Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pull Into

It’s been a rough week or so.  A sudden and formidable stomach bug and an early spring snowstorm hit last weekend, upending our plans to enjoy the start of the new season outdoors.  The week before was also full of usual household stress:  the mad dance of laundry baskets up and down the stairs, the 15 millionth example of how to carry the one into the tens column, the cat throwing up a hairball on the carpet two inches away from the linoleum (where cleaning it up would’ve been so much easier.)  When I saw him hunched over, convulsing up another thing to put on my “to do” list, I cried.  When I watched helplessly as my daughter grabbed the bucket and wretched up two teaspoons of Children’s Advil, I crumbled.  The fever would continue.  I took the obligatory two steps back and sank into my chair at the kitchen table.  “What can I do to help?” asked my ever-attentive husband.  “Nothing.  That’s just it.  There’s nothing you can really do.   It’s just defeat by a thousand paper cuts.” 

I don’t do winters well.  A big part of me wishes that God had designed a mandatory hibernation period from late January through late March for humans.  I’m jealous of the groundhogs and bears that get to enjoy that respite from the bone-chill and gauzy gray days of winter.  That said, I do love the beauty of first-fallen snow.  I love to photograph it and admire all the ways that white can highlight an ordinary, drab setting.  But let’s be honest.  Those moments are fleeting and they can’t compete with the rest of the raw season’s largess.  For every moment spent in quiet awe there are a dozen ticks on the clock spent with aching knuckles wrapped around a cup of hot tea.  

But while I’m complaining of my aversion to the deep winter, I’m also trying to bury a secret worry like a mother trying to hush a baby’s cry in the middle of a church service.  As much as I can’t wait for spring to arrive with breezes that cosset instead of abrade and sunlight that stretches instead of shrinks, the truth is I’m afraid for spring to arrive.  Because if I’m honest with myself, the warming of the air and greening of the yard means a hundred hours of work that I didn’t have to do while I was holed up in winter’s bastille.   The battle to stay one step ahead of the weeds, the chess game with the aforementioned groundhog who never tires of trying to break into my garden, the insanity of running a 3-child sports schedule which started with spring baseball practice this week.  What was I thinking?  Why was I so excited for this next season to get underway?  Soon I’ll be collapsing into bed at night, wounded by a second thousand papercuts.               

I was pondering this dread a few days ago while working on a painting project in the garage.  We had a farm bell refinished last summer and this spring we’re going to get it installed in my back yard flower bed.  I’m eager to finally see the project completed and so I wanted to have the post ready to go as soon as the ground would give way to the spade. As I pulled the brush back and forth, trying to spread the wood stain evenly and adequately across the splintery beam, I recalled a bit of advice my father-in-law had given me many years ago while we were painting a room in our first house.  

I had been slathering the paint on haphazardly, trying to press the brush into the drywall and squeeze the last bit of pigment through the bristles.  “Pull the brush like this,” he instructed, starting on the bare wall and dragging it toward the section that was already wet with color.  “Pull into the paint, not away from it.”  

It was such simple advice, but had immediate effects.  As the bristles picked up paint from the wet section, more could be supplied to the dry area.  I found that each stroke covered more space and I needed to return to the paint can less often.  It was also easier to feather out the brush marks as they faded into the painted sections, giving the wall a smoother finish.  I still remember this wisdom and use it every time I’m painting, even something as simple as a post that is destined for the dirt.  

As I dipped my brush into the can and pulled the red stain from the dry knotty wood into the wet section ahead, I realized that pulling into the paint isn’t just wisdom for walls and posts.  It’s excellent wisdom for life as well.  It seems that as we spend our days moving from one dry spot to another, we’re always training our eyes on the lack, the empty, the unfinished work before us.  We grind our hearts and minds into the barren, trying to push hard enough to squeeze a little bit of life into whatever it is that we want to see flourishing.  We haphazardly go about our days, heaping them with endless expectations, leaving jagged edges behind where words spoken in haste or exhaustion cut deeper into loved ones than the papercuts we’re feeling burdened with ourselves.

