Monday, 18 January 2021

The Perfect Leaf

My friend recently celebrated her 40th over a “Pinot and Picasso” party. She being an artist wanted us to all join her and learn to paint a picture while drinking wine. While I am not artist, I thought it sounded like a bit of fun and was looking forward to it. And with a wine in my hand and good food … what could possibly go wrong? So the afternoon was filled with an artist taking us step by step through a painting of a flower. With a wine in one hand and a brush in the other we started with a blank canvas and sought to do as she instructed.

A number of friends, like me, who knew our limitations when it comes to art, were all prepared to give it a go and were looking forward to a laugh and some good times together. But I noticed that there was a variety of responses from people. Some, I found out later didn't come as they felt they would be embarrassed. Others made themself sick with worry about it leading up to the event and others struggled the whole time, getting frustrated with the process. I had come along expecting to be able to laugh at myself and my feeble attempt at painting a flower. In the end they all looked great and I was personally a little disappointed that we didn't have an opportunity to laugh a little more at the final results. 

One friend beside me voiced her frustration of not being able to paint the perfect leaf. She had painted 6 leaves and according to her only one was perfect. I asked which one was the one she thought was perfect. She showed me, and it looked like the typical leaf that you would draw when you are in Kindergarten. I asked her “What makes you think that is the perfect leaf?” In fact, the more I thought about it, is there actually such thing as a perfect leaf? At one point she got so frustrated she started to jump up and down on the spot. Me, showing my caring and sensitive side (not), simply laughed and told her to get herself another wine. 

It did, however, begin a conversation about the process and how worked up we can all get about things that don't really matter. 

As we went around the room, looking at each other’s paintings of the flower we were all copying, no picture looked the same. Every painting had such a different take on the same one visual we were all supposed to be copying. It was amazing and beautiful and so freeing. Like leaves on a tree, no one leaf is the same, each is unique and different. Sure, the general shape and colour might be similar, but it is so nice that nature leads the way in how we can celebrate creation in all its uniqueness. 

I especially loved the fact that in the process of painting if you didn't like something you could just paint over it or change it. And in the end if you couldn’t get it right, you had at least given it a go. But more often than not the part that didn't work to your exact plan, often became just the part that made your art special. 

“Making art provides uncomfortably accurate feedback about the gap that inevitably exists between what you intended to do and what you did.” (David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear - Image Continuum, 1993, pg 4) 

Now, I know I was not aiming for Picasso and I get that there are those who are not only gifted but take their art very seriously. But I also could see very quickly that if you took yourself too seriously you could easily miss the point of this experience. The point was not to paint the perfect leaf, but for us girls to be celebrating a friend’s birthday and enjoying the adventure together. What really mattered was that we were there, giving it a go, having a laugh and enjoying the process. 

We must always consider what we focus on. You may miss the point along the way if you focus on the wrong thing. 

I wonder how many things we miss out on, because we are so worried about doing something perfectly that we don't do anything at all. I know I will never have the problem. Perfection is not something I do well … so bring on the next challenge. 

“The most beauty will emerge from the paintbrushes held by those who are most free from fear” (Lysa TerKeurst, “It’s not supposed to be this way: Finding unexpected Strength when disappointments leave you shattered”, pg 215)

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

You can't handle the truth

There is a movie that is still a favourite of mine called “A few good men”. It stars Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. 


Jack Nicholson plays a colonel in the US Army who carries lies and half-truths with him because he truly believes that nobody really wants to hear the truth. He is finally put on a stand in court to testify and you can see that he doesn’t see anything wrong with his behaviour. When he is questioned and challenged, he defiantly says, “you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall”. His statement is saying, you need me to lie and tell half-truths because I am protecting you, I am doing this for your own good. It is amazing how much we as humans so quickly come to believe our own lies as a sort of new “truth”.  


It is a very powerful scene in the movie. When Tom Cruise’s character challenges him to tell the truth, he finally breaks and says, “You can’t handle the truth”. You know he wants to say it, the lies and half-truths. They have been eating at him for a long time. So much so that he no longer knows what’s right and wrong anymore. It all got mixed up in the job he believes he was asked to perform. He believes to protect the American people he had no choice but to hide the truth and fall into too more and more lies. Until murder and deception had become so common that he believed it was all a part of his job. The sad thing was that the lies had him so backed into a corner that he ended up hurting those he most sought to protect and train.


I remember spending time learning how to mimic Jack Nicholson’s characterful as he said these words – “You can’t handle the truth”. I would find opportune times to quote it in my life to those around me, mostly to get laughs but often to break the tension of a tough situation where the real truth may have hurt. 


We applauded the movie and the great dialogue and the characters. We mocked and laughed at his character being so full of himself and super confident. But if we are honest, we know that deep down, there are some truths that we don’t want to ever tell for fear they will hurt, destroy, reveal and things will never be the same. And like “Col. Nathan R Jessup” (Jack Nicholson’s Character in the movie) we find ourselves dancing around half-truths and lies that back us into corners sometimes we don’t know how to get out of.


The hidden affairs of the heart, the things we do with our time behind closed doors, the half -truths we hide from our loved ones in order to not face conflict, the stories we embellish to make sure it all looks good on the surface. Richard Rohr would say this is the “false self” we so desperately want the world to see. We are all guilty of it. I wonder if that is why it is so hard to believe in a God who knows all and sees all. This is so scary to consider; believing in a God who you cannot fool or hide from. 


"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden."  (Genesis 3:8 NIV)


From the beginning of time, we have tried to hide our half-truths. But I really do believe there is more danger in living in a “hiding the truth” stance, for fear of hurting someone. As painful as it is, I believe the truth can truly set us free. 


