Johnny and the Quest for The Perfect Tools

Meet Johnny Man.
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Johnny Man lives in a very small town nestled in the woods of Scandinavia. In this small town,  the sole purpose in life is to build a chair. When Johnny was a baby, many thought about Johnny Man and what kind of chair he was going to build. Would it be big?? Would it be wooden, or metal, or bright green? Johnny grew and grew and once he hit age 6 it was time to begin his quest for building a chair. He had lots of ideas and lots of plans. He was surrounded with other children who were writing, learning and reading about building chairs.  Through his rigorous chair design school, he finally had designed the perfect one.

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Johnny man had his plan drawn out and he was ready to go fulfill his life purpose!
First thing first, Johnny needed some tools.

Johnny loved tools.  Almost too much.

Like He really loved tools.

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An important part of the chair building process is choosing the right tools. And there were a lot to choose from in the town.

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Johnny tried all sorts of tools.

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As he was trying the tools, he began to wonder which one was the right tool. Even though any of them could have worked fine, Johnny spent a majority of his life going through tool after tool trying to see if it was perfect for building a chair.  People told him, “Look Johnny, you can build a chair with any tool!! There’s no wrong tool!”

Johnny disagreed. There had to be the RIGHT one. Every time he tried to use a tool, he discovered a flaw. The screwdriver involved too much twisting, the hammer required too much strength and the wrench accidentally pinched him.  Over the years, he became more obsessed with finding the right tool, so much so that his plan to build a chair became a distant memory.

One night, Johnny was tossing and turning in bed. He was in his late 60’s now. He woke up at 3am and had an epiphany. It was time to make that chair.

He got really excited and ran to the living room.  This was going to be great, he thought. He spent a few minutes arranging the tools and then he was done! His chair was perfect!

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“Now, I can finally sit down and relax and enjoy all my hard work,” he said. As he sat, a sharp pain ripped through his whole body. He tried to lean back, but the screwdriver toppled over almost immediately.  This was not he imagined a chair to be like.  A bruised bottom and an even more bruised ego, he went for a walk to clear his mind.

It was apparent to him now: the tools were not meant to be a chair.  They were intended to build a chair, but not BE THE CHAIR. Ashamed of himself, he realized he had failed to do the one thing everyone in his town did. He got so distracted by finding the right tool, he forgot to build a chair.

Though, Johnny had wasted most of his life, he figured since he was still alive he still had time to build that chair. He went back to the tool shed and grabbed a whole bunch of tools. He used all the tools (imperfect and loud and hard and twisty) and made a chair. It was a lot different from the one he designed when he was a young boy. But, it was a chair nonetheless.

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The End.

 


 

Meet Marlie.

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She lives in a city where everyone’s soul purpose is to find a job and a spouse. She also is a Christian, so her relationship with God is pretty important to her. In fact, her true purpose in life is to know God and make God known.

When she was born, many people wondered  what she would do with her life, who she would marry, etc. Many prayed over her, for her health and well being. Some even prayed that she would come to know and worship the One True God.

Marlie grew up in school, learning how to write, read and do math.  She learned that God loved her unconditionally and had a great plan for her. She learned what she was good at and what she was not good at. She began to dream about who she would marry, how many pets she would own and her beautiful dreamy husband.

Marlie loves people,  she loves to talk with them, and make them laugh. She also really cares about if they like her or not. She often makes decisions about what to do based on how it would make someone else feel, usually neglecting her own feelings for the ’cause of being liked.’

Marlie was a certified and tested idealist. Her cup was not half empty or half full, it was overflowing with optimism. A lot of her teenage years was spent figuring out who she was, what she was good at and who she fit in with. Her college years were spent finding the right major  and the right friends. After college, she found a world open and waiting for her. Only it wasn’t open or waiting. Now was the time to find the perfect job and the perfect husband.

Years passed and passed. Floating from career to career, from living situation to living situation and dating relationship to dating relationship, she couldn’t find the right one.  Sure the job started out nice, but then it got hard so she left. The relationship started out great, but then the ‘butterflies’ faded and she was done. Her original purpose to know God and make God known was a distant memory as she headed into her 30’s, single and unemployed.  Nothing had made her happy like she wanted. No career had made her feel fulfilled, no man made her feel special. For the first time, the cup was half empty.

