Thursday, February 4, 2016

this is it.

when I was a child, we had a metal, collapsible table and chairs. both the table top and the chair seats were covered in a raggedy-anne and andy print on vinyl. it split in several spots over the years of use from all of us six children.

more than once I spent an entire afternoon dragging out stuff to make a fancy soiree: tablecloths, candles, and every single last piece of my mom's crystal--and I set up that wee, blue-flaking-painted-table as if it were fit for royalty in the banquet hall of my childhood imagination.

never mind that the table was caving in in the centre, I would simply prop the large crystal decanter there. I would have grand visions of my mom arriving home, clasping her hands with delight in the wonderment before her, and how she too would see that it was indeed an excellent idea to have high tea at whatever-time-of-day-it-was on our farm where our family of 8 lived in rural Saskatchewan. to heck with the farm and household chores, excellent idea, laura - let's all have tea and crumpets, tra-la-la-la-la-- that sort of thing.

I could nearly hear her exclamations as I flung tablecloths into the air and polished silverware to gleam like the tears of joy I imagined in her eyes.

now perhaps she indulged me in my visions of grandeur every now and again - but one afternoon in particular when she arrived home, instead of the glorious praises I had been picturing, she scolded me. I don't recall her flying off the handle, but I do remember her being nearly speechless in shock at the sight of the bedazzled and bling-ed out farmhouse kitchen she saw before her...

...and I was immediately ashamed of what I had done. The sunshine vision of gumdrop candies down lollipop lane through my imaginary rose-tinted glasses faded away and I saw this ridiculous and incredible mess I had made of the kitchen while I was actually supposed to be completing my chores that were expected of me while she was out.

I don't feel any bit of sorrow about her reaction, as I do have numerous recollections of her encouraging such play several other times. (the multiple times I set up a dental office at our dining room table and used various household implements to work on my brothers' and sister's teeth (as well as having the entire World Book Encyclopedia section on teeth memorized - my faves were bicuspids and tricuspids), or when we were allowed to turn our kitchen floor into a waterslide arena when it was floor-washing day...)

...but the lesson in what I am remembering about this day--is that this is it. this is my life, this is your life, this is our children's lives, this is IT. we will make efforts, but things won't always go as we hope or dream. we will still walk through trials.

not just the childish whimsy and dreams of grandeur, but also the loving redirection and the temporary pain, or even constant really difficult difficulties, or trials, interspersed with moments of joy, of peace. all of it altogether - is what we have. what we are blessed with. what we are gifted.
this is IT.

and what we can and do squander when things are easy. and how much of what we do is useful?
how much do we know God is present in each of those times?

working with clay and having my hands entrenched in the stuff of the earth is so good, but also wet and messy. straining and creating. the clay doesn't go from a lump of earth into a useful vessel without getting pounded into submission, without getting soaked and dirty and fully controlled and shaped by the potter. (and my thoughts automatically turn to the Potter).

when you begin, the clay is wedged - pottery speak for kneading, something like bread dough. (another necessary step to strengthen the bonds of the gluten in the flour - another interesting and useful analogy. interesting how many things - like us - sometimes need to be broken in order to be made stronger, more useful).

when the Potter places the clay on the wheel and places hands on the clay, it is not without force. in wedging, water is removed from the clay, and in hands being laid on, water is added back to the clay. the wheel begins to turn, and the potter exerts force onto the clay. if the clay is in control, it buckles and breaks and collapses and can spin in a glorious and very messy mess right off the wheel, fulls of lumps and brokenness and could be completely washed away until it is literally nothing.

it cannot make itself into anything useable, until it rests and the Potter picks it up again, to force it in to submission for another chance.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. - 1 Peter 1:6
when the Potter is in control, the clay submits and immediately bends with such beauty, even as it is being worked. and once the potter has the clay under control, completely centered on the wheel and centered in tune with the Potter's hands - this is when the potter applies gentle pressure to transform the clay. much like my mama applying gentle pressure, communicating to me, "it is not the time, child. let me show you what it is time for."

a drop of water, the Potter's hands fresh and ready, and as the pressure is applied, the clay immediately responds, and practically springs to life. once the clay has been centered, it is very nearly begging to be made into something - and with that gentle touch, it springs forth as if in thanks.

a deeper lesson for me in this is that while the clay does not appear to be useful prior to be touched by the potter, the potter in fact knows full well the potential and value in each and every little piece of clay, even if it's already dried, broken, hardened or even so saturated that it's falling apart. a potter never throws clay away; a potter knows every bit of clay has value.
in this life, we celebrate our accomplishments, our acquisitions, our 'blessings'.
buckets of income or paid down debt or items of monetary value; tangible objects, food, lack of hunger, a car or a job or a spouse or a houseful of children or no children at all, whichever we place value on and thinking a life free from trials is proof that God has found favor in us. when things are good. bodies free of disease. families free of sorrow. a life without trials.

