Excerpt from Holy Guacamole: A Glorious Discovery of Your Undeniable Strength by Carrie Stephens
From the Well to the Ice Maker
Embracing the Truth about Our Lives
One time my refrigerator broke. I literally didn’t know what to do! I just moved.
Tom Haverford, Parks and Recreation
I’m just a girl, standing in front of her refrigerator, asking Jesus to fix it.
My refrigerator broke into pieces when my parents came over for dinner one night. My dad opened the refrigerator door, and a shard about the size of my hand broke off one of the shelves and fell to the floor. We just stood there and stared at it, pondering the possibility that this shattered shelf was a prophetic signal.
Thus says the Lord, “You cannot handle the weight of your life. …”
Indeed, nothing says, “Mom, Dad, your worst fears are true. I’ll never be a fully functioning adult. You will never stop worrying about me. Not ever,” quite like having a piece of a major appliance in your home fly out and land at your dad’s feet.
“Uh, I think you’ve got a problem here,” my dad said and winked at me mischievously.
This lovely father-daughter moment reminded me a lot of the day the previous summer when he and I used an old dish towel, six inches of duct tape, and a piece of plastic wrap to plug up the dispenser for my fridge’s ice maker so it would stop leaking water all over my kitchen floor. I rewarded him afterward with a plate of cookies.
It’s a good thing that refrigerators aren’t such a crucial part of our everyday lives here in the Western world, you know? It is a blessing that Old Silver (as I’ve so lovingly named it) keeps breaking so my dad and I can have these precious moments together watching YouTube repair videos. It means I can say things like, “Hold on a second, kids, this cute photo of Grandpa and me next to Old Silver is destined for the ’gram” (#foreverlove #daddysgirl #bonding #thedaysarelongbuttheyearsareshort).
This new father-daughter teamwork thing is possible because after living eleven hundred miles away from us for most of my adult life, my mom and dad moved into our neighborhood in the spring of 2017. People often either cringe or sigh when I mention this.
I supposed it could be challenging to have your parents move in around the corner right when you hit your midlife crisis. I mean, I’ve watched every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and I can see how it might be particularly sticky for my husband, Morgan, to have his in-laws so close. Thankfully, my family is still in awe that someone as amazing as Morgan would voluntarily attach himself to me with only death as a possible way out of the arrangement. When Morgan called my dad in November of 2000 and told him he planned to propose, my dad had one response: “She’s all yours.” Morgan has reached sainthood in my family for loving me and enduring my nonsense.
If asked, my parents could probably tell you that I wasn’t always as easygoing as I am now that I’m in full-blown midlife crisis mode, with an eroding refrigerator and a helter-skelter hormonal balance. Growing up, I was a moody and complicated girl who was frequently disappointed when her fantastical expectations of life never quite materialized. I was a delight to be around when puberty rode in like a Mack truck without brakes. I had an eye for designer everything—such a joy to parents on a “beer budget,” as my dad put it. However, I gave up alcohol altogether a couple of decades ago, and I like to think I’ve become stable and easy to please in my forties.
(I like to think it, but that doesn’t make it true.)
What is true is that when my parents moved into our neighborhood, our lives got a massive upgrade. My mom takes care of our family like Jesus Himself has given her the keys to our happiness. She fills in when we need dinner or another kid chauffeur, and she cheers at my kids’ baseball games like they’re one game away from the World Series. My dad fixed my son’s bike seventy-eight times in nine months. He also helped me replace the broken handle on my car door and build shelves above my washer and dryer. Dad installed cabinet hardware in my kitchen and bathrooms. He’s oiled squeaky hinges and fiddled with garage doors to literally make our lives run more smoothly. Of course, I already mentioned the MacGyver ice maker fix. I estimate that my dad has saved us a few thousand dollars in repair and handyman bills since my parents relocated to Texas.
However, even the best parents in the world can’t fix everything or pick up enough slack to make the hardest parts of life easy.
