Waiting on Shrinky Dinks

Staring hard through the dirty oven window I watch mesmerized as the cut out shapes begin to curl and bend. I am instantly transported to second grade and the absolute marvel of the Shrinky Dink. Coloring hard on that rough side of the paper with stunted colored pencils I could never fully get the desired finish.

Watching the transformation, however, always amazed me as I tried to wrap my brain around the concept. There seemed to be so much danger and mystery in that paper, that miracle in the oven.

This piece of flimsy paper in the oven just shrunk down to a charm for my necklace! It is now strong and unbreakable and something to cherish.

Recently I discovered that Shrinky Dink makes plain, pages of this magic material for creating your own designs—whatever you want! Gleefully, I purchased two sets excited to return to second grade splendor. Surely my kids would delight along with me. We eagerly followed directions and feverishly drew delicate designs ranging from Darth Vader to Wes Anderson characters.

We carefully followed instructions, step by step, to Shrinky Dink glory.

I watched my kids watch the transformation. As their designs contorted and writhed on the cookie sheet, I reassured them that the directions said this would happen. Confidently I told them not to worry. The pieces will right themselves, flatten back out and they would be pleased with the results.

Success and relief followed and they marched on merry ways. Once their interest waned, I continued experimenting with other ideas of my own. Watching oh-so-intently my last experiment began to curl over upon itself as none of the other designs had done. Though I’d read and re-read the directions, worry slipped in. I frantically looked over the directions again:

“Bake approximately 1 to 3 minutes. After piece lies flat, allow an additional 30 seconds of baking time to complete the process. Occasionally, a piece may stick to itself. If this happens, cautiously reach into your oven and pull pieces apart. Allow piece to complete the baking process.”

I was anxiously trying to determine if this was one of those “occasional” moments that required my intervention. I am notorious for burning myself. Going in to the oven was not ideal. I kept telling myself to trust the process as I could not take my eyes off of this curled up sheet.

Do I open the oven? If I try to pull it apart, do I do it bare-handed? Will I make it worse? Can I remove the whole tray to repair it and put it back? Will it just uncurl on its own? This doesn’t look right!

As I watched the timer on the oven nervously and felt it wasn’t going to recover I began to open the oven to intervene. I reached for the hot tray and could not determine if the piece was on the way to retracting and unfurling. I pulled out the tray and set it on the counter only to see that it was immediately beginning to harden in the greatly undesired position. So I put it back into the oven and quickly closed the door and let the Shrinky Dink do its shrinking. It finished without any more interruption and turned out lovely.

That 1 to 3 minutes felt like forever.

Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit nudges me at the oddest of (occasional?) moments. My white knuckle grip on the oven door while frantically deliberating the fate of my Shrinky Dink (and how desperately my oven needed cleaning) was one of those times.

It looked an awful lot like my messy life.

God has given me clear and explicit direction throughout His written word. I try to read it every day. I pray and ask God —at this stage of my life where even the simplest things sometimes are impossible to recall—to make the word of God the one thing I do recall. I pray that He would allow His Spirit to seal it within me, that I would know the truth. I read and re-read. I pray. I write.

Yet, somehow, when I am waiting and staring hard at my circumstances, I focus intently on the process over which I have no control. I panic. I wring my hands. My intervention must be necessary. I must get in there and fix this situation. Forget what the directions tell me to do. Ignore that it is a hot oven.

The process is frequently not pretty with contortions and changes that look like mistakes, failure even.

This is when I feel the gentle tug of His sweet Presence. “Be still.”

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” Psalm 37:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1

I think of Eugene Peterson and his explanation of what it means to wait on God, wait on God in prayer: “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts,” Like anything that requires discipline or denial, I am not very good at it. Here is where actually following the directions leads to real change, real success.

There are multiple circumstances in my life right now where I am so caught up in the details and micromanaging them. They are things I am praying about, saying that I am trusting God with and yet they just don’t look right! Surely it’s time for me to open the oven and start fixing things.

Perhaps I will get burned. I may even interrupt the process. I am beginning to find that when I loosen my grip just a bit and look again to the beautiful and mysterious Creator who’s at work, instead of the circumstances, I can trust His process. He is trustworthy. His directions infallible.

