Lately I’ve spent a lot of time learning. A LOT of time.
As a teacher, I certainly believe that most moments have the potential to be teachable moments, if they are used as such. As a homeschooling mom, I max out those learning opportunities at every chance I get because life truly is one of our greatest teachers.
As a Christ-follower, I know that although many of the little moments in living life may seem insignificant to me or to others, I also truly, deeply know that it is in the addition of those tiny times of seeming nothingness and those big life decisions of seeming giantness that Christ’s presence is always evident as He tenderly writes a life story. I just don’t always see Him there. Maybe you know what I mean.
So lately for one of my projects and because I like to add a little color to the story God’s writing in my life, I’ve been developing my picking skills. You know, kinda like the American Pickers, but not at all like them or their clients. My picking skills look a lot like picking through building material recycling and reuse centers or picking up old pallets at a construction site I walk through before they throw the skids in the dumpster. So I’m literally picking things up and throwing such treasures in my giant van so I can turn them into something Pinterest-y. Or at least attempt to do so.
Long ago and far away, my grandparents were amazing artists in their hobby time – woodworking, stained glass, Pittsburgh Three Rivers Art Show quality oil painting, flower arranging, vegetable growing, four-course dinner-making, among other left-brain dabbles. My dad is incredibly skilled at calligraphy, drawing, and painting, and my mom has some serious sewing, cake decorating, pie-making, and art skills… an eclectically awesome variety of creativity that I really hope rubbed off or at least passed down the genetic lines a bit.
So coupling my pallet-picking and recycled treasure-hunting with my ideas that maybe there’s some inherited artistic ability inside me, I’ve been spending a lot of time sanding and staining wood with plans to paint and build stuff.
Regardless of whether or not any inherited skills emerge like butterflies from cocoons in this process, it has provided plenty of thinking time, teachable moments, stained fingers, and splinters.
In case you didn’t know, although I’m quite sure that you do… Sanding is one of those things where you start with rough wood, and in the case of working with my particularly aged pallets, mostly raw lumber whose ragged surfaces and jagged edges scream warnings of impending impalement. And you scrape more super-coarse stuff – sandpaper – against the threateningly rugged wood, over and over and over again.
You just keep scraping these two rough things together until gradually one or both sides of the battle of strengths and wills is made smoother and softer. The wood always yields under the pressure and steady wearing of the sandpaper.
And, depending on how you are going to use the now gentler, less aggressive piece of lumber, you increase the grit and thus the fineness of the sandpaper to smooth off the rough edges even more. Sometimes you can add water to perk up the little fibers in the wood, and then tame them again with more scraping, until even the fibers have broken and given up.
And the previously wild and raw and untamed tree piece that once claimed its independence in a forest until it was turned into craggy usefulness, though still trying to reclaim its rugged beauty while fighting valiantly and splintering deeply, until all of the rough edges are sanded into beauty and gentility to be made even more useful to others.
And this seemingly mindless task of sanding and repetition becomes a teachable moment wherein the truths of God and His Love unfolded. Again.
Who are you like?
Are you the sandpaper, slowly and steadily applying pressure on someone or some hardship in your life, even scraping continuously at whatever rough stuff or hard thing isn’t as perfect or tamed as you’d like it to be?
Are you the lumber, harsh and splintering against the constraints of others, angry at situations that are not what you’d like them to be, needing to be smoothed and calmed again?
Are you the artist, seeing the beauty that can be crafted from such simplicity and rawness, urging the rough things to work together and to soften each other, to allow one to help the other become used for greater things?
Lately, I’ve been alternating between all three, and not just in woodworking. So many rough edges of my life scraping together and sanding me down to the point where functionality almost was impossible. Have you been there too?
And then, I remember that this is all part of the process of following Christ and of being molded by God into the people He would have us to be, instead of who we think we should be.
And then I remember too that you and I are not alone in this sanding and scraping of our rough edges.
Read Hebrews 11. Such a lengthy list of faith-followers who fought God, who tried to run away from His call or hide from His beckon, who splintered against His will. And gradually, sometimes through the sanding of God’s grace against the rough edges of their struggling faith and sometimes through the challenging situations they faced that were used to mold their human souls into being more of God souls, these flawed believers show us that we are not alone. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, the disciples… the list could go on and on.
The thing is that NONE of those big-name believers was perfect. ALL of them were raw, rough edges that God used in His own way to bring forth something better, something unexpected, something that when all of the raggedness is sewn together with ours, a beautiful tapestry is created. A life of stories. Our life stories.
On either end Hebrews 11’s list of those struggling faith-followers are these verses…
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40
The intertwining of their life stories with ours. The creative ways that God has mixed the old with the new and artistically continues to build a divine masterpiece of perfection that only He has envisioned… Only then will all of the sanding and scraping and molding and refining make sense. In God’s final unveiling of His work.
Faith in the struggles, in the sanding of our rough edges, is not the end of the process. It’s PART of the process of following Christ. It is not an isolating or taming of the soul like we too often think it is.
Instead, it is the writing of a life story that tells of God’s Love in us, through us, and around us.
Sometimes Love is tough, as it needs to be.
Sometimes Love is calming, when it has to be.
Sometimes Love is changing us into better, more faith-filled people, as we are called to be.
Sometimes Love that is tough, calming, changing, sanding, scraping, molding, and refining is exactly what we need. We may not receive what we think we have earned with our battle scars when we fight back and splinter against Love.
But it’s not about what we have earned in the struggles.
It’s about the splinters that have been worn on our behalf on a rugged and rough-edged cross on a hill by Jesus Christ, whose Love knows the ending of the story, whose Love alone wrote its completion.