Dessert and difficulty

Remember these words from Psalm 23? “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” and “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies.”

This doesn’t sound like a great deal does it? Rod and staff? Those sound like weapons. We have to eat surrounded by enemies? This is a good thing?

These words let us know that following God isn’t about a life of ease and plenty. It is a life of work and hardship. But it’s also a life of being refined. We are being improved through the difficulties that God gives us. They aren’t tests or punishments. They are how God shapes us and molds us into being better people. This way when it comes time for the separation of the wheat and the chaff, we will be the wheat. God is refining us into gold.

God chooses us, but then we have to choose God. And when we choose God we’re choosing this life of being shaped by God. When the psalmist tells us “You prepare a table for me in the midst of my enemies”, it means that in the middle of a bad situation you will flourish and be well provided for. But you have to be in a bad situation. It doesn’t mean that you get the feast without the fight. You don’t get the desert without the difficulty.

Know that whenever you’re in a bad situation, one that feels impossible, know that God is with you and that God is cheering you on. God wants you to rise above it and get stronger because of that bad situation, not in spite of it. God is using it to strengthen you in the same way that anyone who wants to get stronger muscles has to pick up heavier and heavier weights.

Lessons and tables

I’m tired of all these lessons. I’m tired of all this hard stuff. Why do all these lessons have to be hard? And so often? This must be graduate level work here.

If we are supposed to “love our enemies”, to be kind to them, then isn’t that enabling them? Isn’t that telling them that their ugly, abusive, selfish nature is OK?

Why do I have to eat at a table in the “midst of mine enemies”? Anger and strife don’t make for a good appetite or digestion.

But then I think – if the Lord prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies, perhaps it means that while I’m in the middle of an unpleasant thing my needs are taken care of. Instead of the food coming first and the enemies second – it is the other way around. So I need to open up and see the bad situations as a prequel to goodness coming.

Poem – thanks for the hard teachers

I am thankful for all my hard teachers.

All the mean people
all the hard times
all the disappointments
all the loss
all the grief.

I’m thankful for all that I did not get
and when I got something
unexpected,
unwanted.

I am thankful,
for these are trials,
tests,
especially tailored
to teach me,
to strengthen me.

I know that I am being called
to learn how to

hear
what cannot be heard

see
what cannot be seen.

Know what cannot be known.

I am thankful.

Special orders

I’m not a fan of special orders. I’d rather people buy what I have created. But I understand the need for special orders. People want something they have in mind, but they don’t know how to do it themselves.
Special orders are hard because people don’t really know how to ask for what they want. They don’t know the range of beads that are available, and the range that isn’t. I’ve been making jewelry for over 20 years and there are many beads I’ve only seen once. If I buy them and use them, I can’t find them again. They may exist, but I don’t know where. Going back to the same store doesn’t help. They may be sold out and their supplier can’t get any more.
That is part of what makes beading exciting. It is fun to find something that other people will love and is unique. It is also part of what makes it frustrating.
It is sometimes very hard to understand exactly what someone wants when they ask for something special. When Sally asks for a green necklace – what does she mean? Opaque? Translucent? What shade of green – olive, emerald, avocado, mint…? There are hundreds of shades of color. And then what shape? Round, faceted, tube, flat…? Then what size – tiny, medium, large?
The best is when a customer sets some parameters and trusts me with the rest, and are willing to pay for whatever I make. The worst is when they say “surprise me” and really they mean “read my mind”. Once a necklace is created, it can’t be easily modified. Sure, beads aren’t like paint. I can take the whole thing apart and reuse the beads. I haven’t wasted my money on the beads. But I still have to take the thing apart. If it is too long or too short, or the pattern isn’t what they expected, then what was wasted is my time, and that is very valuable to me.
I’ve made necklaces for people I’ve not met. I’ve not even talked to them. There was a lady who I knew over the phone. She wanted a necklace for her Mom. She described her Mom and I made a necklace and she was thrilled. Rarely is it this simple.
Sometimes I’ll pull together beads that are in the neighborhood of what the person wants, and let them look at them first. This seems to save a lot of frustration. I get a better idea of what they mean. The problem is that sometimes that doesn’t work, because the beads they have in mind aren’t ones that I have access to. I’ve got a lot of beads, and there are some pretty amazing bead stores here, but they don’t have everything.
Ideally, people would buy what I made. Barring that, in the second best situation they’d say something like “I’d like a red necklace that is 22 inches long” and let me figure out the rest. Otherwise, it isn’t worth it. The joy of making is the joy of discovering. It is hard to discover with a lot of limitations. When that starts happening, it would be easier to just teach them how to make their own jewelry.
I do teach people how to make jewelry, but not a lot. Nobody taught me. I took apart old necklaces from thrift stores and figured it out. I tried stuff and learned what worked and what didn’t. Bead books didn’t exist when I started making jewelry, and bead stores were few and far between. Now anybody can figure it out easily with YouTube and beading books from the library, but they still ask me. I can teach the mechanics of it, but I can’t teach design. That is something I just know, and I’m not sure how to teach it.

