Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Plans

There is an old saying where I’m from that was repeated throughout my early life more times than I can remember: “People DON’T change.” Children who do not see the world in such black and white terms don’t easily believe things like that. Youthful optimism does not allow for such cold “truths” to be too readily adopted. I didn’t believe it – not even when the circumstances surrounding me seemed to only confirm that “truth” for me time and time again. If there is any truth to that old motto it is this: While it is often very difficult for people to change themselves, GOD changes people. This is something that the pastor at my church often refers to as “pruning” – another way of saying that God roots out areas of our lives that need to give way so that we can grow into who we are meant to be. And I truly believe that, but I always like to think of it in more artistic terms…. terms just as clearly defined in the Bible… Potter and Clay…

I can still remember “throwing” pottery in the drafty art studio at my high school in Brooklyn. I remember how much strength was needed once the clay was on the wheel to force it into the desired shape. Some days, I lacked the endurance and ended up with a mess on my hands, literally. I gave up many times dissatisfied and frustrated. Mostly I ended up with a shape far less than perfect. Once a viable shape was formed, it was time to let it dry or cook it in the kiln. As any potter knows, the trick is that if you want to engrave anything into it or if you want to reshape what you have formed in any way, you have to begin at just the right time or else it dries up hard like leather and leaves the potter with a much tougher (if not impossible) task. Time and time again, I let my pottery dry out so much that reshaping or engraving it was nearly impossible. Time and time again I ended up spending hours scraping the sides of some misshapen pot with a shaving tool, desperately trying to grind down the imperfections or cut away mistakes, listening to the ear piercing screeching sound and believing all the while that the form could not be changed. (And sadly sometimes it was the case.)

I think this is how God sometimes feels about us. Only in the case of human beings, it is we who choose to harden. And in the case of God, He doesn’t give up on us. I know this because in every way I was that misshapen pot. Stubborn in my ways, clinging to that old adage and believing what I’d been conditioned to believe about myself and the world, I resigned myself to accepting certain things I never should have. I fell shorter than short (no obvious pun intended). But fortunately for me, the Potter was not as willing to give up on me as I was in that basement art studio. God had a plan for my life and He was willing to scrape away at those rough and flawed layers no matter how long it took and no matter how many ways I had to break before I’d give way.

The process was difficult and I reached some of the lowest places of my life, but God was faithful to repair all my brokenness. And I don’t regret a moment of the repair process -- though I shudder at the thought of ever going through it again (I’m certain I will again to at least some small degree). I remain a work in process. I’m far from beyond “pruning.”

I was reminded of God’s faithfulness in a big way this past week. On August 11, M and I celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary and gave thanks for the amazing work that God did in both our lives over the course of 3 short years.

This month, M and I are also approaching the 2 year anniversary of our baptism together into the body of believers in Christ. I still remember standing there in that water, soaking in all that God had done at that point in my life to bring me out of the pit I dug myself into. Never could I have imagined all that God had in store for me and my husband over the years to come. Big plans.

Just recently, I have begun to overcome the biggest fear I’ve ever harbored. (You may remember, I faced it momentarily once before, years ago.) And everyday for the last week and a half, I have done that which I once swore I would NEVER be able to do. At the ripe old age of 26, I have finally learned to drive. And in just 10 days, I will resign my label as a “city girl” when M and I move into our first home in the suburbs. (A leap of Faith if I ever made one!)

God truly has a sense of humor. He has changed me and my life in so many ways. In spite of my shortcomings, in spite of all the ways I’ve failed to put my trust in Him, He has never let me down. All things have truly worked together for good for me and my little family. And the next time I face trials, which I’m sure I will, I hope I remember my own words… God IS Faithful and He loves us too much to leave us how we are.

His plans are much bigger….

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Pint-Sized Lesson About God

I live in a city where people dress their dogs in better designers and pay nearly as much rent for them as they do for themselves. But with limited square feet and one year to go in law school, a puppy has been out of the question for the time being. Enter Beanie -- our cute-as-a-button black teddy bear hamster. Now… I know hamsters are typically children’s pets, but given that I have an 8 year-old step-daughter, I had a perfect excuse to bring this little muffin home. And I must say, she is as spoiled (if not more) than even the most primped and pampered pooch in my building. And… believe it or not… she is teaching me quite a bit about God… Let me explain…

It was not long before M and I realized that as cute as Beanie’s little pink house was, she was growing far too big for it. When she almost got caught in her tunnel (the first day we got her) we realized it would not be before long that we’d have to go bigger. So we went to Petco where M and I eyed the biggest hamster cage in the store appropriately called the “Rat Palace.” The salesman of whom I inquired, with no reservations asked me, “Isn’t that a little extravagant for a hamster?” I stood there blinking at him wondering how on earth he got his job. Nevertheless, one day after work M brought home a “house” (the palace) for Beanie that probably gives her a bigger ration of square feet for her size than we have. (Definitely does).

Beanie’s palace has three floors (not including the ground floor) and is equipped with hamster furniture of all sorts. (Yes, someone beat me to that idea). Beanie has a TV she can climb into, a couch she can kick back on, a lamp she can eat out of, a nest, and even a rocking chair, not to mention blocks with letters spelling out her name to chew on, two wheels and a log she can hide in, run through or eat, depending on her mood. Too extravagant for my Beanie? Never. So where does God come into all of this?

