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After a drawn-out year I’m finally settling into a home where I can put down some roots, and stay a while. A few treasures had bumped and crunched in this move or that one, and so I found myself with a few repair projects, first a teapot whose handle was now in four pieces. Mr. Hardware was quite helpful and recommended a fancy new cement. I snagged it, and a tube of super glue just in case things didn’t go quite as I’d planned.
This teapot has never been the sturdiest of souls, always the first to burst into tears when something unjust happens. Clearly, this last move had injured it nearly beyond repair. The first product wasn’t adhering quickly enough before the weight of the broken piece would fall out of it’s position. Finally with the super glue I was able to glue all four pieces at the same time rather than one at a time.
I couldn’t help but notice that the restoration process for this teapot was unique just as our own healing journey requires a unique combination of restorative ingredients. I realized my turquoise bit of pottery would never host a tea party again. I’m pretty sure the potter put a rather slinky handle on this chubby and adorable pot, but even with an entire ounce of super glue plotzed in every crack and crevice, it would never be the same.
And so it is with us. Some have been decimated by life’s harsh circumstances. Others are running from the rod which measured them as a child, and found them lacking. So severe were it’s judgments that they mete out penalties against their bodies, or crush others needlessly. With others, an unfulfilled dream or failure to become the man or woman they’d hoped, a yawning ache remains.
The Bible, in Jeremiah 18, contains a beautiful story about the prophet being prompted by the Lord to visit the potter’s house for an object lesson quite like mine. As Jeremiah observes the potter at the wheel, the Lord asks a poignant question of Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you as the potter does the clay?” The more intimate and beautiful friendships with Him come with yieldedness to God, as the Potter.
Lent is a beautiful season for reflection. My question is this, have you come to the place where you’ve reached the end of yourself? The way in which we become unstuck in this life is to yield. Obviously my teapot doesn’t have a will. But submitting to the process of becoming reconciled to our Maker requires a choice. When we get to the place where we stop yelling about our rights, and yelling about how life should have gone, then we will find intimacy with God. It’s when we listen and release our fist into an opened hand that we find Him if we invite Him to speak, and to heal. In the process we may find that – healed – we’ll never become the person of our dreams. Yet, I do promise this, we’ll discover the dreams that our Maker had for us. After all, maybe you were meant to be a thing of Beauty rather than Function.
Tea can be such a plebeian pursuit when you’re a fancy teapot sporting a wickedly cracked handle.
Go in Love.
Among the most pivotal changes to my perception about God was in coming to terms with the idea that He does not always explain Himself. Nor does He get too shook up about appearances. Both aspects grated on me a bit at first, but they are true.
We were taught from an early age that Jesus, as the Son of God, paid the price for our brokenness with His own life. Without it we lack hope and the economies of eternity, life and death become quite real to us. However, when we choose to rely on Him, He does not remain a celestial gum ball machine. God becomes someone we can know, as Father God. Jesus – both God and man, becomes relatable as we observe His relationship with His Father. Anyway, that’s the gig, right?
Let’s assume you can relate to me on this level … having made those choices long ago, and having cultivated this relationship with God for decades. A lotta decades, now that I think about it. As with any relationship that starts out as acquaintances, a friendship grows and before long the two people can see one another’s humanity. The analogy breaks down a bit comparing this to a relationship with God but bear with me.
With familiarity in friendship, or a marriage, there’s so much isn’t there. Think of your best friend: there’s that time when she failed you completely. Or your spouse: He never picks up His socks. It would be great if she wouldn’t be so needy. And on we go.
Longevity in relationship with God is similar, except He’s pretty good about picking up His socks. But the fact is, God has a ‘nature’ just as we do. He has things He does, and does not do. The nuances become clear over time. Two of these I’ve pointed out, and want to discuss.
God does not always explain Himself. There are so many aspects of God that we learn through Scripture, through people, and even through Creation. Isaiah 45:15 says, “Thou art a God who hides.” I love that. Haven’t you ever had the world come crumbling in on you? You’re driving down the road, mumbling to God, asking for help – pleading actually – and there’s nothing. Nada. There can be all sorts of reasons for His silence. But sometimes it’s no different than two friends driving down the road together and one is blathering and the other one is listening, engaged, but not really saying much. At other times, life can be a bit of Hide-And-Seek with God. I’ve written about this before so I won’t overdo. But He’s no different than a good parent who lets his child struggle a bit while a lesson is learned.
