13. Apples, Walnuts, and Pears: Bounty and Scarcity

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

My grandfather built the cottage in the nineteen thirties; my great aunt and uncle later lived here and sold apples from the front yard. When the contractor husband’s parents, Joe and Clara, bought the orchard from my grandfather, Joe took classes in orcharding, pruning, and spraying from Penn State. They ran it for several years, but eventually they divided the property into three parcels and sold the orchard acreage. It’s been sold twice since then, and the fruit trees that remain are broken down and unproductive. We wanted to make sure Apple Hill Road lived up to its name, so that first spring after we acquired Apple Hill Cottage, we planted a few fruit trees.  

Joe named the road and made the sign, and now it is even listed on Google Maps…

For a time the old orchard property (which still has a greenhouse and a barn) was being rented by a local couple who were trying to make a go of a small nursery. So we drove the tractor over one sunny May morning and purchased two apple trees — a Honey Crisp and an Ida Red — and two pear trees — a Bartlett and a Luscious. Each year we’ve tried to plant at least two more fruit trees or berry bushes: we now have sixteen fruit trees, a dozen berry bushes, two grape vines, and an English walnut tree–all in varying degrees of fruitfulness.

The walnut tree was a total surprise. One bright October afternoon the contractor husband came into the house holding six or seven brown English walnuts — the kind you buy in the stores at Christmas time. “Look what I found in the yard,” he said. “There’s a lot of them.”

I followed him back out to the edge of the yard and we gazed up into the leaves to see hundreds of green husks just beginning to open. When the husks open, the brown shelled walnuts fall onto the ground, the road, the neighbor’s driveway…Within two weeks we had racks and racks of walnuts drying all over the house. The walnut tree is either feast or famine: we had two years of bumper crops; then two years of none. Two years ago we counted as we harvested: 993 walnuts, give or take 20. (It’s hard to remember your count when you are bending and stretching and picking up nuts from the ground…) Maple glazed walnuts in a Mason jar make lovely Christmas gifts. But last year there were none. (That was easy to count.) Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The apple trees we planted five years ago are just now getting to the age where they will produce apples regularly. So far the only good producing trees are the two bent, aged trees that were here long ago, leftovers from the old orchard. We’ve pruned them back hard, but they won’t last much longer. The young trees have had a few apples here and there, but they are mostly what my grandfather used to call “little bits a nothin’.” The trees were set back several summers ago by a devastating plague of seventeen year locusts.

Periodical cicadas to be specific; and they decimated the young fruit trees we had nurtured. At the time it seemed to us a plague of biblical proportions, but all the trees survived, though not without damages. Then there was their recovery summer, and we were hoping last summer would be the year of the apples, but instead we had a week of 20 degree temperatures in May–and two days of snow–after all the trees had blossomed. The only fruit we had were a couple of quarts of blueberries. There are so many factors that can intervene to ruin apple crops: early blossoming, pollination failure, late frosts, too much rain, not enough rain, insects, deer… Even when there are apples on the tree, they can be lost or ruined by June drop, scab, insects, and various blights. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.

The two pear trees were much taller than the two apple trees we planted at the same time, so it’s likely they were a year or so older. Four summers ago we had our first real crop of pears. The Luscious tree yielded a bushel of large picture-perfect pears that we saved for eating fresh and giving away. The Bartlett tree yielded a bushel of many small pears that I canned and made into pear butter. In September, we were overrun with pears; by December the fresh ones were gone and we were left with canned ginger pears in the cupboard. Oh, they are good, but there is nothing like a juicy fresh pear. But since then? We had a summer of locusts, a summer in which only one tree produced, and the summer of frosts. Bounty and scarcity, plenty and want.


Bounty and scarcity. Plenty and want. The seasons of our lives are marked by these contradictions. At any time the loss of a job, a spouse, or health, can change our financial realities from prosperity to poverty. Here in 2020, this time of Covid-19, it’s become very obvious how prosperity can turn into poverty in just several short months. How do we live successfully through lean times? If and when good times return, can we live in compassion and generosity by remembering our own past troubles?

Paul writes of this in Philippians 4:11-12 when he says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

I want that. I want his secret of being content in any and every situation. I don’t want to want fresh pears in February. I have delicious canned pears in my cupboard; why isn’t that good enough for me? During a lean month (a contractor’s life consists of always trying to maintain the right balance between lean months and months of plenty) I don’t want to worry about bills. Don’t we all want that peace of being content in every situation? What is Paul’s secret? — he tells us in verse 13 — “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” 

Put your needs, your wants, your discontents, in God’s hands, not the world’s hands. Don’t look at those fresh pears from Australia or South America in the grocery store. Prayerfully think instead, “I don’t need those; I have a cupboard full of pears; I am blessed. Thank you God for those canned pears.”

It isn’t easy, here in the land of plenty, where companies and advertisers make their living on making us want their stuff so much that we think we need it. Can’t live without it — or maybe we know we could live without it, but we can’t live well without it.

How do we balance the world’s idea of living well with God’s truth of how to live well? Because the world’s truth and God’s truth are polar opposites, just as plenty and want are polar opposites, and we need to learn how to do this balancing act if we are to live out our faith.

I am no mathematician, but here is my vision of that balancing act. Draw a circle and a point on the boundary of the circle. An antipodal point on a circle is directly opposite another point on that circle. Label one point Plenty; label the other point Want. Between those two points can be drawn the true diameter. Truth. God. Draw a little triangle below that line in the middle of that circle that represents the balancing that God requires of us. It also represents the center of our lives, where God needs to be. (The triangle is a nice metaphor for the Trinity—God, Spirit, Son—don’t you think?

The worry about unpaid bills, or your job, or your relationship, or (fill in the blank here) is not to be in the center of the circle. Banish it to the outside point on the circle of your life and make God the center. The treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) And Matthew gives us another verse later on that lets us know what will happen when our heart is in the center with God: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 12:28-30) Jesus tells us that when He is the center, we can rest in Him. Rest from the world’s worries. Rest from your anxieties. Rest from the fear of scarcity.

The story from Luke, Chapter 21 about the widow’s offering helps to remind me of a good way to actually live out banishing the fear of scarcity to the outer point of the circle, and how to keep Jesus in the center. After watching a poor widow put two copper coins in the offering plate, Jesus says, “‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 21:3-4) Remembering this story encourages me to give extra when I am feeling poor, because I have never given all I had to live on. Even when we are feeling that there isn’t money to put in the offering plate on Sunday, remember this story and do it anyway. Can I just tell you?  So far, the bills have always gotten paid.

There’s one more practical way to help combat those worries when times are lean: remembering your blessings. It’s hard to worry about an empty cup, when you are recounting remembrances of that same cup running over. Counting your blessings, as the song says, is the way to see what the Lord has done. 


For further study, read Philippians 4.

Questions for reflection:

  • Recount a time (or times) when you felt poverty or want. Did you feel worldly anxiety or God’s peace?  Now remember a time when you were poor and God provided. Thank God for His provision and blessings for your life. Be specific.
  • How can you live more generously? Be specific here, too.
  • There’s a quote from Matthew Henry that goes something like this: “It is not poverty that makes one unhappy, it is discontent.” And contentment can be found anywhere, any time through Jesus. It strikes me that sometimes discontent can be monetary, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Discontent can come from a scarcity of ___________. Fill in the blank. How do you center yourself on Jesus in times of discontent?
  • Paul gives us plenty of concrete ideas on how to rejoice always in Philippians 4:4-9. List some of them.
  • Just a week or so ago, when I was getting this post together, Psalm 37 was part of my reading. I was blessed (again) by two prayers in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus. I have combined them for us here:

“Lord, how easy it is to put faith in power and money. If I know the right people and have plenty in the bank, I’m secure–an illusion! Through the cross my great debt has been paid, and through the Resurrection my future wealth is assured. Let me rest in that daily. Lord, it is difficult for me to trust in your provision for me enough to be radically generous with my money. But if Jesus had been as grudging with his life and blood as I am with my money, then where would I be? Make me a joyful giver. Amen.” (pages 74-75)

12. The Table’s Tale: Refinishing and Renewal

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

February, 2014

I think I might have been the first furniture piece they purchased for the cottage. I was reduced to being sold for $35 at the Habitat for Humanity Thrift Store. It was absolutely humiliating, but they were very delighted. She wrote about it on her blog and called it a great deal. I shudder to think of it.

I admit I was no beauty anymore; I was a bit down and out, but I had solid black iron underneath, and at one time I was imposing. (Imported from Europe, but I don’t like to brag.) Plus, I lived large. Many people could squeeze around me, say grace, shout about the mashed potatoes, spill gravy, slosh coffee, and just, well, eat, drink and be merry. I was a table that said Home.

I heard her say that she was just going to paint me and let me be a shabby chic table;  I don’t know what that means, but I am no Shabby Chick. I put all my hopes on the man; I could see he was a carpenter — all those tools! He could appreciate nice looking wood, even if I was just a fancy veneer over plain pine.  Everyone has a veneer, right? And my heart and covering were both good solid woods. (And I do have great, curvy legs, if I do say so myself…) When the man got out his sander I was a bit nervous, but he was easy on me and I came out looking smooth and polished — a bit pale maybe, but definitely not shabby. Suddenly I was feeling rather Pottery Barn-ish.

