Let Jesus Be King

“What does it profit a man if he gains the world, but forfeits his soul?”-Matthew 16:26

Usually before I begin a Bible journaling page, I Google the verse to gather ideas for how to illustrate it.  There are some VERY interesting illustrations of this particular verse.  I usually do my best to just share my own original work on my blog, but this picture gave me so much food for thought (it’s a poster from the Bible Baptist Bookstore.):

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 I think this is such an interesting interpretation.  What strikes me is that I don’t desire anything in this picture:  airplanes, cars, bags of money, trophies, etc.   But then just the other day I shared my own list of personal obsessions.  So I asked myself:  “What if I made a vision board of all the ‘worldly’ concerns that I have personally?” Afterwards, I made a quick digital collage of pictures from the web and just looked at it for awhile.

As I stared at various pictures of life as Pinterest perfection, I heard a whisper:  “What shall it profit a woman, if she can do it all and do it all perfectly with a smile, but forfeits her soul?”  This made me pause.  It’s not so much that I aspire to be tidy or responsible or fit that’s the problem, the real trouble is why:  I just can’t help myself from caring about what others think of me.   I don’t want to be the mom that forgets to sign the permission slip; or have my husband think I’m irresponsible because I forgot to lock the door; or visit the doctor and hear I need to lose weight ; or have neighbors walk in my house and think a crazy person must live here; or to sound stupid when I should know about something; or have someone important not be able to reach me.  And the weirdest thing of all:  more often than not, it’s not the people who matter most to me (my husband, children, dear friends) whose opinion I worry about.  The sin is pride, right?  (I took a class on the Enneagram and learned that I am a 2 or a helper, and that pride is the cardinal sin that gets us in trouble.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but it’s never easy to look hard at oneself!)

Lessons from the reflection:

  • Focus more on being rather than appearing
  • Care less about what random people think and more about God’s view and also the opinion of those who love you no matter what.
  • Do not attempt to be all things to all people; be yourself for God
  • Let Jesus be the king of your life; Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness.

Here’s a quote I came upon while searching for images on this verse that really spoke to me (on Pinterest, of course!):

Our greatest fear should not be fear of failure, but of succeeding at things that don’t really matter.-Francis Chan

And here’s what found it’s way into my margins.  I almost never paraphrase Bible verses because I really like to memorize them correctly, but I made an exception this time.  I also used a little glitter and glue, something new….

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Seek First the Kingdom of God

Somehow this advice seemed easier on my ears when I was younger.  Most of the time, I feel like I am seeking to get things done.  In this season of my life, seeking God’s kingdom seems to mean trusting God and relying on grace to carry me day-by-day.  I lean on God a lot, give thanks for all the small ways my life dovetails, and pray all the time that my best efforts will be enough.

In so many ways, this Bible verse takes me back to a simpler time in my life.  Most of all I know this verse as a campfire song, which takes me back to summer camp at Cheley.  We always started the camp season with a cabin meeting, where we created a code of living.  The code was just a list of qualities we appreciate in our friends and the rule of camp was simply to be the friend you would like to have.  The list of qualities read a lot like the fruits of the spirit and also included words like honesty, trustworthiness, sense of humor, and fortitude.

I was reflecting on how different it felt striving to meet the code of living at camp versus the implied “code of living” or set of expectations I seem to have for myself.  It’s a bit discouraging for me to think about how much of my life is preoccupied by this sticky web of often conflicting expectations but these are the goals on my mind:

  • Be knowledgeable:  Keep up with the news on about a hundred and fifteen stocks, industry trends, and the economy (I work in the investment business).  Stay current with financial planning advice.
  • Be dedicated to family:  Make sure our children eat well, get outside, do something creative, brush their teeth, and read every day.   Take time to make memories together with family and expose our children to different experiences.  Prepare for special birthdays and holidays.  Get the children to Sunday school each week.
  • Be responsible:  Meet deadlines at work, remember school paperwork, be careful regarding our own finances, keep various appointments, take care of the car, the laundry, and food shopping; keep up with my continuing education requirements.
  • Be involved:  Help out at church and school, with neighborhood and family gatherings.
  • Be fit:  Figure out how to eat so that I don’t gain weight, but the family still likes what I cook.  Find a way to workout.
  • Be on call 24/7:  I know that something will always come up between work and family so I do my best not to overcommit.
  • Be tidy:  Keep the house in good order (definitely a losing battle, but I am currently reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying up so maybe there’s hope!)

