Short story Archive

How Chuck E. Cheese Changed my Life

Light and Laughter

“One discovery I’ve made is that children are here for a purpose,
to share light and laughter.”
(Text on painting above)

It is my firstborn’s eighth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. She is preparing to enter the ticket blaster, the glass tube where the birthday girl has her chance at catching flying Chuck E. Cheese tickets. The idea of the game is to see how many tickets you can catch in your time in the blaster. All of the party guests watch outside the glass tube as tickets spin past the birthday girl while she makes mostly futile attempts to grab them. It’s a comical sight, really, and gives the party guests a chance to get a good laugh at the expense of the birthday girl.

My daughter, who would prefer not to be the center of attention, takes one look at the ticket tube and says very calmly, “I’m not getting in that thing.” I ask her why, and she whispers to me, “What if I don’t catch any tickets? There is no way I am getting in.” I explain to her that catching tickets really is not the purpose of it, that it is about having fun and that it makes no difference whether she catches any tickets at all. I encourage her to just enjoy it and laugh at herself. She reluctantly enters the tube, still unconvinced that it is not about catching tickets.   She places the protective goggles over her eyes, while eager faces stare at her through the tube ready to laugh and enjoy the ride with her.

The ticket blaster turns on and the ticket whirling begins. She flails her arms reaching for the tickets. They fly past her. Quickly, I see her fears about the ticket tube coming true. I stare at her through glass, into her goggled eyes, and I see fear, uncertainty. “Will I fail?” I see her asking herself, while spinning and reaching for the tickets. I see it in her eyes, her awkward expression. “Will I fail with the whole world watching? “

DSC_0104

DSC_0105

My heart aches as I see the joy she is missing. She is blind to it, so focused on catching those tickets. Forfeiting joy for the sake of a paper Chuck E. Cheese ticket that is only good at the prize counter for a cheap toy from China.  A temporary, fleeting, plastic toy that promises something but delivers nothing.

I want to run to the glass and bang on it and scream, “You are missing the point. Stop worrying about the stupid tickets. Nobody cares if you catch them or not. This moment will soon be gone and you will never have it back. Laugh, Let others laugh with you. Celebrate! Enjoy this party I have given you”

But I stop myself, and then, I see what God intended for me to see. I see a mother inside a daughter inside of the ticket tube. I see me staring at me, through flying tickets, through glass and goggled eyes.   I know that look. I know that fear. I know that pride. I want to fall on my knees and repent, prostrate in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese, but that’s not exactly appropriate at birthday parties, not if you want your eight-year-old to still speak to you.  So I stand still reflecting on what God is teaching me through my daughter in a ticket tube in Chuck E. Cheese on a Friday.

DSC_0098
Memories flash before my eyes, and I see myself striving to catch tickets, white knuckling the parental life, determined to get it right, because the prize at the ticket counter promises me something. Promises me that if I get it right, all will go well. So often seeking perfection, forfeiting joy for the sake of a cheap lie that only disappoints and leaves me emptier than before. Deceived by the deceiver.

How often my hands have reached out for those tickets, hands that God made, grasping and reaching for worthless paper. The Spirit whispers, I fashioned your fingers in your mother’s womb. I carefully placed every wrinkle, every line, every cell and ounce of skin, every knuckle and nail. I designed them, imperfection and all, for one purpose, to reach out and catch grace. I never meant for you to be a ticket catcher. I designed you to be a grace catcher. I did not call you to get it right. I called you to be free. Grace is falling all around you. Reach out the hands that I made and grab what I have freely given you. It is there for the taking.

I hear Him beating on the glass of my ticket tube, pleading with me. Forget about the tickets! It has never been about the tickets anyway. It’s about my love and joy in you and that only comes when you humble yourself and see that your hands are too weak for catching tickets. Their design has always been for catching grace. I came that you may have life and life to the full. Enjoy every moment. Enjoy missing the tickets in the ticket tube even when it feels like the whole world is watching. Laugh at yourself. Delight in your children. Enjoy your husband. Humble yourself and enjoy…

My daughter exits the ticket tube having traded in joy for paper tickets, but the lesson I learn from watching her is one I will never forget. So I leave Chuck E Cheese a somewhat different woman, a recovering ticket catcher of sorts. A woman still battling the urge to catch tickets, but a woman now desiring to catch a lot more grace.   A woman who is beginning to see through the lure of the shiny new toys at the prize counter.  And when I catch myself in my ticket catching, the Spirit continually whispers in my ear, ‘I made you a grace catcher. I made you a grace catcher. I made you a grace catcher…’ Now catch my grace.

Beauty Instead of Barnacles

DSC_0165The Year of the Lord’s Favor
Isaiah 61

I went out searching for barnacles on my 39th birthday.   I woke just before sunrise that morning and watched the sun peek up over the ocean until the horizon turned all pink and orange. I sat down to write but the words didn’t flow like they usually do. The sun moved farther up into the sky as put my pen and paper away.   I began to feel the beach beckoning, my Father calling me out to walk with Him.

I’d been thinking about painting these barnacle covered pilings, the ruins of an old pier, just a short distance down the beach. So I slung my camera over my shoulder and made my way toward the beach. I walked across the lawn and then made my way down the path through the dunes. It emptied me out onto the wide expanse of Jacksonville Beach where more memories lie than I can even begin to name.

The tide was out and the beach was covered with broken bits of shells that had washed ashore. The masses of shell bits turned the beach mostly orange. Small streams of water ran parallel to the ocean’s shore. Tide pools, we have always called them, but that morning, they looked more like streams in a desert of sand than pools. The water glistened in the streams as it ebbed and flowed in and out of them. The streams seemed to lead to the pilings where they turned more into a small pond than a stream. The beauty of it all almost took my breath away.

I could hear the shells crunching under my feet, the sound so familiar as I made my way toward the barnacle covered pilings, the ruins that mark the divide between Ponte Vedra Beach and Jacksonville Beach. They have been part of the landscape for as long as I can remember. As I stared at them in the distance, my mother’s voice began to echo in my mind. “I am walking to the pilings and back.” I could hear her say as I pictured her getting up out of her beach chair because she can only sit for so long without it causing strain on her body.  Her body is really not very old, but she has felt much older than she is for many years now.   The pilings for her is a sort of marker.  She cannot take long walks on the beach anymore, not without the unlevel sand flaring up her spinal issues.  She doesn’t cross the divide, just keeps going back and forth to the ruins and the barnacles because there is risk in crossing the divide.

