I watched my inherited grandson playing with David the other day.  He had come up to me earlier saying, “I wanna make somethin’.”  Without wanting to unleash the box of craft supplies and its unholy possession of glitter and finger paints, I opted for the box of various gift wrapping supplies.  Tape, wrapping paper, scissors, ribbon, and a misshapen collection of bags to be re-gifted all jammed into one plastic bin. 

Sometimes, when life seems particularly out of hand, I think about this box stacked away quietly in a closet and say to myself, “see…you’ve got it together…you have a box at the ready for emergency gift wrapping situations.”  It never fails, however, and I usually end up needing to make a stop to buy another bag in route to an event where a gift is required because none of the ones in said bin fit the particular gift application.  Nevertheless, this box is a great source of pride and comfort for me.  I grabbed a bunch of things that had building potential.  “Here you go!” I said, in my most disarming sing song voice, praying silently that he wouldn’t see the demon glitter bin just underneath, “Go make something!”

He set to work with David’s oversight.  I busily set about doing adult things such as seriously considering getting some laundry done as I curled up on a chair to watch ‘Despicable Me 2.’  In between scenes of Gru learning to access vulnerability,  and my internal considering of the laundry, I watched two generations of men “make somethin’” from the raw materials of my valued wrapping box.  Good thing I have it…

The build project was rife with massive inefficiencies.  Time and resources were mercilessly wasted.  At one point, Trenton asked David to cut the cardboard tube, which once usefully held about 6 foot of wrapping paper (…that I might need at some point),  into three separate segments and then, realizing his mistake, taped them all back together again like it never happened.   Ribbon was wrapped around and stuck through holes, some intentional, some not.  He was focused.  His every decision was carefully weighed in the creation of what he said would be a “crane.”  He chattered away nonstop explaining his plans to David, talking through the project, and asking for assistance when larger hands were needed.  David simply stood over him, letting him think and then obliging with a cut or a tie off as the project demanded. 

David Beamed.

“Look at how he’s thinking through just how he wants it,” he said,  “All I did was help where he needed it, but it’s all his idea…his design…” more beaming.

I nodded in agreement that Trenton was indeed a very special kid, as the cardboard tube held together by scotch tape swung from miles of red Christmas ribbon in a kind of pulley system from my ceiling…a crane.  If it had been presented to you as a prototype for potential investment, you would have declined…strenuously.

I watched my husband, his Papaw, swell with pride.  I saw absolute delight.  If you’ve never seen another person delight in something or someone absolutely, I recommend you start looking for it.  You may need new friends.  You will most likely need a different family.

It’s the look I think God has when He watches us “make something.”  It’s Him huddled over us absorbed in the process of letting us do it, hoping we talk through the strategy and waiting for us to ask for help…because our hands are too small and we can’t reach the ceiling. He doesn’t mind the mess, and He doesn’t get snotty about the overuse of ribbon or needless cuts because He knows where there’s more, and has enough tape to fix it…He’s got a whole box. 

He just delights. With no agenda and no end in sight, He knows we have been created in the image of a creator and He simply likes to see what we come up with.

Perhaps without knowing it, at some point, most of us decided to make something.  We went to college, got married, or started into a career.  Maybe we were brave and tried something big and new, or maybe the normal things of life were enough of a project.  Either way, we thought we’d try.  We were given a set of raw materials, probably the box without the glitter, and now stand in a life of our own making, an ongoing construction site.

There seem to be a couple ways of going about it.  But mostly I think we miss the point.  For whatever reason, we don’t see God like Trenton sees his papaw.  Parents, friends, and churches teach us instead that there isn’t enough goodness in the box to be making sloppy mistakes, or that if God delights in us at all, it’s because we were already good at making cranes in the first place.  I remember growing up with the mantra that “God wasn’t interested in my happiness, He wanted my Holiness”… to this day I wish someone would say that to me again so that I could kick them in the back of the knee.  As an adult, I’ve had many shouting matches with those people in my car and, had they been present for them, they would have reconsidered their theology probably.

The good people I know are mostly afraid of making mistakes.  They stop short, limit their exposure, friend groups, and efforts.  They can’t even get to “I wanna make somethin’” because they don’t trust the God in them that made them “want” in the first place.  They hand the scissors back and say, “I’ll just watch you do it.  I don’t want to mess it up.”  While they make very few mistakes, I tend to think that God agrees with me when I roll my eyes at these kinds of people.

