Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Lamp, a Cake and a Smile

I've noticed an interesting thing about blogs. Authors share a beautiful snapshot of their life -- say, a newly refinished piece of furniture, an amazing thrift find, a charming table setting, an inspired craft corner, a pristine homeschool room. (Can you tell what I read?) The readers are swept into a picturesque world. And they want. Sometimes I follow the comments. Of course it's natural to ask for the cake recipe or request tips on refinishing a table. But so often the readers seem to be grasping at straws. They look at one little part of the whole, thinking that if they can have that one thing it will make their lives better, just like the idealized life they read about in the blog.

And then I stop and listen to my own mental comments: "If I can just have those beautiful jars to hold craft supplies, my schoolroom will look amazing . . . If I can just find that darling vintage mixing bowl, my kitchen will be swoon-worthy . . . If I can just find that book for our library . . ." I'm doing the very same thing. And I want.

I found myself doing this several years ago when I developed a taste for the shabby chic look. I love vintage decorating, but I lack that certain finesse that is required to pull it off in my own home. It took me some time, however, before I bravely acknowledged this fact. In the meantime, I found myself falling into the trap of thinking that one or two little pieces would give me that look. So I'd find a vase here and a chair there (usually something that required refinishing), bring it home and think, "Now where in the world am I going to put that?" (My patient husband echoed those sentiments.) I had expected for that one thing to work magic. But instead of shabby chic, I just had a pile of shabby.

The other day I stumbled across a picture perfect blog, and found myself doing it again. "Boy. A few knick-knacks here and a lamp there. I'd be set!" And then it dawned on me that I can't just buy a lamp and expect for my entire house to be transformed. It goes much deeper than that. It's what the lamp sits on. It's the color of the wall behind the lamp. It's the lighting in the room. It's the arrangement of books and vases around the lamp. It's the placement of the table that the lamp sits on. It's the flooring, the fabric, the texture. These pieces all work together to make the lamp a beautiful focal point, not the other way around.

But this is so like me. I admire a person, a lifestyle, a habit. So I frantically search until I find a small piece of it to add to my life. I buy new earrings and think, "Well now why on earth is my entire life not transformed?" And I've missed the whole point. It's not the earrings, the lamp or the mixing bowl. Those are the finishing touches on a life that has something deeper and more beautiful going on. It is the deep, inner beauty that I am really attracted to, whether I realize it or not.

The scary thing is that sometimes I do realize it. But it's easier to hit a Saturday morning garage sale and add to a collection than it is to cultivate inner beauty. So I bring home a "treasure" and wonder why I still feel empty.

This morning I was reading C.H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening. He referenced Hosea 7:8, which reads, Ephraim is a cake not turned. I was intrigued. Cake? I like cake. I read on. Spurgeon explained that,

A cake not turned is uncooked on one side; and so Ephraim was,
in many respects, untouched by divine grace: though there was some partial obedience, there was very much rebellion left. My soul, I charge thee, see whether this be thy case. Art thou thorough in the things of God? Has grace gone through the very center of thy being so as to be felt in its divine operations in all thy powers, thy actions, thy words, and thy thoughts?

When I read words like this I think, Yes! I want to be "thorough in the things of God." And then comes the struggle. I want to be one way -- I want to be like Christ. But like the Apostle Paul I confess,

I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out.

Romans 7:16

I am weak. I am a cake not turned. I focus on adding the externals -- the bowl, the lamp, the earrings -- and live in partial obedience. As a result, I'm half-baked. This is not good. This is ooey, gooey and pointless. This is no way to live. Instead, I want His grace to penetrate the very center of my being, that I may feel its "divine operations" in absolutely everything that I say and do.

The exciting thing is this: I can live this way. Paul gives me the key in Romans 8:9-10.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit . . . If Christ is in you . . . your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

Did you catch that? My spirit is alive. When I allow the Spirit full control, I am able to carry out that which I cannot do on my own. My cake is golden and yummy. The lamp makes sense, because everything surrounding it lives in harmony and focus. The earrings are charming because they complete the look. And my smile is genuine because His grace has penetrated and His Spirit reigns.
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