DSC_0008

DSC_0016

DSC_0012

And I know why she doesn’t risk it, because I have felt the frustration of physical pain and limitations, and sometimes it’s just smarter to avoid the risk. I know how it feels to have a body that feels much older than it is, and I know the longing to walk past the divide, to stroll on the beach as long as I want, without the frustration of limitations.

So on my 39th birthday, I set out to “walk to the pilings and back.” I was determined to get a picture of those barnacles, because they had been on my mind, and I had been studying how barnacles grow.   And I had read about the ships at sea that get all weighed down by barnacles, the ships growing so heavy that the barnacles slow them down and cause them to use more fuel. And every couple of years, the captain of the ship has to dry dock it, so that the painstaking process of scraping off the barnacles can be done.

The day before my 39th birthday, I felt like one of those ships, all heavier than I had to be, and everything requiring more energy than necessary. I got all caught up in my perfectionist way of thinking, wondering if I was going to mess things up for God. He’d been telling me to paint what Christ had done in my life, but I got all caught up in the details and allowed the enemy to convince me that somehow I was  going to mess it up, as if my sin or imperfection could thwart his plan.

And those prideful thoughts started to feel like barnacles weighing me down, and they seemed to attract other ones, because it’s not too often you just find one barnacle hanging out by itself. I don’t know if barnacles really do attract other barnacles or not, but I know these sinful thoughts tend to attract other ones, and before I know it I can start to feel like one of those ships using ten times more energy than is necessary to fight this battle against sin.

People typically don’t recognize barnacles for what they are until they have attached themselves to a structure. Until then, they just look like harmless little organisms floating around the sea until they take up residence somewhere and form a shell to live in. And I guess that’s sort of the nature of sin, because sometimes I don’t see it for what it is until it takes up residence in my life, until I feel the weight of it pulling me down.

Christ said that He crucified my sin on the cross, that I am dead to sin and alive in God through Christ Jesus. He scraped me completely clean, but sometimes I feel like I am still walking around with all these barnacle shells still attached, and the battle against sin seems to wage and wage. Because even after the animal dies, the shell of the barnacle remains firmly intact. Just like I am dead to sin, yet somehow it still feels attached to me.

On the day before my 39th birthday, in the midst of my anxious thinking, I pleaded with God to dry dock me, to scrape off all these barnacles that weigh me down and cover up God’s beauty that lies underneath.

Not long after that prayer, God hung a beautiful rainbow right over the ocean to carry me through the afternoon, to lift my eyes to him, to remind me of the promises He has spoken over and over.

And then on the morning of my birthday, He invited me for a walk on the beach. I prayed that He would speak to me that morning, and as I made my way toward the barnacles, a shiny orange conch in the midst of a sea of broken shells caught my eye. It wasn’t a large conch, just three or four inches long, and it wasn’t perfect. It had a small hole in the side of it, and the very tip of the point was missing. Nevertheless, it was whole in comparison to the shell fragments surrounding it.

DSC_0009

Last summer, God spoke to me about those fragments of shells that turn this beach into an ocean of orange. My daughters and I searched for whole conchs and olive shells and the spirally whirling ones but all we came across were fragments, only pieces leaving us longing to see the whole shell.   I was longing to be whole myself, longing for my spine to heal so that I could be free from all the lingering limitations. But as we collected all those fragments last summer, all those little glimpses of God’s glory, He whispered, Now you know in part, but then you shall know fully.   Hold tightly to these fragments of my beauty and let the broken things cause you to long for the day that you will see my face, that you will know my purposes fully. Focus on the beauty in the fragments, He said, because I bring beauty out of broken things, and you can imagine, but you still can’t see the whole picture.

So over a year later, I knelt down to pick up his birthday gift, the orange conch he laid in the midst of these fragments just for me. Not a perfect conch, but a whole one to me. And I looked to the left of it, and there was another conch, only about an inch long but whole and perfect and beautiful. And then to the right, and there was another one, the whirling spinning pointy ones we searched for last year and the many years before.   Everywhere I turned there was wholeness, whirling sea snails, miniature conchs, and shiny olive shells. We usually leave the beach having found three or four special ones in a week or so, but not this year. This year was different than any other year.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I continued to make my way toward the barnacles, gathering whole shells. I took my pictures of the barnacle covered pilings when I reached them, but that was just a small fragment of my morning. I spent almost two hours harvesting the wholeness that God had spilled out on the beach, filling my pockets with whole shells, not fragments. While I gathered, I began to picture all these broken things being made whole, seeing the “goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” (Psalm 27:13) not just when I see Jesus face to face. I especially thought of Momma walking past those pilings, just keeping on going as far as she wanted, not even having to stop to notice the barnacles or the ruins.

My three girls were all sitting at the counter eating cereal when I returned from the beach that morning to share my bounty. I walked in and said, “Look what God gave me for my birthday,” and began to lay the shells out one by one. They couldn’t believe their eyes as the shells kept pouring out of the metal colander in which I had washed them.

DSC_0043

I allowed the girls to take turns taking the ones they wanted. The orange conch and a few smaller conchs were the only ones off limits.   After each child had picked two or three shells, my oldest child, Mary Helen, said, “You keep these Mom, You found them. They are yours. Let’s go get our own.” And they ran to put on their swimsuits, grabbed some buckets and ran over the dunes to find their own harvest of shells.

I will never forget gathering shells with them that morning. Shells crunching under our feet and the sun warm on our backs, we leaned over every few seconds to gather another whole snail shell or miniature conch. I walked with my five-year-old Katie helping her spot them while the older girls gathered their own.

Virginia, her eyes locked into the shells on the ground so as not to miss a single one, could hardly contain her excitement. “I can’t believe this is happening,” she exclaimed through her missing front teeth. “I can’t believe this is really happening!” she exclaimed as the wholeness began to cover the bottom of her bucket. She knew this was no ordinary morning.

DSC_0048

DSC_0064

DSC_0062

And I had felt the same way earlier that morning as God’s painted shells began to fill my pockets.   I had gone out searching for barnacles on the morning of my 39th birthday, and instead of barnacles, God gave me beauty. He said, “Stop focusing on the sin that weighs you down, on the things you can’t fix about yourself and focus on my beauty. That’s what sheds the barnacles that feel so firmly attached, the ones that leave you feeling like that weighed down vessel, expending more energy than is necessary.