The rest of us isolate the whole process. We don’t want help because that would require a willingness to unclench our jaws and ask…like we don’t know what we’re doing or something.  We don’t chatter along openly like Trenton, communicating without taking a breath, asking for help when needed.  We hide our stupid little project until completely out of hand and then throw it back in despair, begging for the redemption of a mangled cardboard tube…or life…whatever.

The author Gregory Boyle says “How much greater is the God we have than the one we think we have…the truth of God seems to be about a joy that is a foreigner to disappointment and disapproval.” How far is that from the God we learn about?  He doesn’t separate happiness and holiness; he winds them so tightly together that to strive for one is to be caught up in the other.  So that to be given life to its full is to mimic a creator, and be joyfully unafraid of building, and growing, and doing in a world that is marked by the failure to get it right all the time.

God put us first in a garden and, while we were still quite capable of choosing life or death said, “Go make something.”  He didn’t hesitate to give us authority, in fact, He insisted on it.  And when we bend to the twisted pursuit of our own holiness, there we go again, making a brazier out of leaves to hide the inevitable shame. 

I just sat there, on holy ground, watching Gru get married surrounded by minions, laundry forgotten, thinking that maybe life is easier than I make it.

  It was always supposed to be a conversation.  We have always been called to create.  The life, the relationships, the business, and the family you have sit in stagnation or wreckage for lack of a vision and the sense to ask for help.  And still, they can be unrecognizably resurrected when we get brave enough to co-create.  He wants you to use your head and He wants you to use His hands.  There is no waste in the mistakes.  He’s got enough tape.

The time I get to sit is rare anymore.  Most of my time these days is spent managing the gym I’m partnered in, working with the nonprofit my husband and I began, and coaching clients both in person and online through the labyrinth that is physical health.  It seems like a lot when I say it like that… especially when I consider how much I actually enjoy sitting and doing relatively nothing with a good book and fluffy blanket.  Alas.

  I wish I could say that I choose to read and meditate on scripture in the original Greek and Hebrew all while marking my Bible up with various colors of highlighter.  I wish that I worked more diligently on my writing or that I studied independent news media to keep an open mind toward the realities of current events.  Mostly, I don’t.  Sometimes I shop, sometimes I watch YouTube videos about how to do yoga for self-care, and then proceed not to do yoga for self-care.  Sometimes, like today, I get caught up in scrolling social platforms and get huffy, or envious, or worse…I start to compare.  

Today was particularly tricky because it was my own feed that got under my skin, and it’s just a bummer to be the source of your own disappointment.  It began innocently enough; I was trying to be productive… (It occurs to me that that sentence should be written on my headstone)…anyway…I was rolling through my Instagram looking for old writing content to move to a different page. 

It should be said here that scrolling to the bottom of one’s social media feed should legally require the oversight of a licensed therapist.  I felt things.  None of those things were that great.  

I don’t know who that girl was six years ago, but she sure was into fitness…and I don’t know who that girl was three years ago, but she sure was into Jesus.  Each frame is unforgiving.  Each little write up is a kind of sweet wound.  Kinda cute.  Kinda painful.  It’s not that I’m no longer into fitness or Jesus anymore…It’s just…different.  

I don’t mind admitting it made me a little sad that I don’t feel like I used to about fitness or ministry.  I know social media is the place where we all say things with lots of passions and agendas, but you get a different feeling when you live in between and long after the frames.  As I scrolled down through years of posts they exposed me as shamefully attention seeking all the way around to an unsophisticated saint.   Looking around for a therapist and finding none, I was left to my own analysis…”you seem kinda stupid” I said to myself and finished the analysis.

Five years ago, in a different marriage, scraping out my own business, I was a girl whose faith was placed in work ethic.   I had grown up in, and had grown out of, church. I believed in God, but was desperate for that God to turn his face away from me.  Up to that season in life, I had learned one thing about faith; whatever it was, I didn’t have enough of it.  I tried really hard to be religious.  I tried to fit in at church.  It always culminated with a big, fat, faithless, failure on my part.  So, five years ago, I had already resolved to lay low, spiritually speaking.  It was a pretty solid strategy.  You can see it in my posting.  You can hear it in my writing. It was a faith that kept heaven out of reach and hoped for God not to notice. 

Years of posts later, I’m different girl.  My current husband and I began a nonprofit ministry.  I had started life over with a new job…all the blessings.  The posts were from a girl steeped in faith.  The things I wrote and the way I thought dripping with scripture.  Faith had awoke in the wide-eyed kind of way one gets when falling in love with the childhood friend who’d been there all along.  Somehow in the space of three years’ worth of posts I had a heart that seemed to beat harder for the sufferings of others.  Somehow being closer to my own pain provided more empathy then than feels like I have right now.   I was quick to serve, energized, and full of the kind of optimism that thinks everyone should care as much as I did.  You can see it in my posting.  You can feel it in my writing.

