Welcome to the Crucible


“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” ~ Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the letters A and U and also by the number 14 (carats, that is). Now think GOLD. The way that gold is refined, or purified is a process with many steps.

First of all, you obviously want to start with gold, if you want refined gold. You can’t start with dirt or tuna fish or koi ponds or strawberry Pop Tarts. Only gold can be used if you want refined gold. That’s Step 1. Step 2: Place in the crucible. The gold has to be in the right place, or environment, in order for the refining to take place. This involves location, materials and timing. Step 3: add heat………serious HEAT. First you will need to add some boric acid. Now heat, more acid, followed by more heat, and so on…Keep doing this until the gold is completely melted, however long that takes. Step 4: the gold will need to be handled very carefully as it is poured into the mold. It’s really hot. It can hurt anyone who gets too close. Step 5: the gold must cool completely before being taken from the mold so that it will hold its shape. (http://www.wikihow.com/Melt-Gold)

I think that in life, pain, like everything else, is all a matter of how you are willing to look at it, the perspective you choose, the lens you use when you consider things and situations and even people that come your way. Let me clarify, we all have a certain bent when it comes to the way we see things. I’m talking about pain, and you will need to use a little extra effort here.

First of all, for the purposes of our discussion, you and I are the gold. In order to be refined, we must first have some intrinsic value already. You can’t clean dirt, or rot. You just get rid of it. Refining is a process that takes time, attention, and care. The goal at the end is to have the thing of value be of even greater value. In order to be refined, there must already be value of some kind, there must be some redeemable qualities in order for something to be redeemed. Redemption comes when we are found, refining happens when we are perfected. It is always unpleasant. We feel unsure, unsteady, unclear why this is happening now, this way, for this length of time. We often feel misused, misunderstood, and we see no end in sight. Sometimes we break down under the strain of what is happening to us…like when we lose our tempers and yell at our kids, our spouses, say things we don’t mean, quit our jobs without notice, give up on the dream, drop out of school, tell someone off….like in traffic, using technicolor language that would make grandma yank our ears.

I often feel that parenting is a kind of crucible. Multiple times a day you are faced with the choice of acting selfishly….or even out of self-preservation, and you are given the choice, me or them, now or the future, pay now or pay later. Sometimes, either way you choose it feels like you lose. There are so many of these knuckle-baring, teeth-gritting moments along the way as we raise our kids it sometimes makes us very poor company for anyone else, like our co-workers, friends, church family, spouses, or basically anyone who doesn’t want to hear the run-down on Little Miss or Misters’s last bowel movement. (I love a good pun, and that sentence had to awful ones. 🙂 )

I have wondered many times over the years about the much debated and hotly refuted portions of the Bible that talk about women, some of them more than others, like the submission to your husband part and the part about childbearing as in the increased pain (thanks a lot Eve), and about how women will be saved through childbearing (1 Timothy 2:15) HUH????? Are you kidding me? This on top of submission? God, you ask too much.

But, wanting to actually understand, I thought about it in the context of what the passage talks about, which was a situation in which families were fragmented and the child rearing was not being carried out by loving parents at home. Similar to today, women and men were sold out to the idea of “finding themselves” and such. As is the case today, as the parents “found themselves” the children got lost in the shuffle. This passage is calling Christian women to lay down their selfish desires and give themselves to their children, their tender little babies, who really needed them. Babies aren’t babies forever, of course. This is not an admonishment for Christian women to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and never learn to read. Kids need their parents. Period. That made sense to me. I do tend to get my back up a little when someone tells me to do something (which, at 37, my mom is still doing). Even when someone tells me to do something sensible or gives good advice, I tend to bristle a little bit. People with knowledge don’t like to be taught, and yet it is against reason as well as wisdom to be this way. So there is a little insight into a long-time struggle for me today. 🙂 Love you Mom. 🙂

