Living art by maureen maniquis

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The mind is an astounding piece of art. It’s living art. It’s always in a state of flux being influenced by it’s experiences both past and present. It is capable of bringing complex ideas into physically engineered realities of great usefulness. It has unraveled mathematical mysteries that revealed truths about our universe. It has plunged the depths in search of meaning and purpose of life in this mystifying world.

The beauty and greatness of humanity is clearly evident —we are the crowning glory of creation. It’s easy to look around at all the accomplishments of mankind and feel noble, entitled, preeminent.

The Scripture says, ““For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29) This means that our deeply complex, ever fluid minds, are fashioned after the mind of Jesus. He is our prototype.

Looking through the historical account of the life of Jesus — entitled is not the image that burst forth. Although he was preeminent, he lived in the ordinary, the average, the every day. He walked along the dusty roads seeking out the messy ones; the ones who knew their need. The preeminent ones of society saw him as insignificant, then a fool and finally a threat. But what did this first-born crowning glory of creation do?

He lived out the simplicity of his purpose and the shame of the cross changed the world. Societal giants were clueless but one by one messy ones were becoming well-ordered. The forgiveness and grace of God unclutters the mind—freeing it up to make sense of life in a world where mysteries are still unfolding.

The key to stability and endurance is to live in the every day ordinariness of life, letting that forgiveness and grace spill over into the lives of others. And as an ordinary caterpillar becomes an ordinary butterfly, one by one, the artful mind of Jesus brings about a new life.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:2-3 NLT

Above the Ridges by maureen maniquis

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“I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?” Psalm 121:1

When you find yourself in the valley you can feel quite vulnerable. The wide open space leaves you with no cover. There’s nowhere to run to for shelter. You can suddenly feel very alone and exposed. You lift your eyes to the hilltops scanning the ridges for a fellow traveler, another soul to bolster your courage along the way. But sometimes, the valley must be navigated solo. Others are trekking on different paths— no doubt your paths will merge further along the way.

This moment in time is meant to be this way. This moment has a weightier purpose. The hills, while beautiful and imposing, are insufficient to meet your need. Their purpose today is to draw your eyes upward, high above the ridges, to the one whose great strength formed their foundation. His eyes see far and wide. They take on the whole scene. Nothing escapes your Watchman— every step, both now and forevermore.

Under the shadow by maureen maniquis

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When life’s burdens begin to press in and encroach on our thoughts, it’s easy to feel like a lonely wanderer in a dry and barren land. The connection of body and soul is so powerful that the heaviness seems to permeate the bones and weigh us down. We can trudge along as if each step is sinking deep into the desert sands. The effort to put one foot in front of the other can be exhausting. Our whole being longs for relief.

These are those times when we must look back from where we have come. Our history, our stories are like mile markers along the way. Our memories also hold our thoughts of times past, places of oasis where deep wells of refreshment filled us with peace.

The love and presence of God is always at its fullest whether we are weary or rested. Our thoughts have no power to change that. But our thoughts have the power to change us. When we remember where our help comes from, when we acknowledge the power and glory of the living God, our bone weary hands can lift up high in worship, upheld by the strength of his presence.

His hands are strong and his might casts a deep shadow under which we can find shelter in the scorching times.

“I lie awake thinking of you in the night. Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely. “

Psalm 63:6-8

“The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭121:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬

Enjoy by maureen maniquis

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I’ve been thinking about the word enjoy and what it really means to enjoy someone. Webster says it means to take pleasure or have an experience that is pleasurable and satisfying; to have a good time. I pictured how that looks in my life when I am enjoying the company of friends or family. I might be having a meal, a glass of wine perhaps, as we share our thoughts across the table. As I look and listen some of the pleasure will come from the combination of traits that make up their personality; the things that draw me to them. I’ll hear the lilt of their voice as it rises and falls with passion, the widening or squinting of their eyes as they speak from their heart and make their point. Their hands may be slicing the air like a conductor’s baton filling their story with musical accompaniment. And best of all, the resonance of their laughter that rises up from their soul spreading pure pleasure into the room and lighting it up. There is just something about laughter that is so very satisfying, so enjoyable. Have you ever noticed how unique a person’s laugh can sound? I think we all know people that we could identify just by the sound of their laughter. These things are just the outward pleasures that make them so enjoyable to be in their company. I have yet to speak of the rich depths that lie beneath all this eye candy. You know what I mean; we all have certain people in our lives that we really enjoy.

