Trusting the Potter

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator.
Does a clay pot argue with its maker?
Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’
Does the pot exclaim,
‘How clumsy can you be?’
10 How terrible it would be if a newborn baby said to its father,
‘Why was I born?’
or if it said to its mother,
‘Why did you make me this way?’”
11 This is what the Lord says—
the Holy One of Israel and your Creator:
“Do you question what I do for my children?
Do you give me or
ders about the work of my hands?
12 I am the one who made the earth

 and created people to live on it.
With my hands I stretched out the heavens.
All the stars are at my command.”
Isaiah 45:9-12

God is the potter. I am the clay in his hands. The potter is slow, steady and methodical as the clay spins madly round and round.  How many rotations does clay have to spin exactly before an imperfection is corrected, or a shape becomes just right to the potter’s eye? This metaphor of potter and clay speaks of God’s grace in my relentless neePotter Manipulating Clay on Wheeld to learn a lesson a few times before I finally bend. Before I finally succumb to a new shape or way of being.  I spin around the same problem, the same mistake, the same unhealthy pattern, the same conversation or wrestling match with God over and over again before I finally bend like clay in His hands. Yet the potter’s hands stay right where they are through it all, holding me up and keeping me from complete collapse.  The potter is patient. Steady. Strong. Relentless. Confident that the clay will shape according to His hands…it’s just a matter of time. Of repetitions.

Sometimes clay gets hardened and dry. Unable to move, unable to bend. Practically resisting the touch of the potter’s hands. It is then that water is added. Living water that fills the dry cracks and smooths the rough edges. The water could be Scripture, the presence of God, the touch of grace or any other filled need of the spirit and heart. The water makes the clay softer. Moldable. Without water, clay hardens and breaks.  It no longer can be shaped by the potter’s hands…

 
It’s hard being the clay because the clay has no control. No control over how it is shaped. When it is shaped. How grand and intricate it will be…or how small and simple. The Potter decides it. All of it. The Potter has plans for the clay that the clay cannot understand. Do I trust the Potterpotter-god-clay-isaiah-64-8? Do I trust his craftsmanship? The gentleness of his hands? Do I allow the Potter access to the hardest places of my heart…knowing he’s going to push hard on those places in order to soften them? Do I trust that the base the Potter sets me on is sturdy? Do I trust that he’s never going to give up on the most stubborn piece of clay that I feel and see that I am?

Am I allowing myself to take in water?

So much in this world has the ability to dry my heart and my spirit. To leave me cracked and hardened, unwilling to take in water. If I allow it to, this out-of-control world can leave me grasping at anything that gives the illusion of control. But, I wonder what would happen if I stopped grasping? What if, instead, I fully lived into the out-of-control essence that I was meant to have from the very beginning? Fully owned and succumbed to being the clay that I am…trusting the in-control and powerful Potter? The Potter determines the shape that I am being molded into, and the amount of time required for me to take shape.  All I need to do is trust the Potter by taking in the water he pours on me, and bending at the touch of his hand.

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May I Come In?

135“May I come in?” I ask. This tiny room has become your only space to exist, but may I enter into it with you?  May I come into the small space that you are sharing with your child who is sick and suffering?  A space that does not allow either of you to escape the sight of the machines, tubes, and the 4 walls closing in on you. A space that cannot shut out the sounds of those machines, of the doctors talking about you, or of the screaming child in pain whose own space is down the hall from you. May I enter into all of it?  Or into as much of it as you will let me?