One night, she looked on her bookshelf and found a book. She blew the dust off the cover. It was a book she hadn’t touched since she was a young girl. The words flowed from the page into her heart.  She was loved, cherished, chosen for a purpose, and a Daughter of the King.  Tears began to fall, and she began to speak.
“God, I have wasted a lot of my life making gods out of men, my career and finding people’s approval. I know I’m not dead yet, so it’s still not too late to know You and to do your will. Help me use future career as a tool to serve you, not a way to find fulfillment. Help me find my identity in you and not in any relationship with a guy.”

She didn’t know what the rest of her life held, but she knew she could rest in the comfort of knowing God loved her and had a plan for her.

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Pretzels in Portland

I walked off the plane on the verge of tears, five dollars in my hand and four or five snack-sized bags of pretzels in my pocket. The plane landed in the middle of nowhere (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and our team had an hour until we had to catch our next flight to Portland. Why was I so emotional, why did I have $5 and too many bags of pretzels? Glad you asked. 45 minutes earlier our missions team was boarding the plane to Portland and because it was Southwest Airlines and we were the last group to board the chances of us sitting together was slim to none.

 However, this got me really excited. Last Summer, I spent 10 weeks talking to strangers and some of the best conversations happened. Before my Summer mission trip in Orlando, I was awkward and shy around people I didn’t know. A summer of talking to strangers helped me adjust well to starting conversations that last longer than just small talk. So,sitting on a plane with a stranger? No problem. Also,  before Orlando, I had this idea that a mission trip started and ended at certain times and all the God moments that occurred were going to be in between those two points. Silly me. Sure, the trip might begin and end at a time but someone should never become close-minded to opportunities…divine appointments… that present them self before a trip “begins” or after a trip “ends.” I have quite a few stories of God working outside the human time-frame the Orlando trip had established.

 

With those things in mind,  anticipation was building. My brain was flooding with stereotypical missionary fantasies as we got closer to the plane.  

“What if I end up sitting next to someone, get to present the Gospel and right there on the plane this hardcore atheist accepts Christ?” “I can’t wait to minister to whoever sits next to me.” (translation: I’m going to be exactly what they need today. We’ll talk about this in a moment. But that was seriously where my heart was at)

Our team spread out on the plane. I sat in the middle seat next to a woman who looked to be in her 40s. I said hello and we made small (very small) talk about the seat belts as we struggled to buckle up. She had a big bulk of newspapers in her hand and she looked very intent on reading them. She stopped for a moment and offered me one. It was a strange offer and I was about to decline but figured it could be a tool to start a conversation so I accepted.

I flipped through it and realized it was incredibly boring and so I handed it back to her a few minutes later.

“not really your thing, huh?”

“Not really,” I laughed. A minute or so passed.

“Are you headed to New Mexico?” She asked.

“Portland actually, we have a stop in New Mexico.”

“Oh cool. You visiting family?” She asked.

“No, um, we’re going there for a mission trip.”

“Well, that’s neat. Are you going by yourself?”

“Oh no, I”m with my school.”

And from there we talked about Portland, Mt. Hood, my school, the trip in general. etc. It was about 15 minutes into the flight and I didn’t know if she was a Christian, but I did know she was incredibly sweet, an amazing listener. She asked me what my major was and I told her psychology and she asked me what I wanted to do with it. I love answering this question because its an amazing tie into my story. I tell people that I want to be a christian counselor because counseling has played such a big role in my life. I want to be the counselor that my counselor was for me when I was struggling. I told her this. And she started to ask questions about my life..what I had gone through… and I’d answer them and we’d talk and talk…then she would say “well you said (this), tell me more about that.” At one point, we were talking about why bad things happen to some and not others.

“I know some adults, who have never faced a big trial in their life. And I know people who can’t catch a break. My motto is ‘It’s only by the grace of God, I go’

As I talked to her and told her some of the things that happened in my life, she would say “You learned (this…) didn’t you? I wish I had known that at your age.What a blessing it is for you to understand that at your age.” She really did help me in a lot of ways sort through stuff, and find the ‘silver lining’ in a lot of things.

“My name’s Carol  by the way.” We both laughed because 30 minutes of the plane ride had passed and we hadn’t even introduced ourselves.

“Marlie, nice to meet you.” She was traveling for business. Travels all the time, she said. She has a job with Pharmaceutical sales.

Now, I wish I could remember what led to the next part of our conversation but I can’t. It would  make this a whole lot less weird. But just remember there’s some bit of related conversation that happens before this. We started talking about my dating life. She seemed utterly shocked that I was single and that I didn’t think any guys were interested in me.

