Saturday, May 24, 2008

Stain Free

Scrubbing a television set to get it clean, I see firsthand the sticky, nicotine-stained residue of cigarette smoke. It is dark brown against the whiteness of the paper towel in my hand and doesn't release its grip easily. I picture the accumulation of years of smoking on a set of lungs, how it would turn them from healthy pink to brown, tarry-coated, inefficient machines that no longer function at capacity. But this vision I can only imagine as the lungs are hidden from view.

Like cigarette residue, the impact of judging or despising each other is not always seen. The results of hatred also remain hidden on my pock-marked soul, compromising the efficiency with which I function in a day. Oh, I try to pretty up the language to justify my actions, but the fact remains that everyday I am either choosing to function in hatred or in love, in judgment or in mercy, in unkindness or in grace. Either I indulge selfish desires, pick up the cigarette/judgment and smoke it/indulge it, or I don't. Strong language, hatred and love, judgment and mercy, but strong impact of daily habits, nevertheless, that leave their sticky, repulsive residue on the soul.

Every day presents equal opportunities for me to exercise hatred or love, judgment or mercy, unkindness or grace, faith or doubt, His way or my way. Like inhaling cigarette smoke launches a blackened deposit and diminishes the lungs, each time I indulge my ego and pass judgment in thought or word against another person, a compromising deposit is made on my soul. I have chosen the impure over the pure.

But, and this is a big but, the good news, the big news, is that the hidden stains of my indulgences have been removed. God swiped my soul with the cloth of Jesus's sacrifice and forever removed the repugnant stains of my selfishness with His selflessness. The sacrifice of His death cost Him more than I will ever know, more than the elbow grease required to clean the nicotine stains from a television set. The release of my soul from the stain of my sins came at great personal cost to God. That personal cost is the measure, the standard, of His love for us all. He forgives. He loves, more completely than I can even begin to imagine.

My love is often conditional. His love is always without condition. That is who He is, Perfect Love. He sacrificed for us while we were still sinning. You wouldn't want to depend on me for that kind of perfect love. But you can depend on Him.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Even in the most unlikely and conservative of places, you can find sometimes this glimmering idea that God might be bigger than our limited religious doctrines have taught us. In 1954, Pope Pius XI, of all people, sent some Vatican delegates on a trip to Libya with these written instructions: "Do NOT think that you are going among Infidels. Muslims attain salvation, too. The ways of Providence are infinite." (from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert)

I tend to agree with Pope Pius XI.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

God Speak

So, my husband and I decide the main floor bathroom needs remodeling. He did the work, stripping the wallpaper, washing the remaining glue from the walls, dismantling the sink and stool then reattaching them after rolling two coats of paint on the ceiling and walls. He wants me to pick out a linoleum remnant for the floor. I lug home an armload of samples because the remnants aren't that interesting or they're not the right size. Nothing appealing.

Before I started the search for flooring, I found a sink at a local home improvement store and brought it home, a cute European style bowl with a dark chocolate base cabinet. I try each sample in front of the sink, imagining the flooring expanded to the walls. Eh, a couple are okay but nothing outstanding.

I'm excited about the sink as the vision of a remodeled room begins to form in my thoughts. I found some nice picture frames to match the new wall sconces and a cool luggage rack shelf to hang over the stool. The image begins to materialize as I gather pieces from here and there waiting for the moment they can be set into place.

There is still the problem of the right flooring. I decide to look at some tile and find a few samples. Hmm, tile or linoleum? The thought of new sub-flooring to support and level the tile, resetting the stool to accommodate the additional height, man, that's a lot more work. But the results will be so much nicer. I mull the idea for a few more days then back to the store and happen across a "floating" tile floor that snaps together over the existing flooring and is then finished with a flexible grout. Easy-peasy complete it in a day. That's it!

Nine heavy cartons of 12" tile are loaded into the shopping carts by me and my sister, along with the grout. Getting closer to completion and I like the way the room is coming together. It's going to be beautiful. Back to the Ponderosa, where dear husband awaits.

"I don't want tile. I want linoleum. I'm not messing with the stool plumbing,” his response.

One box of tile makes it into the house, then out again. The other eight are unloaded from the trunk to the garage floor, then right into the van where he summarily heads back over the sixteen miles just traveled and takes them all, along with the grout, to be restocked. “I’ll get the linoleum I want,” his departing announcement. Huh.

I retreat. A few days later he invites me to join him to look for a sink and the elusive flooring.

“A sink? For what?” I inquire.

“In there.”


“The bathroom.”

“I already bought the sink.”

“I took it back.” Poof, and another one bites the dust.

Now I’m finished and ticked. I get in the car and drive away. But this time, instead of indulging my frustration and anger, I literally ask, “What are you saying to me, Lord?” I recall past confrontational moments like this. But instead of indulging that line of thinking, I consider that God may have something to say and that He is using this very situation in which to speak to me.

How do I respond? It’s a freefall once again, and this time willingly, into His arms.

John brought home a top to fit the base we already have, the flooring still hasn’t been selected, and I have recused myself from the bathroom remodel. But more importantly, I am aware of God’s presence and what He has to say in the midst of conflict. Though peaceful isn’t how I would describe my entire demeanor, inside I am aware of something greater than my desire. Something more important than, “to tile or not to tile, this sink or that one.”

A cycle has been broken for me as a new awareness presents itself. Though I may not care for the language or the method, I concede that the Spirit may be speaking through this confrontation. God has something to teach me. Am I willing to yield to His lead? It seems so.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

Is every encounter in my daily life an opportunity for God to speak to me, or am I deceived?

He speaks to me through circumstances and through other people. Everything that confronts me in a day is effective in drawing me closer to Him. Everything. How can I question the Potter as He shapes me into His likeness? How can I judge how He uses others for my sanctification or me for theirs?

When I am connected, mind and spirit, I know that everything is perfect exactly the way it is. In peace or in chaos, law or grace, light or darkness, mercy or judgment, life or death, none of these are of any consequence to God because He is in it all.

Some days are better than others. Sometimes I am receptive, yielded to God's leading. Sometimes I resist. But I don't worry about it either way. My faith is not in myself or my ability to be righteous. My faith is in the one who is shaping me. I believe Him when He says that He is faithful to complete the work that He began in me.

How perfect the genius of God's hidden ways and how He uses the ordinary events of an ordinary day to shape us into His likeness.

This is a curious position in which to find myself, much more reliant on the unseen (God/spirit) than the seen (me). My spirit is strangely comforted in a peaceful way, even when I don't sense His immediate presence.

I would like to say that I always respond to challenges in a spiritual way, but I don't. He continues to press and shape me through daily events and people, speaking to me body, soul, and spirit, whispering amidst the chaos, "Can you hear me now?"