A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

South Fork of the Kings River, Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Romans 1:18-20

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20, NIV.

I grew up in church memorizing miles of scripture when I was very young. I remember quoting, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus,” so I could get some kind of Sunday school reward for verses memorized.  But I was so young I didn’t even know what the word “mediator” meant.

What I’m saying is, I grew up with a lot of scripture flowing through my head, and I had many favorites, but Romans 1:18-20 was a passage I always preferred to avoid. One of the reasons was this: The bold heading in my Bible over those verses read “God’s Wrath Against Mankind”. The two parts that affected me the most were the beginning – God’s wrath revealed from heaven; and the end – so that men are without excuse. Those words just always kind of set my teeth on edge.  Not that I was afraid of God’s wrath against me, or my family, or my church friends. I knew and loved the verses that told me my sins were forgiven because of what Jesus did for me on the cross.  And I understood, intellectually, that God has the righteous right to be ticked at all of us since Adam and Eve. But in my heart, there was a battle about all those people who didn’t know Jesus – those who hadn’t had the opportunity to be raised in a Christian family, and go to church, and have a big Bible all their own, like me . . . that bothered me.  People in foreign “unchristian” lands, who had never heard the name of Jesus.

So at some point, I decided to just stop thinking about Romans 1:18-20.  I sort of made a decision that God would work it all out somehow and it really wasn’t my business anyway.  And that’s kind of where it stayed between me and Romans 1:18-20 for a few years. But in my late teens something dramatic happened.  What happened took place in my head – my mind – was a talk I had with God about this passage.

As I recall, I started the conversation with some small talk.

“Hi God, how are you doing?”

And he replied, “I’m doing fine – how nice to hear from you – is there something on your mind I can help you with?”

“Well, yes as a matter of fact.” I thought I might as well just jump right in, so I said in my boldest voice, “I want to talk to you about a passage of scripture that I’m just not comfortable with.”

“Oh,” he said, acting surprised.

“Well yes. As you know God, I have been going to church all my life and now I am – older (17) – and I have probably heard in all these years over a million sermons.”

He smiled. “1,872,” he said, “to be exact.”

“Oh yeah. Well thanks, God, for keeping track.” I couldn’t believe I had just exaggerated so much in front of God.  “Anyway,” I went on, “I don’t ever remember hearing a message on these verses in all those years.  So maybe no one else is comfortable with them either.”

“I see,” said God. “So what is it you don’t like about these verses, my child?”

“Well,” I replied, “you know how when you are reading your Bible, and sometimes over the beginning of a certain passage of scripture there will be a bold heading, and it tells you what the next verses are about?”

“Yes,” he nodded knowingly. “I purposely wrote the Bible that way.” I thought maybe I saw Him wink at that point, but I just went on rapidly.

“The bold heading in my Bible directly above the verses I’m telling you about reads: ‘GOD’S WRATH POURED OUT AGAINST MANKIND.'” There, it was out – I had said it.

There was a long silence, and then he questioned, “You have a problem with that?”

“Well,” I rushed on, “the only times I have heard any discussion of these verses, it seems to be with people discussing their concern for others; like lost tribes in Africa that don’t know about Jesus, and yet somehow because they see nature all around them it gives you, God, the right to do whatever you want to with them, and they are without excuse. It’s not that I don’t think you should be angry with all of us – we are pretty much a mess – but it just makes me so . . . uncomfortable.”

The design left in the sand, as the ocean waters receded. Dillion Beach, CA

God listened politely, and then he said, “What if I do this for you – what if I shift your paradigm?”

“Will it hurt?”

“That depends on you and whether you try to hang on to the old paradigm.”

“Oh, I won’t hang on,” I promised.

And then God laughed and assured me he didn’t think I would hang on either. He thought I was ready for a paradigm shift.  Suddenly, I was aware that I was feeling rather giddy, and light-headed at the same time. I hurriedly looked around in my mind to see if I could find a place to sit down while God changed my paradigm.

As I found a chair and slid into its seat, I realized God was still talking. “A paradigm,” he was saying, “is the way you look at something, or think about something; the way you think it is, like the way you have thought about these verses.”

When he said “verses”, I realized I hadn’t even told him which verses I was referring to.  So before I knew what I was doing, I blurted out, “but I didn’t tell you which verses.”

I think he noticed at this point that I was kinda coming unglued. He looked directly at me and in a calm, even voice said, “You are talking about Romans 1:18-20, my child.”

