“I think God’s people are at their strongest when they are broken, because God can use them to do incredible things when they say, ‘All I can do is rely on God.’” – Mark Stuart
When I woke up that day, I didn’t think, “Today will be the day a stranger squeezes my bicep in the parking lot.”
But it happened.
It was awkward, and I don’t think he was impressed.
“Know anything about clay?”
Only that it’s heavy. “No.”
“Well, it can be a beast of an upper body workout. Hope your arms are ready for this.” Squeeze, squeeze.
OK … great. Thanks …
I managed to make it the last 10 yards to the car with the 25-pound block of clay without any more stranger arm squeezing. Amazing how dense that clay was at about the size of a cantaloupe … somehow 25 pounds feels a lot different when it’s in the form of a knot rather than a toddler or a carry-on suitcase.
This was solid. Intense. Heavy. I was hunched over it all the way from the art store to the car, super-flexing my non-biceps, carrying it right next to the gut with everything I had.
It was a familiar feeling.
Sometimes I think our spiritual loads actually feel physical. Some days the ache and the longing for the real stuff that’s coming later make me want to reach out and punch a hole in the flimsy canvas tent I’m sitting in, wind-battered and broken.
And stick my hands into the Light. For good.
“For we know that when this tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … “
We all have a load. And we all have an innate longing for the real stuff, if we don’t allow ourselves to numb it.
This life is good, don’t get me wrong. I love the neighborhood where I run in the mornings under a bunch of hot-pink crepe myrtles. I love a good chai latte. I love hanging with my people. I have big plans to become a unicyclist by the end of the year.
But the good stuff (when it comes) is meant to remind us of the even better, and the pain (when it comes) is meant to drive us further up and further into His arms.
When my good friend Clare died earlier this year, it felt like a 25-pound block of pain lodged in my abdomen, like I’d caught a cannonball with my gut. The only thing I knew to do was run as fast as I could to Jesus, and I face-planted into His solidness kind of like that guy in “Man of Steel” who tried to get in a bar fight with Clark Kent.
God didn’t move an inch. He just stayed. And cared. And was solid.
He always was. But I think death and pain have a way of making the eternal look even more permanent and the stuff here look even more translucent, our human form even weaker.
“But we have this treasure (the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ) in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed … “
My fragility was on display. And the more broken I became, the more solid He felt, and the more I wanted Him to fix what was broken in the way that He chose.
“’Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do …”
For months in the quiet as I’ve sat with Him, the words that come to mind about Him are Rock. Shield. A Shepherd who carries me, solid and gentle. A Creator who, like the Potter, keeps His hands still and steady and lets the clay conform to them without movement or force.
And another word: love.
And for months as I’ve thought about my own condition, the words I thought of were weak. Broken. Out of strength.
So I took my clay and I went down to the potter’s house.
I’m still doing that every day.
I don’t know how to put into words how sweet His care is. One night at the beach recently, I stood in the shower and let the tears run. I didn’t even know how to tell Him what was wrong. I just said, “I have no strength. I know You’re in control, and I trust You. I’ll follow You wherever You want me to go … just please be my strength.”
I went to bed.
The next morning, I woke up when my niece, who was sleeping near my feet, screamed at 5:30 a.m. with a missing blankie crisis. It abated quickly, but the thoughts in my head didn’t.
So I grabbed my phone and my Bible and headed for the beach.
And on the way down, I read an email from a friend I hadn’t had a really good conversation with in months.
“Hey! Ok – this is going to sound a bit strange but here goes. I just wanted to check in on you to see how you are because I just dreamt about you. I just woke up instantly thinking of you and prayed for you. I am not any prophetess or anything and it maybe me just missing talking to you but I thought I would check in since it isn’t everyday that this happens – and prayer is always good!”
I laid my head back on the beach chair and watched the waves roll in. A couple of older people were picking up shells about 100 yards away. The beach is pretty deserted at 6 a.m. Guess that’s not surprising.
“Father, You’re so big. You made the waves, yet You made someone wake up in the middle of the night to pray for me.”
“Hey … umm … hi.”
Where did these girls come from? There was no one on the beach but the old people.
“This is kind of weird, but we were just walking by, and I felt God telling me to stop and pray for you for strength.”
The next thing I knew, the two girls were praying over me things they couldn’t have known on their own.
“Is this something y’all do all the time?”
“What? Stopping and praying with people?”
“No … this is kind of weird for us.” They made a face at each other. “We never do this.”
We talked for a minute, and I headed back to the beach house amazed.
My God cares.
For me. And for you.