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/

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.

Extraordinary Transformation in an Ordinary Life

I tend to find joy in really simple things.
Tea.
Park benches.
Saturday Farmer’s Markets.
Watching Hallmark movies with my family.
Sunday morning church in my hometown.
Pretty ordinary things, really.

And somewhere along the line I started feeling guilty about it.

Was I missing out on “life-changing experiences”?
Was I living boldly enough for Christ?
Should I be dreaming bigger?

For a girl who is anxious enough on her own, these thoughts significantly added to my anxiety.
I never felt like I could truly delight in the ordinariness of life because I felt like I should have been doing something bigger, bolder, newer, and more courageous for Christ, in order to be transformed by Him.

But then, I was assigned a book to read in my Theology II class, a book that felt like it was tailored just for me.
Good News for Anxious Christians
I’m anxious. I need good news. I like this book.
Each chapter digs deep to get to the heart of ideas that some Christians tend to adopt as “good” and “healthy,” but they often leave us feeling, well…more anxious.
One of the ideas that the book addresses is how our consumerist culture tells us that we constantly need to be “transformed” through new experiences. The newest. The latest. The greatest. You know, the life-changing, faith-growing, all-emotional, heart-transforming experiences.
But Phillip Cary, author of Good News for Anxious Christians, challenges that idea by reminding us that our faith is not based on experiences.
His words on the subject were like cool waters rushing over the dried up desert of my anxious soul.

“What faith gives us is Jesus Christ….the Christian life is our life in Christ as well as Christ’s life in us…And now, yes, you have a whole life to live with Christ, our Bridegroom, and it will have to be different from the old life. It may not look so different at first. But you’re in this for the long haul-all the way to life eternal- so what you need is not a bunch of great new experiences, but a whole lifetime that grows out of the newness of Christ, like a mighty tree growing from its seed or a house built on a firm foundation. The process of growth and building is long and slow, and it’s hard work: it’s life’s work, not an experience. It’s not anything that can happen in one moment or one meeting or one experience.”

Isn’t it refreshing to be reminded that your growth as a Christian is not based on a continuation of new experiences? That growth comes from being renewed by the newness of Christ throughout your whole life, and that this can happen while you’re daily living what seems to be an ordinary life in the eyes of society?
But, here is the beauty and strength of ordinariness,
It’s lasting.
It’s a long-haul kind of thing.
It’s not a moment, or a fleeting high, but the process of a lifetime.
And it is in the process where Christ renews and transforms us.
And remember, your initial, ultimate transformation in Christ has already happened and it cannot be undone or lost.
Cary says,
“If Christ is in you, the greatest transformation of all has already taken place: you are born again into eternal life and you have become a new creation in Him, a new human being, united with Christ in a kind of spiritual marriage, having become one spirit with Him (1 Cor. 6:17), together with all His people.”

And just like that *snaps fingers* my anxiety fled and peace flooded my soul once again.
I have been transformed. I am a new creation. And I am continually being renewed by the newness of Christ as I pursue Him and His glory in daily, enduring habits. Habits to choose life, to love God with my whole self, heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love His people.
And this doesn’t have to be found in an experience.
But in my ordinary life.

An ordinary life that happens to include
Tea.
Park benches.
Saturday Farmer’s Markets.
Watching Hallmark movies with my family.
And Sunday morning church in my hometown.

Pretty ordinary things, really.

When God Meets You In a Lavender Field

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“And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t He more surely care for you?” Matthew 6:30

My best friend decided to take me on a “filed trip” today.
Little did she know that God had divinely appointed that “field trip” to speak comfort to my soul.
We hopped in the car and began driving. She drove us along West Beach, up the hill, past the strawberry fields where I used to spend my summers, until we finally reached our destination. My heart leaped with joy as I saw the sign up ahead that read, “Lavender Wind Farm.”
This girl, she knows me.

We spent the afternoon with our friend strolling through the lavender farm, soaking it all in. Breathing in the heavenly fragrance. Delighting our eyes with spectacular color and beauty.
And the Lord met me there today.
I have been drawn to the wonder of creation, more so than ever this summer. And I believe this shift in thought, this unexpected awe, has been the Lord’s faithful answer to my prayer.
I left school with uneasiness weighing heavily upon my heart, leaving me anxious about returning home. It felt difficult to uproot myself from a place I had spent the last two years in. It was where the most significant growth in my life had occurred. It was where the joy of deep friendships were rooted. It was where the support of my church family was established. My life felt rich in meaning there, full of purpose and spirit.
Leaving that behind felt a little hard.
Going back felt like returning to the old me, the worst of me, the me that disappointed. Struggles that found themselves far behind me in California always seemed to reemerge when I found myself at home.
Impatience.
Selfishness.
Lack of discipline.
Absence of faith.
I have been praying that the Lord would change my heart and attitude. And slowly, He has begun to.
Now, I’m not a finished canvas. I can still count plenty of moments where the qualities mentioned in that list get the best of me. However, the Lord is faithful to work in us when we simply come to Him with the desire to be changed by His grace. That’s all He asks. If we come to Him with willing hearts, open and ready for transformation, He is sure to bring it about.

 “May the God of peace Himself make you entirely pure and devoted to God; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept strong and blameless until that day when our Lord Jesus Christ comes back again. God, who called you to become His child, will do all this for you, just as He promised.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

You may ask, what does this have to do with lavender? I’m brought back to Matthew 6. When we gaze upon the elegance of these flowers, do they not magnify God’s providence? The Lord is faithful to nurture the blossoming beauties of this earth, clothing them in splendor and glory. He provides the rain to make them sprout and the sun to sustain them as they grow.
How much more does our Heavenly Father love His children?
If He is faithful to do all this for flowers, which are here in summer’s season and gone by the chill of winter, how much more faithful is He to us?
As I beheld the treasure that stood tall and marvelous before me, I was filled with hope.
I am even more cared for by my Maker than some of His finest masterpieces. When life presents challenges, hope can be found in His faithfulness.
Faithful to be present in all things.
To bring peace in the midst of uncertainty.
To breathe life into the tired soul.
To transform even what seems to be the most calloused heart.
To make me look more like Him, which is far more splendid than even the loveliest of flowers.

And that, my friends, is true joy.
Unwavering joy among every season of life.