Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jars of Clay

Lessons from the Potter

"But now, O Lord, you are our Father,
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand."
-Isaiah 64:8

These are some thoughts that have been brewing in my head ever since I took my first ceramics class 8 years ago. This past week, I was once again reminded of the amazing picture of Christ's work in our lives as I went back to the pottery village on a field trip with my students.

In order to get clay from the ground and get it to the point that it can be used to make a pot, it must go through a refining process. In its natural state, the clay is nothing more than dirt. It is full of impurities; stones, rocks, roots and other things. First the dirt is mixed with water to make a slushy mud. The slush is then put through a strainer to get rid of the pollutants.

 In the Bible, we are compared to the clay, from the very beginning and throughout. "By the sweat of your brow will you have to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return."
-Genesis 3:19

During this refining process, the old, former state of the dirt is changed into something new, something that can be worked with and used. In our own lives, Christ put to death the impurities once and for all on the cross.

"We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would not longer be enslaved to sin"
-Romans 6:6

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come"
-II Corinthians 5:17

The incredible thing about our lives is that Christ looks at that dirty mud, full of sticks and stones, and doesn't see the mess, but the beautiful vessel we will someday become, and that is exactly what he died for.

Once the clay has been cleaned from its impurities, it has to be wedged, before it can be used on the wheel. This is to mix the hard clay with the softer sections, but also to take out any air bubbles that may have formed. Even if you can't see the air bubbles, the final pottery can be cracked and ruined by the smallest air bubble.

Back in college when I took a ceramics class, I had to learn how to throw pots on a wheel. The instructor kept reminding us to keep an even pressure at all times on the clay in order to get it centered and to keep it from flying away. In the same way, God has his hands on us, constantly keeping an even pressure, so that our lives do not get off centered.

Centering the clay is just one step, but the potter cannot stop there. A centered lump of clay is not good for anything, it is absolutely useless. The potter then must begin to pull the clay by stretching it upwards, all the while keeping a hand on the clay, guiding it continually to keep it centered.

"So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good for the potter to do."
-Jeremiah 18:3

When the clay gets off centered, or messed up(which happened often when I did ceramics) the pot is ruined, and had to be remade into something better. I used to try to salvage the pots that I knew were slightly off centered, but if I continued to pull the walls of the pot up, the mistake was even more visible. There was no other choice, but to crush the clay back into a ball and start over. The same thing has happened to me in my own life. At times, maybe from the outside my life has the semblance of being OK, but continuing on the course I was headed became detrimental. God has taken me to places where I have felt utterly broken and pressed on all sides. However, in the crushing, pressure of the world around me, my life was made more whole and God's presence even more evident.

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsake; struck down, but not destroyed."
-II Corinthians 4:7-9

Our lives are a constant refining. The stretching hurts in our lives. No one wants to be pulled and pressed, but the final vessel is worth it. The amazing part is, even when the clay feels stretched thin and being pulled, the potter's hands are constantly guiding and keeping the clay centered. He never lets go!

"Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?"
-Romans 9:20-21

No one looks at a beautiful vase and praises the vase itself for being pretty.  Instead you will praise the one who made it. The Creator who lovingly crafted it into something beautiful.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
-Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Break

As I am just recovering from my 17th flight across the Atlantic, I thought it would be a good time to post some pictures from the last couple of weeks. I had full intentions of blogging throughout my spring break, but was on the go for most of my break and didn't get the chance to.

Originally I had no intention of heading back to the U.S. until the end of June, but when one of my best friends, also Liz, announced her engagement, I couldn't fathom not being with her for on her big day. I am so blessed by the friends that I have, and was reminded once again of this amazing friendship when Liz planned her wedding on the day that I told her would work best for me. 

I flew into Boston to spend a couple of days wedding planning with Liz before we packed up and drove with her fiance to his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. The next several days were spent with last minute wedding details and running errands.

Several other close friends flew in from different states and we had a blast catching up. I've known both Liz and Sarah for years and I no longer think of them as "best friends" but as sisters. In fact, when Liz was coming up with the list of wedding attendants for the photographers, she listed us as her "pseudo-sisters."

I think this is my favorite photo from the wedding as I say one last goodbye and the groom waits impatiently in the car. 

After the wedding Sarah, Courtney and I headed down to the Buffalo airport and got to see Niagara Falls along the way.

It was a slight letdown due to the mist that obstructed the view and we were only able to see the corner of the falls.

At the Buffalo Airport, I dropped off Sarah and Courtney, while picking up a rental car and my Aunt Cathy. Cathy and I drove to a relative's house for the night where we shared pictures and stories and caught up with them.