A few weeks later, I took my daughter to the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta to see their collection of shells.   Through one of the exhibits, we learned that special paint was invented to keep barnacles off of ships. So I suppose ships don’t have to be weighed down anymore, and it’s simply because of paint. So the Father says, Paint, and I will take care of the barnacles. Paint, because there are people who are just longing to walk past the pilings, to cross the divide, to stop walking back and forth to the ancient ruins. And they are missing my beauty, so focused on their barnacles and ruins.

So the next time I go walking on the beach with God, I am not going out searching for barnacles. I’m going out searching for beauty. And I am going to put my feet in those streams that lead toward the pilings, and when I get to those ruins, I am just going to keep walking. I am going to cross the divide of the two beaches, because God has healed the greatest divide, the gaping chasm that once lay between He and I, all because Eve harvested an apple and ate it. And as I walk, I am going to be harvesting wholeness instead of searching for sin.

And I am going to remember the rainbow my Father painted over the ocean on the last day of my thirty-ninth year.   He painted his promise across the sky to remind me of his goodness, and then spilled out this birthday conch the next morning.

So I pick up my brush, and paint the promise that he left for me on the beach that day. Because my fortieth year is going to be different than any other year. And I am not going to be filling my pockets with fragments. I’m going to be harvesting the whole…

Written in August of 2013.  

Fragments

IMG_0713 “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

We walk along this beach, all dusted with fragments of shells. Halves of clams, tops of spikey conchs and bits of angel wings wash over our feet as we search for treasures, for whole shells not yet crushed by the pounding surf. I see the perfect whirl of the discarded shell of a sea snail half buried in the sand and kneel down to collect it only to discover that the bottom half is missing, that this perfect whirling shell is only a fragment of a treasure.

The fragment is beautiful with all its symmetrical spinning and bands of color, but I long to see it in its wholeness, in the fullness of its glory. Eyes filled with wonder, my daughter gazes upon the shell in awe, but like her mother, she is less than satisfied with the fragment, feels the same ache, the deep-down longing to find that which is whole. That is rare on this beach that I grew up combing because the power of the surf tends to spit out mostly fragments, these tiny pieces of God’s glory.

But when we finally stumble across one in it’s completeness, the joy bubbles up out of that deep longing, out of that time of waiting and seeking. The whole shell would not feel as much like treasure apart from the previous longing to see it in its’ fullness.

shells-fragments-beach

IMG_0700

fragments+of+shells-beach-shells-photos

IMG_0707

The light pouring down reflects off the shell fragments as the water gently laps back and forth over them, them speaking of God’s glory in all their shiny whirls and color bands. And I begin to  hear Paul’s words to the Corinthians pour down like light.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

I look around at all these broken parts of my life, and how I long to see God face to face, to fully know him, to not just see him in part. And I will  spend this lifetime longing to know Him in all His fullness, all the while delighting in the fragments I discover, fully trusting that He sees all, knows me fully even though here on this earth, I will never fully know Him. But to live life fully here is knowing that I am  fully known, that even though I now see a poor reflection of who my savior is, one day I shall know fully, will see the treasure in it’s wholeness.

Virginia takes these halves of shells, the ones with the holes in the end, all worn through by the grinding of the sand, and then strings them up on necklaces and binds them around her neck, fragments of treasure found while searching for the whole. Solomon says to bind Gods commands around my neck, to write mercy and faithfulness on the tablets of my heart. So I remember the words etched on the stone tablets of Moses, and I give thanks for God’s mercy in spite of how short I fall in keeping those tablet words. And I bind that mercy around my neck, string up the wholeness of his mercy that I find hidden in these earthly fragments.  These beautiful glimpses of Gods’ glory, causing me to long for the day when I shall see Him face to face, when He returns for his beloved bride. The long awaited consummation of the bride and the lamb. The searching and seeking and building up to that unfathomable day. The day when I shall no longer know in part and will no longer see but a poor reflection in the mirror.

Would you cause me to long for that day more than anything else on this earth?  Would the words of this song ring true in my life?

“Lord, I want to yearn for You.

I want to burn with passion.

Over you.

And only you.”

Let these fragments, these glimpses of glory in the midst of this broken life cause me to yearn for you, cause me to burn with passion over you and only you.

 

What God Gave Me Through a Coffee Cup

bloom-flower-suffering-river

God sometimes speaks to me in simple images in the quiet minutes of the morning in which I am beginning to awake.   Yesterday was one of those days in which He spoke to me in the reentry hour.  It was sort of a dream, but more like a small vision, there one minute and gone the next.  It was an empty coffee cup, porcelain white and perfectly clean with a small white bloom attached to the inside of the cup, as if its dainty stem had grown right out of the porcelain.

I awoke, feeling that it was of God, but somewhat puzzled by the image.  In my humanness, my first instinct was to look at it literally, so I assumed He must surely be telling me to stop drinking coffee, that perhaps something would bloom, that great things would come  if I could only stop drinking coffee.  I shelved the thought, hoping He had some other message for me other than giving up coffee. Then, I stumbled to the kitchen, got the kids off to school, and sat down to have my quiet time.

Lately, I have been reading the Streams in the Desert devotional because it speaks deep truth to me in the midst of difficult seasons.  Last week was one of those weeks when I needed its words.  I awoke on Monday, and instead of seeing a sweet vision from God in the reentry hours, Satan arrived to twist and torque every muscle in my upper back and neck.  My neck froze to the point where I could not move it more than a centimeter in any direction, so many hours of my week were spent lying in the bed staring at the ceiling while family and friends tended to my children.

In the previous week, my physical therapist had told me that my neck looked better than He had ever seen it.   So, I just knew the time had finally come.  I was healing from Lyme, and God was finally coming to remove the yoke from this neck and He, for sure, was going to allow me to paint and write all that I wanted.  And then, Monday came and the rest of the week was filled with ice packs, heating pads, an MRI, a steroid dose pack, and quite obviously, no writing or painting.  Needless to say,  I was a bit discouraged and began to imagine myself stuck in this cycle of pain, and I completely lost sight of what God might be doing in the midst of it.

So yesterday, I pulled out the Streams in the Desert devotional after pondering what the image of the coffee cup might convey.  The devotion for that day spoke of God as an artist, using many “brushstrokes of sorrow” to paint into his masterpieces, you and me, so that we can be used to show his glory. It spoke of waking up and opening our hearts to the lessons that God intends for us to learn in our suffering.  And it warned of the danger of our “cup of sorrows” being emptied, and us having failed to glean the truths that God wanted to teach in the midst of the trial.   It spoke of opening our hearts to pain and suffering and rejoicing in it.

