Start where you are (taking the measure of things)

This is Suzie Eller’s latest #LiveFreeThursday writing prompt.

So many times we tell people what they need to do to be found by Christ. Maybe we do the same with ourselves. Yet he started with the disciples right where they were. He CALLED them to follow him, when others were looking at each other incredulously saying, “Um, did he really just pick that guy?”

What might happen if we just start where we are? In ministry. In courage. In a big decisions. In faith. In our relationships. In hope. What if we understood that this is a BIG act of faith?

Let’s talk about it here, if you’d like. For me, starting right where I am means I put my foot on the starting line and I take off, sometimes without having any other plan but the Holy Spirit’s whisper of, “Go!”. It’s not my comfy plan, because I really want to map it out and tell God how it should look, and be super prepared in case I fall flat on my face.

Yet he says, “Go.”

Today, in response, I’m sharing an excerpt from chapter 14 of Praying Upside Down about proportion. It’s about Colleese, who was connected to me through a mutual friend, and has become a dear friend of mine. She is facing some serious surgeries and other issues. Will you please pray for her?


Much of this book is about keeping your eyes open and trying to see what God is doing—not because we have a right to know, but because it’s much easier to hang on through frustrating times when we can get a glimpse of what’s to come. Faith, however, is blind. It’s believing in spite of what you see. And being changed along the way. The reality is we may never know the end of a particular story. God may show Himself, or He may not. But even if we don’t know, even if we don’t see, it doesn’t mean God isn’t working, changing, effecting, delivering. It just means we happen to be unable to see it at the moment.

My friend Colleese has numerous health issues—multiple sclerosis, anaphylactic allergies, and seizures, among other things. One day, in the basement laundry room of her apartment building, sitting in her wheelchair, she felt an MS flare coming on. She was terrified. From experience, she knew that this wasn’t going to be a brief wave of pain, but something that incapacitated her. She had no one to call, and she knew the risks inherent in it happening while she was alone. She wasn’t falling prey to an overactive imagination. Her fears were well-founded.

Years before this night, she’d witnessed an event on TV in which people of many faiths came together during a choir rehearsal. They wanted to pray for a particular woman to be healed, but there was such diversity of religion that they decided, instead, to sing to her. One voice sang her name, and then another, then another. Sweet tenderness, swelling into a beautiful harmony. Colleese said you could see the change in the women in the group, holding hands, with tears on their faces as they prayed. They didn’t have answers, so they lifted up their friend to the One who did. Her name—the song—was the prayer, and it bound them all together.

It also planted a seed in Colleese.

That night in the laundry room, she began to sing. As her strength melted from the pain, she had nothing left and needed God. All she could do was offer herself, offer where she was and what she was experiencing, to God as her prayer. In that moment, it was literally all she had. No family, no one nearby to help. She knew her condition could be life-threatening, but she pushed out the fear that was crowding in. And she began to sing. Not a particular melody, just putting the words about her immediate situation into song. I’m scared and I don’t know what I’m going to do, how I’m going to survive down here for the next twenty minutes. I can’t make my wheelchair go. . . . She sang about where she was, and before long—even though the physical symptoms did not abate—the words evolved into something more and lifted her to a new place. Thank You that I have enough clothes to have four washers full. Thank You that I live in a country where I don’t have to wash by a river. Thank You for electricity. Thank You for money. Thank You for soap. Thank You that You have given me enough of a life that I have clothes that I was able to make dirty. Thank You.

As she sang, the fear receded even though she was still in pain. She managed to get her clothes out of the washers and into dryers, fold them, and get both the laundry and herself upstairs to her apartment—singing the whole time. She told me, “I didn’t physically change, but something changed inside because it was all real—spontaneous. Prayer-singing—no matter what I’m doing in life, if I sing where I am—this is my gift to Him. The only thing I can offer Him is ‘here I am.’”

This isn’t a story about a miracle cure, but in some ways it’s even better. It’s about a woman who offered all that she had—as little as it was—and found that it was enough. He is enough. For Colleese, and for you, and for me.

Before this, she often had trouble praying. She would overthink the words and be stuck, something many of us can relate to. When Colleese censored her prayers, they became not a holy thing but a head thing. That day in the basement, she learned that prayer, in the form of a personal song, is her sustenance. It comes from the depths of her soul. “Medically, I probably should not be alive today,” she says. But she is. And not because she gets up at five a.m. to pray for half an hour a day, but because she never ceases. She offers all that she has, and she finds over and over again that it is enough. That God has carried her through. Sustained her. Changed her.

And given her a valuable gift. She feels rich.

In the book of Mark, Mark recounts a moment when Jesus sat near the collection box at the entrance of the Temple, watching people bring their offerings. Later, He called together His disciples and told them about one woman’s giving. “This poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44). Jesus wasn’t as moved by the wealthy people’s contributions as He was with hers. It wasn’t the value of the coins she gave, but the enormous cost of giving all that she had. He shows us that our measure of generosity and wealth, like so many other things, is upside down.

Colleese inherently understands this. She knows that God needs nothing, and He deserves everything. She doesn’t ask anything in return, just lifts up people and situations from her heart. She lets God decide where her prayers will go, for how long, and what tune she will sing. Even on the day when she was caught sitting in her wheelchair outside when a rainstorm hit. If that wasn’t bad enough, an SUV sped through a puddle and drenched Colleese and her service dog. Although she was in shock momentarily, Colleese found herself singing. That’s not very nice. Maybe they didn’t know, maybe they didn’t see me, but even if they did, I’m called to pray for them.

