22. Bathroom Interrupted: When Our Faith Journey Is Stalled


The bathroom in this little cottage has been started and stopped, started and stopped, and now seems to be stalled indefinitely for a variety of no-good reasons: lack of ambition, other projects, fear of the unknown, or just downright procrastination.

Oh, it’s mostly beautiful. There’s a long vanity on one side with a striking hammered copper bowl sink. There’s a big mirror with wall sconces on either side; a timed electric wall heater, and a light that comes on when we walk in the doors.

The replaced window that looks out on to the back porch has been hung with a stained glass window and the new medicine cabinet is an extra mirror above the new water-saver toilet that has a bidet option. It’s mostly luxurious. Especially compared to what it used to be and how long we lived with it.

There is only one project left: the shower.

Seventy-five percent of the supplies for it are purchased and stored out on the back porch. I have alternately nagged, been silent, suggested we hire someone else to do it, asked when the start date might be…The last time I brought it up (after several months of silence) it started a series of unpleasantries that have not been reconciled. I’m not sure what to do, so in those cases, prayer is usually the answer.

Like interrupted home projects, faith journeys often get interrupted, stalled, or stuck. Sometimes outside events or other people are the cause, sometimes it is our own lackluster faith, and sometimes God intervenes for reasons of His own that we might not yet be able to see. Many times there seems to be no clear path forward: a faith that used to bring clarity and joy to life now brings only doubt and struggle; decision-making becomes muddied and almost impossible; and life is covered over with a gray cloud of angst and depression. At least, that’s what happened to me. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t hear or see Jesus in scripture; love and joy was gone from my life, I doubted God.

I don’t have any instant answers. I will only speak about what thousands of others before me have said:

When you can’t pray, just say, Help me Lord. That in itself is a prayer–perhaps the most poignant prayer that you’ve ever prayed. It is a hard truth that God often sends suffering and sorrow to mature our faith, to help us achieve wisdom, to make us give up our illusion of control and rely on Him. This is especially hard when your soul seems dry and your prayers seem weak. Sometimes a beautiful prayer or piece of writing, written by someone else, and read out loud just made me cry. I used these three books: The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller; Praying Through the Names of God by Tony Evans; Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund; and I also re-read the book that was instrumental in bringing me to Christ–Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his small book, Psalms: the prayer book of the Bible that “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

So when the poverty of your heart is overwhelming and you can’t hear Jesus in scripture, just keep reading. Read your favorite passages. Read them out loud even. Pray them. I read Psalm 139 over and over and over. Psalm 24 also, because it, too, is one of my favorites. I read and re-read Philippians 2 and John 14. You have your favorites–read them. The vision I kept trying for was remembering Christ on the cross. For me. And reminding myself that it isn’t about me. In a way, all that ennui and spiritual malaise I was suffering, was just another form of thinking about self. But more about that later….

Find a verse that speaks to you. In my readings, I found this scripture: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.–John 6:37. I wrote it on my kitchen chalk board. I made a bookmark of it. I memorized it. And whenever the doubts and depressions came over me, I said it to myself. Out loud, sometimes. And I found plenty of verses on the Lord’s faithfulness. I wrote this one on the kitchen chalkboard too: 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

Find someone you can trust and talk to them. I had several friends who knew that I was struggling; I talked to a godly old friend; I went to a godly new friend. They all prayed with and for me. They sent me cards. They sent me lyrics to songs. They sent me texts and blog posts and sermons and reassurance. You are not alone; thousands of faithful believers have gone through periods of darkness for thousands of years before this has happened to you. You are not the first; you will not be the last. It has a name, “the dark night of the soul,” so named by St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite friar who wrote of the soul’s struggling journey to find the ultimate love of God. “In the dark night of the soul,” he wrote, “bright flows the river of God.”

“God is at home. We are in the far country.”

