A Portrait of Love
“There is a time for everything,
And a season for every activity under the heavens.“
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is an ancient Chinese proverb: When the winds of change blow, some build walls, others build windmills. I have a confession: I struggle with change. It is my spiritual Achilles’ heel. I have built more walls than windmills in response to the changing circumstances of my life. I fear the unknown. I’m sure I’m not alone in this admission. The slightest shift in the direction of the wind can cause even the steeliest sailor to lose his sea legs, the most devout to question if the Holy Center will hold. But change is exactly how God moves your story and mine forward in the direction of ultimate love, dramatic redemption, and heaven’s final reward.
A decade ago, I happily sat at a lively dinner table while on a family beach vacation with my parents, husband, and then three children. All surrounded me as I blew out my thirty-three birthday candles and made a heart-felt wish. Sun-kissed by life, I wished for my life to stay exactly as it was in that moment. How naive and limiting a prayer!
I would go on to have three more children, build a special house with my soul-mate, take on a new job that would uncover the little diamond in the rough of me. I would travel to new and exciting lands, and write a book of prayers to help fellow travelers find their way to God. I would also in the same decade, lose precious people whom I loved, break my shoulder and two ankles, suffer a miscarriage, be denied a book deal, endure the fracture of a close relationship, and sell the forever home. In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined for myself and my family such a ride, such a fullness of life. Even the changes I deemed curses at the time, dug me deeper and although you cannot see it, enlarged my soul. I heartily agree with Richard Rohr, who says, “Heaven is now and forever for those who are willing to keep changing.”
The Greek poet, Euripedes, wrote, “Nothing is secure, nothing keeps.” This is the rip the band-aid off truth of the human condition. Nothing ever stays the same. Not your honeymoon marriage, not your oldest friendships, not your innocent perspective, not glorious nature, not your youthful appearance or svelte body, not your prayers, not even your view of God. This is by Divine design.
From the moment the first atom split, God has been pushing the creative envelope: expanding, improving,—-evolving Love. God asks us to do the same.
I am married to an idea man. It is in his DNA to create. Before every new entrepreneurial venture, David spends hours crafting a business plan, a blueprint of his idea followed by a detailed outline, the A, B, C’s, of how to make his dream a reality. There are pages and pages of spreadsheets, graphs, and pie charts. But the most illuminating page of the document is the Vision statement. This is where the creator defines his goal; he lays out the dream. With a great vision, all is possible!
I believe there is a Master plan of creation. The Dreamer of the First Dream, God, had a perfect Vision of Love. God exclaimed to the heavens above and the blessed earth, “Watch what My Love can do.” Love grows things. Opens doors. Heals hearts. It redeems brokenness. Resurrects anew. Expands the universe. It has no end, always evolving.
14 billion years later, love is as powerful as the moment God first gave it spark. Wherever love is present, there is life and infinite possibilities. Love sees no end, only perfect salvation.
My husband David says a great idea is very important but only half the battle. You then need a leader. One who will do whatever it takes to achieve the mission. Our God is not a distant or ambivalent leader, but in the thick of His creation. The moment His vision was set into motion, the Almighty tunneled into the trenches with us. The Book of Job Chapters 38 and 39 proclaims God is in all things—-from the way the foundation was laid upon the earth, to how the hawk soars, to the location of the ordinances of heaven, how the ostrich is to lay her eggs on the ground to be best protected, and the exact hour the mountain goats give birth.
In modern terms, God is in the details. And then there are you and me with our delicate hearts. God says, “I am with you always, and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have accomplished what I promised. I have plans.
Plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future. My hope will not disappoint. I will redeem all things. My Love will prevail. I am making all things new.” God asks us to believe this promise no matter the circumstances of the day.
