Let this cup pass…

I know that as followers of Christ we are to expect trial and suffering. But I find that expecting it and being prepared for it are two different things for me. Part of me conveniently forgets this truth until I’m staring at it, blinking in shock because it’s happening again.

A dear friend of mine, who has walked through no small amount of trial and suffering herself, recently was hit with more. Her walk through trial has so greatly encouraged my own and her wisdom, support, and encouragement have been such a huge blessing to me. My heart literally hurt to hear she was facing more. Yet through her pain, I was blessed yet again. This time through a conversation we had about cups (Yes, cups) and the resulting picture I was given.

I’m in a large upscale banquet room filled with tables covered in crisp white linen. Rows upon rows of us are seated. Expectantly waiting. Suddenly, there’s a shifting and murmuring as hands start passing along cups. From left to right and around to the other side, each table passes them one by one. Intrigued, I examine them as they pass through my hands.

Some are fine china, light and delicate with gorgeous, hand painted designs and gold rims. The handles so fragile I hold them on the bottom to pass them along. Others are of sparkling crystal creating orbs of prisms as they move along catching and throwing the light from the overhead lights. Still others are ornate goblets with designs that tell stories and inlaid with precious stones the size of robin’s eggs. I’m in awe of the differences, the uniqueness of each one, as I pass it to my right. Eventually I’m holding an earthen cup, more of a vessel. It’s edges are crude and it’s surface so rough and porous I’m sure that it can’t possibly hold anything.images-31 It’s ugly and it weighs far more than I think it should. In no small hurry, I look to my right to pass it along. Only to find their hands are still full. Looking around, I realize that everyone now has a cup. They aren’t moving anymore. Uneasy now, I glance to my left, hoping to pass it back the way it came. They actually lean away, protectively holding the cup they have. Increasingly alarmed, I look for sympathetic eyes, someone who might be willing to trade. I see pity and judgement in eyes averted. Overwhelmed, unable to bear holding it any longer, I place it on the table. My own eyes overflowing, I think if this is my cup, I don’t want one at all.

Head bowed, I rub my hands on my legs to try to rid myself of any remnants of that cup and I feel a hand on my shoulder. A gentle pressure. I look up through blurred lashes and make out an arm reaching in front of me and taking my cup. Startled, I look up into merciful, kind eyes looking straight into mine. “I don’t want it.” I whisper in explanation.

“I know.”

And His understanding kindness undoes me and I weep anew.

“It’s okay. Follow me.”

And because there is hope there, I do. Past curious glances I follow Him through the maze of tables and people and cups and I realize, they don’t even see Him. Puzzled and out of sorts, I follow Him through a doorway, into another room. The light is somehow softer here, but no less bright. There are people here too, but the tables are not covered in linen and they’re seated close together on benches. These eyes look right at me, and shift to my cup. But they’re not afraid. Instead, they shift to make room. Uncertain, I hover behind Him until He holds out a hand, calloused, yet soft, with remnants of clay under His nails. I take it, and my place at this table.

The people here, they lean in close while He dries the tears from my eyes. Through the open doorway I can hear music and too loud laughter. There’s clinking of dinnerware piled high with food and beautiful cups filled with drink. I can smell the abundance and see the chandeliers hanging high and glinting in florescent light. There’s a woman standing in the doorway with one foot in each room, her eyes distracted and pulled to the merriment next door. And I see Him get up, and hold out the same hand to her. Uncertainty and longing flashes quick in her eyes but she remains still.

“When you’re ready, follow me.”

The warmth here is greater than that next door and has little to do with the fire blazing in the hearth. There are no plates piled high with food or waiting in silver warmers. Instead, the fare is simple bread and wine and fills more than my stomach. I watch these people at the table with me as they share what they have and what they know. You see, it’s a work table and they’re looking up instructions in the books at their sides, helping each other. And their cups?

