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Becoming Holy

grace shatters my beaded yokes: confessions of a self-oppressing artist

The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

Some nights you might find me cross-legged in the center of my bedroom floor–my black tank again wearing through the red stitches it’s been mended twice with, my green scrub pants reminding me of the smell of bleach we wore together at the boarding home. Don’t try to approach me though; you might slip on the sea of glass I’ve tried to make for myself. My beads drown the carpet in deep, twisted hues while I add to and string them together–So walk lightly if you must, and take care to not find one stabbed into your heel.

What began as creative devotion for me turned into a consuming need that chained up the freedom I had through expression. The beads were for my Love, painted for him, to shimmer around his throne. As I set my hands to them, losing sleep over them, I moved with no desire besides offering them to the Artist of eternity. But now, as I work through the night, catching a passionless reflection in the window pane, it’s hard to picture these beads adorning anything lovely besides my bones.

When I loved my beads too much and caught their reflections of praise, I began to resent them, but could not resist a need for making worth in them. So I let my attention shift to the mirror where I could better accommodate the want for worth. As I stare at my spiritless frame, I love the lines, the dramatic structure complemented by deeply painted drops of glass. For all of the flaws I so easily find in my appearance, these jewels make up for it. They dazzle the skin that stretches at the base of my neck and smooths over the collar bones that hold the weight of a thousand beads.

So I add to my collection daily, fashioning heavy glass necklaces that twist and tangle across my chest and drape over my shoulders. They form the most impossible knots anymore–hence my glistening bedroom floor. But I still need them. I need to keep creating them, because if I stop I fear that that the creative devotion they began with will never be recovered. And I need them to see and to touch and to be able to show others and to show God. What if I don’t have them anymore? Where will I master beauty without them? What will I say without them? Further the thought of my neck being exposed to the unpredictable breeze, once again touching my skin, is terrifying.

Recently something that Paul wrote caused me to close my eyes and look at myself: This girlish, prideful island in the middle of a sea of sinful beads was what I saw. I saw that I am horribly guilty of an obsession with control (feel free to sing Mutemath here) and blatantly disregarding a truth that scares me: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

God revealed to me the skewed intentions of my works and their inability to result in anything good apart from his work. What begin as devotion and expression, I often let become a requirement and expectation for goodness, resulting in an obsession and yoke that eventually wears me into exhaustion. And my anxiousness about expectations and pursuits that, at the end of the day weigh nothing against the glory of God, only spit in his saving face. My arrogance and independent insistence says, “That thing you did on the cross? Thanks, but uh I got this covered here today. I like my [limited] perspective here where I can see things that You are obviously missing from where You are…”

But I don’t want to be the prideful wretch that turns away help and life, thinking she needs to do everything better and on her own. I have been set free and I can no longer shut my eyes to this and try to make my own freedom, my own life, my own beauty. Paul says that our freedom comes through faith in God and His grace to us (Gal 5:4). So, he tells us to live like it means something to us, For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5)

It’s a sin for me to add to the mess of beaded burdens around my shoulders. They cascade in their own bitter splendor and spill onto the floor as a sea of unmanageable glass. So here I draw the line and say that what I create and what I pursue are never things to be consumed by. My worth and my righteousness are in no way dependent upon or even reflected by these things. And when I let my art, my education, my volunteering, my anything become supreme in my life, I hope that I will hear these words again and again reminding me that I have peace with God through Christ and that this is eternally freeing and never oppressing.


holy questions or audacious distrust?

From day one I’ve been an out-of-control mess of questions. My first breath was a desperate grasp for air in an alien world, screaming and crying like someone was already trying to undo the precious form that God had just spent nine months stitching together. There was no trust, no peace in me from the beginning.

I cursed the wilderness of my childhood, wondering how long I could bare it and into whose hands my life would fall. Stories and imaginary scenarios that I controlled distracted me from the most oppressing years. And even though I know who actually protected my life and captured my heart in those days, I still spit questions back in His face today.

My insolence carries on with this notion that He gets carried into the tides of my emotions and imagination, completely forgetting about the needs I think I have and the questions that plague me.

My questions in life have been relentless, sliding into every corner of my mind at any given time. And after hearing so much hype and hooplah in the Christian culture about navigating the will of God and having a ministry plan, goals, etc, my questions persist in what I have been led to think where so vital to my life as a disciple.

And I have the audacity to act like my questions are intended for heavenly purposes.

Where will I go? How do I get there? Will I know that its from You? Are you sure I can handle that?

What will become of the rest of summer? Where will we leave? How will we afford it? What should I pursue?

By whose side will I be? Are You sure I can handle that friendship?

On that day that day, when I escape this world, will You say Well done? Or will I have fallen asleep and been folded into the waters of complacency by then?

And even when I speak these questions before God, they’re still mine. I own their purposes and fears, casting them forth as I please. Sometimes flinging them like a yo-yo with a string still laced through my fingers. The ideal of knowing, of having something remotely visible to hold on to, to trust in, to call my own, and to control – it becomes my idol.

Yet I still slam my fists on the table before God, demanding an answer.
And when I see His calm demeanor remain steadfast before me and His hands gently slide across the table to clean up the heaping pile of distrust away from me, I see the vanity in every single question.

The truth is that His answers straight up terrify me. Sometimes He doesn’t even wait for me to let go. He rips the question marks from my fists, replacing them with immovable periods before I even get a chance to say goodbye to their romantic ideas.

The fact is that I am not entitled to know anything. The only knowledge that I can be sure of comes from the mercy of God and does not resemble any pea-brain concoction I could ever try for.

A scholar once asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity from God so that he would know exactly what He should be doing for God. She refused to pray for clarity. He protested, insisting that he only wants what she has had her entire life. Mother Teresa replied, “I do not have clarity, what I have is trust. I will pray that you can learn to trust God every day. He will show you what to do each step of the way.”

Francis Chan and Kendall Payne smacked me in the face with this:

Wash me, white as snow, so I can be made whole.

The terrifying aspect of God creating in me a clean heart and a pure mind is making me  overwhelmingly aware of the fact that on my own, I am nothing more than a wretch with a disgustingly sinful nature.

If Jesus wouldn’t have saved me, I probably would have destroyed myself (and everyone around me) by now.

Who am I to live my days with the pride that I carry on with?