Of an artist and a potter …

Romans 8_28

I’ve been working on a scrapbook the last while. Looking back at the journal. Re-reading the adventure I took. Remembering through pictures. Some make me chuckle. Others are sober reminders that history is not kind. Fact checking memory against other sources.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV) 

 Romans 8:28 (MSG)

 

I’ve been applying the same process to parts of my life. Looking back. Remembering adventures with God. Some make me chuckle at His timing. Others bring me to tears wondering at the choices that I’ve made. Marvelling at God’s goodness has been constant.

How was I to know that He would provide exactly what was needed in that moment? How was I to know that He was protecting me, even from myself, in other situations? How was I to know that His plan would land me here – this place at this time? How was I to know that His goodness was going before me even when it didn’t feel like it?

I expect God to show up. He does. Rarely, if ever, does He show up in the way I want or anticipate that He will. That’s His artistry. I expect linear movement because I am a concrete and sequential thinker. But the lines of my life and His direction and leading look much more convoluted. Twisting and turning in ways I would never have chosen on my own.

There are bumps, even mountains on the journey that He has had me on. In the thick of the climb, I’ve not appreciated the view or the lessons I was meant to learn. That’s when my God has applied His potter’s hands. Sculpting, smoothing, shaping, forming, taking the rough and the lumpy and moulding my life and heart to His.

A good clay pot goes through the fire of the kiln. Heat to harden the clay, setting the colour and the shape. Some life experiences have seemed like fire. Difficult, discouraging, scorching whatever was there. In the thick of it, it has felt like He was distant, inattentive, removed. Little did I know how much he was present through it. Right there, beside me, with me. That’s my God the potter. Attentive to the details of my life, not finished with me, ever.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14 (NIV)

 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvellously made! I worship in adoration – what a creation! Psalm 139:13-14 (MSG)

 

I need my God to be the artist and the potter. He is beauty and creativity beyond my wildest understanding. His creative work in me is far from complete. He has been shaping me from the time my life began. I can only pray that am coming to resemble Him more and more.

 

Pat Barrett’s Canvas and Clay

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Of a soul’s winter …

Deuteronomy 11_14a

I’ve been living in the land of winter. Paradoxically, it’s beautifully green outside my windows at the moment. I mean my soul has been in winter. It has been barren. Tired. Worn out. Grief stricken. Bereaved. Heart sore. Dismayed. I have trundled on. Feet frequently filled with lead. More hopeless than hopeful. More worn than I would like.

Winter has been hard. The grief has been bigger than I could understand. It’s been cumulative. A cousin. Two uncles. A mentor. A grandmother. A friend. A season of passing that I could not have anticipated. And I played at every one of those services. I think part of winter sits there. When you’re “on” for the event to remember, you are not allowed to grieve with everyone else. You have to keep it together because, in a moment, your service with be required. It’s not bad, it’s just hard. You park it because you must. And I’m not certain if I haven’t parked some of that grief permanently. Put it in the cupboard and stacked the boxes around it so that it can’t come out.

Winter has not been bad. I’ve been richly blessed by winter. I have discovered things I love – curling. (Slightly more than love – a little overzealous about it, perhaps). I have discovered the land of God’s blessing. If there is any sort of takeaway for me from this winter of the soul, it is the affirmation and deep awareness of God’s goodness in my life. The overarching goodness. It’s not situational, although situations bear testimony to it. It’s not causation-al, although God’s goodness has caused me to be more grateful than I have been in the past. It’s a foundational reality. God is good. Therefore His goodness can be found all over the place. Not just in the “good” stuff that happens to me but everywhere and all the time. That’s been an essential learn.

Winter cannot be rushed. As I’ve spoken about the winter of my soul with others in my circle, they have wanted to move me to spring or summer NOW! I’m convinced winter doesn’t work like that. It comes in on quiet cat’s feet and settles in kind of like the snow that blankets the landscape in these parts every year. And just like the snow melts and disappears in its own good time, the winter of my soul lifts and shifts. I’m not sure how I will know that my winter has ended, but I think I will. I actually don’t want it to leave before it is meant to do so. To rush it away is to miss the lessons of it. To rush it away is to run from the hard parts of it. To rush it away is to miss the truths of God’s character that are found in it. There are lessons I’m experiencing and learning that I cannot find in any other season of the soul. To rush past them is to miss God’s character and beauty that I cannot find in a different season.

