I’m A Little Teacup

We all remember the tune of this nursery rhyme, the way we’d bring our hands to our sides and play pretend we as tipped over like a bubbling pot of tea.
But today, with anxieties swirling about, it resonated with me.

The Lord has been abundantly gracious this week to reveal Himself in the most tangible ways while I wrestled with anxiety something fierce.
In the ways He knew my heart would take notice to and garner with delight and thanksgiving. In the form of words and gifts.

The language of love He crafted uniquely in my heart.
Each day has brought about a new word. A new and actual gift.
And today seemed to be the most precious of all the days thus far.
This morning, I wrote down specific prayers, to grant peace in worry, to strengthen trust when doubt rises, to offer perspective when my eyes cannot make sense of what is before me.
I closed my journal.

Not a moment later, I received a call from my mother. I’m amazed how the Lord continues to use this woman and her sensitivity to the Spirit to speak to me in such specific times of need.
At the Throne, I find grace upon grace for a well-timed help.
She had a story to read to me.

I forgot the comfort of being read to by my mother.

She felt no need to explain her purpose behind this particular tale, and she simply began to read. To some, it is well known. But my ears heard it afresh today. And it resonated deep, deep, deep within the caverns of my soul. And it begins with a teacup.

“Once upon a time there was a quiet little shop tucked away amongst the busy streets of London. This shop was magic because from time to time, items in the shop ~ like wooden horses and over-stuffed elephants ~ would briefly come to life. One day a little girl and her mother were visiting London and got lost. They stumbled into the quiet little shop and began looking at the varied items found there.

The mom noticed high on a shelf sat a beautiful teacup. It was lovely! The mother reached for the cup to show her daughter. As they touched the delicate flowers and ran fingers across the cup’s rim, something surprising happened. The cup began to speak!

“I have not always been a teacup. You see, there was a time when I was just a lump of red clay. My master took me and rolled me, patted and pounded me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone.’ But he only smiled, and gently said, ‘Not yet!’”

“Then WHAM! I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting so dizzy! I’m going to be sick,’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, quietly, ‘Not yet.’”

“He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then… then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet.’”

“When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened. He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. Oh, that felt so good! Ah, this is much better, I thought. But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Oh, please, Stop it, Stop it!’ I cried. He only shook his head and said. ‘Not yet!’”

“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven. Only it was not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. I was convinced I would never make it. I was ready to give up. Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited ——- and waited, wondering “What’s he going to do to me next?”

An hour later he handed me a mirror and said ‘Look at yourself.’ “And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me, that couldn’t be me. It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!’”
Quietly he spoke: ‘I want you to remember. I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up.
I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked.
I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life. If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Daughter, you are like that teacup. God is the Potter of your life. His plan and delight is to make something stunningly beautiful of you. But beauty doesn’t just happen. Beauty is shaped with intentionality. Beauty and purpose sometimes come only with force, fire, and discomfort.

If our teacups could talk to us right now, they would tell us it was all worth it. The shaping and the fumes, the fire and the heat. One day, you will be able to say the same thing.

For now, we must get to know our Potter. He is good, always… and always faithful. He knows what He’s doing.

In wisdom, He knows just what to bring into our lives to shape the beauty, color, and flavor He aims for us to have. He never takes His eyes off of you or forgets what you are going through. He never gets tired of His project or decides to quit. He promises to finish what He started in you. He even wrote you a letter so you can know for sure and never forget.

Oh daughter! I can see the beauty taking shape in you! I can see determination starting to shine through. I can see gentleness being formed. I even catch glimpses of compassion and service. Daughter, you are a masterpiece.
Whenever you are tempted to despair, whenever you are tossed about with doubt, this will be our tradition … we’ll pull out the teacups and reflect on our Potter.
Much love,
Mama”

I sat, listening to my own mother speak these words right to my heart, weeping at the sweet, sweet sound of it.
What peace, to hear her voice call me daughter again and again as truths are sung over me, reminding me of the good work my Father, our Father, is doing in my fragile heart.
I felt like a girl again. Tucked in next to my mother. Listening to her read me a story.
Only, I am far away. Not a child anymore. And the monsters under my bed now are bigger.

Yet, the Lord placed this story, this letter, right in her mailbox today.
For her to read. For me to hear. To soothe the ache that anxiety left.
She’s sending me a teacup in the mail. A tangible gift to go with her cherished words.
To pull it out whenever despair feels near and strong, and to remember the Potter.
And I feel His Spirit move throughout my entire being, like a whisper, saying,

“I see you. I feel how you ache. How you long. The work is not finished, still in process, but how much stronger you have already become, my Teacup. How you’ve taken form into the shape of whom I’m crafting you to be. You see in part, now, but then, you will see fully and completely. And you, when you finally behold the finished work, you will be amazed. Wait on Me and I will cheer your weary soul while I work. Wait while I work, my Daughter.”