–Meister Eckhart

Find beauty in a new way. My go-to spiritual renewal has always been delighting in the natural beauty around me and thanking God for His creation. In this far country, my old habits didn’t work, which only increased my sorrow. Instead I rediscovered my earbuds. Listening to my favorite hymns, anthems, and praise-songs brought tears, deep breaths, and refreshment. Using the earbuds helped to shut out the noise of living. I also discovered a Compline podcast put out by Samford University, Compline: An Evening Liturgy for Anxious Souls and I listened to it each evening before turning out the light. The quiet music, scriptures, and prayers brought a peace that helped me sleep. I was reminded that even when we are wandering and lost in the far country, there can be times of calm.

Do something for someone else. When you are handing someone a box of food, a hot meal, or a loaf of homemade bread your own troubles fade. St. John of the Cross is also famous for this quote: “When there is no love, pour in love and you shall draw out love.” In other words, Don’t Wallow. There is always something you can do for someone, even something as small as sending a text, a message, or a card. And yes, back to thinking about yourself–doing a loving work for someone else keeps your own self-pity at bay. Mostly we just need to get over ourselves and concentrate on Jesus. On love.

I can only write this now, on the other side of the dark. It’s been eight months, and only now am I beginning to feel like the heaviness and the gray is lifting. I understand that God was and is walking through this with me. In times of heaviness, depression, and angst, God does not desert us–indeed God is always faithful. It is just that we have to push aside those gray clouds of despair in ways that we aren’t used to. That yearning? That desire for God to fill our hearts? God created it in our hearts from the beginning. (He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11). No, we cannot fathom it, though sometimes we can get a glimpse. Sin–my sin, your sin, our sin–is the gray cloud we have to slog through (the slough of despond, anyone?) and we, being humans, sometimes have a hard time pushing it out of our eyes, our minds, our hearts. But remember,

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.

–Psalm 40:2-3

He, in this Psalm is Jesus. The one who came to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. (See 1 John 2:2) Keep your eyes on Jesus. The darkness will not last forever, sojourner. Fight through those gray clouds, for on the other side is the Son, waiting to welcome you, me, us back into His presence. He never left; we were the ones in the far country.

I wish I could tell you that the shower is finished and show you a lovely photo. But just as our interrupted faith journeys sometimes take months to get back on track, alas, so do home projects. And it’s best if I tell myself that it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a material desire, unimportant, and all things material will pass away.

(I just hope that I don’t pass away before the shower is finished….)

Spend some time finding and writing verses about God’s faithfulness and our trust in Him. I will get you started with one of my favorites:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. — Psalm 51:10-12

20. Now That We’ve Seen the Worst: In All Things God Works for the Good


We’ve been working on this little cottage for nine years.

And in those nine years, we have learned a lot about old houses, our limitations, and God.

No longer under any illusions, we know that the wiring has been haphazard, the upkeep was minimal, and it was built in fits and starts without much planning. (This is not to cast aspersions on previous owners and builders—they were our grandfathers and great-uncles; they were our fathers and mothers, and we loved them.)

We thought we were prepared for what we were going to see when we took out the kitchen cabinets. We were wrong. Way wrong. We were not prepared. We were both so appalled that I took only one small picture, and that was after we cleaned the floor of grungy insulation, mouse nests, hickory nuts, dead bugs, a mummified mouse, an inch of mouse droppings, and mouse chewed electric wires. There was no photo taken because, quite frankly, I don’t want to remember it.


But that wasn’t the worst. When we took out the second old cabinet along the outside wall of the kitchen, there was a hole. A giant hole where there was no floor; under the cabinet were three small pieces of plywood—each piece about eight inches wide by twelve inches long—just sitting on the joists. Not nailed down. Of course, when the cabinet was pulled out those boards dropped into the crawl space below. Just in case you missed this—there was not a nailed-down floor under the cabinet.