Of course as I am now actually in the middle of parenting, another thought occurs to me: childbearing and rearing works out something else in us. I have long held the belief that no one, simply no one, can make me more red haze, can’t-speak-correctly, vein-I-didn’t-know-I-had-pulsing, calling-my-kids-everyone’s-name-but-theirs angry, NO ONE but kids. Thankfully, I love my kids, I mostly love kids in general, it’s just when I get out in specific situations with specific kids…again…that I find my “nice lady” seams tearing a bit. Childrearing holds your feet to the fire. It’s easy enough to say you love children when you have none of your own, and of course know better than all those sleep-deprived, cranky individuals who, unbeknownst to you, are telling their child “no” not for the 5th time as they ask for a treat, but the 56th, in less than 5 minutes, and you just let that comment about “controlling your children” slip only slightly loud enough as you passed their shopping cart containing a car seat, and the entire wardrobe of the child who has been screaming. ALL. THE. WAY. THOUGH. THE.  STORE. That poor soul is just trying to make it to the checkout with a couple of gallons of milk and some semblance of dignity and self-control and is being fought every step of the way. There are the times when the fun money you had set aside is used instead on shoes for Little Miss or Mister who you realized with a guilty pang was wearing shoes 3 sizes too small. No, you will not be buying new shoes for work or lunch with the gang this week. You can kiss that concert goodbye because you had to stay home with a kid (or kids) who all got head lice, so of course you are now a pariah anyway and now you couldn’t afford to go even if the darn little buggers didn’t keep showing up on head after head. (Calgon take me away!) *pause for psychosomatic head itching, sorry*

Another hard thing about parenting these sweet babies is that you have to tell them many many times to do something, or not too. I have had crayon on my walls for years, or pencil or pen, or (GASP) even marker. I have made rules and punished and explained and taken things away, and yelled and screamed and panicked, and yet, I still have crayon, etc. on my walls. Discipline is not a popular thing in our country currently. We do not like to tell ourselves no and we do not like to say it to our kids. It’s uncomfortable to wait or do without, so instead of earning good behavior or a well-deserved reward, we cave to the pressure of a tantrum or whining and find peace for a time…..until the next time, and the next, and the next. Discipline is hard work and you actually have to remember what the point was in the first place. I’m not really a fan of the strict cry it out philosophy of sleep training. However, I have never been a fan of being held hostage in my own bed by a baby, either. Nor am I a fan of Cruella DeVille in my house the next day screeching at my kids and husband. There has to be a balance in everything we do. (1 Peter 5:8)

So, as far as a crucible is concerned, there are times when I think I must be in the fire with the acid being added. Being a parent is an overwhelming undertaking, both for the good, sweet, tender, and joyous moments it brings as well as for all the pain and tears and frustration and heartache. I think, though, that as with anything else, God works in seasons in our lives. There are times when I have been put through life’s ringer whether it be a difficult relationship in my extended family, or drama at work, or health issues I worry about for my loved ones, or the tires that keep going flat on my minivan at the most aggravating and inconvenient times, naturally.

After really difficult seasons, I feel a little worn and tender. I’m a bit more sensitive and easily hurt. I need some time to process and heal. Those times are like the cooling process of gold. I want to come out of these times bearing the form of my Savior. I fail though at other times, and I know that it’s only so long before I am yet again being put through the crucible again.  BUT, as we are to find our balanced stances in life, so God has things well in hand. When we go through these sanctifying seasons, He knows when to ease things and we will never go through alone. 🙂

