Just your average tableware

I really want to be fine china- the kind you have to put on a bridal registry and wealthy relatives can only afford a couple place settings or the kind you have to hand wash because of the exquisite gold rim.

Instead, I’m pretty certain I’ll be your average, every day tableware. Dishwasher and microwave safe too.

To find out how this terrible mistake happened, let’s rewind a bit.

The wheel spun in front of me with a low murmur. Having mastered (or so I thought), just the right amount of pressure, the clay inched slowly up the wheel. Too much pressure and a hole would have punctured, too little and the clay would slump down in unattractive blobs. Patience and precision brought the smooth glistening texture and shape I was hoping for. Something extraordinary and valuable was being fashioned, to my great satisfaction.

Or so I thought.

I can’t say exactly when or how, but my wheel came to a screeching halt. Who was I fooling? It wasn’t me sitting there to begin with.

I WAS the lump of cold, malleable clay- moist and earthy.

There was someone at the wheel though. Not just any old potter, but a Master- one so skilled, that no piece He crafts has ever been discarded. With hands of perfect precision, He applies pressure, molding the clay into shape.

Depending on the day, the design changes. There are days when the wheel’s friction causes an uncomfortable heat. Sometimes it’s a slow, steady spin. No matter what, the Master never leaves. Ever. His presence is constant. His touch is purposeful. His plan for the finished product? Common tableware.

And me? That ugly lump of clay? I acquiesce to being worked on, always trying to stay formable and susceptible to the Master’s touch. Some days though I am, honestly pretty sick of it. Can he just hurry up and be done already?

Until completion, I strive to rest and trust for however long this process endures. This is no easy task for a control freak like me. But I can say with confidence: fine china is not happening.

pottery *Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26167782@N06/7959118388

 

 

 

 

Disarmed

I used to pride myself in saying, “I’m a fighter, not a lover.”

To be a lover meant vulnerability and weakness- two things I didn’t want to classify myself as. To be a lover meant to be all squishy on the inside.

I thought if I displayed my crusty exterior, I’d be prepared for the worst when it inevitably came. With my proverbial sword strapped to my side, I could easily unsheathe it, hacking and hewing with my words or thoughts until I felt vanquished.

But the bad part is, I fought everything, even the good things. I fought grace and forgiveness. I fought joy and freedom. To allow those things to soften me would be to relinquish my self-efficacy. That would not do.

Our pastor used to say: “Behind God’s frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” This angered me. I conjured a rather cosmic joker image; behind the sugary smile was a benevolent dictator of sorts waiting to pounce with His agenda. I did not understand. I fought this idea with a vengeance. To acquiesce to someone calling the shots, especially bad ones, unsettled me in the worst of ways.

Then my mom died. Then we lost lots of money. Then we lost a house. Then I was diagnosed with a hip disease. Then we lost jobs (plural). Then I had to go to counseling. Then we moved 12 times. Then my son chose a lifestyle of self destruction. Then lots more things happened that I won’t bore you with.

Sometime during all that, something changed. Not all at once or in totality but it happened yet I could never pinpoint the date or time.

 I saw God’s smiling face, behind the frowning providence.

I tasted the goodness. I witnessed the mercy. I felt the love. I heard the assuring words. I was washed with the peace. I was girded up with a strength not my own. I soaked in the grace that flowed like a fountain, free and unconditional. I was awed by the miracles. I was overcome by the provision. I was forgiven.

You might think I laid down my arms and became a lover. Not exactly. (Although I tap into that side of me much more frequently these days.) I still have a strong spirit and a tongue that can be venomous; a hard head and a willful way, but now I (mostly) fight for the good – for joy and peace, for strength and beauty, for making each day count. I fight to accept the frowns of God, knowing His kindness and love are far greater.

Does this make me weak? No, I don’t think so. Vulnerable? Yes, in a sense. Yet it is the very softening that enlarges my faith, causing me lean into the arms of a benevolent Father and say: “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

not-so-manic-monday

Welp, it’s Monday. I start back to work full time next week and I’m plowing ahead with school. It’s about to get loco up en mi casa.