I do not know what it is like to be where you are.  I am not a parent.  I do not know the pain a parent feels when their child is sick.  Really sick.  And in uncontrollable pain.  I have never been confined to such a small space as this room.  Nor have I ever been in the hospital with a life-threatening illness.  But even though I do not understand, may I come in?  I can listen. Pray. Cry. Or just sit with you if you don’t want to be alone. I can even just talk about the weather if all you need is to, just for a moment, forget where you are and what you are facing.  May I come in?

slide02-patient-treatmentI will not demand my presence, or take the choice away from you as do doctors and nurses. Their presence in your room is not up to you.  Unlike most others here, my presence is your choice.  I am one of the few people you can say no to while you are here.  That may even feel empowering in a world where you have lost control over most other things. I will not fault you for needing to exert that power,  that little last power you have left.  But, I’m still going to ask.  I am still going to knock on the door, and ask, “May I come in?” because I want to be there.  I want to carry this with you, even if only for 10 minutes, an hour, 3 days or 3 months. I want to enter into your world, even if it’s a dark, painful space that continues to get smaller and smaller.

I do not want anything from you.  I will not ask for you to give up any more of yourself or of your precious child who is the one laying in the hospital bed…or crib.  I will not take from your child as you watch helplessly.  Not blood, food, consciousness or the activities that make them laugh the hardest.  No, I am there to just give.  Support, encouragement, time, love, prayer or just a listening ear.  I holding_handsam there to pour into your child, not take anything out.  You can trust me.  Even in this space that has become your small world, and that of your sick and terrified child.  In this world of unknown faces, diseases, treatments and sometimes empty promises of health…you can trust me. So, may I come in?

I do not want to come into this room, your room, because I have the answers.  Nor because I have suggestions for how to make meaning of what is happening to your child.  I want to come in because there are times in our lives that we do not know what we need.  Sometimes just breathing takes everything we have.  And maybe this is one of those times for you.  I remember it was during the scariest times in my own life that I needed someone to enter into where I was the most. Sometimes to show me the way out…and other times just to sit in it with me. I’m willing to do either…but you have to let me in first.  May I come in?

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Great Expectations

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” The dictionary defines “expectations” as something looked forward to…whether feared, or hoped for. An anticipation, hope, or trust. A feared expectation and a hoped for expectation are polar opposites…but either one could be an “expectation.” You can expect someone to make a future choice that fulfills a fear, or you can expect the same exact person to make a future choice that fulfills a hope. What power we hold. What a vastly different lens we can choose for ourselves. We can expect the best of someone…or the worst. Why is choosing the worst easier? Because it’s safer? Less possibility for disappointment and heartbreak, maybe? But how do such expectations affect the outcome? Do people live into the expectations we place on them when we assume the worst?
Elsewhere on the internet, “expectations” are defined as what is considered most likely to happen, especially in cases of uncertainty. An expectation is a belief that is centered on the future…and may or may not be realistic. An expectation can be based on reality, or an imaginary world of ideals. Yet, it is expectations that so often lead to disappointment. Are we bringing on needless disappointment when we choose our world of ideals? A world of wishes instead of the broken world that is? How do unrealistic expectations cause pain? Damage?

I hold unrealistic expectations of people. Relationships. Myself. Seminary school. God. And the list goes on. I continually have to readjust the lens through which I see my world because if I don’t, I know that I am creating my own disappointment.

“If you’re walking in the street of Expectations, not far is a lonely bench called Disappointment. I used to sit there before.”

Apart from my expectations, lies the expectations of others. I grew up under a level of expectations that was not humanly possible…let alone, realistic for a child. With those expectations came constant disappointment. The relentless message that I was not doing or saying what I should know to do or say. The consequences of being that constant disappointment to those around me were harsh. Heart-breaking to a little girl who didn’t know what was wrong with her. Pure and simple, I was not enough…and I didn’t know why. I learned from a very, very young age that I could not care what others thought or said about me. Their expectations were suffocating, and I knew that that wasn’t love.

“There can be deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”

Why is choosing love so hard? Does choosing love force me to allow people to be who they truly are, not who I hope…or need…them to be? At what point are expectations loving, if at all, and at what point are they just the catalyst for disappointment, strife, conflict or feelings of inadequacy? What expectations are so engrained that we are blind to texpectfhem? And how am I to respond to people who have expectations of me that I will never fulfill?