And so I wait on my Potter, my Father.
The One who molds and loves me.
The One who shapes and sustains me.
The One whose hands are simultaneously creating me and holding me close.
For the glory of His name and for the good of my soul.

And so He does with you.
We are still but clay, yet we hold the immeasurable treasure of His Son, Jesus.
And one day, we’ll be finished work. Smooth, colorful, and complete.

Let us wait on Him, O Sons and Daughters of the Most High, for that day.
He’ll refresh our soul while we do.

*Excerpts by Arabah Joy from http://arabahjoy.com/when-you-need-some-perspective-a-tradition-for-difficult-times/

What Does the Lord Require of You?

I’ve been meaning to write this.
For those struggling to separate purpose and career.
For those who took one sure step into the world and became all kinds of lost.

This messy and longing and lost chapter in the book the Lord is writing on my life is not just for me, but for you.

And I’ve turned a page.
It’s far easier to read to the world a chapter that is finished.
A chapter that now uniquely fits into the grand story of this Author’s purpose.
I can, reading back, see this.
But there was a time when my eyes were discouraged and the scene around me seemed out of place.
Like a mistype. A misstep. Something to be erased. Something that needed fixing.
I graduated from the school held high all throughout my junior high and high school years.
It was the dream, the goal.
And during my time at the university, I worked toward a bright and flourishing career.
It was the new dream, the new goal.

But, in the words of the beloved Flynn Rider, Eugene Fitzherbert (because who am I if I don’t squeeze Disney into my own writing?),

“For one moment, everything was perfect…and then that moment ended.”
Graduation, one moment of perfection.
And then that moment ended.
What began was a mess.
A mess of anxiety.
A mess of comparison.
A mess of doubt.
A mess of fear.

This dream that I wrapped like a present through the years was finally ready to be opened. Now, the paper was torn, the ribbons scattered, and the gift inside was far more disappointing than I had imagined it would be.

Everyone else’s gifts seemed perfect. I watched them take it out to play and show the world, a testament to how wonderful their gift Giver was.
And even if their gifts were not as they seemed, I knew their Giver was wonderful.
I rejoiced for them.

But mine…I feared was meant for someone else.
What I hoped was a shiny new toy, ready to be played with, batteries included, turned out to be an oversized dress, big enough for me to swim in.
And that’s exactly how I felt.
Small and swimming in something too big for me.

I sought answers, advice, and counsel. I scheduled and canceled several advising appointments, spiritual, emotional, and academic. And I longed to find someone walking around with the same baggy dress that I was wearing.

Oh, how we ache to relate and be understood. To be found and known in the dark.
But the Lord let me get lost. Be lost.
For He alone needed to be the one that found me.

Unknowingly, I rested in the security of people’s certainty in my choice of profession.
I fed off their affirmations and drank deep their praises.
“Oh, you were made for this!”
“You will make the most incredible teacher!”
“Teaching suits you so well!”

Oh, their words were my comfort, because my heart doubted.
Again and again it doubted.

Pondering these things, now, I truly do believe the Lord used these words. They were well placed. They were thought through and honest. They saw gifts I was too blind or insecure to recognize.
But, in the end, it was often their word I clung to, and not the Lord’s.
Their confidence was often my foundation, and not the Lord’s unchanging promises.
And soon enough, their words, their confidence were not enough to convince me.
My own doubts overshadowed their sureness and the foundation that held me up crumbled.
Inevitably, I fell.

It was a long fall and the Lord took His patient time lifting me back up.
For He was not merely seeking to raise me, but to build me up.
I needed a new foundation. One that was planted on solid ground.
Built from unwavering truth. Carefully fixed. And designed to endure.

And, the truth He chose to be the cornerstone was entirely unrelated to my career, which I often equated to my “calling.”

Rather, He gently spoke the words of Micah 6:8.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

The verse that I was taught again and again as a young girl in GEMS throughout the years (please tell me y’all did GEMS, too?).
I sang it every Wednesday night. I’m pretty sure it was to the tune of a Greece song.
Ridiculous to think of it now, but boy, did my heart need it, more than I knew at 10 years old.