“PETER, AN apostle (a special messenger) of Jesus Christ, [writing] to the elect exiles of the dispersion scattered (sowed) abroad in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, [aka YOU] Who were chosen and foreknown by God the Father and consecrated (sanctified, made holy) by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and to be sprinkled with [His] blood: May grace (spiritual blessing) and peace be given you in increasing abundance [that spiritual peace to be realized in and through Christ, freedom from fears, agitating passions, and moral conflicts]. Praised (honored, blessed) be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah)! By His boundless mercy we have been born again to an ever-living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [Born anew] into an inheritance which is beyond the reach of change and decay [imperishable], unsullied and unfading, reserved in heaven for you, Who are being guarded (garrisoned) by God’s power through [your] faith [till you fully inherit that final] salvation that is ready to be revealed [for you] in the last time. [You should] be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations, So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) is revealed. Without having seen Him, you love Him; though you do not [even] now see Him, you believe in Him and exult and thrill with inexpressible and glorious (triumphant, heavenly) joy. [At the same time] you receive the result (outcome, consummation) of your faith, the salvation of your souls. The prophets, who prophesied of the grace (divine blessing) which was intended for you, searched and inquired earnestly about this salvation. They sought [to find out] to whom or when this was to come which the Spirit of Christ working within them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow [them]. It was then disclosed to them that the services they were rendering were not meant for themselves and their period of time, but for you. [It is these very] things which have now already been made known plainly to you by those who preached the good news (the Gospel) to you by the [same] Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Into these things [the very] angels long to look! So brace up your minds; be sober (circumspect, morally alert); set your hope wholly and unchangeably on the grace (divine favor) that is coming to you when Jesus Christ (the Messiah) is revealed. [Live] as children of obedience [to God]; do not conform yourselves to the evil desires [that governed you] in your former ignorance [when you did not know the requirements of the Gospel]. But as the One Who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all your conduct and manner of living. For it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. [Lev. 11:44, 45.] And if you call upon Him as [your] Father Who judges each one impartially according to what he does, [then] you should conduct yourselves with true reverence throughout the time of your temporary residence [on the earth, whether long or short]. You must know (recognize) that you were redeemed (ransomed) from the useless (fruitless) way of living inherited by tradition from [your] forefathers, not with corruptible things [such as] silver and gold, But [you were purchased] with the precious blood of Christ (the Messiah), like that of a [sacrificial] lamb without blemish or spot. It is true that He was chosen and foreordained (destined and foreknown for it) before the foundation of the world, but He was brought out to public view (made manifest) in these last days (at the end of the times) for the sake of you. Through Him you believe in (adhere to, rely on) God, Who raised Him up from the dead and gave Him honor and glory, so that your faith and hope are [centered and rest] in God. Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy ] Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently from a pure heart. You have been regenerated (born again), not from a mortal origin (seed, sperm), but from one that is immortal by the ever living and lasting Word of God. For all flesh (mankind) is like grass, and all its glory (honor) like [the] flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower drops off, But the Word of the Lord (divine instruction, the Gospel) endures forever. And this Word is the good news which was preached to you. [Isa. 40:6-9.]” 1Peter 1 Entire Chapter, Amplified

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The Courage to Do Things Differently


“We all have different desires and needs, but if we don’t discover what we want from ourselves and what we stand for, we will live passively and unfulfilled.”

 Bill Watterson  (American Author of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, b.1958)

You may or may not be familiar with the campy 80’s horror movie, The Stuff. In it, a delicious marshmallow cream-like substance was found bubbling up from the earth. It became all the rage, replacing all other food. However, something strange happens as people begin ingesting more and more of “The Stuff”, and I got this straight from IMDB, “But the sugary treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers begin infesting the world.” Seriously, this movie is silly, and fun, and a little bit concerning, if you can get past the cheese factor. I was put in mind of it this morning because of the fact that I was eating vanilla yogurt and granola, and the yogurt reminded me that it is definitely a better idea to be in charge of what you eat, instead of what’s eating you. *chuckle*

But I digress…the point is that we all like different things, have different styles in everything from home decor to music to the color we paint (or don’t) our toenails. The world is made up of a kaleidoscope of different kinds of people. We don’t even look the same. In spite of the loud and obnoxious message that is pumped into our conscious minds at all hours by a greedy consumer industry, we are NOT happier when we are just like everyone else.

I have a friend who lived, like I did, in a small home town, grew up, went to college, had some bad relationships, and is now working and deliriously happy in South Carolina, working as a nurse in a cancer treatment center. I have other friends who have traveled the world to find happiness right back where they started in Quincy, California, a little logging town, a couple of hours away from Lake Tahoe. The point is, we all have to find the life that makes us happy, and go out and do the work necessary to live it. Of course I mean our best, positive life here; no one should pursue a life of robbing banks, etc.

The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.

Jean Piaget (born on August 9, Swiss psychologist and pioneer in the study of child intelligence, 1896-1980)

It is actually very exciting when you think about it. Your life has the potential to contain all kinds of adventures and experiences! You could start today to work toward getting your pilot’s license, or take dance lessons, or learn to sing opera, or build a house, or speak Russian, or ANYTHING!! Your life can be as rich in actuality as your imagination will allow. There is no reason to hang back and bide your time waiting for “someday”. The main reason isn’t even because life is shorter than we think it is, although that’s true. The main reason is that this is YOUR life. The sooner you take responsibility for it, the better you will be at planning and making decisions that affect it.

Instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, or Davises, or the Kennedys, STOP and really think about what you want in YOUR life. When you get to know them, you might be surprised to find that the Joneses and Davises and Kennedys are trying hard to keep up with someone else. Thus lives the rat race, all of us, coveting things we have no idea what to do with, in order to have a life someone else doesn’t even want, chasing our tails. As Susan Powter would say, “STOP THE INSANITY!!” Yes, I went there. Really, she had a lot of good points.

You were made YOU on purpose. There is no need to change that or feel ashamed. You don’t have to spend your life trying to be someone else, and you SHOULDN’T. Trust me, you’ve got your hands full with the one life you’ve got.

This is what the Lord says—
    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,
 who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
 “Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
 The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise. Isaiah 43 : 16-21

Stuck in Molasses Swamp


“What to do if you find yourself stuck in a crack in the ground underneath a giant boulder you can’t move, with no hope of rescue. Consider how lucky you are that life has been good to you so far. Alternatively, if life hasn’t been good to you so far, which given your current circumstances seems more likely, consider how lucky you are that it won’t be troubling you much longer.” Douglas Adams

When I was a child, I thought of Florida as one giant swamp full of alligators and snakes and bugs, but mostly alligators. I have since learned that the Florida Everglades is a vital part of the global ecosystem……with alligators thrown in for fun. (My apologies to anyone who lives in these places, I realize that there are many amazing geological, cultural, gastronomic, and entertainment options in this part of the U.S.) Even now, the thought of encountering an alligator, the way I have encountered bears in different places I have lived and camped, does NOT make me an over-eager visitor to these locations.

It is a common, if unfair, concept that a swamp is simply just an unpleasant place to be: humid, sticky, full of bugs that sting, snakes that bite, and any number of large-toothed animals that might be lurking in the murky water. You wouldn’t want to get stuck in a swamp.  After all, most people prefer to quickly pass through a place that they see as so unpleasant.

“Most of the time it was probably real bad being stuck down in a dungeon. But some days, when there was a bad storm outside, you’d look out your little window and think, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not out in that.”” Jack Handy

Sometimes, if you just change your perspective a little, you might think of the swamp as a spa retreat instead of a dungeon. You might be waiting for something else, but in the meantime, you have time for some self-reflection and renewal that will be more difficult when you get to the busy, tour Epcot-Disney World-Sea World destination. Perspective can help you see your surroundings in a way that will change you.

Maybe the reason you are here waiting is because what needs to change is you.

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

When I was a child playing Candy Land, I inevitably ended up in Molasses Swamp. Usually, I stayed there while turn after turn the other people who were playing landed safe and sound at Candy Castle. Life, as I have found, often sends me back to Molasses Swamp. I see many others breeze on by heading straight for Candy Castle, or so I assume.

The real journey of life, however, is full of surprises like grace, mercy, and hidden bends where the over-confident spin out and wind up as unfortunate guests of Lord Liquorice and have other much less pleasant adventures. We never really know about the struggles of those around us, or whether their seemingly perfect lives are really something we would want to face.

Many of us are similarly stuck in Molasses Swamp, waiting as our characters are honed and polished into the amazing kinds of people fit to walk through the gates of Candy Castle. In the meantime, we can all learn to enjoy our “time out” by helping each other endure; encouraging, assisting, and bolstering one another up. Some people are stuck in the Swamp for quite a long time. Their spirits fail, like the Horse Artax in the Neverending Story, and they sink below the surface, never to be seen again.

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. ” Romans 15 : 1-4

Rockin’ the Journey


Whoa, we’re half way there
Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it I swear
Whoa oh, livin’ on a prayer                                                                    

Livin’ On A Prayer lyrics
Songwriters: Bonjovi, Jon; Sambora, Richard; Child, Desmond

That’s it, keep going….you’re almost there….now a little to the left….a little to the right now…..keep going, keep going, you’re getting warmer, you’re starting to sizzle, you’re burning hot…….

Each of us is on our way somewhere. Sometimes the road stretches out further and further in front of us and we aren’t quite sure if we have enough gas, enough snacks, enough patience, or enough stamina to make it all the way. There are plenty of times when we may have every inclination to turn around and go back the way we came, instead of pressing on toward our goal. The path of least resistance doesn’t make us particularly happy or give us satisfaction or a sense of accomplishment, but it is much easier than trying to force our car’s screaming, protesting transmission up yet another steep incline.

