My Father’s Sweater

 

I’m not sure how old I was when I claimed for my own and started wearing my Dad’s old brown cardigan sweater. I think I was around eleven, but I do know I continued to wrap myself in it till I was fifteen. I think I must have felt like I took on something of my father’s nature when I wore his sweater. It was soft with wide, flat ribs and moth holes in the sleeves – definitely not a “Mr. Rogers” sweater, but perfect to wear on chilly nights out in the garage.

That’s where you could find my Dad almost every night: at his workbench repairing something one of us had broken or building something amazing. I thought my Dad was the smartest man on the planet. None of my friends’ fathers sent Morse code messages on a radio or made science-fiction movie sound effects with a home-built Theremin. None of my friends got to watch miniature lightning shows in their garages from a Van Der Graaf Generator!

Somehow I felt secure in that sweater (and in on some great secrets) standing beside my father at his workbench, even when I had to stand on tiptoe to see what he was doing. I still associate the smell of hot solder and freshly sawn wood with Dad and can hear the sound of his table saw ripping through boards on their way to becoming furniture. He built a split-level ranch-style doll house for me, complete with a fireplace with hand-carved “bricks”, a chandelier that worked, and real tiny shingles on the roof. Dad went through several very 1960’s phases, too, most of which involved the overpowering (and probably brain chemistry altering) fumes of melting plastic that became bunches of grapes and the clacking, conservation of momentum and energy-demonstrating plastic spheres of a “Newton’s Cradle.”

My father let me help him plane wood, drive nails into odd bits of scrap wood, and sweep up sawdust, all while wearing his old brown sweater. When I was a sophomore in high school, Dad helped me draw out, saw, sand apply sealer to, and wrap with copper wire a walnut hardwood bangle I put on a necklace that looked, very much before its time, very much like the Nike “swoop.”  I felt so proud that my father was a builder and creator who guided me to create as I stood beside him, wearing his sweater, at his workbench, and by his side as he built our family cabin, me on the other end of the two-man saw when he cut up tree trunks, and holding a bag of nails as Dad hammered.

Maybe those hours spent in Dad’s sweater standing at his side account for some of my freedom and desire for intimacy with God, my Heavenly Father. Oh, if I could, I’d love to stand beside my Father God at HIS workbench and see what HE is creating!

Do you know what’s cool? My Father God lets me help with his projects. In fact, he WANTS me to get involved! Those amazingly validating times when I get to speak some word of affirmation to another person or meet someone’s need absolutely delight me, because I sense that I’m standing at my Father’s side and can almost see him smile. What amazes me, though, is what God my Father gives me to wear while I’m at his bench: not an old brown sweater, but the righteousness of Jesus! “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:21-22

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10

It takes my breath away sometimes when other people see my Father through me! Oh, God, let me stand beside you at your workbench as you create beauty, goodness, honor, kindness, integrity, compassion, truth, love, and living faith in the lives in this world so precious to you. Guide my hands and heart and words and prayers to help you. And wow, thank you that through faith in Jesus I get to wear a garment that looks like YOUR nature! You ARE the smartest Father in existence, and I want to be more like you. Thanks that you invite me to spend time by your side!

A “. . . But . . .” to pray: Oh, ABBA, Daddy, Father, you are incredible! You make “the music of the spheres,”  and real lightning .  You created vine, flower and grapes, the laws of motion and conservation of energy! Jesus, you told us you are creating not just a cabin, but many mansions in Heaven for us. You repair and rebuild what your children break. All creation, all wisdom, all power, all authority, all goodness, all truth, all justice, all righteousness, all life comes from your hands that are still building, repairing, creating. I may feel small, untalented, inarticulate, incapable, BUT standing by your side wearing YOUR righteousness, I know you’re calling me to ______________________ beside you and I know you’ll teach me how as I put my hands and heart to your work of  _____________________________. I hope others see YOU in me!ImageImage

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Two Brown Shoes, Take Three: God’s goodness

Rose Jackson © 2/ 2009
(see first post “Two Brown Shoes Don’t Make a Pair” to read about my brown boot goof)
What I believe about God’s character is the third application of my “two brown shoes” mistake – and I’m preaching to myself today, swimming in the same sea of difficult circumstances that many of you are struggling to stay afloat in. Looking at those two mismatched shoes, I realized that circumstances tempt me to believe lies about God’s character and intent toward me and my loved ones:

“Why are you dashing our son’s dreams?”
“Have you abandoned us?”
“You gave my friend success, but not me. You must love her more than you love me.”
“I pray for others, and they receive miracles of healing – but you must not want me healed.”

