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A Dark Tunnel

tunnel-878254__180I am not going to lie. The sun is shining brightly through the windows in my quiet room, but the air is dark and heavy. Right now I am in a tunnel and there is no light to be seen at the end. I am frightened, discouraged, and uncertain.

And there is a Christian LIE out there that God will not give you more than you can bear. It is taken from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” NIV

I memorized that verse as a child. I have heard it over and over as an adult. Well-meaning friends, hoping to encourage me or others, spout it off as if to say, “Cheer up. God must love you a lot to let you suffer these difficulties. Besides He will never give you more than you can handle.”

Hogwash! That verse is taken out of context. The rest of the chapter is talking about idol worship, about testing God, about falls of pride. God will often allow more than I can handle to fall in heavy brick loads upon my shoulders.

So what do I do sleeplessly rising in darkness night and day? I turn to what I know, instead of what I feel.

I have spent the last year reading a book called God Is Enough. It is excerpts of a 19th-Century author, Hannah Whitall-Smith. It is not an easy book to attempt to follow. She proclaims over and over that God is enough even when I don’t feel like he is.

God always loves me, is always available to me, is always concerned and involved in my life. . . whether I feel his presence or only a large, gaping hole.

And I know she is correct.

God loves me. He is concerned. He loves those whose troubles trouble me even more than I love them. He will not leave me. He will not let me down. He is here, now, in the dark tunnel, holding up the ceiling, the walls, breathing into my aching lungs.

He is not a lie, not a superstition, not a pie-in-the-sky mirage.

He is real. He is here. He is Almighty.

Even in the dark. God IS enough.

If you, too, find yourself in a dark tunnel, know that God is enough. And in his wisdom he has given you helpers. Turn to your family, friends, church, or even professionals. Bring them into your darkness and let their lights shine for you until you can see again.


 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 NLT

Assurance

evening-55067__180Last week I took my son to WV to look at the university. On the way there we followed sun, fog, rain, and dreary, overcast skies. The foggy sections were punctuated with clear beginnings and ends. There were no slow, wispy clouds sweeping across the road. It was sunny and then it was foggy. Boom! Just like that.

We chose a different route for our return trip. Beautiful expanses of mountains and valleys lay to each side of me as my sweet child slept in the seat next to me. The sun shone far off to my right, and from the left a wall of dark, menacing clouds piled up in front of me. The weather was definitely changing. But I kept on driving, and Amos kept on sleeping.

Life so often reflects the changing weather patterns. You’re driving along with everything fine and then suddenly cancer darkens the horizon. You stare into the bright sunny skies only to be enveloped in a fog of death and despair.

But you keep on going knowing it is safe to sleep while your Father drives the chariot to brighter days.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe. Psalm 4:8 NLT

Unique Beauty


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The plain, weather-aged sign above the arbor read, “Pottery Shop”. Tucked back on a dirt road, surrounded by wildflowers and overgrown bougainvillea, the shop was easily passed by.

I was suffering from exhaustion, mental and physical, and my aunts outside Atlanta suggested a respite with them. It was about a ninety minute drive to their country home. Rolling down the windows, I let the wind roar in my ears and blow the dust from my mind. Yes, I need rest. This will be a great weekend, I thought as I rolled my neck from side to side.

Spotting a road advertisement a few miles back, I decided to check out the pottery shop. A nice present for Aunt Marie and Aunt Nell to show my appreciation: that was just the way to begin my decompression.

Slamming the car door, I turned down the pathway to the wood framed shop. I wasn’t sure what I might find; what kind of potter would be found out in the middle of nowhere in a ramshackle hut? A bell tinkled as I pushed open the door, and a cheery middle-aged woman greeted me. Her Southern smile was as genuine as her drawl, “Welcome, Honey. Can I help you?”

“Just looking,” I replied and wandered down an aisle of blue and purple glazed vases. Large, elegantly fluted pots were filled with display flowers. Small pots were overflowing the shelves. Like shells on the beach, each pot I picked up was more beautiful than the one before. Practical earthenware plates and bowls were decorated with orange blossoms; just right for Aunt Marie, I decided.

Aunt Nell, always stylish in her flowing silks and scarves, would want the fluted vase with dark blue grooves. They created a cascading design that landed in a cool, refreshing pool of blue. Carefully picking up the ceramic, I turned toward the check-out counter.

