The Carpenter’s Masterpiece


a child's drawingMy older brother and sister were wonderful artists. By the time I reached the age of six or seven, I somehow knew that they were artists … and that I was not. Their artwork has progressed and so has mine. I have realized that my main form of artistic expression is words rather than pictures. But during a phase of experimenting with sketching, when I was 17 or so, I showed my mom my greatest masterpiece up to that point. She looked at it and smiled. “Do you remember when you used to cry because your brother and sister drew pictures you wished you could draw?”

She recalled a time that I wished I could draw something they had copied, and I couldn’t do it. I grew frustrated, crumpled a picture smudged with tears, and threw it away.

I don’t recall that incident. Probably a good thing. But I do remember looking up to them, their art. Wishing I could draw like that. I used the same paper, the same pencil colors and crayons. Why was their work so lovely when mine was so amateur?

I did not understand and stayed away from creativity for a long time. I put aside my art book and picked up a writing book instead … but only years later.

Of course, now I can see that many things take time to come to fruition. Even now I wouldn’t say that I see fruit, yet I know my passion lies in writing. And as an artist – at least of words – my greatest inspiration lies in other works of art. Music, most often; photos, drawings, dance – people choosing to express the depth of their soul through arts of various form and style.

I envision a sculptor, a painter, a builder, standing with bare, raw material before them, knowing what they want to create and that it will only be a matter of time before it is done. Perhaps they don’t know exactly what difficulties they will face in their building. Various things come into play – the weather for a house builder. They pray for the rain to stay away during certain stages of construction. The artist prays for inspiration, that their hands will be sure as they move.

But their material is in front of them and they are familiar with it. They know what they want to create and they are sure of themselves and their abilities. The painter does not grow frustrated with his brush, crack it in half, crumple up the paper and throw it away. The sculptor does not push aside the piece of wood when he is only half done. They know that with perseverance and time, their masterpiece will be complete.

I see a Carpenter who put aside His work of building simple piece of wood structures in order to work with His hands and heart to draw out the very souls of men.

It was then as it is now.

He sees the raw materials of our lives. He sees the laughter and the tears, the frustrations, the anger, the sorrows, the misunderstandings. The hopes and dreams that shattered and scattered. But He does not grow angry. His work is sure and steady, his hands adept. Perhaps the things with which He has to work – the souls of men, of you and me, are not always pliable in His hands.

Often we look up in misunderstanding and sorrow, in weariness at the moldings and the makings and cry out, “Why have you made me thus?” Still He continues to work the perfect work He knows His creation will become. For He makes everything beautiful in its time. We might ask for a little more color, for a greater variety of materials, for a bit of time outside the workshop … or a bit more time in the workshop when we are set aside to weather. Still His hands are steady and sure, His movements deft, His knowledge infinite of what He wants to accomplish within us – the works of His hands.

All creation declares what can be made, what we can become, if only we choose to stop and listen and believe in the works of His hands.

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In His Image


in the image of God

“And God said, Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27). 

***

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4)

Not quite angels, King David described humanity in a prayer, saying that we have been created “a little lower than the angels.” In the same breath, however, he notes that mankind has been crowned “with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5).

What is that glory? That honor? In some ways greater than we will ever know, it is that we have been created in the image of God.

I attended a writer’s conference on the theme of “Write His Answer.” An unexpected theme arose during the keynote, as one speaker after another told stories of broken self-image and their continuing journeys toward recreating their identity.

Their stories made me cry. As though they were reaching to something inside me or a part of me that I could not recognize or remember. It was a response I did not expect, and set me on a sort of journey of my own, towards understanding broken or fragile parts of my identity and self-image.

The message in the keynote speeches all led to a single core, the idea of having been created in the image of God. And not only that, but the idea that the losses and the breakings and the hurt all work together toward a single purpose: that of transforming us into the image of Christ.

Made in His image at the beginning . . . and slowly, continually, often painstakingly, being transformed into the image of Christ.

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” the Psalmist asks. Lower than angels. Yet honored with the indescribable gift of a unique identity. An identity hard to grasp and even harder to accept in the midst of the brokenness and cruelty of the world.

But it is our true self. Our deepest self. And understanding that, accepting it, letting that beauty become the reality shaping who we are and who we believe we can become.