I keep telling myself that this is just a season of my life.  But a question for my heart:  Do I really seek God’s kingdom first?  Somehow, it feels that my teenage-self seemed to have a better handle on this verse.  As I reflect on it, being a good friend to God and others seems to be a reasonably good way to seek God’s kingdom.  Can I go back in time?

Speaking of traveling back to simpler times, as I pulled out a calligraphy pen for this verse, I thought back to fourth grade and how I would stay inside from recess to be with my favorite teacher Mrs. Grow.  She taught my best friends and I calligraphy.  Mrs. Grow was the very first person to introduce me to words as art!  She also taught the four of us a lot about being friends!

As I was working through the list of Memory verses in Writing in the Margins, I accidently read Matthew 6:26 instead of Matthew 16:26 (I guess I know what verse I’ll be doing next!).  So when I saw Matthew 6:33, I realized I didn’t have room in my margins!  If you find that you run out of room in your margins, you can add a tipped-in page.  Just tape a piece of paper on one edge so that it lifts easily when you want to read the text under the flap.

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Rejoice and Be Glad!

If you walk into a Presbyterian church on Sunday morning, there’s a really good chance that Psalms 118:24 will be the first words you hear in the Worship service:  “This is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  I have heard this verse countless times as a “Call to Worship.”  It’s hard for me to read it without hearing liturgical flair in the words.

As I’ve been contemplating illustrating this verse, I’ve been pondering how it has changed me to hear this verse so often.  For some reason, this verse comes to mind for me whenever I am having one of those silly days of just one mishap after another.  Just as an example, after I finish this Blog post, I really need to Google “How to get Flarp Noise Putty out of the carpet”.  I really wasn’t expecting to have to deal with that problem tonight.  The verse reminds me to be glad anyways—glad I have a home and children.  As I am doing my best to solve the problem, I will think back to the happy smiles and giggles the same putty brought earlier in the day, how my daughter insisted on two bottles, a pink one for her and a blue one for her brother.  And how she smiled and couldn’t wait to give a bottle to her brother when he came home from school and how ridiculously delighted he was with the stuff.  I will remember that I had a moment of exquisite joy earlier seeing my son have so much fun, while thinking he’s growing up so quickly, but still a boy!  I really wish the putty didn’t end up in the living room rug, but it’s bringing just a tear to my eye, now rolling down my cheek, to think how much I have to rejoice and be glad about.

It’s fitting that this verse gave me the courage to try water color for the first time.  Even if it turned into a giant mishap, I would still remind myself to rejoice and be glad.  The verdict:  Water color works much better than I expected for background color!  I did not prep the page with gesso, I just applied water color carefully.  It didn’t bleed through and only slightly wrinkled the page and I’m sure in time it will flatten under the weight of the closed book.  I’m feeling emboldened!009

Delight Yourself in the Lord

Today’s memory verse from Writing in the Margins is Psalm 37:4:  “Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  I know this is a well-loved verse by many, but I have to admit, every time I hear this verse, I think to myself:  “That’s really in the Bible?”  The thought our hearts’ desires could hinge upon something as light-hearted as “delight in the Lord” always feels like a fun surprise to me.  And I had so much fun illustrating this verse that it seemed like an opportune time to share the desires of my heart with God.

The upside of blogging my way through Writing in the Margins is that it keeps me motivated!  The downside is sometimes there are some deeply personal things I’d like to pray for in the margins of my Bible that I don’t want to share with the whole world.  So I made a tiny little envelope out of thin origami paper.  I also cut a little piece of paper to place in the envelope and wrote down all the desires of my heart.  Just three things made the list!  (But that’s my secret!!!)

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I’ve been working through the prompts at the end of Writing in the Margins for seven months now, and I am only about halfway through the relatively short book!  I thought I would be finished by now for sure!  I honestly don’t have the best track record when it comes to starting a new hobby and following through; I am thinking of my vegetable gardening efforts and my brief attempt at card making.  I always feel so enthusiastic at the start, but then I lose interest or life gets away from me.  At the start of this journey, I set a big goal for myself:  I’d like to do all the prompts in Writing in the Margins, but I also gave myself permission to just go at my own pace.  I told myself “There’s not a race to fill my Bible with illustrations.  It’s a big book!”  I hope to have a long life to keep doing this!  I think taking a very relaxed approach to this new venture has helped me to continue to find delight in the whole experience.  It just gets more and more delightful to spend time in the Word this way!