So today, I woke up and smelled the coffee and began to meditate on all that I have learned through Lyme. God began to open my heart to receive the truths He wanted to teach me.   I do believe God is going to empty my cup of Lyme and neck sorrows, and in its place, something clean and beautiful will have bloomed inside of me.  Something sweet and soft and gentle that was not in my heart before.  Something pure that only grows inside the cup of suffering.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the bloom until the cup has been emptied, but I am asking God to give me the grace to see it even in the midst of the journey.  And I wonder if meditating on the bloom that’s coming forth is part of my healing, if healing sometimes comes when we stop trying to push away pain, and surrender to it for a season for the sake of God’s purposes.

It is often writing that helps me focus on the bloom rather than the gloom in the midst of trials, so as much as the Lord allows,  I am going to write as I travel the rest of this  journey.  And I invite you to come along with me, to glean truth with me, to walk with me as I make my way toward the finish line of Lyme treatment.  Sharing with you holds me accountable to getting my thoughts down on paper, and through that process, I see little bits of his bloom come forth in places I least expect.  But most of all, I desire to share this healing adventure with you because  I know I have not traveled this path to allow all these lessons to dead end on me.  So over the next few weeks,

my coffee i will keep
to wake me
from my sleep
as i seek
the treasures
God has given me
through
the deep cup
of suffering…

Amen.

 

Don’t you remember…?

Open.Wide

When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?  How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  (Matthew 16:5-12)

 “Be on your guard against the yeast…” my Lyme doctor implied. She didn’t say it like Jesus did, but somewhere it was woven into her one hundred page treatment manual. Taking four or five antibiotics in unison over long periods of time doesn’t allow for the ingestion of much yeast. Of course, I have treated myself to a little bread or sugar once in a while, but as much as I have been able to, I have avoided breads and sugars.

The Lyme bacteria feeds off of simple sugars, so the goal, at least as far as I can understand it, is to starve it by avoiding foods that are high in sugar or carbs. It sounds simple enough. It seems that just knowing that I am feeding the enemy by eating sugar would allow me to stay the course.

Although I have been relatively faithful to the diet, I have spent a good bit of time feeling as if I am walking a tightrope, wondering how far I can lean to the left or right and still not fall. I have wondered if those few sips of coke or the little bit of chocolate or the occasional splurge on a desert could leave me standing at the end of an unsuccessful Lyme treatment asking, “Why did I lean so far to the left or right? Why wasn’t I more rigid about the diet?”

In other words, I begin believing that it all depends on me.

Over the past few weeks, the fatigue and joint pain have returned, and I have found myself questioning if I will ever return “home”, if this season of captivity will ever end. And I am recognizing that one of my largest fears is that it could all be my fault, that if I had been stricter about the diet or more faithful to the steaming hot baths, or not forgotten those few doses of antibiotics on busy days, that surely I would be well by now.

It has been a year and a half now, but I am still holding tight to God’s promise that this season will pass over. I read the passages in Exodus last week about the Passover meal and was reminded that the Israelites were instructed not to leaven their bread, to leave out the yeast.

I sometimes have a habit of taking God literally when often He is speaking of spiritual parallels, so the Passover verses left me thinking God must be reminding me to avoid the yeast, that perhaps part of this season passing over me was somehow linked to avoiding the yeast and sugar and bread that I have been trying to avoid for eighteen months.

So I awoke this morning ready to jump back on the no yeast train and ride to the finish line of Lyme treatment. But in my quiet time, I stumbled across these verses where Jesus is rebuking the disciples for taking him so literally when he is speaking to them figuratively.

He says to them, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?”

He points them to a memory of bread, but the bread is not the point. The point is the miracle that Jesus performed, the five loaves of bread feeding the five thousand.

Don’t you remember…?” He asks. And then he points them to the miracle. He points them to himself, the bread of life. He wasn’t rebuking them for forgetting to bring the bread, but for forgetting Him and the miracles that he had performed along the way.

So as I read through these verses, I began to hear the spirit speak, Don’t you remember all of the miracles I have performed along the way? Don’t you remember how I rescued you in your twenties? Don’t you remember how I pulled you from the pits of despair in your thirties? Don’t you remember that I said healing would come in your forties, that your time in the desert would be over? Have you forgotten that my word does not return void? Maintain a healthy diet, but in the end, do not be so arrogant as to think that your source of healing is you. It does not come from you. It comes only from my Spirit living in you.

Staying on your tight rope takes your eyes off of me and onto you.  It causes you to forget me.  And the forgetfulness of me is nothing but the yeast of the Pharisees, a gospel of rules that is no gospel at all, an ungospel that spreads like yeast through the whole batch of dough.

So…

He says, “Go”
free fall from your
rope pulled tight
knowing you will land
in the soft hands
that formed you
before time began.

Run free
through fields white
and ripe for harvest.
knowing light
will shine
from your darkest
days of Lyme.

Treasures stored
in the dark
pleading for art
to come forth
from the womb
of this woman
too long in labor

I need your favor
as you teach
me to savor
each stitch
you have sewn
along the way.

I praise through pain
as remembrance
changes me
sets me free
rains light
on ropes pulled tight
across my chest

Rest in Me
He speaks
in sweet
lines
of mercy
Sleep long
and deep
knowing
I am strong

even

when
you
are
weak.

 

 

The Reentry (Part 2)

 

christian+art-weaery-tired-newspaper+art-flower-

“I am weary of pain like a withered flower but
He is clearing a path for others to tread.”

Reentry*

1. A second or new entry

2. The act of returning from outer space.

If there is one feeling that has been most prevalent through Lyme treatment, it is the feeling of wanting to be covered, of wanting to be hidden in some small chamber until the season has passed over.  I am not sure why this childhood image came back to me, but in my darkest moments of Lyme, I imagined myself crawling into the Mork and Mindy egg and staying there until I felt like reentering family life.

My deepest longing during this journey has been for healing, but also for the permission to retreat, to be sick for a season.  I have wanted affirmation, wanted someone to say that it’s okay to be sick, and it’s okay to tend to your owns needs for a while so that you can heal. There were times when I received that affirmation, but as a mother of three, there were also many moments that I spent fighting for the right to be sick.  Because if you don’t have the right to be sick, you don’t feel that you have the right to heal.