I tell you I was thinking, Yes! Now I’m home and there will be real meals again! And then I was covered up in layers of plastic tablecloths, sheets, and tarps, and it was back to being a grunt work table for two more years. Even though They Said they were going to fix me up, I was beginning to lose hope.

Then one fine day, she uncovered me, moved me around, and started with the sandpaper on my legs… I wasn’t sure what to think about that pot of green paint she had with her. I thought that whole paint issue had been settled. I made her bump her head a few times before I decided I rather liked that silky green paint on my legs…

But still they hadn’t done anything to keep those gravy stains from permanently damaging my new complexion. When they finally moved me in place, I tried my best to look like I needed a vacation to the islands or somewhere sunny. Alas, all they did was give me a fake tan. But that oil they rubbed on my skin did warm me up, and three coats belonging to Polly somebody have just brought out my inner glow.

At least they have fixed up the walls I’m sitting beside. Talk about shabby? Oh, my! And those little lights above me are very sweet — they can be dim or bright depending on their mood, but we all have our little quirks, don’t you think? I think we’ll get along fabulously.

Am I not beautiful?

What concerns me now is the chairs she might surround me with… I don’t want to tangle legs with mismatched Duncan Phyfes or lazy benches or painted-up shabby chicks. And no bistro chairs, please. What is a redeemed table to do but worry about the company she keeps? I think several upright parson’s chairs would do quite nicely, thank you.

“Eh,” she says, “you’re getting a bit uppity don’t you think? I don’t need La Table telling me what to do!”

But may I quote Better Homes and Gardens here? The dining table is “a substantial piece of furniture that sets the tone for the entire room…”⁠1

“Ahem!” she says. “I saw another table just like you today at Construction Junction for $45, so don’t go upscale on me!”

Forty-five dollars? Bring on those shabby chick chairs…


Down and Out, Longing for Renewal

Let’s leave the table in the dining room for a few minutes and think about our own renewal. God promised us—many many times in scripture—a refinishing, a renovation, a restoration of our souls when we trust in Him. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Remember when you longed to become new? When you finally admitted to yourself that you were a bit down and out, faded maybe, even though you had once been imposing. Or perhaps you actually fell apart? God does that to us—makes us realize that we can’t do it on our own. Sometimes He really humiliates us before we figure that out; or sometimes instead of humiliation, He allows suffering. But whatever it was— however God brought you to Him—don’t allow yourself to forget it. Because more than anything, God wants us to use that same weakness to bring others to Him. He never makes us go through pain, depression, illness, divorce, addiction… for no reason.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  (James 1:2-4)

A Thin Veneer or Solid Wood?

Think of the others who might benefit from the wisdom that you learned back then, while you were going through your own fiery trial, and don’t waste it. God doesn’t want followers who have a veneer of Christianity; He wants rock solid followers who aren’t afraid to get dirty, aren’t afraid to scratch that veneer of superficiality, aren’t afraid to admit their own past failings and fears, sins and shortcomings. 

Just look at the disciples as examples. Jesus named Peter the rock, when he was anything but a rock. Peter had moments of brilliance, yes, but then plummeted to the depths of desertion and renunciation before Jesus forgave him and made him the leader and feeder of His sheep.

Thomas spoke amazing words of faithfulness when he said to the other disciples, “Let us go with Him, that we might die with Him,” (John 11:16) yet he also professed confusion and doubt on other occasions, when he said out loud that they didn’t know where Jesus was going, so how could they follow Him  (John 14:5); and of course, the phrase which gave him the nickname Doubting Thomas — “…unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

And Paul? He tormented Christians until Christ blinded him on the road to Damascus and then allowed him to see with new eyes. It was a regeneration of gargantuan proportions: the former persecutor becomes the greatest evangelist of all time. But none of that rock solid faithfulness of the apostles happened overnight. It took years. Why should we be different?

Losing Hope in the Wait 

No matter where we are in the stages of refinishing a piece of furniture, a table, for instance, there will always be times of inactivity or waiting. Perhaps we are waiting for the finish to dry, or perhaps we get sidetracked by the little details of another project— that table sat unfinished for almost two years before we were ready—and she herself said she was beginning to lose hope. But to be rebuilt, reconstructed, or renovated, takes time and patience. It is not for the faint of heart:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-17)

Read that last verse again and consider what that renewal is bringing us—a home grander than any worldly mansion, a hope beyond all earthly hopes, an eternal glory that far outweighs anything we can comprehend. Can we wait for that?

Protection from those Gravy Stains

In the midst of the restoration work on the table, there came a time, when she was laid bare: sanded down to raw wood—exposed and vulnerable to all sorts of stains and spots from those who surrounded her. Yes, that table needed three coats of spar varnish for protection.

We’ve all felt that need for special care—to have our hearts wrapped “…in a blue cloud-cloth away from the too-rough fingers of the world.”⁠2  When we are defenseless we need only take up God’s Book, which will arm us with power. When we need protection, we must repeat over and over to ourselves the verses that affirm God’s care and protection over us. He himself tells us to “put on the full armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:10-18) There is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, but perhaps most important of all, is “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  (Ephesians 6:18)

Just today in the sermon, the pastor reminded us that it is difficult to avail ourselves of God’s protection if we do not immerse ourselves in His word. He wrote, “I am at times brought into situations where folks are facing great difficulties and I want to encourage them to pray, but that is most difficult because they have not had the years of training in God’s Word.”⁠3

Find your favorite verses about trusting in God’s protection. Memorize them. Some of those verses  are amazingly easy to remember: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

I have two favorites:

 

Just imagine the Holy God of the world redeeming you, knowing you by name, protecting you from flood and fire, and watching over your coming and going now and forever. Three coats of spar varnish, indeed.

The Company We Keep

Yet despite her own sins and her vulnerabilities, despite her renovation and redemption, what does the table worry about? The morality of the chairs with whom she will associate. My dining room table has become a Pharisee!

And yet, it is a battle fought by all the redeemed of God. We must forever forget the sins we have been forgiven from; scripture says they are wiped clean, (“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” — Galatians 2:20) but at the same time we must never forget them or the magnitude of them, or we run the risk of forgetting the amazing grace and mercy of Christ who died to save us from those very sins. We are no better than anyone else; we have no right to moralize or condemn, but only to love with Christ’s love that now lives inside us. 

And if it is within God’s power and mercy to redeem you and me, then He can cause your neighbor, your loved one, your church, your town, the world to explode in reawakening, renewal, restoration, revival. To paraphrase Matthew 19:26, all things are possible with God.


For further study, read Colossians 3

Questions for thought:

  • One of my primary struggles is putting to death what is earthly in me. There are several ways–awareness, prayer, self-discipline–but we can also think of putting on the protections of God–His armor, perhaps? Thoughts?
  • The first part of Colossians 3 tells us what are the earthly sins, and there is quite a long list. A couple of weeks ago we talked about the (ancient) seven deadly sins, but more recently Jerry Bridges wrote the book called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. These are the sins like pride, jealousy, unthankfulness, judgmentalism, discontent, selfishness, envy, gossip… that we tolerate in ourselves (while criticizing others for their big sins!). How can we strike a balance on desiring personal holiness and being convicted of our sins, yet not dwelling on them?
  • The beat-up old table struggled with several things; they are printed in bold in the essay above. Is there one that resonates with you and where you are in your Christian journey right now?
  • That’s why I love the second half of Colossians 3–in answer to the negative sins in the first part, Paul tells us how to live as a new creation in Christ. Which one of these positives resonates with you?
  • As an exercise, look up all the verses you can find about being cleansed from sin — wipe clean, slate wiped clean, cleanse me from sin — and thank Him for the renewal that is yours, through Jesus. 

1 “Ultimate Guide to Dining Room Tables,” in Better Homes & Gardens online. http://www.bhg.com/rooms/dining-room/furniture/ultimate-guide-to-dining-tables/

2 “The Dreamkeeper” by Langston Hughes in The Dreamkeeper and Other Poems, New York, Knopf, 1984.

⁠3sermon by John Dorean.

10. Paint It White: The Covering of our Sins Has Been Accomplished

FOR EVERY HOUSE IS BUILT BY SOMEONE, BUT THE BUILDER OF ALL THINGS IS GOD. — HEBREWS 3:4

Has anyone noticed pictures of mudrooms lately? They are white with clean shelving, unmuddied boots, and a few jackets hanging neatly on pegs. So unlike what a true mudroom in a country house looks like. I wasted many hours looking at photographs of mudrooms. Mudrooms in magazines. Mudrooms in real houses. Mudrooms in Decorator houses. (I’ve lived in thirteen different houses in my life, and I had never lived in one with a mudroom.) But one thing was clear from the beginning—I didn’t want the mudroom to be white.

We collected things in a hodge-podge fashion: terracotta tiles for the floor and a new entry door from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore; small French doors to open into the kitchen from Construction Junction; a wood stove for the corner that was in the basement of the city house. I repurposed the top part to an old desk and painted it green to coordinate with the kitchen, and it is now a combined shelving unit and coat rack for one wall. We have done this mudroom one wall at a time, at about the speed of one wall per year. Including the floor. Including the ceiling. What was once the three-year plan turned into five years. But now that it is finished, yes, the walls and the ceiling are painted a creamy white–just like the other rooms in the cottage—and just like the white mudrooms that I originally rejected. 

