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.
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
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.
If words carry the weight of intention and illumination, presence breaks the sound barrier.
Not long ago I had to undergo some surgeries. The doctors wanted to see if they could improve my hearing with repair to my ear canal. The recovery was unbelievably slow. My sister came to stay with me for both surgeries. She accepted no arguments. I didn’t even know she was there, really, or that my niece had tag-teamed with her for a few days. The two surgeries, both failures, occupied an entire year of my life. How deeply I needed the warm touch of friends. How much I needed to know all was going to be right again.
I think it was this experience that has heightened my awareness of presence. Following that experience, I’ve not been able to know someone was in the hospital, having a baby or a health setback, without just showing up.
I’m reminded of the way my aunt and cousin drove 400 miles to be with my family when my Dad passed. Time and again, they have quietly set aside their own lives to be.there. No fanfare. They’re just standing in the doorway every time something major in my life occurs. Over and over and over again. And every single time I think to myself, “They get this. They understand presence.”
We have such ability to change the atmosphere when we enter a room. The Godhead lives inside of us. Wherever we go, we have that choice to usher in love and goodness, kindness and laughter; or we can scowl and bring judgment, create schisms and cliques. I choose love.
I want to be that person. I want to be a person whose presence carries the weight of Heaven, the gentleness of “I get you.” And, “I can’t solve it, but I’m here.”
I’ve a journal in which I record dreams, visions, ideas. Sometimes people will share words or reflect the way my life has influenced them, and I’ll jot those things down and ponder them. I saw an entry that I wanted to share with you.
In July of 2010 I’d had a picture of concentric circles with my heart in the center. The circles around my heart represented things that I owned which were of value to me: my house with a big grassy yard, my Jeep because it reflected the sassiness of my personality; my cat whom I utterly adored; and other luxuries that I was able to afford at the time, like manicures and pedicures, et al. My life as I knew it then felt hollow. I was working insanely hard to maintain a house whose value was in the toilet because of the housing market crash.
After three incredibly long years of waiting for my house to sell, I rented it out, quit my job, and up-ended all my roots and headed for LA. I had a good job here in LA, and an apartment so it wasn’t a complete debacle. On the one hand I knew and understood the cost of my decision and yet, on the other hand, I don’t think I had a clue. How truly that reflects nearly every choice we make!
Through a convoluted twist of circumstances I lost the house through foreclosure. I sold my Jeep and leased a Mini Cooper. My cat died. And a radical cut in salary from Nebraska, plus a sharp increase in the cost of living in LA leaves me at a place where I can honestly say those concentric circles don’t exist anymore.
What does that really mean though?
I can only speak for myself but my journey was about faith, and letting my heart take on something bigger than myself. For most of my life I’ve struggled in my ability to dream. What do I want my life to be about? I can give you some spiritual sounding answers but I can feel God piercing that lack of sincerity in my heart until I begin to own an idea, and let it become my own.
Here’s what the journal entry said:
Concentric circles around my heart. Things I treasure form walls which block the presence of God in my life. I lean on them instead of Him. In order to hear God more fully I lean on the walls to see if there is a door. I step into the creative process and press the story out from within the circles nearest my heart. The Pearl of a great price. Selling everything that I have in order to gain Christ.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” — Matthew 13:44
So often we think of the man in that parable as Christ, and that we are the treasure. And indeed we are His treasure. But we enter into His same joy when we emulate his decision and consider Him to be our treasure. Our dream.
I would never joke about the price I’ve paid to pursue Christ. I would have moved to London, New York or Sydney but He led me here. A seasoned dreamer learns that when Christ is at the center of the dream no cost is too steep.
Dreamer, I encourage you to buy the field.
Fear in the journey,
Joy in the coming home.
A part of the heart
Gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road.
Along the road, your path may wander.
A pilgrim’s faith may fail.
Absence makes the heart grow stronger.
Darkness obscures the trail.
This is an excerpt from a 90’s song called, Along the Road, by Ashton, Becker and Dente.
The rural countryside was like a giant playground to my siblings, our friends and me. Together and alone we walked and rode for miles. We knew every stand of trees and every creek bed, those belonging to our own families as well as neighboring families. Big Al had a natural spring on his property. We often stopped with our bikes to splash a bit before heading home.
Late into the nights my siblings and I would play games like flashlight tag or climb in the rafters of the barns. There were so many places that we kids knew by heart. We hid behind hay bales and played with kittens there. Stacked cord wood served as a post office. We slept under the blanket of the Milky Way and awakened to June bugs crawling over our dew-covered sleeping bags.
We sat in wild blueberry patches and munched berries under the blazing sun. Our parents handed out pails and empty hats in which to collect blackberries beside the road. Adder’s tongue sprouted in the woods by the creek while snow was still on the ground. Morels were ripe for the picking after the frost was gone; Crab apples grew in the orchard and strawberries were ready for jam in late Springtime. Each was a signpost that marked time and place for kids raised on homegrown beauty and imagination.
Even when the compass points to True North, and Truth has been grafted into our hearts, even then we lose our way. We pin our expectations on people around us. We do, and then we vilify them … only to realize the failing is our own. We take risk after risk, like the pioneers we were born to be. Then we are surprised by failure as if expecting a perfect pole vault; our hopes get dashed with every setback. Yet humility, courage and a spirit of overcoming marks the life of a true pioneer.
There’s joy in the coming home.
I can never recreate what home once was but I can be at-home in my heart. I can never confidently climb into the rafters of the barn that has been gone for years. I’m grateful, though, to walk beside courageous people whose roar stretches my capacity to dream. There are people whose inner beauty pierces my heart. They challenge me to love the City more authentically and to embrace nations. To love justice and exhibit mercy.
May your dreams and endeavors reflect the true Beauty to which you are called. May your dear ones bask in your authentic love. May you radiate the King’s heart and purpose.
Recently I was reminded of wisdom from my friend Julie, “When things are not working in one area of your life just humble yourself with God and let Him sift your heart. Let Him call the shots about where things are out of whack.” Such a relief I felt. I can do that. I can’t fix all the things I’ve broken, but I can repent for the places He shows me, and I can rejoice where He shows me successes.
Lately things are messed up enough that I’ve been content to just look at the messes with Him for a moment. To see things as He sees them.
Others see the outside of us. They perceive that we have our lives together, that we are impenetrable. “What could she possibly need?” The truth is we’re all re-assembling our lives in view of the empty tomb at Calvary. I feel like I’ve been trying (Read: trryyyingg) so hard to keep all the plates spinning. I decided to stop trying. So let the flippin’ plates go. It’s just too much, too confusing. I don’t understand and the pieces seem like they belong to someone else’s puzzle, not mine. Seriously that sky blue piece can’t possibly fit in my puzzle that’s all clouds and stormy weather.
Anyway it turns out when you stop trying there’s some exposure. It resembles the Hoover Dam a bit, unleashed. You didn’t get the job done. You are suddenly not the ideal girlfriend, the most physically fit with the cleanest apartment, the most accomplished. In fact your failures scream at you. Meh. Let it go. Just look for the scarlet cord and take hold of that. The One that matters.
To ask for help does.not.smell.like.failure. It has the fragrance of a rainy day after the sun has come out.
Another friend told me, “Your success at pursuit of the Kingdom is not what is measured. Everything you do, prayerfully intending to obey God will be accounted to you as missional obedience, as righteousness.” — Shun Lee
That statement has changed my life. It’s changed what I do, what I will pursue, and how much of myself I will risk to see Kingdom accomplished.