I love the verse Psalm 37:14, and I find the entire Psalm to be enormously comforting and reassuring.  As I reflected on the cross in my last post, my thoughts turned solemn and today, I’ll keep giving thanks for the way that the Christian faith gives me personal strength for whatever difficulties come my way, but this verse is a wonderful reminder that God cares for us and wants us to be joyful as we find our delight in God and walk in God’s ways!

This verse has me singing the second verse of the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”:

Praise to the Lord, who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Finding Strength in the Cross

I watched a YouTube video called Hand Lettering Step by Step by Marzi. She suggested starting out by simply writing out the words and circling the words to emphasize.  As I thought about the verse:  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”, the Word I most wanted to emphasize was Christ.  What I really wanted to do was change the verse to “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  But I generally like to be faithful to the translation, so I decided to place a cross in the midst of the verse so that it would be clearer who gives me strength.  Reflecting on the cross in the midst of this verse took my thoughts in an unexpected direction.

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As I illustrated the verse and focused on the cross, I found myself flipping through a little book called The Furrow by Josemaria Escriva (given to me by a Catholic friend when I was going through a trying time in life) and making a list of the ways the cross gives me strength for daily living.  The list got long, but it occurred to me I could organize the list by the fruits of the spirit.  We need strength most when facing trials and difficulties; it’s in these moments that I tend to reflect most earnestly on the cross.

Love:  Most of all when I think of the cross I think of love that endures, love that is deeper and broader than my mind can conceive.  When I deeply and truly reflect on the cross, I feel moved to be more loving to everyone in my life and God.  I want to work, study, and accept any difficulties in love.  I desire to lovingly spend time in the Word, and of course, to welcome the preschoolers to my Sunday School class in love.  I hope to be a loving, playful presence to my family and even when I get busy with cooking, picking up toys, laundry, and cleaning, I hope my family knows that the tasks are completed in love, to make the way a little easier for all of us. Jesus told us to love others as he loves us.  When I look to the cross, I know this is a tall order, but my resolve to follow Christ’s command is strengthened.

Joy:  The cross teaches me to expect all my sorrows to turn to joy.  Sometimes when I see the cross, I think, I can’t go that way, but Jesus whispers in my heart:  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  I know I don’t have any choice but to follow Jesus wherever that takes me.  I feel assured that I’ll find joy on the way.

Peace :  The cross gives me peace even when the road is steep and helps me to keep calm in the face of worry.  When life is difficult and it feels like everything is getting ahead of me, the cross gives me the courage and strength to simply ask for more grace.  The cross helps me to forget about small and petty things and focus on what matters, which always gives me greater peace.

Patience:  The cross has taught me to expect difficulties in life.  In life’s big trials, the cross assures me I can endure.  And I find myself leaning on the cross in those little awkward moments of everyday living, too:  family difficulties, feeling misunderstood, running late with slow traffic ahead.  (Truthfully, sometimes it seems harder to remember the cross in these smaller trials.)  The cross teaches me to be content in all circumstances.

Kindness:   The cross reminds me that every person faces struggles and gives me the strength to be more kind to others.

Faithfulness:  The cross teaches me that everything that happens to me is for my own good and that difficulties can be overcome and reminds me that I always have a trusted guide and friend in Jesus.

Goodness:  The cross reminds me that very little is asked of me compared to what I have been given through Jesus.  It helps me to understand Jesus better and to see my own humility before God more clearly.  It teaches me to give of myself fully, to offer my best to God without worrying about the outcome.

Gentleness:  The cross is a reminder of our mortality.  When I think of the cross, I am reminded that I could die at any moment and so could my loved ones.  This reminder always strengthens my resolve to enjoy the time that I have on earth with those I love.  (At the same time, the cross reminds me that Jesus won victory over death.)

Self-control:  The cross gives me the strength to face the fact that there are things I do well and things I do badly.  The cross helps me face up to my weaknesses and not lose heart.

Don’t Be Anxious

Lisa Nichols Hickman lists Matthew 16:26 as a memory verse for drawing a creative interpretation.  I was grateful for the suggestion because Matthew 16 is so filled with verses worthy of committing to memory that I probably would have been unable to make a decision!

This verse, which is tucked in a passage largely about worry, would honestly have been easy for me to overlook.  What spoke to me as I illustrated this verse is that Jesus suggests that we are of more value to God than the birds, and as a bird lover, I sincerely don’t think this is meant to undercut the value of birds.  Seeing robins suddenly appear all over our neighborhood at the start of spring fills me with happiness.  Coloring the sweet picture of the bird in her nest made me think off the joyous times, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a robin build a nest, lay her eggs, and raise her chicks in the trees and bushes of our yard.  And also of that moment, when I first see the nest empty and how it reminds me to treasure the moments that I have with my own children.  I imagined God watching over our own little home and seeing our family grow with great love and interest.  I know God loves and cares for us, and I trust in his promise to meet all our needs.

