Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mud Pies and Straw Castles

With hands stained orange from Georgia clay, I clasped rich soil.  The sweet ground most always was tough at first. But my sand bucket, shovel, old serving spoon, and outside spigot meant no problem. Adding water to a little well dug in the earth, I knelt and plunged heart and hands into the mix.

Dirty knees did not matter, much less little hands, bare feet, and nails all grimy due to digging and designing. I could not have cared less of summer heat then. Besides, I was shaded by dense wood that I thought reached the sky.

Taking curved fingers, I reached, scooped, held, turned, and shaped til the softened earth became round. I then flattened into little pies that made me proud and happy.

It was hard work for a young girl who found escape and childhood dreams in a backyard filled with great shade, climbing trees, pine straw, footpaths, and sounds of nature and neighbors near. It was deliverance from summer boredom. It was discovery. I felt I owned that yard of Georgia soil.

It was really my father's dirt, not mine. And yet, it did belong to me, for my dad always told me that what belonged to him and my mother was also mine.  And my delight in our land brought great joy to Daddy and Mama. They would watch from open windows and enjoy my imagination and their quiet.

My imagination never seemed to tire. When dusk settled in over Georgia sky, I heard my name and knew to leave my outdoor world and go to the spigot and wash. Later, a cast-iron tub, ivory soap, inside water, and prissy pajamas removed leftover play and welcomed my nights to paper dolls, books, and more pretend. Before I went to bed, Daddy would sometimes have to dig splinters from beneath my tender fingers that had used pine straw for imaginary walls in imaginary homes. I fell asleep with thoughts of old ground and new plans for the soil and make-believe world I so loved.

The soil never changed.  It was old ground that was always waiting on me. Even if I returned to it today and searched my childhood home, that old dirt would still be there. The earthy smell would remain as it did in the 1960's. I could probably find the same spigot, take a little water, get on hands and knees, and dig my childhood well and make mud pies and feel the red clay soften and conform to my desire.

And if I returned to my childhood yard and made mud pies again or built a straw house, I would most likely look around and ask the proverbial question, "Where did time go?"  At my new age of fifty-one, it is a question I ask often.  Wondering how years can fade so fast is the one not-so-soothing thought that, as my grandma used to say, reminds us most "things never stay the same." Things are always changing.

Now, at this point in my life, my questions of time are changing. Accepting the uncontrollable, my thoughts now veer from "Where has time gone?" to "What has time done?" "How has it changed me?" "What has experience done to my person, my walk with God, my relationships, my life?" "Am I a better person?" "Have I made my dirt conformable to the hands of my Digger-of-Wells?" "Is God really my Potter?"

"Do I let Him change my dirt to His desire?" "Who has designed my plans and my dreams?" "Are they His?" "Or am I still busy with my own mud pies and straw castles?"

It's a hard thing to leave your own life alone, to give all you have to Jesus. From an early age, we're used to making do and making up as we go along. We're taught the importance of potential. Of dreams. Of purpose. Of lending ear to self. Of living up to ideal best. Of setting sail to the world's winds. We are told by educators that we are the masters of our destinies.

For a Christian, the worldly philosophy of mastering one's own destiny brings conflict to the soul.  That conflict can even be war between the flesh and the spirit, as we strive against humanism and voices that plead for the salvation of personal choice over letting go and surrendering to God.  Perhaps the natural inner conflict of letting go of our own lives is one reason the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13:11-12.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

As a child, Paul said he spent his time in childish things: his own imaginings, desires, designs, childlike behavior, talk, and dreams. But, when he became a man, a Spirit-filled, Christian man, Paul said he gave them all up for a greater cause. The greatest cause.

Paul did something that few of us accomplish as thoroughly as he did. He surrendered completely. He totally relinquished everything to Jesus Christ, the Savior, our Redeemer, our Rock, our Deliverer, the Lord of all. His life was absolutely centered in His Savior.  Paul's only cause and his reason for living was Jesus. Christ was the Apostle's motivation for planning, for dreaming, for loving, and for losing.

Holding nothing back, he solidly proclaimed, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

I like to envision this mighty warrior of God as he penned that bold truth about self death to the Philippians from his prison cell in Rome. As I try to grasp this great statesman of faith, I remember another proclamation of Paul's pen:

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

What does it take for death of self? I believe there is much individuality in the answer. We all have our own particulars that God sees - those things that are spoken between Abba Father and us.  But, regardless of the details, dying to self so that we can live in Christ is a process of pain and denial, one that requires God-supplied grace.

As the heat of summer 2010 burns its way into my real, now world, I yearn for God-supplied grace. I need denial. I need surrender. I need death. I want to forget about my "straw castles" and "mud pies" and let my Potter and Master Carpenter take my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears, my lips, my world and form and shape them for His glory.

His holy hands are never far away.  They are always reaching, touching the depths of our hearts and far corners of our souls. They find things we didn't know before. His hands crush, dig, and make a well in our souls that only He can fill.  He pours water, works, and shapes. And though it may not all seem pleasant now, God's handiwork promises a forever bright future. And, here is how we know that truth:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Let's live that promise today! Take it personally!  It is yours!  Though the Potter's hands may challenge the world's view of living, and though at times we may feel pain, his hands will never harm. His hands are always for our good, and we can and must rejoice in that fact!!!

Seeking death and life in Jesus,