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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Christmas has come

The wee hours of Christmas morning, maybe even still Christmas Eve, I recall heart racing as I huddled under the covers with dad’s digital green glow watch. Not able to necessarily “tell time,” I stared and waited for the numbers 5-0-0 to come across the face for that is when I was instructed to return to my parents’ room. This seemed an eternity staring hard at the glowing face, anticipation building. It wasn’t long in reality, in the larger context of tired parents who’d been up late to assemble, to set up, to lay out.

They (I would later understand) were equally excited about what was to come and their plans were delightful but because they were the parents, they knew the appropriate timing. They knew what should be—for their sakes and mine. Even on the simplest of levels, fatigue and health, they had my best at heart. I had no realistic sense of this, only the promise of what was to come and my own unbridled excitement and limited knowledge that it would.

Over and over again God teaches through my children and He uses my own childhood and perspective gained as a parent now looking back. I fully recognize now their cooperation, their giving, their kindness and gentleness in the face of my impudent longing.

Our great God has held fast by His own gentleness and encouragement in long, dark hours.

Abraham comes to my mind. The promise—the calling of what anyone of stature and prominence would have during that time and place—to have a family name that stretches boundlessly throughout generations. To have the stigma of barrenness eliminated, erased. The promise fulfilled would do just that, but the timing must be right. He endured for more than 25 years just to receive Isaac. For Sarah and Abraham to watch month to month while evidence of pregnancy evaporates—dirt and heat and filthy rags reminding the waiting weary. Hopeful hearts diminish to the point of “helping God.” It must be time they demanded—their own timeline pulling a handmaiden into the plot. It’s like any of us fumbling in the dark, all the way to our parents bedroom, insisting in the dead of the night that morning is here!

Hard consequences chase foolish decisions in moments of second-guessing faithfulness. Just ask Eve.

I think of John the Baptist who knew that he knew from inside the womb. Ready, proclaiming, unworthy to unloose sandal straps. He speaks truth. He knows that Christmas is coming. He’s seen Him with his own eyes, but locked away on the whim of a guilty leader he awaits the morning. He doubts his own assurance in dark hours, sending word by disciples to Jesus: Are you the one to come or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11) He waited, expecting, believing and found all confirmed the moment a drunken Herod succumbed to take his life. Our God is faithful to the end, in the darkest of moments—never asking more than what He himself fully gave.

Today we look hard at the time, the times anticipating all the promises, all the good we know to come. Our own longings and long hours weigh heavy on heart and mind. Wasn’t it more than this we were promised? He has plans for good, we know.

A groaning world groans louder, longer. The ache of the broken, the lost, the angry thunders loud all around. Rumors of wickedness flourish, and worse the rumors are true. “As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:10)

The world asks the taunting question while we turn again to Christmas, and a baby.

Mary’s excitement over an angel’s pronouncement must have faded some as whispers around from family and friends suspected the worst. Joseph surely fumbled with words and felt face warm with shame when he stared hard at the love of his life and tried to take in the prospect she could be pregnant without him, without any man. Surely this is not the way God intended.

Yet once again He sent word of encouragement, of assurance. Angels appeared. Cousins cried out. A baby lept for joy. Shepherds witnessed in amazement and went searching for themselves. The wise from afar recognized the signs and followed to logical resolution—the King has come.

The singular Word of all—of encouragement, of rescue, of promise fulfilled—was made flesh. Because He was, because He is, we can hold fast in the dark. We can stare hard at the light of His promise under the cover of a dark place and know the promise is true. Every longing will be filled to overflowing. Real rescue is palpable and Christmas has come. This day. Every day.

love letters

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  1 Peter 1:8-9

When I was in college, I fell in love.

The man I would eventually marry was a student at the University of Connecticut. I was a student at Texas A&M. The semesters we spent apart seemed long because the love of my life was 1,786 miles away.