With the list of memory verses found at the end of the chapter, I’ve been pushing my comfort zone a little; I gave stamping a try for the first time in my Bible.  After reading a review of various inks, I settled on StazOn ink (a solvent ink pad that is supposed to have less bleed through than dye-based inks).  The ink did bleed through the thin pages of the Bible just a little.  I imagine this will become less of a problem as the ink ages.  I’ve seen so many beautiful stamped pages on Pinterest and Facebook, but personally I found stamping in the Bible to be terrifying.  This seems a little silly given the passage!  Don’t be anxious, right?  But with stamping, there is just one chance to position the stamp and have the ink print correctly.  I suddenly saw the value of clear stamps versus wooden blocks after this experience!

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Proverbs 3:5-6

When I left for college, my grandmother’s good friend (a former missionary) handed me a small sheet of paper.  All it said was:  “Proverbs 3:5-6.”  As I was illustrating this verse, I thought about this amazing lady, who was still practicing ministry in her 90s, and how I so appreciated knowing that she was praying for me while I was away at school.  At some point, I realized that I wrote the word path (not paths) in the little sign post below, but I fixed it.  As I brought out the eraser, I reflected on all the many paths I’ve traveled so far:  school, college, career, marriage, parenthood.  I also thought about life’s little detours and misadventures.  I’ve definitely discovered that trusting God day-by-day is the simplest and best way to travel through life.  My understanding may fail me at times, but God is always faithful!

I belong to the Journaling Bible Community Facebook group, and one day the most, amazing beautiful picture popped up in my newsfeed.  I was a bit in awe and totally humbled.  It was a Journaling Bible entry by Karla Dornacher on Mary’s Magnifcat.  It was my first introduction to her inspiring artwork.  The following is my best attempt to do an entry modeled after her artwork.

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Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

This is a little bit off-topic, but I just finished reading the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown for a book club.  If you are not familiar with Brene Brown’s work, she describes herself as a “shame researcher”, but I would say that ultimately she is a person seeking to understand how to live “whole heartedly” through secular academic research methods.  She says that she hacks into people’s lives for a living and that she has interviewed thousands of people about their deepest fears and all the things that hold them back from living life to the fullest.  The book is well-written, funny at times and poignant at others.  Overall, I would highly recommend the book as one that has given me much greater compassion and understanding toward others and probably also myself.

But something seemed to be conspicuously absent to me:  the role of faith in living a wholehearted life.  In her book, Brene Brown talks a little about the betrayal of disengagement:  “Of not caring.  Of letting the connection go.  Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship.”  And I found myself wondering why she let go the positive aspect faith (it must have come up?).  Religion is listed as a source of shame, but not as a path to wholeheartedness.  (Maybe the data just did not turn up any clear answers with regard to faith?)  But for me personally, having a church family helps me to know that I have a place of love, connection, and belonging, not in a perfect way, but in a real way, a way that seems increasingly odd in an age of social media.

I happen to be Presbyterian and a bit of a Calvinist, and my belief that all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God gives me tremendous shame resilience.  Brene Brown addresses this when she talks about Common Humanity:

Suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience—something we all go through rather than something that happens to ‘me’ alone.

What she calls our “common humanity” is what I would call an important foundation of a Christian understanding of the world.

In her book, she lists a number of ways to achieve shame resilience.  I feel that most of these strategies I have learned at church.  One thing she teaches is that we must believe that “We are enough.”  At church, I’ve learned that I am created by God for good works prepared for me in advance.   It’s not so much that I believe “I am enough.”  What I really believe is “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”  If I fail, “Well, apparently that wasn’t the work I was supposed to be doing.”  I don’t really worry about being enough, I just trust God to guide and help me.  I think this accomplishes the same purpose.

She describes something that holds people back as “foreboding joy,” a sinking feeling that sets in when things are going well.  Foreboding joy feels to me like the very reason people need God in their lives.  It makes my heartache to hear tales of people being filled with bad thoughts just as joy arrives (and I know it’s extremely common).  I just want to scream:  “Trust God and enjoy the moment.  Joy is gift from God.  Give thanks!”  And honestly, that’s Brene Brown’s answer to foreboding joy:  practice gratitude.   But I wonder if gratitude without faith in God would offer the same relief to foreboding joy as gratitude offered in faith to God?