Have you wondered about this white trend of living? Kitchens are white, bathrooms are white, living rooms are white, mudrooms are white. I’m guilty. All the walls in the cottage (except for a couple of accent walls) are creamy white. It just speaks to me of how we try to whitewash everything for the world—from the concrete nouns of our houses, cars, and things, to the common every day sins of our lives…

The contractor husband was my first boyfriend. In 4th grade I was invited to his 10th birthday party, except he failed to inform me it was a birthday party. (The first of many miscommunications…) I thought we were just going roller skating. I was fearful because I’d never roller skated before, but I went because I liked him! Rita, his sweetheart of an older sister, took care of me that afternoon and taught me to roller skate—held my hand as we went round and round, helped me up when I fell, and encouraged me the whole time. Then we went back to his house and the kids put their birthday presents at his feet! I was mortified that I didn’t have one for him. I must have cried because his mom, Clara, put money in an envelope and gave it to him and signed my name. Their whole family took care of me that afternoon! Six years later we were boyfriend and girlfriend again—for two plus years in high school. We broke up in college, married others, had children, lived our lives, and saw each other once every five years or so at high school reunions. Thirty years later, we met again…and now are happily married, redoing a cottage, and painting it white. 

A happy ending, yes, but there was divorce and sorrow in between. No matter, we like to paint our pictures with the happy endings, the fun trappngs, and sweep the other stuff under the rug. There are no unhappy photos on Facebook. Got an ex-husband? Block him. Don’t like what someone says? Defriend them. Our public lives are white; what color are our private lives?

Here is an unpopular truth that we all must hear and know: All suffering is caused by sin. Please note what I did not say: I did not say that God sends suffering. But He allows it, doesn’t He? And I also did not say that your suffering is a direct result of your sin. It certainly could be; but it could also be the direct result of someone else’s sin, and for some reason, perhaps a reason that you will never know, God is allowing it to affect you. And you can block God, or defriend Him for awhile, but can I just tell you from experience? It doesn’t work well for the long term.

Here in the twenty-first century western world, we don’t talk about sin very often. It’s pretty much out-of-fashion. While reading Yours Jack, by C.S. Lewis the other night, I came across Lewis’s writing on the seven deadly sins:

 “I was thinking of the old classification of the seven deadly sins: They are Gula (Gluttony), Luxuria (Unchastity), Accidia (Indolence), Ira (Anger), Superbia (Pride), Invidia (Envy), Avaritia (Avarice). Accidia, which is sometimes called Tristitia (despondence) is the kind of indolence which comes from indifference to the good…⁠1

That letter was written in 1930. Today, ninety some years later, many of these deadly sins are just a regular part of modern life. Gluttony is now called being a Foodie. In most circles one would be laughed (or scorned) out of the circle if one referred to their sexual proclivities as sin. Indolence is simply depression or despondence, which Janet Porter called the “new trendy illness” in a 2010 article in the Daily Mail.⁠2 Envy is capitalized upon by every television advertisement and just considered part of life. Avarice or greed is covered over by calling it financial planning or retirement strategies. Pride is simply caring for yourself, isn’t it? Being yourself, doing right by yourself, having confidence in yourself, taking selfies of your self, self, self. The only one of the seven that still gets a bad rap is anger, and these days even anger seems to be prevalent and OK. Just start reading comments on social media posts….

The main drawback to denying the sin in our lives is that in order to need a savior, we must acknowledge our neediness. If we are doing fine, we won’t need Jesus; it’s hard to repent when there is no problem. We have painted everything white. From kitchen cabinets, to mudrooms, to bedroom carpets, we have whitewashed our sins by incorporating them into regular life and making them normal behavior. And we are all fine, thank you very much.

In that same letter, Lewis speaks of besetting sin. What he means is that each one of us has a tendency toward one of those seven sins—our main character flaw. I can’t speak for you, but at different times in my life, each one of them has been a besetting sin. Yes, I own them. Many, many sins. But God is gracious and merciful to all us sinners who ask for His mercy. My bible is full of verses meant for us sinners to hear: 

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” — Hebrews 8:12

“There is no one righteous, not one….” — Romans 3:10

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” — Romans 3:23

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the worst.” — 1 Timothy 1:15

“…He will never leave you, nor forsake you.” — Deuteronomy 31:6

“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” — Romans 4:7

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” — Romans 8:1

There is no need for us to whitewash our lives, our mistakes, our sins—for Christ has already done it for us. His white paint, or bleach, was His own red blood. I’ve often mused on the words, cleansed by His blood. Those two words are such a stark contrast —cleansed and blood. I think the juxtaposition of those words is meant to be strikingly severe, so that we will never take the sacrifice of Jesus, of God, lightly. Blood covering us? No, it’s not so appealing, especially someone else’s blood; it only works if it represents something so amazing, so glorious, that we can hardly comprehend it—only then would we ever submit to such a crackpot idea.

That’s part of the gospel’s magnificence—it is so shocking, so unbelievable. Really, if someone wanted to make up a religion, who would ever have come up with such a preposterous, miraculous, staggering scheme? Only God. The apostle Paul tells us this in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.

And again in a later chapter, he writes in 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…

Yes, by the world’s standards blood cannot cleanse; happiness is all important, so do what feels good; if you are suffering, it must be someone else’s fault; and listening to (or believing) some ancient prophet and His followers’ writings is indeed, foolishness.

But in a sermon two weeks ago, I was reminded of some other words of C.S. Lewis: liar, lunatic, or Lord. He is one of the three, and we have to choose—no whitewashing, or wishy-washing. Jesus Christ is either what He claims—the son of God who comes to take away the sins of the world, or He is crazy and deserved to die on that cross, or He is lying about being the Lord of the Universe, and at the very least deserves the ignominy that He is receiving in the world today. Here is the official quote from Lewis:

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”⁠3

I’m writing this on the Saturday that is sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter, so the Cross of Jesus Christ is definitely on my mind. Last week in church we sang “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart…⁠4 It is a beautiful worship song and it reminds me of one of my favorite verses in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

And I picture that hand of Christ outstretched on the cross, that wounded hand dripping blood, forming my name on His palm. I have fallen at His feet and called Him My Lord and My God. And His blood is allowing me, a sinner, to come before God. Cleansed by His blood, indeed.


For further study, read Romans 8.

Questions for thought:

  • Picture Jesus on the cross, His arms stretched wide, saying “I love you this much.” Write a love letter to Jesus.
  • Lesslie Newbegin talked about bending the majesty of Christ into our own likenesses rather than making His greatness the focus of our lives. How do you see that happening in the church? In your own life?
  • Romans 8 is filled with familiar cherished verses that are worthy of memorizing. Which is your favorite and why?
  • Verse 26 says the Spirit intercedes for us, and verse 34 says the Christ also intercedes for us. So not only did Christ die on the cross for us then, but He is still interceding for us now–to allow us to come before God. This realization should surely make us “more than conquerors”. Is your God too small?
  • Name your favorite hymn or praise song that sings the gospel story of Christ so much it brings you to tears almost every time…

1 Lewis. C.S. Yours Jack, p. 11.

2 Porter, Janet Street. accessed at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1278510/Depression-Its-just-new-trendy-illness.html

3 Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan, Rev. ed., 1960, c1952, p. 41.

4 Cook, Vikki and Charitie Lees Bancroft. “Before the Throne of God Above.” Published by Sovereign Grace Worship.

9. Demolishing the Strongholds: Don’t Neglect God’s Word

for every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

November, 2013

Before we acquired the cottage, it sat empty for several years; before that, my mother-in-law had lived here alone as a widow and had difficulty maintaining it. Critters moved in. It’s the country after all, and raccoons used the cat door, mice lived in the cabinets, and hornets made nests in the closets.

So we strapped on our armor this past week: safety glasses, breathing masks, and gloves. We were doing battle against the creatures who have lived and died in our walls. For this particular project the question was, What is dead in the walls of your house?

It’s never pretty, and it isn’t picture-worthy. No one wants to see pictures of mummified mice, decaying nests, dead ladybugs, shriveled hickory nut shells, scat, and spiders. Throw in dirty insulation, rusty nails, and forty-year old newspapers that have been stapled to the walls, and dust, lots and lots of plaster dust…

Lesson learned: If you neglect your house, unwanted creatures will move in to dwell with you.

Reading your Bible every day will fortify you with God’s word. It will keep those unwanted creatures from moving in. Remember the story of the man who swept his house clean and put it in order? The spirit then goes to find seven other spirits more wicked than itself, they all move in, and the final condition of the man is worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26) This will not happen if you are immersed daily in God’s word.


