The Glorious Muddle
glimpses of grace in the messiness of life

January 19, 2018

Brokenness is Meant to be Displayed

Two art techniques shed light on the spiritual principle of stepping out into the light–not hiding who we are or the fact that we’re broken. I blogged about  Kintsugi  before, and recently its similarities with another technique, Pentimento, caught my eye. Check out my article, published today.

When a friend struggles, it’s easy to respond with compassion. After all, life is tough. Nobody survives unscathed. Nobody is perfect.

So why do most of us try to cover up our flaws? You pretend you’re doing fine, and if that doesn’t work, you blame someone else.

What if, instead, you stop hiding your weaknesses and start embracing them? Your true self shows when you shed your safe disguise.

Two art processes cast some light on how to deal with imperfection.

The first is a 500-year-old ceramic arts technique from Japan, called “kintsugi.” You’ve probably admired it without knowing the name.

Kintsugi means golden rejoining. Shattered ceramic pieces are mended with a shiny resin. The potter smears gold or silver epoxy directly onto the cracks.

The wounds are not camouflaged. They are highlighted. The cracks become the focal point.

Originally, the broken pottery may have been quite ordinary. Something (or someone) else happened to it, smashing it.

The random lines of thick brilliant lacquer transform it. The once-shattered pot turns stunning. Beauty rises from the very place of injury.

When you are broken, God carefully glues the pieces back together, as a potter does. Isaiah writes, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

He brings healing at the exact spot where you were most deeply hurt.

But sometimes your wounds come from your own mistakes.

The second technique, featuring two-dimensional art, is called “pentimento” from the Italian root word for repentance. While its beginning is uncertain, Leonardo da Vinci practiced it in the late 1400s.

Like repentance, pentimento involves change, and even accentuates the change. It doesn’t pretend that the finished product always looked so finished.

In this process, artists alter the composition of a painting or sketch without erasing the earlier strokes. They gloss over it with a light coat of paint or charcoal, showcasing the correction.

The artists don’t pretend it came out perfectly the first time. They leave evidence that they messed up, for all to see.

When you are broken, God can make you whole again. When you make a mistake or choose to sin, he can draw a better course for you. If you’re headed down the wrong path, he can redirect you to a new one, filled with blessing.

It doesn’t make sense to hold back anything from God, offering him only certain parts of your life. Give him access to all of it, the good parts you’re proud of and the parts you wish you could do over.

He gently takes it all and weaves it together to make something you could never imagine. He creates something glorious out of your life.

Your scars, those same scars you probably want to hide, make you even more beautiful in his hands. Because Jesus gave up his body to be broken and scarred, yours can be made new.

He brings beauty from the ashes. But not your beauty; it’s God’s beauty. When you reflect the potter’s glory, people see his grace — in you.

And when others see the display of his glory in your life, it can inspire them to come to him. Your hurts are redeemed in the potter’s hand and their hurts can be healed.

So tell your story — the real story. Expose the cracked, broken parts. Turn your pain into healing for someone else. Let others see the places where you changed your course and tell them why.

Come out from the shadows into the light.


December 22, 2017

In Darkness and Silence, Hope

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

Advent is a time to wait. We wait, expectantly. We hope, even in the darkness. Especially in the darkness.

During the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, the people trusted despite the hopelessness of their suffering. They couldn’t see a way out, but God saw them. His gaze penetrated the murkiness. He provided the oil needed long ago to keep the Hanukkah candles burning, the light to dispel their gloom.

Anna and Simeon waited for years (Luke 2:25-38) before their faith was blessed with sight and they could feel the baby’s soft skin. Simeon and Anna believed with “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). Others in ancient times anticipated the promised Messiah their whole lives but died before the fulfillment came.

Today, many wait in the dark.

The Christmas season accentuates loss. The loved one missing from the table. The wish still ungranted. Hope that continues to be deferred.

I’ve been silent lately, for many reasons. If I claimed it’s because all my time and energy went to finish out my first semester teaching, and then the day I recorded my final grades, Steve and I took off on a long-planned road trip, that would be true. But it’d only be a small part of it.

The real reason is that, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been sad. Another friend died, much too young, much too suddenly, leaving a heart-broken husband and children. Heaven becomes more real and desirable to me each year, populated with more dear friends that, someday, I’ll be reunited with.

But that’s the future. Hopefully, many years into the future. What is the hope for today? What will help those left behind?

My friend loved Jesus with all her heart. When the veil started to lift, and her focus grew sharper by the second until she could see that beloved face in full clarity, what did she see?

In winter, bulbs continue to grow, buried deep in the cold, dark ground. We can’t see what happens under the surface. It feels like death. And then, without warning, when the time is right, flowers burst forth, in brilliant color.

The Messiah came at a time like that. The incarnation began in the dark. In silence. The God of the Universe, who spoke the world into being, implanted his divine embryo in the womb of a teenage virgin, coming to live among us and show us his heart, the father’s heart.

He didn’t arrive as a ruler demanding obedience. He came gentle and humble, loving the lowest. Angels announced his birth–in an animal stable– to shepherds, those shunned by society. The child grew to give sight to the blind, forgiveness to sinners, and belonging to the marginalized.

The birth of the baby who came to lay down his life, in exchange for ours, gives meaning to my friend’s death. Because of him, she is now living, forever, in undiluted light.

If you struggle with loss and heartache this Christmas, no trite words can help. But the one born that silent night in Bethlehem can. He understands. He suffered, separated from his father, hated by those he came to love.

