The Potter’s Work

pottery-wheelSometimes the potter’s work is very messy. Pounding. Probing. Dizzying. Painfully slow. Hot. But his work is also sure as he moves with every turn on the wheel to create a vessel he’s envisioned—a vessel that’s useful and beautiful in his eyes and one that resembles Jesus, and therefore himself.

If I am his, then I am “also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

Perhaps, if I could see through the potter’s eyes, I’d appreciate where I’m headed and the work of love, kindness and gentleness that he is doing within me. Perhaps if I could hear him speaking over me as he works, I’d hear a few things.

“Ah yes, that’s looking more like my Son.”

“Oooh, that won’t do, let’s remove that bit of debris.”

“I like the way that’s coming.”

“I think it’s going to need a little more depth,” he’d say as he sticks his fingers, then his hand into my life to create a wider and deeper container. “I want this vessel to hold more, so it can give water others.”

An on and on it’d go. Beautifully. Faithfully. Tenderly. Speaking over me and handling me with the force and tenderness I need.

It’s good to remember that I’m being held while in the middle of my trials and conflicts, and that God has a good purpose for them. His hand remains on me. In fact Scripture also says, that I’m to count it all joy when I encounter trials, knowing that the testing of faith produces endurance. I should allow endurance to have its perfect result, so that I can be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

“Becoming” is a slow and often painful process, and it’s one that won’t be completed until I see Jesus face to face. Until then, I’ll work on trusting in the potter’s faithful hand. And as much as I’d sometimes like to, I won’t jump off the wheel. After all, a lump of clay has no legs, and he has me in his loving grip and he won’t let me jump.

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Time to Rest, Read, and Regroup

Grayton BeachI’m at the beach (or was when I wrote this). It’s not any ordinary beach. It’s the section of glorious seashore known among southern Americans as 30-A. It’s a wide stretch of sugar-white shore line, aqua and blue and/or green waters and mostly gentle waves. It’s one of the South’s best kept secrets, but much to my dismay, a Scottish family, a German family, and two Canadian families were set up near us this morning. And as we left a man from Connecticut and his sister from Pennsylvania joined the people basking in the beauty of the sunbaked shoreline. I’m afraid the word’s out. 30-A is an international tourist attraction.

My husband and I come here each year to flop. And we do. We plop our chairs on the beach. Prop up our pop up veranda, and then flop in our chairs until nature makes us move.

During this time I catch up on reading. Raymond saw my stack of books—about 12 inches high (way too many words for one week) and he asked, “What is that about?” “Well, I don’t know what I’ll be in the mood to read on any given day.”

Among the books stacked there is my Bible (can’t leave home without it), Solo, and a book of poetry and essays. There’s an auto-biography, a non-fiction best-seller, and a workbook I’m working through with women I mentor. There are three novels, one I’m re-reading because it’s so good and people I know recommend the other two to me. Titles and names are at the bottom of this blog.

Why am I telling you this? Because so much of my life is spent in motion. Pauses like this, where I take time to consider other people’s ideas, the way they live in the stories written, the choices they make, and the wisdom they offer, are an important part of growth. And it takes time and space to grow.

We hurry too much. If we discover we aren’t living a well-rooted, centered life but a life that is hypocritical or ill-fitted instead, we often hurry through the awareness—not even trying to see what needs to be done to recover.beach-at-grayton-beach

Reading and meditation allows us time to pause—unlike a television program or movie. We can reach the end of a paragraph or poem and stop—long enough to become convicted or encouraged or reminded of some deep truth that invigorates and feeds our soul. Sometimes I pause after an especially well-written sentence. “The skin of her neck folded turtle-like onto her collar and the hair at her forehead was fraying like an edge of cloth.” (Sue Monk Kidd; The Invention of Wings p 247 Viking 2014). (Isn’t that awesome!)

Rest does that, as well—allow us to pause. As I flopped on the blanket beneath our little tent, I thought about things I had read. I dozed. Awakened to think a little more. Prayed a little. Worshiped a little. Journaled a little.

I often use these weeks of sea and surf to contemplate where I’ve been headed, where I need to go, and how I’m going to get there. I regroup.

As a result of this time, I’ve written—lots. I’ve also got a blog plan. Which is also a nice thing. I’ll reveal that in the next couple days. Onward we go.

Meanwhile, I want to thank you readers, for your faithful reading of my blog posts. I want to always, always give you insight into the things I’m seeing and hopefully as I do, you will see, too. Or, if you like, disagree with me. That’s okay, too.