Where the untrained eye sees warped and twisted circumstance, the clarity of the Gospel lets me focus instead on finished work. The finished work is the part that astounds. We cannot comprehend the height and depth and breadth of His love—the mystery and majesty that take what is twisted and distorted and shapes it into something beautiful and glorious.

A cross that most certainly looks only like death and destruction and humiliation is somehow, someway nothing short of absolute beauty. Without this process, without this reshaping we do not have the depth and durability and finished work.

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the thorn isn’t leaving

I look for tidy answers to tiring days. Those long days, moments discouraging seem to run me down, even during what should be sabbath rest. It’s as if attacks are more prevalent when we’ve celebrated worship, rejoiced in The Victory. I can run down lists of all the ways the kids are awry and how I long for it to be made right. Running down the list though is more like running down the kids, pointing out flaws. The consequential sting spreads and aches and I swell hurt. I recognize myself. These short comings and failures are equally my own.

So I look for happy, quick-fix answers.

There is a verse for this somewhere, some devotional that tells me I am not a bad parent. They will “get it” and grow up and be kind and love others, even their own siblings. My own weaknesses overwhelm those thoughts and I recall 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul receiving the not necessarily quick-fix answer in the face of fleshy thorns, trials, hurts, longings for those he’s been striving to bring along in the faith.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (NKJV)

I have plenty of that last part to go around. So if it’s made perfect here, He’s made perfect in this weak fleshy moment of mine and my kids, where is it? When is it becoming perfection? How do I see it?

I know it is true and authentic and applicable today. I believe it is true. Is this the faith without sight? Because it doesn’t look like strength is abounding when a child says they are no longer sure they believe. It doesn’t feel like strength when tempers flare, egos swell, and no one “likes” each other anymore.

Perhaps this isn’t a simple solution I am offered. Maybe underneath that isn’t what I am really seeking, or more importantly really need. The need is to first acknowledge the need, for the need to fulfill the intended purpose and drive me to that intimate space, that quiet where I meet Strength. How else is anything made perfect? Flare prayer with instant results would not teach or train or accomplish heart mending at deepest levels for the long term. It would only be instant gratification and a moment fixed in a world overflowing with these things. And those are not the things that last.

I need to need Him, to long for Him, to ache for repair and the repair begins here when I meet Strength. I only begin to glimpse that as I go to my knees in these times, the times when I recognize I cannot do this. The shortcomings fall long and failures pound me down to the earth.

This is where I find Him.

We all want the simple, smooth answers. We request ________, He grants__________.

The simple. The slick.

I think relationships that only exist this way may not actually be relationships. Could this God who is relationship in and of Himself, possibly want more from and for His children? The gritty, zipper-stuck-push-and-pull of a true knowing, true relationship. He isn’t content to leave me slick and falsely satisfied. We aren’t moving on without the knowing that comes in the struggle, the gritty moments.

Consider those you truly love, truly know. Not the idols, the idealized versions of someone you think you want to know. Knowing comes with that rub, the rubbing off of the rough edges, the changing one another.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (ESV) Proverbs 27 tells us for a reason. That sharpening means we are having the dull, the useless parts filed away. It does not feel good. It does, however, accomplish His purpose.

God wants us here. This is where, this is when we know Him. When we know strength.

Here, bowed low, I find immediate relief and strength for the moment. When I recognize that this too is in a sovereign plan, I can breathe. When I remember  Strength was truly perfect the moment He went up on a cross, that moment when onlookers only saw weakness, I can know it isn’t all on me. I am not alone and there is a work in progress—in them, in me.

It is the Jacob wrestling the angel reality, the push and pull for souls in Sodom. It is Paul pleading repeatedly to have this thorn removed.

Paul receives that answer. This thorn is not leaving. This particular trial is necessary now for humility, for purpose accomplished. So Paul leads by example, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (ESV)

There is no other way to truly know Him, unless we know Him in the struggle. When we can wrestle and then declare His grace all sufficient. When bad is worse and He is still more than enough, it is only then that we do know.

When it doesn’t look like strength, when it doesn’t feel like strength, I have to let go of the perception and hold fast to the reality of God.