They’re being transformed by a master potter. Expertly washed and painted, they’re made new. Rough lines and crude material are made into the most beautiful of creations. And the fire?images-45 I’m now kneeling with a friend next to it, holding her hand. While He is reminding us that though it burns destructive hot to the wood within it, it’s bringing out incredibly unique colors and patterns. And when our cups emerge they will be more beautiful for the process and hold far more than they did before.

In the waiting, we’ll grow together and closer to Him. And maybe someday, when complete, we will no longer want to pass on these cups?

John 18:11

Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away, shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Light Glorious Light

Maybe it’s being immersed in a frigid Midwest winter. Or maybe it’s being a couple of weeks into our current series, Life Giving Light, at church in which we’re walking through the book of John. But as the snow piles up in subzero weather outside, I’m spending a great deal of time inside, thinking of light. The physical need for it, the Creator of it, artificial sources of it, the absence of it, and the reflection of it.

It’s a mix of sleet and snow which will undoubtedly wreak havoc on morning commutes, weigh heavy on power lines, and lay sheet-like on windshields. Scattered, wet, remnants of snowman construction and snow angel creation are littered in the entry and no matter how many times I try to get them to remove their boots before they hit my hard wood floors, dry socks will meet cold puddles at least a couple of times tonight. Rosy cheeks and running noses are now bundled into jammies and watching a movie snuggled on the couch. The overworked, tired, “builder special” dishwasher struggles loudly through another cycle and I can hear the jet engine spinning of the last load of laundry for the day. I, myself, am on the laptop checking things off of a never ending Mom list. As I pay the electric bill I glance up at the wildly blinking, multi colored Christmas tree, the several other strands of lights throughout the kitchen, and the crazy “light show” projection light the kids were sure our house needed. I wonder if they’d notice if I unplugged a couple?

The lights flicker, hum low, and go out. The TV shuts off and all of the noise comes to a sudden halt. And, because my laptop is almost as old as the dishwasher and needs to be plugged in, it shuts off as well. Plunged into quiet darkness, my pulse quickens as I reassure the kids it’s okay. To sit still while I find a candle. Eyes unaccustomed to total darkness, the room seems distorted and things much further away or closer than I thought. My stocking foot finds a wet puddle and I know I must be getting close to the table. I fumble to light the decorative Christmas candle. christmas-candle2

It sputters, spits and flickers bright, mellowing to a soft glow that reaches every corner of the room. Relieved faces smile back at me. And we start a puzzle.

I’ve written a lot about my experiences in the dark, and God’s incredible love and grace that shone through the haze of suffering to literally pull me free of it. There is truly nothing more beautiful than His saving light. Sometimes I mourn the years I didn’t see it. How many things did I miss? Opportunities to see His glory? Sitting in the dark, illuminated by a single light and distracted by no others, I realized.

What if I couldn’t see The Light, for the light? Bear with me here. I spent thirty years blinded by artificial light. Think about it. We live in a place of distraction and we’re attracted to bright, shiny, pretty, fun, things.

I can give you a list of mine. Family, money, career, house, cars, vacations, nail salons, restaurants, clothes with tags, shoes with boxes, shopping carts, “perfect” family photos, etc. Things that, plastered all over billboards and websites, shone bright, flashed joy, and fizzled out soon after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like pretty things. I am about as “girly” as a girl can get. I have not given away my marbles in exchange for new sight, I will joyfully accept a pedicure any day of the week. What I’m saying though is, these things kept me from seeing that One source of light that would truly bring me joy. The down to my pedicured toes kind. The eternal kind.

Now, here’s the hard part. For me, I did not fully embrace His light until it was the only one left. Until, enveloped in cloying, hopeless darkness, there was nothing I could do to bring myself joy. I couldn’t buy any, I couldn’t eat any, I couldn’t see any.

matches-lightThen there was that beautiful, merciful light….It sputtered, spit and flickered bright, mellowed to a soft glow and reached every part of my heart. Since then, I’ve noticed three things. How incredibly void of true light this world is. How incredibly beautiful that makes every small reflection of God’s glory shining through. And just how desperately I need that grace and joy filled light to live.