“Find everything?” the cashier asked.

“Yes. I must admit I am surprised to find such fine craftsmanship out here in the boonies.”

“Mr. John has customers all over the globe. Some of his work has even been in the Metropolitan,” she gushed. “He’s working in his studio now. Would you like to meet him?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to disturb him,” I stammered.

“Nonsense,” she drawled, “Mr. John loves customers to watch him at work. Come on back.” And with that she walked over to the back door and beckoned me into a courtyard garden.

The air here was steamy, and the high-pitched whir of a kiln motor reminded me of cicadas on a sticky, hot Georgia night. Suddenly I heard an onerous thud, as if someone had been flung against a barroom wall. The cheery cashier opened the door to a small studio and told me to go on in.

Unsure if I should enter quietly or announce myself, I muffled a cough and waited on the potter to notice me. “Come,” Mr. John said, and I hesitantly walked over to the wheel where the older gentleman was working.

The fresh dampness of earth and its underground mysteries livened my senses, and I breathed deeply of refreshment and peace. The clay had just been thrown on the wheel and the potter was centering it. Concentrating deeply, Mr. John seemed unaware, or unconcerned, of my presence. His hands firmly slid around the moist lump of clay, forcing the gob to cling to the wheel in just the right way.

Slowly the sides of the clay grew as the potter placed his thumb into the lifeless clay and began to throw it. A vase appeared before me as the artisan shaped the clay into a vessel of beauty. I stood watching, lost between reality and an ethereal veil of timelessness. Wetting the clay with a discolored sponge, the twisting wheel turning beneath his arms, Mr. John wiped sweat from his upper lip with the shoulder of his shirt.

“Amazing,” I murmured as he grabbed a wooden tool and began slicing grooves into the vase. It was the same design as the vase I chose for Aunt Nell.

“This one will be shades of red instead of the blue you chose,” Mr. John surprised me. “I saw your purchase as I was heading to the studio,” he explained.

Slowing the wheel until it stopped, Mr. John pulled a long wire from under his bench and cut the clay free. Gingerly placing the new vase on a fabric covered shelf, Mr. John invited me to look around.

The studio was filled with ceramics in different stages of preparation. He showed me some leather-hard pieces that he would work on in a bit. They were serving dishes that needed feet and pedestals attached. Several shelves near the popping kiln held freshly bisque-fired cups and plates waiting to be glazed.

In a back corner of the room was an old trash can with a few discarded pieces of clay. “These pieces couldn’t form right for me, so I put them here to dry and recycle later,” the potter explained. “Most days I throw pottery all day without a hitch, but sometimes the clay won’t relax for me. It fights against me and refuses to center. I have to recycle that clay and try again later.”

Mr. John accompanied me back into the small, wooden shop. I was surprised at how much time had gone by and excused myself to hurry along to Aunt Marie and Aunt Nell. A young man with shoulder-length brown hair pulled into a low ponytail was walking through the back of the store near the door to the courtyard. He looked like the young, artsy, college kids I often see in the Atlanta shops.

Mr. John gave him a curt nod and then told me he hoped I enjoyed my tour of the studio. “I love sharing my work with an appreciative audience,” he said. Then he hurried back to the studio to continue working.

I paid for my ceramics and then thought I would like to have them signed for my aunts. I asked the cashier if that would be possible. “Sure, Sweetie! Just head on out back and Mr. John would be glad to scribble on them. Hurry though or he’ll be in the middle of throwing another pot.”

Walking back into the studio I inhaled again of the sweet, earthy aroma. I noticed the young man was also in the studio, back near the shelf of leather-hard pots. Mr. John had already flung a new lump of clay onto the wheel, and I went over to ask if I could get his signature on my ceramics when he finished.

“Yes, just wait,” he grunted as the force of centering a new pot took all of his energy and concentration.

I walked around the studio again admiring the earthenware in its many stages and styles. Then I noticed the bisque was strewn on the countertop, chipped and cracked. The young man had walked down this way, surely he wouldn’t have ruined Mr. John’s work?! Then I saw the leather-hard pieces also were defaced and marred, and the new grooved vessel that I had just watched Mr. John complete, was smashed into the fabric covered shelf.