In some ways, I wonder if the renovation of my house has not been part of a “springlike” beginning. It’s been hard. The packing. The moving. The losing. The giving away. The finding. And yet, all through the renovation there are signs of God’s hand. The timing of things happening. The weather outside that prompted work inside. The time in July as opposed to the frenetic of June when it could not have happened. The new that has come. New floors, new paint, new baseboards, new furniture arrangements, new. The desire to spend time in my space. The satisfaction with quiet. The leaves rustling in the open windows. The settled-ness as each box has been unpacked and a home for its contents found. Much of it is old – same furniture, same rooms, same stuff that was put in boxes. And yet it’s new. Different. Hopeful.

… then I will send rain on your land in its season … Deuteronomy 11:14a

The rain is only sent when it is meant to be sent. God has known exactly what season I’ve been in. It’s been no surprise to Him. He has been there in it and through it all along. The change in season will only come in His good timing. So I rest in the goodness of God. It’s the best place to be.

Of a toilet and God’s goodness …

Psalm 27_13

It’s happened gradually. So slowly I didn’t really notice it. I have had a toilet that was falling into the floor. No, that is not an exaggeration. The great white throne was slowly sinking lower and tilting at an increasingly dangerous angle. It was a very good thing there was a wall behind the loo because that was helping prop it up.

 

I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13 (NIV)

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Psalm 27:13 (MSG)

 

This does seem like too much information. But the adventure with the toilet has prompted some thinking about God’s goodness.

Too often, I’m looking for a grand gesture. A significant, can’t miss it, bigger than holiday fireworks display of God’s goodness. I want it to be hard to miss because I expect God’s goodness to be found in the grand and wide and it is found there.

But sometimes the grand gestures of God’s goodness are harder to find. It doesn’t mean that He’s not up to grand gestures. It doesn’t mean that He’s forgotten how to demonstrate goodness on that level. It might mean that He’s producing mind blowing examples of His goodness and I’m completely missing it. I tend to have my mind buried in other things. The to do list. The reno in progress. The way summer is passing faster than I can believe. The rain that has been a constant part of the season. These things all testify to God’s goodness, but they seem mundane. Ordinary. Not really worth noticing.

I think that’s the bit I’ve been missing. It’s in the ordinary that God keeps showing up. It’s in the routine of life that His goodness is on display.

Which brings me back to the toilet. There had been a leak. Not a massive one, but a leak. The wood was rotten underneath. These problems compound when one’s residence is not on the main floor of a condo building. There was significant prayer about the toilet and the possible accompanying problems. And God provided. The leak had not penetrated past the first layer of subfloor. God is good!

I think I’ve been looking for the wrong kind of fireworks moments of God’s goodness. Yes, He shows up in the kind that fill the sky with colour and design. But, equally, and maybe more significantly, he shows up in the fireworks moments that are more like a nightlight. Constant, reliable, on all night, there when you need it, just enough light to see and not a glimmer more.

The Psalmist states his confidence in God’s goodness. All around is his version of leaks and problems and floors falling in around him, but the Psalmist is confident, sure, certain. His confidence doesn’t rest in his abilities, skills or talents. He knows all of the solutions to everything around him is not in what He can do. Instead, he knows his rescue is found in God’s goodness. He doesn’t just have head knowledge of God’s goodness. It’s visual. He sees God’s goodness. It can’t be missed. Right there in front of him kind of goodness.

I yearn for that same confidence. To know the goodness of God – in the grand and magnificent and in the humble and ordinary. To see it. To have eyes that are open to what He’s doing and what He’s up to. Where He’s acting, sustaining, providing and how my life is changed because of it. My God is good! I know that full well.

 

 

Bethel Worship’s Goodness of God

What cathedral?