We spent five minutes staring aghast at the ground below; we spent three minutes wondering if Gus the groundhog would poke his nose into the kitchen; and we spent eighteen minutes scurrying around fixing it temporarily, so we could sleep that night. While I guarded the kitchen from Gus, raccoons, snakes, skunks, or any other critters that could possibly make their way up that hole, the contractor husband found enough boards to cover the floor temporarily, while we tried to figure out what was next. 

We are not wimps here; we’ve seen holes in walls and floors before…but what is astounding is that these cabinets were installed in the seventies by a Professional Cabinet Company. What kind of Professional Cabinet Company would leave holes in the floors and walls and shrug and say, “Oh just leave it, the cabinets will hide it anyway.”

At one point, early in the new kitchen planning, we tossed around the idea of leaving the kitchen cabinets and just painting them. The internet was filled with articles on how to paint your kitchen cabinets white and update your kitchen. Thankfully we rejected that idea, after examining the poor quality of those junk-board seventies cabinets. Just imagine if we had done that and not found the terrible holes in the walls and the floor. We would have had bugs and critters in the kitchen forever; in fact, Clara had always complained of mice in her bread drawer, and now we know why!

The new (redeemed) kitchen during canning season…

When we’ve seen the worst—maybe it is our own sin; maybe it is the sin of someone who is very close to us: a spouse, a child, a parent, a best friend, a pastor; or, maybe we’ve been sinned against—we all know that crushing anguish of Why God? 

The scenarios are horribly ugly—much worse than mouse droppings and bug detritus and holes in the floor—but those are apt analogies. When we are in the midst of them, it is bleak: we forget to pray, or when we try to pray, no words come. Our favorite Bible passages don’t bring pleasure. God, whom we know in our head loves us and will never forsake us, seems absent from our hearts, and we certainly feel forsaken. How long, Lord? is the cry at the core of our being; but that same core of our being is the place where God’s spirit uniquely resides, whether we feel it or not. God does not say However bad it gets you will always feel my presence. In our bad times we often feel abandoned and forgotten, as if God is far away. Yes, it’s true, he is far away, but he is also right next to us, whether we feel it or not. We know this is true, because it is one of his promises: “…I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (Joshua 1:5) Yes, it bears repeating–our feelings are not always reliable.

No one is exempt from suffering, no matter what form it takes, great or small, weeks or years. Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble…” (John 16:33)  This eighty-year-old cottage has seen it all—betrayal, tragedy, death, abandonment, dishonesty, smashed dreams—and so has God. He is not surprised at anyone’s sins or messy lives or detritus. He went to the cross for the debris, the rubble, of our lives. And there is nothing that we can do that will surprise Him, because He knew us before we were born; (Read Psalm 139) he knew (or knows) our past, present, and future sins; and he knows how it will all turn out. He loves us still.

And not only does He love you and me, but “…in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The words to the praise song come to mind:  How marvelous! How wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me.⁠1 

In my NIV Study Bible, that verse—Romans 8:28—is the first verse in the section called More Than Conquerors, and it tells us that no trouble will ever separate us from Christ’s love. Not hardship. Not persecution. Not danger. Not even a sword. No, Paul tells us, all those sufferings are part of life and they have always been part of life, and those troubles actually bring us closer to Christ.

Sometimes we can be so overcome by our own suffering, our own terrible circumstances, that we forget who he made us to be—His light, His truth, His love to a dark and suffering world. ⁠2 

He takes our messes, our sufferings and turns them around to reflect His likeness. Later, in 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls them “light and momentary troubles.” And what are they doing for us? “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

When we are in the middle of them they seem dark and endless; if only we can allow Him to nail our sufferings to the cross and not wallow in them; if only we could see and remember that they are light and momentary in consideration of eternity.  Please, God, take our if-onlys and make them so. You have promised to repay us for the years the locusts have eaten. (Joel 2:25)

This gives me so much hope, for I have a lot of years that were eaten by locusts. I have a lot of detritus hidden behind the walls. And perhaps I have not yet seen the worst…. But I will not fear, for those sins and sufferings and debris of my life have been nailed to the cross of Jesus through His grace and mercy. When Satan reminds you of the rubbish in your life, sing out in power “…my sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, oh my soul.⁠3

For further study, read 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Only one question this time:

  • What darkness in your life have you kept to yourself? Write about it now and allow it to be nailed to the cross.