It was the second time he had referred to me as his child and that was kind of undoing  me as well. I think I was wondering why I had ever thought I could talk to God about this, but it was too late to back out now. I looked up from fiddling with some imaginary string in my lap, and God was looking directly at me for a second time.  And in that instant I felt totally warm and like I was wrapped up in love – the kind of love that feels like a cozy blanket on a chilly night.

Now, I settled into my chair, suddenly very confident and cozy, and I said, “Go ahead God. Change my paradigm.”

He was thoughtful for a moment, and then he spoke. “In the past when you have read Romans 1:18-20 you have seen in your mind’s eye a wrathful, angry God, taking vengeance on sinful, helpless people, and it has made you uncomfortable, right?”

I nodded. I knew it was a terrible thing to think about God that way, but when I heard God reciting my ugly thoughts about him, the thoughts seemed to lose their ugliness. There was no sting in them, and there was also no power in them.

“What would you think,” he continued, “if I told you that the Romans passage that describes my righteous anger against all sin and evil that destroys my people has embedded in it a  love story from me to my beloved creation, my children?”

“Oh please tell me,” I cried.

“Alright,” he said, “let’s read this part together.”  He was pointing to a line in a Bible, but I wasn’t sure where the Bible had come from.

I cleared my throat and we started, “What may be known about God (I noticed I said ‘God’ but he said ‘Me’) is plain to them, (I noticed I said ‘them’ but he said ‘you’).”

Then my voice faded away and he continued in a voice that sounded like music. “What can be known about Me is plain to you,  because I have made it plain to you. For since the creation of the world My invisible qualities – My eternal power – My divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what I have made . . .”

“Do you remember what I said in Genesis, when I completed my creation?”

“Oh I do.” I was almost shouting now. “I learned way back in Sunday school. You said, I mean, it says in Genesis, you looked at what you had made and you said, ‘it is good.'”

“Yes, my child.”

There it was again. That indescribable feeling in the pit of my stomach when he said, “my child.” I was glad I was already sitting down.

“Sunday school taught you well; but I am going to take you further in your understanding of the words I spoke after my creation was complete.  When I said, “it is good,” and there was no one else there to hear it but me; do you think it was because I needed to compliment my own handiwork?”

I almost laughed thinking about that, but he had moved on in a more serious tone.

“Don’t you understand, I did it all for you? My creation is good because it is representative of my eternal power and divine nature – my invisible qualities. I designed myself into every part of nature so that I — an invisible God — can be seen by my children. So you will be able to believe, I am with you. You can see my goodness all around you, and know therefore, how tangible my love is for you. It is a plan of indescribable kindness.  A plan that would allow you, and all my children, to be surrounded by, and interact with, every minute of your earthly existence, and any place on earth, visible images of my invisible nature. This, my dear daughter, is one of the kindest messages contained in my Word.”

As I heard his words, “kindest message,” I immediately thought of Romans 2:4 where the writer of Romans questioned, “do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” I saw in a flash that it is the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God that allows everyone, including the God-hater, the atheist, the proud, the ones who don’t need God, the I-will-do-it-my-way folks, all those given over to the evil described in Romans 1,  to still hang out in His nature — God’s very divine nature, revealed in nature — and reap, in this life, the benefits of everything he offers us in creation. As they are rejecting God, they are at the same time living moment by moment in his blessings: breathing his air, drinking his water, feeling his breeze on their faces, watching his sunsets, skiing down his mountains – on his snow, flying in planes, because of his laws of science and mathematics, helping people get well in hospitals, because of his healing power designed into every person’s body . . . and on and on and on it goes. Every single thing  taken for grant in life – ‘It’s just life on this planet, as we know it’ – is actually a marvelous gift of our invisible God’s divine nature being revealed in every aspect of our world.

Reflection of house, umbrella, trees in a bubble floating on top of the waterfall pond in our backyard. Roseville, CA

My face flushed as I realized, I’m not as tolerant and patient as God. It took everything within me to keep from suggesting to God that he just shoot these folks out into space without space suits for a little while, and see how long before their paradigm shift kicks in. Don’t they understand, they are refusing his love!  I had a moment of wanting to protect God from such ridiculous people.

My cheeks were burning, and I felt wetness on my cheeks and dripping off my chin, and   my heart was beating wildly, telling me to just run and jump into His arms, but I felt myself more or less glued to the chair.  And as I looked down, I saw wetness on the front of my blouse and even in my lap; and I wondered how long I had been crying, and if I had made any noise while doing so.

God was continuing his dialog, so, I guess if I had made any noise it hadn’t distracted him.  As I was focusing back on him, I realized he was asking me a question.

“Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’?”

