The God who Sees and Transforms

rocky coast

In a book titled The Ethics of Mobilities: Rethinking Place, Exclusion, Freedom and Environment, the author tells a story of a woman who had decided to commit suicide. The demands on her life were too much. She could not cope with them and so, late at night after her children were in bed, she went down to the sea. She made her way to a place that she loved best, on a cliff overlooking the sea. She had chosen this place to die. As she was making her way there, she saw a metal sign fixed to one of the cliffs, engraved with words from the Psalms:

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Beside the metal plate was a box containing other verses from the same Psalm.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

She read these words and sat down for a while and then went back to her home. This was the beginning of a transformation of her soul, a decision to work through her problems and manage her life.

I read this story with profound gratitude. There was no person there to guide her. No human to stop her from her decision to end her life. But the words of a Psalm were enough.

In the Old Testament book of Genesis I read that one of the names for God is ‘El Roi’ – “the one who sees.” That the woman saw words from a Psalm on a metal sign fixed to rock, words that so eloquently speak to this God who sees, is not a coincidence. Her life was transformed by encountering “the God who sees.” 

In the real world of waking, working, eating, sleeping – repeating the cycle over and over and over again – it is easy to forget that I know “the God who sees.” That same God who knit me in the womb of my mom, who watched over my birth, who has revealed himself in countless ways and times in my own life – he is the God who sees. He is the God who sees my heart and my surroundings; he is the God who sees our world in its broken state, the God who when on earth said “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Today is a grey day, a day where the warmth of sunshine and summer feel too far away. But here is truth: I know the God who sees and transforms.Today that is enough. 

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi [the “well of the Living One who sees me”].Genesis 16:13–14

*Psalm 139

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When You Realize Injustice Begins in Your Heart

Freedom trail
Doesn’t he look HOT in his outfit?!

It’s sweat-dripping, sidewalk-sweating hot. A “virtual sauna-bath” says one weather site.

I shuffle through downtown and the homeless population lolls complacently. No amount of me buying people cold coffee, blueberry flavor, extra cream and sugar with a croissant on the side will take away the fact that right now I hate every one of them. Hate the lethargy. Hate the laziness. Want to scream “Get a job!”

It’s so easy to judge. 

And because I’m that way, and judging is as catchy as a virus my wandering eye finds more people to judge.

That lady, so perfectly coiffed? She’s got it easy. I just know she has central air-conditioning and ‘plays’ at her job. I bet you real money that she shops at Nordstroms and Talbots (Not the outlet) and by God – look at her gold!

And that family? Happily on vacation?….Why on earth do they have to ride the subway at seven am? Sleep-in for God’s sake!

I’m so busy judging that I bump into a wall. Literally.

And that’s where I belong because only a wall and the Living Breathing Spirit of God can knock some sense into me. I easily condemn injustice and brokenness in the world without recognizing where I contribute to it. Every single day in uncountable ways.

Because injustice begins in my heart. Brokenness is birthed in my soul. 

I long to see a world transformed without realizing it needs to start in this heart. The one in my body. The one that beats a slow pulse – 62 beats per minute. The only heart I have any control over.

“Transform me inside out, upside down, right side up. Show me O Lord how I contribute to the injustice and sin-brokenness of the world and then by your mercy – change me”. This is my early morning prayer

When You Need to Have the Layers Peeled

“Culture stripping begins the moment you touch the earth in this new place. It doesn’t stop. Ever. Not even when you return to your passport country. Culture stripping forever changes who you are.

Culture stripping is the slow peeling back of layers and layers of self. You give up pork. You give up wearing blue jeans. You give up holidays with relatives. And those are the easy things. Your ideas about politics and faith and family, your sense of humor and taste in clothes, the books you read, evolve and change. Even, potentially, your outlook on spirituality.” Rachel Pieh Jones in Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping in A Life Overseas

In a beautiful post published five months ago on A Life Overseas, Rachel Pieh Jones takes us beyond culture shock. It was the first piece I think I ever read by Rachel and I was hooked.

Her insight into those layers beyond culture shock comes from experience and she writes about culture pain and culture stripping with wisdom.  I re-read this piece yesterday and it hit me again that I am in a season of culture stripping. It’s like a sunburn. No matter how much aloe or cream you put on it, it still hurts. But perhaps it’s a good hurt, a healthy pain. Perhaps it’s a pain that shows me I’m willing to change, take a deep breath and be stripped of all that hinders.

The cultural trappings that need to go are being ripped off, in their place a new softness that will help me learn. The cultural superiority that I wear so well-hidden, and so hideously? That’s being ripped away and in its place first tears, then a sigh of relief and moving forward.

And as I reflect on culture stripping I realize the Apostle Paul speaks to culture stripping in the book of Romans. His words “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”* are culture stripping words. They are words of challenge, words to wake me to the reality of two worlds – worlds often in conflict with each other.

We who have lived life between worlds should be good at this. We should be able to understand culture stripping and the need for having our layers peeled.

But – I’m not. Not good at having these layers peeled. I fight it. I get angry. I ask ‘Why?’. I point the finger at others. “Look at her” I say “She needs culture stripping!” I try and put the layers back on – because I’ve become comfortable in my layers and I’m stubborn.

I am one flawed character in life’s novel.

But – God is the author and as author of my story He is gently doing this culture stripping, this layer peeling – ever persistent and ever-present.

But oh, it still hurts. 