The original plan is airtight, with even a dramatic proof of concept in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God leaves no room for doubt that not only the Vision, but the Creator can be trusted. We even have an Operation manual, the Bible. Flip through its pages to Ecclesiastes and see how Love unleashed works in praxis. God says: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven’s. A first breath, a final breath. Gardens, full and fallow. Seasons of demolition, followed by the laying of new cornerstones. The recipe calls for laughter, but also salty tears. The choreography switches from mourning to pirouetting and back again. We will break seams, some, hopefully many, will be mended. God will ask us to let go, and by letting go, we will discover the pearl of great price. There will be plenty of room for love, but also discord, warring and perfect peace. To participate is to accept The Whole Of It.
The ultimate plan is the evolution of love and that happens through change. Be ready. As Darwin said: Evolve or cease to exist.
Change is the natural law of the universe. The Creator is not interested in what once was, but only in what could and ultimately will be. Holy energy is focused on all the possibilities where love can joyously and sometimes painfully create, heal, expand and resurrect. Nothing is secure, nothing keeps, because God designed it that way. God’s remarkable project would be a failure if we are the same people when we leave this world as we were when we started. God’s plan demands a constant letting go so Love can transform situations and evolve souls.
Recently, I was invited to a concert by Carrie Underwood, the country music superstar, and her NHL hockey player husband Mike Fisher. It was a fund-raising event for Danita’s Children, an orphanage in Haiti close to my heart.
Carrie walked onto the stage and before singing she announced, “I’m going to try something I’ve never done before. Jared, will you join me on stage?” She began to sing and the gentleman approached an 8 X 8 foot blank white canvas beside her standing mike. With his fingers, he started to put random dashes of color here and there on the canvas. There appeared no rhyme or reason, or overall design to his work. He would lay a gray line here, a cream one there, and then one of crimson. Jumping from one side of the canvas to the next, painting random lines and squiggles. Carrie just kept singing.
People started to whisper around my table, “What in the world could he possibly be painting?” His work made no sense. We could not connect the dots. Lots of brushstrokes went haphazardly across the canvas. Carrie came to the crescendo of “Jesus Take the Wheel,” and still I could not make out the Artist’s intent.
At the last refrain, he put up three final brushstrokes and then stepped away from the work. Suddenly, the room went quiet. It was a face. The face of Christ. A portrait of Love.
What if every change of our lives, the good and the bad, the hard and the welcomed, the horrific losses and the celebrated gains, the dark spaces and the epiphanies of light, in the end serve to paint a discernable picture of goodness. Each of us is a work of art that blows the mind in imagination and creativity. All the brushstrokes of our lives seen together reveal a portrait of Love.
This is lofty and lovely, until the rubber meets the road, until the winds start blowing 100 mph around us, and change is on the horizon. We are creatures of comfort. All we want to do is stop the earth’s too fast spin. A change, minute or titanic, is a survivor’s sport. Even when the change is welcomed like a new baby, or a promoted job, or a new town to call home, or a new dream, or a much-needed cultural and moral shift—-each avenue means we have to let go of something, to make room for the new reality. All change is followed by a period of grief because it is difficult to forego what we know for the unknown.
We angst, back pedal, hurt, even curse God begging for things to return to the way they were. Time spent in the strange land between what once was and what will next be is a spiritual purgatory. These are soul-searching and stretching times. There is a true re-mapping of reality. God does not allow us to stagnate. His love keeps us moving. The unknown is not unknown to God.
I am a fan of Nashville’s treasured singer songwriter, John Prine. His lyrics speak the truth to me. I especially love this one:
“That’s the way the world goes round. You’re up one day, the next you’re down. It’s a half inch of water. You think you’re gonna drown, that’s the way the world goes round.”
Nothing goes exactly as you or I would like. Change takes us to a new place, a new perspective, a new faith. John Prine has been up. He has won almost every award you can in the music world. At 72, he just released his most acclaimed album, The Tree of Forgiveness and played to a sold out crowd at Carnegie Hall. But he might know even more about the down. Prine has spent almost as much time fighting bouts of cancer as strumming his guitar. But his spirit has never stopped singing.