Lord, thank you that no matter what I do or say, I do not and cannot disappoint you. You already know what I am going to say before the words leave my lips. And you already know what I am going to choose before the choice is before me. Help me to also live as a witness of the same love and acceptance…giving room for people to be who they are today, wherever that place is. Help me lay down all unhealthy expectations that only hinder truth, relationship and the fullness of life that you want to give. And release me from the grips of others’ expectations of me…the only opinion that matters, and is Truth, is yours.

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It was me, I turned away.

God is Teacher. And teachers correct. They correct students who want to learn, who want to know the answer…but are on the wrong path. Teachers must correct, no matter how confident the student is in their wrong answer. And teachers guide the student in the right direction, no matter how far down the wrong path the student has already gone.

I needed correction. And God’s gentleness in His correction has humbled me to my knees. He clearly showed me that I had not lost my footing. The changes of my surroundings were not the cause of my feeling lost. No. The truth was that I had turned away. Left Him. Departed from my narrow path. Let go of the one Source that sustains me. Instead of abiding in Him, I walked away and began wandering. I allowed the new walkedawayideas, new surroundings, new fears and new circumstances to distract me and take my eyes off God. I had no direction and no anchor because I  went searching for Truth out there, instead of abiding in Him and waiting for Truth to be revealed to me in here. In my heart.

I had turned from God, so my hope was no longer in Him. I no longer hoped in God’s answer because I didn’t want to wait. No, waiting hurt. Instead of trusting in the all-faithful God who continually shows himself to me…I opted for hoping that the people around me could show me truth. That the day-t0-day life of seminary, and the people around me who know God, could fill me where I was empty…and speak the Truth that I was craving. Dean Hays wrote to the Duke Divinity community, “…unfocused hope is dangerous; it can lead us to trust in people or institutions that cannot bear the weight of our longing.” Nothing and no one can bear the weight of my longing. My longing for answers. For clarity. For Truth. For healing of this broken heart.

This Advent season, I shed my false, unfocused hope. I will shed all the lies that I have told myself since turning from God. As I wait, I will recognize that my heart is longing, so it’s fragile. T.S. Eliot speaks of this season beautifully:

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.”

Lord, help me to shed all that is wrong. All that is unfocused. All that too easily distracts my love and trust from you. And give me the courage and strength to wait…

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Time to Start Counting to a Thousand…

I have lost my footing. I have lost my footing in gratitude….in seeing God’s abundance that surrounds me. I have lost my footing because since being at Duke Divinity I have been plucked out of everything I know. Everything I thought I knew. I was so, so deep in my faith, my friendships and my way of understanding that God took me to the opposite side of the country to get me out of it. God wanted to ensure that He had my undivided. So, since being here I have been in over my head in the Christian faith, in people who think very differently than I do, in new ideas and revelations, and in my faith and identity being shaken down to its core.

I will start naming my gifts with that one…it is a gift to be at Duke Divinity. It is a gift to be challenged and in over my head, even if it’s spiritually and emotionally exhausting. I am thankful for the pruning, and for a God who loves enough to take the time to prune me. I am thankful for a God who is patient enough to prune me, because I put up quite a fight most of the time. It is a gift to have trustworthy people that I am walking this journey with…women that I can talk to, question my faith with and share in all of the ups and downs. I am so, so thankful that God prepared me financially for this season of graduate school. Truly miraculous. Truly a gift. I am thankful for the Christian vocation that God seems to be calling me to…for opening doors of opportunities, and for bringing mentors for me to learn from. Coming into Divinity School, I prayed and prayed asking God to show me what area of ministry that I am meant for…and He answered. I faithfully expected an answer, of course…but I am nevertheless thankful that God is one who answers prayer and guides us through uncharted waters.