Now I brightened up because I had, in fact, just looked up the history of this phrase for an essay I was writing for one of my classes. “Indeed I have,” I said a little more boastfully than I intended. “It was coined in America in the early ’20’s by the advertising companies to help sell their ads. What the advertising industry had hooked into was the understanding that a picture can touch us in ways that pull from us every emotion we are capable of feeling; it can capture our hearts.” And as I was saying these last words, “capture our hearts,” I wasn’t sure I could control my emotions that were on a rampage in my heart and mind.

It was all so clear now. God was the first to give the gift of a prophetic picture: his creation!!  In the splendor of nature, God shows us his heart, and as it says in those scriptures I had never liked, he reveals his eternal power and divine nature. He gives us a picture of his invisible qualities. It is a picture we live in and interact with – move around in. The visible images are representations of the divine nature of an invisible God.  A picture worth a thousand words – God’s desire to capture the hearts of his created ones.

I wanted to fall at his feet and beg his forgiveness, but when I looked at him, he was smiling a huge, accepting smile, and suddenly he seemed to be full of fun and light and life, so I couldn’t stay sad, and it seemed whatever I thought I was going to say, he had already understood anyway.

I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye, and then he mused, “Kinda funny about those twentieth century American advertisers, thinking they had coined the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Little did they know they had tapped into a concept as old as creation its’ self!”

God seemed to be having a lot of fun with that idea, so I just laughed out loud for the first time in this conversation, and it felt so good. I was feeling such freedom and joy in fact, that I just bounced out of the chair I had formerly felt glued to, and found myself sort of dancing around in my mind.

God looked across my mind at me and said, “Well, I do believe you have had a paradigm shift.”

And through my laughter, I shot back, “You can bet your bottom dollar I have!” And then I laughed all the louder that I had just said something so ridiculous to God. But I think he might have been laughing the loudest.

Original Photos by Contributor, Janey Houghton.

Posted in Art, Theology & Philosophy | 17 Comments

Our Journey So Far: 100th post and 6th Month Celebration!

On a chilly Boston day last winter, the idea for a collaborative blog for women was dreamed up. With a small handful of eager writers and a committed editor, On the Willows published its very first blog post on January 10, 2012!

We weren’t sure what to expect. Links to Willow articles were spreading all over Facebook, and there was certainly a buzz. After a couple weeks of publishing about 3-4 blog posts  per week, I decided to check my statistics page. I was shocked to see that hundreds of women were already reading the blog! In March, the Affari Project sponsored our blog and gave us a great new website. Also, our website had a facelift with a beautiful new willow sketched by Sheila Lam!

At first, we started with around 10 contributors. They did a fantastic job at writing meaningful articles, and sharing their life stories and life lessons with us. Some shared their art or crafty creations. Now, there are about 25 Willow Contributors! Thank you to all of our contributors for sharing your work with everyone!

With over 15,000 hits, and an average of 1,000 individual readers per month, here we are 6 months later! We are so humbled by the response we have had. Women all over Boston have stopped me to say that they have loved reading the blog! Ladies in Northern California and all over the U.S. have Google chatted or emailed me to say that the articles have been a “blessing” to them, or that an article came at “just the right time”, or they felt so compelled to “share an article with a friend who needs to read this”.

So, thank you to our contributors, to our dedicated editor, Lyndsay Wilkin, and most of all, to YOU, our readers! Please continue to send feedback and ideas to info@advicepsychic.net.

As you know, On the Willows loves to publish a diverse range of topics to include women with a variety of interests! Here are a few highlights from the past 6 months!


Most viewed article ever: Such a Girl, by Stephanie VanTassell. This article was hit 869 times within the first two days of publishing!

In this article, Stephanie discusses how “being such a girl” is viewed as weak in society. And as girls, we can be insecure about embracing femininity. From the article, Stephanie writes, “The strength of a woman is now viewed as her weakness. A woman’s great strength is her vulnerability. This is a delicate, deep and important revelation to wrap our heads around. My strength is my softness.” Be sure to check out the full article if you have not yet read it!

Most Viewed article on first day of publishing: Tangible Grace, by Lyndsay Wilkin. This article was hit 500 times on the very first day! At the end of day two, there were 672 hits.

This article was published on January 17, the anniversary of the day that Lyndsay was diagnosed with leukemia. In this article, she shares her story of denial and shock at first, then the pain she endured, but the grace she was given to handle it all. In her article, Lyndsay wrote, “. . . I was desperate for God’s mercy and grace in a tangible way like I’d never been before. Mercy: there was literally nothing I went through during that time that I absolutely could not handle . . . That may seem trite to some, but for me it was supernatural mercy.”

