Early Summer mornings were mine. Looking back, my family’s acreage was modest but charming. A hat-tip to childlike innocence, though. To my way of thinking back then it was expansive and idyllic, just like the hot days and cool nights of Northern Michigan.
My Dad, a pharmacist and my Mother, an artist-turned-shopkeeper, owned a pharmacy and gift shop in town. When we were not pulled into the rigors of a family business, we were all about life on 30 acres of woodsy countryside, and the lake nearby.
There was so much to discover and explore, and my favorite time was just after sunrise. The morning glories and hollyhocks would nod their greetings as I would venture out in my sleep clothes, ever curious what the new day held. Time would hold its breath while I picked lilacs and bury my face in their heady scent. Lilies of the valley and violets would poke their noses out from the beds along the edge of the house. There was always an abundance of beauty, if you watched for it.
Situated at the corner of the mowed grass, just before the stand of stately pine trees, was an old apple tree. It was perfect in every way; it’s long, low branches beckoned me to climb. My doll would join me at times. Oft’ recovering from her countless concussions from being waggled through my girly-girl-gone-tomboy-and-back-again existence, she was a quiet friend. I’m not sure she could get a word in edgewise anyway.
A rural life fostered creativity. The raw materials were so plentiful – whether berries or flowers, antique tools or something as simple hay baling twine – inquisitiveness was constant, the mystery of, “What’s next?” And what child would not be enthralled with an old phonograph, complete with records? Perhaps it belonged to my Dad’s grandparents. Nevertheless, we would wind it and listen to old music and climb the rafters of the old barn.
Of course we had horses. Some of us were more involved than others, with their livelihood. (And, by involved, I do mean hauling water from the house to the barn in the dead of winter.) There were the loads of hay that we hauled into the barn. Bales. I doubt I was 10 yet but I could hold my own. Once the hay was in, though, we had great fun making forts in the barn and being everywhere that our curiosity took us.
John Denver’s song, On The Road so aptly depicts our lives, however simple yet magical:
We were just on the road
Then my Daddy read a sign and took us in the wrong direction
I asked my Daddy where are we goin’, he said we’ll just follow
Our nose, so I looked out the window and dreamed I was a cowboy
We were just on the road
Then the Mercury was ready to go and I had to leave her
While we didn’t push an old V8 anywhere, we most definitely followed our nose in car rides deep into the woods where we’d stop to pick berries, or watch the elk.
Nowadays, few mornings go by, that I do not sit outside and watch the sun come up. Even in wintertime, I’ll step out for a minute, fend off the drifts and catch a breath of winter-y silence. It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves, our lives are replete with the ingredients to live a bountiful existence. It’s about being enchanted by the simple things, the old phonograph, a fort in the hay barn, or the violets at the edge of the house.
Have you seen those gimmicks on social media that ask if the car is blue or green? You plunk in your answer only to learn the car was actually green when you said blue, or vice versa. It’s not a new lesson; either our DNA or our perspective can take us down a completely different path than the person next to us.
At one point I was part of a ministry that emphasized learning Scripture as one of its core values. I learned how to navigate the Bible, to understand the nature of God and how He wants to interact with us. (Confession: I was just a tiny bit of an over-achiever back then. And laid-back was only used in reference to a car seat.) If the Scripture passages were about self-discipline, I was going to be the most self-disciplined. If they were about purity, I was going to be the purest.
Scripture is amazing, and timeless. There are a myriad of teachings that convey God’s heart toward mankind and His standards. The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospels and Jesus’ numerous parables teach us life lessons for relationships, money, time, and prayer. The fruits of the Spirit give the briefest insight into the outcomes of a God-centered life, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Still working on some of those…) The Epistles teach us how to live in community with one another, as followers of Christ, how to love and forgive.
In any culture young adults find affinity in groups and doing things together. It’s an exciting time of life, with new-found independence and (hopefully) income. Everyone dresses alike, group-thinks and adopts trendy catch-phrases to reflect their one-ness. One such phrase we adopted was the pursuit of “God’s best” for our lives. It was sort of a shared core-value, and it got tossed around more than a set of Yahtzee dice. “You could go to New Jersey but you want God’s best for your life, don’t you?” or “You could become the Surgeon General but maybe that wouldn’t be God’s best.”