Do you hear in these an echo of your own perplexed, hurting heart? When I take a closer look at my outbursts, I recognize what I’m really saying is, “God, you don’t love me/us. Your love is inconstant. You show partiality. You withhold your goodness. Your word can’t be trusted.”

My image of God in hard times bears striking differences to what I believe about God when my life is going smoothly. In prosperous, healthier, joyful times I gladly agree with the biblical writers who rejoiced in God’s character:

By you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15)

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut. 32:4)

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Ps 100:5)

Taste and see that the LORD is good. . . . (Ps 34:8)

Taste and see . . . . I think of my neighbor’s Crawfish Etoufeé. Many years ago, after eating a disgusting, multi-legged slice of a marine invertebrate during a trip to Asia, I made a resolution never to eat anything with less than two or more than four legs, so when my neighbor recently brought over a steaming bowl of her signature Louisiana chowder, I cringed. I knew it couldn’t possibly taste good. Too many legs!

Since our neighbor had gone to so much trouble to make it, though, what could I do but set it on the table and partake of her hospitality? I carefully tipped all but two crawfish off the spoon and back into the dish before ladling a serving onto my plate. Tentatively I bit into one, and . . . it actually didn’t taste bad. It didn’t taste wonderful, either – it’s the crawfish’s art-gum eraser texture that throws me – but the non-crawfish part of the chowder was quite tasty. My husband and our son enjoyed the crawfish, though, and happily ate the rest of my share, which proves two things: first, one man’s gastronomic challenge is another man’s gusto, and second, there is goodness in things outside of my definition of “good.” To put it another way, God’s goodness may not always taste the way I think it should, but it still is goodness.

Looking back through my journals to so many of the troubling times when I couldn’t see any sign of God’s goodness, again and again I find good. We wanted two children, and timing them four years apart so we wouldn’t have two kids in college at the same time just made good economic sense to me. However, it took seven years for me to conceive our second child: seven years of prayers and hope repeatedly dashed, till I almost gave up hoping, before Ethan came along. Our sons were born eleven years apart – and in the year our younger son graduated from high school, our older son received his Ph.D. God answered my prayer with a yes; I just hadn’t realized that eleven years would fit the timetable of my request perfectly! After Ethan’s birth, I also realized that any other child we might have conceived would not have been Ethan – a creative, compassionate, intelligent, honest, giving, loving, loyal, hard-working young man of faith and vision. go through the boy Scout Oath, and that’s Ethan. God had a specific purpose for that specific combination of DNA that is Ethan. That is goodness; that is love; that is faithfulness. The seven-year heartache that became a spoonful of goodness is the empathy I now have for women struggling with infertility.

Again and again I remember crises and wrenching situations that became avenues of blessing on down the road: a treasured necklace lost, a lost diamond found, and acknowledging that the God who was good when I found the one was the same good God when I didn’t find the other. My husband laid off and out of work for six months – and a loving God who connected him with a job better than he applied for. A cross-country move I didn’t want to make away from everyone and everything I cherished – and through that frustrating move when I thought he had abandoned me, God twice met desperate needs my kids and I would have years later. That’s goodness. That’s faithfulness. That’s love.

I think back to those evidences of God’s faithful, loving goodness even while I wonder as my emotions struggle with our retirment funds cut in half with retirement just on the horizon and this week’s discouraging news for Ethan’s dream job . . . is it God who is inconstant, or my emotions and my thinking that don’t line up with truth and can’t be trusted? I open my Bible to Psalm 89, to the words of another Ethan, “the Ezrahite,” and I stand on this “. . . BUT . . .” for me and for our own Ethan:

“I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever . . . . I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself . . . . Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. . . . For you are their glory and strength . . . . ”

Today I make a choice to believe God’s character, not the economy, not my arthritis, not the circumstances around us, and I will walk in those two matching shoes BELIEVING God’s love, kindness, compassion, and power till I get to the place where I can turn and see we’ve been surrounded by his goodness all the while.