I have tried to stop dithering about what is to be done next and just go with what is. Everything we do to this old cottage is an improvement, so does it matter if one project (the kitchen) isn’t quite finished before we start the next? Or, more accurately, does it matter how many rooms are torn up in the effort to finish them all? We currently have gutted (and not finished) the mudroom, the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. There are messes everywhere: plaster dust, tools, tarps. Not only does the armor get uncomfortable fast–(safety glasses fog up, hands sweat in gloves, it’s hard to breathe through those masks) –but there is nowhere to go in the house that is a respite from the messes. Sometimes it seems as though we will never get finished.

Lesson learned: Demolish the strongholds of ugly stuff today; the longer you wait, the bigger the job. 

In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul is defending his ministry to the Corinthians. He tells them that he has divine powers to fight the ways of the world and demolish its strongholds. And what is that divine power? Is it something only the apostles had access to? He says in verse 5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. We all have access to this divine power Paul speaks of — it is God’s word, prayer, faith and the Spirit inside us. We get to know God by reading his Word. Listening to it. Studying it. Taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ, the living Word.


We thought we would be doing this cottage one room at a time. It’s easier to manage that way; it’s easier to think about one room at a time. But the inter-connectedness of the wiring, walls, roofline, ceilings–all makes that impossible to do. And I’m trying to be okay with that.

There are holes in the mudroom walls that go into the living room. An air conditioner was once there; a log box for storage and easy access for fireplace logs was once there too. Now they are just gaping holes that have to be repaired. Wiring is another issue. The wiring in the living room is just hodge-podged up there and has to be replaced. The electric panel is in the mudroom, and right now, with those holes between the two rooms, it is a perfect time to rewire the living room too.

When we bought the window for the mudroom a few weeks ago, we also ordered a new series of windows for the living room. (Can’t pass up a sale on Anderson windows!) In order to take out the large window in the living room to replace it, we had to take off the current trim and a bit of the old paneling. Once we had some of the paneling off, there was a terrible stench. We have had bad smells at this place pretty often; we have torn up carpet, peeled off wallpaper, and scrubbed walls to get rid of smells. This one was very bad, so we had to keep tearing out to find the root of the evil, er…the smell.

We are now down to bare studs on the living room wall. (We were hoping this wasn’t the plan…) But three dead mice later, the smell is gone. So now insulation is a necessity too.

Lesson learned: Every part of a house is interconnected and can’t be dealt with one room at a time.

Your spiritual life is connected to every other part of your life. God is everywhere in the world and in your life, and if you neglect Him here, then over there it won’t be working so well either. What are you neglecting? The Word? Prayer? Worship? Quiet Time? Those are the most common ways to converse with God. One point I love to remember is that God made us for community with Him. He yearns for conversations with us. Not because He needs us; not because He doesn’t know what we need; but because a relationship with Him is the most vital thing we can do in this life. This relationship with God works both ways: God made us to yearn for Him too. The Psalmist says, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:2) He loves us with a perfect love. We can never match it; we can never measure up. But every time it crosses our minds just how much He loves us, we can offer Him a thank you song, a thankful prayer. I don’t know how it is with you, but the more I am grateful, the more I am likely to take up my Bible and read. The more I am reading my Bible, the more I am likely to pray. 

When we can be thankful for His grace and mercy in our physical life, our spiritual and emotional lives feel His presence too. He has given us this interconnected life so that every part of us need Him. We worship Him with our hearts, our minds, our voices, our souls, our bodies — with every part of our being and with everything we do. Be and Do. With every thought captive to Christ.

I was planning on writing an essay on the finishing of the kitchen, but it will just have to wait. And that’s okay too. After all, the whole cottage has to be finished for us to get featured on “This Old House”.  🙂


For further study, read 2 Corinthians 10.

Questions to think about:

  • What part of your spiritual life is being neglected in this season of your life? 
  • Be and Do was mentioned above. That means not only our behaviors but also our thoughts. I don’t know about you, but my behaviors aren’t usually the worst of me–it’s my mind and stupid thoughts I need help with. Knowing scripture can help with this thought control, yes? I’m thinking of Romans 12:2; what are some others?
  • In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul tells us “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” What does this mean? Can the inner thoughts of a person come out in their actions?
  • What are some other ways to get control over disabling thoughts and demolish strongholds? (Read Romans 12:9-21)
  • I wrote “sometimes it seems as though we will never get finished…” Our journey with Jesus sometimes feels hopeless like that when we dwell on ourselves and our shortcomings, rather than dwelling on Him and what He has done. We sinners can take Hope-full and make it hope-less in an instant. If we could just learn to dwell in Jesus… How do you do this? Be specific.

8. Fighting the Lesser Gods: Having a Thirst for Living Water

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.–Hebrews 3:4

December, 2013

We spent too much on a kitchen faucet two weeks ago, and I am suffering from Buyer’s Remorse. I’ve been trying to excuse it. I have been rationalizing it by telling myself that we have saved so much money on so much else for the kitchen by buying at restores, redoing old stuff, and repurposing other stuff. Hmm, the key words here are much and stuff…

I’ve been telling myself that it is a quality faucet, and it will last forever. After all, it has a ceramic cartridge; it is made of stainless steel; and it won’t rust. Hmm, the key words here are quality and forever.

It’s difficult to be rehabbing a kitchen and trying to fight that impulse of materialism. The two just don’t go together. I can get caught up in the look I want; the colors I want; the type of flooring I want. The key words here are pretty obvious…I want.

I want much quality stuff forever…

We’ve been trying to be thrifty and balanced — nothing outlandishly pricey or ostentatious. Simple even. After all, there are people living in tents in Haiti; in huts in Malawi; in tenements in this very city. (Remember those starving kids in China who would have eaten those peas I wouldn’t eat as a kid?)

Last week I was cleaning out my home library and found a yellow sticky note in my handwriting with this quote: Blessings are not safe to have until it is assured that you can serve God without them. I don’t know where it came from, but I saved it. And I found it again at a time when I needed to be reminded.

In this time of gross materialism (I’m thinking of December, but it could just as well be any time here in 21st century America) we all need to be reminded. It is not about stuff, even quality stuff, even quality stuff that lasts forever. Because as Jesus reminds us, the earthly treasures rust and get eaten by moths—yes, even stainless steel faucets. The forever treasures are what we need to want; those are what last; and those are what we need to give away, too.


God created us in His image, (Genesis 1:27) and he put eternity in our hearts. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Scripture often compares the longing we have for God to a hunger or a thirst. Since this essay was inspired by a faucet, let’s concentrate on a few water images:

  • the Psalmist says “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2);
  • Jesus tells the woman at the well that He has living water and whoever drinks it will never thirst again (John 4:1-42);
  • John writes in Revelation about the water of life flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1);
  • nearly the last words of Revelation are “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17).
  • And though this last image isn’t technically about water, the adjectives remind me of a river or an ocean or a cup that runneth over: Paul prays for the Ephesians that they may “…grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

God carefully created us to long for Him—to know His love that surpasses knowledge! There is a space in our human hearts that can only be filled by Him. And instead we fill it with stuff, work, family, lovers and mates, hobbies, eating, shopping, sports, even church—you pick one (or two or three…)

These things are not necessarily bad unless they become replacements for God — lesser gods. I don’t know about you, but I fight those lesser gods all the time. When I win, I can feel Jesus smiling on the person who struggles to be like Him and sometimes manages a shadow of His presence. When I lose, He gently reminds me how imperfect I am. And His gift of grace that covers me is the softest blanket on a cold night, a cool drink of living water in a scorching desert.

Yes, it is a beautiful faucet. We own it. I will be happy with it. I will touch it every day, and it will shine as a reminder of my imperfection. And in return, it will remind me to give graciously and joyfully to someone in need. I can’t make up for my greed; I can’t be vindicated for my materialistic sin, but every time I look at that faucet, I can remember.

It will remind me of my blessings. It will remind me that I have the ability to share those blessings. It will remind me that there are people without faucets, without clean water, without living water…and what am I going to do about it?

The simple answer is to cut down on our own materialism and give to others. The less we spend on our selves, the more we will have to give. It’s important–that giving–and is one of the marks of love for our neighbors. Think of all the good in the world that has been done by Christians setting up and donating to hospitals, educational non-profits, food organizations, shelter charities… the list goes on and on. To live simply, Richard Foster reminds us in Celebration of Discipline, brings freedom–freedom to share with others and freedom from anxiety. He writes,

“If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety…[and] freedom from anxiety is one of the inward evidences of seeking first the kingdom of God. The inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions.”

Did you catch that line about freedom from anxiety being one of the inward signs that we are seeking the kingdom? I think that is why that passage on worry in Matthew  (Matthew 6:19-34) strikes so many of our hearts–that the birds of the air are clothed and fed, and aren’t we as loved by God as those little birds? If he feeds them and dresses them so beautifully, why are we anxious about anything?

But the more difficult answer is that not only should I act confidently about sharing my blessings freely with those in need, but I must also go about sharing that water of life to the thirsty. The world is full of thirsty people who need Jesus, and I will be the first to admit that it isn’t easy for me to do. I would always rather help someone fix up their house, deliver a meal, or give away a box of food at the food pantry, than share the gospel story with them.

I want everyone to have the water of life to drink when they thirst. Oh, I can say, it’s not my gift: there are many others who have better words or better opportunities, but Jesus calls us all to share this living water–even as simply as the Woman at the Well did by saying, Come and See. This water of life, it’s free. And it will change your life.