I have floated in and out of good seasons and bad seasons but sixteen months into treatment, I still have days where I am fighting for the right to heal, for permission to rest when I need to and for the permission to take a couple of hours to myself to write or paint in order to pull myself out of the depression and brain fog that comes along with switching medications weekly.

Lyme leaves me feeling as if I am in a foreign land, as if I am in outerspace, trying to push my way back through the earth’s atmosphere in order to land and be present at the dinner table. At times, it takes everything in me to come back to earth and be present in the moment.  The worst thing about those moments though is that I can look down from my Mork and Mindy egg and see my life passing by before me.  It feels as if I am watching a black and white TV show that I know should be in full color.  I am fully aware of what I am missing.  I feel it in every ounce of my being, but often the meds leave me feeling as if my brain is sitting in quicksand, and it seems next to impossible to step into the fullness of life.

I wish I was one of those strong sick people, one of those women that others comment about and say, “Oh, she is so strong. She never complains. She never talks about it.” I can’t say that I have been her. I haven’t been the one that smiles through clenched teeth and says, “I’m fine” when I am not.  I come from a long line of frank women, and if you ask me how I am feeling, I will more than than likely give you a frank answer.   I have tried not to bore people with long-winded conversations about my physical issues, but at moments, I am sure that I have failed in that too.

Since I am not going to land in the Strong Sick People Hall of Fame, I will be frank and tell you that today I am weary.   I feel like the astronauts on Apollo 13, waiting for the reentry in a broken vessel, fearing that I may not approach at the right angle, fearing that I may not do enough of the right things, take enough salt baths or steam showers, or eat enough of the right foods to get me to wellness. I fear that I may not have what it takes  to make it to the finish line of Lyme,  that I might not be able to stand the heat of the reentry process.

In my doubting moments, I ask myself, “What if my husband can’t take any more of my communication blackouts at the dinner table? What if I never reenter and this is as good as it gets? What if I never return “home” from this season of captivity?

More than anything else in my life right now, I want to go home. I want to reenter, to emerge from my Mork and Mindy egg and walk in the fullness of life. Today, it is ever so clear to me that instead of stepping into fullness, I am beginning to allow bitterness to fully take root in my heart.  I am growing bitter that Lyme has lingered way too long.    I am bitter about all the black and white moments that could have been in full color, and I am sad that I will never get those moments back.   I am bitter that my neck is still fully inflamed and won’t allow me to do the things I love. And I am bitter toward the diet that is beginning to feel like months of manna in the desert.

The Israelites grew bitter about months of manna too.  They forgot how God had delivered them from Egypt, how He had parted the Red Sea after he turned the River Jordan to blood.   They forgot that the angel of death passed over their firstborn son at the midnight hour.   They forgot that they were told to eat in their traveling clothes so that they would be ready for departure from captivity.

In essence, they forgot what God had done.  And so have I in my eagerness to depart the land of Lyme.

My doctor says she can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am ever so grateful for that.  I still have days where I wish for my Mork and Mindy egg, but they are fewer and farther in between.  And I am holding on tight to the truth that God will complete the work he began in me.   He still hasn’t delivered my Mork and Mindy egg in which I can hide, but He did send me these words that He spoke to Moses. They covered me all the more.

He said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” Exodus 33:22

He said he would have to hide me in “the cleft of the rock” when he showed me the glory that would come from my suffering because it would be too much for my little heart to bear.

So today, I reenter.  I allow God to hide me in this painted rock, and I wait for God’s glory to pass by as he brings me home, like he brought the Israelites out of captivity from a foreign land.

At first I thought it was too soon to reenter, that my heart was too bitter and too weary to remember publicly.    I was concerned that I would spew more venom than victory, but as I read the words of Leanna Tolensky a few days ago, I knew it was time to go, time to reenter the remembrance of Him.

She said, “We will not live in the dark, even if that means we have to walk around squinting for a time. We will let ourselves be seen.

…Our emergence doesn’t happen when we are at our most brave. It often happens when we are at our most bruised.”

So I emerge from my Mork and Mindy egg, standing bruised, asking God to give me the words to say as I reenter this painted rock,
knowing full well
that all the moments
on which I dwell
the ones
tainted black and white
seeming dead
have only
cleared
a path
for others
to softly
tread…

A trail
of  painted stones
whispering
words
to the faint and weak,

“You are not alone.

You are not alone.

You are not alone.”

Now do this
in remembrance
of me.

 

DSC_0230

Click on photo to enter the Apollo 13 rabbit hole

The Reentry (Part 1)

 

Everything has been made beautiful“There is a time for everything and a season
for every activity under the heavens.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Reentry.

1.  A second or new entry

2.  The return from outer space into the earth’s atmosphere.

God said that at some point I would reenter The Painted Rock. I don’t remember exactly how he said it, but in some form or fashion, He said that I would reenter this blog which has for the most part delivered silence for the past eighteen months.

I wish that I could sum up the past year and a half  in one blog post, but it would probably take months to unpack all that God has done in this season. I could say that for the most part, these months have been a time to heal, but along with healing also comes a time to weep, a time to mourn, a time to laugh, a time to let go, a time to uproot and many other “time to’s”.

To be honest, I thought that by this time, I would be writing about a time to let go of Lyme treatment. I was supposed to be well by now.    I had asked God to heal me by my birthday of last year, and I believed with all of my heart that He would do it.  But July 29th came and went, and God made it clear that my season of “captivity” was not to come to an end yet.  I still faced months more of the healing process, and today, the yoke that he has promised to remove from my neck still seems heavy upon it.

“Remember me,” he has spoken over and over in this season of captivity, and He has led me time and again to using this blog, The Painted Rock, to remember him, to tell the story of how He delivered me from captivity like He delivered the Israelites from the Babylonians.   I thought perhaps it would be on the other side of Lyme treatment before He called me to remember.  Over the past week, though, He has made it clear that the reentry is here. Well or not, its time to go even though my body doesn’t feel ready, and my heart feels too full of sin and frustration to be splayed on the internet.