I woke up with a headache today- splitting from the sides of my temples. I had a meeting to go to and a prego friend to help…. Not a good day for a headache. AND I was out of my coffee beans this morning. ay caramba!

A Starbucks grande latte later, my headache vanished. So I rolled the windows down and turned the music up. The wind was in my hair and life was good- for a Monday.

You just gotta live sometimes. I suppose I looked dorky blasting a song and singing along in my uber mom minivan. One thing I’ve realized- do stuff that makes me happy- sometimes just a little thing. But do something everyday.

Yesterday it was this– my twelve year old and I riding along in the car, belting out these lyrics. Takes me back to the good ol’ days of the 80’s. That hair. THOSE PANTS.

 

Live life. Never fear being dorky. Have fun. Be fun. Happy Monday, ya’ll!

Yield

I live surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards. Each year, I watch with great interest as the workers go out among the barren vines, braving the February chill. At first, this seemed odd- there was clearly nothing growing and it was still freezing at night.

Yet, each season without fail, a month or so after this pruning, I began to notice the tender shoots of green, then more and more until an explosion of verdant leaves filled the once bare cables and posts. It dawned on me that the preparation pruning was crucial to ensure the optimal growth of the grapes and in turn, yield the results the farmers’ long for- perfect grapes for a wine that delights the taste buds.

This brought a vivid word picture to mind: We are pruned each day and year for greater productivity and here’s the best part- the One holding the shears is The Master Gardener.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it is downright painful and I’m not advocating a love of affliction here. In fact, it is safe to say that for the better part of my life, I have held a tightly clenched fist so to speak. I have muttered scathingly under my breath, “Why, God?” or “Not this, God, please!” I balked badly at the shears and would pine away for the lost branches, even though they were clearly brown and dry.

Yet, these past few years a striking pattern has emerged- upon reflection, I see a purpose in the pruning- a grand design like nothing a mere landscaper could imagine. Sometimes, I have seen what I thought were even healthy branches tweezed off. This I know is no mistake.

You see, I trust a good God, a gentle God, a kind God, a loving God, a knowing God. He has the plan of my life exquisitely laid out before him. I am ignorant of it though so when I feel the shears snip, trim, lop off or tie up a branch, I chaff against it sometimes. But I am learning- learning to trust and lean and surrender, fully, humbly, peaceably, into the arms of a Savior who trims me faithfully and lovingly.

His master plan will make something beautiful, productive and flourishing, if only I yield to the shears.

Not-So-Manic Monday #1

Today I started a book whose subject matter I’ve been preaching to myself for over two decades. Yet, every once in awhile I need a refresher course- a reminder to embrace a principle that was imperative and central, but seems to have gotten lost or set aside in the shuffle of life.

The book is called, “One Way Love” with the subtitle of, ‘Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World’. Try as I might, I often find myself on the performance treadmill, striving with all my might to get it right, get it done, “be all things to all men (women and children)”, or at the very least earn favor with someone (namely God). Then I am acutely aware of how stupid, self-deprecating, exhausting, and pointless this is.

If you are at all like me, I hope this quote will renew your mind to carry on in God’s lavish GRACE: 

“Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people- prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive his most compassionate welcome. Grace is divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous.”

~ Tullian  Tchividijan

Life is Like a 1,000 Piece Puzzle

One by one, I turned over the pieces. My excitement was a bit diminished by the task- tedious and monotonous.  One thousand pieces was daunting. The tiny cardboard cut-outs appeared so insignificant and disjuncted. Yet, I knew this was an imperative step I would not regret later.

Life is like this 1,000 piece puzzle: sometimes daunting, at moments seemingly impossible, pieces and parts that appear elusive to the bigger picture, progress is slow, but bit by bit an image is born.