Books:

Holy Bible, NASB

My journal (unabridged and unedited and unpublished)

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

By Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante

The Search for Significance, by Robert McGee

Seasons of Your Heart, by Macrina Wiederkehr (essays and poetry)

Solo, ESV

A Lesson Before Dying, by Earnest Gaines

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Quereshi

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

 

 

 

 

 

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“Kintsugied”

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Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in…Leonard Cohen

Today, I was overcome with a fit of melancholy—regretting some of the avoidance techniques I used as a parent. I avoided confrontation, shut my eyes to possible problems, hid my head in the sand and held my butt in the air—so to speak. Not a great picture—but that’s what ostriches (and fearful people) do.

I sent a message to my youngest son, telling him of my regrets, wishing I had been more. More present. More aware. More courageous.

My son was gracious. This was his reply to me. “Love you so much mom…I was destined to walk the path I have walked from birth and for either of us to think we could have changed anything is playing god in the past tense. I was an addict at 2 when I was stashing candy.”

My reply: “What a beautiful insight into the sovereignty and grace of God. Thank you. That blesses me so much.”

Him: “Should have sent me to rehab at age two.”

Me: “I couldn’t find a program that let two year olds attend.”

Him: LOL

Truth is, in my perpetual brokenness, I can only be what I am at any given minute—walking in the light of that moment’s wisdom and emotional health. I could only be what I was as a parent on any given day in the past as I struggled with depression and anxiety. My son saw that and forgave me—and God for that matter. We are broken people trying to navigate our own suffering and pain in the light of present truth. We trust God to fill in the gaps with His grace.

As part of that texting conversation, I told him about a Japanese art form I heard about. It’s called Kintsugi—the art of healing broken pottery through the use of lacquer and precious metals. The philosophy behind this repairing process is that something should not be discarded just because it is broken. It is in fact more beautiful for having been broken.

 

I know that’s how I feel about my son as he draws near to the two-year mark of freedom and healing from addiction. He’s more beautiful. It requires great humility to grant permission to share this with the world—and he did so freely, joyfully with the hope that it might encourage someone else to be free.

Truth is, we’re all in the process of being “Kintsugied.” The mangled pieces of our lives are being painstakingly pieced together—nursed patiently—as the great Artist bends his head to glue the pieces with gold.

As I sat in McDonald’s writing this, a young woman sat beside me. Her name is Lynne. I engaged in a brief conversation with this stranger earlier. “Could you pray for me, please?” she almost whispered, reaching gently for my hand. She shared briefly about depression and anxiety haunting her life. I recalled the gripping fear that had tormented me as a young mom—having talked about it the night before with some women I mentor. How desperate she must have been—to approach a stranger—for wholeness.

She longs to be “Kintsugied.” She needs grace and mercy and the eternal undying love of a God that does not slumber and embeds righteousness and beauty into the broken places of His children’s lives. She longs—like the rest of us—to at least know that God is at work making us more beautiful in our brokenness—even if we also know the last pieces of our lives won’t be knit together with gold until heaven.

This is our confidence.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rom. 8:28 NIV

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV

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Raymond Loves Linda

The other day my husband and I decided to pressure wash our porch and sidewalk. The driveway was a lost cause; we decided to wait on that. The day was perfect—just warm enough to keep from getting too cool in the overspray. It was one of the most pleasant afternoons I’ve spent recently. It was Easter Sunday. We had no family commitments—no place to be—and it was delightful. I was completely at rest in my work. He would spray awhile, then me. I washed a few windows and cleaned some nastiness in the windowsill. We paused and drank tea.

Sound boring or disagreeable? It wasn’t; I was in the zone. It felt clean, bright hopeful—watching the grunge float away with the pressurized water jet. Removing the dirt—inch by inch. Satisfying.

We reached a point near the end of the walkway, and I went in to prepare a light dinnerRaymond Loves Linda—something simple. When I went back outside to call him in I saw this etched on our driveway. It is by far one of the most romantic things he’s done in a very long time. It beat dinner out, flowers and candy, or even an expensive vacation. I felt like a school girl with her boyfriend carving our initials into a tree. It was a spontaneous gesture of his 45-year love affair with me.

That is the way love is. Or the way his love has been to me. “Raymond Loves Linda” has been etched across the path of our life together. All the dirty rotten experiences of our lives have that written over them—through my multiple bouts with depression, my injuries and sicknesses, or simply through my bad temper and our arguments, suffering, and trials. “Raymond Loves Linda” is written on the surface of our sometimes-grungy-less-than-perfect life together.

Now, every time I go down the walkway, I see this kind expression of love. It will accumulate dirt, and all will blend together, eventually becoming unreadable. However, I have this photo as a reminder of this small but beautiful gesture, and his love remains, even if the words disappear.