Yes, life in all seasons is hard.  It’s hard in the winter when all I want to do is curl into a ball and disconnect until the frozen days are past.   And it’s hard in the spring when life must be lived in the multiple spheres of inside and out.  And it will be hard in the summer when I’m desperate for an hour of escape from the arguing and tattling of 24/7 parenting.  And it will be hard in the fall when the mold spores launch from leaf piles into our nostrils as I wish for a freezing cold snap to settle the air crisp again.  Life is hard because it’s desiccated, long before we even set foot into it.  And the truth is, if we’re honest with ourselves, that we know we’re cracked open, too.

Bones were never meant to ache and children were never meant to rattle with chills and weeds were never meant to strangle the morning glory I want to trellis on that farm bell post.  But they do and the result of those thousand cuts is that my body leaks rest and peace drips from my heart and discontent blows like a parching wind through my mind.  I was never meant to collapse from exhaustion or clench my teeth in impatience but I do because I’m split wide and my search for resupply always leaves me lacking when I pull myself into the droughted places that the world has to offer.  

But then there’s that simple offer, the one with immediate results.  Jesus says, “Come!  All you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  Just as I pull the brush into the paint, I know I should also be pulling myself daily into His presence where the supply I desperately need is found.  Initially, rest from labors.  Then everything else I need for the day that He promises to provide when I have sought after Him first.  

But far too often, I look at the daily chore list first and decide that I’ll pull into His presence later, once I’ve tackled the most pressing issues of the day.  And before I know it, I'm wrapping my wounds, crawling into bed, asking for strength to make the better choice in the morning.  

What makes me flounder in the dry instead of pulling into the paint?  What makes me question the wisdom of starting my day in quiet prayer or hushed praise?  Why do I flip open the iPad to update my status instead of flipping open the Bible to dive into living waters that await me?  

It’s a question I wrestle with often, just as I wonder why I still grab the Oreos instead of the carrot sticks.  I think it has something to do with laziness and something to do with the ghost of self-sufficiency that hangs around the periphery and whispers, “I can handle this on my own, thank you very much.”  But I think it has mostly to do with the fact that I so easily forget what a spectacularly devastating price was paid so that I might be called by God into His place of rest and supply.

The back offered to the whip, the brow offered to the thorns, the hands offered to the  crucifier's mallet.   A body completely handed over to the cuts inflicted by countless sins, broken open so that the necessary blood of a New Covenant might be spilled.  

As I painted, I remembered the gift.  The undeserved, unasked-for inheritance we have at the cross.  But no inheritance can be gained without a death first taking place.  And no man’s offer to lay down his life can ever pay the wages of a whole world’s sin.  God’s requirements for cutting a New Covenant could be met by God alone.  And so He sent a piece of Himself, His beloved and only Son, to offer that necessary blood, to make that necessary sacrifice of His own life so that my life might be preserved.  And that’s why He calls us to rest.  Because He knows we have nothing to offer, no way of supplying the most important thing we need: absolute assurance that we are right with God again.  

After I put the brush down, I realized that the post I had stained red was actually a cross.  How fitting, I thought, with Good Friday just a few days away, to be reminded of the new life that this season heralds.  How humbling to see the place where Love’s arms reached out for me, thousands of years before I ever endured a single papercut.  How comforting to hear the Holy Spirit whisper, “Come, Jennifer.  Lay your burdens here and let Jesus carry the heaviness for you.”  

Tired and depleted and overwhelmed by the stings of those thousand hemic cuts, I made the better choice this time and went to pull myself once again into His supply where I triumph by the blood of the Lamb.            

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, 
that whoever believes in Him 
should not perish but have everlasting life.  
John 3:16


  1. That, my dear lady, was beautiful. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the kind words, sir :-) And thank you for your service...makes my pursuit of life's joys (writing, being at home with my kids, etc.) all the more possible. Happy and blessed Easter to you and yours!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Jen
    You should visit Sarge's place sometime. He is way more prolific than either of us. He does a lot of different topics.