My children are moving into adulthood and at the age of considering deep relationships with possible life partners. If I only had one thing that I could tell my kids about relationships, it would be to “tell the truth, no matter how scary or even hurtful”. It is only in the ‘truth’ that you can truly love and live fully real lives. ‘Truth’ will bring as much joy and freedom as it will pain and challenge, you just can’t have one without the other.


We live in a world of half-truths and coverups, a lot of suspicion and disbelief. It is hard to know the truth and it seems that you are free to make your own truth. It is a confusing world. God’s truth is disputed and twisted all the time. Here in lies the deception. The enemy has had this plan all along, since in the beginning in the garden. 


It is a sobering thought, but we must decide how we will live. Do you want to be a person of truth? Then start with the relationships that means the most to you.  The ones you can’t bear to lose.  Choose a foundation of truth, honesty and openness. Let them see the real you, warts and all, and trust that true love will get you through whatever painful truth will reveal. If it doesn’t get you through, then it is still better than living with the “you can’t handle the truth” life that will never last or lead to anything real. 


God says “I know you; I have called you, I have loved you, I forgive you, I have died for you and all your half-truths you have tried to hide from the world.” It doesn’t get more truthful than that. 


Will we surrender to him and to each other? Test and see, the truth will truly set you free. 

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Piece By Piece


I have a confession to make. I wrote a book about puzzle pieces called “Piece by Piece”. I use puzzles in my teaching all the time. But they have always been 40 or 20, maybe 70 pieces maximum. You know the kid’s puzzles, which allow me to use them for a challenge or a teaching point in a short period of time and allow me to make my point quickly.


A few months ago, during COVID lock down I did my first 1000-piece puzzle ever.  After a few hours I couldn’t believe how far I had NOT got in doing the puzzle. I hadn’t even got the edges of the puzzle sorted out. It was so hard. I was thinking, what is wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?  What is taking me so long? Once I did get the edges of the puzzle sorted, I thought that it would flow from there, but it just got harder. So many of the pieces looked exactly the same and the process of trying each piece one by one into each other to get a connection was a very slow process. 


Now, I know anyone who does puzzles, is not surprised. It is just silly me, for whom this was my first experience of a putting a large complex puzzle together. I got so hooked in conquering the process that when I looked at my watch and before I knew it, it was 3am in the morning. I was wired and thought, “oh what the heck, can’t go to bed now”. I just kept on going all night and by 7am I thought it might be good to stop and have breakfast.  But I still was nowhere finished. It took days and hours in each day, over 2 weeks to finally finish the puzzle. And to my shock and horror there were three pieces missing. It was such a letdown to do all that work and still not be able to finish it. 


The process of doing a 1000-piece puzzle was such a different process to doing a puzzle with 40 pieces. The pieces are obvious and with the cover picture to guide, placing each piece is quite an easy job. 

It put the statement “piece by piece” in a whole new light for me. But it did make me wonder…


When I consider faith communities, I wonder if we really are meant to be part of something so large that it takes so long to find your place?


I get how easy it is to gravitate easily to a group of like-minded people, a clump of people like you. I found it helpful to put the same-colored puzzle pieces together to help get me started. But I know that with a smaller puzzle each piece is often unique and very quickly distinguishable. You don't tend to form clumps as much as spread them out, find their distinguishing parts and then place them in the right space in the puzzle. It is a very different process. 


While I was doing the puzzle, I found myself staring at a whole lot of pieces that looked exactly the same and didn't know where to start. In a big faith community in its 1000’s, wherever you look you can see faces in a crowd and you can easily get lost. It would be easy to never be found or never feel like you are missed. It would be easy to imagine that your ‘piece’ really doesn’t matter and actually feel very

 unseen or unvalued. It would be very easy to feel like just a cog in a large wheel and although it is horrible to have a piece missing, when you are in the puzzle, no one really knows you are there, your piece doesn’t stand out that much.


I know that being in a smaller faith community, I am missed if I am not present. I am valued for the part I play, and I feel very connected to all the other pieces. Having been a part of a large faith community for the larger part of my life, I have looked over the sea of faces and never really knew many of them. Yes, it was great to be part of a large celebration, but I was never known like I am now. (Hebrews 10:25)


I know that God knows us all, He sees us all and there are many parts of the body of Christ. (Ps 139:1) But I couldn’t help but imagine that while we are a part of His Big Story, the big picture, during our time spent on this earth we only get glimpses of that BIG picture. His Kingdom is made up of lots and lots of little pictures where each person is seen, valued, heard and able to shine. 


I have done quite a few large puzzles since my first attempt months ago. I have enjoyed the process, it causes you to slow down, with long hours of focus and intentionality. Of course, I have realized over and over again that the journey is far more important than the final finished puzzle. In fact, after hours and hours of doing a puzzle, once finished I am not sure what to do with it, but to pack it up and put it away in the box again. It definitely gives you a sense of achievement but mostly it feels a little anti-climactic. I just want to start another one.


So, I get the temptation of achieving and doing something big, but I am not sure if that was God’s end game. If it was, Jesus would have come to this earth to draw a crowd, to gather 1000s. Instead, His end game was to gather 12-70 people, draw out their uniqueness, build them up and teach them that they have a small part to play in the big picture. And then He led by example by dying on a cross and rising again, with only a few watching and knowing that He was changing history. We were chosen to stand up and stand out, shine His light, not just to be a face of a large crowd. That is yet to come:


Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

    and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

    be praise and honor and glory and power,

for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. 

(Rev 5:11-14)



…until then I wonder if God’s design of faith communities was to walk deeply together in smaller puzzles so that everyone knows they have a place and that they are known and loved.