From the Rock Tumbler

A few months ago I had a day when I felt so pounded by life — having arguments with people I love and struggles in so many other areas — that I sent out a frantic prayer request to a close circle of friends. Here is a part of what I wrote:

I sat on our back deck today weeping, feeling so beat up and lost.

“Lord, I fear that I’m just being pulverized and all that’s left of me will be dust,” I cried — and He gave me the image of a toy rock tumbler we had years ago, with ugly stones being made beautiful while tumbling in grit and water.

“Your tears are the water needed for this,” He whispered, and I wished it wasn’t so.

I’m going to be tumbled to nothingness — I’m quite sure. And it’s not one thing — it is so many, on so many fronts. I’m surrounded by grit and abrasiveness.

I know this probably doesn’t make sense, but can you please pray for me?

A week or so later, I was working to memorize Isaiah 54. Isaiah 54:11-12 reads,

“O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted,
behold, I will set your stones in antimony,
and lay your foundations with sapphires.

I will make your pinnacles of agate,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your wall of precious stones.

I looked up carbuncles. They sound like something painful and ugly, and, it turns out, they are. From webmd.com

A carbuncle is a red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils that are connected to each other under the skin…. Filled with pus — a mixture of old and white blood cells, bacteria, and dead skin cells — carbuncles must drain before they’re able to heal. Carbuncles are more likely than boils to leave scars.

But the Biblical carbuncle is an unfaceted gemstone like a garnet. These are the stones that are polished in the ocean (or a rock tumbler) to a rich red.

The grit in our lives may be painful and hard to bear. We may have wounds that need to drain before they heal.  We may even have scars.

But God is using the grit in our lives to polish us to a luster we cannot even fathom. We are but storm-tossed gems in the sea of life.

Thanks be to God.

polished stones from the Ramsey rock tumbler

polished stones from the Ramsey rock tumbler

Beauty in the Beast

I have a problem person in my life.

My struggle with them kept worsening — to the point where everything this person did irritated me. I dreaded those days when I knew we would interact.

I lay awake the other night, thinking about it, feeling irked, feeling downright angry, wishing the knots in my stomach would go away so I could sleep.

“Lord,” I prayed, “You made this difficult person and You love them. Help me to see something beautiful in them.”

When I woke up in the morning, I prayed the same thing.  Before I left the house, I prayed it again. All day, the petition kept rising. “Help me to see something beautiful in this trying person.”

I’ll confess — I didn’t find what I was looking for.

It wasn’t until I was getting ready to go home and was talking to a friend that I began to understand. She mentioned some very positive things about my contrary person and I thought, I have so much garbage in the way that I can’t see clearly. This may take some time.

It’s like in Beauty and the Beast — when Belle first encountered the Beast, all she could see was the ugly.

Over time, she learned to see him with new eyes.

The funny thing is that, as I was looking for beauty in one person, I began to be more aware of it in others. Two siblings working together to overcome a challenge. A Subway worker who made buying sandwiches fun.  A compassionate adult helping a little boy with a broken toy.

Our days are made up of so many little moments, little bits of light and beauty. If only I could remember them all.

Several of my friends keep gratitude journals.

I decided to keep a beauty journal where I can write down those bits of beauty I see each day.

It won’t be filled with sunrises, sunsets, flowers, or trees, though. I can’t take photographs of what I’m looking to record.

I’ll fill it with people and the little acts of kindness they do. That’s the kind of beauty I long to see.

I know it’s there, too, in my difficult person. I just can’t see it yet.

My Beauty journal

My Beauty journal

A Writer’s Prayer

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

You, who are the Word, write words.

You wrote the law on tablets of stone

and you wrote grace on our hearts.

Your words were recorded by others,

and you scratched lost words in the dirt.

Lord, I want to write, too.

The process is still a mystery to me —

an idea

given form

becoming alive –

Too often I bully ideas

instead of giving them room to breathe.

You who breathed life into creations of dust, help me to give life to my words.

You who are truth, help me to write words that are true.

