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Annette Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

Shaped in His Image

O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

If you’ve ever seen a potter in action, plopping the clay onto the potter’s wheel, it’s easy to see that there is a plan. The potter owns the clay, commands the wheel, and the vision belongs to him alone. The potter sees what the lump of clay in his hands can become after he has thrown, fired, glazed and refined it. His intention is to create a work of art.

The same is true with us. God, as the Master Potter, beholds us as lumps of clay, but He has vision. He sees what we will become in time, after we have gone through the firing, glazing, and refining process – even when we cannot.

God creates us with a purpose, with a plan in mind. We are as God intended for us to be, even when we ourselves feel that we are imperfect or weak. God sees beyond that, and as his daughters, we need to trust in God’s plan for our lives and that he is molding us, in his time. The process of making pottery involves several steps. The first step is Centering. A vessel is only as true and strong as its center; our center is the cross. We need to be centered in order to do God’s will, and as Catholics, that center is the cross of Jesus. The cross is a constant reminder of the sacrifice that Jesus made and how we too, as Christians, are called to carry our crosses and follow him. Our tiny, daily sacrifices united to Christ’s have infinite strength and possibility to change our circumstances in life, our perspective, and save many souls. But in order to do that, we must remain centered and model our lives after the Savior himself – with love, courage, sacrifice and humility.

The second step is Opening. Once the lump of clay is centered on the wheel, the potter begins to open it, which requires hands-on, individual attention. God spends his time on us, making us unique. God didn’t assemble us in a mass production line. Not everyone is the same, and we all have a different purpose in life and our own way to achieve holiness. Just look at the saints. St. Therese of Lisieux had “the little way.” St. Francis of Assisi renounced his riches and began an order. St. Vincent de Paul served the poor. Our path to holiness may very well be through our marriages and families, our jobs, or any state of life to which God has called us.

Throughout the shaping process, the clay must be kept moist or it will lose its elasticity. In extreme cases, the entire vessel may break apart. God shapes us, even as he uses us to help shape people. Jesus once compared the Holy Spirit to water. In the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, verse 14, Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” We need to be pliable to the Holy Spirit’s work in us, to the graces that God so lovingly wants to bestow on us. We often interfere with the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, either because we don’t ask for the graces or we are afraid or reluctant. But if we are going to let the Master Potter work on us, we need to make sure that we, the clay, remain moveable, moldable, and allow Him to work.

Then comes the most challenging stage in the process: Firing. Once the vessel has taken the shape the potter intends for it, fire begins to roar in the kiln. The potter uses the kiln to remove impurities from the clay. The fire makes the vessel even more beautiful than before. As we spend time in the fire with our Lord beside us, we mature. The firing process is very difficult for us.

When life gets tough, our first tendency is often to jump out of the kiln, to settle for less than being like Christ in our hearts, minds and character. However, God has promised to be with us in our trials and troubles. He tells us in Isaiah 43: 2-3:

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

These promises have power. As we spend time in the fire with our Lord beside us, we mature. We grow stronger in faith and more suitable for the service into which God places us. But to do this, we must first go “through” the fire. We don’t stay there, and we often lose sight of this. Our Master Potter is our Savior – the one who uses even the fire to shape us for his service.

 

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Being Formed

BEING FORMED

Being formed–it shapes us into who we become. God shapes us, and it is our choice though to cooperate with His will, being obedient, for our Lord is the potter; we are the clay:

“…there was something wrong with the pot. So the potter used that clay to make another pot. With his hands he shaped the pot the way he wanted it to be… from the Lord …you know that I can do the same thing with you. You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.” Jeremiah 18: 4-6

This is what I have learned over the years, to be obedient and seek the Lord’s Will. Being a team, a team who discusses decisions to be made and making them as one. The families we were raised in, the experiences we have lived, the jobs we have taken, our friends, among many others factors, have formed us. But, we are not meant to do this alone. God provides, he offers assistance in a “helpmate”.

Mark and I met when we were 18. We both had come from similar families ~ a Christian home, parents still married, and were encouraged to achieve in what we chose do. And each of us had one sibling. We were blessed to be born into calm, stable homes. We were just two teens starting at a Christian college in suburban Chicago. The world was our place to explore now.