This verse comes as a response from the minor prophet to the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” It goes through a long list of costly sacrifices and weighty duties.
I hear the sorrow and the agony in the voices, crying out, “Lord, what must we do?”
I hear it because my voice uttered the same words with heavy, heavy tears.
“Lord, what must I do? I need to do this thing to please you. I must do this thing to follow you. Surely, I’m required to do this thing to find my purpose. Fulfill my purpose. Otherwise, I’m wasting. Wasting my life. Wasting my time. Wasting away.”

My purpose. The Lord’s pleasure. A fulfilling life. It was all rooted in this career.
And to my surprise, in response to work-harder-do-more perspective, He gently offered these words.

“Mary, what have I told you? What is good? That you live just and free. That you take great delight in My steadfast love. That you walk ever nearer with Me. This is what is required. This pleases me. This is full life. This is where you find your purpose, because, my darling, this is where you find Me.”

I was looking for an occupation. I was looking for a job.
I was looking for purpose outside of the One Who purposes me for good things.

He took me aside. He took away my security.
He let the foundation that other’s had built tumble down, with me tumbling after it.
And what caught me was not a job.
I fell to be caught by the hands of my Maker. The One who gives me purpose.

And so, I start again. Fresh. New.
Same gifts. Slightly new direction.
I’m back in school.
Yes, teaching is surely my future. But making coffee is my present.
And with this new time, this blessed and purposed time, I have the space to use my gifts still.
Not in the school. Not teaching geometry and history. Not to a class of 30 students.
But rather, in the Church. Teaching the Gospel. To a group of 12 hungry, seeking, and delightfully eager sixth grade girls.

It took a year. It took a long hard fall. My moment of perfection had to end.
But, a moment of perfection gave way to a lifetime of purpose.
Purpose rooted in Christ and loving Him, in all I do.

And, to quote Tangled just once more,

This is my new dream.

Oh, and that dress?
It fits now. Like it was made for me.
Our Father really does know how to give good gifts.

He Will Do It

I’ve thought quite often about writing again, curling up on my bed and letting my heart spill over with stories of the weathered seasons.
But the seasons felt dreary, and I had yet to walk through them entirely.
I hadn’t reached the other side of them, with beautiful truths wrapped neatly together to offer others. With triumphs to tell. With prayers heard and answered.
No, it was still grey and murky, so my heart kept to itself.

But, now, I’d like to share, still a little lost, still a little tattered and worn.

I was looking over a journal entry from early September of 2015, and it began with,

“I have good things for Mary, but the Enemy is going after her heart.”

My mother had called me, impressed by the Lord to share these words, feeling and knowing them in her soul, meant for me to hear.
And so has been the words over the past year and half of my life.

Good things are on their way, coming like clouds over scorched and barren lands, but not without a fight. And, friends, the fight has felt long.

I had battles in my heart to be waged, and ultimately won by my King, Jesus. I had branches that were beyond pruning, needing to be entirely cut off, if there was to be hope of future fruit.
And the battles, the barren branches, the empty, dark caverns of my heart were the Enemy’s finest work. He probably had them framed and mounted on his wall, each one named.
Disobedience. Faithless. Discouraged. Failure. Hopeless. Coward. Shiftless.

While the Lord in His kindness had allowed my feet to tread barefoot through green pastures along the way, seasons of refreshment and renewal to strengthen my weary spirit, I found myself back in the valley, in the dark, again. And again. And again.

Over the months turned years, my heart has wrestled with the Enemy, throwing weak punches, only to cut through thin air, leaving me stumbling and open to every blow.
I fought disbelief that the Lord would provide in my immense need.  Encountered failure to stand against the Enemy’s scheming and lies toward me. Fell prey to apathy that left me spineless and tossed by waves. And was paralyzed by crippling insecurity that questioned every truth until certainty in anything was entirely lost.

When your mind becomes a warzone and your heart a battlefield, life loses its zest. Joy gives way to survival. Rest turns into striving. Grace isn’t enough. And works are your stepping stones to the Throne.

This wasn’t me. This had never been me. Distressed and striving to fix what my weak soul never could.

My friends knew me as the biggest advocate of Jesus’ grace. It was the song in my heart and my lips spoke of it often. But the Enemy sold me a lie and convinced me to trade the grace of my Savior for the burden of works. And like Eve, I ate and was deceived.

But, here’s the thing, I was never good at working. It was like I had a devil on either of my shoulders. One telling me to work my way out of the pit and the other telling me I never could. At least one was honest.

So, I looked at the canyon between my sin and God. I’d stack a few stones and give up, weeping. I could never reach Him. Not with these pebbles. And I’d forgotten about grace at this point, so my only option was to sit, stuck in the mud and mire. Pathetic. The Enemy is good at what He does.