I spent the last week in an utter state of self-absorption and self pity. My pharmacy let me know that they would no longer be filling any of my Lyme prescriptions, so I spent hours on the phone sorting through Express Script orders and insurance issues and running back and forth to the pharmacy.   I started two new medicines on Monday which left me feeling as if my spirit and body were treading through quicksand.  The middle child was home sick Monday, and the firstborn Tuesday through Friday.  The cat decided to abandon his toilet and began using the bathtub instead.  (yes,our cat IS potty trained, at least he is most of the time). Thumper, the family bunny escaped twice this week, leaving me chasing him over and under furniture during my only opportunities for a little alone time.  And in addition to my 210 pills a week, he has needed eyedrops three times a day. My firstborn has needed doctors visits and antibiotics and new thermometers,  the youngest has needed ear drops and doses of cough syrup, and the middle child has needed a string of eye doctor appointments and eyeglasses so she can see the blackboard at school.   And I have been in desperate need of seeing clearly myself in the midst of it all.

I slammed the dishwasher door on Friday when the dog appeared at the door having rolled in dead fish for the second time in a week, meaning my thirty minutes of free time that day would be taken up with a dog bath.  I told God how mad I was.  I asked him why he had to make everything so hard.  “Is this some sort of sick joke? Do you think this is funny?” I asked through clenched teeth as the fish stench entered my nose.  “Why don’t you want me to ever have any time of my own?” I asked him as I grabbed the bunny shampoo to go wash the dog, hoping perhaps it could be lethal to dogs.

I tied his leash to the iron gate of the garden and angrily told him to sit.  I expected him to resist, to lie down on his back in defiance, or to try to run.  But he stood in one place, perfectly still as the early-morning cold water poured from the hose.

It was a beautiful spring day.  The sun was making its way up over our untended garden. Light and shadow moved in unison all around us begging for me to move towards the light, to push away darkness and enjoy bathing the dog.   I took a deep breath, surrendered to joy and began to move the shampoo through his black hair.   I scrubbed every inch of his body from head to toe, under the ears, in between his toes, under the collar, hoping to cover every strand of hair so that every trace of the stench would be eradicated.

He stood still, through every second of my scrubbing and rinsing. Shivering, his eyes looked deep into me, calmly waiting for it to be over.  He seemed to know he had only one choice and that was to surrender.

When I finished rinsing him clean, I dried him with a towel as he rolled on his back delighting in every minute of the attention. It was as if he had been waiting his whole life for that moment. As I watched him,  I wished I could be him for a minute, soaking up all that affection, having someone else tend and care for me.

I told my husband last night that I was a bit starved for his attention, that I needed more of his affection, that I needed to see his love for me in action and not just hear it from his mouth.  I told him I needed him to remember that I’m still healing, that I’m still battling for a life unyoked of Lyme.

I meant what I said in the moment, but today as I begin to see clearly, I wonder if it’s really me that needs to remember.  I wonder if it’s me that’s doing the forgetting.  I wonder if I have forgotten how God rescued me in the early years of our marriage.  I wonder if it’s me thats forgetting that my husband just bravely stepped out of his job,  like Abraham, not knowing where he’s going.  I wonder if it’s me forgetting that he is battling too.

For some reason recently, I cannot see clearly in the evening.  It is as if I become blind to truth in my tired and wretched state. Morning comes and for a few brief hours before the meds kick in, I am able to see.  This morning, as I write, I see.  It is painfully obvious that I need a good bathing from head to toe. A sitting still while God bathes me in his love, speaking truth to me in all my shivering.

That’s what writing does for me. It allows me to sit still as God speaks truth. It calms me in the storm.  I am not sure what it is about words flowing out onto paper, but somehow it allows me to see more clearly who God is and what He is doing.

I’ve been asking God for a year and a half when he would allow me to reenter The Painted Rock, when he would give me permission to write about the stones of remembrance I have painted thus far in my journey with Him.  And this week, I received my answer.

“Why are you waiting for permission to do what you were made for? Go love people.”

That is what God used Bob Goff to tell me as I scrolled through Instagram a few days ago. And I think the best way I can love people at this juncture in my life is to carve out time to remember Christ because it is that remembrance that causes the tears of thanksgiving to flow out
into one river,
joining two hearts
into one
ready to run
the race God
marked out
for us
when he carved
our names
in the palm
of his hand
before time began.

We stand
dressed
in traveling clothes
awaiting
the reentry flight
as this season
passes over
us
releasing burdens
from the shoulders
of a woman
and a man
yoked together
to remember
Christ
as one.

I stand still,
neck yoked
outside the garden gate,
God pouring remembrance rain
down my spine,
asking my shivering heart
to receive his grace
as I return from outer space
in order to land
In the hand
of a God
who sweetly said
to me
years ago
as I lay
soflty sleeping
in early morn,

As you surrender to the soft place of my purposes, my plan of action comes forth. He spoke it as I was departing from sleep and beginning to reenter the world of awake.

I awake and see
clearly now that
sometimes
it’s in the stillness,
in the quiet
reentry,
in the
shivering surrender
that a plan
comes forth
from God’s hand
taking us full circle
to his land
of promise.
Him singing
soft words
that speak
to a season.

It
has
come…

It
has
come…

It
has
come…

only

to
pass
over
you.

Amen.


DSC_7961IMG_9990 DSC_7984 DSC_7931 DSC_7965

DSC_7984DSC_7984

Yes, Virginia

DSC_0095
I was scared the first day I stepped into the Rose Hill Safe House, not the bodily harm kind of scared but the kind of scared you might feel when you are approaching a close-knit group of folks that have known each other a long time, and you are wondering whether or not they will give you a chance. That was the kind of scared I felt walking into a group of people whose common bond was the lack of a structure of their own to call home.

To be quite honest, financial need is foreign to me. I have never wanted for much of anything materially, so deep in the recesses of my heart, I feared I would not be able to minister to them, that I would not be able to give what they needed. I feared I would be rejected, judged for what I have, that they would write me off as another wealthy white woman trying to feel good about herself for reaching out to the poor.

But I knew God had called me there, and it felt as if He was pulling his pocketwatch out of his coat, telling me that I was late for a very important date, so I followed Bo Bartlett and his team up the stairs of the Rose Hill Safe House.   I smiled as unawkwardly as I could at the men and women lounging on the concrete steps leading to the door, their eyes penetrating deep into mine, attempting to see what I was all about.

Just inside the buliding, there was a small doorway leading to a turning flight of stairs blanketed with weathered carpet to keep the weak from slipping. I could smell the aroma of food and dishwater coming from the kitchen and could hear feet scrambling back and forth and pots and pans clanging in the kitchen in the unknown below.

IMG_9657

And I felt at that moment, a little bit like Alice, like I was quickly slipping down a rabbit hole into a world I did not know existed. In reality though, I did know it existed. I just had chosen to turn a blind eye to it, not because I didn’t care, but because I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know how to reach men who slept on the streets without a place to call home.