A “. . . but . . . “ to pray: Loving Father, I look at all the problems, discouraging news, financial losses, and uncertainties ahead of me, BUT I trust that you love us, you never forsake me, your will is for our good, and you are faithfully working out blessing even when I can’t see you. Thank you that I’ll look back in a few days, weeks, or years and rejoice in what you are doing to work all of this “chowder” together for my good through your steadfast, mighty wisdom, provision, and love. I WILL taste and see your goodness! Amen!

Your own “. . . but . . .”: Loving Father, I’m so confused when I see ___________ in my life today, BUT I choose to believe you are _____________ and you love me faithfully. “I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13) I will wait for you, LORD; I will be strong and take heart and wait for you, LORD. (Ps 27:14)

Two Brown Shoes Don’t Always Make a Pair

Rose Jackson © 1/2009

The first of three reflections on my shoe goof. Ah, the subtle but critical differences there can be between reality and our perception of reality! (and I’m preaching to myself even as I post this) I sense how important spotting those differences is now that so many of us face extremely difficult circumstances. This post in no way minimizes the losses many of you have endured and now deal with. On the contrary, I hope/pray it can help you find your way through these times.

My heart raced as my feet leaped over piles of shoes and my mind leaped over “to-do’s” on my mental list. It was the typical hectic December Saturday – the day of the company Christmas party – and we had three places to be at the same time, on opposite sides of town. We had early morning appointments at our chiropractor’s office twenty-five miles on the other side of town, so I calculated that, if I was quick about it, I could hit two shopping centers on the way home, squeezing boot and jacket shopping in between our appointments, feeding the family lunch, and running an afternoon errand. Besides, I had my husband with me to help bag the quarry. I tried to maximize my shopping time and enlisted my reluctant husband in hunting for brown ankle-high, pointed toe boots –that seemed straight-forward enough, and leather boots afforded the appearance of a more manly pursuit – while I searched the racks of the crowded bargain basement for a jacket to wear with my dress for the Christmas party. The jacket was a necessity because the dress I was going to wear that evening (which my husband picked out) revealed more than I wanted his boss and co-workers to know about me!

First store, no luck on either count: one pair of boots, too small, no jacket. The clock was ticking. Next store, the outlet-outlet-outlet called Last Chance, because they don’t exchange or refund anything, and again we split up. I untied my tennis shoes to save time, just in case my husband found anything. I scan the racks and come up empty, but my husband spots a pair of boots. I whip off my shoes and shove the boots on, lacing them just far enough up to be sure they fit. Got it! We zipped (relatively speaking, given the holiday crowds) through the checkout and on to another store for our remaining target, the elusive jacket. My husband’s grimace cried out that his heart was no longer in the pursuit. I quickly spotted a jacket the right shade of midnight blue, whipped it off the rack, flung it over my sweater to check that it fit, disregarded the fact that it was short-sleeved and I would still be chilly for the sake of being adequately covered, and we both called it a successful hunt.

It wasn’t until several weeks later, after I’d worn the boots repeatedly, that I noticed the left didn’t feel as comfortable as the right one. Something about the cuff bothered my left ankle, but I ignored the discomfort till I got home. As I took off my right shoe, then bent over to untie the left, I made a startling discovery.

They weren’t the same shoe! Oh, the boots were the same size, the color was the same rusty brown, the pointed toes were the same, the heels were the same height, and the round laces were the same, but there the similarity ended – and obviously. The right shoe was top-stitched with a single row of stitching outside the eyelets. The left was top-stitched with a double row inside the eyelets. The right had a cuff, which was what I’d wanted, but the left had a padded top like a hiking boot. Good grief! My husband didn’t notice that when he picked them up, and, even more unbelievably, I hadn’t noticed the differences when I tried them on!

