Finding Joy in the Fatal Flaws

During the last couple of days I have seen yet another piece of evidence that God does have a blueprint, a specific design, in mind for each one of us. And, I suppose that it is fitting during teacher appreciation week, that the particular teacher who gave the assignment which brought this wonderful revelation is the one for which my children most need to develop a more appreciative demeanor. Over the past five years, I have watched all three of my children struggle through a particular portfolio assignment in her class.

My elder son, not the best artist but one that can see the image in his mind whether he can draw it or not, was the first to wade through these waters. He is very in tune with politics and can usually grasp the irony found in political cartoons, but is sometimes not as good at understanding how those opposed to his own views would see humor in his beliefs. Since the assignment requires interpretation of events, symbols, and documents surrounding a particular period in history, he did okay with the concepts and tried his best to develop images that conveyed his particular understanding of them. But again – not an artist.

And then we had a year off.

My daughter is the resident artist in our home. Her depictions of the political unrest of this particular historical period were carefully and thoughtfully considered, and more skillfully executed than many other students. She, unlike the boys, found a closer connection to this particular teacher as well. So – interest and connection lead to concern and desire to succeed.

And another year off.

Which, finally, brings me me to my younger boy. Humor he understands. As is typical of most youngest children, he tries hard to make others see the silliness that he sees. Being a middle school boy, however, means that his sense of humor has yet to develop the subtlety and sophistication of a true comedian and is more on the level of – oh, say -Will Ferrell. I’m hoping that he will eventually rise to a comedic intelligence more on the level of Robin Williams, but that hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, irony is fairly lost on him so far. And sadly, the most kind thing I can say about his artistic ability is that it is reminiscent of a hieroglyphic code of some kind.

So this morning as he was trying to put the finishing touches on a political cartoon he had drawn depicting a fight for racial equality, I got tickled. The idea of the opposing sides, the bravery of a leader facing a rioting and bigoted crowd with flags unfurled and waving defensively, the rejoicing of those who were formerly oppressed as they cheered and jumped into the air unable to contain their joy- they were all there.

If you look with my mama-eyes.

If you looked with the eyes of any other human, you would have seen lots of stick figures carrying sticks that held roughly rectangular shapes bearing some vaguely recognizable symbols on one side of the image. On the other side of the image you would see stick figures, faces darkened with pencil smudges, shouting, “yay!” And centered between the two sides the leader with stick feet precariously balanced on a box, shouting words of freedom.

Looking at his picture, I felt a sense of unexpected joy bubbling up from somewhere deep inside me. Having walked with all three children through this assignment and remembering each of their responses to it probably better than they do themselves, I was suddenly and profoundly aware of the unique differences in my children.

These differences are so much deeper than their appearances, their talents, their personalities, yet they are somehow an assimilation of all of those and even more. These three children are made of the same DNA, raised in the same environment, and yet they are so very different, each uniquely designed for the calling God has created just for them.

I see glimpses of their future selves in moments like these. I am not naive and do not see them without trials to overcome and weaknesses in their personalities and abilities. But I do see those trials and weaknesses as opportunities through which they will draw closer to their Heavenly Father, leaning on His embrace and experiencing His grace and mercy. I know that He has created each of my children with the particular needs and weaknesses that will minister to their unique spirits, calling them into close relationship with Him.

I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that He has designed into us even our faults in a way that brings relationship, fills the deepest longings of our hearts, and brings us the inconceivable peace that comes from trusting Him and being obedient to Him. He is the author and finisher of our faith.

And here again is a picture of God as an artist – a writer this time – who understands the complexity of writing flaws into the epic heroes He is creating. He writes the scenes for each new day and develops a depth in each character that is, frankly, impossible for any human writer. Even Homer had minor characters.

But to God, none of us are minor. We are each fully and beautifully developed with depth and infinite variety. So, I challenge all the moms out there to see the flaws in your children as openings for God’s beautiful presence in their lives.

And I challenge all the teachers out there to see with mama-eyes today. And in this week of teacher appreciation – I challenge you to find appreciation for your students. Perhaps that child that you find most difficult, the one you complain about, the one you tell your favorite students to avoid, the one who challenges your concepts of the reasons that students become friends with one another, is not trying to offend you personally, but is trying desperately to show you a way to pray for God’s intervention in his or her life.

Please accept the challenge. I promise you will never regret it.


Knit One, Purl Two

“God,

I know you have a plan for my life because your Word says so. You knit me together in my mother’s womb for that express purpose.”

I like the image of God knitting me together. As a novice knitter, I understand the patience, keen eyesight, creativity, and strategy that go into creating a piece of knitting.  Learning to “read” your rows so that you can know if you’ve made a mistake – but of course that happens when you are following someone else’s pattern.  God doesn’t have that experience; He gets to create us as He goes.

Being the yarn that is becoming whatever He is creating, I get excited sometimes, because I think I know where his stitches are going – that’s normally when I get knotted up. The Word tells me that Man makes a plan, but God directs his steps.  It is hard not to jump ahead and tell people what you think you are becoming.  We can become so sure that we know where all these stitches are heading that we declare things over ourselves that aren’t in His pattern at all. At least not the way we think they are.

Sometimes, there are outside forces that try to play with us and make such a mess – like kittens in the yarn. Those little muddy paws and sticky kitten mouths have turned our softness into crusty, dried out, matted fibers. We become stretched thin, looped in and out and around ourselves until we are just a big tangled mess. But God knows how to untangle knots, wash us, straighten out and repair fibers, and make us useful again.  He isn’t upset with the delay. He isn’t knocked off of His throne – He is the designer and knows just what to do.

Even when we create our own problems, He patiently waits for us to be still, knowing that He is God.  At times I feel like my knitted-together self has developed some kind of run and somehow the yarn from which I am being made has become gnarly and stiff and refuses to be picked up on the needles.  By the time the next row comes back to that place – my own personality, or more usually my emotions, have begun to slide into other rows – further and further down.  But that doesn’t mean that the fabric I am becoming is ruined.

I knew a woman once, Miss Alice, who was talented enough to hold the main parts of her knitting on each needle – just on either side of a run – and work her way down into that column of stitches, patiently bringing the run back to where it needed to be without causing unrecoverable damage to the rows.

I am thankful that God is much better even than Miss Alice was. He is so patient, so gentle, so kind, already moving down into that column and putting those healing stitches back into my life.

And sometimes – I have to remember that I am His masterpiece – His work to create – not my own. You see, I am not that good at knitting.  I find myself ripping out rows and rows and rows. Rereading instructions and trying to somehow get down to where the problem started without ripping out so much that I just roll the yarn back up and throw in it back into the stash.  But God is so much better – He will never just throw me back into the stash.  He patiently works with me until I have become what He intends.  He has begun a good work and will be faithful to complete it, even if I have no clue what I will look like in the end.

“Thank you, Father, for being the artist you are. Thank you for letting me be your masterpiece. For all the knots you have worked out in my life, for all the fibers of my being that you have washed, repaired, and reassembled, I am so grateful. You are all I need.  You are the Great I Am – because You Are everything I need. Remind me that I don’t just need things, but that I need a creator to shape and guide me each day. Remind me to yield to your Spirit as a willing vessel in your masterful hands.”