1 Hutchinson, Gabriel Charles, My Savior’s Love, c1905.

2 John Dorean sermon

3 Spafford, Horatio G., It Is Well with My Soul, c1873

19. Perfectionism—Curse or Blessing? God Is the Only Perfect Creator


All our lives we’re told, “Do your best. If you do your best, that’s all anyone can ask.”

And what, exactly, is our best? How many times can we have a do over? When and how do we draw the line between “our best” and OCD? And who ultimately gives us the final grade? Friends? Lovers? Bosses? Ourselves? Society? Or God?

These are such hard questions I’d better stop now and have a cup of tea. I hope you’re having one with me…

Several events have precipitated these musings on perfectionism.

The Color of my Kitchen

I spent (or wasted) hours poring over paint samples. After purchasing a sample jar of Benjamin Moore Blooming Grove, I fell in love. There were even signs to let me know I’d chosen well: On the way to pick up our kitchen countertop in Eastern Pennsylvania we passed the exit to Blooming Grove. It was a big green sign on the interstate that couldn’t be missed.

Delighted that I’d finally made my decision, I bought a gallon at a store that shall remain nameless. I do have to say that when the mixologist opened the can to show me the paint, I said, “That’s too yellow.”

“No,” he assured me. “This is Blooming Grove. It will dry darker.”

It didn’t dry darker. I painted half of a cabinet door from the sample can, and the other half I painted from the newly purchased gallon. It was a striped cabinet door. One half was lovely spring green, the other half was a not-so-lovely yellowish-green. I struggled with this: I didn’t want to be the whiny-perfectionist-lady-customer who demands a new gallon of paint because it isn’t exactly right.

Nevertheless, it was clearly Not Exactly Right.

Does God want me obsessing over a paint color? Paint color just isn’t that important in the scheme of the universe. I know this. Where does the line fall here?

The Last Glitch in the Kitchen Window Process

Two weeks ago we were ready to put up the windows in the kitchen. The left side just had to be finish coated and we were ready to go. As I sat down to paint it (the paint was poured and the brush dipped) I could see that the primer was not sticking to the glazing. So instead of finish coating, I spent the next three hours peeling little strips of paint/primer from the window muntins. (For those of you who are not old-window-experts, the muntins are the vertical and horizontal strips of wood that hold the panes of glass in place.)

Instead of putting up windows, we were back to priming/drying/painting/drying. It was discouraging. And I wondered as I was sitting on the floor in the late afternoon sun peeling off little strips, “Is this normal?” Would other people say, “Oh for goodness sake, just paint the stupid windows and be done!”

I wanted to do that. But I knew it was peeling. Done poorly.  Where does the line fall here?

Life in General; Rehabbing a Cottage in Particular

I don’t mind little imperfections in wood or paint or people; I myself have little imperfections. I am not a complete dorky perfectionist all the time. (The jury is still out on the contractor husband.)

I have buried uncleaned paintbrushes in the bottom of a garbage can because 

A. I didn’t want to clean them, or 

B. I did clean them, but not good enough and they dried out stiff and I didn’t want any other perfectionist who lives in the household to find them.

Did you know that one could spend hours cleaning a paintbrush? Or peeling paint from an imperfectly primed window…. Or redoing a board because it is a quarter inch off…. Or choosing the right color of paint…. I don’t have any answers here folks. The age old question—blessing or curse—is still a question. But I can tell you that just last week I read a quote from Thomas Merton (much wiser than I…) who said this:

We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything but beginners, all our life.”⁠1

–Thomas Merton

That gives me hope. So does the saying from my wise contractor husband who says to me all the time–there’s nothing perfect in this world.