It is the person who prays who is changed.

The Bible confirms what Colleese discovered. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). “Pay attention to the language,” she says. “It does not say ‘so that the person you’re praying for may be healed.’ It says you (the one praying) may be. And that’s one of the reasons we’re called to pray.”

She even prays in the pool, beginning and ending with laps of thanksgiving. “It’s really a special place for me, being held up—and I’m not the one doing the holding. That’s really a good picture of God.” Her experience in the basement laundry room, and in the years since, has turned a formal relationship into a tender one. Her prayer life went from forced and stilted to vibrant and real when she gave her physical being as her spiritual offering. When she offers herself—her body, her situation, her feelings—as prayer, every moment with Him is a gift.

And it all started because she took stock of where she was.

***

Oftentimes, when an artist is drawing from life, she will extend her arm in front of her, pencil in hand, and use her thumb to mark off the length of an object. She will then compare that length to another—are these two objects the same width? Twice as long? One-third as wide? These measurements help her keep the objects in the drawing at the same relative size.

Colleese’s prayer-singing is like the artist extending a pencil as a way of measuring the scale, angles, and positions of the objects she’s drawing.

In art, this technique is called “sighting,” and it involves holding a pencil at arm’s length, elbow locked, one eye closed. These positions must always be the same so that relative measurements are consistent. By measuring objects, the artist can reproduce the illusion of space accurately. When an object recedes in perspective, it gets shorter. The artist’s mind might insist that the person in the background is as tall as the one in the foreground, but if one person is farther away, she can’t draw him the same size on the paper without distorting the scene. Sighting is another way to override the knowledge stored in our brains that contradicts what our eyes actually see.

When Colleese sings to God, she’s looking for an accurate representation of that moment. Not what she wants it to be, but what it is. That reality then becomes the basis of her offering, the foundation for her prayer. Like the artist, Colleese doesn’t get to decide how things actually look, but she does her best to see clearly so that she has more to offer Him.

***

Ancient Egyptian artists used hieratic scale in their art—in other words, the size of an object denoted its relative importance. Kings and gods were several times larger than the common people. Sometimes you see this in the drawings of children. Mommy and Daddy are taller than the house because they dominate the child’s world. Over many centuries, artists began to value accurate depiction of forms over hierarchical representation. In ancient Greek sculpture, you’ll see the true proportions of the ideal human form. In the Renaissance, artists began to see the connection between proportion (size relationships) and the illusion of three dimensions—in other words, how the relative size of objects shows the distance of one element from another or from the viewer. Actually, size is only meaningful when it tells us about an object’s dimensions in relationship to something else.

When you use proportion in prayer, first take stock of where you are and what you’re dealing with. How big is this problem compared to the next? What is the problem? How close or far are you from God? Is God at the center of your composition (with regard to how you spend your money, time, and attention), or are you?

Or simply, This is where I am, Lord. I’m giving it to You.

Whether you sing your prayers, write them, or speak them, whether they’re long or short or detailed or abstract, proportion is a useful way to remember who God is. When Colleese began to sing in the basement that day, she knew she did not have anything else to offer. But she understood that He did. And she went to Him because she saw how big He is. How good. Not because He would do something for her, but just because of who He is. Because He is so much greater, and He deserved all that she had. Everything she had.

Colleese’s song came from praise, not from wanting. Being with Him—as she was, as He is, without any demands or pleas—was all she wanted. Everything she wanted. As her song turned to praise, her attitude and understanding changed—a beautiful result from a pure intention.

In our culture, people go to great lengths to gain power, whether in politics or business, and even sometimes in churches. In our spiritual lives, we eventually come to accept that although there is power, we don’t have it. When we acknowledge God’s magnificence, goodness, and knowingness—His ability to see ahead of us and forgive what’s behind us—then we’ve shifted the balance. We’ve traded in the illusion of our own power for the reality of His. We’ve recognized our need for Him and reinforced our understanding of our relative strengths. And once that’s done, our only solution is to hand problems—any of them, all of them—over to Him. Trade what you have, sight unseen, for whatever He will give you. He has proven Himself more times than we can imagine. Not because He needed to prove how good He is, but because, as God, He can’t help but be good.

Yet He wants to be involved. To hold us, oh so tightly, and sustain us. To change us in the middle of our darkest hours. And, in the process, to teach our hearts to sing.

2 Responses to “Start where you are (taking the measure of things)”

  1. Crystal Hornback says:

    “… He wants to be involved. To hold us, oh so tightly, and sustain us. To change us in the middle of our darkest hours. And, in the process, to teach our hearts to sing.”

    My goodness, YES. Thank you for these beautiful words, Kelly. They are encouraging and such a timely reminder for me today.

    #livefreeThursday

  2. ~ linda says:

    God guides our prayers as we hold near to Him. He knows what our heart is speaking and then when we allows those words out in song, in words, in a hum, or… God knows and loves our communication with Him.
    Thank you for sharing this and for encouraging my heart. I am finding that prayer is all I can do sometimes in regard to the world, the violence, wars, the earthquakes, floods, and so much more. Lifting all to the One Who knows all is often all I can do.

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