Lord, help us all to say Come and See easily with freedom and enthusiasm. Let us give away the quality gift that really lasts forever…


For further reading, read John 4:1-42

Questions for thought:

  • The Woman at the Well is one of my favorite Jesus stories, perhaps because he interacts with a sinner-woman, or perhaps because there is just SO MUCH packed into these verses. But what really strikes me is that she, a Samaritan Woman, is one of the first missionaries–calling others to come and see. How unlikely! Yet how true of our amazing Savior–to use the least, the downtrodden, the sinful, to bring others to Him. Do you have a favorite part from this story?
  • In the passage above from Matthew, which verse is the most convicting to you?
  • What is the lesser god that you battle most often?
  • One of Richard Foster’s suggestions is to give away what you are attached to, just to prove it has no hold on you. Have you ever done that?
  • How could blessings get in the way of serving God?
  • If you read Five Vows for Spiritual Power by A.W. Tozer, that second point–Never own anything–almost seems so radical that we can just dismiss it out of hand. Yet Tozer makes such a good case for it; does it seem doable?
  • Luke 16:1-13 is another of Jesus’ parables on the dangers of wealth. One of my commentaries on this passage suggests: “Possessions are given to [us] by Him in trust, to be used as an expression of His concern for the needy. If one does not do this, it is clear that possessions, rather than God, are [our] Lord….The story does not condemn the rich just because they are rich. They are condemned purely because they fail to use their wealth in the service of God.”

(And can I just update this post with a Post-Script? In December of 2020, seven years after this essay was first written, we had to replace the ceramic cartridge in the hot water handle of this faucet unit. Proof of Jesus’ words that earthly treasures rust…)

7. The Ceiling Is Up, and Divorce Is Narrowly Averted: Silence Is Sometimes Preferable 

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

Labor Day Weekend, 2012

There were only two of us who showed up to work this weekend, and the grunt laborer should have called in sick. The pay isn’t good enough to work through sneezing, coughing, nose running, head aching, sore throat type of days. But this is no union job, as the contractor husband reminded her several times.

We had only four days to get the job finished. It was already a week behind schedule (lumber shortages), so when the truck pulled in with thirty fourteen-foot pine boards strapped to the roof, everyone was ecstatic. (The contractor husband was driving the truck, so everyone amounted to one person.)

Fourteen-foot boards are long. Very long. Picture the Three Stooges episode with Curly carrying a board, turning around, and hitting Moe in the head. Each of these thirty fourteen-foot boards got moved at least nine times during this project. When the laborer complained that we seemed to be moving the boards a lot, the contractor husband got huffy. The contractor husband got huffy at least nine times during this project; the laborer complained — whined even — at least ninety-times-nine times during this project….

So, the laborer thinks, the wood is delivered, let’s get this stuff up and call it a day and have a beautiful new ceiling.

Hah, that’s why the laborer doesn’t get paid the big bucks!

First, the contractor husband goes over the boards with a micro-lens to detect knots, holes, and the tiniest indentations. Each imperfect spot is circled and wood putty is put on the small problems; bondo is used for the bigger holes. The repairs have to dry, then be sanded with fine grit sandpaper.

Then the boards are moved to a new spot and primed. Then the boards are moved to a new spot and sanded again. Then the boards are moved to a new spot and painted with a coat of semi-gloss latex…wait, am I repeating myself? There are thirty boards. It’s a small house. We covered the front yard, the back porch, and the living room.

It took three days of preparation before we could even think of putting them up onto the ceiling. Of course, they had to be moved again — outside to the saw — and cut to the correct length.

So far you have only heard the board story; the ceiling story is bad too. Of course, the ceiling isn’t level; it’s an old house and the kitchen is not exactly on a foundation — more like attached to the foundation. Shims take a long time to put up, but the laborer was busy painting and whining while the supervisor was quietly putting up shims and trying to not fire the laborer.

Monday morning dawned with a beautiful sunrise and the work crew was ready. By this point, all expectations of finishing the job were gone; but one point to remember is this: Prep work takes patience (I think I’ve mentioned before that I might be somewhat lacking in the patience department…) but if it’s done correctly, then the finish work goes quickly! The contractor husband has enough experience to know this; the laborer is still learning.

We worked well as a team on Monday (finally). Of course, the team effort had the contractor husband cutting the boards, as well as air nailing them in place. It was also his bright idea to wax the boards so the tongue would slide easily into the groove. All the laborer did was hold up her seven-foot half of the board and pound it into place.

At 4:30 we were having celebratory glasses of wine while looking at our new ceiling, all complaining, whining, nitpicking, and disagreements behind us.


It wasn’t an easy weekend, and there wasn’t much laughter. And later, looking back on the lack of good humor, it was clear that I was largely responsible. Aside from the fact that I felt lousy and calling in sick wasn’t an option, one of the main virtues that I did not exhibit was holding my tongue—or practicing the discipline of keeping silent. 

1 Peter 3:10 tells us that “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” I have a friend who tells me that is her morning prayer each day—that God would seal her lips and keep her from hurtful talk, that He would “set a guard over her mouth and keep watch over the door of her lips”…(Psalm 141:3)

And what did I spend the time doing? I whined. I complained. I second-guessed the one who had infinitely more experience than I did. I proved the old axiom, “If Mama ain’t happy, Ain’t nobody happy.” And here in this confessional, I still find myself wanting to say, “Yes, but….” 

No buts allowed. Silence is a virtue that we can learn. And when we want to say “Yes, but…” or “I don’t think…” or “That’s crazy! Wouldn’t it be better if…” or “I can’t believe we are doing this again…” just stop. Take a breath. Ask the Holy Spirit to keep those words in your mouth. Swallow them whole. They taste bitter going down; how much worse they sound coming out. Picture your words floating around in the air, never to disappear. Pray for silence because sometimes that’s the best we can do. 

Do you know what that silence does? It buys us time: time to rethink what we really want to say; time to consider the conversation that we want to have;  time to pacify the irritation, the impatience, or yes, the anger that sparks within. Remember the great forest that can be set on fire by the small spark of the tongue? The power of the Holy Spirit is a spark within us too, to help us overcome our sin nature and empower us to keep silent. Maybe in the end we will decide it is a conversation we need to have—when we are no longer angry. Or maybe it will be just another time of irritation that can be forgotten, and we can be glad that nothing unkind was said. 

Ninety ninety-nine percent of the disagreements that I have with the contractor husband begin by one of us getting defensive or defending ourselves against an accusation. Even if it isn’t an accusation, but just sounds vaguely like it might be a criticism, we jump to it and explain, justify, and defend until it becomes a full-blown argument. In his essay “Five Vows for Spiritual Power,” A.W. Tozer lists never defending yourself as one of the vows that will give us spiritual strength. He says, “If you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you.⁠1 

How much more peaceable life would be if I could do that. Even the quiet little words, “But let me explain why…” seem to leap out of my mouth unbidden. Do I have to win every word battle? What makes me this way? I am reminded of Paul’s anguished comment, “…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…” (Romans 7:18-19) Oh wretched woman that I am… Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? And the answer? “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

The next time I am tempted to defend, insist, or grumble, I will put in my earphones and play worship music. How can I be disgruntled while singing,  “More like you, Jesus, more like you, Fill my heart with your desire to make me more like you⁠2.” 

  • I do not want to be a woman of unwise words. 
  • I do not want to be a woman who whines and argues. 
  • I do not want to be a woman who uses words as swords.

Jesus, touch my lips with holy fire, and make me more like you.


For further study, read James 3:1-6.

Questions for thought:

  • James writes in verses 5-7: “…Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…It corrupts the whole body…” If this doesn’t scare us to silence, what will? Consider when it is hardest for you to hold your tongue and why. Confess this to God, and end with a prayer asking Him to help you with keeping silent.
  • There are times when disagreements need to be aired; I’m certainly not suggesting otherwise. How can we tell the difference?
  • In Ephesians 4:22, 23, & 24 Paul writes, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self…to be made new in the attitude of your minds… and to put on the new self…” Three repetitions to change your attitude and your self. Yet we can’t do it on our own; the spirit has to help us. I began writing this essay many years ago, and now seven years later, I can say with complete truthfulness that it does not seem like there is any improvement. It’s absolutely depressing. Here’s what happens: I bite my tongue and don’t say the words, and then the bitterness explodes up into my brain. Where the thoughts fester. I just can’t seem to get rid of that old self…
  • Sometimes it seems so hard to change my besetting sins. One of which is needing to say what I think ALL. THE. TIME. Here is where I need one of those arrow prayers — one sentence to pray each time I’m tempted. “Lord, set a guard over my mouth…”
  • Here is a link to Tozer’s Five Vows for Spiritual Power.The five vows are:
    1. Deal thoroughly with sin
    2. Never own anything
    3. Never defend yourself
    4. Never pass anything on about anyone else that will hurt them
    5. Never accept any glory  Even though in this essay, I wrote about number 3, number 4 is also relevant to our tongues and keeping silence. Interesting that of five vows for holiness, two are about words that we say…. Thoughts? (You might want to check out this short reading–the next essay here will be about number 2: Simplicity and your possessions…)

1 Tozer, A. W. Five Vows for Spiritual Power. http://www.neve-family.com/books/tozer/FiveVows.html

2 Brown, Scott Wesley. More Like You, Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc. 1997.

6. Being Thankful for Failure Takes a Better Man than I: God Shines through our Weaknesses

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

I don’t fail very often any more, and it certainly isn’t because I’m great at everything I do. No, it is much more because in my seventh decade (!) I’m fairly aware of my limitations, and I stick to what I do well, or at least, what I’m pretty sure I won’t botch badly. I don’t try high diving or skateboarding or basketball; I don’t try to fix my own computer or my leaky roof; I don’t do electrical wiring or corporate taxes.