All things work together for good.

There is a song I heard on the radio this morning. The group is “Jesus Culture” and the song is “Your Love Never Fails.” The line that really got to me was “You make all things work together for my good.” It didn’t get to me in a good way. There was a very strong emphasis on the word “my.” And the verse didn’t sound right. So I looked it up.

Here’s the problem. That isn’t the verse. It is – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (NIV, Romans 8:28) This was written by the apostle Paul.

There is a big difference in these lines.

Yes, God works for the good. Not your good, necessarily. Good. The good. The good of all. All things work out how they are needed to work out to fulfill the will of God.

I want to yell – stop having a self-centered theology.

God didn’t even rescue his own Son. Defiled, reviled, spat upon, abused. Killed in a gruesome, painful, agonizing way. For nothing. For raising the dead. For healing the broken. For letting people know that they have within them the ability to mend the brokenness in the world if they but call upon the Holy Spirit.

Now, this verse from Paul is very good. It is very healing and hope-fillled. It is a good verse to hold on to when things seem to be falling apart. Divorce. Job loss. Cancer diagnosis. House fire. Tornado. Death of a friend. These are all terrible things to go through.

This verse reminds us that it isn’t our plan that is important. It is God’s plan. Remember the Lord’s Prayer? We say “Thy will be done.” Not “My will be done.” The prayer is a reminder to ourselves that we aren’t in charge. Thank God for that. Look what we’ve done to mess this place up already. We don’t know what we are doing. We shouldn’t be left in charge. But we remind ourselves every time we say that prayer that God is in charge. We aren’t giving God the power – we are acknowledging that He has it. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.” It isn’t ours. It is God’s.

To say that God makes everything work out for our good isn’t true. We aren’t special because we love God. Yes, God loves us. God loves everybody. He went to the trouble of making everybody because He needs us and loves us. Sure, you are special, along with all 7 billion other people. Don’t start getting a big head about it. There has to be a balance – you are loved and special, but so is everybody else.

Let’s look at the story of Joseph, starting in the 37th chapter of Genesis. His brothers aren’t very nice to him, to put it mildly. He gets stripped of his cloak, thrown into a cistern and then sold off to traders who were headed to Egypt. It wasn’t looking very good there for him. His father was convinced by his brothers that he’d been mauled by a wild animal. He spent some time in jail because he was falsely accused to trying to entice his master’s wife. Eventually he got out and was seen as wise because he correctly interpreted a prophetic dream that Pharaoh had. Because of that dream he knew that a famine was coming and they had to conserve food.

Near the end of the story we find out that it all was for the good that all this bad stuff happened. In Genesis 45:4-7 (NIV) we hear “4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”

He forgave them. He told them that everything that he had been through had been so that his family would be saved. By extension, it meant that the entire future nation of Israel would be saved. If he hadn’t gone through that hard time, all the Jewish people would have failed to come into existence.

But he didn’t go through all that so that he, Joseph, would benefit.

There is a big difference.

God is awesome, and powerful, and amazing. But God doesn’t work things out so that we have a great life or an easy one. God does what God does because it needs to be done. We have to live through difficulties. If we love God, we trust Him. If we trust God, we know that it is all going to work out the way that it needs to. There is something Zen-like in this trusting, this faith. There is something very difficult and yet very easy about this. It seems very passive, but it is very active.