Most revisited post: “Let Love Rain”, by Lydia Hejny.

In this article, Lydia shared a series she painted for a Valentine’s Day art show. She called it “Let Love Rain”. Each painting in the series has an explanation by the artist. In her third painting of the series, “Rush of Love”, she describes it as, “If you have ever been in love you remember the exciting start where you could feel it coming . . . like wind rushing around you (the smell of rain). There is nothing like it . . . when you find that someone who might be the one.”

#1 Top hit of the summer: Facebook is Not Real Life, by Kristin Dwyer. Within the first 3 days of publishing, there were over 400 hits!

In this article, Kristin challenges the reader to not compare herself with what she sees on Facebook. People always portray their best side, which may be real . . . but not the whole truth! Kristin quotes Steve Furtick, saying, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

#2 Top Hit of the Summer: Baggage Claim, by Stephanie Brubaker. Whenever Stephanie publishes an article, there are almost always about 200 hits by the end of the day!

Stephanie Brubaker, of Catch and Release Parenting, shares her insight and wisdom on parenting in a handful of articles she has published at On the Willows. “We must approach them ready to address and lovingly respond to their needs. It is remarkable how many unnecessary problems we can create by operating out of our past, and in our attempt to fix it, overcorrect and overreact.”

Last, check out a frequently published and well-loved contributor, Faith Gong. You will be entertained!

We look forward to an exiting new season at On the Willows this coming fall!

Credits: Photo 1. Photo 2. Photo 3. Photo 4.

Posted in Being a Woman, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Aurora Massacre: Is God Still Merciful?

On the Willows wants to recognize the victims of the Aurora Massacre. Our prayers are with all of you who were directly and indirectly affected by this terrible event.

The Aurora Massacre, July 20, 2012

Shortly after the shootings took place in Theater 9, a mom went home to blog about her experience: diving on top of her two teenage daughters to protect them from the gunfire, she thought her life was over at that moment. She, and both of her daughters, survived, but were very shaken up about the traumatic event. As a Christian woman, she anticipated that people would respond by questioning the love and mercy of God. She used her blog post to challenge these thoughts.

She published her blog post thinking that only her eleven followers would read it. The next day, she realized that her article went viral . . . she had over a million hits.

If you have not yet read this article, please do so. So You Still Think God is a Merciful God.

How would you respond to an event like this?

How would it challenge your faith, or the faith of others around you?

How would you challenge yourself and others if doubting the mercy of God?

Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Current Events, Grief & Loss, Theology & Philosophy | 4 Comments

Means Nothing, Means Everything

Perspective.

I was walking with a coffee in each hand down the winding white hallways. One for Amy, and one for me. After spending days in the hospital, the twisting route to the pediatric unit was seared in my brain and I could probably do it with my eyes closed. My phone started ringing right as I pushed the button for the elevator. I set one coffee on the ground and crouched down to fumble with my purse.

“Amy”, the screen read.

I held my breath for a second and my chest got tight. We had all been waiting to get the results of my one-year-old nephew’s spinal tap and for some reason, I just knew this was the moment that she was calling with the news.

I was right.

Leukemia. A nice way of saying cancer.

My face got hot as I stepped onto the elevator with a crowded group of people and once the doors closed I punched the floor button over and over.

What should I say? What will I say when I see her face?

I prepared the most impressive pep talk that I could muster, running the words over in my head.

When I came into the room, my nephew, Nolan was laying back watching Elmo from his hospital bed that happened to look like a metal cage. My best friend and sister-in-law, Amy, just stood at the side of the bed staring at him, her face all swollen and splotchy red. The pep talk left me. I didn’t know what to do so I just set my stuff down and put my arms around her. We sat down and she just cried. A groaning, snotty, aching kind of cry.

Being a solution-oriented person, I desperately grasped for some kind of control. The words just slipped out of my mouth.

“It’s okay,” I whispered.

She pulled back away from me and looked at my eyes, totally quiet for one eerie moment. When she spoke, her voice was deep and angry. “It . . . is not okay.”

Much more changed for Nolan’s parents that day than for me, but I recently realized just how greatly my lens has changed since Nolan got cancer. So much changed that spring and I think it had mostly to do with him because Amy was right, it wasn’t okay. I was forced to confront that thing in me that wanted to make sense of pain and fix the problems around me. But when you are looking at a little boy’s weak, tiny body hooked up to machines and his pale skin, the dark circles under his eyes, implanted tubes coming out of his chest, it all goes out the window. Control doesn’t exist in that place and nothing can justify it. Even worse, nothing can erase it.