But as the laborer at the cottage, I’ve been trying some new things, with a modicum of success. My confidence was up (inflated perhaps) until this past weekend. I’ve been sanding the old windows that will go above the kitchen sink. I took out the glass — pane by pain (no blood though) — and then I scraped, sanded, and primed. Eventually it was time to replace the glass; the correct term is reglazing, and there used to be people who did this as a profession. They were called glaziers. They have my utmost respect.

I had visions of becoming the new DIY blog maven when I wrote the article, “How to Reglaze your Old Wood Double Hung Windows.” (Note that is not the title of this essay.) I took plenty of photos and even cleaned my fingernails.

A very good question to ask is: “Why would you be so sure you could do this?”  Here are some random answers:

  • I am fairly good at artistic endeavors: I can sew, knit, and make scrapbooks. I have made a couple of quilts. I can do passable graphics, and I’m really good at using scissors and coloring.
  • I am particular and neat about my final work, tending toward perfectionism. (This could have been a warning sign…)
  • I am very good at reading directions.
  • I nailed the first part of the glazing process.

I took about twelve good photos from the first part of reglazing, which is called the back bead. In effect, it sets the glass in place and seals the inside. It is easy. Just make snakes of the glazing putty, push the glass in, put in the small metal points to hold the glass, and scrape off the excess putty. Yes, I nailed this first part.

The window is then turned over, so the outside is facing up. New putty snakes are made and pushed against the frame. Then the glazing tool is carefully held at the correct angle and pulled across the putty to make a crisp, even edge. No, I didn’t nail this second part.

I worked on making the putty smooth and even with the glazing tool for two hours. I kept reminding myself it was the outside of the window and hardly anyone would notice it. This was one pane; there are six panes per window and four windows = twenty-four panes. I pulled up the snakes and started again at least three times. I angled the glazing tool a hundred different ways. When the contractor husband came in from his own window project and asked how it was going, I’m not sure I answered him. I acted as if I were age 2 instead of my real advanced age number. He took the glazing tool from my hand and said, “Well, let’s see…”

When the going gets tough, the tough go take a nap. After two hours of napping and taking the longest, hottest shower I could stand, Voila, the contractor husband had the entire window finished. Technically, I am delighted that he could do it, and it looks great. I am glad to have a talented husband. The thing is, I’m supposed to do the unskilled labor and leave the jobs that only he can do (and there are a lot of those!) for him. I was supposed to be able to do this… This is a lesson in humility.

Oh, I know that Dr. Seuss had his first book (I Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street) rejected multiple times. Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time (which later won the Newbery Award) was rejected twenty-nine times. It took Thomas Edison 10,000 times to get the filament right on his first light bulb…I KNOW ALL THAT! And these failure quotes that you are about to read — I’ve read them all a dozen times. They are platitudes; but they are also true.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” — Colin Powell

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” — Henry Ford

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

“If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone… You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy , or any of your time, or any of your space.” –Johnny Cash…and my personal favorite:

Yes, that’s what happened; I certainly lost my enthusiasm and never regained it. The ironic thing is that we had just had a discussion about fear of failure in church the day before. God asked Moses to lead His people out of slavery, and Moses politely declined at first. “Send someone else, God. I’m not really good at what you want me to do…”


We all fear failure, but as those quotes above point out, failure is always a lesson. It could be a lesson in hard work, or lack of preparation; it could be an opportunity for a second chance, or to encourage creativity and enthusiasm;  it could be a lesson in losing gracefully or developing patience; or it simply could be to learn humility.

Moses finally accepted God’s plan for him and went to Pharaoh to ask for the people’s freedom. Seven times (at least) he went. Can you imagine what he was feeling that last time? “Oh no, Lord! Do I have to go again?” God chose Moses, so His strength would shine through Moses’ weaknesses and failures. Failure is not only all those lessons above; it is a God-given gift. Grace. So we won’t live proud. So we can be thankful for those failures. Our God can take those failures and lessons and use them for His glory. When we take on something we feel we can’t do, then God gets the glory, not us. Moses whined to God many times, finally saying, “…O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (Exodus 4:13)  (Sometimes I think that part of Moses’ “punishment” for whining was that, in turn, he had to listen to the Israelites whine in the desert for 40 years….)

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” — 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Jesus chose twelve ragtag disciples who failed over and over again (taxing even Jesus’ patience!) yet look at what they became: Apostles, evangelists, missionaries to the world. Their successes were born of their failures, and of their willingness to trust Christ Jesus who is our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption… Therefore, let us boast only in Him, not ourselves (see 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Let’s go beyond the disciples though, and bring into your mind a picture of Jesus dying on the cross. His followers crushed by the seeming injustice, the awful atrocity and scandal, they scattered and hid from the oppressors, weeping and mourning that they could have been so wrong. By human thinking this was perhaps one of the most spectacular failures ever–they had trusted him and left everything for him, and now, their hero has suffered the shame of crucifixion.

God’s motif, His pattern for humanity, is to learn wisdom, success, holiness, righteousness, redemption through suffering, ignominy, and shame. He allowed it for His son; He will allow it for His children. Our efforts and our performance count little for Him; what He wants is our whole lives, our trust.

I’ve been reading Hebrews this week, and as I made my way through my journaling Bible, I came upon this that I’d written sometime in the past: “We can fail by not yielding to God control of our lives, by thinking we can and want to be masters of our own destiny. Our own effort and performance counts more to us than yielding to a God we cannot see.” And I’ll add today: When we humbly yield to Him, the creator and the one who never fails, think of what peace can be ours.

I’ve got three more windows to work on. I will certainly do the inside seal, but I’m not sure if I’ll try the outside bead of putty again. Perhaps I just need to practice…or perhaps it is a skill I won’t ever master, but I need to trust that God is teaching me to yield to Him in my failures. What looks like a failure on this side of earth, may be the exact opposite to Jesus.

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some cotton fabric printed with Granny Smith green apples, and I’m sewing  kitchen shelf liners, because my pride is wounded after this extremely unsuccessful enterprise. I have confidence that I can do a sewing project.


For further study, read Exodus, Chapters 3 and 4.

Questions for thought:

  • The Bible is filled with lessons of failure. Who are some of your favorites? There are always good reasons for God allowing us to fail…which one strikes your heart?
  • I read of a missionary once (Gladys Aylward) whose calling to China was repeatedly thwarted (before she even got there…) and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, if that had happened to me, I would have just assumed that God didn’t want me to go’. It’s likely I would have not persevered. Do you have a story of rewarded perseverance?
  • What might God be calling you to do that is out of your comfort zone?What excuses do you use?
  • Have you ever thought of your failures as something that could be looked at as a success? Turns the world upside down, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly what Jesus did. How can this help you rethink some things in your life?
  • “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” is from Philippians (4:13) and one of my favorite verses of encouragement. Do you have one? (Philippians 3:13 is another…)

5. Dithering: God Is in Charge Over it All

for every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. — Hebrews 3:4

September 2013

Here at the cottage we spend a lot of time dithering…Trying to figure out every angle before we start, so we won’t be surprised. It never works, and we usually end up with a work stoppage.

Yesterday, after a morning of spectacular dithering, I wondered to myself why we don’t discuss these problems in the car on the way back and forth from house to house. We’ve got plenty of time; the drive is at least an hour, and that’s if all the cars and drivers are behaving. (And the cat; when the cat misbehaves we end up with a conversation stoppage.)

But then I realized that we don’t discuss these problems because they are unforeseen, unexpected, unknowns. While we were dithering about the project, before we started, we never thought THAT would happen, even though we thought that we had thought of everything; and then the dithering begins again.

When the cottage first became ours, it was rather like a new romance. We wandered around thinking of possibilities — how grand it would be if we could put in hardwood floors here; and maybe we could raise the roof there; and perhaps if we enclosed this part of the back porch it would make a lovely guest bedroom…

The basic plan was to bring the cottage back to the way it looked originally (as close as we could get it, at least…) That wasn’t dithering; it was dreaming, and wondering, and expanding possibilities. But the honeymoon is over now because we have spent almost every spare moment of the last year working on this cottage. Nothing can surprise us now, and some of the charm has been lost in the reality of sweat, blood, finances, time, arguments, discussions, and just plain exhaustion. Reality always invades fantasy, doesn’t it?

It’s an old house. Suddenly we have to move to Plan B because the furnace blew up. Or suddenly we have to leave Plan A to fix the roof because it is leaking. Or suddenly we have to change Plan A because the new siding isn’t quite the same as the old siding. Can we just be done already and get on with life?

