Normally summer is my time to kick back with the kids and be the happy-go-lucky mom we all wish I could be year around. We pay less attention to bed times, brush fewer teeth and let the laundry pile up. We spend our days at the “lake,” the kids swimming and me trying not to look too anti-social while catching up on my pleasure reading. We sit through and participate in a lot of ball games, eat too many meals out of plastic wrap and general fun ourselves into oblivion.
But not this summer. This summer, when not developing a permanently flat behind at the ballpark, I have been getting high in our garage. That’s right, getting high…with strippers no less. No, I have not taken up pole dancing and G-strings. I have been tackling furniture restoration. We are remodeling our kitchen this summer and like fools said to ourselves, “Who wants to go and buy some cheap piece of poorly constructed particle board when we can restore pieces that are original to the house?” Not us. Why would we want to take the easy way out when doing things the hard way is so much, well, harder?
About halfway through the month of June I would have gladly pulled something out of the neighbor’s trash if it meant we could take off those horrible rubber gloves and breathe clean air for a while. But since I didn’t spy any dumpster diving pieces on our block, I kept going. I learned a lot in the process. Maybe it was all those fumes, but as I worked I found a lot of parallels between the work of restoring furniture and the work of restoring my soul. Here are a few things I picked up along the way:
- Getting the first layer off is always the easiest. There are few things more satisfying than brushing on a fat coat of paint stripper and watching 70’s era, olive green disaster buckle and crack. It scrapes off like a dream and you start thinking “This is going to be a piece of cake.” Right—cake that will take hours of your life and several layers of your skin. The outside is easy but it’s what lies underneath which requires the most work to get rid of. That second layer takes patience and lots of elbow grease. Sometimes you even need to take a break. Let you and your furniture rest a bit before you go back at it. It’s the same with sanctifying our souls. Those outward bad habits are much easier to leave behind than the ones that lie hidden and close to the heart. Those are the ones that take perseverance.
- Things generally get worse before they get better. I would spend several days stripping a piece of furniture only to realize that I had just make it look ten times worse than it looked before I started. Doesn’t that also seem true of working on ourselves? You dedicate more time to Bible reading only to realize through that reading that your plight is even worse than you thought. Or you begin praying for help in overcoming a particular bad habit only to experience failure in that area even more than usual. But you have to trust the process. You have to believe that it will work and keep going. I reached a point in several projects over the last few weeks when I really didn’t think I could do it. But the only thing that appealed to me less than going forward was giving up. And that was usually the point where suddenly I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. In our spiritual lives, the darkness does not want us to succeed and thus tempts us to despair. But I also think God wants to strengthen us for even greater work and lets us struggle, never more than we can bear, but struggle nonetheless.
- Perfection isn’t without its scars. Even when “finished” I can see the bits of paint I couldn’t get off or the scratches that refused to be sanded away. It would be easy to obsess over those imperfections and to feel as though I failed to get the job done. But that’s part of the beauty of restoring something old. You can read its story in those bits of paint and scratches. Just like you can read my story in the scars I carry, inside and out. Someday, my story on earth will be finished. God will be finished working on me here. I will be made perfect, all the old and ugly taken away and made new and beautiful. But I don’t think that means I will be without scars. After all, the hands that greet me will be scarred as well. And they will be beautiful indeed.