Beauty – hidden within

Your adornment should not be an external one: braiding the hair, wearing gold jewelry, or dressing in fine clothes but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God. 1 Peter 3:3-4

What comes to mind when you think something is beautiful?  What are the aesthetic qualities that define beauty to you?  What do you think God’s definition of beauty is?

There is external beauty and there is internal beauty.  The world teaches us that external beauty is prominent.  We see this in everything – from material things to the runway.  Our society thrives on beauty.  It is in one’s desire for beauty, for ornate things, that floods the financial market of commercialism.  Many of us want more or do more to beautify our outer appearance, our homes, our mode of transportation, the list goes on. 

What is true beauty? 

What does the beauty of the soul look like?

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In 1 Peter 3:3-4, God sees us not as an external adornment, with beautiful hair, fine jewelry and clothing, but He sees the internal character of each of us, hidden in our heart.  The beauty He sees is that “of a gentle and calm disposition.”  We are “precious in the sight of God.”  We are “more precious than corals.” (Proverbs 3:15)

My daughter may define this as those people who are simply not fake.  I personally define it as those who are genuine in kindness, gentleness and love, in essence – “not fake.” 

The beauty of a woman, unlike the beauty of nature, is not revealed through her outward appearance.  She is made beautiful through her very essence of her character.  It is how she carries her crosses, how she responds to those in need, how she humbles herself, how she pours out into another with love and kindness, how she comforts another.  Her beauty is how she clothes herself internally verses externally.

This weekend, I had the greatest pleasure of being a part of an amazing retreat experience with almost 100 women.  It is amazing to see the beauty of God transform a person throughout a retreat weekend.  It is even more amazing to see the beauty of a team going above and beyond, serving and using their gifts to pour out the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit into each person as if they were the only soul at the retreat. 

I personally have struggled through the years in my life with outward beauty.  Always trying to achieve what I thought others saw as beauty.  What I have learned, through the definition of beauty defined by God and the retreat, is that my smile coupled with serving others with the gifts God has given me defines my beauty, inwardly and outwardly.  These two things pour out God’s love that is embedded within me and this love is the true beauty.  My love revealed through outward actions is the internal character hidden within my heart.  My smile is the adornment on the outside that is the inward joy as a result of my faith and trust in a God that will always deliver His goodness no matter the trial or circumstance.

Because the world tells us that beauty is defined by external adornment, we spend a lot of time, money and energy to fulfill this form of beauty.  When we feel we do not measure up to this form of beauty, we feel ugly, unworthy and not valued.  This is the lie that we are told and we believe. 

The true beauty is planted within and is waiting to sprout out through your outpouring onto others.  It is through your faith and love of God that reveals your true beauty, clothing you in His majestic beauty.

I invite you to think about your inward beauty.  Is this the beauty you are revealing to the world externally?  Let the world see your true beauty, the beauty hidden within that is waiting to sprout outwardly.

Value of a penny

“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

Did you pour out your heart to your Valentine Thursday?  Perhaps you showered them with flowers, their favorite chocolate or a romantic dinner.

February is the month of love.  Love is something we should celebrate.  Love comes in so many different packages.  It can be a romantic love with a significant other, the love for a child, the love for a parent, love for a friend, etc.  The form of LOVE I want to talk about is the LOVE that pours out on to each of us that is unconditional.  It is a love with no restrictions.

This love can only come from one source, God through the POWER of the HOLY SPIRIT.

I was listening to a talk by a priest earlier on this very topic.  He read a letter he received from a young lady who had felt she was incapable of being loved by God.  In this note, she discovers God’s unconditional love in a penny.

What she says is that no matter how dirty or beaten up a penny gets, it’s worth is still the same.  There are shiny pennies and there are black dirty pennies.  The shiny pennies don’t go through all the stuff the black dirty pennies go through yet their VALUE, their WORTH are the same.

