Wednesday, February 16, 2005



"That's very mature counsel you offered, Larry," says Greg.
I sit there looking at him, speechless, thoughts flying like frightened birds looking for shelter. Lynn looks at me and an awkward silence runs for a few seconds through a conversation that had been lively. Later I can't even remember the details. It's as if a small bomb had exploded in my mind, blowing the memory away.

One day in about 1975 I was working with a friend of mine who was in the cleaning business. We were in what passed for a fancy clothing store in Greeley, washing windows or something. We were there for a couple of hours and toward the end the manager said to me "I like your personality." Out of the blue, just like that. It had the same effect: speechlessness. No one had ever said anything like that to me before.

When I started doing sand sculpture regularly I was often complimented on them. At first I just ignored the comments but my usual defense--they're just doing it because they want something, which had been my experience until then--didn't hold up when I examined these events. These were random beach-goers; they couldn't want anything from me. This was the first time in my life I was consistently praised for doing anything. I didn't want it to matter.

All that mattered was the sculpture. I did them for themselves, not for praise. The praise kept coming and no matter how much I told myself I was a frog in a very small pond, or that it's just sand, I had to accept what these people said as honest opinions. They didn't have to speak up but they went to the effort to tell me they liked what I'd done. Keep hearing that often enough, for long enough, and some of it is going to rub off. Even on someone with stainless steel skin.

How much does an opinion matter? I told myself that what others said shouldn't matter at all, one way or the other. What I was looking for in sand was something far beyond praise. I wanted pure sculpture, something so resoundingly beautiful that it would shiver me from one end to the other. My skills improved but my desires increased even faster, so that I began to measure sculptures by how much they disappointed me. Better sculptures disappointed less.

No matter what happened, praise of sculpture was manageable. It was only sand.

Praise for what I did after God brought me back to himself was a little different. I was fortunate to be alive. If I managed to do something right it was because of God's work in me.

I don't want the credit. Jesus said his burden would be light, and credit is too heavy to bear. I told people that what I did was the result of the Holy Spirit's work.

That work is, however, shaped by who I am. I ultimately have the say on what happens. I can stop God's work. I can't start it, but I can stop it by the decisions I make. Is it worth praise that I make the decisions God wants me to make? He helps me make them. When my feet tremble, he holds me steady. When I'm cowering in fear of the future, he breathes his lion-breath on me and I manage to stand up almost straight, for a little while.

Yes, I did something right. I gave good advice to a friend, advice that came from my unique experience. No one else would have done it the way I did it, and perhaps it was just the word the other person needed. There is some evidence that this is true. But there are other times when I've failed, when none of my words have made a difference. God loves me anyway, and continues to call me by the only name that matters: Forgiven.

I am the visible interface of the invisible Holy Spirit. He could do everything directly. He doesn't need me at all. He is the water in my sand sculpture, holding all my fragile bits together. He is the task given to a Queensland Blue Heeler so that the poor dog will feel useful instead of running around chasing his tail in someone's suburban back yard. He has plans and ideas better than mine for what my life should be. All I've really done is follow him, let him break trail through the broken land so that I can keep walking.

God made me to do things, and I enjoy doing well what I am able to do. God certainly does his work well. Carefully, with great attention to detail, he makes beauty bloom in wasted human hearts so that they come back to life. Duty has little to do with it. He pours his love into me, hoping that I'll get it. Hoping that I'll demonstrate that love, naturally as breathing, and
visibly in a world so badly fallen that it no longer recognizes true love but just believes in an imitation cooked up by a consortium of Hollywood and Hallmark. Even if I don't get it, he'll keep doing what he things is best. What he does best is make possible the impossible in my life.

There are a few Christians whom I respect. Greg Soo Hoo is one, for reasons too complex to explore here. This is why his comment silenced me. A man I respect, respects me? How could this happen? I don't know. Ask the Holy Spirit. And don't tell me what he tells you. Keep it a secret. I'd just get scared.

2005 February 15

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