Rachel closes her post by taking us into the Narnia series and looking at one of the most flawed characters in that series – Eustace found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The first words of the book describe Eustace perfectly: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” He was self-centered, proud, and he whined about everything. In the book he is turned into a dragon, his body changing on the outside to what he already is on the inside. Through the course of the story he is transformed back to a boy through the work of Aslan and becomes a different person. He is stripped, layers and layers of dragon skin peeled away until his soft, boy skin is once again revealed. Eustace says this:

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” 

And in the transformative process of culture stripping, – sometimes the only thing that makes me bear it is the pleasure of feeling the ‘beastly stuff’ peeled off.

*Romans 12:2a

Blogger’s Note: I encourage you to head over to Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping – the post that inspired this one.

When Home is Hard

I shut my eyes willing the bright sunlight to soak into me, willing myself to never leave. I was in seventy degrees and sunny. I was in peace and quiet. My backpack full of burdens was unloaded and I rested easy.

But I knew I was going home. And right now home is hard.

Home is ice, snow, and hard earth. Home is question marks and unknowns. Home is unopened mail, dishes in the sink that should be in the dishwasher, potential for conflict.

Home is hard.

I felt myself tensing up – how could I go back to hard? I had tasted easy – I didn’t want hard. I had tasted peace – I didn’t want chaos. I had tasted rest – I didn’t want frenzy. I had walked the clean, cold tiles of my friend’s home, and sat in the warmth of a park while looking on mountains in the distance. I had stopped to take in palm tree silhouettes at twilight and sunsets across an expansive sky. I had slept with no neighbors above me yelling at their dog and pounding across the floor at midnight.

What do you do when home, the place you look forward to, the space where you belong, is hard?

I take a deep breath, hold out my hands, and ask for grace. I breathe in Grace. Grace to enter hard. Grace to enter chaos. Grace to enter frenzy. Grace to enter with gratitude. I can’t do this on my own – I’m desperately in need of intervention.

Because right now? Home is hard and hard needs the transformation that comes through gratitude and grace. 

Phoenix, sunsets, palm trees

Scratched on the Walls of an Insane Asylum: The Love of God


The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell

It has been my favorite hymn for as long as I can remember. I remember singing it as a little girl, learning to play it as a young piano student, and memorizing it as a college kid.

It has traveled through life with me. It has outlived campy songs, sung with clear voices while holding hands with the Boyfriend in Murree; it has outlived worship choruses, sung with sincerity across the globe.

But I didn’t know its history until recently. The words were found scratched on the walls of an insane asylum by a patient. The story goes that he must have scribbled it in one of his “saner” moments.

It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell

I wanted to weep when I read this. These words, poignant words of the love of God from someone who suffered from a disease of the mind. What depth of understanding he must have had of living hell; what horror he must have experienced in the prison of both his own mind and at the will of evil men who find the insane easy prey.

And yet within all that he could pen these words.

To believe in the redemptive love of God through Jesus is to believe in a reordering of life, to believe that things are not as they seem. It is to believe in transformation of the whole person; it is to believe that beyond the ugly is beauty; beyond the broken is wholeness; beyond dementia is a sound mind; beyond sorrow is joy; beyond insanity is sanity; and beyond death is life.

It is to believe that nothing is beyond the redeeming love of God.

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Land Transformed

There is an area of land at the corner of Memorial Drive and the Boston University Bridge in Cambridge that reaches from the road and goes down hill to the Charles River.

The area is home to Canadian and white geese who sit or waddle in large numbers beside old railroad tracks, unafraid of the one freight train that comes by every evening. Farther on a small tunnel is covered from top to bottom with beautiful graffiti, city art that brightens the dark inside.

Since moving here four and a half years ago this piece of land has been covered in brambles. It’s known that the area is used by the homeless and those who find it a useful place to get high.  It’s not pretty and I wouldn’t go there after night fall.

In the past months we’ve watched the transformation process of the land. It is quite remarkable. Brambles have been torn down and replaced with tilled earth and fresh new plants, rust-colored pine chips carefully surrounding each plant. These are roped off allowing them to root and new grass is planted throughout this space.

A wide part beginning at the road, narrowing as it goes downhill, is covered with gravel marking walking space. It then slopes further toward the water allowing for easy access, letting the walker have a great view of the river and rowers gliding under the bridge.

It is becoming a lovely piece of land. It is being transformed. It has happened so slowly that I’m not sure when we began to notice it. We first wondered what had happened to the area – something was clearly changing. We wondered what the planners had in mind. We speculated and moaned a bit “Wouldn’t it be nice if they changed this area – made it into a nice park? I wonder why the city doesn’t do something” and off we would go on our walk, forgetting about it.

And then one day it began to emerge. A picture was forming on this bit of land. A picture that allowed us to begin imagining how lovely it was going to be. Slowly the picture, like an artist painting a landscape, is becoming clearer by the day.

It is land transformed. It will be beautiful in the summer and the geese are already enjoying the space as they trespass single file into the area.

This land transformed has been a life-transforming lesson for me. It is so obvious that there is change, but it hasn’t always been that way. We have bemoaned the look of this piece of land many times, not at all willing to believe the transformation would occur.

I am impatient when it comes to change and the transformation process. I don’t want to “see through a glass dimly”, I want to see with clear eyesight and I want it NOW. I don’t want to go through the pain of pruning and having brambles removed; the earth of my heart tilled. I don’t want it to be slow in me or anyone else. My annoyance with the park prior to its slow transformation is telling.

True confession? I hate needle point for this very reason. It’s so slow. I know the result is amazing and beautiful, but it takes too much time for tiny stitches from different colored thread to emerge on the cloth as a picture and I’m not willing to go through the process.

Human hearts and souls are like this land, heavy with brambles that make access difficult. Yet even as my heart sits, there is this Master Planner at work, slowly but confidently seeing something that most passers-by, unaware of the process, do not see. Until one day, brambles have been pruned, the beauty of transformation emerging from beneath and I realize it’s been happening all along.