And just yesterday I read a quote that said: You can never be perfect. You can always be better.

Now I have to go demand a new gallon of paint. (Nicely, of course.)

Post Script: The clerk at the paint store was truly gracious. She saw the difference in color and looked up the formula to make sure it was mixed correctly. It had been. She was puzzled for a bit, and then she realized that I had purchased a new Benjamin Moore brand of paint and even the uppity-up corporate mixologists hadn’t come out with the correct color formulas yet. She then hand mixed it, showing me the paint every couple of minutes asking me what I thought. She dried the sample with a hair dryer and, to make sure I was satisfied, told me to bring it back again if it wasn’t right. Yes. God is the only perfect creator.

Last night I was reclining in bed, surrounded by pillows, books, notebooks, and reading glasses, writing a blog post on my iPhone. The mobile app is very handy when one has a thought and doesn’t want to lose it in the quagmire of daily living (or nightly dreaming). I was about to save the post when my finger accidentally hit the publish button.

There’s something very ironic and humbling about accidentally posting a post on perfectionism… It wasn’t ready. I hadn’t said it all yet. Hmmm…well, maybe I had, but I certainly hadn’t gone over it twenty-three times to make sure it was as perfect as I could write it.

Hence, more thoughts about perfectionism. But this time I’m thinking about the blessings of it—because God asks of us our best and our best can be a blessing, not only to those around us, but also to ourselves.

Artists and writers and musicians and craftspeople particularly know the struggle here. How does one know if the piece is finished and finished well? Madeline L’Engle says that inspiration usually comes as you are working, not before.⁠2 So if one keeps working, one will continually be inspired. Perhaps when the inspiration stops, the piece is finished well?

That might work for pieces of music or writing or art, but it doesn’t hold up so well for paint or wood or refinishing windows. The wood of those windows that we have renewed isn’t perfect. It’s old. There are dents and nail holes. One could work on them forever, and the wood would never be perfect. Yes, that is a metaphor…

We all have our imperfection tolerance limits, and the more talent one has, the higher the limit. That’s as it should be. The contractor has higher expectations for his carpentry skills than I do for mine. Except…

God, the perfect one, should have absolutely no tolerance for our human imperfections. Yet he does. Rather, he loves us in spite of them. And no amount of our own striving can help us achieve that perfectionism that is God. He has given us that striving, made it part of us, so we would desire to be like Him. In that way it is a blessing–His gift to us. It only becomes a curse when the world, (or the evil one, if you prefer) keeps whispering in our ears that we aren’t good enough or didn’t do it well enough.

Lysa TerKeurst says in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way  that because we once lived in the perfect Eden, we remember the perfection and long for it.

“This is why our instincts keep firing off the lie that perfection is possible. We have pictures of perfection etched into the very DNA of our souls.”⁠3

Perfection died when we were banished from the garden and we have been struggling with its loss ever since. This struggle between the blessing and curse of perfectionism is just one more tension of the Christian life. We can embrace our perfectionism as a God-given gift, but we must draw the line when we no longer feel the blessing or the inspiration  of it. Instead of yearning for our own perfection, we can (we must) lean on the only one who is perfect. He has offered us His perfect self as a substitute for our imperfectness.

When God looks at us, He sees the perfection of Jesus. If only we could see ourselves that way. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21: We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

God, the perfect creator, is calling us to perfection again, through His perfect son. Jesus paid it all. For me. For you. For us. Don’t let that perfection slip through your hands…

For further study, read Psalm 8.

Questions to think about:

  • Where is your striving harming your peace with God?
  • Psalm 8 asks: What is mankind that you are mindful of them; human beings that you care for them? Yet look at the next verses and just see what God has ordained for us to do. Is your perfectionism keeping you from doing what God might want you to do? 
  • I think that sometimes we all fall on both sides of the line, because my next question is: Or is your careless attitude keeping you from doing it well? It might depend on what it is we are doing and our talent/aptitude for the project. Thoughts?
  • Our need (or desire) for perfection is really about control, isn’t it? Where can you give up your desire for perfection and trust God?