God is not nearly as concerned about appearances as we are. Most people want to be found as good and kind people. Most of humanity wants to be found fighting for the right cause. We’re all appalled when we’re caught up short by facts. What about God? What about all that violence in the Old Testament of the Bible? Genocide and adultery, and babies sacrificed. Yeesh. So many appalling events, when you take a step back. Isn’t He a God of love? Why would a God of love allow people to die? Entire people groups being wiped off the face of the Earth? And what about the Flood? Starting over with human kind? I mean…
And yet He is. He is a God of outrageous love.
Being in a relationship with God doesn’t always mean that all my prayers get answered, and every wound is healed. All the desires of my heart are met.
Charismatic folk, in particular, are so convinced that if we name it and claim it, or if we shout that mountain down; if we fast and prostrate ourselves before God that it will all work out nicely. Because He’s a good God, right? He loves us? He does. And He is. But we’re positive that if we obey more, or we rejoice in our suffering that He’ll come through. And He does. … but if He doesn’t come through, what then?
As the song says, “You’re a good, good Father…” What about that when the long-awaited baby dies? What about that when we didn’t get to say goodbye? Or they weren’t healed? What if her excruciatingly difficult life just shuddered to a close?
I find that we’re afraid to wrestle with the hard questions. “What if it seems like He has failed me? What then?” When the equation shakes out, and I find that I’m the one that has failed, somehow that’s okay because I’m human. I screw up. But God? How do I wrap my head around this? He’s silent sometimes.
I can attest to having walked this road fully. Completely. Utterly. We are never prepared for the shattering disappointments. I want you to know that it’s okay to doubt. As a good, good Father, He’s vast enough to field all the questions. All the hate. All the decimating emotions and patterns of thinking.
Many of you in marriages have found that grit that makes you stay with your partner. The fun stuff is over and this is the long haul. Don’t misunderstand me … there are times when we need to walk away. Forgive ourselves, and others, and just quietly close the door. However, in the relationships where you are meant to go the long haul, it really does require staying in the game. It can be that way in a relationship with God as well. When you don’t understand. When, by all appearances, things don’t look right. When you get the air sucked out of you with bad news. The disciple named Peter and his colleagues were in the same predicament. When the going was getting rough, Peter said to Jesus, “To whom, Lord, would we turn? You have the words of eternal life.”
A decades-long relationship with God isn’t about having all my prayers answered. It’s a relationship. It’s about choosing to encounter Him, and to love and be loved by Him in spite of outcomes. It’s about learning to sit with Yah – the Almighty Father – when it’s messy. Elizabeth Eliot coined the phrased, “…to carry within one’s self the unanswered question.” That is what faith is all about. Often it’s only then – when we’re encountering the Presence of God, and basking in His love – that the questions cease to roar in our ears. And we can rest in the knowledge that we are deeply, deeply loved by a God who longs for relationship with us.
Without preamble about my multi-year absence from this space, my stories always seem to form out of chaos. And so I find myself, once again, reaching into the disorder of a season in an effort to craft narrative and strategy. This past year offered dozens of fragments of perspective, slivers of insight not yet joined to a whole perspective; it was as though I was seeing ‘in a mirror dimly’.
It is deeply satisfying for me, even comforting, to construct a narrative about what I’ve observed. Often in my work, I employ this method for solving software problems. Whenever I have a bit of code that just won’t behave, it’s storytime. Somehow, amid the silliness of personifying inanimate bits of data into characters, plot and motive, I find my solution.
Suppose the fragments of our lives – the situations that cause us to say, “Why me, again?” or “Why this?” when assembled side-by-side comprise a fractal that is our life. Only then can things start to make sense. It is not so much about the broken pieces, those unexplained events, so much as who we become in the sorting.
Deconstructing circumstances and seasons in our lives demands courage. Sifting. Pausing. Gazing. Releasing. Embracing. Reaching inward, we are confronted with our inability to make sense of things. Or worse, we connect the wrong dots, and wind up in Topeka. It happens. And yet, if we are willing God reveals His magnificent ability to bring order out of chaos, to make all things new. He who hovered over the darkness and void at Creation, and brought order with His words, is doing so yet today.
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Revelation 21:5 NAS
Your deadline is now. Actually it’s tomorrow morning but your project or presentation is a mess. Something has got to happen or you’re toast.
Feel that panic? I do.