So, on that accursed night when Old Silver broke apart, once the fajita platters were empty and my parents headed home, I held the shard of the shelf in my hand and stared into the depths of the broken beast. Not the bright, young stainless fridge she once was, her quality of life had been declining the past couple of years. A massive crack split the shelf holding the milk down its middle. Reaching into the vegetable bins had become akin to a game of Fear Factor since the interior lights went out: you might get slimed … or worse. Without the ability to regulate temperature, Old Silver had been accidentally freezing the lettuce regularly. I’d called repairmen twice to keep her up and running, but now I regretted spending the money. Old Silver had forgotten her God-ordained calling to keep our perishables cool, not to mention her completely incontinent ice maker. Clearly she longed for greener pastures, or maybe just to be retired to the garage to serve our family as a water and soda fridge.
All of this is how I came to be a girl (okay, middle-aged woman) standing in front of her refrigerator, asking Jesus to fix the shelf and the ice maker and every other broken thing I’ve been ignoring. If I’m going to ask for a miracle, I might as well go for glory.
On the Eighth Day, God Did Not Make Duct Tape
All this broken appliance talk has me thinking about the day Jesus sat down at a well in Samaria, and a Samaritan woman showed up. The refrigerator could pretty much be considered the modern well, after all. Everyone needed the local well in the ancient Middle East, just as all the people in our house need Old Silver for life-sustaining supplies like Topo Chico and Gatorade. The story begins with this:
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” … The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. … Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:7, 9-10, 13-15 ESV)
Then Jesus told her everything about her life, how she had never found a man who would be faithful to her. He revealed His true identity as the Messiah, which stands out as a rare moment of definitive truth in the stories about Jesus. All this happened because she showed up at a well, the place a woman in ancient times had to go to get what she needed to survive another day.
Similarly, peering into my broken refrigerator has exposed all the broken pieces in my soul and in the world. I’m suddenly aware of all sorts of things I need God to fix. There are other broken appliances in our house; our dryer is on the fritz, and the dishwasher keeps filling up with mold. But my friends also need healing, our country feels more broken every time I turn on the news, and I have a whole host of insecurities I’m trying to sort out.
The question demanding answers is this: What do we do with our brokenness when we’re forced to hold it in our hands? Where should I put the shard of the shelf that fell out? What kind of glue works in freezing temperatures? I’d like to read the back of our tube of magic glue for instructions, but my reading vision stinks now that I’ve breached forty. My old lady eyes can’t tell the difference between the tube of glue and the eye cream I keep in the bathroom. I’m terrified of mixing the two up someday. How awful would it be if I got eye cream and glue mixed up?
The trail from the ice to the glue to the eye cream leads me to the truth about what’s happening: Jesus is here, by my broken refrigerator, to tell me everything about myself—just like He did with the woman at the well. I am an awful lot like her and like my refrigerator: broken and in need of help. I have been gluing myself back together for years with creams and serums and some weird thing that pokes me with a dozen little needles so that the lotion can “penetrate and erase” the fine lines around my eyes. I still look relatively shiny on the outside, but when you open me up and take a good look, there are parts of me that are slightly cracked and not as functional as they ought to be.
When I think of my friends and neighbors, I realize there are all sorts of things holding us together. We are each a conglomeration of soul glues, dysfunctional duct tapes, emotional bungees, and spiritual straps. We go through our days seeing ads on television that promise we would be happy and everyone would love us if only we could afford to buy this one thing. We listen to the pithy advice of our culture, which promises us that if only we could achieve a little more success, then the inadequacy that is slowly crushing us would dissipate. We tape up all our fears and insecurities and begin to believe the hardness of life would flee if only we looked a little more like supermodels. If only we could each find a spouse exactly like the dreamy (albeit fictional) character on-screen. If only we had friends who understood and loved our true selves. Our brokenness is playing hide-and-seek behind all the if onlys, and until we let it safely come out of hiding, we will spend our days chasing another easy fix to a truly cosmic problem.
While the world continually suggests we muster up one more thing to become the people we really want to be, more hustle can’t give new life to my old refrigerator or bring back the glorious skin of my twenties. Despite what social media’s curated posts and “inspirational” memes may declare, more hustle and better hype can’t bring peace in the midst of the storms of life, cure the sickness of our societies, or teach us to love one another as Christ has loved us. The quest to keep our brokenness securely taped behind a shiny exterior of performance and perfection has tricked us into thinking we can create a life for ourselves apart from our Creator God.
