It wasn’t intentional. This message on my rock. Our retreat leader simply suggested we mark this day with a creative momento - an object we’d keep- signifying a forever memory, etching it into our hearts and minds. “What a lovely idea” I thought. There I sat, rock and paint-pen in hand, thinking “What in the world will I write?”
It had been a hard day, an unexpectedly, painful one too. The hurts, wedged deep within my heart, I hadn’t even known were there. Yet, God did. My marital disappointment welled up, a river within, winding through the rocky places in my heart, making way for the healing balm of God’s loving hand. “So, this is it? My message for today.” Here, I thought I was coming to this retreat to encounter God. I simply wanted to focus on the Lord and spend quality time with him. Yet, he had other plans.
He wanted to focus on me. And an area of sin that was breaking me. Breaking us. Little did I know it. This sin. The sin of unmet expectations. Unresolved hurts. The hardening of hearts. Molding my day like a skillful artisan, God revealed his agenda to me, moment by precious moment. He was going to encounter me. Make known the dark recesses of my soul. My sovereign God was dictating this day as he had all others. Why did I expect anything less?
"Soul Care" said the rock painting station sign. Soul Care was exactly God’s doing all along. His loving conviction taking root in my heart. “Forgive me Lord”, I cried out within. “Forgive me”. The healing balm of the Holy Spirit washing over me. The presence of GOD palpable in the room. Intimacy restored; yet, so much to consider still. So much to mull over. So many lessons to be learned.
I stood there looking at the rocks. So many choices. Black or white? Small or large. Smooth or rough. Deciding on black, I thumbed carefully through the various black rocks. Then, there it was. An imperfect rock, smooth on one side, a chunk missing from the other. Broken I thought. Broken like me. Broken like us. My word. Broken. I would memorialize this day with just one word. Broken. Not exactly the word one wants to keep remembering. Or is it?
Grabbing a golden paint-pen, I sat down and began writing BROKEN on my rock. Then it came to me. The still, small, voice beckoning me, “TO BLESS”. Broken to Bless. My heart welled up with emotion. I imagined all God would do with these broken spaces in my heart. He is the master of making all things new. Isn't he? If only we allow him to.
Would I? Would I allow him to? Make all things new of the hurtful places in my heart, my marriage, my life. Hurts I hadn’t even realized were there. I began to pray to GOD fervently about my heart-hurt and the sin I saw lurking there chafing me and mine. “I want to love better. I want to love submissively. I want to be gentler”. My thoughts went on and on as I was painting BROKEN on this oval shaped, chipped, very black rock. The symbolism of this broken, black rock and my prideful sin ripping at my heart as I painted these words. The darkness of sin amidst the depth of the blackness of this particular rock.
This was not a quick moment. I had not used a paint-pen before and I, initially, could not figure it out. Shaking the pen voraciously, globs of gold paint oozing, unwanted, on the rock. What a mess I was making. A number of times I had to wipe the globs of paint off and start all over again. How often we do this with God. Resist what he is trying to make of us, of ours, of the brokenness within. Having to start all over again in the midst of our messes?
My thoughts darting back and forth from this rock I was painting to the God who was painting me with his wisdom, love and forgiveness. My sin being washed away as the globs of paint washed away on this black rock. I could actually feel his healing balm rushing over me as I poured out my heart and soul to him. My pride hitting me in the face. The hardness of my heart mimicking the hardness of this rock. God revealing the effects of these crevices of sin on me and my marriage and my relationship with him.
And then it happened. I finally figured this paint pen out. Shake, press, write, stop. Shake, press, write, stop. Wasn’t that what God had been doing with me all day. Shake, press, write, stop. He was shaking me out of my denial, gently pressing into the dark recesses of my heart, writing his will upon my soul and then stopping to let it sink in. Patiently leading and guiding me to the truth he desired to reveal to me.
I was overcome with the beauty of his love. I was so awed and humbled by his gentle presence. I could hardly contain my gratitude and joy. Thanking him for revealing the lessons of the day, I continued to write. The word “to” came so easily. Whew. “Dodged more mess” I thought. Mulling over the beauty of humility and how God was calling me to lay down my rights, I knew it would require the work of his hand. “I am willing Lord” I whispered to him.
Etching the letter B on the black rock, I began to write the rest of his message. The word Bless. That word was all that was left. Then it happened. My golden pen ran out of paint. Off to the Soul Care Rock Station I went again, thinking, “I will grab another golden paint pen”. Except, there wasn’t another so I had to choose. I had to choose a different color. For whatever reason, I chose a reddish-pink. Time to finish my rock. The rock I, at first, didn’t want to remind me of my sin and brokenness, I now, excitedly, wanted to finish to remember this special moment with GOD.
Sitting down I begin: L-E-S-S. Then, it hit me. This God-ordained, dual play on words. While I heard clearly Broken to Bless, I was now reading courtesy of the two colors, Broken To B Less. Tears welling up in my eyes, I was undone. Completely undone. Rushes of emotions pouring out of my heart to God. Hope, Sorrow, Pain, Hurt, Regret, Gratitude, Joy. It was then I knew. This rock, it read exactly as God intended it to.