scripture does tell us:
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. - Jeremiah 29:11
... but that doesn't specify that hope and a future are necessarily guaranteed on this earth, in this life.
what about little ones lost too soon? young people gone? suicide? cancer? betrayal? divorce? mental illness, or illness in general? abuse?

any of it?
what of it?

how does this apply to those whom God loves (um, all of us) - who still suffer? who still die? who work hard and still suffer and suffer and suffer and suffer? and still die?

yes, this is it - but this is not ONLY it. you feel me?

the guarantee may not be something we can see, even in each stage of being formed, through each trial. the guarantee may come later.

the guarantee WILL come later.

it hurts my heart when well-meaning Christians will view those walking through trials as those trials being proof of God's displeasure. I pray for their eyes and hearts to be open and grace to flow through and fill them .... and in my weaker moments I pray for the Potter to smash them into submission so they can actually be more useful. but that sounds judgey so I need to not. because how useful is judgey? it's not.

moving on.

we know there is a hope and a future; and perhaps that's the difference between us and the clay.

the Potter knows full well there is value and hope and a future regardless of our current scenario, messy and broken or traipsing down lollipop lane. my momma knew there was value and a hope and a future, even though I had labored in vain.

either way, whatever trials we face, there is joy ahead. whether here, or we find ourselves having to wait until we see His face.

if you are walking through trials, sufferings that feel and very well may be endless - know that there is joy ahead. even in them - there is joy.

the potter gently coaxes the clay into a vessel. the clay grows, becomes tall, graceful, artistic and beautiful; so simple, so lovely, and so functional. to watch a master potter never fails to take my breath away. when you are asked to walk through trials, it never fails to take my breath away and I see the Potter's hands on you, gently coaxing you. and I wonder if the clay hurts, like we hurt. like I hurt. like you hurt.

once the piece has been worked enough and is complete at this stage, it need to be removed from the wheel and slowly dried - to prevent cracking. and at this stage? leather-hard in studio-speak--it appears to be ready to be used, a willing vessel ready to hold sustenance.

but if you were to fill it with liquid? it would literally dissolve into a puddle of mess, even less useful than it was as a lump or clay. it can easily crack, and would need to be completely broken apart and saturated with water again to even become a lump of clay, again. the vessel is actually more vulnerable at this stage than any other.

before the vessel can truly become useful, it must be burned - hot - like hot enough to burn all of your flesh off. and in being burned, or bisque-fired? it shrinks a bit.

and then? even after it is bisque-fired and is now a crisp and prepared vessel--it appears ready. it is willing. but if you fill it with liquid...?

the liquid will seep out, everywhere, until the vessel is empty.
while it again appears ready and useful, it can only be decorative. it can't hold water at all.

before it can hold and be steadfast and water-tight, it must be drenched in glazes also made up earthy bits and elements and water, then must be allowed to fully dry. it must be left alone, away from the potter's hands and away from everything. it cannot be touched at all, or the glaze will pull off, and those bare spots will affect the integrity of the finished vessel. and the glazes look nothing like they will look when they are finished.

once again, if you tried to fill this dried, glazed vessel with liquid? it would simply wash all of the glaze off and water would seep out everywhere. so in order to really be made useful, it must be fired and burned, again. it must go from the safety of the shelf where it has been left alone to be readied - not for use, but for another fiery trial through the hot kiln.
thousands of degrees applied a second time.

oh, little vessel.

your time is coming.

and then, upon cooling...

not only is it beautiful, and unique, and completed, what it looks like it always a bit of a surprise, even to the Potter. but that uniqueness is often what brings the creator so much joy.
and the vessel is finally useful.

does that give you a bit of encouragement like it does me?

His hands and heart are with you, on you for a season, or many seasons--seasons where you feel pain and are hurting and changing and we do not know what we will become after His hands have been upon us--and there are times where He must be away from you, to let you be ready for the next stage.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4
there are seasons where we must walk through fire, for without those stages--we still have value and beauty and some form of functionality--but we cannot be nearly as useful as we could otherwise.
the fiery trials are an integral part, a necessary part (not once but twice) for us to hold fast.

oh, little vessel.

there is value in you, and so much value in your suffering.

there was value in my childish efforts AND there was value in my mama correcting me.

my effort had value, but it wasn't the right time. there is value in the clay and in the vessel, and as the lump of clay, the timing is not up to me, or you, but it is up to the Potter.

the Potter allows the clay to go through trials in order to become more useful. the potter knows the potential that lies within the clay at every stage, and is the great Encourager of allowing the clay to go through each trial, and each stage.

and if you recall, it was never that the vessel wasn't willing. or didn't think it was ready.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. - John 16:33

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