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I really thought this was a very powerful analogy of the unconditional love God has for each of us.  No matter how beaten we are, how dirty we are, how sinful we are, God values us, desires us and most of all loves us just the same.  He wants to pick us up, dust off all the dirt, and smooth all the rough edges so that we can see His light shine and reflect from us.

Whether you are the shiny penny or the dirty, beaten penny, God wants you to know He loves you.  If you celebrated Valentines day or you love a family or friend, you experience this love “because He first loved [you],” 1 John 4:19.

If you feel incapable of God’s love because of your past, because of your sins, remember the dirty penny – it doesn’t lose it’s VALUE, no matter how beaten, run over, stepped on or dirty.  Jesus carried your crosses over 2000 years ago to demonstrate this phenomenal love and God is breathing in love through the Holy Spirit everyday with every breath of life you take.  When you need to feel the love of God, pause, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and imagine Jesus before you carrying the cross, beaten and bruised, whispering God’s very love for you.

 

The deeper meaning

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

When you read Psalm 46:10, what comes to mind? What do you think God is asking you?

This verse has been a headline in my head for years.  In fact, it has been a part of me so much that my phone case has the verse on it.  Several years ago, I found myself hearing this in so many things I was reading and the music I heard.  I even remember a session in spiritual direction on this very topic during that same time period.  I remember it so vividly because at the time I was hearing this message, I had signed up for not one but two retreats, back to back weekends – insanity perhaps or may be divine intervention. My spiritual director looked at me and asked me to pray about this because one of the retreats she was very familiar with was not “be still”.  I can vouch for that, neither retreat involved resting in the stillness of God.  

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After I had attended the second retreat I found myself on the floor in my study surrendering something that had overcome me – “fear”.  At the time, I knew that the retreats were definitely meant to be because of the fruits I received that I desperately needed at the time.  What I didn’t realize was that God was about to lead me on a journey of learning to surrender and trust Him.  Several months after the retreats, a defining moment in my life and spiritual journey began as my ex-husband began to pursue custody of our children.  I began reading a book on surrendering to the divine providence of God that spoke volumes to me.  What I saw was how much God’s presence in my past had impacted so much goodness in my present; how much He had delivered me from and how much He held me and loved me.  As the reality of my struggles in my past shed light on my present and the goodness God had brought out of my past, I began to learn about trust, trusting God.  The moments when I truly placed my trust in God, I found inner peace.  I knew things would be ok, no matter what the outcome would be.

Why? BECAUSE ALL THINGS ARE FROM GOD AND OF GOD… GOD CAUSED OR GOD ALLOWED. AND HIS GOODNESS WILL ALWAYS BE REVEALED EVEN IN THE MESSES.

Last night, I was driving home from a meeting and on the radio the DJ was talking about the Hebrew meaning of “be still” from Psalm 46:10.  What he said really spoke to me about my journey.  He said that the meaning was to let go, to surrender.  I was amazed as I began to reflect on my journey of trust that began 2 ½ years ago. When I was trying to understand and discern what God meant when He was telling me to “be still and know that I am God”, really was a discernment of trust and not so much stillness as I had assumed.  I was embarking on a path in which I would need to surrender and trust Him and His ways, knowing that all good things come from Him. This surrender would begin during these two retreats as they began to open me up to see fear within me and to allow me to let it go by dropping to my knees that Sunday afternoon after returning from the second retreat.  

TRUST and surrender are still illuminating my path as I journey through my life, now with a beautiful family of ACTS sisters. This year the theme for the retreat I am teaming on, the same retreat I attended first 2 ½ years ago, is “my refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust,” Psalm 91:2.  

Although sometimes, I do believe God is calling me to rest in stillness with Him, I now know that when He called me to “be still,” He was telling me to let go and let Him be my God, taking care of what is dearest to my heart – my children.

God has a beautiful plan for each of our journey’s.  Sometimes we may not understand at first, but the more we are open and in tune with Him, He sheds a bright lamp upon the path and reveals more to us about our journey and His plans as He molds us.  