Hope … He Will Come at Last


Frederick Buechner on Hope

I think it is hope that lies at our hearts and hope that finally brings us all here. Hope that in spite of all the devastating evidence to the contrary, the ground we stand on is holy ground because Christ walked here and walks here still. Hope that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives he will call us by our names to the lives he would have us live and the selves he would have us become. Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment of each of us and of our world he will come at last to heal and to save. – Frederick Buechner

He will come, yes, and He has come. and that is why that ground on which we stand is holy. Why the people to whom we speak and with whom we interact every day are sacred. For all are made in His image, in the image of the one who did not give up on a fallen creation. In the image of the one who sacrificed the purest and sweetest and most wondrous thing — Himself — to redeem all things to Himself once more. To bring new life and joy by His love and promise to make all things new.

We are called on by hope. Not a nebulous, vague, and random hope. Not a hope that is mere wishful thinking. But hope that fires the imagination and fires the purpose. Hope that rests in the truth of a perfect Love that descended into the dark forests of this world to seek and save. To bring us Home again.

The Wondrous Gift of Writing


Writer’s Conference Series, Part 5

Books were taunting me. They’d never taunted me before. Fascinated me, yes. I loved books. Even as a child, I loved the hush of a library. I would look around in wonder and ask myself, “Will I ever be able to read ALL these books?”

But the books on my bookshelves, the books on my side tables … they were taunting me. “We’ve been finished. Completed. Published.”

And I couldn’t even open my own manuscript. Or at least, I didn’t want to.

Over a week had passed since the writer’s conference. I had been both blessed and inundated by information and material, and was ready to complete the final draft of my manuscript and send it off to a few prospective agents. I had heard from a friend whose feedback on my book was just what I knew it needed to make it absolutely perfect.

All I had to do was write.

And I couldn’t do it. I tried opening the document on my computer a couple times, but my mind would fog over. I would close the document, feeling incapable and overwhelmed. I tried praying. Tried reading to fill my heart and soul with great writing in hopes that it would overflow onto my own manuscript.

But mostly, I sat in one corner of the couch and told myself, “I’ll never get this done.” And from that location, books taunted me in their finished perfection.

My husband found me there one afternoon. I tried to tell him how I felt. All I managed was, “I feel stuck,” and then the tears poured out. “I can’t do this. I’ll never get it done. I can’t finish this book. Even if I do, no one will want to publish it or take it on as an agent.”

Every hopeless comment I could possibly make about my book came out. And I wasn’t looking for compliments, hoping for my husband to reassure me with just the opposite of what I said. I was stuck. Completely stuck. I could not write a word. Any revisions I tried to add only made things worse.

“Don’t write,” he told me. “Just leave it. You’ll know when you’re ready. The words will come. Don’t push yourself.”

I nodded. I took a deep breath. The fog seemed to lift. Just knowing that someone was there to support me, someone who wasn’t pushing me, or laughing at me, but encouraging me … made all the difference.

The next day, I opened the document again. And I began to write. Within two weeks, I had completed the fifth draft.

Writers, and other artists, struggle with self-doubt. A lot. And there’s never a perfect and complete cure for that condition. But there are friends. Family. A spouse. There are encouraging words and thoughts. There are prayers. There’s sitting beside someone in tears on a couch and saying, “It’ll be okay.”

Because it will.

God says so. In His Word, and in that voice deep within the heart that whispers to us not to give up.

That assures us the best is yet to come.

That reminds us of the wondrous gift writing is.

That calls us to let the heart be filled with dreams, and to tell those dreams

as stories

as words

as poems

as beatings of the heart of a writer.

A Prayer for Comfort


I attended a funeral last weekend. I wanted to go, but I also didn’t. I was afraid. Afraid of not knowing what to say. How to comfort the hurting family members. As if, somehow, I could.

Maybe I try too hard to fix things. To work things out. To know exactly what to do and how to do it. To read life carefully. Too carefully.

But some things can’t be fixed. Not here. Not now. Sometimes tears must be cried before the comfort comes. Sometimes many tears.

My dad told me yesterday, sometimes just your presence, and your prayers, are the best thing you can offer to a hurting heart. Yesterday I offered my presence. My timid, unsure presence. Such a small thing in the face of death and the pain it causes.

Today I offer a prayer. Also such a small thing. But somehow, perhaps, calling on the Giver of Life, of Comfort, of Hope, will do more than anything my presence, my words, could ever do.

