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Dots and Dashes

The diagnosis,

the “I do” that changes to “I don’t,”

the 3 am phone call,

the job that evaporates,

the no-win choice,

the friend’s betrayal . . .

The deep hurts that

make us ask

   Why is this happening to me?

make us plead

   Take it away. Make it like it used to be.

make us groan

   It makes no sense. I don’t understand.

make us yearn

   I need to hear from you, Lord. I strain to hear your voice.

 Seurat-La_Parade_detail (2)

 What if God is taking the seeming chaos of our lives, the heart-aches, the disasters and making them into something beautiful, but we couldn’t see it from where we are? What if we’re too close to our problems?  What if we lack long-term perspective?

What if the Lord is trying to speak to us through the crackling interference of our stormy lives? What if we need to listen and then listen some more to learn to recognize the Savior’s voice?

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Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (nineteenth century, French, Post-Impressionist)

Georges Seurat’s most famous painting, Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte, is nearly 7 feet tall by 10 feet wide (2 x 3 meters). In order to take in the entire scene from a park in the 1800s, you might need to stand back, across the room.  If you were to walk closer to this famous work of art, you would see that it is painted with tiny dots and dashes of oil paint. From a distance the small spots of color blur together into different tones. Tiny bits of blue next to yellow will be seen as green–your eye does the mixing. Seurat is famous for this technique of painting, called pointillism, from the French word for points.

dots and dashes


Detail from Seurat’s La Parade de Cirque

We can’t stand far enough back to see the whole painting of our lives. All we often see  is a canvas full of splotches of oil paint. We can’t make out the pattern and have to trust that God is making exquisite art of our days, and that someday we will see and understand it all.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
 I Cor. 13:12   NLT

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dots and dashes

If you’re a ham radio operator or a Boy Scout, you might have learned Morse Code. Some of you might even recognize the SOS distress signal because you have seen it in a movie or read it in a book:   . . .   – – –   . . .

Most of us, however, would have no idea what a series of dots and dashes mean.

– – .   – – –   – . .       . .   . . .       . – . .   – – –   . . . –   .       (God is love)

Morse Code teachers found that students learn better when the code is taught as a language that is heard, instead of read. We  need to listen repeatedly to the dits and dahs of letters and words in Morse Code to begin to make sense of it.

In Morse Code, if “CQ” is broadcast, it means “seek you” (I’d like to converse with anyone who can hear my signal).  God is sending out a “CQ.” He wants to talk with us, to guide us, to be with us during the dark and painful times.

When we listen and listen and listen some more, we begin to hear letters and words take form from the garble of dots and dashes. We begin to recognize Jesus’ voice because we hear it so often.

I learn the pattern of your righteous ways.   Psalm 119:7   MSG

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.   John 10:27   NIV

My prayer for us all:

May God take the dots and dashes–the small, the painful, the messy bits of our lives and make something beautiful. May He change the static and indecipherable patterns into the clear truths spoken by the gentle Shepherd’s voice. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear!

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shepherd and sheep photo by Barb Briggs,

taken at Foreside Acres farm



I stood in the plumbing aisle of the hardware store, trying to decide which kitchen faucet to buy:

chrome or stainless steel finish?

sprayer in the main faucet or separate?

longer warranty or lower cost?

As I debated, I noticed the words on a faucet box that transported me from the plumbing aisle to my high school Spanish class:

“escutcheon plate optional.”


I was having trouble remembering a new set of Spanish vocabulary words, one of them escuchar, which means “to listen.”  I found a way to associate a word I knew with the Spanish verb that was new.

Escuchan means “they listen” in Spanish, which reminded me of the English word “escutcheon” (an ornamental or protective plate around a keyhole, drawer pull, light switch, or faucet).  So I imagined someone listening to a conversation behind a closed door by pressing their ear to the keyhole set in the escutcheon.  IMG_6319 (5)

While the words “escutcheon” and escuchan are somewhat similar in pronunciation, they come from different Latin roots:

  • “escutcheon”–meaning “a shield”
  • escuchar–meaning “to listen to, to heed or obey, or to overhear or listen secretly”

It was a complicated way to remember one Spanish verb, but it worked, and I still remember it these many years later.


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For the third week in a row I’ve been thinking about what God has to say about taking care with the words we speak.  I’ve studied Bible verses and written two posts:  Careful and Fragile Wings:  Careful, part 2,  but I guess I needed to hear more on the subject.

Last Sunday I was surprised to learn that the text for the sermon was James 3:1-12.  Our pastor spoke about the influence of the tongue and how powerful words can be.  Wicked words can be like a spark that sets a whole forest on fire.  Our tongue can “run wild” and be “full of deadly poison.”  Our words have the potential for evil or blessing.

A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

James 3:5   MSG

Yesterday Jessica Turner, writing for (in)courage, shared a post called “The Difference Your Words Make,” recalling a time she spoke words of appreciation to a co-worker.  Jessica concludes:

Kind words are balm for our souls. We need to both give and receive kind words.

Too often I find myself going about my day so quickly that I miss opportunities to extend a simple kind word. Perhaps you do the same?

Have you heard the story about the pastor who preached the same sermon Sunday after Sunday?  When confronted by a member of the congregation, the pastor explained that he would move onto the next topic when the people started living out the current sermon.  Maybe that’s me–hearing the same message repeatedly until I get it.

God keeps leading me–again and again–to pay attention to my words and be careful what I say and what I write.  I don’t have to press my ear to the keyhole to hear what He has to say; God’s words have been pretty plain.

But I do need to listen and heed what God is saying.  I need to obey.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

James 1:22   NIV

Escutcheons may be optional on my kitchen faucet, but listening–followed by obedience–is not.  I need to remember Jesus’ words (in Spanish and English).

He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”   Luke 11:28   NIV

Él contestó:  —¡Dichosos más bien quienes escuchan lo que Dios dice, y lo obedecen!   Lucas 11:28   Dios Habla Hoy (Spanish)



  linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee

linking with Emily Freeman ( at What We Learned in March





linking with Michelle DeRusha

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