I studied the box’s glossy image, captivated by the night time cityscape. It was peaceful and serene, so unlike the scattered mess that lay before me. The edge pieces would prove so much easier than the middle (this I knew from experience), so I tackled them first. Without these, the more challenging parts would lose their definition and purpose.

I know the “edges” that frame the whole must be constructed meaningfully and purposefully. It would be simple to fashion the framework into a “self- gratifying, grab for the gusto, it’s all about me” picture. But the more arduous effort is trusting the Divine power outside myself to be the framework that will hold up and support all the smaller parts. God as Master of me, hemming me in before and behind, sometimes chaffs against my self-sufficiency, my sense of accomplishment even. Yet, deep down my soul cries out for Him.

With the edges complete, I decide to piece together a part that seems most challenging, for fear that if I leave it for last, I will become discouraged and give up. It is the reflection of lights on water; lights that appear almost identical except for a few variances in color. After this section, the other parts flow together nicely, until I tackle the night sky, which is a vast expanse of blackness, save a few small stars. I want to rip out my hair. It is driving me nuts!

Some seasons of my life have been this night sky: perplexing, discouraging, even enraging. I can’t see how things fit and I certainly am NOT enjoying it. Time stretches out before me vast and uninviting. I have to tell myself to remember WHO: frames me in, keeps me safe in His loving, watchful care, and knows the plan far beyond the moment of difficulty I see.

Other seasons have been the more pleasing satisfying parts: the “easy” pieces that fit together on the first try, the ones you spot amongst the messy pile and just pop them right into their spot. These pieces are like the breath of fresh air, the lovely lingering sense of a job well done or just the simple pleasure of being with family and friends. These are the days you wake up and feel at peace, when your faith buoys you above the surface and anchors your soul to rest in the bigger picture.

I gingerly place together pieces 999 then 1,000. Running my hand over the completed picture, I sit back in my chair satisfied and wonder how many hours this took me. Does it matter? Not really. I am finished and now relish the fruit of my labors both easy and difficult. 

My “life” puzzle isn’t finished until I draw my last breath. The sum of the parts make the picture that God intended- and those will never look just like anyone else’s.  My own finished product will be uniquely mine, fashioned and put together by the Creator of the universe. What could be more beautiful than that?!

white flag

I threw in my little “corner of a napkin on a toothpick” white flag, yet deep down I knew it wasn’t enough. That was a paltry excuse for surrender but it was all I could muster.

I had to be broken and emptied of all my own efforts before I would give in. Or was it give up? Yes, that was the word I was frightened of; the word that would convey that I had somehow lost my control or even {gulp} been overcome. In my mind the words surrender and defeat seemed synonymous. And I don’t go down easily- never without a fight.

Try as I might, I was unable to manipulate circumstances to my liking. I came at it from the guilt angle. I came at it from the fear angle. I came at it from the “learn form me and my mistakes” angle. Nothing worked.  The longer the battle drug on, I found the one thing that made me feel better- anger. I would shun him. I would stand in my corner with my guns drawn- my words were weapons and I used them unrelentingly. If I could injure enough, would he come back- hurt, defeated, humiliated? Would I conquer and overcome?

No. Just the opposite. Right before my very eyes there was withdrawal and disengagement- but not the kind you want. He was sauntering away from the battle lines with a self- satisfied kind of grin on his face. He was through with my antics and was about to walk away victorious- the one that was happier, more satisfied with life and in cool headed control. (Or so it would seem.)

That is when I did it. I picked up the white surrender flag and waved it furiously and unabashedly. My agenda was smashed. My will was turned. My battle plan- to control the situation, to have things turn out MY way, to put up my dukes and fight like I meant it- failed. He didn’t win though. God won. God had his way with my heart- finally.

Maybe this is your response in a trial or life situation. You are, like I did for so long, flicking in the itty-bitty white flag, thinking that’ll suffice; that all God needs is that little corner of your heart and will, not the WHOLE thing. To wholly surrender would be to lose: to lose your identity, your own dignity or self-satisfying sense of accomplishment. It would change everything and leave you feeling uncomfortably vulnerable, open to something that is scary and unknown.