I hope so. I pray so.

 

Lord, I woke up with the verse running through my mind, entrenched deeply as though it was something I dreamed, but I can’t remember. “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

I don’t remember any dreams, but I know it was the verse that the Father spoke of yesterday at the funeral of a young man who left this life too soon. They were the words You spoke at the grave of Your friend, who left this life too soon. You raised him from the dead.

Father, Your power is not limited. You can do the same today. You have, time and again, worked miracles in this age. So when You don’t, when death’s finality resounds and the curtain is drawn, it conveys a painful message that is hard to understand.

You have a purpose. And though we cannot see or know, that purpose will be accomplished.

But it seems so harsh to say or conclude that You have a purpose in death. Perhaps, if nothing else, it is the effects of a fallen world. A world of sorrow and the harsh reality that Satan is prince of the world, of its pursuits and the way it has minimized those things that truly matter, and glorified those thing that have no meaning. No wonder we grow so weary, so confused, in the midst of this.

God, bring hope to those who are hurting. Bring strength to those who are weak. Your strength. Bring comfort to the weary and let them rest their heads on Your shoulder. Lord, You promised to glorify Your name. Glorify Your name now, even in the midst of sorrow and death. May Your name, oh Lord, be glorified, and let it bring hope and Light and Life to those who are lost, hurting, and broken.

You are the resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in You, though dead, shall live. We were all dead in sin until Your light broke through the darkness of our souls and brought life. So that we who cross the great divide might step from life to Life.

Thank You for that life. Thank You for that hope.

Bring Light to those who wake in darkness.

Bring Hope to those who have none.

Bring Life. Oh Lord, bring Life.

Writing through the Search


forest pathSo many times we write of a door that was closed … only once it is opened. We only write of the seeking … once we have found. Of the searching once we know what it is we’re looking for. But it’s hard to write while in the midst of a search, in the midst of the silence.

Is it because I don’t know if I will find it? Is it because I’m afraid of looking like I don’t know what I’m looking for? Or even what I have found? Perhaps it is the fear of appearing unsure, that I don’t have it all together.

For so long my life had such a strong sense of purpose. And it does still, but at times, I can’t help but feeling as though I’m missing something. Not missing out on something, but actually missing something.

Is it an end in the road? Is it a curve? Is it a completely different road I’m meant to take? Or am I simply meant to continue on this path?

Somehow I feel this is what I am meant to do, so I continue walking. But there is no brilliant burst of sun in the grey sky. No moments of perfect clarity, with birds taking flight before of my eyes, or seeing the last leaf fall from a tree in a magical manner.

No songs or symphonic crescendo. Just a gentle near silence. Nearly, but not quite. This defines, in part, my journey these past months. Not silent, but no words or message clear enough to hear.

The Bible says something to the effect of, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” That’s the verse that came to mind when I began my walk, wondering why at times he seems so distant.

Perhaps I have not really searched, not with all my heart. Or perhaps my eyes have not been opened. Am I waiting for something? For God? Is He waiting on me? Is it a little bit of both? Neither?

All I can say for sure is that it is part of the journey, and as long as the path continues to stretch before me, it is my destiny, my part, to walk forward. I am sure moments of brilliant clarity will burst through the gray. I am also sure that for the most part, I will gaze at life – past and present – through murky glass, not even considering future.

But I also know that I am not alone. And the One who walks beside me has a plan. A purpose. And as long as I trust in this, I can know it is not about the destination, the finding, the end of the search. So much is about the journey, and the One who walks with me each step of the way.

The Edge of the Wind


The air moves

In ways strange

It doesn’t explain

The winds change

From gentle to gale

From rushing to ripple

And I feel the urge

To clean out my house

Or my heart

Or even to disappear

Into the wind

And let it carry me

Far

A mountaintop perhaps

Or even a star

I can’t track the movement

Of the wind

Its cycles and cold fronts

Colliding with heat

Piling cumulus over nimbus

And stratus beneath cirrus

All I know is the rain

And the magic scent

Of sky before it falls

A smell like the sound of skittering leaves

Whispering the approach of a storm

This wind change

Will it be a storm

A calm

Perhaps a little bit of both

Settling and stirring me

At the same time

I don’t know

And at times

All I can do is close my eyes

To better feel the change

Skirting the edge of the wind