Besides, the hustle is exhausting, isn’t it?
In front of my refrigerator with Jesus, I see He’s offering all of us something far better than hustle. Come and see this Christ, who can tell us everything about our lives. He has living water that can quench our thirst for an end to the hustle for greatness and significance.
We don’t need tape or glue to hold it all together. We don’t have to manufacture or birth another ounce of self-love to make it through the day. Contrary to every self-help book out there, I want to tell you the most profound truth: You can never save yourself through self-improvement. Self-improvement may help you grow and develop in your relationship and as a leader, but it can’t make your eternity more secure. Your joy and fulfillment are not contingent upon you “doing you” in the most real and glorious way you can find. God has far more beautiful plans for us than improving our self-image so we will feel more confident and self-assured.
Jesus doesn’t offer us access to better water just so we won’t be so thirsty for love and approval all the time. He’s offering us a kind of love and belonging that will release springs of living water inside us so we will never thirst again.
Concealer, Contours, and Good Foundation
As with the Samaritan woman, our encounters with Jesus force questions upon us. Can we relinquish control of our lives to God and trust Him? How do we embrace our imperfections without losing all sense of our value? Will everything really be okay if we let go of our identity safety nets and backup plans?
I’ve been asking myself these things ever since I turned thirty-five. That was when it became apparent that for all my life I had blissfully assumed old people spawned somehow from the dust of the earth—and I’d been wrong. I also realized that every day is for keeps. If I don’t cling to Jesus in this time and in this place, I will miss out on all He has for me here and possibly end up somewhere I don’t want to be in twenty years.
Before my midthirties I never looked at a wrinkled face and thought, Jesus and I will be there together one day. I was pretentious enough to believe I had some control over time, I guess. I would stay young forever. I had never faced any aging problems before, so why would I have them in the future? The gray-haired people I saw everywhere were lovely, but they were nothing like me. I was going from glory to glory! I couldn’t fathom a day when I would be staring at the roots of my hair and realizing they were no longer dark blond.³ Future regrets weren’t even in the realm of possibility.
Nevertheless, as that great prophet Smash Mouth taught us: the years start coming at you whether you like it or not—and they don’t stop coming just because you want to stay forever young. My ninety-year-old grandmother tells me this is truer than I can fathom.
Every middle-aged person got here the same way I did. Every gray-haired lady got here just as my grandmother did. One day at a time. We were all young and smooth and toned(ish) at some point. Once upon a time, we didn’t need fish oil to help with achy hips or collagen powder smoothies to aid our digestion. We didn’t need this much concealer or highlighter. Good grief, we used to slather on some Noxzema, rinse it off, and walk out of the house looking like Jennifer Aniston (sort of).
My biggest problem, though, isn’t that I need so many creams and serums to offset the signs of time. It’s that I can’t remember to do it all every day. I need alarms on my phone and strings on my fingers to help me remember the fish oil, my smoothie, and my makeup. Forgetfulness creates an awful lot of turbulence in life.
A few weeks ago I was scheduled to speak in our church on the same weekend my oldest son had his championship baseball tournament, and I was hosting a separate event for the church later in the day. I was determined to slay it all, to not be incompetent like my refrigerator in any way.
I woke up that Sunday morning, grabbed my coffee, and spent some time reading my Bible. Then I fixed the kids some toast and juice and gave them instructions about proper church attire. My kids act as if they’ve never heard my spiel about not wearing ratty T-shirts with holes in them and that pajama pants are unacceptable in public. I explain every Sunday that we will not show up at church looking like the People of Walmart.4
Once I had reprogrammed everyone for the day, I took my shower, got dressed, and started doing my hair and makeup.
That’s when all the children wanted to be in my room and bond with me as they retold Peanuts comic strips, discussed the batting averages of MLB players I’d never heard of, and analyzed every movie we’d ever seen as a family. I think one of them wanted to discuss the progression of United States foreign affairs from the Cold War to the present day and how that has affected the free market. Or maybe he just asked why I don’t buy Pop-Tarts very often. I’m not sure.
All I wanted was to get my eyeliner on straight. I had a cat eye on the right side, but the left eye was more racoonish. I begged my children to leave so I could focus. They stared at me, motionless. Morgan kicked them out because he is a good husband, and also because I would be ministering God’s Word later that morning, so hearing me shriek about eyeliner and the free market economy was a little scary for him.
I finished my hair and makeup in peaceful silence. Praise be to Jesus.
We all rolled out the front door a little later. After I turned out of the neighborhood, a tragic realization crept from the back of my consciousness. I forgot to put on concealer, foundation, and powder.
I looked in the mirror, and there was my face, wearing some blush and heavy, caked-on eye makeup, but nothing else. There was nothing to cover and soften my charming laugh lines, the scars on my forehead, or my wicked awesome crow’s-feet.
No big deal, right? I was going to be speaking on vulnerability and the courageous Christian life. My face could be a sermon illustration. No more masks! Real life! “How brave of her,” everyone would say. I would reach heights of epic vulnerability in the Western world. Brené Brown could write a book about me.
Instead, I turned around and drove back home and slathered every bit of makeup I own on my face. Perhaps this seems shallow to you. Maybe you think this makeup of mine is akin to the duct tape that holds my refrigerator’s ice dispenser in place. Perhaps it is a little bit. However, the simple truth is that I like how I look with my makeup, and although I am willing to be brave and vulnerable, I suppose I am also a little vain. It would have distracted me all morning, knowing I was walking around with a naked face. I wouldn’t have felt courageous; I would have felt exposed.
Jesus said we would know a tree by its fruit. As I tap-tap-tapped the foundation under my wrinkly old lady eyes, only peace, love, and hope bloomed in my soul. I heard God laughing at me the same way I sometimes laugh when my kids do something that proves their unique quirkiness and slight immaturity. The makeup wasn’t holding me together, and I knew it. God had bound me up in Himself, and it brought Him great joy to tease me a little about how I’d flubbed my morning.
Using duct tape or makeup isn’t the root problem we face as humans. Just as the woman at the well would still need water every day of her life, we need physical things to help us function and cope. The battle we must fight is a spiritual one against the drive within us to look for salvation and rescue somewhere other than the Gospel. Surrendering to God is the only way forward.
Here’s how another Bible version translates what Jesus told the woman at the well:
“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for; those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” (John 4:32-24 MSG)
What does this mean for you and for me, exactly? First, it means our success as Christians has nothing to do with developing a better version of ourselves. Second, it tells us that if we are thirsty and falling apart, what we need is to stand in God’s presence and fully engage in worshipping Him with all we are and all we have.
Lives of worship require us to march into the center of our neediness, scrape off all the tape, and chip away the glue that we’ve trusted to hold us together. Once we’ve set all that stuff aside, we can bring the full weight of our need for rescue into God’s presence. Without our false ways of saving ourselves blocking us from Him, we can see who He really is as we raise our hands and say, “God, You know everything about me. You see the cracks and the broken places that scare me. They don’t scare You, though. Right here, in this place where I am a mess and where my imperfection smacks of my incompetence., I choose to set aside my insecurity and lift my hands in surrender to You. Because, for some ridiculous reason, You chose me and You love me just as I am.”
To worship God in truth, we will have to remember all the things that are most true about God and ourselves. I’ve already started a list for us, but feel free to add to it:
- We are limited (Psalm 103:15-16); God is infinite (Revelations 1:8).
- We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27); God is love (1 John 4:16).
- We are His beloved children (1 John 3:1-2); He has adopted us into His family (Ephesians 1:5).
- God is a king who cares for the oppressed (Psalm 9:9; Luke 4:18-19; Revelation 19:16).
- God is a seeker of lost people (Luke 19:10) and healer of broken bones (Psalm 147:3).
- God is like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34).
- God is a Father who would send His Son into a dangerous place for the sake of saving those who could never save themselves (John 3:16; Romans 8:32; 1 John 4:9).