Refuge in the rubble

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in distress.  Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken and mountains quake to the depths of the sea.”  Psalm 46:2-3

Have you experienced the summit of the mountain and suddenly your world begins to shake and you find yourself in the midst of despair?  Or may be you feel your life has always been shaken and you just want a break from the quake that is ever present?

Our life can be shaken by so many things.  It can be loss of a loved one, terminal illness, divorce, addictions, a miscarriage, an unexpected birth – the list goes on and on.  When the rocks start tumbling, where do you run to?  To whom do you turn?

God promises to be our refuge, our fortress, our strength, yet most of us still struggle.  I have been reading a book called “A Friendship Like No Other”.  One of the key points in the book is having a relationship with God, with His Son, just as we have relationships with those before us in the flesh.  In order to have a friendship with someone, you have to converse.  As your friendship grows and trust grows, you begin to share more with that person, perhaps in some cases you share deep thoughts and feelings that you don’t share with others.  If your friendship is stable and strong, you are comfortable talking about moments when you don’t agree, moments you become angry with each other over a disagreement.

What about with God?  Have you felt angry with God when life throws a curve ball and all the rocks begin to crumble, crushing you from the inside?  Do you feel comfortable telling God you are angry with Him, that you don’t understand His ways, that they are too difficult and you can’t follow His ways.  In Matthew 19:16-22, a young rich man approaches Jesus and ask what he needs to do to have eternal life, Jesus tells him to go sell his things and then come follow Him.  The young man goes away sad.  The author of “A Friendship Like No Other”, William Barry, proposes a question, what if the young man stayed and had a conversation with Jesus?  What if he told Jesus how difficult it was to sell all his things, that he just couldn’t do it and he needed help?  Do you think the story would end differently?  Do you think a friendship would have been sprouted if he had stayed and told Jesus just how he felt?

What if we are totally honest in conversation with God, just as we may be with a friend about our life situations that shake our world, turning it upside down?  In the song by Micah Tyler, “Even Then”, in the pre-chorus he sings “Where could I run to?  Where could I go?” and in the chorus when he talks about our world being shaken and the waters rising, he ends with “no matter how it ends You’re with me even then.”  If we are honest with God about our feelings, if we tell Him everything and then ask Him to help us to not be angry, to understand, to follow Him, even then He will stand with us, give us all we need with love, compassion and mercy.  He will carry us through the rubble no matter how long the journey takes.  He does this because His greatest desire is a relationship with us.  He longs for our friendship.

I ask you, dear friends, is your relationship with God a friendship?  Can you converse with Him, just as you do with your best friend?  Do you listen for His response, receive Him?  If not, start today to tell Him everything that is on your mind.  When you can’t pray, tell Him you can’t pray.  When you are busy and you don’t have time for Him, tell Him you don’t have time for Him.  When you are angry because He didn’t answer your prayer, tell Him.  When you find it difficult to accept the things around you and you struggle with following Him, tell Him.  He loves you no matter where you are in your relationship with Him.  As you are more open with Him, your friendship will grow and when your world is shaken, you will know that “even then”, He’s with you clearing the rubble and carrying you through.

In your struggles, when the boulders seem too heavy to move, always remember that with “God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Heart of the matter

“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

Have you been struck with unforgiveness?  If so, have you looked at the weeds surrounding your heart?  Do you want to de-weed your garden planted within you?

For some reason, I feel a great desire to write about “love”.  It seems everything I have been reading is about love.  The daily readings have been about love, a few devotions I have read, and a book on friendship with Christ.

It is difficult for us to love when our heart is “of stone”.  Typically, our hearts become rigid and crystallize into a hardened substance that prevents love from being able to filter through when we have been hurt or lost trust with someone and we can’t forgive them or won’t forgive them.  In Ezekiel 36:26, God tells us He will give us a heart transplant by removing the heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh.  The only way He can do that is if we create space for Him to do so, chiseling a small crack in the stone by forgiving those who have hurt us, those who have betrayed us, those who have trampled our pride or caused pain and discontent of some sort.