Well… When M and I set up Beanie’s palace I wondered if it would feel like Christmas morning when she opened her eyes and saw all this new space and fun toys. If a hamster could receive such a thing, this would probably be a huge blessing to her, right? If so, she took quite some time to realize it. First off, Beanie gnawed incessantly at the bars of her cage. Even if it was a "palace" it was still a prison to her, I guessed. Still it was such a giant step up from her pink house that we couldn't understand why she wasn't happier. Secondly, each floor has it’s own ladder for her to climb up and down to the different levels. But Beanie wanted absolutely no part of the ladders. We might as well have installed a diving board on each floor! Night after night, rather than take the stairs, Beanie preferred to nose-dive to the bottom of her cage with one large crash after another. And, glutton for punishment that she is, she climbed back up to try again each time, falling only harder still. This reminded me of why my stepdaughter initially wanted to name her Crash and why my husband initially preferred Pinball (you should see her in her ball thumping everywhere she goes...)

Day after day M and I wondered if she would get seriously hurt as we did all we could to teach Beanie to use the stairs. And I wondered… is this how God feels when he pours out blessings on his children only to see us do everything we can to avoid doing what He intends us to do with them? No matter how many times we put Beanie on the right path (her ladder) she insisted on doing things her own way rather than stay the course. And time after time, it only had negative consequences. I wondered how God’s frustration compared to the frustration we were feeling.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. Eventually Beanie realized that her ways were not as wise as what we had intended for her and she began to realize that the stairs of her ladder were a much safer and convenient alternative. Like humans, fallen as we are (pun definitely intended), it took learning the hard way for Beanie to wise up. Now, she could not be happier and we could not be more pleased.

And it made me wonder… what blessings has God poured out on me that I’m oblivious too? How often have I been ungrateful when God has done something huge in my life? Can you relate? I’m sure if we look hard enough, we’ll find what we’ve been looking for in one respect or another has been right before our eyes for some time… a better, safer way.

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Our Irrational Anger

“I just don’t want to talk.”

How many times have we said that to a friend or family member beseeching us to confide in them, only to have them stare back startled, resigned, or disappointed? Whether it’s said under our breath, with passivity, or with a booming voice, the statement gets across the message that whatever lies at the root of any present problem is NOT (and may not ever be) up for discussion. And we usually don’t realize how angry or upset or troubled we really are until we’ve put it as plain as that and heard our own voices.

To often this has been my attitude towards God.

I never understand why when things in my life start to go south my first inclination is to blame God for it. Though I was once able to lay out my anger before God– sometimes maybe a little too bluntly– all too often, in times of anger, my first inclination is to slam the door on God and lock it behind me, saving for another day whether I will ever permit Him entry again.

The logic goes something like this:
Something beyond my control is paining me. God is all-knowing. Therefore, He is aware of it. Because He is all-knowing, He is also aware that He Alone has the Power to fix it. Now, He could take whatever pain persists away or pour whatever restoration I beg for down on me if He really wanted to and cared. Therefore, when my life is a mess, and God, who is All Powerful to restore it chooses not to, it means He either doesn’t care or that His plan for my life is one of destruction. Therefore all that is wrong in my life is His fault because He has allowed it.

Isn’t it amazing how twisted our logic can become when we are in pain and approach God with pride and entitlement rather than desiring to understand and submit to His plan in our lives? We can turn the God who wants to be intimately involved in every moment of our lives into a passive, indifferent spectator.

In retrospect, I’ve discovered that when we embrace this flawed logic and allow our pride to interfere with our relationship with God, we miss out on the blessings and lessons He has in store for us. We deprive ourselves of the peace that He intends. When we blame God and look only for the specific answer we’ve enunciated rather than waiting patiently before Him, we miss seeing Him at work in other areas of our lives. We damage our relationship with Him. We reason to ourselves that it’s God who has moved and exalt ourselves with the false belief that we are blameless in the matter and that God has somehow jilted US. We reason that it’s He who is guilty of bolting the door we’ve slammed in His face. And we forget that all too often, the cause of our present suffering is the result of our own sin or our faithless impatience.

Meanwhile, God, like that beseeching friend or relative that we put off so rashly, is asking us to bring our pain and disappointment to Him and pour it out at His feet. He is asking us to trust in His perfect plan for our lives. He is asking us to stand in our faith through the trying times and He is promising us that He will never leave us and that it WILL all work together for good if we just trust Him.

I have too often allowed a misplaced resentment towards God to harden my heart. And in the end, I’ve only felt more pain at the disrespect I’ve showed the God who purchased me with His Son. This, of course, doesn’t hit me until I let down my defenses and realize how self-righteous and unjustified my anger has been and how ridiculous I sound. This sometimes takes a long time. Like anyone else, I can be a very stubborn prideful person. And we all know what pride comes before…

As I get older and grow in my faith, I begin to realize that though God allows suffering He has a purpose for it that we cannot always see. His plan is always better than ours. How many times have I thanked God for not granting my specific request? How blessed are we that God doesn’t just give us what we think we want to our own detriment?

I forget that sometimes. It’s good to be reminded.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer 29:11

Will we trust in that promise? Or will we continue to stomp our feet like children in the candy store who have been told “no, you’ve had enough?” It’s a choice we make everyday: To let God in and draw from Him the comfort only He can provide. Or to shut Him out and allow our hearts to harden. We do so at our peril.