Let’s take an imaginary trip together in our imaginary RV. (Notice: I am not really an “RV kind of person”, this is just for demonstration purposes.) We have our fridge packed, plenty of fuel in our tanks, with a little to spare for emergencies, a cold soda within reach in the cup holder, and our most comfortable non-embarrasing-should-we-need-to-get-out-in-public travel outfits. We’re taking things pretty easy, enjoying the time spent in one another’s company. Our destination: the Grand Canyon.

Along the way, there are lots of things to see and do. Some of them are pretty distracting. We might find a train museum, or a little art gallery, or a cute little burger stand with a stream running along side and shady places to eat at picnic tables. We might see unusual birds, striking sunsets, dazzling lightning storms, or cascading waterfalls along the way that beckon us to stop for a bit and practice our photography skills. We might also encounter flat tires, tourist traps, getting lost, having our wallets stolen, and throbbing sunburn.

When we’ve found our way back on the road and have double and triple checked that we’re going the right direction, we notice that not too far ahead of us is a mountain. As we grow closer to this mountain, we can see the slender hair of our road zigging and zagging up the side. You check the map. This is the only road. You groan at the very thought of driving this pull-out-all-the-stops monstrosity you HAD to have to take this trip up that steep road. (Sorry, I told you I wasn’t an RV person.)

When climbing long inclines, your RV needs to be operated within its power band.

The power band is a span of engine RPMs where you have the maximum horsepower available to handle the extra load imposed when going up long inclines.

This becomes even more noticeable with diesel engines…. (Link for this info)

 

Now, say we’ve been on a really long drive in this RV, hundreds of miles long. The Grand Canyon is a long way away from a lot of places. We’re on the way to the Grand Canyon, and we’re starting to see it on road signs we pass. The distance is shrinking mile after mile. When we’re about 50 miles away, our engine starts to overheat, we’re out of the good snacks, you and I are feeling worn out and cranky, and on top of all of that the baby is out of diapers. Oh Boy! * Hold that thought *

When I was younger, I went on a trip to the Grand Canyon with my Grandma. It was a long, hot drive. I was very excited. I had never been to the Grand Canyon before. When we got to the park, the road wove in and out of the rises and dips of the high desert landscape.We rounded a bend, and there it was, gaping like a hungry giant’s maw, stretching on and on into the distance. I jumped out of the car and ran for the guardrail to peer over the edge…and received a sharp reprimand from my mother. I cautiously, continued on my way toward the guardrail, and marveled at the sight of this one-of-a-kind wonder. It was well worth all those long hours in the car just to see such an impressive thing. True story.

My grandma absolutely refused to get out of the car. So, after we had urged her repeatedly and in vain, we spent a little time there and drove home. Now, over 20 years later, I still remember this incident. It always seemed like such a waste to me, such a pointless thing for my grandma to go all that way, and then stop before she got to the point of the trip. Isn’t that like working all the way up to payday and then refusing your check?? That’s like a big steaming plate of what’s-the-point topped with crazy sauce and a side of DOH!! (I loved my grandma very much, but sometimes she just made no sense to me.)

* OK, back to our RV trip. * So, we’re getting close to our destination. We see the signs everywhere that prove it. The road has gotten a little rough and our tempers are shorter than they were when things were smooth, we had our favorite radio station, and there was plenty of our favorite treats to go around. Now we’re stuck with a steaming radiator, the radio is stuck on the farm report, and the snack bags are full of greasy crumbs. What should we do? Should we press on, or give up and turn around? It might be a little more familiar, but think of what we’ll be missing!

When we’re in the middle of our life journey, we will have times when things go a little rougher than others, but we cannot give up and go back home. In order to be different than the person we’ve always been, in order to have a different life than the one we’ve always had, we’re going to have to complete our journey. We cannot just decide it is easier to stay the same. We’re not happy this way, but the travel time seems so long and the trip is so hard. The destination is at the end, not in the middle. We need to keep this in our minds next to the place where we keep our name. The point is not to stop, but to keep going.

“…Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…” Philippians 1: 6