Forgiveness is hard because we often feel that person isn’t deserving or that it is justified to be angry or upset with that person.  What we don’t realize is that the pain doesn’t go away until we forgive.   The anger and bitterness is what crystallizes our hearts to the point of separating us from “LOVE”, from God.  When forgiveness surfaces, breaking even a tiny pinhole in the stone, God is able to do His work and renew the heart of stone with a heart of flesh, literally melt away the hardness and de-weed His garden within you.

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I personally have wrestled with acts of forgiveness with people who have hurt me, betrayed me or dampened my pride.  What I have discovered is that when I have allow myself to break the wall of unforgiveness, my spiritual being becomes victorious, joy flourishes and in that joy I find love and a closer union with Christ.

God commands us to love one another.  In fact, Jesus gives us this as the second greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36-39.  Love is crucial to our Christian faith, because if we don’t have love, we become separated from God.  If we cannot forgive our neighbors or ourselves to allow love to overcome our heart transforming it from stone to flesh, then we become lost in the weeds that surround our heart.  God created us to desire Him.  He has written it within our hearts (Catechism of the Catholic Church 27) and it’s what draws us closer in relationship with Him, to a friendship with Him.  It is through the love of God we were created and through the love of God, the sacrifice of His “only begotten Son” that we exist through all of eternity.

St Teresa of Calcutta said that “joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.  A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.”  To fulfill God’s will for us to help each other reach the gates of Heaven, we must first have love, love of self and love of one another.  Let God’s desire for you written within your heart, flourish and nurture the seed He planted when He created you.

Good and faithful servant

“Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” Matthew 25:21

Do you long to hear those words “well done my good and faithful servant?”

Over my adult life, there have been many good and faithful servants in my life but often times I may not have truly recognized there service as so.  Throughout my life, I have been a very selfish, independent young woman.

When others serve me, I tend to find it hard to accept, mainly the root being my independence.  I also have noticed in my adult life that I may have taken others’ service towards me for granted, the root being my selfishness.  Since my faith was ignited, I have been trying to recognize and be more attentive to my old habits and be more in tuned to being a good and faithful servant.

This past year, God has been teaching me a lot about service, through events in my life.  I have been on the receiving end of many wonderful women’s service and I have walked along side many as they served others.  It has been a beautiful journey learning to accept it when I need to and appreciate those that are giving their time and talents.  It also has been joyous serving along side these beautiful women.

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This weekend, I was reminded of a different kind of service, a service that is humbling and small.  I never considered, visiting another person who is going through a difficult period service.  This weekend, I experienced a form of service that brought joy to my soul, yet sadness to my heart.  In my past, this is the service that was given to me, yet I never recognized it as service.  This person I visited was a person who cares about me and has offered me support and comfort.  Today I realize that it was Jesus acting through her.  Jesus suffering with me.  At Mass today, one of our parish Deacon’s beautifully painted the picture of a good and faithful servant.  He said that there are 3 things that a person who serves will undergo.

  1.  He/she will undergo suffering.  To serve another, you have to make a sacrifice.
  2. He/she will be united in suffering with that person, just as we are united to Jesus in His suffering on the cross.
  3. He/she will carry a piece of the load of the person being served, just as Jesus carries our load.

The Homily spoke so greatly to my heart and highlighted my weekend visit.  My friend is a good and faithful servant and has been by my side picking me up and providing me shelter through some very tough times.  I have prayed and spoken to her a number of times during her suffering but had not gone to sit with her to share moments of laughter.  This weekend I cleared part of my day to do just that, go sit and share a smile with her.

Serving is not just about doing big things, such as volunteering to clean up after a hurricane, or at a soup kitchen.  It’s more than that.  Serving is also showing love to your neighbor through humble, small acts.  It’s sitting with an old man or old lady that has no family, but smiles at the site of your presence.  It’s saying a kind word to the person at the register, that looks like she has had a rough day and bringing joy in that very moment.  Serving is picking someone up when they are down, lifting the load off their shoulders, even if it’s for a split second.  It’s feeling their suffering and walking their journey beside them.

