The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

Sacred Objects: Jesus Toast, Walmart Receipts and You

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I’m at the stage in my life when there’s really not a single surface of my home that hasn’t been vandalized by my children.  Paint peeled off of walls.  Scratches etched into our leather couch.  Covering my books and window sills and upholstery is more scribbling than a whole factory of Magic Eraser could counteract.  I confess, I’ve barely suppressed the words I heard come out of my own mother’s mouth so many times while we were growing up: Why can’t I just have anything nice!  I never thought of myself as someone who cared very much for things but I admit I had a vision for my home.  A few years ago when I imagined all the ways our children would “love” our things until they were shabby chic and cozy…well,  this wasn’t what I had in mind.

But I do have a few things that have been miraculously avoided becoming besmirched by sticky, inky, busy little hands.

I love this needlework version of The Milkmaid by Vermeer that my mother pored over when we lived in Germany when I was just a baby. 
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The wall-hanging itself is elaborate and beautiful, but it is even more precious to me because I know that each thread passed through my mother’s own fingers before it was affixed firmly on the canvas.  I am sure it  came together slowly but surely through the days and months we spent in Germany, possibly while sitting on trains transporting us to our next adventure or during lonely hours she spent so far from her familiar.  I imagine the threads gathering cells from her skin and from the air around her as she went, capturing the moments of my first months to be held under each tiny X stitch to be preserved in miniature pockets of time.

I wonder what it is about some things that have been handled over and over again that makes them faded and run down but then other things just grow increasingly lovable the more they’ve been grasped and rubbed?  This last five years has certainly worn me down more than any previous and I’ll admit, I don’t feel so lovable most of these days.  I know that the truth is that I am loved by God but it somehow just hasn’t really sunk down deep.  In the darker places of myself, hidden places like a root cellar where we’ve stored the things from which all of our understanding grows, I can’t quite annihilate this buckthorn weed that springs up so easily to choke out the truth of his unconditional love for me.

Feeling worn thin, rubbed down, burned out and carved into, it’s easy for me to imagine that I’m this way because God has somehow forgotten about me.  I passed out of his favor or did something that merits being punished.   Maybe I’m just not good enough to deserve good things or I’m just not as lovable as someone else might be.  Or could it be Him? Maybe he’s doesn’t care that much really.  Or maybe he’s just not that good afterall.

I guess this is where theology becomes practical.  What do I really believe?  Is my life like these things that have passed through the hands of my children?  By chance or whim, something or someone picks me up and tosses me around a bit.  In boredom or agitation, the edge of something sharp is applied or my life is scribbled upon carelessly.  Maybe in some angry or aggressive mood, someone throws me on the floor or punishingly twists me until the stuffing is seeping out my seams.  Or because I’m just not that special or simply because I have a god that is just that fickle, I’m forgotten in a corner somewhere, subject to any tread of a foot or spill of a glass that happens to erode the fabric of my life and make me fit for nothing but the trash.

A few weeks ago, I heard someone reference the two creation stories in Genesis.  The first is a general overview of how the world was made in 6 days with a 7th for rest and in it God’s creation of human beings is an important but not overly emphasized component of the whole story.  But perhaps knowing how much we’d need it, the writer circles around again and zooms in to provide a more detailed second account.  There’s no denying a greater intimacy is highlighted this time.  In the second account, God is called by his more personal name, Yahweh.  He shapes man from dust, as a potter would make something from clay.  In your mind’s eye, you can see God kneeling down to scrape dust together into a pile and beginning the work of shaping it.  It is easy to imagine the hands of Yahweh gently molding a face with one hand while he carefully cups a still limp body with his other.  Then, drawing from the deep of His own lungs and through the same lips that spoke the world into existence, Yahweh blows His very breath into Adam’s nostrils and the embers of life are stoked into a fully living person, animated by thoughts, feelings and an independent will.  We hear again in Psalm 139 of the intricate and wondrous care which God has employed as he weaves and knits us together in our mother’s womb and he knows us and watches us, no matter where or how we go.

The hands of God have touched each of us, deliberately and delicately attending to each detail of who we were made to be.  Like my mother with her needlework, each thread of life passes through his fingers, not just ours but every living thing.  Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without his knowledge. But humans have a unique significance in creation.  We actually bear the image of God.

And still, we somehow treat ourselves and others as if we are of excruciatingly minimal value.  Despising our bodies and taking for granted the talents we have been given, casting aside what makes us unique and carving and gouging at ourselves until we fit in better.

In my last several posts through the season of Advent, I started to think about this idea of Immanuel.  This God who becomes flesh to live among us in all of our mess and brokenness but also who, refusing to leave us without comfort, promised that his Spirit would come to those who love Him, to live with each of us and not just with but in us.  In each of us who would accept Him.

I value my needlework Vermeer because my mom made it.  Others treasure a signed copy of a favorite book because it bears something personal of the creator.  We give international attention to even a piece of toast or a Walmart receipt that vaguely resembles the idea in their head of what Jesus might possibly look like. Certain celebrities have built entire careers around almost no real talent, but just by reminding the world that they were the son or daughter of someone else famous.  Touching the Ark of the Covenant brought a death sentence because it contained the spirit of God.

So how then should we take the good news, the true reality, that

you were created by God’s own hands,

bear the image of God himself,

have been adopted as his child and still then more!

were given the gift of his presence,

not just walking with you but dwelling with you and in you,

in that body, in that life, wanting to work with those talents that you treat as if they’re worth so very little!?

Does God love me? Does he value me? O, if this is not love then I doubt if I could ever recognize it when it comes to me!  I want to shake my soul awake (and yours too, if it needs it) and demand that it be changed by the truth!  But I know I’m even that awakening is a gift from God.  So Father, please take the light of your truth into every dark corner of my mind and heart (and those of anyone reading, if they want  it) and scatter the shadows that lurk there and kill every weed that threatens to choke out this good news:

You are loved by Him.  You have value to Him!

 

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