He would tell you it’s taken all the ups and the downs to bring him to where he is today. John Prine signed up for God’s Vision. Have you?
There is the Ultimate Change that we must all face, and that is physical death. It is the specter that haunts our lives. My mom recently shared a story of a family friend in his 80’s, who had lived a very full life. On his deathbed, he was smiling and said, “I remember when I was supposed to go to first grade. I absolutely did not want to go. On the night before, I kicked and screamed about it, begging my mother to let me stay home with her, with my dog, and my favorite truck. But there was no avoiding it. Mother said, “You’re going tomorrow.” I would have to obey. But the strangest thing happened. I got to first grade and it was the most marvelous experience. School became better than anything I had ever done before. How could I have not wanted this? Nothing before compared.” He paused and smiled, “I think it’s going to be just like that when I die. Heaven will be First grade again!”
Remember God’s Vision Statement: I am making all things new. All my creation will ultimately come together for good. Love is the vision, the mission, the adventure, the guarantee.
What will be your response: fold or fly, resent or adapt, self-rely or faith depend, build a wall or a build a windmill?
The most successful human beings are the ones who accept and then adapt to life’s changing circumstances. And they do it again. And again. And again. God programmed us to evolve. It’s the ego that gets in the way of enjoying the ride and hastens our spiritual becoming. It fears what it doesn’t know or can’t control. The ego causes such a lot of misery. It’s short-sighted with no shining vision. The soul, on the other hand, calmly knows there is no real end. It is curious, excited even, to see what God has in store next. Nothing is wasted and everything will ultimately come together for good. No change, no progress. The soul lives not fear to fear, but hope to hope.
If you take with you one necessary truth today, let it be this: Malachi 3:6, “I your God do not change.” And again in Hebrews 13:8, “I am the same yesterday, today, forever.” God is our certainty in uncertainty. Our Tether, our Life Preserver, our C.E.O of hope, our Center that will forever hold. When all is upturned, God’s love never wavers.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do dimly perceive that while everything around me is ever-changing, ever dying, there is underlying all change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and recreates. That informing power is the spirit of God, God alone is.”
A couple of years ago, I was at an eye doctor’s appointment complaining of my vision. “I just don’t see things as clearly as I need.” My wise doctor, now retired, responded, “Your going to have to face reality. Your eyesight, your life experience and your perspective are going to change as the years pass. Don’t fret. Just commit to continuously adjusting your prescription, and you’ll see what you need to see and get where you need to go.”
Take the long view. The Divine View. Keep adjusting or strengthening the prescription of your faith to embrace and create in life’s changing circumstances. Even if all is going terribly wrong, nothing like you planned, God is turning the situation around for a supreme good. Trust that whatever happens, God has you and all will ultimately be well.
I would like to offer you some spiritual prescriptions for handling change and holding fast to God’s Vision:
Number 1: Don’t panic. Be patient. Allow God to touch your soul in as many ways as possible.
Number 2: Gratitude must be the mantra. Resilience, our survivor skill. There is always a path forward, God promises it.
Number 3: Manage expectations. It’s never as bad as you think (or as good). Ask God to surprise you. Spend less time avoiding, fighting or running from change, and more time mining the experience for clues as to what God wants you to see.
Number 4: Reach out for support. More than likely someone nearby has already traveled this path, and can give you wisdom and encouragement to see your way through.
Number 5: Read the Psalms. They are a balm for the soul.
Number 6: Go to nature. For me, trees mirror beautifully how to take life’s changes in stride.
Number 7: Help someone else faced with a life change, and stand in the wind beside them.
Number 8: Cultivate a place for God’s peace to dwell within you. Let it be your refuge to retreat and rely when the world outside is topsy turvy. Close your eyes. Hear the words, “Be still and know that I am God,” and breathe relief. God has you.
And finally, remember what Tony Robbins says, “Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start being excited about what could go right.”
Oh the places your soul and mine are meant to go! God is painting The Portrait, your portrait as we speak!
You can listen to the homily live here: