Sunday, February 14, 2016

What I Learned About Imperfection

I had to let some time pass before I could write about this. I needed space to process and determine just the right words, the perfect angle to present it. Two weeks in and I’m not seeing perfection in this so I’ll just do the sloppy thing and relate it as best I can because I need to say it. 

Sometimes you just have to carry on without perfection as your ultimate goal. 


We traveled to Penhook Virginia to attend a relative’s memorial service. The fifty minute drive from Danville, where we spent the night, was a portal through which we stepped temporarily back in time. 

Allow me to explain.

Penhook is a small rural lake community snuggled into the heart of Virginia by a crazy quilt of irregular patches of fields embroidered together by verdant tree lines. The route is not a modern highway nor is it straight from Danville to Penhook thus one has to follow the directions carefully. The two lane road weaves and meanders through an agricultural countryside then suddenly, without warning, takes right and left angle turns that appears one might have mistakenly gotten onto a private road inside the middle of a working farm. 

Sometimes the road winds through wooded areas and then rounds a bend where the view bursts open to a wide vista that reaches all the way to distant mountains rising above the horizon. 

All along the way we passed tall, square, windowless, obviously elderly, log structures. Some were nearly obscured with the naked tangled tentacles of vines still hibernating in the February chill. I wondered when I spotted the first one. It was too small to be a cabin. Then by the time we had passed the fifth of sixth one, I knew there must be something in particular these relics represented. Sometimes one would sit precariously next to the road, as though the road pavers had specifically deferred to the building’s first right to be there and left it undisturbed, inches from the asphalt. And then others would be standing like mute sentinels in a stubble covered field or tucked in a stand of tall pines. 

My curiosity peaked, I determined that I’d find out what these old buildings were as soon as I was able.

We arrived at the little United Methodist Church in Penhook and filed in with the other somber guests. The first thing I noticed was that it was decidedly a church. It had all the markers. Stained glass windows that depicted Bible stories and, gasp, a CROSS. There were enough wooden pews to fit several hundred people, if tightly seated. 

The second thing I noticed was what was missing - the stage and the rock and roll instruments. Instead there was a piano and a single microphone. Old, well-used hymnals sat in the racks behind each pew. Everyone seated, the pianist began the service with the achingly tender sounds of gentle worship. There was no throbbing, bumping, thumping or rousing percussion. Just delicately, adroitly touched piano keys, melodiously setting the mood for a humble coming together to honor and remember a life. Several times we were asked to open the hymnal and sing along. Like revisiting old dear friends the familiar lyrics and melodies hugged us with deep spiritual assurance rather than jolting physical emotion. We listened to the eulogies, recited the Lord’s Prayer together and the Twenty-Third Psalm. Even though this was a special service I knew this is what a normal Sunday service would be like in this place.

I began to wonder if I had somehow managed to transcend the space-time continuum. 

Service over we were all invited to go downstairs to the basement where a delicious meal prepared by the church ladies awaited us. We ate and fellowshipped. Not once in the whole time in that building did my ears ever need protection with plugs nor were my nerves frazzled into high danger alert mode. 

On a table outside the fellowship hall I noticed a stack of cookbooks. I know from experience that the very best cookbooks are always the ones put together by the church ladies. I picked up four and pressed a folded bill in the minister’s hand. I didn’t need an excuse to contribute to the little church but it seemed to be the easiest way I could show my gratitude for the experience of church one more time - real church - the kind that is fast becoming extinct–replaced by what is considered superior, the new normal, modern razzle-dazzle. Better. More perfect for this age.

At the end of the day, as we took the winding country road back to Danville to our hotel, I flipped through the spiral bound cookbook marveling at the wonderful recipes it held as we re-passed the old log buildings and I had a strange thought that these two things have something in common–church cookbooks and old log buildings. 

They are both perfectly imperfect. 

In this age of flash and dash, crisp, sleek and precision-devised style, old log buildings would never pass modern rigorous building codes for any purpose and spiral bound church lady cookbooks would never make the best seller list. Neither are perfect by any 21st century standards, meaning: not marketable. 

But I want to point out that the old log buildings - called Tobacco Barns, where the farmers used to dry their crops, some over two hundred years old, are still standing. Still. Standing. Still able to do what they were built to do if anyone wanted to dry their tobacco leaves there. 

And... the United Methodist Church of Penhook, Virginia has been serving the small community faithfully, without fanfare, promotion or marketing since 1956. 

And... the Penhook United Methodist Church Cookbook is full of recipes handed down generation to generation, that have been nourishing families for longer than I’ve been alive. 

Sometimes you just have to carry on without perfection as your ultimate goal. 

Or you could redefine perfection.

For Him,


  1. I'm left with the same sense of longing.
    This is a conversation that has happened more than once when my husband and I are alone in the mini-van. We use beat up hymnals in our family devos with the boys because we want them to know the old faithfuls. There's so much grace that we need to learn, living in this world of gloss and noise. I feel the tension - continually - of the need to point to time-worn principles and the hope of avoiding a curmudgeonly perspective.

    1. I find it as hard to describe as it is to defend - this aching for worship that is cradled reverently in what I can only define as mature, having-come-to-the-end-of-myself, no party needed, bared, open, ready to listen frame of soul. And maybe it’s just my age. I do get the concept that young people need stimulation to keep them interested, especially in this glossy noisy world (as you so eloquently put it). I also know that Christians have been reordering the way they worship for twenty centuries so the way to worship is likely to be less important than the Who.

      See - I do get it. But sitting in that little church I had two reasons to weep - one, for the loss of our cousin and, two, for the stark comparison of the way it was to the way it is becoming and there’s nothing I can do but remember. Something huge has been abandoned and I absolutely cannot attend the megachurch hoopla and I’ve, even recently, been told by someone ten years younger than I that she has to wait until the concert is over to enter the sanctuary so that she can hear the message. Surely that says something?

  2. And I just scrolled down and found the way to subscribe to your site. I'm such a Luddite that the simplest things elude me.

    1. Ha! I didn't know that was there - and I am not a Luddite mostly. :-]

  3. Perfectly imperfect...yes, that's it, that's me and everything I set my hand to (and feel so frustrated with) Thank-you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully today. I have just discovered your blog via Michele Morin's site and have cried through your Mother Eartha Talks on Purpose from a year ago...Thank-you, thank-you for bringing who you are to this crazy cyber world for me to meet and be blessed by.

    1. Our Lord is so good, isn't He? I never get over the amazing infinite ways He is able to make things happen.

      And I did see your comment in the Mother Eartha post. [[[hugs]]]

    2. Linda, you might want to check out Emily Freeman's latest post called Break This Habit Change Your Life. Really speaks to this topic of feeling imperfect. ;-)

  4. Thank you. There is for sure something to this article that runs true for me... Fear of my own personhood...hmm. Will chew on this. Would like to see some Scriptural back up. How would the Bible describe this shame? And its solution? Thanks for pointing me there.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Interesting this has come up recently with several others and so I’ve had reason to ask for some guidance on this topic. So, here’s some food for thought. :-)

      There is a vast difference:
      Between being arrogant and being God confident
      Between being righteous and being self-righteous
      Between being humble and being self-denigrating
      Between believing you are limited in abilities like most are and being so imperfect not even God can use you.

      Somewhere in the deep middle of these extremes is the truth that when we focus on doubting ourselves more than we trust Jesus, we do limit what we can do because we mentally establish at the get go the expectation of outcome rather than allow God the latitude to what is possible. He's the potter, we are the clay.

      Where we struggle is with the notion that we must meet a criteria of perfection that is not Scriptural - it’s doctrinal - meaning man’s interpretation.

      T. Austin-Sparks addressed this many years ago.

      With God nothing is ever impossible and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment. (Luke 1:37 AMP)

      It seems that when the Lord Jesus chose His twelve disciples there was, at the back of the choice and back of the purpose of having a company of men always with Him – the intention of showing and expressing what the character of the Firstborn is so far as relationship to other members of the Family is concerned. To put that in another way: if we study the characteristics of the Lord Jesus in relation to His own when He was here on the earth, we have a good example of what family characteristics are in the thought of the Father. For instance, take the imperfections, the shortcomings, the weaknesses of the twelve and see what the attitude of the Lord Jesus was toward them. The Holy Spirit takes no pains to cover up those faults and those flaws. There is no attempt made whatever to present those men as an ideal group. Their picture is painted true to life and all the difficult lines are there – the bad and the good – and nothing unpleasant is hidden from view. None of the lines are taken out of their faces. They are all clearly seen. The Lord Jesus was not dealing with an easy company, but a company which might often have provoked despair. But one thing was characteristic of Him in relation to a difficult handful, and that was His faith for them.

      What faith the Lord Jesus had for those men! It was not that He had faith in them, neither was it that He had faith for them because of what He saw in them; but He had infinite faith in the Father for them. His attitude was: "Well, nothing is impossible with God. Here are these men; they are difficult and they could easily be My despair; they never seem to understand what I say! They always seem to get the wrong interpretation; they always seem to miss the point. When I say a thing they get it from an altogether wrong angle; they are utterly materialistic in their outlook, in their expectation and in their desires. They never see far beyond this world and their own personal interests. They seem totally incapable of getting a spiritual conception. And yet the Father can do wonders with a handful of men like that; nothing is impossible."

      By T. Austin-Sparks from: Filled Unto All the Fullness of God - Chapter 10 

  6. Thank-you for your introduction to T.Austin-Sparks. This was a good tidbit! So would you say that it's not so much a "fear of my own personhood" as a want of faith in what God has planned and promised? Not so much 'shame' as self-preoccupation (rather than preoccupation with the Person of Christ.) I'm pondering these things and thank-you for the pointers. Your encouragement has been instrumental in my emergence back into the blogosphere as of yesterday: Just wanted you to know. And, thank-you ( :

  7. Yes, exactly!
    Your post in your blog was a confirmation that someone I love needs.
    We are The Body.
    If you don't mind I'll be adding your link.
    Thank you!

  8. Thank you, ladies! I gleaned so much from these comments.