Every act of kindness, every gift of generosity, every reconciled relationship, every laying down of self. Whenever I catch a glimpse of His light my heart warms, my eyes spill, and I know a familiar joy. Whenever I am blessed by that joy, I want to reflect that light. What a beautiful design.

What if we were such a bright reflection of God’s glory everyone could see it? Even past all of the artificial light we are bombarded with?

For this child I have prayed

As a young child I longed to know that there was someone in control. My little heart cried out for comfort, security and protection.

When I got a little older I heard mention of God. Surely He would set right a world that didn’t make sense? Small hands asked for big things. That didn’t happen.

With the certainty and independence of adolescence I had decided that God must not exist after all. Convinced my circumstances proved me right, I stopped praying, crying, or hoping for change. I was on my own and it would be up to me to obtain what I so longed for.

It would be years before I cried again. Still longer for me to hope in someone other than myself. And a marriage, a toddler, and another pregnancy before I would pray again.

Twelve weeks into the pregnancy of our daughter I finally waded out of nausea and exhaustion to lunch with a friend. Pale, weary, and chasing a toddler, I was excited for some adult conversation and food that would stay, hopefully, down. Timidly finishing my lunch I scrambled to get our toddler son to the bathroom in time. After our third round of hand drying with the very entertaining blow dryer, I stood up and knew something was wrong. A quick check confirmed my fear. I was bleeding. Too much.

Heart sinking, hands shaking, I ushered our oldest back to the table and tried to bravely tell my friend I needed to get to the doctor. Thankfully, she took charge. All calm, reassuring and full of reason she told me to go right there, she’d meet me. Call Hubby and she’d watch the oldest until he got there. On auto pilot, I followed directions and shortly thereafter found myself in an exam room hearing the doctor echo my thoughts. Too much blood.

Sent to the hospital for an ultrasound I waited barely breathing to see the life still breathing inside of me. There it was! The tiny flutter of a bravely beating heart. Exhaling, my own started to beat again. Tears streaming down my face, I watched her bounce around oblivious to the turmoil she was causing outside. The technician did a thorough check and I was told “the pregnancy is still viable”. What she meant to say was, my baby was still alive. I needed to go home and rest and return the next day to check again. To call if anything changed.

As I laid in bed I prayed.

God, please don’t take her from me! I already love her!

For I knew she was a girl from the first.

Then I begged.

God, I don’t care if there’s something wrong, I don’t care if I need to spend the next six months in bed. Please let me hold her in my arms!

Finally, I bargained.

God, I know I’ve complained of the discomforts of early pregnancy but I will never do it again! She is worth every lost meal and I will be so much more grateful for the gift of her! Truly, every little flutter and bump of her exploring has been pure joy! Even when I’m laying on the bathroom floor. Please don’t take her away….

The next several weeks I rejoiced as the bleeding stopped, blood work came back fine and every ultrasound showed her contentedly growing, nestled in my womb. I thanked God, praising Him for His kindness and mercy.

Then, when given the gift of holding her in my arms, my heart overflowed with gratitude. This perfect tiny girl with the delicately arched eyebrows, pouty lips, and beautiful blue searching eyes was my miracle. My answer to prayer.

Several years later, I was still praying. Growing in my relationship with Christ when I found out that little miracle wasn’t perfect after all. How could He give me a healthy child, let me believe all these years that He answered my desperate prayers, and then just pull the rug out from under me? Betrayed and heartbroken, instead of turning away again I would fire off these questions, waiting for His answer.

And it came. Gentle like a whisper at the hairs on my forehead.

This IS the child for which you prayed.

Soft as a caress on the side of my damp cheek.

I formed her in your womb.download-5

Slowly, so that I’d understand.

I know every hair on her precious head. images-33

This child is still my answer to prayer. The same one He placed in my womb, the one I prayed to hold, the one He gave me.images-34

Through this child He’s answered so many prayers I thought had gone unanswered. For through her, He called me to Him. And through my journey with her, has taught me comfort, safety and security can only be found in Him.

So, for this child, my perfect answer to prayer, I will continue to pray.