I seemed like a much better person to me then, than I do right now. I seemed like an entirely different species from the girl of six years ago.  There’s always a bit of melancholy mixed with memories, and this was no exception.  Looking through the past,  I felt like my faith wasn’t what it once was and, if that was true, was it ever what I thought it was?  Yeah…that’s the kinda stuff I think about sitting around.

I don’t feel like I used to.  

I don’t rush to the side of a girl who thinks she sees demons in her room at 10 o’clock at night.  I don’t try to listen to every plea for help or attention.  I don’t push to get involved with other nonprofits because I think they might get me more connected.  I don’t get upset when I can’t give what is asked for.  When I can, I don’t get any feeling of chills or any such tingly thing.  Every one of our volunteers is a much better person than I am, and I am well aware we are nothing without them.  

I used to think everything was such a big deal.  That we were going to change the world by speaking love and life into those who were marginalized and abused.  That never really happened, at least not from my particular vantage point.  In the last three years I have been a guest in the lives of more than a few drug addicts.  I have been stood up on Thanksgiving for hours while the girl I waited for was sleeping off her latest hit.  There have been countless hours of portable workouts and church services, late night hospital visits, baby gifts, and prayer requests.  I have watched merciless cycles of relapse on repeat.  I have been disappointed by people I thought were different than I thought, and humbled by people whose goodness was hidden by what I thought was otherwise.  I am sometimes harshly judgmental of choices I think are foolish from people whose pain I can never fully understand.     I am often changing my opinion about what is holy.  And sometimes, I don’t think all the effort matters at all. 

I don’t think ministry is that big of a deal anymore.  I think it’s just a kind of living where you are in the midst of God in the space of others. It’s simpler and infinitely more difficult.  Every day, sometimes every hour of every day, I am surrounded by people of every kind and I can’t tell which is ministry or who is ministering to whom anymore. 

 I struggle to love, I’m selfish with my time, outcomes are seldom what I think they should be, and I’m often salty.  I can be discouraged by the smallness of what we do but simultaneously, uncomfortably overwhelmed by just how big that smallness really is. I am uncomfortable in church.  And in fact, I get envious and cynical when I see churchy people post or say what I think is vending machine Christianity.  I don’t want to hear it.  I don’t think it’s cute anymore. I can be a relapsing cynic. Like that girl I was so many years ago, I already know I’m not faithful enough, unlike her, I’m not interested in hiding or pretending but I’m also not jumping up and down shoutin’ Hallelujah,  joining a small group. 

The faith I used to have…both the kind that was barely enough to be called a mustard seed and the kind that thought anything good was possible have given way to whatever I have now.  It’s battle tired, sometimes skeptical, but daily renewed. It’s no matter what, and whatever I’ve got. It’s been broken down but it’s far less frail.  Its less flashy but more formed.  It’s not cute or post-able, because it simply is the thing that continues to believe God turns toward us even when He knows we don’t have enough.  

 The faith of the young biblical character, David, who killed a giant, had a kingdom singing his praises…It seemed like a big deal.  But keep scrolling and that same David, many years later, forced to his knees in repentance after moral failure, still had faith… It probably didn’t feel the same.   Yet, it was probably harder for an old man to trust that God would forgive him, than it was for a young man to trust for Gods victory.  His faith actually had to be stronger for him to hold to it in the midst of failure.  A young man full of hope and without as many mistakes has a different kind of faith. But faith over time is thickened and hard like a callous formed to fit the work. It is year after year that one experiences God in all circumstances and finds Him faithful enough to look at us squarely and say “this, still, is one after my own heart.”

What I realized was that much of my sadness over the kind of faith I used to have was just a faulty judgement of what my faith should now be…what it “should” feel like.     Faith, however, is more in the doing than in the feeling.  Sometimes it’s only strong enough to stand still, sometimes its hands in the air singing hallelujah, and sometimes it’s head down and do the thing again.  As the years go by, if you expose it to a world that makes hard demands, it gets tough.  It won’t feel like it used to but it will be stronger than it ever was, not on its own merit, but because it has seen who He is over and over again regardless of who you were.  It has always been small and simple, but it actually is a really big deal.

In conclusion, maybe be more productive in your down time.  And when you’re tired, don’t scroll your own feed digging up what you’ve already buried under years of filters and circumstance.  Expose the faith you have to things that might ugly it up a little bit, but just may toughen it up a lot.