Oh, and the four letters, they didn’t come out as easily as they read above either. Not without some mess. I thought I had this paint pen thing figured out; yet, as I was shaking this reddish-pink paint-pen, I forgot to put the cap on it. Sprinkles of reddish-pink now marring my new lacy, creamy, white blouse. On my right chest and shoulder and somehow my back, were reddish pink dots of various sizes. God wasn’t done with me yet.
Attempting to wash them off my shirt, the blood of Christ coming to mind. The reddish-pink stains, now a metaphor for what his blood has done for me, for my marriage, for my loved ones, for each and every one of us. His blood cleanses, his blood heals, his blood saves. I glance over my shoulder and see the words, “Be Still and Know That I Am God”. Even as I pen these words now, the tears are flowing. Heart water someone once called it. My heart water overflows.
I was overcome. I am overcome. Overcome by a God who loves so much he sent his only son to shed his blood for us. Yet, he doesn’t stop there. As if that weren’t enough, he does so, so, much more. He takes our broken places, our broken spaces, our brokenness and creates something completely, unexpectedly beautiful. Sweet sisters, we are simply clay in our potter’s hand. If only we be still. Being still with God led me to all of this. I had simply shown up. I had simply been still a while.
Yet, this is not often my experience. To simply be still. Sit in his presence. Offering my all to him. How often I resist him, his will, his ways. The dark, black sin winning over my will to love him, my husband, my children, everyone.
My daughter pops up while I’m mid-stream in thought. She’s with me at this retreat. “Hey mom, look which coloring activity I chose” I look and it there it is again, “Be Still and Know That I Am God” Psalm 46:10. I show her my rock. I share a piece of what God is revealing to me. We are both amazed. It's time for lunch and time to share.
As we fellowshipped at lunch, I hesitated to share my rock. I was still absorbing it myself. I simply said, “God revealed some unknown hurts in my heart in desperate need of healing”. Later, I showed our retreat leader my rock. But, not yet. Not then. I was being molded still by the master potter. The retreat had yet to end. With 30 minutes left, she said to us, “Go, ask God what he is inviting you to. Spend some time with him pondering his invitation”.
Back to my table and my now almost finished, black rock. I turned it over to the perfectly smooth side and wrote in this reddish-pink, H-U-M-I-L-I-T-Y. God was inviting me to humility. The way to deeper communion with him and with others. The irony not escaping me. The perfectly smooth, beautiful side of this dark, black rock rested on the side that read humility. I asked God to help me, give me the gift of humility by the power of his Holy Spirit. Help me continue to gently, willingly lay down my rights with my husband and family. With everyone.
Walking outside to the water’s edge, I spoke to him. I cried to him. I thanked him for this healing I had not known I needed. I listened to the waves of the bay crashing against the shore while the waves of his love crashed over me. His majesty, his power, his beauty, his wonderful, gentle love. His deep, abiding forgiveness and healing hand. How he takes broken spaces and makes them new. Oh, how he loves us.
When I went back inside, I knew the seed he planted would bear fruit in my life as long as I continued to seek his face, seek the path of the broken road, seek humility. Readying myself to leave for the day, I wandered around the retreat one more time. It was then that I read them. The words jumped off the page in a room I hadn’t seen earlier, “Grace Happens Here: You Are Standing Where Grace Is Happening”. I knew it was true. I knew it in my heart. I knew it in the recesses of my soul. God was bestowing on me the grace of his forgiveness, his healing balm, and his promise to take what little I had, make it his own, use it for good. He was using my sin as a means of his grace for myself, my marriage, my loved ones, and whomever he chose. He was doing it all. I hadn’t even known I had a need.
We are all simply clay in the potter’s hand.
The morning after this retreat, my devotional read ‘Take Off Your Mask’. How fitting for our times. How fitting for our brokenness. The writer talking about being broken and how God heals. God hammering the point home again. The writer mentioning Kintsugi, a Japanese art whereby broken pots of clay or vases are sealed back together with platinum, gold, and silver intentionally highlighting the cracks and shattered spots. Each piece considered more beautiful than before the breaking. The golden, silver, or platinum lines becoming the focal point of the piece. Kintsugi, the art of brokenness.
I remembered my rock. I remembered the golden, etched word Broken and I thanked God I was broken in him. He intentionally had shattered me. He was conforming my splintered self into his beautiful, master plan. God, the master artist, we the mere clay. He knows what he is doing. He has good plans for each of us. For all parts of us. Like the Kintsugi artists, he has especially good plans for the broken places. This is where his beauty shines best. Broken to Bless. Better yet, broken to be less. We shine best when there is less of us and more of him. And he shines brightest in our brokenness. Again, he knows what he is doing. Kintsugi brings to my mind the potter and the clay imagery sprinkled throughout the word of GOD, yet, I especially enjoy the symbolism in Jeremiah 18:1-6 which reads
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear[a] my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
There we have it. The promise of God. The hope of restoration. We are the clay and he is the potter. As we humbly submit our lives to him, he makes something beautiful of them. Like my golden etched rock or the Kintsugi art, our lives are his canvas and we are his masterpieces. If only we humbly allow him to do as he plans. All we need to do is be still and be humble. Just as the still clay is formed at the potters’ hand, we, in stillness, are formed by God’s.
Today, I pray, God meets you in your broken places and your hope is restored. The hope of what he is and can and will do when we humbly submit our lives to him. The hope of the beauty in the making. The beauty of our maker. Be blessed. Remember. We’re all Broken to Bless as we are Broken to Be Less.