1 Thomas Merton. AZQuotes.com, Wind and Fly LTD, 2021. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/371657, accessed May 27, 2021.

2 L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water, p. 176.

⁠3 TerKeurst, Lysa. It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. Nelson Books, c2018, p. 6.

18. In the Midst of Noise, Trouble, and Hard Work: Finding the Calm in your Heart

Sept. 2017–Bathroom project, Take Two

We’re working on the bathroom.

A small five-word sentence. It doesn’t even have an exclamation point at the end. Although it should, so I’ll put one here instead!

In 2011, when we became official owners of this little cottage, the bathroom was the first room we intended to refinish. It’s small, we thought; yes, start small. But then we ran into a few problems, and the contractor husband decided it would be better to redo the kitchen first. So now, six years later we are finally starting on the bathroom. 

Can I just say that the cottage bathroom would definitely take first place in the Ugly Bathroom Contest. The walls have had the wallpaper peeled off (one of the first tasks I completed) and are generally three different colors of old plaster—sometimes melding into one odd shade of greenish-yellowish-pink. Vintage Italianate plaster it is not. The ceiling was painted back in the seventies with textured paint and is peeling; the sink vanity is covered with some sort of fake material that started to peel, so I ripped the plastic off and one door is brown while the rest of it is still shiny off-white vinyl. There is a seventies moulded shower stall that is moldy and simply won’t come clean, no matter how much it is scrubbed with Barkeeper’s Friend. The wood floor is partially sanded (I also own up to this–remember we were going to start with the bathroom?) and partially still covered with years of caked varnish and paint drips. It is truly the ugliest bathroom on record.

In all these years, however, we have collected most everything we need. The first pieces we bought for the house were the bathroom vanity and mirror. They’ve been against the wall in the garage bedroom covered in plastic All. This. Time. The truth is often not pretty, but there is a glass-half-full outlook. We already have: the sink, the sink faucet, the shower faucets and hardware, the vanity, the mirror, the lights, the toilet, a lovely cabinet with glass doors that was left over from the kitchen project, the tile for the shower floor, the faux marble tile for the vanity top, the boards for the ceiling, an electric wall heater, and (drum roll please…) the pull-down attic ladder–which was the initial problem that stopped this bathroom project those many years ago.

That long list above, makes the list of still-to-purchase items rather short: subway tile for the shower walls, a  shower pan, and some incidental plumbing materials. Oh, and paint. And maybe a window. We haven’t really decided about the window yet. That’s the least of our worries; we haven’t gotten to that wall yet…

But can I just be honest and say, this prolonged bathroom project has made for a lot of anxiety and needless tension? The last unnecessary comment I made was earlier this year: the contractor husband thought maybe we could invite some folks over for dinner.

We have a lovely kitchen for cooking.

We have a lovely dining room for eating.

We have a lovely porch for grilling.

We have a lovely living room for conversing.

Did I focus on any of those? No.

I said, “No one is getting invited here for dinner until the bathroom is finished.”

I mean, let’s face it: you can’t invite people for dinner and then shove them out the door right after dessert because you don’t want them to use your bathroom….

Yes, the truth is not pretty. It’s right up there with those ugly bathroom walls.

And no, I never have had peace about living in the midst of a really ugly bathroom. Oh, every morning when I take a shower, I’m grateful for the hot running water. I lived without running water for several years, so I know about praise for hot showers…. And I know that much of the world does not have clean running water and I am a spoiled, first world rich woman. Forgive me Lord.