You who are the bread of heaven, help me to write words that nourish others.

You who brought order from chaos, help me to do the same with the jumbled and tangled mess of thoughts inside me.

It is through You and for You that I desire to write,
and it is in Jesus’ name that I pray.

Amen

Andrae Crouch

The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp

The only photograph I could find from my time at Mid-State Baptist Camp

When I was a teenager, I worked at a small Baptist camp in the wilds of upstate New York.

I was initially hired as the cook — don’t ask me how — but eventually was moved into the lifeguard position after they tasted my cooking and the other lifeguard left.

To my Baptist friends, forgive me, but sometimes Baptists can be stodgy.

Although I attended a Baptist church at the time (which wasn’t stodgy), I was unprepared for the strictness of this camp.

I had to sign some sort of statement of faith to work there, and, being 18, gave it only a cursory reading. Yep, I agreed (or so I thought) and quickly scrawled out my signature.

Trouble arrived on two fronts. One had to do with speaking in tongues.

For the record, I do not speak in tongues. I speak English and know a smattering of other languages. In worship services, I speak in the tongues of men – mostly American — not angels. I told someone else at the camp (I’ve never really been sure who) that I believed that the gift of tongues could still exist today. Before I knew it, I was called in before a panel of pastors to discuss the matter.

You have to picture it — I was a slip of a girl, blonde, freckled, unschooled in theology, wearing t-shirt and shorts — and, in my mind’s eye, I still see them wearing suit coats, sitting in a semi-circle around me, grilling me about the charismatic movement, of which I was not a part. I stood my ground, though. I do believe the gift of tongues could still exist. In the end I had to promise never to discuss tongues with any campers, and they would allow me to continue working.

The other problem was music. The dining hall was a long low building with a kitchen at one end, rows of tables and folding chairs in the middle, and a turntable with speakers at the far end. I had just discovered Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. His album, Keep on Singing, lived on that turntable.

While I worked in the kitchen alone, I blasted Andrae Crouch over those speakers and sang at the top of my lungs.

Take me back. Take me back, dear Lord.
To the place, where I first believed…

I closed my eyes, clasped my hands, and swayed while I sang:

How can I say thanks
for the things You have done for me?
Things, so undeserved,
Yet You gave to prove Your love to me.
The voices of a million angels
Could not express my gratitude.
All that I am,
And ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

I opened my eyes to find two Baptist ladies staring at me.

“Turn that music down,” one said.

“You can’t play music like that here,” the other one added.

I turned it down temporarily, but, oh, I still played Andrae Crouch — for two solid weeks. He kept me company and lifted my spirits. He gave me confidence. Trouble came from time to time, but that’s all right, I learned not to be the worrying kind.

Maybe that was why they booted me from the kitchen.

Andrae Crouch passed away yesterday. I’m sure he’s singing now in heaven.

But one summer, I sang his songs on a mountaintop. Today, I just gotta tell somebody.

Prayer for a Busy Week

O Ancient of Days ~

You view time from the vantage point of eternity.

You see the beginning, middle, and end of time in one sweeping panorama.

For You, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

I am limited to a more linear view of time, looking back to see the past, living my present moment, and looking ahead on a calendar page, but unable to truly see the big picture.

The coming week looks overflowingly full — with work, school, and family; dinners to prepare, classes to attend, appointments to keep, family members traveling hither and yon, soccer and swimming filling the margins of these days, and a thousand little moments of listening taking up the rest.

Lord, I entrust to You the days ahead,

with all their busyness

and unforeseen events.

May I use my time well,

and always for Your glory.

In the name of the Everlasting God, who defies time ~

Amen

Three Goals for 2015

In addition to my usual this-year-I’m-going-to-run-a-5K resolution (one of these years I may actually achieve it), these are my goals for 2015.

  • In 2015 I will not eat fast food. 

I realized that what had once been a rare occurrence was now all too commonplace. It’s too easy to swing through the drive-thru on my way home. I have decided to keep granola bars in my bag for those times when I’m really hungry or otherwise just wait.