No? Then, let’s at least stop dithering and get on with the plan. (Was that Plan A or Plan B?) Troubles come when glitches occur in the actual plan. Like life, glitches abound. And are we going to dither; or are we ready to accept the problem, embrace the setback, and make the delay part of the plan?


One of my mistakes when we first started working on the cottage was thinking that after the construction part was past, we would get moved in and the dithering about incidentals would mostly get incorporated into daily life and wouldn’t seem so overwhelming.

So what happens when one finally gets settled into a routine at the cottage where one has spent three years preparing to live?

Life.

Yes. Life.

Yes. Life. Happens.

There’s a new job. There’s a volunteer commitment that was made before the new job happened. There’s cooking to do, gardens to plant, flowers to grow, cushion covers to make, Bible to study, VBS to get ready for, neighbors to visit, friends to talk to, firewood to haul, and, yes, there are still boxes to unpack, files to organize and a room to paint. As well as the bathroom to gut and redo, the back porch to finish, and the spare room to think about.

It’s the rhythm of life. Suddenly there is much going on, but it is the routine of day-to-day, interspersed here and there with a gorgeous full moon, the bloom of a new starburst flower, the scent of peonies, a gentle sunrise.

But that is life, isn’t it? Making the most of those boring bits of life in-between the great, amazing stuff that, if we are honest, doesn’t really happen all that often.

It’s what we do with the routine, the interruptions to our routine, and the ditherings that follow that are important. Read this C.S. Lewis quote and put it on your fridge.

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “real” life. The truth is that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s “own life” is simply a phantom of one’s own imagination.

(Lewis, C.S. Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis, edited by Paul F. Ford, Harper One, c2008, p. 97-98.)  

I try to practice this — you know, the Keep Calm and Carry On philosophy — but I’m not often successful. Imagine if we could just always think of those interruptions, disruptions, intrusions, ditherings… as our real lives. Forget about our own plans for that perfect day, that perfect week, that perfect life, for those plans (and those lives) don’t exist. Just because our plans are perfect in our imaginations, does that mean it’s real life? Lewis calls them phantoms.

Our plans are phantoms of real life, not the real thing. The real thing is the unremarkable, the humdrum, the commonplace, and the bumps — that’s the life God is sending us. And do we sing on the way to work, or grump about the trucks that are making us late?

Do we gripe about having to fix dinner on the day when events conspire to make us not get home until 6:00, or do we look into the fridge and make it a game with ourselves to come up with the best we can with what’s there?

Do we stop and take time to visit the neighbor when we think we should be doing whatever is on our to-do-list for the day?

I have to admit that I’m only good at loving the uneventful life sometimes. I try to remember that God has given us this ordinary life to live for him. He has sent it to us whether if fits into our own inconsequential plans or not. He sees when we grumble at our husbands for no good reason except a mood; he knows when we choose to be in a funk, rather than pray; and best of all, He understands when we chafe against the boring bits of ho-hum pfhht that so much of life seems to be…and he graciously gives us new eyes to see beauty in the familiar.

The earlier we learn this in life, the happier we will be. The sooner we learn that every event in our lives is sent to teach us, the more joyful and purposeful we will be. Whether it was actually in our plans or not, God sent it to us to be a part of our lives. No Whining.

In times of boredom, ennui, or depression, Jesus can give us joy. Take those times to pray, to reread your favorite passages of scripture, cook a favorite meal, or do something that will remind you of the joy and hope you have. Do something for someone else, to forget yourself. God made us to rest in him. Do that and you will be able to forget your shouting inner self. (Sometimes…)

In times of disruption, leaning on Jesus can ease our anxiety. If we are trying to live life according to His plan, well then, it’s His plan — it’s not our plan. We just like to think it’s our plan and that we are in charge. And when we get too uppity about it, God will remind us. Most of the time He reminds us gently, and that’s when we are to say, “Oh, yes. God, it is yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”

Sometimes it’s a big thing; sometimes we just see through the glass darkly and we fight and kick and struggle for weeks, months, years… until the glass clears and we finally get it — the fight belongs to Him, not us. “It is He who made us and we are His. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3) We dither because we are sheep. I know, it’s not a pleasant comparison, but there it is. Picture sheep running around the gated pasture bleating in confusion. Going nowhere and running in those circles cause agitation, befuddlement, bewilderment, and demoralization. Don’t ask me how I know this.

But we have a good shepherd to lead us — one who never gives up on us no matter how far we wander; one who loves each one of us not because we are good, bad, black, or white, but simply because we are His; one who rejoices when that one lost sheep is found; one who constantly cares for us if we would just allow it.

Note to self: Dithering is believing that your own plans might be better than God’s amazing plans! Embrace the delays and remember that you are being taught something important.

Note to God: “Yes, God, it is truly yours, not mine. Forgive me for trying to take over.”


For further study, read Philippians 4:6-8 and Proverbs 3:5-6 and Proverbs 16:9

Questions to think about:

  • What are you dithering about that needs to be given back to God?
  • Why is it so hard to give up control of our plans? We want to be the focus of our lives rather than focusing on God and his faithfulness and love?
  • Is it easier for you to see God in the ordinary or in the interruptions to the ordinary?
  • I don’t know about you, but I hate waiting. All of us have something that when it happens it makes learning from it almost impossible. I can say that God is trying to teach me, but I never seem to learn patience for waiting (and I have a husband who tests me on this constantly). I need a trigger or maybe a verse to say while it is happening? What derails you and have you solved this in your own life? How?
  • “Busyness is moral laziness [because it is often a statement of our self-importance and our excuse to be inattentive to people] . . . But God has given us just enough time to do what we need to do moment by moment to respond to him. And his grace is there; it is eternally present. Every moment is a sacrament where time touches eternity and there is exactly enough time to do what God has called us to do.” This is a quote from Bruce Hindmarsh, who utilizes part of a C.S. Lewis quote inside it. There are two ideas I love in this quote: a) busyness is self-importance (!) and b) the idea that we have just enough time. So should we not worry about frittering it away? Or should we be mindful of how we are spending it?
  • The other day I was blessed by this prayer in Tim Keller’s book The Songs of Jesus: “Lord, since it is you who feed us and you who meet our needs, ordinary human labor such as farming, cooking, and knitting have great dignity. They are means by which you love your creation, Help me to sense that dignity so I can do the simplest of tasks to your glory. Amen.”

How comforting that my knitting can be done for God’s glory…

4. The Sanding Queen: Taking off Layers of Gunk

We have officially started working on the kitchen. As in taking out walls (that was another chapter); but for the past few weekends, I’ve been sanding. Not just smoothing rough edges, but taking off 4 coats of paint and the original varnish of kitchen cabinets. Oh, did we dither (that’s another chapter too) about kitchen cabinets! They are so expensive, and I want white. The white cabinets that one can purchase at the big box stores are not wood: laminate, thermafoil, melamine, lacquer, acrylic–they have all sorts of fancy names and initials for what is really just plastic or junkboard. I’m a purist; I like real; I like old; I like authentic, and I wanted wood cabinets. The unfinished cabinets at Home Depot and Lowe’s are oak. It seemed a shame to buy oak cabinets and paint them white, so we haunted the Habitat for Humanity Restores and Construction Junction. It took several visits in all places–and we found some other cool stuff in the meantime–but one day we came upon Really. Ugly. Cabinets. They were so ugly, we almost passed them right by.

Looks like a square robot from The Flintstones to me…

But when we stopped and figured it out, they were almost a perfect fit for the sizes of cabinets that we needed. Straight out of the early fifties–made from sandable birch plywood all through, they weren’t quite the doors I wanted, but for $225 they will work. Since we saved so much money on cabinets, the plan now is to buy really expensive countertops!

So now I am the sanding queen. You know the song. Unfortunately the only words I know are the sanding queen, da da da da da, she’s the sanding queen, da da da da da da the sanding queen. I didn’t even know it was an Abba song until I saw Mamma Mia! with Meryl Streep. (In my defense, it probably came out in the late seventies, early eighties when I was busy with babies.)

My cabinet shop was on the back porch until this past weekend when the temperatures soared into the nineties, so I moved into the air conditioned comfort of the living room and contractor husband hooked up the sanders to a vacuum. It’s a complicated system of hoses and extension cords and duct tape, and they all get entangled with each other, but the dust is cut way down, and I can sometimes take off my mask.

Sanding is boring. The arm gets tired. The sander is loud. The vacuum is louder. The back starts to hurt. The mind wanders. There’s plenty of time for thinking, for praying, for counting blessings, for wondering, for comparing sanding to real life. Cleaning off layers of grime, old paint, and junk to expose the beautiful wood beneath. That’s what trying to live a holy life is like, isn’t it? Always we’re scraping off the gunk that the world leaves on us. Some of it’s been there for years–applied incorrectly, but still it sticks until we really try to scrape it off. And, oh boy, is it hard to get out of the corners! I’m thinking of the book I read last year called Somewhere More Holy by Tony Woodlief. It is some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read; he talks about home being where the sacred and the mundane meet when we search for God in the small everyday things–like sanding, like cleaning, like taking something ugly and reclaiming it. Next weekend I’m going to be sanding again. And the week after. And the week after. I’m sure I’ll tire of it. I just have to keep remembering what the finished product will be. Beautiful. Free of gunk. As good as I can make it.