Even in the small things, we can serve one another spreading the joy of our Lord and bearing the suffering with one another.  When you think of serving, don’t just think of the big ticket items but think of the small acts of love and kindness.  Take a little extra time and bring a smile to someone’s face by feeling their suffering and lifting the weight from their shoulders by bringing a joy filled smile upon their face.  By sharing in the small matters, you will be given great responsibility, sharing in your Father’s love – go and be a “good and faithful servant.”

Are you filled with the fullness of God or are you running on empty?

“That He may grant you in accord with the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:16-19

Are you filled with the fullness of God or are you running on empty?  Perhaps your cup of faith is half full and is being depleted?

Often times as we walk through life, we find ourselves checking the boxes when it comes to our faith because life is too busy to do anything more.  We have very good intentions and we make sure we are doing the things we know are right, like go to church regularly.  In the midst of it, our faith becomes stagnant or it may begin to deplete.

I think just as we all have financial bank accounts and emotional bank accounts, we also have faith bank accounts.  Frequently, we withdraw a lot from our faith bank account as we push through each day.  If we fail to deposit into our faith account, our roots may begin to dry up and the strength we once had is weakened.  If our faith bank account is not full, when trials and struggles hit us, we are less equipped to handle them.  We begin to question God instead of lean on Him, accepting and surrendering to His will.

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Many things are invested in through our faith bank account – trust in God, joy, grace, love and forgiveness of others, etc.  It is important for us to constantly deposit into our account.  God places so many things at our fingertips to invest or pour into our faith accounts.  In order to fill our inner self with the Spirit, we have to utilize these tools He places before us.  We have to take a breather from the business of life and invest time in some of these tools He gives us such as:

Prayer – consistently show up to converse with God, to sit with Him, to listen to Him

Bible (our how to book) – reading the Bible, learning and receiving God’s message

Church – attending church, worshipping and praising Him, serving your community and fellowshipping with the body of Christ

Friends and Family – companions to walk our journey with

Retreats, Bible Studies, Theological and Spiritual resources – resources that help us grow in knowledge and love of Christ as we experience our faith through the eyes of others and with others.

Recently, I found myself in a situation where my cup, my bank account wasn’t full enough to handle the boulder that dropped in front of me.  I wrestled as I stumbled.  I began to question myself and my ability to handle the things that God was placing before me because of the way I was dealing with my boulder.  In doing so, I fell into the “I’m not good enough syndrome.”  Am I good enough to be the daughter He is calling me to, the daughter He is asking to walk along side others?  I attended a women’s conference this weekend, with around 4800 other women – phenomenal.  As I listened to the speakers’ stories and their messages, my faith bank account began to fill.  My spirit was infused with the love, strength and knowledge of Christ.  I realized that God is calling me as His qualified daughter based on His merits and not mine.  I am good enough, especially for His purpose in my life.  He will utilize the gifts He has given me to overcome this boulder in my life as He has done before and to serve Him in the capacity He is calling me to as I  walk along side others with all my brokenness sharing His love, compassion and mercy.

God utilizes everything for His goodness and the tools He gives us to fill our faith account helps us to be “grounded in love… have strength to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”  When we are filled with the fullness of God, we can handle the boulders that fall in front of us with His grace by accepting and trusting that His plan surpasses anything we could fathom.

Are you filled with the fullness of God or are you running on empty?  Does your faith bank account need a little deposit so that you can invest more in trusting God and in the joy that’s buried in your heart waiting to burst through?  If you are feeling depleted, take time to pray, invest in time with your spiritual friends, attend a retreat or a conference if you can, spend time in all capacities that radiate with the love of Jesus.  I’m certain that you will begin to fill your cup of faith.