“Let me tell you something Marlie. I have a few nephews in college right now. And they would love you. I just know it. They would absolutely love you.” I chuckled and she continued, with great intent.

“No really. Marlie, you’re funny..you’re smart…you’re cute..you got the most beautiful smile.” I felt myself starting to cry…tried to make light of it..but ended up crying anyways. I tried to explain to her why I was crying  but it was like she knew already. Like she had been right where I was before. Her words spoke to my soul. God was speaking right to me through her. I wish I could express how what she was saying was exactly what I needed to hear before Portland. It’s like that moment when you’re building a puzzle and after minutes of frustration and almost giving up, two pieces you weren’t even paying attention to fit together perfectly. That relief. And the fact that this all happened before we even arrived in Portland. Just goes to show how cool our God is.

 We as Christians barge into situations, mission trips especially, with capes around our necks and a big S for Super on our chest. We have it all together. And the people we are going to meet obviously don’t. So we’re going to be exactly what they need at exactly the right moment. Right? Wrong.

 Jesus was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time and he was born in a feeding troft and died a criminals death. Humility. “There is love that came for us. Humbled to a sinner’s cross.” Humility isn’t beating yourself up. Does Jesus ever get in front of a crowd and insult himself? No because the focus isn’t on himself. It’s on His father. That’s humility. “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”  Take off your cape, and your mask, put down all your achievements and Christian check-off lists, pick up the Cross and join in with what God is doing in your home…at your job…at the restaurant you eat at. Anywhere and Everywhere.  Listen and follow God. you might need to be a Carol for someone or you might need to listen to a Carol.

 The plane landed and Carol gave me all the airline bags of pretzels she had asked for.

“Carol. Thank you so much. This conversation has meant more to me than you’ll ever know or than I could express right now.” Carol repeated my words back to me and tears filled my eyes again. The plane had landed and those leaving had to get off.  She took my hand and squeezed it. I felt a crumple of paper. I looked and it was $5. She put her finger to her mouth and said “Shh. Don’t tell anyone. Go buy yourself a sandwich.” The $5 went towards a smoothie and the pretzels were devoured in the airport, but the words she said to me will last forever.

I spent almost a full year as a 13 year old pretty unscathed. Well, I guess we all spend a year being 13. But, I’ll never forget that year because it was the biggest wake up call of my life. Several things happened to me in about a four month span and they all hit me pretty hard. Some people get hit by actual buses, and others get hit by psychological buses. There must have been a parade of psychological buses cause I got hit multiple times.

I spent years begging my parents to get me a dog. We had one cat at the time, he was old though…not the most interesting creature. I wanted a dog, a best friend. Lo and behold,  when I was 9 my mom took me to the pound and we adopted one. Her name: Sweetie.  We learned through the years that that name applied to her on conditional terms. Sweetie was strange. She was a lhasa apso/shitzu mix, so she had that awesome tail.  she LOVED car rides, french fries and barking. BOY THIS DOG COULD BARK. She looked like a dog that would chirp or yelp. nope, she barked like a hound dog. Anyways, she was old when we got her (had back problems) and right around Christmas of 06′ her health started declining, and fast. I think we’ve all been there before. It’s so hard seeing the life drain out of an animal that had so much energy and personality. (Sweetie was a diva) In December, I walked into the Vet’s office with my dog in my arms (as she shook) and walked out that same door with nothing but memories. The house was very empty and quiet when I walked in that evening. I missed her so much, but she wasn’t in pain anymore. I learned a life lesson that Christmas: Sometimes the best gift you can give someone you love is to put their needs above your own desires.

February rolled around and so did some more rough news. My friend had invited me to her youth group since I had stopped going to the one at my old church. I had a blast the first time I went. Me, her and my other good friend went every Wednesday. The youth leaders were fantastic. They were hilarious and engaging as they brought the message each wednesday. By the time February ended, both youth pastors had left. One by choice and one by circumstance. At that age, you believe that everyone has it all together…especially adults… and hearing that one left because God called him somewhere but he doesn’t know where, and that the other was asked to resign…it was a pretty big moment where I realized “Hey…adults aren’t perfect. and they don’t have it all together.” I’m thankful for that lesson at an early age because it helps me feel okay when I didn’t have everything together (which is always)