When I told my kids my plan to do this, Helen reminded me about giving myself grace here. “What about when we’re traveling?” she said. “You may have to cut yourself some slack.”

Indeed. But I can still try, and I will undoubtedly end up eating less fast food in 2015 that I did in 2014. I’m going for none, though.

  • In 2015 I will be more hospitable.

This one scares me. It means that I have to talk with people. Like flesh-and-blood people who may invade my personal space.

I’ve had a running argument discussion with God about the whole topic of hospitality, and I think He finally won. Trisha Wilkerson says,

True hospitality is sacrificial, uncomfortable, and does not seek to impress others. Hospitality flows from a hospitable heart. It is more about your open heart and home, not your impressive entertaining skills.

I worry all the time about my lack of housekeeping skills. In fact, that’s the reason I often give God about why I can’t practice hospitality, but hospitality doesn’t have to take place in my home. I can start with my church. I can start with not skipping the fellowship time. I can start with (oh, please God, help me with this!) making small talk.

In fact, below is a very real conversation I had with God on this topic.

Me:  God, I hate small talk. I don’t think I can do it.

God: Then don’t. Talk about things that matter.

Me: But I don’t know what matters to them.

God: Find out.

Me: How do I do that?

God: By talking to them.

I hate it when the other guy is right. But when the other guy is The Other Guy I suppose I should listen.

  • In 2015 I will look for bits of beauty around me.

Recently I laid my head on the kitchen table in utter exhaustion. I felt overwhelmed with all that needed to be done and with the needs of all the people around me. Discouragement was winning.

Then my eye fell upon Laurel’s gingerbread house and I smiled.IMG_5344She had tackled the project all by herself and done a beautiful job. I loved the symmetry and the asymmetry. I loved that she wrote her name on it. I loved that it was right there on my kitchen table.

I decided that in 2015 I’m going to look for those bits of beauty that are always around me. I just need to pay more attention to see them.  Especially when I’m down.

Who knows what 2015 will hold for me? With Eric Peters, though, I’m saying, “Ha ha! to the old year.”

Good-bye, 2014.

Come on in, 2015.

I’m ready.

Shortest Day

Laurel asked me, “Did you know that yesterday was the shortest day in the year?”

We were riding in the car together, just the two of us, after an unpleasant visit to the dentist. I love being able to spend one-on-one time with my children. I especially liked that she was no longer focusing on the teeth that needed to be extracted but wanted to talk about other things.

“Yes,” I told her, “I did know that.  Did you know that last night was the longest night of the year?”

Her eyes widened in surprise. “Really?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I explained, “you can’t have a short day without a long night.”

“Huh,” she said, bemused and a little confuddled. “I just thought they shortened the day somehow.”

The other day Karl had asked me to even out my sweatshirt’s hood string.  The washer/dryer had left one side very long and the other very short. It bothered him to see it that way, but, had I been thinking more quickly this morning, it would have been the perfect picture for Laurel to understand why longest-night-shortest-day must be so.

I had a different misconception about the longest night.  I felt sure that the longest night must be followed by a glorious morning.  Scripture is full of images like that — the hardest times precede the sweetest. Weeping is followed by joy. The desert becomes the garden.

This morning I watched expectantly. Would I see pinks or purples or rose or peach? What splendor would be painted across the sky?

As the longest night took its time to meander off, a dull gray dawn drifted in.  No fanfare. No grandeur. A ho-hum overcast morning if ever there was one.IMG_5424[1]

But isn’t that the Christmas truth? We are on the lookout for the amazing, for something big and exciting, for an arrival appropriate for the King of Kings, and instead we get a baby in a stable. So what do we do? We add in the pageantry that God “forgot.”

I think He really wants us to find Him in a stable, in a humble place, in poverty.

God loves to surprise us in the most unexpected ways.

The longest night is followed by the grayest dawn.  There is something beautiful in that.

Maybe there’s even something beautiful about the dentist — but I may be stretching the point.