Whether in this group or some other, catch-phrases or group-think mindsets evolve. Most likely God’s best was originally intended to imply a life surrendered to God’s ways and standards. Instead we inferred a sort of nirvana of a painless future with dreams fulfilled, and problems solved. At what point did fantasy replace an authentic pursuit of godliness? Speaking of which, what would the phrase, God’s best have meant to Mother Theresa? Based on the evidence of her life, it must have meant a life spent emulating the Gospels, i.e., feeding, clothing and loving the unloved, where ever God led her, i.e., Calcutta.
This diatribe about God’s best is only one example but a ginger, truthful examination reveals much. I, for one, bacon-wrap phrases and principles with my own dreams or wounds and then pin it on God with questions, pain or expectations. Suppose my visual of God’s best has always entailed the proverbial white picket fence, a husband, and 2.3 children and a dog. Wouldn’t that be misleading for me as a condo-renting, non-parental, non-dog owning single? It’s a lens that I see through, and one that can lead me to misunderstand God’s abundance toward me.
What if we were to choose authenticity over catch phrases and clarity over shallow communications? What if we were to stand in the midst of what’s done and dreams unfulfilled and took the risk of owning our life, calling it what it is, and reaching toward the One who gave His only Son?
When I was young, I had a lot of freedom to roam our property. Though I usually explored with a friend, I often kept my Dad company. Together, or as a trio with my Mom, we would trek to the creek, to our cabin nestled in the woods. Dad would always have some reason but truthfully he just wanted us to be outdoors. My parents taught me to notice things. We would be intent on finding morels or Mom would crave a bit of bittersweet for the table.
The creek flowed at the edges of the property, and I learned to respect it’s changes from season to season. In early Springtime, it’s current could be fierce for a little-known brook trout stream in Northern Michigan. Some years water seemed to come from every direction, rushing, roiling, banking first this way and then that, roaring it’s pleasure at being free to tumble into nearby Black Lake. In other years it would just chortle and chuckle it’s way down to the lake. No matter what Springtime is a glorious season for the Stoney Creek.
Later the steamy Summertime would find that same stream yawning to catch it’s breath. So hot were the dog days of Summer that it would be reduced to a trickle. I’d roll up my pant legs and slog through the rocky beds, clearing natural dams. It was gratifying to ease the agony of the dried up creek. What little water flowed was less impeded through my efforts. I spent many nights in our tiny cabin at the edge of the creek. The crickets chattering all at once, spreading the news of my stay.
As Summer eased into Fall, the stream’s current would pick up again. Beech and Black Walnut trees would begin pimping their yellowy wares with a sultry, “Follow me!” Silvery birches follow suit, punctuating the horizon like so many drumsticks. Sumac gives a nod, and flings it’s red wings, a gesture to the first frost. Burnt oranges lean into the harmony, and then, as if in a grand chorus, the Maples bellow out their fiery red feelings; nothing is ever left unsaid by the hardwoods of Northern Michigan in the Fall. Indian Paintbrush join in the chorus, flagrantly picketing in the open fields. Queen Anne’s Lace pull their white, crocheted sweaters
close at night signaling the start of the shush. The shorter days reduce the cacophony of color to a gentle hum, next a lullaby, and then a whisper, as the first snows fall. (See for yourself on Instagram with #PureMichiganScenicRoute!)
Deep Winter would find me flogging the snow banks at its edges of the creek, with my standard-issue Ski-Doo snowmobile boots. I’d watch the snow tumble into the freezing waters that trickled below. Sheer, glassy ice sheets remain as Winter’s secret; Springtime would be along soon! The first mud and ruts would be covered over with that thin ice just begging for a good, crunch! By afternoon all would melt beneath the sun’s gaze. As if starting at the top of the symphony’s score, a trickle of water would flow down in rivulets, halting at first, and then a rush. Water everywhere. It was Springtime again.
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!