They live right beside a river in the beautiful countryside of Eden, NY.

Evidence that spring is around the corner in upstate New York.

We had a great time vising Art and June while touring Buffalo and the surrounding areas.

 I was once again in awe of the amazing sunset, which was a stark contrast from the hazy, polluted sky in Nigeria.
Chunks of ice left floating on Lake Erie.

The next day, Cathy and I had a long drive up to Montreal. The weather changed drastically, from a nice warm 80 degree temperature on Sunday, to somewhere in the low 30's on Tuesday. The cold temperature, combined with wind and rain caused us the spend the day in an art gallery, rather than touring the city. 

Later that day, we drove up to Quebec and immediately fell in love with the city. It's old, full of character and has so much history. French Canada is so much different from the rest of the country. You feel as if you stepped into a completely different country.

That night, Cathy and I had a fondue dinner while the snow started outside. For someone who's been in 90+ heat for the past several months, it was a winter-wonderland. (to the people of Quebec, I'm sure it wasn't as they have been waiting impatiently for spring to come).

The next day we walked around the city in sub freezing temperatures, but coming from Nigeria, it was great!

Watch out for the falling ice!
Aunt Cathy and I had a blast together and ended our trip with a drive down to Boston.

My last stop before reaching Nigeria was a long layover in Dubai. I was able to do a little bit of site-seeing in the short time that I had. I was able to put my feet in the Arabian Gulf, travel on the man-made palm island, watch an assortment
 fish swimming by in the massive aquarium in Atlantis and strain my neck to see the top of the Burj Khalif, the tallest building in the world. From a city that was nothing but a few buildings and a dirt road 20 years ago, to this massive city the can claim ownership of all the biggest and best that the world has to offer.

She said I think I'll go to Boston...

I think I'll start a new life,

I think I'll start it over, where no one knows my name,

I'll get out of (Nigeria), I'm tired of the weather,
Oh yeah and I think I'll go to Boston,
I think that I'm just tired
I think I need a new town, to leave this all behind...
I think I need a sunrise, I'm tired of the sunset,
I hear it's nice in the Summer, some snow would be nice... oh yeah,

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Jesus Kids Video

Hello Friends, my roommate put together this lovely video to highlight some of the things that we've gotten to do with our new friends at Jesus Kids. It has been an absolute joy to worship with these children. They get so excited to praise Jesus!

While we love going each week to worship and play with the kids, there are many actual needs that we cannot meet on our own.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
Matt 19:14

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Birthday Parties

This past week I got to go to two of the most extravagant children's birthday parties that I have ever seen. The first one was for a 10 year old and the second for a 2 year old.

The ten year old is one of my 4th graders, a Nigerian student. I thought at first that her party was going to be at her house, but then realized that it was at "The Fun Factory," a party center with games and blow up castles and slides. I got to the party in typical Nigerian fashion, an hour and a half after the party was supposed to begin. When we got there things were in full swing. I could not believe how many people were present! There had to be at least a hundred people, if not more.

Tents were set up to eat under and the decorations included a 7 ft. banner wishing my student a happy birthday.

There was a DJ, several different catering companies, a face painter, a man dressed in a Scooby Doo costume(despite the heat index of around 102 degrees), and a clown directing different games for the kids.

 I've always been just a little bit creeped out by clowns, and one that has been under the direct sunlight for several hours with her face paint dripping down her face, is no exception.
A cute little girl I found wondering around the party. And I promise, she was smiling on my lap right up until this picture was taken when she realized her mom was behind me.
Most of these girls are students that go to our school.

The second party also had a clown. Imagine that. It must be "the thing" to do here. "Quick, honey, call the clowns, we're having a BIRTHDAY PARTY!"

This party was for one of our Lebanese students who's turning two. The entire party was tastefully decorated with a jungle theme. Jungle blow up animals and a beautiful jungle cake. Although it was located at the family's house, it was no less extravagant. No caterer, but the food had been brought in from Lagos.

The family also had several blow-up bouncy houses around the yard. There was a craft area for the little kids and jello shots for the adults.
Kika, my boss, Karen's grandson. 
And I'm holding her granddaughter, Momo. 

Going with the jungle theme, the mom had worked hard to make two beatiful pinatas, something that you can't just buy here.

The food was delicious and both parties a blast. 

And on a side note, I was not trying to dress like a clown, but the teachers and I did dress a little crazy today for April Fool's Day. Mismatched clothes and one side of my face was made up and the other was not. One side ponytail and the other a bun. 

Happy April Fools Day!