For me, what mattered began to change. Suddenly things that meant everything, meant nothing. Things that meant nothing, meant everything. It weaved its way throughout me, affecting the nooks and crannies of my life. I saw people differently. Relationships changed. Priorities changed. I changed.

At first, I wanted to go back. I wanted to curl up in front of the cozy cabin fire that is blissful ignorance. Out here, in reality, the wind stings. The sun bears down. But I couldn’t go back and I still can’t.

And it’s not something that can be taught. Who knows how many people I’d read about or heard speak about life’s struggles and how it shifted their realities. It’s a truth that inexperienced people hear, nod their heads at with furrowed brow, and then keep living the way that they do. Sometimes it has to hurt you to change you. It has to make you realize just how powerless you are. It’s the humility in our existence that frees us to see the world for what it truly is. It is the reason we can truly appreciate love, beauty, hope, grace. All that is good becomes sweeter in the storm.

Life will change everyone in different ways and you can’t steer it. I don’t pretend to believe that my nephew’s cancer is the pinnacle of my life’s suffering. I have yet to experience the kind of anguish that my sister-in-law has. But I probably will, because that is life. The only thing I can do when that day comes is to put my hope in the One who can see beyond it and then I will have no choice but to stand there and take it. I don’t have to smile. I don’t have to do it gracefully.

But I can let it change me.

Posted in Adversity, Family, Parenting | 2 Comments

Flexing Your New Mussels

Surprising confession from OTW’s resident foodie: “I can actually write about things other than food!” But truthfully, she can’t help herself but work edible items into her philosophy. . . Bon Appetit!

 

I didn’t think I liked mussels. I assumed that because they looked slimy and because I played with them as a child when building sand castles that they didn’t belong on my plate. But discovering a recent love for the creation of food and cooking has pushed me outside “my shell”. I discovered I loved mussels after all. What had I been telling myself all these year? So yummy. Especially steamed in beer. Well, I like anything with beer, but let me explain my recent ‘ponderings’. Then, I’ll give you the recipe.

We tell ourselves certain things. Just like we are conditioned by the phrases our parents and teachers repeat to us. If there’s anyone we believe day to day, it’s ourselves.

You see, I’m an ‘ESTJ’: sanguine with cholerical tendencies. My Strengths Quest Finder reported: maximizer, harmony, focus, discpline and relater. My spiritual gifts test resulted in “encouragement,” “shepherding” and “administration” (insert breath here! Whew!). I believed for a long time that these things told me who I was and therefore how I was to interact with people.

If there is one thing I have learned in the last ten years, it’s that we have tendencies but God created us to keep being created. It’s one of those verb things. We are BEING transformed. We are BEING renewed. We are BECOMING more like Christ.

It can be comforting to learn facts about yourself. It’s empowering too, helping us communicate more effectively with others and giving definition to why we act out in certain ways. But really . . . these can become an excuse — an excuse not to learn, grow, and discover more ways to be used by God. God created you, after all. He created those personalities, qwerks and idiosyncricies. He also created you to keep being created.

What if instead of focusing on our obvious and most comfortable giftings, we prayed and looked for ways to grow anew? God really honors this if it’s really a selfless heart request (i.e. not looking to get more spiritual). What if I asked God to make me a more fervant pray-er? What if I opened myself up to relationships that would require me to be more merciful? What if I attempted to relate to people completely outside of my comfort zone despite us having not much in common?

I met a sweet couple in Portland in their eighties who said that every week they purpose to “do something new.”  It could be extreme like a hot air balloon ride or a trip somewhere. It could, more commonly, be something small like driving a different way to work, shopping at a different store or trying a new food.

What if we tried something new in our lives for the sake of living open handedly? What if we are so busy trying to “get ourselves right” and use our apparent gifts that we miss out on opportunities for God to transform us?  

So even if it sounded crazy before, maybe you should try mussels again. Now that you’re older, more mature and all. You might actually like them. You might be missing out.

Mussels Steamed in Beer

2 lbs mussles (scrubbed and beards removed)

1 medium onion (finely chopped)

1/2 bottle of light wheat beer

1/2 cup of heavy cream

2 tbls chopped fresh parsley

1 baguette sliced and toasted for dipping

Sprinkling of Sea Salt

This recipe is great for an appitizer for 4 or a meal for 2. For more on the embarrassingly simple steps of this incredible dish visit Noelle’s new food blog The Joyful Table

Posted in Food & Drink, Recipes, Self Esteem, Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment