘ingredients’ that you will see from infancy to adulthood manifested over and over again in new and greater ways. I still have “flashbacks” every time I see the “flash of light” that is in them in a new and more mature way. My mind goes back to the very first time I saw the “glimmers” of that special light within them as an infant, then like a video, reruns the drama of their lives in living color from then to now. As a parent, this video is permanently and indelibly imprinted in your mind, there to keep as a perpetual memory of their unique “blueprint”. There is a destiny locked up in each one, ready to be released if the proper measures are taken to nurture and distill that essence.
Likewise, each of us were all born with that same inalienable essence, with the potential to enrich and change the world we live in for the better, just by being who we were made to be. The balance between nurturing and developing our strengths and seeking to shed our weaknesses is not an easy one to achieve. Focusing on strengthening our strengths is the primary strategy for developing to full potential, the foot we need to lead with in walking out the process of maturing. Aligning your life with your strengths is the way you will flourish in life. But what about those pesky weaknesses that trip us up and constantly buffet us, possibly leading us off course into becoming someone we aren’t and don’t want to be? If we ignore them long enough will they just go away? Most of us who have lived a couple of decades or more can vouch for the fact that they don’t!
Back to the definition of the word “distill”. Sounds like you simply subject yourself to a process of “vaporization”, “subsequent condensation”, “purification”, “extraction of the volatile components” and subsequently “transformation” somehow happens. Sounds fairly brutal, doesn’t it?
The easy part is that you won’t have to seek out the things that will cause you to be “vaporized, condensed, purified, and perhaps transformed”! Life will provide an abundance of those kind of opportunities to facilitate this process in you. All you have to do is respond in character with your God-given design, respond from the best part of yourself rather than the worst. With each opportunity you have the priviledge of choice – you get to choose whether to let it bring out the best or the worst in you.
Back to the word “essence”. In one sense, we are all born with a unique “essence” that does not change. I grew up hearing Shakespeare’s saying, “To thine own self be true”. One of the most powerful tools and weapons we have to navigate life with is the profound and clear understanding of what is “changeless” about ourselves. The more true we are to that revelation, the more authentic we will be. Knowing what is changeless about you gives you the “plumbline” that pulls you back to center when you get “hit” by whatever life throws at you, whatever threatens to make you lose your balance.
But in the #2 part of the definition above, there is a sense of “obtaining an essence” after going through a long process of distilling. This is the other half of the equation. We get to CHOOSE who we will become over and over again with every opportunity life throws our way, for better or for worse. Wow – that’s a lot of power! We get to choose “how” or even “if” we will live out the destiny we are born with. Sometimes that feels scary to me, sometimes it fuels and motivates me greatly.
Today I’m reminding myself that I get to choose my way – choose how to better live according to my own blueprint, choose how to redirect myself when my weaknesses appear and live in the strengths I have been given. I think maybe this is one way to describe what it means to live “fully alive”.
The famous words of St. Irenaeus have been around for centuries now, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Maybe God smiles like a proud parent when the “glimmers” of the dreams He had for our lives in the beginning emerge as “flashes of light” through us as mature people.
Yesterday I was thinking about Ben Franklin for some reason, probably because I had just seen a bolt of lightening in the midst of the rain. What on earth was he thinking when he decided to tie a key on a string from a kite? He was thinking about how much power there was in a lightening bolt and what might happen if it could somehow be harnessed and used to benefit people. Sure enough, he did that experiment and successfully conducted electricity from the kite to the string to the key into a glass jar. There it was – the key to unlocking the power and potential of electricity, right there in a small glass jar. The rest is history!
The word “catalytic” comes to mind. A catalyst speeds up a reaction without being consumed by that reaction. Ben’s kite, string and key were not consumed in the process, nor was Ben himself, thank goodness! When I think of life coaching, I think about being a catalyst for positive change in a person’s life. I think of how many times another person or circumstance has been used in my life to ignite something in me that led to positive change. Might it be possible to become a conductor for a “bolt of lightening” in a person’s life – an “aha” moment – a time of self awareness and realization of dreams? If you are anything like me, you might need someone to help you see how the obstacles in your life can become opportunities. I think of our lives as a cycle of “deaths and resurrections”, constantly moving from one season to the next, leaving some things behind and gaining some new ones. To have a deliberate strategy to maximize those times of “reinventing” might be like harnessing the enormous potential within your being, like that lightening bolt, to empower you to be your best and give your best to others. Others have inspired me to believe that my life can be a bright light to others. I think yours can be too if you dare to look forward to see what might become a reality and are willing to make a plan to go for it. Having someone walk beside you helps you stay accountable and motivated. That’s what life coaching is about and what I’m hoping to do as I embark on this new adventure. Who knows where it might lead? Look at the ripple effect of Ben Franklin’s willingness to try something new!
Have you noticed that most people, when you ask them what they are doing currently, will say “Well, I’m in transition…” Love that word. It brings up all sorts of questions and remembrances of your own experiences. It’s always about being “in between”, having left one shore and being in transit between there and somewhere else. Or between where you were and who-knows-where.
One thing’s for certain, life is full of transitions. In the world we live in, there are more and more of them, and they are more frequent than ever. Change can be good, it just isn’t always easy.
It all begins when we are born. We transition from infancy to toddler-hood, then childhood, then pre-adolescence, then adolescence, then young adulthood-middle age-old age and ripe old age. We transition from school to work, then from one job to another, sometimes completely changing careers along the way. We can move from one location to another, change socio-economic circumstances, go from good to great, from favor to disfavor, from unknown to known, from bad to worse/better to best, from unhealthy to healthy or vice versa, weak to strong, unhappy to happy, the list goes on and on. Relationships also transition from one season to another, sometimes continuing and deepening, sometimes parting ways. There are lots of relational transitions – child, parent, peer, boss, co-worker, single, married, widowed/widower, guardian, caregiver, dependent, independent, on and on. The deck of cards is shuffled and re-shuffled regularly in our lifetime.
Apparently, we must become very adept at navigating transition if we are to succeed in life. One thing I have observed is that change is inevitable, progress however, is optional. We have the opportunity to make progress with every change, every transition we go through. That opportunity to progress is something worth looking for as we regularly find ourselves in the disruption of change.
As I look at the picture of Abe Lincoln above, I think of the opportunity this great man decided to take. Change had become inevitable, society was in upheaval, the status quo was unacceptable. So he chose progess. It was costly. It was imperfect. But because of that choice, we live in a better society than we once did in our nation.
What might be the ripple effect of your choice to make progress?
Terri Sullivant's Blog
I am a person seeking after grace and truth and what it looks like to love God and people. I am a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and a professional life coach.