I just hope he is able to see “Linda Loves Raymond” etched across the dark roads of his life, too, even if it isn’t written on stone.

 

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Lazarus–A Rehearsal for the Main Event?

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Lazarus, Come forth!

I love the story of Lazarus for multiple reasons. For instance, it demonstrates that God’s timing isn’t always ours. He waited and waited and waited. He put off going until he received a “go-ahead” from the Father. (I only do and say what the Father tells me. John 8:28) The Father waited until Lazarus was dead. He would be stinking before Jesus arrived in Bethany. Everyone would have been anxious about Jesus going to take care of his dear friends. Not Jesus. He waited.

This account also shows that Jesus deals with us according to our personalities. Even if what we say might be the same, he knows what we need—the one thing that will address the sorrow and devastating disappointment in our hearts. He said one thing to Mary, another to Martha—even though they spoke the same words, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

I love that Jesus wept. I’ve often wondered, why? He knew there was a resurrection coming. Perhaps he identified deeply with their sufferings and their sorrows—their tears and the power of death and sin. This is why he came—to take away the sting of death and the power of sin. He had seen hearts breaking throughout human history. Death. Grief. Loss. He was going to do something about it, but he wept, nonetheless.

But I also love this story because I think it was a tender moment between a Father and His beloved Son. It was a rehearsal for the main event—the cross and the resurrection. That momentous event would be taking place in a few days. If there had been any doubt in Jesus’s mind, this miracle was substantive proof that he had absolute power over rotting, stinking three-day-old-dead flesh.

Even his words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” were a reminder to his own ears that he had the power to raise dead men to life—including himself. This is one of John’s recordings of “I am” statements. He doesn’t simply say, “I have the power to raise from the dead and give life, but “I AM the resurrection and the life.” His essence IS resurrection and life. Death absolutely CAN’T have power over him.

I can’t help but think that as they all sat around feasting and celebrating afterward, that Jesus was thinking about his upcoming trials and being reminded that the purpose of his death and resurrection was what he was experiencing, in part, at the moment—fellowship with people he loved and who loved and trusted him—their salvation—their hope—and their freedom from the fear of the grave—eternally.

I don’t understand completely the ways in which Jesus was both man and God, but if he battled fear and dread (which he must have because of what we see in Gethsemane), how comforting this event must have been on his journey to the cross. It would be a recent memory of his victory over death and a reminder of the restoration of fellowship with God and the eternal life he was bringing to mankind. It was so kind of God the Father to do this for only begotten Son.

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G.A.P. s – God Appointed Partings and Vinaigrette

God is moving, and I’m sad. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m thrilled that God is up to something new. His kingdom is moving forward, and His sovereign will is being accomplished. I just don’t happen to like the particulars.

Two people whom I love very much are moving west. A precious niece and nephew are being led by God through circumstances and confirmations to move west. They haven’t left, and an ache already grows in my heart—I miss them already.

Our lives intersect periodically—not often enough. Katherine has already been gone a while. She and her husband, Andrew Ehrenzeller, have been leading worship and doing public ministry for years. They have written powerful songs, cut albums, and had impact. They have powerful testimonies of healing. They are taking a huge leap of faith and moving westward (most probably). It feels Abrahamic—getting up and leaving all. I feel certain we will see them less. There is change—a growing gap.

My nephew, Jon David Conolley, has accepted a job in San Antonio. He is a multi-talented, sociable man with great wisdom and a godly heart. His cheerful countenance and determination to know truth and develop a Godward heart has been awe-inspiring. Two weeks, and he’ll be gone. He has assured us that he will be back often over the next six months due to some previously planned singing gigs with a music group. Still, he won’t be living down the street—available for a chat or attendance at famly game night. He will be in southern Texas.

God is behind both moves. I know it. But I don’t have to like how it impacts our extended family–or me.

I will still, however, rejoice in God’s unfailing love for them, as well as the people they are going to touch. God is good. They are on an adventure. A God-sized adventure, and I’m happy for them, but sad for me—for all those who remain here.

Those left behind feel the fragmentation of the separation more acutely. We dematerialize as loved ones leave, marry, become ill, suffer, or die. I feel the impact of the fall in my own life daily (sin, pain, grief). But the grief of absence—of the tearing of hearts from one another—reminds me of another part of the fall. Mortality. Dissatisfaction. Absence. Death—the final separation from living humans.

All of it will be redeemed. There will be, for those who know Christ, an eternal fellowship with no more longing or sorrow. No more parsing out time stingily. No more breaches in fellowship. Not to mention, we’ll experience total satisfaction and joy in the presence of our Lord.

I’m thankful it will be redeemed, but for now, there will be a hole where they belong—a gap at the table of fellowship and family.