March was the toughest, though. Without a doubt. I’m very confident that this part of my life has been used by God and will continue to be used by Him because otherwise…I just don’t have a clue why it had to happen. So, I met my best friends in Junior High. They had all gone to a different Elementary school in the district than me  ( they all had grown up together) and when I met them in band, they welcomed me into their circle right away. Bunch of personalities they were. We were always laughing, making jokes, being crazy hormonal acne covered teenagers. Invincible and the smartest things on earth, we trudged through classes…and spent the afternoons playing airsoft, watching TV and playing Halo 2. March rolled around and we all day-dreamed of Summer and tried to not pee ourselves with the reality of High school around the corner. There were 7 of us in  that tight knit group. And on March 22, there were 6. We all had 7th period together and didn’t think much of it when he wasn’t there that Thursday. That night my best friend’s mom called to talk to my mom. I didn’t think much of it when I handed the phone to my mom and ran up to my room to continue playing computer games. And when my mom called me downstairs and told me that he had committed suicide, I couldn’t stop thinking. My best friend came over that night with her mom. We all talked for a little bit, then my friend and I ran upstairs and sat on my bed, like we usually did on sleepovers, but instead of talking about boys and school, we talked about him and avoided the question we both were thinking: why?

I had no idea that people could reach such a low point in their lives. I knew people died, but  I didn’t know some people chose to. The six of us, with the floor taken out from underneath us, held on to each other; as we faced a world that remained silent to issues such as suicide and cutting. We held on to each other as we cried, laughed, did memorials, shared stories. When you love someone, tell them, even if you know they already know: hearing you say that you love them will give them something to hold on to when they reach low points in life. I don’t know who I would be today if  I hadn’t gone through this. I experienced some of my darkest nights that summer. I would not have made it without those six amazing, strong individuals who I will always have a very unique bond with because of those months. I lost touch with a few of them but they will always, always be in my heart. I would not have made it if my mom hadn’t taken me to counseling. I can’t stress it enough, you can’t do this alone. Get help. You are worth it.

March 22, 2007 (3/22/07) will always haunt me. A few months after it happened, I found  a verse in Lamentations, Chapter 3, verse 22.

“Because of the Lord’s great love; We are not consumed for his compassion never fail; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”

The verse before it says “Yet this call I to mind and therefore I have hope…”

Because God  loves me, I have not and will not be consumed by grief, sin, lust, depression, addiction or the world. His compassion for me never falters, never gives up. He loves me the same each morning, now that’s what faithfulness is. When dogs die, and pastors fail us, and friends die. God is the constant presence of hope and love. Not the kid on the ant hill, but the Father whose heart breaks for the sin and brokeness of the world. He takes the ashes, and creates beauty out of it.

“Lord you took up my case, you redeemed my life.” Lam 3:58

Do-nut even remind me.

I ate ants today.
Now before you judge me too harshly, let me explain.

I was rushed to get to class (as always) because I press snooze too many times (as always) so I didn’t have time to make breakfast. No big deal. I grabbed a bag of mini chocolate donuts I had bought a few days ago and brought it to class with me. I continued my journey to better health by putting aspartane in my system with a nice refreshing Diet Coke from the vending machine.  I got to class and started to munch away as my professor went about lecturing on statistics. Four or five donuts later (they are small), I noticed a little tiny sugar ant crawling across my desk. Followed by another one in my binder.  followed by three or four. my friend, noticing my concern, looked in the bag of donuts and said: “Marlie…umm..they’re in the bag…marlie there are ants in the donuts.” A rather large lump developed in my throat and I excused myself from class. Whether or not I actually consumed ants, I don’t know.  And frankly, I don’t want to know.

But there is something I want you to know. A very true and gross  story aside, I learned something today.

I saw chocolate donuts. I wanted them and grabbed them. Sometimes in life we want things; a relationship, a job, scholarship at that dream university. we see them as golden opportunities, things we must have. But what if there are ants that we are unaware of? And when we spend weeks on end, in tears while we beg and plead God to give us what we want, God looks down and sees the ants of the situation that we can’t see. We see a new job or dating this person or that person as a delicious chocolate donut, something we want. God (all-knowing) sees the ants that we can’t see and wants to steer us away from a potentially bad experience.

I would have loved for someone to had known about those ants before I had eaten four or five of those donuts. Would have saved me a lot of nausea, panic and just utter disgust. If you really want something, pray that God will reveal any ants in the situation and that the desires of His heart will become the desire of yours.