What is it that causes us to pull it together and deliver the goods in the 11th hour?
The creative process is perhaps my favorite topic to write about. I’m reminded of some great principles extracted from Genesis 1, that help me manage my creative endeavors, whether for work or personal.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void; and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Genesis 1:1-2
In the beginning of a creative effort, we find it formless and void. We are shocked and even panicked at its lack of form. The vacuum can be overwhelming.
“…Darkness was over the surface of the deep… ” The lack of light – even life – is everywhere. This reminds me of when, too early on in a project, we are looking for life, a spark, and it is off-putting when we don’t find it. God, in His most notable creative work, creation itself, indicates that darkness was everywhere.
We are invited to emulate God in His creative method, to brood over our creative works until they become transformed, bearing Light and Life.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:3-4
Creative endeavors come in all sizes shapes and colors. Regardless of what it is, it is necessary to say what it’s going to be.
A teacher creates a lesson plan against a curriculum. An architect works against a blueprint. With my line of work I have a functional design and deliverables. A writer produces an outline of what he or she will write. Every line of work has its own commitment of what the creative effort will be, or not be. In doing so we emulate God’s method when He says, “Let there be Light.”
The words we use to define a project are often packed with meaning. My teacher friend often cites how a curriculum she has compiled meets the requirements of ‘Common Core’. Among teachers and parents that phrase is packed with meaning. God’s reference to Light is packed with meaning too, in His first words He is creating a way for the Son to be made manifest in the natural realm, His Son who is already present with Him at Creation. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all present there in that moment.
The creative process is multi-dimensional but we break it down by realizing that every endeavor is, at first, formless and void. It only begins to become when we declare what it will be and what it will not be.
Enough for now. Go create!
The seminar came about at the start of the year, when everyone tends to cast a vision for their life, dream dreams, create a bucket list, etc. The speaker referenced the brain’s left and right-sided processing. However, she clearly believed and purported that God only speaks to us through the right side of the brain because the left side is “intellectual” and therefore “fleshly thinking”, in other words the left side of the brain was only good for merely logical processing and not spiritual.
Ridiculous. Please humor me a moment while I fuss and fume, and proceed to correct this very bad teaching.
First, our whole person is created in God’s image, and there are not parts of us that are pleasing to Him while other parts are degraded. Psalm 139 is loaded with insight about the ways the God has created us and knows intimately the man or woman He has created us to be.
“My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth…”
Not only does He know what He has created, He is immensely pleased with who you are, and how you are wired. Why would God, as a King and Father, send His Son if He didn’t think you were worth His sacrifice?
I love Jeremy Riddle’s song, This is Amazing Grace. Give that a whistle sometime. https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Bethel-Music-Jeremy-Riddle/This-Is-Amazing-Grace
Anyway, I digress but this speaker suggested we should abandon logical thinking because only the creative thoughts were Spirit-led. Can you imagine?
Scripture shows us God is pretty good at conveying His thoughts to us, and putting plans in motion. He uses all manner of ways to communicate with us. You see a raspberry sunset and you cannot help but think, “Wow, God sure know how to use His crayons!” Okay, I’m kidding. But truthfully it’s difficult to see a sunset and not have a sense there’s a higher being outside ourselves, one who is wildly creative Himself.
Second, we should ponder the nature of God Himself.
This is God Omnipotent, the God who knows all things. Translated, He’s really smart and He’s designed His people to use their noggin. Especially when understanding His plans for our lives, He fully expects us to take advantage of the amazing intellect He has given us just as He has. Do you suppose that God who has created all things did so without engaging His intellect? Doubt it.
For the unaware, logical processing that occurs on the left side of the brain produces some of the most artistic and beautiful creations ever created. Systems that run, your iPhone and your car, are absolute works of art. Of course they are based in science and technology but you don’t think Michaleangelo might have used mathematics when He sculpted The David or painted the Sistene Chapel? Google Golden Ratio and Michaleangelo or Fibonacci, and you tell me. When spaceships beautifully and exquisitely orbit planets, let’s broadly assume it takes a bit more than crayons or a paintbrush.
I’ve had the privilege of working with some brilliant men and women over the years. While I have skills and brains, and I can hold my own in a crowd, these are the folks in whose presence you are humbled. From them I have learned this: One of the most astounding thresholds to cross is when science ceases to be science, and becomes art. That is to say that when the most intelligent people cannot explain why something works but they’ve tapped into the repeatable patterns that reveal truth and prove hypotheses. It’s then they just have to stand back and honor the pattern, honor the proven theory. It gives a deeper meaning to truth as well. Repeatable code. Finding the art in science. Those are moment of pure beauty.
