Pause Buttons…

Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on Board©2018 Lynn Abbott

“Climb every mountain/Ford every stream/Follow every rainbow/’Til you find your dream…” (Rogers and Hammerstein).

I played it again and again.  So often, in fact, that I scratched the LP. Nevertheless, my 8-year-old self continued to belt out the chorus.

Press the Pause Button.

During a recent professional interview, someone asked me, “How did you get your start as an artist?”

Obviously, for some, it appears I’m living the dream.

I paused… uncertain how to answer the question.

Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on BoardPause… Yeah, that about describes the majority of my journey.  In fact, looking back, the pause button truly played a significant role in my life.

And for a time, I believed the melody had ceased; indeed, it seemed the music had been replaced by the cacophony of necessity…every day living.

Maybe, you can relate.  You had dreams as a young person.  It seemed you started well.  And then, life took over.

Soon you found yourself chasing the pragmatic. Or even, abandoning your dreams for the sake of others.  Or it could be that someone or something actually stood in opposition to your dream.

Quite honestly, my story is a bit of a mixture. And as I considered the question asked of me, a rush of memory carried me back to my teens.

I have always loved art. I come from a family of artists, and I’d spent my life up to that point writing and illustrating stories for friends.  I’d even won awards in school for my creations.

You had dreams as a young person.  And then, life took over.

However, one afternoon after some plein air sketching in art class, our art teacher mentioned that the school newspaper needed a new logo design.  My best friend, who also loved art, immediately volunteered.

Although I rejoiced for her, I felt disappointed because I knew I did not wish to compete with her for the honor of designing that logo.

After all, she was my best friend. We had weathered many middle-school  and early high school storms together.  And I didn’t wish to hurt our friendship in any way.

When I arrived home that afternoon, I immediately sought my Dad’s perspective.   My father listened quietly as I poured out my heart, and empathized with my disappointment.

And then, he quietly suggested that, after all, creating art might not be the most practical of choices for my future life. He gently noted that in light of my long-term financial success, perhaps, the day’s events might not be as disappointing as they first appeared.

Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on BoardHis words resonated.

That day, I made a conscious decision to pursue writing, more specifically journalism.  It certainly seemed the more pragmatic choice at the time. And although I continued to draw and paint as a hobbyist, I abandoned the idea of art as a career.

For me, that art adventure was over. Press “stop.”  Hit the “eject” button. Put that dream on the shelf.

Despite my passion for art and my initial foundation work,  I chose not to build any further.  The foundation sat.

I did not plan to climb that mountain. The obstacles were too great. The doors swung shut. And obviously relationships complicated and even prohibited the pursuit of my artistic dreams.

Or so I thought.

But God …

Isn’t that the way the best stories begin?

“But God…”

I think  Ezra would agree. When God calls, that calling is for all time even when it seems the work has been put on hold or completely abandoned.

As the book of Ezra opens, we find the nation in captivity.  Yet, God had made a promise through the prophet Jeremiah that the Israelites would return to the land.  King Cyrus under whom Daniel served, had evidently come to a knowledge of Yahweh through Daniel.

For me, that adventure was over. Press “stop.” Put that dream on the shelf.

And just as Jeremiah had prophesied, Cyrus decreed that God’s people should not only return to Israel but they should also rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1,2).   This was God’s plan, God’s call.

God had preordained that Cyrus should be king and that Cyrus would spearhead the rebuilding of God’s temple:  artistry and practicality joined to glorify God.

Zerubbabel led the first group back to begin the work and Ezra followed later.  But the most important thing to note is that the people and their leaders embraced both their God-given task and God’s leading through His Word.

Even so, they faced road-blocks.  First,  adversaries attempted to infiltrate the camp.  They came to deceive and destroy the work.  Or as Shakespeare once wrote, “One may smile and smile and be a villain,” (Hamlet, Act I, Scene v).

Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on BoardYeah, the enemy works subtly.  Although he has lost the battle for a believer’s soul, he nevertheless seeks to prevent the child of God from fulfilling God’s purpose.

And so a host of fiery darts pepper our lives: doubt, discouragement, fear, and a variety of distractions …some even disguised as “good things.”

Yet, because Zerubbabel and the people immersed themselves in God’s Word, they recognized the enemy’s deception and remained true to God’s call.  The people built the temple’s foundation.

Although their indirect opposition failed, Israel’s enemies did not stop their efforts to stop God’s work.  They simply waited for a more opportune time.

When Artaxerxes ascended the Persian throne, they seized the moment, and persuaded the new king that a rebuilt temple in Israel posed a threat.  And Artaxerxes did not conduct a thorough examination.

Instead, he dug just deep enough to find evidence that supported Israel’s opponents and thus, followed their advice to issue a decree that all building cease.

What a disappointment for the Israeli people who had given up their big city security in order to return to a land now overrun by outlaws!

The dream of a rebuilt temple shattered.  It seemed the symphony had sputtered and died.   For years, the building remained incomplete.

“But God …” Isn’t that the way the best stories begin?

The pause…

For many, it’s reality. It happens.

But what I love about Ezra’s book is that it offers hope for all who wish to pursue God’s great purposes!

Perhaps, God has given you a dream.

Maybe, it seemed clear that God had called you to fulfill a task.  In faith and dependence upon Him, you began building.

However, events or obstacles required that the work stop.  And now you wonder, “Did I truly hear God’s call?  Will I ever see the work completed?”

Rest assured: God does not forget His people.  As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:13, “He is faithful even when we are faithless.”

Enter the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.  God used both to encourage the people to return to the temple project, (Ezra 5:1-11).

Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on BoardAnd this time, when enemies tried to derail the project, the leaders were prepared with an answer:  years before, Cyrus had decreed the temple be rebuilt.  And the laws of the Medes and Persians were unalterable.

Israel’s legal claim was confirmed and the work began again.  It wasn’t easy.  Things didn’t always go smoothly.  In fact, they had come to a prolonged standstill.

But God…

Yes, He had a plan.  And no one can ultimately prevent God from fulfilling His purposes, (Psalm 45:6; Psalm 56:3-4).

And so it has proven true for me.  Discouraged and doubting, I walked away from art.

Yet, God did not abandon His plans for me.  Although I had given up, He hadn’t completed His work in or through me.

In fact, He used all of my life experience, even those so-called “stalled” years, to further prepare me for my calling.

When the time was right, He brought me back to that abandoned building project…

That’s right. My heavenly Father used other believers to encourage me.  He addressed the “nay-saying” and then,  redirected my eyes.

When I turned toward the mountain I once believed too enormous to climb, God cleared the path; He swept the rubble from the building’s foundation.

God had a plan.  And no one can ultimately prevent God from fulfilling His purposes.

He placed me at my preordained post.

Press Play…

Farewell, “Pause Button.”  I’m climbing the mountain.Morning Walk_LynnAbbott Studios_12x12 Oil on Board

And despite the years that passed between my dream and its realization, my paintbrush has found a way to dance across canvas ground.  I’ve found hope and joy in once abandoned gifts.

You betcha. Ezra and I are proof that it’s never too late to begin.

Without a doubt, God has a plan for each of us as well as for His people.

Thus, you and I place our trust Abba. We look to Him to multiply our mustard seed faith, and to move mountains.

And as we move forward, embracing Abba’s purpose for us, we declare with Job, “‘I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted,'” (Job 42:2).

“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps,” ~Proverbs 16:9

“Then, he answered and said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, by by My Spirit’ says the LORD of hosts.”