Yes, that was me. That has been me so many times in life and for certain, I will be there again; grasping for control, asserting myself over something, someone or a situation. I will have to surrender to a holy plan, one that may not suit me or seem to make sense. But I know deep down that only wholly surrender will be the place of true solace, the place where the battle is not mine, but God’s, the place where giving in does not mean defeat, but true soul quenching rest.White Flag

Life is Like… a bike ride

Ever been on a good bike ride? No, not the beach cruising, doggie in a basket kind nor the cushy for the tushy touristy lookey-loo kind. I am talking about the hard as a rock, too small for the cheeks seat kind; the kind that strains muscles you didn’t know you had.

I have been on THAT kind of ride. A few years back, the hubby insisted I get the skinny tire kind of bike, when I really wanted a knobby tired kind. (Long story of marital communication break down. We’ve “recovered” since then!!!) Yep, I became one with my bike; clipping my shoes in, donning the padded booty spandex shorts, the alien helmet and the many pocketed zip up shirt. (Why those shirts have that many pockets is beyond me. It’s not like you are packing for a day trip!)

Since childhood, I have always enjoyed bike riding, but this was something different- a new kind of pastime beast. As a kid, I loved the feeling of the wind in my face and the power to pedal as hard as my legs could carry me, going places faster than I ever could have on foot. Now I was balanced precariously on ultra thin tires, tottering on the edge of a road, hoping and praying that the cars down draft would not blow me off into the wicked thorny weed patch just a few feet away.

Life is like THAT kind of bike ride.  I was reminded of this yesterday when discussing the ride to/from my son’s workplace. It happens to be nestled up in the hills of our city.

The hills, oh how lovely they are, but the quad burn as you churn at the pedals… oh man. You stand up (this is supposed to make it easier- ha- I don’t think so). You sit back down. The front tire wobbles as your forearms strain for control. If you stop, it literally seems almost impossible to get going again. No, the momentum must continue. Movement propels you, compels you to keep at it, despite the burn in your calves and the sweat trickling down your back. “Don’t stop”, you tell yourself- and that is good advice.

Here is why: you know that just beyond the crest of that next peak is the down grade- the moment you have been waiting for. For all the toil and pain, now comes the ecstasy of flying free. Your feet will barely have to move the pedals and the wind blasts your sweaty face like a giant air conditioning vent. It is pure exhilaration! During those few minutes you forget everything else as the scenery rushes past and your heart beat slows. You may even have a sudden urge to let go of the handle bars and take your feet off the pedals- but (hopefully) the better part of reason kicks in and you avoid this danger. Coasting downhill is the taste of soaring freedom that makes the climb worth every ounce of toil.The thrill of this part of the ride may be short-lived, but that ‘s alright because you know it will come again and when it does, be ready to let it invigorate you body and soul.

And so it is with life: Remember the enthralling joys in the moments of pain, toil and struggle. Be propelled forward by it, keeping the momentum when the burn overtakes every muscle. Look ahead to the peak. Don’t be engulfed by the climb.

{Oh and from one bike rider to another- never forget the padded spandex! Your tush will thank me!}

 

 

To Need or Not To Need (that is the question)

I am just going to come out and say it:

Women are needy folks. (So are men, btw, just in totally different ways).

Lately, with all the hubbub surrounding my own life, I have seen a pattern emerge. It’s something I have remarked on for years to my husband: Women often look for someone to commiserate with, to share all their nitty-gritty-down-and-dirty details, when what they should be doing is leaning into the arms of Jesus.

Before you tune me out, throw your hands up in the air and think, “Humph, I need my BFF’s like plants need water. Without them I’d feel lost, alone, and have that ‘stranded on a desert island’ kind of feeling.”

I get it. I am a woman. I am needy just like you.

In fact, these past few months in particular have solidified that fact. My few closest friends have proven to be more precious than ever, like cool refreshing water for my parched dry soul. I have been wading through some serious excrement over here and they have been right there plodding with me, holding my hand at times, listening to me cry, pointing me to the way of the “crap-free” path! For that, I am truly thankful!