This year? Dream big. Use your noggin … agree with God that His creation of you is amazing, and fling open the windows of possibility! What will you do? Who will you become? I can’t wait to see!
Recently I found myself in a discussion with friends where my words evoked a response that left me feeling 11 blocks from the intersection of Heard and Understood. “Meh…“, I thought, and let it go.
Yesterday while talking with a friend a red-headed man came up and randomly commented about us both being redheads. I couldn’t be bothered so I blew him off. He chided me in that he was merely socializing. Global Warming had not yet occurred in my heart so I’m sure he felt misunderstood … no matter that his drink was likely a smidge stronger than mine.
Late the other night, I visited a friend in the hospital. It was a last-minute text. The need was urgent, so I went. It was a moment to connect, to invite Heaven into her room, to comfort. Yet late at night, in a sub-zero, sterile hospital room, there is nothing that says, “Stay a while. Take off your jacket and put up your feet. How’s your family?” But because I’d chosen to be there I ignored the atmosphere and played the love card that was in my heart.
The contrast of these moments is vivid to me. And we only have moments, even soundbites by which an interaction is sealed into our minds. We can choose to connect or disconnect, and it’s often our sense of person hood that guides us. We can choose to remain emotionally available or check out. Our culture stick checks us, “They’re not worth your time, Samantha. You have other things to focus on.” But truthfully, there’s nothing that says, “I cherish human life” more than appreciating what we have with someone right in front of us. Living with our walls down makes us vul.ner.ab.le to rejection ever and anon. But no matter what my failure rate is, or how often I take a bruising for being misunderstood I want to master the art of really seeing people, and embracing their words for what they are.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis,
Got to get back to running the world from my sofa …
A gardenia bush blooms by the front door of the house. It’s fragrance evokes feelings of nostalgia. Without thinking I pluck a bloom whose leaves were bruised, and set it on my desk. To my delight, it’s fragrance filled the office, and I thought about something a family friend once told me.
Pauline had a gardenia bush that she kept in her home. In Northern Michigan a gardenia bush hasn’t a prayer outdoors with the weather-ly elements. But year after year, that small bush bloomed in it’s sunny corner of the room. It was Pauline who told me that a gardenia’s most poignant aroma comes from a bloom whose leaves were slightly bruised.
I cannot help but ponder the metaphor about life I’d just stumbled on. When looking at the white perfection of a bloom it seems impossible that bruising would have a purpose or function. Can it be true that the deepest and richest aspects of our lives are borne out of pain and loss? So often we put off grief and keep pain at arm’s length. Our walls stay high so we stay dry. Indeed. I’ve never been so dry, and crackly uncreative as those seasons when my walls were up. Arms flailing and inappropriate, silent gestures to the world at large … my pain. My world. “How dare you rock my boat?” These are words I’ve whispered in the direction of those who have hurt me. The petals of a gardenia are not bruised intentionally. But when it happens a deeper, even more priceless beauty is evoked: aroma.
So often we are desperate to retain that gracious, white perfection in our lives that we refuse to live. We refuse to try lest we make a mistake, lest we be the ones delivering the bruise to another. In order to really live we must learn to allow ourselves to make mistakes.
I live life with a focus on the numerous gifts and goodness that have come my way, but I must admit I have experienced a lot of losses. I identify with Lewis’ train of thought. When so many loved ones have come and gone; so many failures outweigh so few victories. Then there are questions of whether or not the victories are the right victories? After a while it seems simplest to just stay out of it. Stay out of harm’s way. No more bruising. No more mistakes.
And then the priceless realization. Did you know that the oil from a person’s fingertip can cause a gardenia’s petals to bruise? Or the delicate visit of a hummingbird, a falling leaf, a raindrop? And so it is with our hearts. At times there is a truth that we needed to face, a season of maturing, or a chance to become less victimized. It’s a design for life. The elements that we genuinely need to grow and become will find us, no matter how careful we are, no matter how much we surround ourselves with ‘safe people’.
Our task is to receive the moment like the morning dew. Let God do His work in our hearts. We press past the yawning grief and fear, and we become the beauty that the season intends.