The trouble with all metaphors is that they break down at some point. And here is where this breaks down: In a faithful life of belief, we don’t do the sanding or cleaning or scraping off of gunk ourselves. God does it. And it’s sometimes painful, repetitive, boring…I’m reminded of how many times I don’t learn the same lesson. That gunk of the world is still stuck in my corners, and God must be just about at His wit’s end with me. Really, Carol? How many times have I tried to teach you that? And our best response is the same as blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-48) and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

But the best news is that Jesus will never give up on us no matter how many times we forget, or screw up, or just get tired. Even when we are not faithful, he is. Jesus was faithful when he went to the Cross for us; he was faithful when he taught the disciples the same lesson over and over; he is patient even when we are not. His love for us was and is deeply personal and indescribable, and we could never in an eternity pay him back. In return, we owe him honor and praise and obedience–not to earn his favor, but  to be thankful for his patience and faithfulness to us sinners.

The really hard question here is how do we become more holy? And of course, that question is fraught with paradoxes: We can’t try to become more holy to save ourselves; and we can’t pat ourselves on the back for the things we finally manage to get right; and we shouldn’t try to be holy just for holiness’ sake. So how do we clarify that desire to be holy to please the God who died so we could take on His righteousness? Obedience and conduct and love,  1 Peter tells us in verses 14 and 22 of chapter 1. Don’t be conformed to the world and your passions. (Paul tells us almost the same thing in Romans 12:2) Holiness is to be set apart–to be like Jesus, loving as He loved. Peter uses familial language here–invoking the love of God our Father– and calling us to be obedient to Him as we would to our parents; not to earn His favor, but to reflect Him, and love Him, and be thankful to Him for His mercy.

The same cabinet as above, sanded clean and repainted…

Every day we must give up our own will, our ambitions, our possessions, our pride–and confess our sins–so Christ will heal us anew. Only he can peel off the layers of dirt and sin to expose who we are really designed to be underneath. Everyone knows that if you don’t get all that old paint, varnish, and gunk off before you repaint, the job will be botched and the piece ruined. Are we willing to undergo the pain of the peeling and burnishing of our souls to be ultimately refined and made holy by God? Jesus went to the Cross for us, are we brave and courageous enough to be reclaimed by Christ?


For Further Study, Read 1 Peter 1:13-25

Questions to think about:

  • The other common metaphor for God cleansing our sins is peeling an onion. When each layer is peeled off, there is another layer of sin. And tears. Like sanding off layers of paint and varnish to expose the beautiful wood underneath, sanding off the layers of sin involves patience and sometimes feeling as if you can’t breathe. It also involves fresh coats of varnish or paint to protect that clean precious wood. What steps can we take for protection against our most common sins?
  • Verse 15 in 1 Peter reads, “…but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct….” Sometimes, many times, I just feel as if holiness is something that totally eludes me and that I am making no progress toward a holy life. Is there a cure for this? Surely, I am not the only one who feels this way; what do you do?
  • Here’s a paperwork assignment: Read the 1 Peter section of Chapter 1 above (entitled Be Holy) and write down all the concrete ways he gives us to help us in becoming holy. The section of Ephesians 4 & 5 — Living as Children of Light or Instructions for Christian Living–also gives us concrete ways of life to adopt for holiness. Check those out again, too.
  • Another thought — my go-to remembrance verse is in this section too: “…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ…” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

3. Tearing Down Walls: Open the Room in your Heart

We were a bit hesitant to tear out walls.

Dusty, everyone said.

Old Plaster, the contractor husband said.

What will we do with it? I said.

I was a bit hesitant to write on this topic of walls. So metaphorical, walls are — especially tearing them down…. I could wax poetic, except I’m an unexceptional poet. I could philosophize, except I’m an unexceptional philosopher. I could spout theology, except I’m an unexceptional theologian. And yes, I’m an unexceptional photographer too — it’s particularly difficult to take pictures of walls that aren’t there any longer.

The Oxford American Dictionary tells me that the word wall is from the Old English word weall — a vertical structure, usually solid, that defines and sometimes protects an area. In fact, if walls divide and separate us, we could discuss the new trend in houses that opens up kitchens to the living areas of a house. So do we want an undefined and unprotected kitchen? Yes.

I have read Jane Powell’s “Bungalow Books” extensively. Her humor,  her authenticity, and her strict ideas against “remodeling” feed my soul. Don’t do damage to your old house, she says. If you keep to its period, no one will hate you in fifty years. No one will have to rip out the trendy 4×8 sheets of fake paneling that you have carefully installed in the family room. I especially liked Bungalow Kitchens, and yes, I read Bungalow Bathrooms too. I renewed them both until the library wouldn’t let me keep them any longer. Powell says, Never under any circumstances should one listen to an architect who suggests changing your bungalow to an “open plan.” (Not a direct quote, but pretty close…) Two points are especially important here: 

1. We don’t, technically, live in a bungalow Although it was built around the time of many bungalows, and it might fit the definition, as in being one story and a modest, affordable dwelling, the cottage has no architectural presence. There’s nothing that makes it stand out except the clipped gables. There’s no beautiful woodwork; no lovely front porch with the classic bungalow pillars; no charming little windows, stained glass or otherwise… My father put it succinctly — that house growed like Topsy…(from Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe). The closest the cottage gets to architectural charm is a couple of nice built-in cupboards and a big brick chimney, all of which we are taking great pains to keep.

2. We didn’t hire an architect No, we didn’t. My sister and her husband were the closest to architects that we could find for free (she’s an interior designer and he used to do the windows for Gimbels in downtown Pittsburgh) and they said, “Oh, take out this wall. Yes, take it down.”

The most important thing to do before tearing down a wall is to determine if the wall is structurally necessary.  The contractor husband is an expert on whether walls are structurally necessary, so he climbed up into the attic above our bathroom, dodged cobwebs and spiders, and checked out which way the joists and rafters run. It turned out to be safe to tear down the walls. Full speed ahead: open up the room; let in the light; make the rooms bigger; invite everyone into the kitchen.


Walls are human made things. The only thing that I can think of,  in the natural world — in God’s creation — that might be a prototype for a wall would be mountain cliffs. Walls were made to define, to protect, to separate, to divide…. (That’s not to say I’m totally against walls — walls around a bathroom are a fine idea) but mostly God wants the walls around us gone.

It’s scary taking down walls. What if you take a support wall down and the structure starts to crumble? What if you expose what’s underneath? Let me tell you, it’s guaranteed to be messy and ugly; it’s also guaranteed to be hard work; and there will be surprises. So why even try?  

Because when that wall is down, it opens up the room that is your heart; it makes the room bigger; it lets light into your life; it allows for true relationships, both with people and with God.  We all have walls around us —  some are wallpapered nicely to conceal the cracks, nicks, and holes that would show if it weren’t for that expensive wallpaper we bought to cover them. And it took years to get that wallpaper fixed on right, didn’t it? We’ve all got our own cracks, chips, and gaping holes that we keep covered at most any cost. But God knows what they are. If we allow it, he will work on us until we admit that yes, the damaged wall needs to be taken down. Exposing what is underneath is scary — it’s been covered for so long, we barely know what is there; but once it is gone, the light — God’s light — exposes it for what it was: sin. 

This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

This might bear repeating: If we walk in the light, if we follow after Christ, we will have true fellowship with one another. If we tear down the walls that keep us bound in our own prisons, if we tear down the walls that keep us in darkness and the light flows in, we have true fellowship  — with one another and with God.

Jesus Himself said He was the light of the world. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)

Why would we not tear down the walls that confine us and follow the light of the world?


For further study,  read about living as Children of Light in Ephesians 4:17-32 and Ephesians 5:8-14.

Questions for thought:

  • What walls do you have around you that prevent true fellowship with other people? Shyness, Pride, Arrogance, Selfishness, Busy-ness, Lack of self-confidence, Fear, Money, Not enough money…It also occurs to me that (in the light of the first essay) these are all idols that we allow to be more important than God.
  • The quarantine and lock-downs we are facing with Covid-19 have now lasted longer than a year. It seems to me that the lack of gathering with our brothers and sisters in Christ has allowed us to hide behind our walls–and this in the name of public good. The introvert in me is finding it more and more difficult to go out into the world; frankly it has allowed me to hide behind my walls. Do you think this will damage Christ’s Church? Our witness to others? Our love toward each other?
  • We just added a giant south-facing window to the final room we are re-doing, and now that the light streams in, I can clearly see the dirt in the room. I love this metaphor for the light of Christ exposing our sins. Any thoughts?
  • When we walk as Children of Light, we set an example to those unbelievers who still walk in darkness. The struggle is how much of the world can we let in, and still be living as the light-filled children God wants us to be…
  • Write a prayer to God asking Him to help you tear down your walls and let in His light.

 

 

Jane Powell’s books include Bungalow Kitchens; Bungalow Bathrooms; Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home;   Bungalow Details: Exterior; and Bungalow Details: Interior all published by Gibb Smith Publishers.