It’s just that I really appreciate beauty, and there is such a lack of beauty in this bathroom… The only charm is in my mind’s eye because I know what we have planned. Yet we are still in the midst of noise, trouble, and hard work, and the beauty is still not there. For months I had this saying on my kitchen chalk board:

This quote seems to me to be a direct explanation of the verse in the Bible that reads: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The world expects that peace is the absence of anxiety, noise, strife; but Jesus tells His disciples plainly that even though peace is one of His gifts, it is not the way the world expects. His peace may be found in the midst of strife–through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of anxiety—through prayer. His peace may be found in the midst of trouble—through prayer. No, it isn’t easy. But Jesus never told us it would be easy. He said, yes, in this world we would have trouble, but He is our peace, and He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

One of the most difficult trials of the Christian journey is the worry about noise, trouble, or hard work that seems to surround us like a dark cloud (or an ugly bathroom). Stripped down, it is simply a lack of trust in God’s promises. He has promised to be our peace; He has promised to be with us always; He has promised to never leave or forsake us; He has promised us eternal life with Him. Think on those promises when worry, trouble, or anxiety creeps in, and pray that calmness will prevail in your heart.

The story of Jesus sleeping during the storm while the disciples were in the boat fearing for their lives has been brought up to me three times in the past two weeks. (When the Lord grabs our awareness in this way, we’d best pay attention.) There is the obvious connection of Jesus giving the disciples peace when they have only worldly fear of the storm, but there is something else, deeper and more sublime: He chides them for their lack of faith, but really, why are they afraid? They do not yet know that they are with the Lord of all creation, the creator of the wind and the waves who only has to say hush, and all of nature obeys. In fact, when He does just that, they are awestruck. They even say, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41) We do not have that excuse. We know who He is, and what He is, and where He is: He is Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Universe, God with us. He is our peace, and we have no reason to ever fear noise, trouble, or hard work.

Think on His promises and pray for that calm to prevail in your heart.

For further study, read Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; and Luke 8:22-25

Questions for further thought:

  1. What is the storm in your life right now that needs to be calmed? Put another way, where in your life is there anxiety or noise that should be replaced by the peace of Jesus?
  2. Our fears over noise, trouble, or hard work can also be from fears of our own lack of preparedness, or lack of control over details, or the unknown, or…. (add yours here). Sometimes I find myself giving my fears to Jesus every five minutes! In the words of a friend: Why do I lay my fears at the feet of Jesus, and then pick them right back up again? Do you? What makes us prefer worry to the promises of Jesus?
  3. Picture Jesus sleeping in the back of your boat. At what point do you wake Him up? What do you say to Him? What does He say to you?
  4. I remember the first time I read this story of Jesus asleep in the boat, my thought was “How can He fall asleep when the waves are crashing over Him and the boat is about to capsize?” Now when I read it I understand that faith and trust and lack of anxiety all go together like a beautiful three-stranded cord, and I long for that peace to fill me. I haven’t made it yet, but I’m further along on the journey. Where are you?

    And here is a post-script: The bathroom is still not finished in 2021, although it certainly looks a lot better. We only have the shower left to do, and here are some photos of the three walls we’ve finished.

14. Up on the Roof: We’re All in this Together

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

Winter, 2014-15

One of the final projects we worked on before we moved in was the mudroom. The entry into the cottage, it is a narrow room that was originally the front porch and enclosed in the seventies by Joe and Clara to keep the wind from whipping into the kitchen every time the door was opened.

There was a lot going on in that small room: Two sliding glass doors eight feet apart, a step up into the kitchen, a cracked concrete floor, a chimney on the far side, an electric panel that had to be hidden, and lots of old wires that came from the outside across the room to the electric panel. And a leaky ceiling. We had big plans for this small room, but those plans were essentially frozen by sudden snow melt that made us realize we could go no further on the mudroom until the leaky ceiling was fixed, which meant a new roof. Over the whole house.