- God is a Brother who would willingly die so that His brothers and sisters could be reunited with their Father (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10-15).
- God is a Spirit who comes as a helper and a comforter to empower us to live for the sake of something that is greater than ourselves (John 16:7; Romans 8:26-28; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11).
To worship God in spirit and in truth, we must kneel under the weight of our own need for salvation and rescue, hold out our hands, and receive whatever God offers us today—even if His provision doesn’t make sense (kind of like using duct tape and a rag to repair a broken refrigerator). Sometimes worship looks like praying for a fractured friendship, blessing our enemies with baked goods, thanking God for even the bitter seasons of life, or embracing and owning our failures by accepting mercy and asking for a second chance.
Much about God is mysterious and hazy from a human perspective. I’m as skilled at understanding God as my refrigerator is at comprehending me. Somewhere inside that massive stainless steel box are electronic parts that are trying very hard to give me what I want. I know that if Old Silver were a sentient creature, she would want very much to reach her full potential. All the fixes and repairs are only temporary, though, because no refrigerator has eternal life. Eternal warranties do not exist in the world of appliances. The maker of that applicance will give you a year, just in case you get a lemon. After that, you and your pretty icebox are on your own.
That’s not how it works with our Maker, however. He doesn’t offer any warranties, because He doesn’t make any lemons. He knows we all have some malfunctioning parts, and He doesn’t want us to try to fix them on our own. Refrigerators are temporal, but we are eternal. Our small attempts to hold ourselves together and save ourselves from all the broken parts of our souls will never quench our deepest thirst for the God who has a plan to repair this broken world—which is a good thing, since God longs to quench our thirst and invite us to join Him in the work.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman that facing the truth about her broken relationships was the key to finding the Messiah. Essentially, He was saying, “You need love, but no one will ever love you as I can.” He wasn’t offering her a better husband; He was presenting her a chance at transformation through a deep knowledge of who He was and what He would one day do on the cross.
Likewise, as we press into knowing Jesus and entrust Him with our imperfections and weaknesses, God’s presence and power will transform us into God’s holy people. But being made holy doesn’t equate to being perfectly pure and obeying all the rules. After all, God called the Sabbath holy, and it never did a thing to raise itself above the other days of the week. God sets holy things apart because He has a distinct purpose for them. Likewise, Jesus has rescued you and made you holy because God’s will is for you to be a fountain of living water. Any other kind of life will leave you parched and dry, thirsty for more.
Jesus didn’t come to make us good enough. He came to tell us we could stop trying so hard and the we could rest in His goodness. There’s not a tube of eye cream or a roll of tape in the whole universe that can come close to offering us what Jesus offers us.
“Come to Me, all yoyu who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)
The Samaritan woman came to a well for water, but in the end, she left her pot behind because of her life-changing encounter with Jesus. She ran back to her community and beckoned them all to come and meet a man she thought may be the Christ.
Meeting Jesus by a well or a refrigerator or in your car during rush hour can change you from a lonely soul who goes to get what she needs when no one is around into a person running toward your community with fresh hope and good news for the world.
God isn’t looking for perfect people with massive influence who are confident and secure in every way. He’s just looking for thirsty hearts that don’t want to cover up their need any longer; He’s looking for people who are ready to let Him fill their cup with His holiness.
In the following chapters, we will look at some of the specific ways we are often tempted to try to save ourselves and all the ways God has promised He is the best answer to our troubles. We will examine why God says we can be confident in who He is and how much He loves us. We will learn how amazing He already thinks we are—no hustle necessary. No matter how many pieces are falling off us today, Jesus is here to make all things new and to give us rest.
I only wish I could say the same about Old Silver. Because, seriously, the milk is about to drop through that crack.
Order your copy of Holy Guacamole: A Glorious Discovery of Your Undeniable Worth by Carrie Stephens
Carrie Stephens is a writer, speaker, and pastor’s wife. Carrie and her husband, Morgan, have four children and are the lead pastors of Mosaic Church Austin, a richly diverse community of faith, in Austin, Texas. Learn more at CarrieStephens.net