The Bible compares us to sheep. And I experienced why, here. Like those little lambs, we’re helpless without a Shepherd. Unable to turn ourselves around when we’re lost. Incapable of getting up when we’ve fallen. Powerless against ravenous wolves.

Over the past several years, throughout college, I’d really come to terms with this sense of weakness, learning to boast of Christ’s power in it, and allowing it to press me firm into His arms. I was asked a while back what I was grateful for, and I answered, “My weakness.”

My words were heard by the Lord, and He wanted to test that answer. The past year and half has been that test.

Now, good news.
The Enemy is crafty, but God is the ultimate Craftsman. The Enemy is alluring, but the Father’s pull is stronger still. The Enemy can wreak havoc, but cannot ever wreck the secure plans of the Almighty.

When Psalms 73:26 is the banner waving over me, claiming, “my flesh and my heart may fail,” my Heavenly Father sings, “But I am the Strength of your heart forever.”

And I’m learning this.

The Lord is allowing me to come to end of myself and discover just how reckless, foolish, and inadequate I am apart from Him. To see sin for what it is, how it destroys us, and how much God hates it. To weep over stacked pebbles trying to fill the spaces between Him and I. And it is there that the Lord draws near, very near, revealing the relentless devotion He has to His people, covered by the blood of His Son.

God was, is, and always will be more fiercely committed to my holiness and to my wholeness than I ever could dare be. Even when I give up, caving into the lie that I never could come close, God remains ruthlessly faithful, proclaiming,

“I will sanctify you completely, keeping your entire spirit, soul, and body blameless until my Son returns. I, who call you, am faithful, and I will do it.”

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Friends, I’m still in the mess of it all, but the gaping canyon is filling with waters of His grace, sailing me back into His arms. The Lord is training my eyes to see the severity of my need, and rather than pull away in despair, to look up and draw near in hope.

In hope that He alone will hold me fast.

He who calls us to this life of holiness is faithful to fashion us and sustain us in that calling. And because of Jesus, who covers our rags with His robe, we can hold God to that promise.

Those who are fighting, failing, falling, hold Him to that promise.

When you need an answer to the cry of your heart, whispering, “How can I ever be made right?” Remember.

He will do it. He will do it. He will do it.

Finding Grace in a Clean Room

 

Yesterday, my sister showed me what it looks like to love like Jesus loved.

I pray that the Lord will continually keep my heart soft toward my sister. Some days it shows. Some days…not so much. And even after the “not so much” days, my sister gives me glimpses of what it means to have a child-like heart. One that forgets mistakes and still pursues love.
This is one of the many examples of that heart.

“Dear Mary, I want you to know what a blessing you are! You have such a soft, tender spirit, always thinking of how you can bless others, so I wanted to bless you! Faith”

As I read the words colorfully printed on the dry erase board, I was amazed. Stunned. This girl, after all she’s seen of me, is able to say that I have a “soft, tender spirit, always thinking of how (I) can bless others.”
Conviction hits me, but it feels good. It cuts deep, but it is seasoned with grace and inspiration.
She calls out from her room,
“Open your door!”
I open my door and find that my room is clean. Bed made. Blanket folded. Clothes hung up. Counter organized.
This kind of act reveals Christ’s love at work in my sister’s heart, and reveals how I need that same love to work in my heart like it is working in hers.
I’m instantly reminded of 1 Corinthians 13. The love chapter. Among the list of attributes that love is clothed in, I’m drawn to one in particular
Love “keeps no record of wrongs.”
My sister showed me that.

I have a record of wrongs. It’s a long list, my friends. It’s a list I try to keep neatly tucked away where no one can see. But my sister has seen it. I wish she hadn’t. I wish that I could have prevented so many of those wrongs from ever happening.
But, my sister reminded me that love, even upon seeing the endless list of my wrongs, keeps no record of it. Chooses to forget it. Just like God.

“I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

I am thankful that the Lord reveals Himself to me in my sister. His unconditional grace can be seen in the tasks that seem small, but unveil a much greater picture.
God has seen my list of wrongs. Not one of them is hidden from Him. And yet, He chooses to forget them. Forgive them.
My heart is a messy room. Clothes lying on the floor, bed unmade, dust gathering on the shelves. But God, rich in grace, surprises me. I open the door to see that my room, my heart, is clean.

Now, we’re still sisters. Our rooms get a little messy sometimes.
But I’m thankful that God’s grace is the perfect cleaner-upper.
And I’m thankful that He’s taught my sister to be a cleaner-upper, not only around the house, but around our hearts.