A hate those GAPs, but I have to live in the midst of them anyway.

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Vinaigrette

Sorrow and Joy – an odd chemistry whose elements do not form solution

Emulsifying instead, like oil and vinegar – one soothing – one acerbic.

I shake them together desperately, hoping that they might meld into one sweet union –

Meld!

They refuse.

Without debate – it is poured like vinaigrette on my life –

Compelled to consume the bitter-sweet potion – I must choose.

Die; or eat and live.

Linda Barrett

 

 

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Meet Me in the Middle

I met my very dear friend, Linda, at a prayer meeting at our new church. I went because the Lord prompted me to go. Linda went because prayer makes her heart sing. We met for coffee afterward and found that we were both military spouses, writers, and students of God’s Word. I’m utterly thankful that all along the Lord was preparing us for this lovely friendship. Today, I hope you enjoy her as much as I do!

My dear friend, Britta, posted this on her website which has been highlighting a project called Meet Me in the Middle.  This is the site. Meet Me in the Middle with Britta Lafont Please check her out. She’s awesome and has wonderful things to share about life, the Lord, and the messy middle of life.

PREPARING A PLACE…

It has been a loonng time, of living in the middle, especially if you consider the changes begun twenty-five years ago.

I don’t have photos of the concrete garage, the dark-paneled walls in the den, or the 25-year-old gold shag carpet. Thank goodness! That part of the remodel took place ages ago; I can barely remember it. However, I do have this “before” photo taken about thirteen months ago when we began demolition for our current basement-makeover. And now, I have an “after” photo.

I love beauty. When we began, I had a vision of what the area could be. I imagined light airy spaces, a well-lit bedroom, and a kitchen in the space occupied by a wet bar. During this renovation, we’ve hauled truckloads of junk away to the thrift store and to the dump. It has been a long, very messy thirteen months.

The space we’ve built downstairs, however, is not for us. It’s an apartment, a place for someone else to live.

In John 14, we learn that Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, and that He will call us to Himself. These words were spoken on the way to the cross. They were essential, meant to encourage and give hope while the disciples lived in the messy middle—between regeneration and glorification, during that season when Jesus was no longer a tangible presence. It was, and is, a challenging abode of suffering and sanctification while we wait.

I wonder how often those early, persecuted Christians said to themselves as they desperately clung to the promise, “I have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. He’s building a place for US – for ME, and it’s worth the wait.”

Although God is building a home in heaven, He also has a building project in and among His people on the earth, in us individually and corporately.

During our renovation, some of the work was backbreaking—like sledge hammering concrete and digging the trench for the plumbing, or hanging heavy bead board on the ceiling. Other parts have been tedious, like sinking nails and puttying nail holes, or ornamental—picking paint and fixtures or creatively designing an eating area.

And so it is with us. Some of the work God does in us is deep and dirty. At other times, He’s helping us to toss trash, to rip down wrong beliefs, and to choose between good and best. Occasionally, He applies putty to the empty holes in our lives and sands to make things smooth. At other times God is making us beautiful—simply for the joy of it.

Our God is preparing a house for us, but as the Church, He’s also building a dwelling place for Himself. We’re living stones, built on the foundation of the Chief Corner Stone, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2). He’s a builder in heaven and on earth.

Sometimes it feels like the process will take forever, both waiting for heaven and waiting for change here, in me. But when I look back, I can barely remember some of things I struggled with years ago. Change has already taken place.

God has a vision of what we will be one day: we will look like Jesus. In the meantime, I try to keep an image of a perfect Christ in my heart and mind, believing like 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, that we are being transformed into that image. “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” That’s the work that’s taking place here.

Slow work. But the “after” picture? Oh, YES!

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is…everyone who has this hope fixed on Him, purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

In the meantime, we wait, between the before and the after, secure in His promise, yet filled with our longing.

Linda Barrett is Honey to her husband, Mama to three grown children, and Momanim to an energetic, blue-eyed dog named Barnabas. She grew up in Alabama, graduated with a degree in English, married, then for twenty years zigzagged across the country, finally settling in Birmingham twenty-two years ago.

Although converted when young, performance-based Christianity drove Linda to despair. Then she awakened to God’s glory and unconditional love. Now you can often find her weeping in delight over God and his overwhelming grace to her and others. She shares God’s revealed grace and wonders through writing, teaching, mentoring, and other arts.

She loves well-crafted stories, meaningful conversations, camping with her husband, laughter with friends and family, and worship and prayer with like-minded people.

Linda has published several articles and co-authored a unique new-moms study called: Engaging Motherhood: Heart Preparation for a Holy Calling. 

She blogs at: invitationtowonder.wordpress.com.

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