Isaiah 66_1-2 (1)

It’s happened every summer over the last several years. I’ve been in places where cathedrals dot the landscape. While many have gone in as tourists – something to see, tick off the list – I’ve gone with a sense of expectation. Yes, God is all around me, but typically, I “see” Him best in one of these sacred spaces. My mind slows. My heart listens. My pencil frantically scribbles across the page desperate to keep up.

 

This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” Isaiah 66:1-2 (NIV)

God’s Message: “Heaven’s my throne, earth is my footstool. What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own all this!” God’s Decree. “But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently response to what I say.” Isaiah 66:1-2 (MSG)

 

But this summer is not a typical summer. I’m home. I’m meant to be. This is not a disappointment, but obedience. In the back of my mind, I’ve been wondering what my cathedral moment will be. Where will I find it? Will it be obvious? Will I know it? What sort of “sacred space” appointment has God arranged for me? Will I be aware enough to recognize it?

Each cathedral has just been the backdrop. A gorgeous space to reflect the majesty of the Maker. My God, who is the Creator of all things, is not awed by the designs and skill people have put on display. He is present everywhere, all the time.

There are amazing spaces all around me. I sometimes rush right past them because they often seem insignificant. They do not usually have flying buttresses or stained-glass windows, and God desires to meet with me regardless of my physical location. He wants my presence just like I crave His. I want to be someone who knows God. In the ornate and the ordinary. In the simple and the spectacular.

Skye Jethani seemed to capture my thoughts best. “The person who learns to commune deeply with God in prayer, however, will open her eyes to see a world bathed in his presence. She will recognize his image in her neighbor and enemy in the sacred and the ordinary, in the intimate and the immense, in the natural and the architectural. She will come to see that every bush burns with his presence.”

 

Jethani, S. (2019) With God Daily:  Every Bush Burns [May 29, 2019 Devotional]. Retrieved from https://skyejethani.com/with-god-daily/

When a reno and grief meet …

Psalm 42_5 (MSG)

It’s been sitting in the cupboard for years. A book meant for baby pictures. Purchased with hope and expectation that someday I would be the mom who would be filling it. Someday has come and it seems to also have gone. The book still sitting in the cupboard. My arms have been filled with other peoples’ children – ones I love and delight in – but they all go home to their own houses for night.

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5 (NIV) 

Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God. Psalm 42:5 (MSG)

It’s all been stirred to the surface. The longing. The ache. The topsy-turvy that is a reno. Everything in boxes. Things found. Choices made – to keep, to chuck, to give away. For some items, the choice is simple. It turns out, other choices are complicated. Emotions raw and right on the surface.

And in the ache and the myriad of choices that go along with a reno, the unchanging reality of my God has been present. He knows the aches of my heart. The longings that have never gone away but remain in their present state unfulfilled. Because He is incapable of worry, these longings do not cause Him worry. Instead, He acknowledges them and validates me in the middle of them. I am not a mom, but I have been well loved by many kids this year and we have all grown together. Mom-like moments found all over the place.

He knows the reasons it’s taken so long to get to a reno. The reasons that I never thought I’d be in the same place for this duration of time. But while I wonder and stew about those same reasons, my God is the God of peace who is with me regardless of circumstance. He is with me in spite of circumstance. While I may have wanted other life events to have resulted in a move, He has been with me all along. He is present – not matter what – He is present.

So, I choose to be grateful. For the home I have. For the provision from His hand that is resulting in this reno. For the reminders of His faithfulness. For the proof that He is the only One who can truly fulfill me. For the reality that life sometimes is not what we hope for, but it is in His hands. For the evidence that His hands are big and that they are able to hold my joy, my pain, my grief, my laughter and everything else. For His presence – more needed that I can ever explain. For hope. Because it’s right there, closer than I think, and it’s found in Him!

 

Vertical Worship’s Yes I Will

Of tears and kitchen sinks …

Psalm 27_13-14

I stood at the sink. Hands wrist deep in suds. Tears streaming down my face. Heart conflicted. On one side, grace, mercy and blessings beyond measure. On the other, grief, pain, dreams unfulfilled. There was no choice but to wrestle with them both.