What started me down this train of thought was a familiar yet ancient passage I came across from the Westminster Shorter Catechism that was written in 1649. It poses the question, “What is the chief end of man?” (what is the purpose of man/woman, why are we here?) The answer comes with simple clarity, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Wow, it hit me with a jolt. Do I enjoy God? Yes, I know, you’ll say, “but we can’t see him; it’s not the same.” And yes, it’s true in the literal, physical sense, but his personality is visible everywhere. Any observer of nature can see that there is a big personality behind all this eye candy. Peruse the Rockies to the Himalayas, the tropics to the arctic, a redwood or a violet, a rhino or a ladybug; the mind of God is displayed, and I haven’t even begun to speak of the rich depths that lie beneath.

But it’s when we start the conversation with him that we really begin to take in his personality. He has invited us in and set the table for us. The food is gourmet and the wine is expensive and the candles are flickering with warm amber tones. As he tells us his stories of our beginnings, his eyes wrinkle with the smile of his pleasure. His breath is sweet in remembrance and his hands are animated in joy. Then his hands begin to slowly drop to his lap and his eyes narrow with sadness as he speaks of betrayal and loss. It’s a riveting story and his heart is on his sleeve. He looks across the table as a slight smile begins to return. He pours some wine and winks in our direction and passes some bread around. The room is warm and feels cozy and safe. He is really enjoying our company now. He can’t wait to share some more of himself with us. He has so much to tell us, so much he wants us to know. The loss has been restored. The damage has been repaired. His hands are really animated now as his resounding laughter fills the room. He has it all written down so we won’t forget; so we can take our time to understand it all. And he really wants us to have a good time, to enjoy him as much as he enjoys us. It’s so obvious; the spread on the table is over the top. He is lavishing us with pleasure.

As I sit here taking in the scene, watching him, listening to him, I find myself so drawn to him. I find myself enjoying him, this person, Jesus. And I wonder when it was that I forgot to think of him this way --as a friend? Did I stop seeing his heart on his sleeve? Did I stop hearing his passion in his voice or the way his hands orchestrate the beat of life?

I want to spend more time at this table of grace. I want to drink this good wine and eat this satisfying bread that sustains my soul. I want to enjoy my friend. I want to hear what he wants to tell me and I want to tell him how much I appreciate his friendship, his company and his stories. His face is imprinted all over His-story and he has a beautiful face!

“I rejoice in your word like one who discovers a great treasure.” Psalm 119:162 

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4 

“For the Lord delights in his people, he crowns the humble with victory.” Psalm 149:4

When the dust begins to settle by maureen maniquis

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Life seems to flow in stages. It seems no matter what stage you are in you can’t really grasp the one ahead. A teen doesn’t appreciate the wisdom of their parent’s guidance but rather sees it as an intrusion to stifle their zest for life. College kids are too busy enjoying their independence from the overseeing eye of mom and dad to think about what a responsible future will look like for them. Young parents are building careers and raising babies, shuttling kids from one activity to another and all the while wishing they had more time alone where no one needs anything from them.

It’s not until the dust begins to settle and the nest has emptied out and the years have quickly passed by that the reflective process launches into active mode.

I find myself thinking back on my mom and all the ways she showed her love and all the ways in which I failed to appreciate it. The thoughtful things she would send in the mail to encourage me on this journey of life that often went unread because I was always going to “get to it later” and didn’t. There were far too many of those moments. My intentions were good but my priorities were often faulty. It seems such a pity that the very people God has put at the core of our lives we tend to marginalize for convenience sake. Of course, there are always exceptions to everything and there are those who cherish every blessing in life but I think the majority of us don’t. I think the majority of us take for granted the gifts around us and expect we will have time to show our love when things slow down a bit. We always think we will have time later. But, that’s the precarious thing about life, later may just be too late.

I sometimes wish that life could be unplugged. That it could slow down long enough for our eyes to connect our hearts to one another and let us see the souls within, long enough for us to recognize that in fact, we have souls. These beings that reside in our depths created for communion and community but most often remain a mystery. Oh we say we know this but we really rarely see each other. There’s just not enough time.

Maybe there is something to be said about the benefits of following the Sabbath. The busyness of life recedes and the relationships come to the foreground. But, we managed to find loopholes in this practice as well to give us an excuse to keep moving. So, I have to ask myself this question; “Why do we not really want to stop?” I saw this news piece on a funeral home in the Midwest that has the first drive-by viewing. You pull up to what looks like a bank window and push a button and the curtain draws back to give a view of the deceased “friend” and a drawer opens and you can sign the guest book and off you go. This says it all. No need to console a hurting widow or mother or hug a broken hearted soul. No muss, no fuss. What is happening to us people? Have we progressed or regressed?

What are we afraid of? Why do we want to live in an Instagram world of smiles and action? Are we trying to convince ourselves that deep down we are happy people? Or are we running from the fact that we are not. And if we are not, could it be because we are so disconnected from one another that it’s the easier thing to do than to get to know each other?