My list of a thousand gifts begins here, but will continue on in my journal, in emails, conversations, Facebook posts and probably the occasional sticky note. No matter where they end up out there, they will be written on my heart and meditated on in my thoughts. That is what is most important, and that is how I will get my footing back. That is how I will begin to see God’s abundance again. All I need to do is open my eyes of thankfulness in order to see all that surrounds me. book

Lord, I ask for one thousand eyes that are wide open to your presence and provision in my life. May my growing thankfulness fill the empty hunger that lives deep inside of me

“I am a hunter of beauty and I move slow and I keep the eyes wide, every fiber of every muscle sensing all wonder and this is the thrill of the hunt and I could be an expert on the life full, the beauty meat that lurks in every moment. I hunger to taste life. God.”          -Ann Voskamp One Thousand Gifts

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Returned Gifts…

How often are God’s gifts returned to Him? How often do people choose their old, broken, but familiar, pattern over God’s gift of a new way…a new possibility? How often are God’s gifts returned without ever being opened? Or worse yet, opened and used for a while, only to be returned later? What does God feel when we mistreat a gift given to us? What does God feel when we throw away blessing?

People are gifts. Relationships. Jobs. Opportunities. As well as sunsets, health, miracles, personal growth, and the list goes on and on. We pass right by them as if they are not gifts out of the hands of Almighty God. We pass them by as if God and Creator of the Universe did not spend time preparing this particular gift for us specifically, in this exact time. We choose an attitude of pride over an attitude of humble gratitude. We choose the excess of the world just as easily as God’s abundant blessing. One no more precious than the other.

Is the problem a heart condition? A problem of the spirit? Just selfishness?

All around me I see passed up blessings and returned gifts. The love, grace and joy that is missed is heartbreaking…but there is nothing you can do. Just watch. Pray. Mourn. And thank God that He is so forgiving and loving…and ready to offer more gifts if one would just be ready and willing to truly receive.

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Sitting in the Dark Night of My Soul

“…O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other…”

(excerpt from Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross)

This poem outlines the soul’s journey from the distractions and entanglements of the world to the perfect peace and harmony of union with God. This dark time of testing and agony is accompanied by confusion, uncertainty, and even doubts of God…but on the other side one can approach nearer to God and His love, having reached a true mystical union with God. According St. John of the Cross, the “dark night of the soul” is synonymous with traveling the “narrow way” that Jesus spoke of in Matt. 7:13-14.

My dark night has been long. Confusing. Painful. Distracting. Tiring. Lonely. Few understand, fewer have experienced it and even fewer will actually admit to having had a dark time in their spiritual lives. A dark time of isolation, doubt and questions. A dark time of not knowing what I believe, what I know to be true or what exactly it is that I’m standing on. I am silent much of the time because I do not know what to say. I do not know what to say…even to God. So I don’t.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”  – Psalm 46:10

He’s still here with me. In my speechlessness. In the silence. In my darkness. God’s presence is still here…maybe even stronger now. It feels like our silence. Or our darkness. His peace wraps around me like a blanket while we wait. I do not know what we are waiting for, but I know that this is where I’m supposed to be. God is transforming me…but into what? Into who? What will this new faith mean for my life?

Oh, but the darkness does wear on me. Much of the time. I’m so tired. My bones are so dry. They cry out from the depths of me and beg for life-giving water. They are no longer strong and sustaining. I rely on God for more life. For whatever I need to get through another day of dryness. Of darkness. There is no escaping, I know. The only way is through this…

Initial responses to pain and darkness can be trying to find a way of avoiding it. Rushing through it. Ignoring it. Numbing it. Not to sit in it…allowing it to enter the deepest part of the heart and spirit. This is the posture I choose. To sit. To wait. To allow this darkness to do everything it needs to do in me in order for God to prepare and use me. Fear may find its way in at times…but by the grace of God, it never stays long. And most importantly there is always hope…and trust. In God. In faith. And in the darkness.

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