Yet sometimes, in our effort to unload our dump truck of feelings, spill the beans on every juicy detail or even (yes, I am going to say the “g” word) gossip about the ones who’ve hurt, offended or just plain bugged us, we are missing our greater need.

What we should do is to run like a child, vulnerable, hurt, broken, empty, into the arms of our Father God and our God-Man Jesus Himself, who has been tempted in every way, just like us and yet did not sin.

He waits and beckons us. Arms open. Comfort promised. Fears assuaging. Mercy abounding. Help offering. Unconditional-love giving.

But we are busy running to someone or something else: our husband, our friends, our children, our books, our blogs, our Facebook, our Twitter feed, our retail therapy, or our local Starbucks even 🙂 .

I have run to all these things. And they never quite satisfy. It is like putting a band- aid on something that really required a cast. What we want is full envelopment of our weary beaten down souls. We need Jesus to wrap us in the beauty of His perfect love. We need to cry out, “Abba, Father!” , pouring out our details to the ONE who can actually fix what’s broken.

Yes, we need each other. We need friends whose arms can wrap around us in a hug or a husband who will listen to us blubber. Outlets for emotions are good, necessary, helpful, tangible, keeping us from the unpleasant alternative of bottling it up (only one day to come uncorked completely). But let’s never forego the life giving water our thirsty souls must drink in order to find the truest comfort from our Perfect Friend.

The Great Dichotomy

I’ve been plagued this week. Burdened. Weighed down- with this thought:

Why do we, who already have the victor’s crown sitting atop our heads get defeated, bogged down and live as if we are losing the race???

This is the great {seeming} dichotomy of the Christian life- something our previous pastor liked to refer to as “the already and the not yet”.

We already have victory over sin in Christ because at the cross, He paid the FULL AND COMPLETE redemption of our souls. He did not cry out from the cross, “I am done here.” He cried out, “It is finished.” This meant it was done, consummate, having fully satisfied God’s demands, wholly assuaging His wrath against sin.

In Christ, we have that same fullness and encompassing finished work given to us. We are wearing the victor’s wreath though instead of the crown of thorns. Ours is the sweet rest and relief of a triumph- and here’s the amazing part- that WE DID NOT HAVE TO EARN OR WORK FOR.  Imagine getting to the end of a 26.2 miler without a drop of sweat, twinge of sore muscles, or one ounce of fatigue. Impossible with man. Not just possible but our REALITY with Christ’s cross work! How amazing is that?

Yet, the “not yet” of our humanity is that we grovel in the dust of defeat, wallowing around in the entanglement of sin or trying circumstances. For many sweet Christians I know (and myself included), we have spent many seasons of time on the ground, in the dirt with the paralysis of a side stitch or Charlie horse. Perhaps it is depression, debilitating physical pain, anxiety attacks, prodigal children, a rocky marriage, or financial despair. It could even be an outright denial of God’s truths that we once had clung to unswervingly.

We find ourselves temporarily unable to go on, press forward or run through the discomfort. We have allowed Satan to convince us that we have already lost this race. Suddenly, we look around and see the other runners passing us, our goal time or hopes vanish. We succumb to the subjugation of sin and self- unable or not willing to remember the victory.

But remember it WE MUST! For when those seasons of life fall upon us (and they will in some form or another), this is our only HOPE, our SOLACE, our POWER to carry on.

In the book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian on his journey of faith carried a burden. It was a heavy load- pressing hard against his back, making walking almost impossible, causing strain and toil that felt to him unbearable. When he came to the cross and looked upon it, he considered the magnitude of what had been done there. In that beautiful yet agonizing moment, his burden came off and rolled into a nearby cave. He never saw nor felt it again.

So you see, my dear readers, this is really no dichotomy at all. We ARE victors in Christ. It is finished. Let’s start reveling in it! Savor the prize! Delight in the Savior! Rest in VICTORY!