That first day, men and women stood in line as we took styrofoam plates and poured out small piles of paint hoping to reach their hearts through art. And the participants did what I thought they would. They looked deep into me to try to understand why I was there, to make sure I didn’t have some self-serving motive. And those first few weeks, it felt a little like a strange tea party underground. A deaf and mute man usually greeted me on the steps pointing at his ears and mouth to remind me he could not speak nor hear as I attempted to say “hello”.  I called a half-toothless man by the wrong name for the first three weeks because he wrote the wrong name on his name tag.  Some chose to paint angry comics with all sorts of obscene words on the page. Some wrote lists of their friends who had been killed on the streets, and seemed angry at me for venturing into their world but not understanding it.

11754341_731322816994322_8773619291011918884_o

IMG_8633

DSC_4071

DSC_4076

IMG_8621

IMG_8607

IMG_9521

But after six months of pouring paint and washing brushes, and tripping over my tongue when I don’t know what to say or do, I don’t fear anymore. Because I see that every man’s need is really the same.   One simply needs to hear, I value you. I value you enough to keep coming week after week even if I don’t understand your world. I value you enough to look into your phone and see the drawings you made outside of the class. And I value you enough to listen to the pain that’s coming out onto canvas from losing a child to drugs. And I value you enough to teach you.

That is really all they have asked for, to be valued.

They have not asked me to relate to their hardships or judged me for the awkward silence when I am at a loss of words.   They have only asked me to be their friend, to sit and paint with them and listen. They have forgiven me when I have called them by the wrong names. And little by little, I think they are forgiving me for being born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Not because I have performed any miraculous wonders, but simply because I show up. I keep sliding down that same rabbit hole a few times a month, and I think they are beginning to welcome me into their wonderland.

Many a time, my children have fallen down that rabbit hole with me and have helped pour paint onto plates while trying to make conversation with those living in an entirely different world as they come to us wanting to know we value what they do and make. And we try to speak life into them and laugh about the simple things we’ve learned, like the stark white truth that donuts seem to call the masses into the art room.

IMG_9212

IMG_9073

IMG_8645

11717439_731322756994328_95402049974170682_o

And over time, as canvases have been covered with paint and as we have sat and chatted with the participants, the Safe House has begun to feel just that, safe. And again, not the unbodily harm kind of safe, but the kind of safe that says that God can equip us even when we fall short in faith.

Shorty, who calls himself the class clown, now draws me pictures to hang on my wall at home.  Bobby, who has never had any formal training in art, pulls the wonders of God out of his satchel each week as he shows us what he drew in his free time.  Women hold up their collages with smiles spread wide across their faces, children beg me to photograph the paint on the ends of their fingers, and Gary smiles and laughs through gapped teeth as he tells me about his “old lady” who is about to have a baby in her fifties.

IMG_9527

IMG_9377

IMG_8663

IMG_8934

In one of the first sessions we offered, the jail chaplain, looking down at one of the participants painting, shook his head and said, “Something is being birthed here.” And I felt what he meant. Like a baby coming to Abraham at the unlikely age of a hundred, I felt down deep in the recesses of my heart, that art was birthing something in the old run down basement of the Rose Hill Safe House. Like Jesus being birthed in the humblest of places, a lowly manger.  I have yet to put my finger on exactly what that is or what his birthing plan looks like, but this Christmas I saw a tiny thing birthed in the heart of my child sitting at her bedside table writing a letter to Santa on behalf of the people at the Rose Hill Safe House.

IMG_9634

Although I know Santa Claus will deliver plenty of gifts Christmas morning for Virginia to take to “Home is Where the Art is”, I have prayed about a way to personally say “yes” to Virginia’s letter. Initially, I thought I would ask the community to donate supplies and money and the outpouring would feel like all the whos in whoville coming together on Christmas morning in spite of the ISIS grinch, but something in my spirit felt unsettled.   Because I have seen the expressions on their faces as they ask for one more canvas, and at times,  it’s covered in shame. So I wanted to find a way where they could participate in saying “yes” to Virginia, and “yes” to themselves.

DSC_6548

Over the  Thanksgiving holiday, I saw a lot of businesses offering sales in which ten percent was donated to certain causes, so at the time, I thought I would host something similar in order to raise funds for the program.   But as I was thinking about how to structure the sale, I felt a gentle nudging to turn those percentages upside down, so I decided to give away 90 percent and keep ten percent whenever God provided the opportunity for the sale. And the keeping ten percent is only because I believe it is important the participants see that there is receiving that comes with hard work.

So we are going to sell art in the Upside Down Sale and the participants of “Home is Where the Art is” will package the orders so that they are a part of raising funds for the program. They will learn about products that can be produced from simple images in art, and I pray that the scriptures on each painting would encourage them during this Christmas season as they package prints and notecards.

So long story short, the Upside Down Sale is my way of saying “yes” to Virginia’s letter and “yes” to my friends in the basement of the Rose Hill Safe House, because after all it was the lack of art on the pages of her sister’s book that sent Alice slipping down the rabbit hole.  And I believe we see the wonders of God, when we step into the deep recesses of the unknown with art. And I believe He uses art to grow hope in the shattered heart because I know He did it in mine.

So instead of a discount, I am giving you an opportunity to give. And I am praying that each little purchase is one small step in God’s birthing plan, encouraging us all to take more steps down rabbit holes into unknown wonderlands.

DSC_0230

Click here or on the photo above to go to www.helenbrooksart.com and support the sale.

 

The Honey Pot

honeypot-pottery-land+of+honey-suffering-promise

Psalm 81:16 With honey from the rock, I would satisfy you…

I am attempting to paint our honey pot, this symbol of the land of promise. I paint for a while until the pain creeps into my neck again, my heart longing for the finished product, for the wooden plank to be fully covered with paint. But I know the ramifications of not listening to my body, so I lay down my brush, frustrated that I cannot finish this honey pot today.

Honey, it flows and so do rivers, and you keep speaking to me about this river flowing out of me like the River Jordan that brought fertility to the land of milk and honey. But with all these bodily restrictions, it feels like you’re damming up a river, and I would rather not be restricted by this dam of yours.

I think of the dam downstream from the lake on which I live that the mill owners once used to harness power, to gather all the water on one side of the dam.  Is that what You are doing with this dammed up body, Lord, harnessing your power, allowing all this living water to store up to be released in due time?