I hold fast to the God who knows me and is enough.

teach us to pray

Prayer is hard.

For years I have tried to teach it to my children while learning myself. From my oldest daughter asking me to pray for the boy that will bring her ring to my youngest son asking me to pray for his spots. (His sensitive skin has given us all kinds of fun fits.)

I pray as I put them to bed and find friction, fidget, and frazzled nerves interrupting. Though they seem to desire this time I have yet to discern whether it’s for my physical presence or God’s Presence. Many times I mentally sigh and behave as though I’m checking off a to-do list instead of treating it what it is—entering the court of creation’s King, standing in the throne room with my child alongside.

Currently my youngest fidgets much, not unlike me. I’ve found him with matchbox cars in hand, hiding under covers, even rising to look for another plaything before we’ve signed off. In moments of frustration, I scold and cajole and finish abruptly, not fully comprehending my need to be attentive is even greater than his. It is a need to be fully present, with my child, in His Presence.

I try to engage him to pray time and again; he tells me he can’t. “Mom, I don’t know how.” He has a list of required requests, for his “spots” and my mouth and back. My next youngest girl joins and comes alongside us frequently. She will eagerly pray, remembering every name, every request.

As months go by, I recognize a pattern in bedtime prayers. I think so much, trying to pray to teach him, them. I try sticking to formulas that involve thanksgiving, adoration, petition. I recall gratitude, not anxiety and Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We plow ahead.

We’ve developed a list of names and as my daughter takes her turn one night, I hear a speed and rhythm that makes me ache—sad, even. Her words are kind, heart sincere, but I can’t help thinking she’s begun to mimic my transactional, to-do-at-bedtime tone. I tell her we have time. There is no rush.

The failure seems to overwhelm the success. The lack looms large. Over and again I try to coax my little man to pray. Though he will on occasion contribute a line or two, he insists on my prayer, his requests. His skin. My back. Names of those in need. He is four and play overshadows prayer. Interruption supersedes intercession.

I thank God for him. He’s doing the best he can. I am 43 and no different.

For years I have looked to establish my own true prayer time. Rise early, interrupted by early morning bus riders. Rise earlier, fall asleep. This isn’t devotion! I’m embarrassed by the struggle.

As always, the Word of God reminds me I am not alone.

Jesus, while preparing for the imminent cross, is sorrowful, deeply troubled and He pleads with his men to pray for Him, with Him:

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” Matthew 26:40-46

In some ways I am all the more sad. The Savior pleads to no avail and then faces it all for us, all alone. And yet this is why He faces it, not us. The flesh is weak and we need flesh made strong.

Some days prayer comes after school aged kids have gone and youngest settles in for Spongebob. I sneak to my room and wrestle to avoid that to-do speed prayer of familiarity. I wrestle to avoid that weak, tired flesh. I want to listen. I want to speak out of His word to the Word. I can’t be doing this right. How does my mind get to groceries (matchbox cars) while in the throne room? Can’t I devote a single inch of me?

Daytime prayer means discovery, disruption by the little man looking for mom. I tell him I’m praying and he will bow his head for a few seconds and then make a request. Spots. Back. Back to play. Sweet, I think. I love that he at least tries.

Then I am floored as I consider, is it possible? That my God loves my effort, as feeble as this? He accepts fidgeting prayers? That He enjoys my fellowship. Lifted, encouraged, I wrestle on.

Nowadays my youngest has learned whatever the ache, physical or otherwise, just ask God. Walking home from picking up sister he says, “my body hurts.” He stops on the side of the road, closes eyes, awaits prayer. I love that he looks to prayer, even if he isn’t willing to do the praying. I think this must be a small victory, even if I almost don’t ask anymore if he would like to pray.

This night, as we undertake the routine, he preempts me.

“Mom, I want to pray.”

I am thrilled, excited to finally be privy to his prayer, in his own words. I worry and then decide I will encourage no matter the outcome, the structure, the pace, the list of requests. He looks to me nervous, unsure. I reassure.

I am humbled as he prays.

Thank you God for my spots.
Thank you God for my mom’s mouth and back.
Thank you for Dad, Macy, Emma, Seth, Noah.
Thank you for sending Jesus to rescue us.
Amen.