Go see your mother, invite your brother over, see if your son has time for lunch, make eye contact, see who lives behind that mask and love them. Really love them. It may be messy and challenging but what richness can rise up from the depths when soul touches soul and fans the embers of a nearly lost flame. Our heavenly Father did it for the world. Can’t we do it for one another? No matter what stage of life we may find ourselves in, if we would just stop long enough to look into the eyes of another’s life, learn their story, clothe ourselves in their skin for a moment, perhaps those picture perfect smiles would begin to radiate a more natural glow of a soul that feels loved.

“Three things will last forever---faith, hope and love---and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT



SMILE by maureen maniquis

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Missing my mom today...thinking back over the years and all the family history, all the baggage brought to a family by two people who never really unpacked it and put it in its place.  I spent lots of time judging my mother.  I just never got her.  She was stoic and reserved but always an optimist.  I thought she walked through life wearing "rose colored glasses" and denied the reality around her.  Her favorite song was Smile by Nat King Cole. 

Smile though your heart is aching

Smile even though its breaking

When there are clouds in the sky you'll get by

If you smile through your tears and sorrows

Smile and maybe tomorrow

You'll see the sun come shining through for you

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That's the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what's the use of crying?

You'll find that life is still worthwhile

If you just smile.

I wish I had one more day to spend with her.  I'd like to ask her forgiveness.  I'd like to tell her I get her now.  She understood way more than I thought she did.  She understood grace.  She understood the sovereignty of God.  She understood that faith, hope and love were the trifecta for a fallen world.  I, on the other hand, in my idealistic, self-righteous younger years, rarely let them meld together as they were meant to.  There was always one over-taking the other and love usually came limping in last.  

There's an expression, "youth is wasted on the youth".  Priorities, perceptions, endeavors and longings all come in the form of a "blue flame".  You're at maximum combustion and pretty certain you've got it all figured out.  But the truth is that after years of burning hot and shooting out flames over the relevant issues of the day, it's the slow and steady embers that get you to the finish line intact.  Opinions, arguments, finger-pointing rarely change anything. 

God allows our youthful flames to burn hot.  His wisdom knows the blowback will scorch us in valuable places.  He knows, that over time, those painful burns will teach us empathy, compassion, and yes, love.

We chase after the physical beauty and strength of youth with the gusto of a triathlon.  The world tells us, "Therein lies our value".  But, deep down, we all know this is a lie.  The true value is the beauty and strength of the soul.  Ironically, it doesn't begin to develop its patina until its outward home has begun to fade.  It takes a lifetime to learn the blessings of surrender.  

When we dial back that blue flame a bit and surrender to the slow and steady embers, relinquishing our need to be right, there's a peace that nestles in.  There's a clarity that the sovereignty and grace of God will work all things out.  This is not a "giving up" but rather a recognition.  To surrender is not to be "taken over" but to be set free.

"Look at that man, bloated by self-importance--full of himself but soul-empty.  But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive."

Habakkuk 2:4


 

Spring Breath by maureen maniquis

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Spring is often associated with new life.  It’s that time of year when freshness appears and life flourishes in an abundant array of colors, sounds and fragrances.  It’s a time that brings with it multiple meanings of the word itself.  We can get a spring in our step as the weather warms and invigorates us toward new projects and outdoor activities.  We spring back into action after the lethargy of the cooler months.  We witness the resilience of all of nature and we smile with hope.

Living in Florida-spring often goes unnoticed.  It tends to get passed by with the mild winters moving quickly into the heat of summer.  But, this year, we have had a glorious spring of dry breezy days and cooler evenings that, for a Floridian, could bring a welcome rare chill.

I seem to find myself simultaneously in a kind of spring of the soul.  For some time now I’d been buried under a hard packed crust of lifeless ground.  My very breath was but a rote necessity of in and out, in and out, filling the lungs but never really penetrating the inner places that make a life satisfying.  I’d lost the joy of my Lord.  I’d somehow lost my connection to him and the beauty of who he is.  It took me a long time to even recognize what was missing in my daily breath, so numb had I become, so hollow.  But I began to breathe in his direction.  My breaths came in soft whispers at first rising upward to his ever bending ear.  He listened quietly as he always does when my heart is in search of understanding.  So gentle is he, like a Father who knows what his child needs, not a quick fix but a new perspective.

Over time I began to feel his breath coming in my direction.  At first, it was just a slight flutter like a ripple in my lungs.  A noticeable event if ever so brief.  I could feel a change was in the air but my senses were still in hibernation.  Soon, the ground began to soften as the moist breath of heaven fell upon it.  As I breathed in this rich mixture of love and truth, little shoots of joy began to spring up with new life.  What had seemed to be painted with a grey brush was suddenly bursting forth in brilliant colors again.

My soul has awakened and it feels so good! I thank my Lord for his very breath in me.

On this day in early spring, in the month of Abib, you have been set free.”

‭‭Exodus‬ ‭13:4 NLT