How could I have been so oblivious when I bought them, and how could I have worn them several times without noticing? I felt ridiculous. How many people had noticed me wearing two different shoes? I couldn’t return them, so I was stuck with two boots that now would embarrass me every time I wore them! I wondered (as I do anymore when something really weird happens to me) what lesson I could glean from this incident, and it came to me quite clearly: my perceptions aren’t necessarily the same as reality, or, “. . . no lie comes from the truth” (1 John 2:21). A lie may resemble the truth, it may feel reasonably close or even comfortable, but it’s not the same thing as the truth.

I recognized an application right away because of the turmoil in the lives of three of my friends dealing with depression, and the chaos in my own life because of a struggle with incredible stress that fall. We were all listening to and buying into lies that sounded like truth. I easily saw my friends’ errors. They were saying things like “There’s no reason to go on living. I’ll lose my job. I’ll never work again. My friends will leave me. God listens to other people’s prayers, but not to mine.” My own lies, like deer in a shadow-dappled thicket, were harder to spot against the background of my own stresses and time-pressured circumstances: lies like, “I can’t handle all these responsibilities. If one more person needs me for anything, I’m going to explode. This pressure is going to give me a nervous breakdown.” After a particularly hectic day substitute teaching, I snarled a lie to my husband and children: “I don’t have the energy to be ‘nice’ to one more person today, so back off.”

As I compared the two “shoes” of reality and my friends’ and my perceptions, the truths common to both were that life was difficult and we all did have limitations. The color and the toe of the shoes of reality and our perceptions were the same, so to speak, but there all accurate resemblance between perception and reality ended. What was the reality? What was true? My friends and I all had loved ones, co-workers and friends who cared about us and wouldn’t abandon us just because we were struggling – that was true. My friend who feared she’d lose her job because of her health issues was bright, capable, and highly skilled in her profession, someone any employer would value – true. She would get well and work again – true. And she did! We needed to line our perceptions up with these truths in our lives, too.

Even though our issues were different, my friends and I alike needed friends, family members, and honest counselors who would love us enough to speak and uncover these truths in our lives. Our part in the hunt for honest reality was to compare the truth to what we were telling ourselves, accept the whole truth, and stop telling ourselves lies. I also found truths like these in the Bible that encouraged me to handle my personal stresses in healthier, honest ways:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity and fawning fear – but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of a calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7, The Amplified New Testament)

I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Like the discomfort of my mismatched boots, I realize my own level of mental and emotional agitation , and more often the level I can see in my loved ones, are fairly good indicators of a discrepancy between the whole truth of my circumstances and what I’m perceiving/believing about them. I see, too, that fear obscures truth and generates many of the lies I’ve believed. In his book “Ruthless Trust,” author Brennan Manning writes, “As long as we withhold internal consent to these varied faces of fear, they are no cause for alarm, because they are not voluntary . . . we can overpower them with a simple and deliberate act of trust.” I need to trust God’s truth.

Since the brown shoes episode, I’m trying to do better at spotting lies in my thinking – or at least to listen objectively when my husband points out inconsistencies – so I don’t wear lies too long. That proved essential to my mental health when my husband was laid off and out of work for six months. (More about that in a future post.) Since my husband and I are soon facing the anxiety of retirement in an uncertain economy, an empty nest, separation from a beloved part of our family who live on the other side of the globe, and since I recently learned that depression runs in my mother’s family, I’m on a campaign to intentionally, proactively ferret out fear, lies and negativity in my attitudes and mental dialog. My perspective matters tremendously. I don’t need to make the real challenges of the coming months and years more difficult by what seems like, but isn’t, reality-based truth-filled thinking.

I bought new brown boots and made sure the left one matched the right, but in case you’re wondering, I did keep my mismatched pair as a humorous reminder to look for and believe the whole truth. Much to my amazement and relief as I’ve shared my shoe gaff over the years, I hear others say they’ve done the same thing. I suspect that, particularly in stressful or difficult times like these, we all need to take a closer, truthful look at both our shoes and our suppositions!

A ” . . . but . . .” for you to pray: God, I look at the times ahead and feel fears of financial trouble, health problems, and loss. That’s what the world is saying, too, BUT you promise you have plans to prosper me, to give me a future and a hope. Help me examine my perceptions, expose the lies I’ve believed, and choose to line my perceptions up with truth.
Your own “. . . but . . .” Father, right now I fear ____________________________, but I know that you __________________________________________.