 

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14 (NIV)

I’m sure now I’ll see God’s goodness in the exuberant earth. Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again:  Stay with God. Psalm 27:13-14 (MSG)

 

I poured out my heart. The longings that are not buried as deep as I think they are. The dreams of my soul that are rarely admitted out loud. The heart-soreness that is skin deep and always present. It all came gushing forth. Not in bitterness but just statements. Not in questioning His presence but in the wonder and hurt of pain. I am so grateful I have a God who listens.

I laid my heart bare.  I needed the reminders of who my God is.

He is good. Full stop. No change. Regardless of circumstance. Even with the current state of my dreams and longings, He is good. His goodness does not ebb and flow but rather it is constant.

He is faithful. Full stop. He does not change His mind. He does not tire of me. He does not throw up His hands in despair over me. He is there in every part of the journey. The parts I love and am proud of and the ones I’d rather hide away in the darkest of cupboards.

He is present. Full stop. I might pick the spots where I show up. My God is not like that. Instead, He is there for all of it. A constant presence. With me in all of it – the tears both happy and joyful. The happy bits and the ones filled with sorrow. He does not come and go at will. He is with me.

Through tears coursing their way down my face, I chose to speak the truth of who my God is. I needed to hear myself say it. He is the One I need. I crave His presence. I am desperate to experience His ongoing faithfulness. I hunger to see His goodness. Somehow, speaking the truth over my life altered my perspective.

The pain of the unfulfilled is still there. But even more than that, my God is there. At times I have great confidence in His presence and provision. Sometimes, that foundation has gaping holes and water rushes in. But I know the sandbags of God’s goodness are there. Shoring up the weak spots. Preventing the water from spilling over even more. His goodness is on display if I am persistent enough to look for it. To pursue it. It requires a “don’t quit.” Admittedly, I would like to quit. The middle is hard. It is uncomfortable. It hurts. But my God understands the middle parts and the pain. He is good. He is faithful. He is present. I need no more, no less.

 

Pat Barrett’s Sparrows and Lilies

Servant

philippians 2_7

We had arrived at a school. They were expecting us. They set out their best. We were toured around and enjoyed the delight of a chapel. We saw students learning. We saw teachers and leaders making a difference in the lives of others. Then came lunch. But it was the ceremony prior to lunch that changed everything for me. We stood in a circle and prayed – blessings for the food and each other. Blessings over each other. Then the leader, took to the front of the line. Not to be served first, but to be last. He took the pitcher of water and gently poured water over our hands. And as we washed our hands, he spoke words of encouragement and blessing over each one of us. He served.

 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV) 

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (MSG)

 

I marvel at the servanthood of Jesus. He said yes to God’s rescue plan for the world. He chose to leave heaven. He chose to be reduced to the limitations of a human life. He chose to be dependent. He chose to feel bumps and scrapes, bruises and slivers. He chose to submit to the parenting of a mother and father. He chose to experience the joys and trials of siblings. He chose to stay in that human experience. He chose to deal with people who had no idea what He was about – Pharisees, Sadducees, the disciples, the crowds who followed him. He chose to obey the Father’s plan – to sacrifice His life for the sins of the world. He chose love. He chose life by conquering death and rising to life again. He chose. He submitted.

What if He would have said no? Everything would be different. I would be in a constant state of sacrificing to cover my sin. Forgiveness would be a foreign concept. My relationship with God would include fear. My relationships with others would look be less loving, less merciful, less. Every part of my life would be altered.

Jesus servanthood, His willingness to set aside His privileges, makes all the difference in my life. But, is my life a reflection of Jesus? How do I serve others around me? How do I interact with them? Am I a me-first person? Do I barge into the queue wanting to be at the front? To be acknowledged? To be awarded and rewarded? What’s my attitude like? I wonder about how submitted I am. I wonder about how much Jesus shows up in me and through me. I wonder if my hands and feet act as Jesus hands and feet. I wonder what kind of an attitude I share with others around me. I wonder. I know I have not arrived. I have much to learn about serving both my God and the others who are with me on the journey of my life. I pray for a spirit and heart that are being moulded and shaped to be like Jesus. I pray that my heart, mind, soul and attitudes would look and sound like my King, Jesus.