In addition to expense, the problem was also the timing—it was February and we were moving in in March. A new roof in time for us to move in was impossible. So we did what we could on the mudroom — three walls and a new tile floor and new stovepipe down the chimney for a wood stove. The ceiling was just covered in insulation and the one wall that faced the entrance was left ugly and exposed. It was what everyone saw when they walked in the front door, but it couldn’t be finished until the ceiling was put up and the ceiling couldn’t be put up until the new roof was on. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that each part has to be coordinated with the whole.

Summer, 2016

It was two summers later that the roof finally was started. Anyone who has ever worked on a big project knows that many people working together makes the project more manageable. Even the contractor husband, who likes working by himself, admitted he couldn’t do the roof by himself, even with my puny, inexperienced help. Especially with my puny, inexperienced help. 

We organized a work day and several faithful friends from our church showed up and worked hard, putting down roofing paper, measuring, cutting, and nailing shingles. That July was one of the rainiest months on record, but we only had to scurry off the roof once, and mostly the cloudy days were a blessing. Anyone who has ever worked on a roofing project knows that temperature is ten times magnified up on the roof.

We had rented the dumpster for two weeks, and that was the timetable. The project was costing enough without having to add any extra fees. And with help from our friends we finished it in plenty of time. I am reminded of the Amish who band together and build houses and barns for their neighbors in need, knowing that one day they will be in need and those same neighbors will be there for them.

In his novel Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry calls those friends and neighbors your membership. He writes,

 “…The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had the need the others, or enough of them, would come…”

This is what true membership in a community is about. Oh, we try to legitimize it in groups with dues, membership cards, meetings, but true membership has none of those formal rituals. There is no settling or keeping track of what is owed, at least, not out loud. You go because you are needed, sometimes without being asked, because you know that those same people will do the same for you in your time. It is what we all long for, isn’t it?

To know and be known; to accept and be accepted; to love and be loved. It is the human condition, the human need, and I worry that in our modern technological lives it has gone missing. The devices we hold in our hands or on our laps substitute as our membership in community, and how will that affect the generations to come?

The church has been provided by God to help us be a community and extend community to others. In Galatians 6:2 Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And in 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 as he writes to them about the church as the body of Christ, he says, “…its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

If I were honest, I don’t like the idea of official church membership. It seems too much like a club that one can join and leave on a whim. And we all know members who don’t pull their weight, don’t come to meetings, barely pay their dues… God asks more of us than just membership; He asks for the true, pure membership that Berry writes about. In truth, I would say that God has put that longing in our hearts—the longing for pure and real love among our neighbors, of which the church is to be the archetype, the standard.

We fall so short. But when we manage, it is a beautiful thing to watch church members serve each other—by teaching, by listening, by encouraging, by offering food, by giving rides, and yes, by helping to put a roof on someone’s house. It is loving your neighbor, which Jesus tells us in Matthew 22 is the second greatest commandment. By doing the second greatest commandment, we are also doing the first—loving God with all our strength, and all our mind, and all our heart. That is why our hearts sing when we get together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to serve. 

That day on the roof there was work, there was talk, there was laughter, there was food shared. Hammers rang out, voices rang out, love between friends rang out, and God was pleased.

For further study, read Acts 2:42-47.

Questions for thought:

  • Have you had more than one community “membership”?
  • Who is your membership now?
  • Describe one of the most meaningful times of fellowship and service you have experienced with them? What made it so?
  • Do you think life in modern America hinders true community membership or is that just an excuse? Is it something we need to work on to change?
  • Truthfully, I’ve always wondered why western Christians don’t heed these verses in Acts. Are we so invested in our individualistic capitalistic private enterprise economy that we can’t see that this early church is Socialism? Aargh! Perish the thought! I’m being a little facetious here, but what are your thoughts about this?
  • An effect of the lockdown (on me, anyway) is not being able to enjoy my church community in the ways that we used to. Technology has been wonderful–here we are on Zoom! and I’m grateful for the new far-away pastors we’ve discovered–but I think that has played a part in my feeling far away from my church family. What are your favorite verses about Fellowship/Community?

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.

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?


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).