Sunday, May 19, 2013

When your vessel is cracked

    I had the wonderful opportunity this weekend to attend a women's retreat put on by a church my friend attends. She went last year by herself (I know right right? She's one of those "brave girls") and came back so excited that she quickly convinced another friend and I that we HAD to attend with her this year. I am SO glad we did! I'll be honest, I was pretty nervous about it leading up to it. I'm the girl who hangs out with guys- a weekend with 500 (and it actually became 700!) women?? Wouldn't typically be my first choice. Also, I'm a minister. I wasn't sure I'd know my place at a church event where I had absolutely no responsibility- would I spend the weekend feeling out of place or counseling a bunch of women I didn't even know? Those were the issues I admitted right up front, but the deeper one, the biggest, the one I didn't even realize was an issue until I got there is that I've been really. really. REALLY dry. Maybe that surprises you if you know me, maybe it was obvious to everyone but me, but I was barely in the door of that place and I suddenly KNEW that at the first trigger I was going to bawl like a baby. I'm not even sure what it was really but there was already an atmosphere about the place that, even in the midst of 700 excited women whispered "PEACE" "REST" "This time is for YOU"  I guess it was like when you don't realize how hungry you are until you catch a whiff of some really good food. Suddenly I realized that I was ravenous for peace, and joy, and comfort.

   Here's where I get real...

   We have been in a hard hard HARD phase of our life. Not that there hasn't been good, there's been a LOT of it. We are continually so blessed and God just continues to heap provision on us and keep us aware of His presence in our lives. Some of our deepest prayers have been answered in the last few years; which is why, even though we've also been fighting some of our biggest battles, I felt so guilty that I was continually losing my peace and joy. I yelled in frustration just the other day that I keep thinking I've been filled to overflowing with the good stuff and then one little thing (or 50) happens and suddenly my vessel is bone dry again. I wondered what was wrong with me. I'm typically a happy person. I'm one of those annoying people that smiles and laughs ALL the time (truth- it's a coping mechanism. Yes I am joyful for real, but I also revert to it when I'm lost as to how I should really be acting) SO it really bothered me that more and more lately it wasn't myself that I was hearing, but instead it was a mean, angry, bitter woman. I didn't like me, how could anyone else? How could God find pleasure in that? So I arrive at this weekend  that was completely tailored for renewing a woman's spirit with all this baggage in tow. Not very far into the first session it hit me between the eyes- my vessel was cracked. Not just a tiny crack towards the top either; no, God showed me an image of it and there were not only cracks, in a few places there were entire chunks nearly busted through.  While I was certainly shocked to see that, it also suddenly made everything clear.

   Lets look for a moment at how you would treat a glass or clay vessel. When I think of myself I think of one of those tall, orange clay jars that curve in a then flare out at the neck, a little like this.
photo from

   Picture yourself as a vessel of this sort. You could certainly sit it up on a shelf and only disturb it when you dust it clean. Or you could have it in a safe place still, but filled with some pretty flowers. I don't know many women whose lives look like that. This is a sturdy vessel. It's made for everyday use, to withstand a few bumps and jostles. That looks more like a woman to me. But what happens if you take it and bang it up against another one? (you know like when we, as women compete against each other for the "IT woman" award and tear each other down in the process) Or if it gets knocked from the counter and falls to the hard tile floor (sometimes, for whatever reason, our dreams or our present joys get ripped away from us and it leaves us free falling) Or what if a careless person gets a hold of it and knocks it into stuff and throws dirt on it and piles stuff on top of it that is just too heavy for it to bear (sometimes we put our hopes and dreams and even our very lives into the hands of people who have no right to such a gift and we end up battered and bruised, if not completely shattered) There are so many ways a vessel like this could be misused and because it's strong, yet delicate, (hey Lady!) it's not going to look the same way after years of use as it did the day it was created.
   I won't go into the details of how my vessel got all of its damage but it suffices to say that all of the above and then some would apply. The problem is that I'm a minister. (just gonna throw in a side note here that the only reason I say it that way is because you all know that means I'm actively involved in ministering in a church- the truth is that we're ALL called to be ministers, but that's another post...) But I spend all this time helping other people learn to trust Jesus and find healing and move past the disappointments they've endured and I'm walking around with entire chunks missing from my jar. All that good stuff that God has been pouring into us wasn't any less good because it was so short lived in me; the problem was that my cracks were placed just so, so that if I was being used gently or sitting quietly on a shelf, it didn't drain out too fast, but when you pick up a cracked vessel and shake it a little, or a lot, well, you know what happens.

   This weekend, when I walked away from everything else for a moment and finally recognized the damage my vessel had sustained I was in the prime place to get it fixed. I could have looked at it and said "I'm damaged beyond repair, put me in the junk pile!" I could have been angry about all the things and people that had caused the damage (and in doing so, added to it) But THANK GOD I was in a place where it was right in my face how good God is and how much He cares for ME and as fast as I could I handed that dirty pitiful jar over to the master potter, my Daddy.  Isaiah 64:8

   Here's the thing with that: before I could be repaired, I had to be cleaned.  To the best of my knowledge, clay vessels of that sort aren't cleaned with soap and water, they're cleaned with sand. A handful of sand is rubbed into all the surfaces and it smooths away the dirt and grime while also removing some of the scratches and imperfections. Have you ever tried to wash sand off of you, or used a salt or sugar scrub when you have a sunburn? It doesn't feel so good, especially on damaged skin. YEAH Here's where the crying started. I felt God's hands, so gentle even as it hurt, as He rubbed away the dirt and the damage and the scratches. Oh man, was it so hard and SO. VERY. GOOD. as He cleaned me up. And then He began to fill the cracks and the holes. With love. With truth. With grace. With friends. With peace. With all things good. And then He filled me back up to the top, overflowing.

   So you're probably sitting there thinking, "well that's nice, unfortunately the rest of us missed it and we can't just take off for the weekend like that anyway and. and. and....." Yes you missed this weekend but that's OK because this weekend was for ME (and the 700 other women there...) but the good news is that God doesn't have to have a special weekend away to heal you. I believe this particular event worked so well for me because it got me completely out of my zone, where I couldn't get caught up in ministering but I had to sit back and be served. So what CAN you do?
   1. Recognize if you have cracks in your vessel.
   2. Understand that while God may have allowed them to happen, He did NOT put them there.
   3. Hand your vessel to Jesus. However that looks for you. Maybe simply time in your prayer spot- or finding a prayer spot. Maybe creating a mini getaway for yourself. Maybe getting with a trusted friend and walking through it together. Ask God, I believe He will show you.
   4. Hang in there while He's doing the work and DO NOT pick your vessel back up out of His hands. Let yourself cry. Accept that it hurts. Lean on your heavenly Father and let Him pour His love out on you.
   5. Don't get discouraged. If you try this and nothing seems to change, reach out for help. Go to your pastor, find a church, find a friend to help you. If you're reading this and you know of something that could help someone, please share it in the comments!
   6. Read your bible! It's His love letter to you, you can't stay in it very long and not begin to feel Him moving in you.
   7. Last, but should have been first- PRAY PRAY PRAY and if you're praying and praying and can't hear His voice, be quiet and LISTEN. Listen until He speaks, because when you most need it, He will. Because He loves you so much. Because He made your vessel and He called it good.

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