It was a colorful four years of dating, occasional surprises when Mark decorated my dorm room with hearts and random bouquets of flowers, dates to downtown musicals, along with a few breaks from each other. A month after graduation we married. Of course we thought we knew a lot, thinking we were “ready” and formed to marry, but there was far more shaping to be done, formation of the “helpmate” in each of us. A great adventure had begun, with many highs and plenty of lows. Did we fully understand what a “helpmate” meant, this new role of being a spouse to the other? There was a lot to learn, learning what it meant to be one, no longer two. Our decisions needed to be one, being a team. We did not know then the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it so beautifully states:

“Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” his equal, his nearest in all things, is given to him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” CCC 1605

Over the next 10 years we experienced those peaks and valleys. We moved to North Carolina for Mark to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for graduate school. Then we became parents to two beautiful children, lost both of our fathers, and moved to Michigan and then Texas. These two teens had now become adults who by selection and choice had to be “one” to survive. We had each other, we knew that. As we like to say, the key to the “back door”, divorce, was thrown out when we married and we would find a way to make it work. We were working on it, our clay pot was being formed, shaped.

Mark’s research started off in the study of religion and the affects on society. A trip to Malawi, Africa for research gave birth to new interests in international research for Mark. He discovered he could actually do it and enjoyed seeing other societies on the other side of the world. More opportunities came later–Israel, Mexico, France. After experiencing three miscarriages, we then had our third child, what a joy. The two were one, trying to navigate, helping one another through the highs and lows.

There was an unsettledness though in our faith life. We had been attending a Presbyterian Church (USA) since we arrived in Texas. We grew frustrated and attended a Southern Baptist megachurch for a year. But, our hearts were still restless ~  “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” St. Augustine. With two upcoming teens in our home, we saw the need to seek a true church home. Together we discerned to look at the Catholic Church and enrolled in an RCIA class. In April of 2011, we joined the Catholic Church, where we have found the fullness of Truth and the source of strength for days ahead. We were starting to understand who our Lord is, what our role as a married couple was, and how we were one and one another’s helpmate.

Mark, the non-professor, who cleans the dishes from dinner most every night, gets the children ready for bed, cleans out the cat box, reads the Little House series to our youngest, navigates amazing ventures for our family, takes care of both his mom and his mother-in-law with love, works with fervor, and has a servant heart, was about to be persecuted. The helpmate of mine was about to be attacked.

Mark had conducted a study that surveyed over 15,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 39. I vividly remember him sitting at our kitchen bar, while I was making dinner, and he told me how stunned he was at the findings in the study after doing initial data analysis. There was no massaging of the data–it was there–adult kids whose parents had had same-sex relationships were more apt to struggle. So, he wrote “The” article and the summer of 2012 arrived and started a litany of persecution, nothing what we expected. What I will say is that Mark was, still is, so inspiring to me in that he did not lash back, even when it was very warranted. He was always professional, spoke the truth, stood behind his data, research, analysis, and writing. When you’re telling the truth, why would one waiver? My role seemed unclear, but what became clear was that God called me to be the prayer warrior, on my knees for him and the whirlwind of challenges it brought. God protected us, but there are scars and still wounds, but we know God is the potter, and we trust His shaping of Mark, and me, is with His intent and purpose.

Our Hope is in the Lord, who made Heaven and earth! As Isaiah so beautifully reminds us, He leads:

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:19-21

Over the past four years, adversity has been ever present, but there is a peace that passes all understanding. With the joy of watching the production of Humanum, showing the beauty of marriage and family and the start of the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, there is hope. The clay pot is being shaped by our Lord into what He wants it to be. Mark has been cooperative, obedient, and of course still learning. He is still teaching at the University of Texas, he recently finished a book, has maintained old friendships and made some new, we are still married, seeking to be one~a team, our children are growing and learning, we have learned that  “It is not good that the man should be alone” but that we are to be each others helpmate through all seasons of life “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Not only does Mark study and write about marriage and family, but lives this marriage vow with me, his “helpmate”, who is given by God in the sacrament of marriage.

Deeann & Mark

Deeann is wife to Mark and mom to three amazing kids. Her love for her family is immediately known by anyone who knows her and she spends considerable time praying for her husband’s work and her children’s endeavors, all while exuding a cheerfulness about her that is so infectious that you will want to know her better and learn how she does it all. I am so blessed to call her my friend. ~ Martina