I turned to see the young man standing next to Mr. John. He seemed as intent as Mr. John, watching the wheel turn the clay as it began to center on the wheel. Reaching slowly forward, the denigrator held out his finger and poked it into the forming clay. The clay lump flew from the wheel and crashed into poor Mr. John’s apron, knocking the wind from the old gentleman.

“What are you doing?” I screamed at the jerk. Running to Mr. John, I helped him up from the stool by the wheel.

“Get out of my studio,” Mr. John stated, barely controlling his anger.

The young man sauntered out of the room. “What was that all about?” I gasped.

“My competition. These young guys come in from the big city to destroy my work. They want to make mass produced goods, but they can’t compete with the beauty of my unique pieces. So they come out here every few days and destroy the pieces before they can be fired and finished.”

“Why don’t you do something about it?” I asked.

“I do,” he answered. “I keep making more one-of-a-kind pieces.”

“How does that help?” I questioned.

“I hope that someday they will see the perfection of my unique creations and come to learn from me, instead of trying to destroy me. Until then, they’ll keep making pieces that people re-gift or put in yard sales.”

I helped Mr. John clear the ruined pieces and place them in the recycle can to dry and be remade later into new, pliable clay. Then I walked out to my car, well-past the time I had told my aunts I would arrive.

Sitting at a late dinner with the two women, I recounted my afternoon’s events. Aunt Nell was infuriated and threatened to call the police, but Aunt Marie, the practical one, said Mr. John was right. The young men couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the artist’s work; their only concern was the reason to destroy it.

“Perhaps, someday, potters who destroy the new vessels will recognize the cracks in their own abilities, and they will come to Mr. John to learn how to create beauty instead of destroying it,” Aunt Marie sighed.

I slowly shook my head. Perhaps exhaustion was behind my negative thoughts, perhaps some rest would make me see it Aunt Marie’s way, but I didn’t think it would ever happen.

The weekend flew past too quickly, and Sunday evening I loaded my luggage into the car for the drive back to Atlanta. Slowing on the road near the “Pottery Shop” sign, I heard the faint sound of cicadas on a hot, Georgia night. Mr. John was still hard at work.

Jesus’ Lifetime of Suffering

The manger and the tree are put away. The returns have been made, the furniture put back in place, and school books are tossed on the stairs. Yes, Christmas is over.

2000+ years ago it meant that Mary’s breasts ached, Joseph was job hunting in an overpopulated town, and the baby cried a lot. Christmas was far from over. Christ had come and, at the same time, had not yet come. Mary and Joseph had a lot of work ahead of them. They were new parents, confused and bewildered, and deservedly so.

Others parents wonder how this tiny life happened and how they will cope. Mary and Joseph really didn’t know how this tiny life happened, and it sure didn’t seem like things were going the way God would want His son to be cared for; confused and bewildered didn’t even begin to describe them.

The days flew by and soon toddler Jesus was walking and talking. The family moved a couple of times and then found themselves settling down in Nazareth. By now Mary and Joseph had a couple more kids and had figured out how all of this was supposed to work.

Perhaps now the gossip that had followed them in Bethlehem would die down. But people are slow to forget a scandal, and children are cruel. I wonder about the Torah lessons and if Jesus was made an example of during class. I wonder if kids whose parents talked too much would later during a game spit the ugly words out at the child Jesus. I wonder if he cried at the sting of the words, or even the sting of a stone.

Having a mother’s heart, I feel the pain Mary must have felt as her son was treated with disdain. Joseph was a good man, treating Jesus as his very own, but a father’s love can only shield so much, and children are cruel. But the times that I want to shield my children turn into the times that help them grow into men. Learning to live through life’s pain is part of learning to live. So Mary held her tongue.

Is that how Jesus learned to deal with and be merciful to sinners when he was grown? Did living on “the wrong side of the tracks” give Jesus some insight into the pain of those he came to serve? When they asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”, did Jesus remember the childhood of disgrace?

Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered, but he didn’t start by going to the cross. He started by being a baby, a child, a teen; each step of growth a new lesson to learn until ultimately he was ready to obey. Where are you on this journey of obedience? Are you still falling on your toddler hands and knees, or are you stepping forth declaring with your changing voice and body that you “know what you are doing”? Or, have you, like the adult Jesus, learned obedience from what you have suffered?

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5:7-10 ESV