You have been telling me to “Wait for the Lord,” and I keep thinking that “waiting” means a week or so, but years are going by, and I am still waiting, and I just want to finish this pot of honey, just want to get to the land of promise. But the Israelites, they could not cross over into the promise land until they were finished with their remembering, until they gathered the stones in the middle of the river to remind the next generation what God had done. Because that remembrance was a whole lot more important than getting to the honey.

The dam that the mill owners used was on the River Chattahoochee and that word Chattahoochee, some think it means “painted rock”. And that’s what I feel you calling me to, Father, painting these rocks of remembrance like the Israelites who God told to gather rocks so that their ancestors would remember what God had done.

The Israelites walked on dry ground until they finished picking up the rocks, those stones of remembrance. And what had God done except dam up the Jordan, harness the water until they gathered all twelve. And it was not until they carried those stones across the riverbed that it started flowing again, and when it did, it returned to flood stages.

They are destroying the dams on the Chattahoochee River because the mills are long gone and no longer serve a purpose. But the Army Corps of Engineers is tearing it down in stages because it is a process to remove the obstacle that keeps this river from flowing freely.

You told me years ago that my healing would be a process, that it would come stitch by stitch, that it was more about the process than the healing, more about the journey than the honey. But I see this honey pot, and all this waiting, and it feels more like the slow trickle of honey, than the rushing rapids of this river that wants to flow out of me. But perhaps I have been too focused on the land of honey, on what lies ahead, and like the Israelites, I have forgotten the stitches you have already so graciously sewn along the way.

My four-year-old Katie comes home from school in the days just after quitting my honey pot, and her hands are full of painted rocks she painted at school. And God reminds me that in all this waiting, I must step out into the riverbed, stand on dry ground, gather up my own rocks to paint, and remember what Christ has done for me.

So for almost a year, I gather stones while this unfinished honey pot rests on my easel.   Many months later, the pain is still here, but I pick up my brush and stop focusing on how slow the honey trickles, and how slow his healing needle sometimes stitches. One by one, I hear him whisper. One rock at a time, and as you paint the remembrance of what I have done, my needle will continue to stitch, one stitch at a time.

Last week at Vacation Bible School, Katie strung a bracelet out of beads, one by one until her bracelet said the words, “Trust God” with brightly colored beads in between, and then she strung a silver fish that said “Faith” right in the middle. She placed it around her wrist and wore it every minute of the day and night.

A few nights later, she climbs in my bed, shivering and crying and tells me that she has had a really bad dream. I pull her close to me and tell her that everything is okay, that it wasn’t real. She says in between deep breaths, “I dreamed I dropped my ‘Trust God’ bracelet in the middle of the lake, and it sunk, and I couldn’t get to it.” Her treasured possession was deep down in this lake that we live on, this dammed up part of the Chattahoochee River. I wanted to tell her that I know how it feels to lose something in the middle of this dammed up river, because over and over I have lost my trust in God, dropped that bracelet right down to the depths of this harnessed river, and when I have lost that trust, I can start to feel like I am in a bad dream.

I feel the rush of the rapids pent up in my heart and mind, but this body only allows the water to trickle out. But the water sometimes flows slow over the dam of this lake I see out of my window, and I remember that the power company decides how fast or how slow the water will flow over the dam. And He reminds me that whether the water trickles or rushes, this is all about his power, so I pick up one of these rocks I have gathered, and let the paint trickle out slow, and the words flow like honey, and the trust grow like the rushing rapids of the river…

You are Already Clean

Clean-chiristian+art-broom-sweeping-bible-christian+art-scripture
John 15:3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.

Whenever I sweep my kitchen floor, I use my grandmother’s old broom and a cheap green dustpan that I purchased at the local grocery store. I am sure there are more progressive versions of the dustpan on the market, but I have never taken the time to search for one, so I just stick with what resides in my broom closet.

My method of sweeping entails sweeping up several different piles of dust and debris into different areas of the kitchen and then sweeping the piles into one large pile and attempting to sweep it into the dustpan. The majority of the matter sweeps easily into the pan, but there always seems to be a fine line of tiny particles and dust that just cannot make the ascent over the edge of the pan. Regardless of how hard I try, the smaller particles either lodge at the dustpan’s edge or they slide right beneath my dustpan.

Pictured above is a painting of my broom and dustpan. While working on this painting, it still needed some finishing touches so I sat it in my entrance way to remind me to finish it. I tend to be somewhat of a procrastinator, so the painting sat there for several weeks. In the meantime, a woman came by to pick up her grandson who was over for a play date. She saw the painting and identified with it because she sweeps a lot. She then read the verse that says “You are already clean” and she kind of laughed and said, “Oh, I certainly don’t think I am clean, but I do love the painting.” I reminded her that she is clean if she knows Jesus, but I understood what she meant and could easily identify with her statement. More than any other truth in the Christian life, this is the one I seem to lose sight of the most. “You are already clean.” “What?” I say to God. “It couldn’t possibly be. I see the depths of the sin in my own life. How could I be clean?” As David said in Psalm 51, “For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me.” I see the pride, the self-centeredness, and all the transgressions that are “always before me.” Then, if I am not constantly reminding myself of the gospel, I tend to forget what Jesus said in the book of John, “You are already clean…”

In my battle with sin, it can begin to seem as if there is a line of dust and debris that just cannot quite make it over the edge of God’s dustpan. But then God, in his grace and mercy, says to me, through his word, that nothing could be farther from the truth, and he lovingly reminds me, “You are already clean. There is no line of dust left at the edge of my dustpan. Every speck, whether large or small, has been swept away. I have covered you in my righteousness and made you ‘whiter than snow.’”

When I finish sweeping, I take the pan and empty it into the trashcan. The trashcan goes out, is dumped into a large truck, and is driven away. I will never see it again. I will never think about it again. I will never say, “Remember that pile of dirt I swept up the other day.” I will not meditate on that dirt. In fact, as soon as it slides off the dustpan into the trash, I will never consider it nor remember it again.

The same is true of our sin if we are in Christ. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Psalm 103:10 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” “You are already clean,” he says “because of the word I have spoken to you.”

Thank you, Father, that you have “already” made me clean. Thank you for that word “already” that reminds me that I am clean today, not tomorrow, not when I get to heaven, but “already.” Thank you that even though I will always battle with sin in my flesh, you have made me a new creation, one that has already been swept perfectly clean.

In Jesus Name. Amen.