No one was emailing, much less text messaging. There were phone calls, but they were expensive, 15 cents a minute is a lot for poor college kids. What we had instead were actual love letters. These letters on a page spelled out words that relayed a story of love—literal love letters. He took the time to consider me, my feelings, to relay his own. He let me know his plans and his thoughts about the future, our future.

Checking my university mail box was an essential part of my day. It informed how my day went. If it was a letter day, if I heard that I was loved and thought of and cared for, things were oh-so -good.

If it was not a letter day, I would survive but I would also wonder if he had thought of me that day. I wonder how much he cares, if it meant anything that he’d skipped a day on letters. The distance hurt more when our communication lagged.

We had letters. We had plans. Now we’ve had 22 years of marriage, five kids, 12 homes. We now can look one another in the face and speak the words we want to say and when we are apart there is texting and emailing and cheaper phone calls. Our relationship is more than enhanced by our communication. It is dependent upon it. Our words to one another keep our relationship alive. The events of my life are not fully lived until they have been shared with my husband. They seem fictional until he knows about it. The reality of making choices, moving ahead only happens when he has spoken and responded.

I am thankful to have this kind of relationship. As deep as it is, it is only a distant second to the life-sustaining relationship with the God of creation. He has spoken to me, before that, he spoke me into existence. And His word, written and alive, is the one that holds me together.

The incomprehensible, life-giving word of God, the word that has the power to bring the dead back to life cannot be contained. As a writer, the very idea of attempting to capture it—in words no less—is daunting, an impossible task. There is no capturing, no taming of this power, this power that holds all of creation together.

Hebrews 1 makes the power clear:

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,  having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”

He upholds the world and all of life by the word of His power. My existence is at His mercy, is only possible because of His word. Consequently the only thing I can do is work within this realm where He has made me, designed me, and given me the words I write to attempt to honor that same Word of life that gives me my own.

God’s greatness is unsearchable in a world where everything is searchable.

Because God is God, when He speaks there is a physical response. Creation has no option but to respond when the Creator is speaking to it. The Word is life. The Word sustains life. The Word came to restore life.

God spoke, we were created. God speaks, we are redeemed. God’s Word alive is a person, the Person. John 1 tells us plainly:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

It is no coincidence that John chooses to call Jesus the Word of God. These letters arranged spell out words that reveal the Word, the living Word whose name is Love. Just as Jesus is our life, our resurrection, the written word of God is our life, our directive. It is our direct connection to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

It is our love letter.

The days I wrestle and thrash and doubt the most are likely ones when I have not checked that mailbox, looked inside to find He wrote to me. I survive, but I miss what He has written to me. Doubts are allayed. He reveals His thoughts, His desires, His plans for my future—our future together.

It is relevant in this very moment. Hebrews 4:12-13 “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

On its face, these verses have always struck a certain fear within me. This does not sound like a love letter I think. A piercing sword sounds painful. Naked and exposed are not things I’d like to be. I have heard these verses so many times in so many ways. Yet, I look again.

They are talking about, describing the written word of God. And then there are pronouns for the word of God: His, Him. This written word of God is alive, but how can that be? When God speaks, there is a response in creation. It must be this way. God’s written word is no less powerful. Jesus is the Word of God. Here we find Him. In this verse, on this page, on every page. If we will just look.

He is our love letter.

These verses though, still sound scary. Because of this living Word we do not have to fear. We will survive the piercing of the sword because He was pierced. We can be laid bare before Him because He was naked and exposed for us. This Word discerns our thoughts and intents because He made us, He knows us.

We still feel the sting of separation, the fear of exposure. As exiles waiting to be rescued, we look for encouragement.

So we keep reading.

“Since them we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

There is the encouragement for the moment, the promise for our future together. He has gone ahead. He has made a way.

Though we feel far and long for that face-to-face relationship, we can hold fast to this love letter.

Our lives are made real when we speak with, commune with the Word of God. We gain life, real relationship when we let the Word of God speak His truth and graciously encourage and change us.

We find a life-altering, eternal relationship with the Word of God, in the word of God.

1 Peter 1:23-25. “Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God for All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”