Look into his eyes. Trust his heart for you, even when you can’t see it. Reach out and touch his outstretched hands.

Come to him, not because you have to. Because you want to. Because that’s where life is found.

Corrie ten Boom, one of my heroes, wrote about her fear as a child riding trains through tunnels. When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.

Trust. Even in darkness. Even in silence. What do you see?

Silent night, Holy night.
Son of God, Love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.


November 28, 2017

Everything I Learned about Balance I Learned from being Dizzy

I used to feel almost cocky about balance. I thought I had it down. That’s before the room starting spinning and I found out I had vertigo.

Read my article in The Redbud Post below:

Vertigo Taught Me Balance


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November 9, 2017

A Birthday Worth Remembering

Last time I posted, I looked ahead to my looming birthday. Now I look back on it. It happened. I survived. And it was one of my best yet.

Both my husband and I were involved in ministering to others. We’ve discovered that the first weekend of November is a very popular one for church retreats. In the past, Steve’s gone to his favorite retreat, The Guys’ Thing, in Northern California, and I’ve hosted 34 college co-eds with Cru in our home—all on our mutual birthday.

I used to feel miffed that other activities competed with my celebration; then I resigned to the fact that, of course, you’d want to plan a weekend event on the one weekend when we “fall back” and gain an hour. And now, I welcome it.

Steve helped with an event called One Day with God at a local church. Select minimum security prisoners and their children–the often neglected casualties–were brought together for a life-changing day of bonding, fun, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

I spoke at a retreat, put on by a nearby church I’ve always admired (one of their pastors helps out with the local Cru group). A delightful former student I used to mentor directed the retreat and asked me to speak.

I loved being with the women; I have many new kindred-spirit friends now. One really fun thing we discovered is that many of their husbands were with mine, at the day for the inmates and their children.

As I prepared for the weekend, I prayed God would use my words—that they’d in fact be his words. The women tell me that happened.

The theme of the weekend was Being Renewed. I used water as a metaphor for renewal, and to illustrate the point, it poured all weekend!

I followed the Samaritan woman at the well throughout the series (John 4). Friday night, I spoke on The Wellspring of Life: Your Heart Renewed. The next morning the topic was Overflowing Streams: Your World Transformed.

As Steve embarked on his eighth decade of life (what?!) and I nestled in comfortably to my seventh, we turned the calendar page while giving to others. There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday.


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October 23, 2017

What I’ve Learned about Growing Old(er)

I have a birthday coming up soon, but it’s not my birthday I’m thinking of now, sleepless in the wee hours. It’s my husband’s. We share our birthday. Same day, different year.

Last year, I celebrated a milestone birthday. We’re skipping mine altogether next week. This year is all about him. It’s his turn for a milestone. (Sorry, Steve. You knew the risk when you married a writer.)

When we married later in life (in our 40s and 50s), I recited Robert Browning’s poem in my wedding vows:

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,

The last of life, for which the first was made:

Our times are in His hand, who saith “A whole I planned,

Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

I changed it to “Grow older along with me” and we laughed; we didn’t feel the least bit old. Since that day, it feels like two minutes have passed, but the calendar tells me it’s going on 17 years. Now it’s not so funny. Now we stand on the threshold of old.

The question I’m pondering late at night is this: What exactly is old?

Whatever “old” is, it keeps moving. It’s always far beyond where I am. It’s beyond my husband’s age. Each time my next milestone rolls around, I’m so used to it, I might as well get on with it. I’ve lived with that age already for nine years. I’ve tried it on. I know how it feels, what to expect.

Not too long ago, Steve and I heard a doctor speak. He quoted a prayer of Moses from Psalm 90. “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.” He said that even with all the medical advances, the average lifespan is still about the same as it was thousands of years ago. If we’re fortunate enough to reach 70 or 80 years, then anything else is just bonus. I turned to Steve and said, “I’m glad he’s not your doctor.” Then Steve laughed his hearty laugh out loud–and I mean loud–and I slid down in my seat and shushed him.

But I digress. There are a few things I’ve learned about age and getting older.

First, the number of years doesn’t matter at all.

Many people say what matters is your outlook on life. And I agree, to an extent. I know people my age who seem much older than I do, and also ones whose energy seems boundless, and I know there has to be more to it than how young you feel.

The verse I love to write in birthday greetings is one I’ve borrowed from a dear friend, inserting a couple words in brackets. They seldom reflect on the [number of] days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:20)

Growing old gracefully is more than elasticity-laden skin, well-lubricated joints, or that elusive youthful attitude. It’s contentment with your life. What counts is the interior state of your heart. Peace that’s independent of circumstances–peace that I believe only comes from God.

Second, any birthday, but especially a milestone birthday, is a perfect opportunity for gratitude, reflection, and change.

Gratitude that you’re still alive. Thankfulness for the people who’ve touched your life, the opportunities you’ve had, the ways God has met you. All of it is a gift.

As you reflect on your life, consider if you’ve lived it well. Do you have any dreams unchased, opportunities left fallow, forgiveness to seek, relationships to mend?

If you feel a tug for a mid-course correction, do it. Now. If you need a fresh start, it’s never too late. You can make the changes that need making for your life to bring that gladness of heart.

Third, the one constant thing in your life is the one who formed you.

He was present at your birth, he’s been there every day since, and he’ll keep on carrying you until your last breath. Where does fear or dread about getting older fit with that?

“Listen to me … you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isaiah 46:3-4)

The best part of birthdays? They’re a chance for friends to let you know how they feel. When you have a life rich in people, who cares what age you are?