Another thing that Brene Brown says holds us back is perfectionism.  I know many Christians who struggle with perfectionism (there is that troublesome Bible verse “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”), but it’s at church that I’ve heard most often “God can use even our mistakes.”  This reassurance gives me confidence to try new things and also to keep moving forward.

One more thing that Brene Brown says holds people back is our tendency to numb ourselves toward vulnerability.  Brene Brown shares the following thought:

And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy.  We can’t selectively numb emotion.  Numb the dark and you numb the light.

Sitting through many boring church services as a child taught me to numb boredom, but it was also at church that I regularly heard prayers for others in their time of need, which taught me quite a bit about being vulnerable.  When we pray for others, we are with them in their journey and we are definitely part of the joy or sorrow however the situation turns out.  At church I learned to embrace vulnerability by seeing many role models of caring people willing to come along side others in their most difficult moments.

Brene Brown lists 12 categories of shame, and one of them is religion.  I found myself wondering:  how can a religion that teaches me that Jesus took all my shame when he offered his life on the cross also be a source of shame?  So I asked myself:  does my religion give me any feelings of shame at all?  I thought for a while:  The shame I feel most deeply as a Christian is that personally I have been unable to fulfill the Great Commission, to go out and make Disciples.  I don’t think that I’ve personally led anyone to faith in Christ.  In high school, I went on a missionary trip to the Dominican Republic with my church youth group, but on the trip, I met wholehearted Christians with such great faith that I was the one converted.  Oh dear!  Brene Brown teaches that giving a voice to our shame is a way to free ourselves from it, and I can almost hear God quietly whisper:  “Never forget:  Faith is a gift from God.”

Here’s a link to Brene Brown’s awesome TED talk.  It’s well worth watching!

(As an update:   When I was pondering Brene Brown’s work, I was also wondering to myself why it’s so hard to bring up faith in a secular, academic environment.  It’s kind of amazing to me that somehow her academic research seemed to have helped her see the truth in Jesus and what he teaches about love and also to discover a personal faith in God as love and Jesus as the best example of how to live love.  The video on this blog helped answer some of the questions that tossed about my head…

http://www.mbird.com/2013/07/brene-brown-reflects-on-how-jesus-wept/)

On Eagle’s Wings

Isaiah 40:31 is a verse that pops in my head often as a form of encouragement, especially in the midst of hectic and full days.  I feel so grateful for this promise from Scripture:  when we wait for the Lord, when we respond to God’s prompting, God will renew our strength and carry us on Eagle’s wings.  Feeling very blessed for the way God has carried me through the past couple weeks.

One of the challenges of doing artwork in the Bible is the thin pages, but the thin pages also mean it’s really easy to do tracings.  I found a coloring page online of an eagle soaring.  I copied the image and made it small enough to fit in the margins.  Then I printed, traced it, and colored it with colored pencils.

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Fruits of the Spirit

When I first started art journaling in my Bible my vision was to be artistic and to gradually improve my lettering and doodling skills.  That hasn’t really happened.  I keep falling back to what’s easy and comfortable for me:  Micron pens, stickers, and colored pencils.  Not that there’s anything wrong with keeping it simple, but there’s a world of options out there that I’d still like to explore and skills that I would like to improve!

The next prompt in Writing in the Margins lists a number of memory verses to illustrate.  This first in the series is well within my comfort zone.  Net time, I will try something new!

Galations 5:22 is a verse I memorized when I was in middle school–I can still sing all the fruits of the spirit as a song.  I know that we are not to judge, but I tend to use this passage as a list of qualities that I expect to observe in anyone claiming to be a Christian (and I remain aware that these qualities could also be more abundant in my own life!)  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when a so-called Christian hates on others and causes discord.  Jesus said, “By your fruit you will recognize them.”  Without necessarily judging, I do try to observe the fruits.

The fruits of the spirit have been written in my heart for decades and have served as a wonderful guide in life, but we live in kind of a crazy era.  As I reflected on this passage throughout the day, it occurred to me that perhaps I should also commit to memory the works of the flesh.   According to St. Paul (just for the record):  It’s “Love, joy, and peace”, but without getting drawn into sexual immorality, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, drunkenness, and orgies.  Jesus also said something about a narrow gate.  I note these, not to stand in condemnation of any person, but as a reminder of broad areas where the Holy Spirit would be unlikely to lead Christians.  There are so many people promising love, joy, and peace, and it’s easy to get confused.

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